Saturday, September 13, 2014

Camping Foreshadows the Gospel

The story of the Exodus, ancient Israel leaving Egypt for the Promised Land, is rich with symbolism, perhaps more than any other event in the Bible.  Consider some parallels between Exodus and the life of a believer.  Egypt pictures slavery or bondage to sin.  Pharaoh pictures the evil one, the one we were enslaved to.  Crossing the Red Sea pictures deliverance from that bondage.  Although God Himself was right there, the people saw Moses as their deliverer.  Wandering for 40 years in the wilderness pictures a lifetime of testing, training, and proving. They didn't really wander in the wilderness – God led them the whole time by a pillar of fire or pillar of smoke. Crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land is a second deliverance, this time by Joshua.  The Promised Land was their reward. 

I doubt that the Israelites understood at the time that their journey, their entire lives, were symbolic of every believer's journey.  In short, the Exodus story pictures the gospel of the Kingdom of God. We must be delivered from slavery.  We must "wander" in this world being tried and tested.  We must be delivered from death into our Promised Land, the Kingdom of God.

Why camping?

Aside from the spiritual parallels which we will explore soon, there are physical benefits to camping. Outdoor recreation (camping) has been studied for decades. Quoting from the University of Minnesota Forestry Research Notes 1969 [1]:
Outdoor recreation gives rise to many kinds of social effects which are valued highly. One of these effects appears to be stronger family cohesiveness; i.e., enhancement of person-to-person intimacy binding a family group together. Family cohesiveness is important for several reasons: (1) it can promote effective socialization of children; (2) it can strengthen self-concepts of family members; and (3) it can improve the participant's satisfactions gained from association with other people.
Patrick C West writes about the group struggle, the shared recollection, and isolation in camping as factors that contribute to family cohesiveness (Outdoor Recreation and Family Cohesiveness) [2].  Those shared recollections may have been passed down through the generations to us (America and Britain are the descendants of ancient Israel*), and may explain why camping is so popular today.

But camping?

Ancient Israel was commanded to keep the Feast of Tabernacles to remember year-by-year that their ancestors dwelt in tents when they came out of Egypt, in other words, reminded that their forefathers camped. Israel dwelt in tents 40 years while they were in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Actually they dwelt in tents longer than that, until Israel was settled in the land of Canaan, which took some time (When did Israel stop dwelling in tents?) [3]. A lot was happening while they were camping there. In addition to developing the cohesiveness mentioned above, and more than just remembering their humble beginnings, during the time in the wilderness the “old man” who left Egypt had to die, similar to what it says in Romans 6:6 "that our old man was crucified …that we would no longer be enslaved to sin".  And it was the new man, ie. the son, who entered Canaan.  

Not just any camping, but ancient Israel's camping in the wilderness foreshadowed the Gospel.  We still picture that today by keeping the Feast of Tabernacles.

Many teach that the Holy Days in Leviticus 23 picture the plan of salvation, which also parallels the journey from Egypt to Canaan.  The Feast of Tabernacles is the last festival of the seven and is often associated with the soon coming millennium, a kind of Promised Land, if you will. Tabernacles pictures many things, not just the millennium.

Why would God make a point to remind Israel they dwelt in booths when they came out of Egypt?  It doesn't look forward to a future fulfillment, but looks back to the Exodus. Lev 23:

42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.                   

The booths (Hebrew word sukkot) are also described in Lev 23:

40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook

A little more info on sukkot from Wikipedia [4]:

The Hebrew word sukkot is the plural of sukkah, "booth or tabernacle", which is a walled structure covered with schach (plant material such as leafy tree overgrowth or palm leaves). 
The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

These sukkot only lasted the seven days of the Feast. The branches dried up and the sukkot fell apart.  Seven days pictures seven decades of a man's life.  But the same word sukkot is used in vs 43, not ohel, the normal word for tent, that is, it says Israel dwelt in sukkot when they left Egypt, but they lived in tents (ohel), not huts made from palm branches (sukkot).  Both tents and sukkot certainly are fragile dwellings.

Tents? Sukkot?

Traditionally, the book of Ecclesiastes is associated with the Feast of Tabernacles.  It is not a prophetic book about our future reward, but a reminder that life is fleeting – vanity of vanities, all is vanity (Eccl 1:1). In other words - Life is like a sukkot. Life is like a tent. Life is like a tent in the wilderness.

This is not a new idea, the apostle Paul wrote:

2Cor 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Some translations actually use the word tabernacle instead of tent.

We are the earthly tabernacles.

We are the tents.

Life is being played out in our bodies, our earthly tents, and the old man who came out of Egypt (slavery to sin) is dying while the new man is preparing to enter Canaan (enter the kingdom of God).  Is that not the good news of the Gospel?

*This is a big but important topic.  Many "Churches of God" have written extensively on it, see United Church of God, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy [5], or Christian Biblical Church of God, America and Britain--Their Biblical Origin and Prophetic Destiny [6].  For a more scholarly and thorough examination of the subject, I recommend Steve Collins, author of five books on the identity of Israel, Covering the Lost Tribes of Irsrael [7].