THE RETREAT TOWARD EGYPT
The Retreat. Deuteronomy 2:1
According to verses 14 and 15, the "many days" the Israelites encamped around Mount Seir in the wilderness of Zin was almost 38 years. During this time "the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from among the host until they were consumed." This of course is speaking of those who rebelled and "provoked the Lord" at Kadesh. During the whole period of their wilderness wandering they were under the disfavor of God. A study of the map reveals the fact that the hosts of Israel practically retraced their steps as far as the Elanatic Gulf, the western arm of the Red Sea. This return into the wilderness from Kadesh was a retreat and was so considered by the nations of Canaan who had trembled at their reproach.
Went Backwards. Jeremiah 7:22-24
At the very threshold of their goal the Israelites refused to hearken to divine counsel, but walked "in the stubbornness of their evil heart, (margin) and retreated backward toward Egypt instead of going forward toward Canaan." The rebellion at Kadesh made it necessary for them to turn their backs upon the promised land and face again toward the land of their bondage. "In their hearts" they had "turned back again into Egypt," and had even "appointed a captain to return to their bondage," so now they were compelled to start an ignominious retreat toward the place of their heart’s desire where they could obtain the things their souls lusted after. They did not return all of the way to Egypt. The next 38 years were spent wandering about in the desert of Zin. They did not return to Egypt, nor did they go forward to the promised land. They were practically at a standstill.
Wilderness Wandering. Numbers 14:32-34; 32:13
The wilderness wandering of Israel was the fulfillment of a divine decree or sentence because at Kadesh they "had done evil in the sight of the Lord" and had kindled His anger. Psalm 107:40. There was not even a highway for them to travel on but they drifted or wandered aimlessly about in a desert of "void place." -Margin. "They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to swell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them." Psalm 107:4, 5. It was indeed a solitary and desolate way over which they traveled during their wilderness wanderings. "Wander" means ramble here and there, without any certain course or object in view; to rove, range, or roam about; to stray; to depart or stray from any settled course or path; to deviate." During this period they made no progress toward their final goal. Their punishment was very severe, but their sin at Kadesh was very grievous. They must learn lessons of faith and obedience in the hard school of experience. The Lord could not take rebels into the promised land. Jeremiah 14:10. "Loved to wander."
"He blessed them also, so that they multiplied greatly." Psalm 107:38. While this was doubtless spoken of the experience of the Israelites in Egypt, there can be no question but the Exodus Movement continued to increase in membership during the entire course of their journey. See Nehemiah 9:23. Material prosperity in increasing numbers did not cease during their wilderness wanderings. During this time they doubtless also increased in efficiency of their organization and from a material viewpoint they appeared to be a prosperous people. This sort of prosperity, however, did not lead them toward the promised land. Increased equipment and numbers is not the prosperity that counts with God. Spiritual progress alone could bring success to the movement and lead them out of the wilderness and into the promised land.
While the heaven-sent message that began at the Minneapolis Conference in 1888 led the Advent Movement out of the wilderness of sin to the very borders of the heavenly Canaan, the rejection of that message resulted in a retreat back into the wilderness again. The movement itself has not gone all the back to Egypt or the world, but like Israel of old has only retreated "toward Egypt." It is true, however, that many thousands of individual members have completed the journey all the way back to the world. Their retreat has taken them back to Babylon, the place of their former bondage. It is also true that thousands of Adventists are dangerously near the world and will soon sever all connections with God’s people and return to spiritual Egypt. But the Advent Movement itself has never completed the retreat and never will. Its final triumph is just as certain as was that of the Exodus Movement, and all who remain in the movement to the end will reach the heavenly goal.
Hearts in Egypt
The long delay of the Exodus Movement was due to the fact that the Israelites did not sever all connections with Egypt and the things in Egypt. "In their hearts they turned back again into Egypt." They continued to think of and lust after the things of the land of their bondage. This is also the cause of the long delay of the triumph of the Advent Movement. Those whose hearts are in the world, and whose affections are set upon the things of the world, will eventually follow their hearts and return to the world. Only those who make a complete separation from the world, and who "Seek those things which are above" and set their ‘affections on things above, and not on things on the earth’ (Colossians 3:1, 2) will eventually triumph with the Advent Movement. It is dangerous to retreat toward the world and to have our interests centered on the things of the world. Those who are living on the very borders of the world are courting tragic failure and eternal ruin. They constitute the "mixed multitude" of the Advent Movement.
