Summary: Ancient Israel struggled in the desert. Hungry and thirsty, they called out to God, and He gave them bread from heaven and water miraculously gushing from a rock. Sustained by this heavenly provision, they eventually entered the promised land. There are 3 keys we can take from their journey to enable us to occupy our promised land victoriously.
Nehemiah was recalling how God had led Israel to a “promised land.” For them it was Canaan. Now keep in mind, the promised land was not heaven. It was a land promised to Israel on this earth, a land that they did go in to occupy under the leadership of Joshua. An example of this heaven-versus-earth distinction is Moses. That great man of God did not enter the earthly “promised land” in his lifetime (Deuteronomy 34:1-5). But we know that he made it to heaven, because we see him many centuries later standing with Jesus and the prophet Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3).
Going to heaven results from “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21, NKJV). All who sincerely repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior are heaven-bound after their life on earth. I look forward to that day!
But there is a promised land for us — just as there was for Israel in Canaan — here on earth before we go on to our heavenly reward. Like Israel in Old Testament times, Christ’s Church today is sent into the land on the Lord’s missions. Jesus has “sent [us, His followers] into the world” (John 17:18) to turn lost souls to salvation in Him, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to bring all the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who will respond in faith.
The apostle Paul revealed an important principle that helps us understand the flow of thought and action from the Old Testament (OT) to the New Testament (NT). In the context of the bodily resurrection Paul wrote, “The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:46). We see that natural-to-spiritual principle fulfilled many times in the Scriptures:
Now let’s reread our opening Scripture verse (Nehemiah 9:15, GNT, with added emphasis in bold): When they were hungry, you gave them bread from heaven, and water from a rock when they were thirsty. You told them to take control of the land which you had promised to give them.
Nehemiah lists three keys leading up to Israel’s entry into the promised land. For Israel they were natural keys — (1) hungering and thirsting for (2) bread and (3) water. For us they are important spiritual keys to enable us to possess God’s “promised land” with victory.
We don’t come to Jesus for salvation so that we can just kick back and take it easy until our time comes to go on to heaven. No! Jesus said that the ones who will “be filled” with the good things of God (in this verse, His righteousness) are those who “hunger and thirst” for them.
The true follower of God has a strong, insatiable desire for more of Him. The sons of Korah had this motive: “My soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2) King David had the same heart that avidly pursued God: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you…” (Psalm 63:1).
God was faithful to Israel in the wilderness, Nehemiah reminds us. When they hungered, He gave them “bread [manna] from heaven.” When they thirsted, He gave them “water from a rock.” This provision from God sustained them until they entered the promised land of Canaan. The same faithful God today will fill the hunger and thirst of His people as we, like Israel of old, go victoriously with the Presence of God Almighty into the promised land all around us.
So Key #1 in entering the promised land is to hunger and thirst for God and for the things of God. Let’s look now at Keys #2 and #3.
The “bread from heaven” that will bring us victoriously into this earth’s promised land (and eventually to heaven!) is Jesus, the living bread. Do you long to see lost souls saved? Tell them about Jesus, the Son of God who came from heaven to earth to die on a cross for our sins, to be buried, then raised to life again. Tell them about Jesus the Savior who has ascended back to God the Father in heaven and is inviting “whosoever will” to come to Him for salvation, healing, deliverance, and more.
How can you personally live a victorious life in “the land” in which the Lord has placed you? Make Jesus the absolute center of your life, so that “in all things He might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18, KJV). The apostle Peter declared, “Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36, NKJV). Make Him the Master, the Sovereign, the absolute Lord of every aspect of your life, and you will see great victories in the earthly promised land before ever going on to heaven. The key to victory for every Christian is our Savior, the omnipotent Lord Jesus Christ, who loves us and gave Himself at the cross for us:
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is a multi-faceted symbol in Scripture—all of them very significant. But the indispensable, all-important bread we need daily is the Person and Presence of the “living bread that came down from heaven,” that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hunger for Him daily, hourly, moment by moment. Hungering for Jesus, the Bread from heaven, is a major key to victory in this life.
Water, too, is a biblical symbol with a variety of applications. But I suggest that the ultimately important meaning of water from God is the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the trinity.
Our third key to inhabiting “the land” victoriously is to thirst for God’s water. When the Israelites thirsted in the desert, God miraculously gave them water from a rock. When we thirst today, God satisfies that thirst with the manifold blessings of His Holy Spirit — most importantly the new birth by the Spirit, and also the baptism with the Spirit.
In Revelation 22:17 (above), the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Bride the Church issue a gracious call to all to come and “take the free gift of the water of life.” Jesus in John 7:37-39 similarly invites the thirsty to come to Him and drink. The result would be rivers of living water flowing from within them. And lest we misunderstand the living water symbolism, verse 39 says, “By this He meant the Spirit.”
The symbolism is rich! The Holy Spirit is likened to a free gift: “the water of life.” When we come to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance, we are born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-7). We come out of darkness and into God’s light. We leave the devil’s kingdom for God’s kingdom. We inherit eternal life.
Another manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s living water is in the mighty baptism with the Holy Spirit. That too proceeds to us from Jesus. All four Gospels speak of Jesus as the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; similarly in Mark, Luke, and John). Jesus gives us some keys in John 7 to receiving the fullness of the Spirit: (1) be thirsty, (2) come to Jesus for it, (3) drink, (4) believe in Him. And the result? Rivers of living water will flow from within the Spirit-filled believer.
In the Old Testament, Israel thirsted for water, and God gave them water from the rock. In the New Testament, people thirst for God’s spiritual water, so they come to Jesus the Rock (“that rock was Christ” - 1 Corinthians 10:4). And He ministers the Spirit to the thirsty in (1) salvation, that is, the new birth by the Holy Spirit; and (2) the powerful baptism with the Holy Spirit, which enables us to fulfill Acts 1:8 - “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”
In the wilderness, the ancient Israelites were hungry and thirsty. So God gave them bread (manna) from heaven and gave them water miraculously from a rock. Thus strengthened and fortified, they were enabled to proceed to the eventual occupation of the promised land.
In our time, Jesus has sent us, His followers, into the world. We are His ambassadors, called and empowered by Him to reach “the land,” the ends of the earth, with His saving Gospel. To do this effectively, we must hunger and thirst for the daily bread of Jesus, the Son of God. We need to seek Him in prayer, in worship, and in His Word the Bible. Also we need to hunger and thirst for a bountiful measure of the Holy Spirit. Receive the Spirit in salvation as the water of life from God. And receive Him in power in the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Hunger and thirst daily for the living bread Jesus and for the living waters of the Holy Spirit. As a result, you will be properly equipped to minister victoriously for the Lord in the land in which He has placed you as His holy people.
The German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, ministering mostly in Africa, has led more than 78 million souls to Jesus Christ! Brother Bonnke's soul-winning ministry is an excellent illustration of our topic today. I close with his own words concerning how he has seen such an abundant soul harvest in Africa: "I preach Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit."
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©2019, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons &
Bible Studies by
Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.