The first step of a new journey continues the last step of the old. Jesus came to fulfil a covenant that began with Abraham, and was then passed on to Moses, and prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist; it was an agreement, a relationship that evolved over centuries, even millennia.

This isn’t just the story of the Israelites, and the formation of their religion, it’s a metaphor for personal growth that applies to us today. Sometimes, when I’m too lazy, willfully ignorant, and afraid of change, my complacency makes me stumble; but I have to pick myself up again, despite being hurt and embarrassed. This is when we show our true selves: during times of extreme hardship.

This is our time in the wilderness.

“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: / And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Genesis 12:1-3.

That first part sounds like a great deal, like what young adults might think when starting out on their own. If they have courage and faith, the Israelites were promised a paradise. But courage and faith are reactions; until we experience a personal apocalypse, we can’t know if we have those traits, which brings us to the catch in God’s covenant (or testament) with Abraham:

“And [God] said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; / And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.”—Genesis 15:13-14.

That would’ve taken the wind right out of my sails. I really don’t know if I could’ve been as courageous as the hero Abraham. Courage and faith aren’t givens; we have to step up, sprinting after running for so long that our legs feel like rubber.

God was referring to the Israelites being enslaved by Egypt for 400 years. While Abraham wasn’t told who would enslave his people, he did know that it would be 400 years before they even began to settle the Promised Land; like Moses, he would never reach it.

“Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. / And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.”—Exodus 12:40-41.

Abraham acted for God, a proxy doing the Lord’s work. There were others who would be the voice of God, like John the Baptist. God needed someone here, on Earth, to do His work. To continue this old covenant, He needed someone new to take over for Abraham.

“And when forty years were expired, there appeared to [Moses] in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. / …Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.”—Acts 7:30, 32.

We decide (or discover) who we are when we’re young. As our situation changes, we step up, accepting with humility that we are always learning and discovering new things about ourselves, or we fall. For me, I usually fall first, and then find my courage, reaffirm my faith, and sally forth. It might take a while for me to build up strength; so long that I’m a new person by the time I cast aside my shackles. Even then, it’s a long road:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, /…And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.”—Numbers 14:26, 33.

Though the Israelites did reach the Promised Land, eventually, holding onto it was a daily battle. Just so, it is a daily battle within our souls for us to hold onto our paradise—what we love and aspire to most. Accepting weakness, striving for greater strength, Moses rose from the ashes of Abraham, as John the Baptist continued for (and was prophesized by) Isaiah:

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. / Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: / And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”—Isaiah 40:3-5.

The prophets were His voice, the mouth of the Lord—proxies, not for what God wanted to do, but what He wanted to say. They symbolized our internal voices, our conscience. The part I put in bold shows a fundamental break from the eye-for-an-eye philosophy, which dominated the Old Testament. This new approach became central for Jesus and the new covenant:

“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 14:11.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

He quoted Isaiah 61:1. Isaiah prophesized about Jesus and John the Baptist; he paved the way, as John and all the prophets did, for a new understanding—not just between God and the Israelites, but with God and everyone who would listen, not just listen to the Word of God, but to their own inner voices: the knowing within us all.

What John and Jesus preached about was not a literal promised land, a location on the map, but the satisfaction of being fulfilled, of facing the overwhelming force of life with the humility that comes from recognizing your place, and finding the courage to always strive to make things better.

“And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”—Matthew 3:4.

How I love crazy John the Baptist! (For further reading, and a real treat, check out this example of one of his sermons from Matthew 3:7-12.)

John was willing to show humility, weakness of mind before the Lord. Would you dare to act tough in front of a tiger, standing solid in the midst of a hurricane, or would you be willing to bend your knee, acknowledging the overwhelming force of infinity?

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. / But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? / And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.”—Matthew 3:13-15.

For those of you following along with a King James Bible, note that what I put in bold is the first red lettering, the first time Jesus spoke.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”—Matthew 5:17.

Just as Moses took the torch from Abraham, and as the prophets passed the Word of God from one to another, Jesus came because of that original covenant. He came to continue it, improve on it, but most of all he came to fulfil God’s promise of paradise.

But, first, he would have his time in the wilderness.