The retreat worldward after the rejection of the 1888 message was only the repetition of a spiritual retreat that had been in progress previous to the giving of that heaven-sent message. In fact a growing conformity to the world was the reason why the Lord sent the message calling for a spiritual revival and reformation. The following are a few of many statements regarding the spiritual condition of God’s people before 1888: "Many have for years made no advancement in knowledge and true holiness. They are spiritual dwarfs. Instead of going forward to perfection, they are going back to the darkness and bondage of Egypt." —Vol. 2:124. "As a people we are not advancing in spirituality as we near the end." "My heart aches day after day and night after night for our churches. Many are progressing, but in a back track." —Vol. 5:11, 93.
"I am filled with sadness when I think of our condition as a people. The Lord has not closed heaven to us, but our own course of continual backsliding has separated us from God. Pride, covetousness, and love of the world have lived in the heart without fear of banishment or condemnation. Grievous and presumptuous sins have dwelt among us. And yet the general opinion is that the church is flourishing, and that peace and spiritual prosperity are in all her borders. The church has turned back from following Christ her Leader, and is steadily retreating toward Egypt. Yet few are alarmed or astonished at their want of spiritual power." —Vol. 5:217. Just as the Israelites were in the wilderness before they reached Kadesh at the borders of the promised land, so the Advent people were in the wilderness of sin before they reached the borders of the heavenly Canaan in 1888.
A Worse Retreat
The worst spiritual retreat in the history of the Advent Movement has come as the result of rejecting the 1888 message. "Since the time of the Minneapolis meeting, I have seen the state of the Laodicean church as never before. I have heard the rebuke of God spoken to those who feel so well satisfied, who know not their spiritual destitution. … Like the Jews, many have closed their eyes lest they should see; but there is as great peril now, in closing the eyes to light, and walking apart from Christ, feeling need of nothing, as there was when He was upon earth. I have been shown many things which I have presented before our people in solemnity and earnestness, but those whose hearts have been hardened through criticism, jealously, and evil surmisings, knew not that they were poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked. … I feel sad when I think how for long years there has been a gradual lowering of the standard. … This great spiritual destitution is not caused by any failure on the part of Christ doing all that is possible for the church." —R.H. Aug. 26, 1890. The movement retreated back into the terrible Laodicean wilderness out of which the 1888 message endeavored to lead them.
"The Lord has sent a message to arouse His people to repent and do the first works; but how has His message been received? While some have heeded it, others have cast contempt and reproach upon the message and the messenger. Spiritually deadened, humility and child-like simplicity gone, a mechanical, formal profession of faith has taken the place of love and devotion. Is this mournful condition of things to continue?. … Why will you try to rekindle a mere fitful fire, and walk in the sparks of your own kindling?. … The church is like the unproductive tree which, receiving the dew and the rain and the sunshine, should have produced an abundance of fruit, but on which the Divine Searcher discovers nothing but leaves. Solemn thought for our churches. Solemn, indeed for every individual. Marvelous is the patience and forbearance of God; but ‘except thou repent’, it will be exhausted. The churches and our institutions will go from weakness to weakness, and from cold formality to deadness, while they are saying, ‘I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ The True Witness says, ‘And knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’ Will they ever see clearly their true condition?" —R.H. Extra, Dec. 23, 1890. Republished in the R.H. Nov. 7, 1918.
"There are many, many professed Christians who are waiting unconcernedly for the coming of the Lord. They have not on the garment of His righteousness. They may profess to be children of God, but they are not cleansed from sin. They are selfish and self-sufficient. Their experience is Christless. They neither love God supremely nor their neighbor as themselves. They have no true idea of what constitutes holiness. They do not see the defects in themselves. So blinded are they that they are not able to detect the subtle working of pride and iniquity. They are clad in the rags of self-righteousness, and stricken with spiritual blindness. Satan has cast his shadow between them and Christ, and they have no wish to study the pure and holy character of the Saviour." —R.H. Feb. 26, 1901.
