Two generations later, Abraham’s family moved back to Egypt as honored guests, with God’s promise that they would return to Canaan as a great nation (Gen. 46:3–4). That promise was fulfilled, but only after God allowed the Israelites to be enslaved by the Egyptians for centuries (Ex. 6:6; 12:40).
God returned Israel to Canaan not because they remembered His covenant but because He did (2:23–25). As with Noah and Abraham, the reason for their prolonged suffering appears not to have been their own sin but the sinfulness of others. Nevertheless, God used it for their good (Rom. 8:28). Israel became a mighty nation and left with the plunder of Egypt (Ex. 3:22).
By returning to Canaan, Israel was repeating a move Abraham had made. Like Adam, they had been cast out of the garden. Like Noah, they had been cast out of Eden. Like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, they had been promised a return to Eden, where they would begin to extend God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth.
Israel became unfaithful to God during the exodus. So, even though He allowed the nation to leave Egypt, He didn’t restore them to the promised land. Instead, He extended their exile by having them wander until the entire first generation that had left Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, had died in the wilderness (Num. 14).
The First Kingdom
In Canaan, Israel struggled for centuries before God made a covenant with David that promised one of his sons would rule Israel forever (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89). Then, under David’s son Solomon, Israel rose to the height of its power. Its borders stretched to the edges of Eden and its people were too numerous to count (1 Kings 4:20–21), just as God had vowed to Abraham.
Solomon built the temple as God’s house and throne room (1 Chron. 28:2; Isa. 6:1), and Solomon’s own throne was an extension of God’s (1 Chron. 28:5–6; 29:23). Like the tabernacle, the temple and its furnishings echoed imagery from Eden. Both structures outwardly reflected their spiritual purpose of being the place where God dwelled and met with His people. But even here, something was missing. God didn’t walk with His people as He had with Adam in the garden.
Later, Solomon himself became unfaithful. So, in the days of his son Rehoboam, the kingdom was divided between Judah in the south and Israel in the north (1 Kings 12:16–24). Eventually, both the northern and southern kingdoms were taken into new exiles. Just as they had spiritually distanced themselves from God, they were geographically removed from His throne in Jerusalem.
The Last Kingdom
There was an attempt at restoring the kingdom in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it faltered because the people were unfaithful. Ultimately, God did what His people were unable or unwilling to do. He sent His own Son to lead His people out of exile and to build the kingdom of heaven throughout the world.
Where does that leave us now? Are we living in exile, or are we living in God’s heavenly kingdom on earth? In some sense, it’s both. Insofar as God’s kingdom is already here, it’s largely spiritual (Luke 17:20–21). So, we’re physical exiles but not spiritual exiles. We struggle with the physical world, corruptible flesh, and the presence of sin (Rom. 7:14–25; Gal. 5:17). But spiritually, we’re citizens of God’s kingdom, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4–7).
Still, Jesus hasn’t yet come back to renew the heavens and earth, and this isn’t the garden of Eden—or rather, the new Jerusalem. The covenant of grace guarantees that when the fullness of God’s kingdom arrives, we’ll never suffer again (Rev. 21:4). Until then, it largely assures us that we will suffer (2 Tim. 3:12). That makes our lives a lot like Abraham’s. We live and walk by faith, knowing that God’s promises are true even when they don’t feel like it.