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Jesus, Geography & Substitution

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Along the Road Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Part 2
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Heading into college, I heard over and over about a teacher shortage on the horizon.  A generation of teachers would be retiring, just as I would graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.  It seemed like a divine intervention… until it wasn’t.

With a degree, teaching certification, and bold determination, I applied for several teaching positions only to be turned down for each one.  The successful candidates always ended up being from within the school system.  And that generation of teachers who were supposed to have retired?  They hung onto their positions because the economy wasn’t conducive to that kind of drop in income.  So I joined the substitute teacher list.

The phone would begin ringing at 4:00 a.m. to notify me of positions needing a substitute.  And let me tell you, it was challenging making those kinds of decisions with one eye open as I walked the fine line between dreamland and reality.  Stepping into the unknown each day, with a classroom of untrusting eyes looking back at me and the meager notes left by their hurried classroom teacher, was another thing altogether.

So as I read Part Two of John A. Beck’s book, Along the Road, and the reminder of Jesus as our substitute, I thought back to those difficult days and found a deeper appreciation as He willingly walked into a known situation of brokenness to rescue, restore, and redeem.

Water Stories of the Bible

Exploring Scripture through the lens of geography, as Beck encourages in the book, provides such a unique perspective.  Revisiting key moments in the Biblical narrative and seeing their geographical connections adds another layer of depth and beauty to what Jesus offered through His coming as our Emmanuel, God with us.

Unlike last week’s post on the geographical locations of Jesus’ beginnings, in Bethlehem and Nazareth, we do not have concrete evidence to tell us the exact location of two of the most miraculous events of Israel’s history – the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River.

The Red Sea

What we do know about the Red Sea crossing comes from Exodus 12:37-38, NIV, which tells us that,

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.

Exodus 12:37-38, NIV

That is roughly 2.5 to 3 million people who left Egypt (Exodus 12:51) with the intent to return to the land of Canaan, which was promised to their ancestors.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus, roughly 50,000 horsemen and roughly 200,000 foot soldiers of the Egyptian army pursued them after Pharaoh changed his mind about letting Moses’ people go.  

But God’s mind was already made up.  He would provide a solution that defied all imagination, and this would mark a transition of the nation of Israel from slaves to freed people.

Red Sea Crossing - points of interest | Intentionalfilling.com
Map from Google Earth

Over 2 million Israelites witnessed the most miraculous event, crossing the Sea on dry ground and watching their pursuers be swallowed up by the waters. Still, just days later, in the desert land of Marah, they began to grumble to Moses about the lack of water and resources.  Again the LORD provided for them.

It was in the midst of the Wilderness of Sin the LORD heard their grumbling again, so the next morning, He provided quail and manna, the bread of heaven, as a sign that the Israelites could trust Him.  And He would continue to, even though the Israelites continued to turn their hearts away from Him, up until the day they crossed the Jordan River and ate the food of the Land.

The Jordan River

Joshua 5:6,9-12, NLT tells us that,

“The Israelites had traveled in the wilderness for forty years until all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died. For they had disobeyed the Lord, and the Lord vowed he would not let them enter the land he had sworn to give us—a land flowing with milk and honey.  

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.’ So that place has been called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan.”

Joshua 5:6,9-12, NLT

Geographical Context

It was harvest season when the Israelites camped just east of the Jordan River.  The roughly 125-mile (200 km) river had flooded its banks, bringing water from the stream at the foot of Mount Hermon and traveling all the way down through the Sea of Galilee and south into the Dead Sea.  God held back the water, backing it up from the village of Adam, sixteen miles north, all the way to the mouth of the Dead Sea (Joshua 3:14-17).

Historical Context

Just as He had done forty years prior, the Lord provided safe passage for a new generation to cross a large body of water on dry ground.  Again this miraculous event would mark a transition for Israel, from a place of shame to a place to call home, in the Promised Land.

Jordan River Valley - points of interest | Intentionalfilling.com
Map from Google Earth

Resources to Study Further:

Red Sea

Jordan River

Our Living Water and Substitute

The fabric of God’s divinity is so intertwined with the regions of Egypt, the  Jordan River to the east of Jericho, and the Judean Wilderness, as we see Jesus stepping into the same scenes throughout His life — rescuing, restoring, and redeeming each chapter of the narrative of Israel.

Jesus, who spent his early childhood living in Egypt, was called out by God to return with his family to Nazareth to live a humble life until He left the isolated region to begin His ministry before he walked the 70-mile (112 km) journey to the Jordan River to be baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist.

Then still dripping wet from His baptism, Jesus immediately left the region of Jericho and traveled to the Judean wilderness, where he would fast and be tempted by Satan himself for forty days.  But unlike Israel, who wandered in the wilderness for forty years, Jesus resisted the temptations to turn a stone into bread, prove His authority over angels at the peak of the Temple in Jerusalem, or command the world’s kingdoms.  

Jesus exited the wilderness, having done what we cannot do.
He was tried and tested and proven worthy as our Substitute.

Just as we read of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 3 and 4, water stories and miracles in the Biblical narrative seem to be followed up with wilderness seasons, almost as if we’re called by God to take the thirst-quenching relief of the miracle forward into the difficult season that lay ahead, as a reminder to trust that He’ll provide even long after the water dries up.

“Jesus places himself in the same geographic circumstances, confronts the same tests, and succeeds where Israel failed.  The gospel writers report this success not to make the failings of Israel even more apparent, but to highlight Jesus’ role as the Substitute for sinners.  As the writer of Hebrews said, ‘We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin’ (4:15).”

John A. Beck, Along the Road, pg. 69

1. The Israelites were called by God out of Egypt, and when all seemed lost, He provided a miraculous solution for them.
2. Even though the Israelites continued to turn their hearts away from God, He provided sustenance for them in the wilderness, until they arrived home, in the Promised Land.
3. Jesus lived His life, not in the shadow of Israel’s narrative, but stepping forward and highlighting His role as our rescuer, restorer, redeemer, and ultimately our Substitute.

How do stories like the ones we have studied make the role of Jesus as our substitute more real and clear?  What is the impact of having so many of these stories in the Gospels?

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Along the Road | John A. Beck

A 5-week study providing a fresh perspective of Bible stories separated by centuries, but related by shared geography, and delve into the conversations that would have happened along the road with Jesus in the first century.

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Along the Road by John A. Beck - Winter Online Biblical Study | Intentionalfilling.com

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One Comment

  1. I remember hearing this idea before – that Jesus reenacted events that Israel had experienced. But to put them together to see that he was doing them in order to succeed where they failed, to face what they faced as our worthy Substitute, that is resonating.

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