"In many hearts there seems to be scarcely a breath of spiritual life. This makes me very sad. I fear that aggressive warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil has not been maintained. Shall we cheer on, by a half-head Christianity, the selfish, covetous spirit of the world, sharing its ungodliness and smiling on its falsehood? Nay! … God brings against ministers, and people the heavy charge of spiritual feebleness, saying, ‘I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth. … God calls for a spiritual revival and a spiritual reformation. Unless this takes place, those who are lukewarm will continue to grow more abhorrent to the Lord, until He will refuse to acknowledge them as His children." —R.H. Feb. 25, 1902.
Church Converted to World
"It is a solemn and terrible truth that many who have been zealous in proclaiming the third angel’s message are now becoming listless and indifferent. The line of demarcation between worldlings and many professed Christians is almost indistinguishable. Many who were once earnest Adventists are conforming to the world,—to its practices, its customs, its selfishness. Instead of leading the world to render obedience to God’s law, the church is uniting more and more closely with the world in transgression. Daily the church is becoming converted to the world." —Vol. 8:118, 119. Published in 1904. This statement indicates that not only many individuals but the entire church or movement has made a retreat world-ward. There are scores of other similar statements that might be read.
Just as Israel increased in numbers and enjoyed a degree of material prosperity during their retreat and wilderness wandering, so the Advent Movement likewise steadily increased its membership, improved its organization, extended its influence, expanded its mission borders, and multiplied its institutions, evangelists and finances, even while it was retreating toward the world and wandering about in the wilderness of sin. But material prosperity is not always an evidence of spiritual progress. It is possible to experience the former without the latter. If material progress constitutes a sure evidence of the blessing and approval of God, what conclusion would be inevitable regarding the growth of the Papacy, Mohammedanism, Christian Science, and many other false religions?
The retreat is in regard to spiritual and not material things. "The work has been extended so that it now covers a large territory, and the number of believers has increased. Still there is a great deficiency, for a larger work might have been accomplished had the same missionary spirit been manifested as in earlier days. Without this spirit the laborer will only mar and deface the cause of God. The work is really retrograding instead of advancing as God designs it should. Our present members are not to be compared with what they were in the beginning. We should consider what might have been done had every worker consecrated himself, in soul, body, and spirit, to God as he should have done." —Vol. 6:420. Published in 1900. "But in some respects the work has deteriorated. While it has grown in extent and facilities, it has waned in piety." —Vol. 7:217. Published in 1902.
"If numbers were an evidence of success, Satan might claim the pre-eminence; for, in this world his followers are largely in the majority. It is the degree of moral power pervading the college, that is the test of its prosperity. It is the virtue, intelligence, and piety of the people composing our churches, not their numbers, that should be a source of joy and thankfulness." —Vol 5:31, 32. Following a description of material prosperity and display in religious worship when godliness is lacking, we read: "But in all this God is not honored. He values His church, not for its external advantages, but for the sincere piety which distinguishes it from the world. He estimates it according to the growth of its members in the knowledge of Christ, according to their progress in spiritual experience. He looks for the principles of love and goodness. … A congregation may be the poorest in the land. It may be without attractions of any outward show; but if the members possess the principles of the character of Christ, angels will unite with them in their worship." —P.K. 564, 566.
Cause of Deception
Here is the reason for the Laodicean deception. The church has mistaken material prosperity for spiritual progress; as the evidence of the presence of God and the favor of heaven. The purpose of the Laodicean message is to correct this false impression and to show that God reckons prosperity from the viewpoint of spiritual life and growth. Material prosperity will of course follow the presence and blessing of God as in apostolic days, but it is the result and not the cause of the Divine favor. The history of many ancient and modern false religious movements prove that material prosperity of itself is meaningless. To learn this lesson is one of the greatest needs of the Advent people for on it depends our eternal destiny.
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