One of the oldest and most often-used lyrical motifs in gospel music is death, symbolized by the crossing of the Jordan River, and Heaven, symbolized by Canaan. It is not my intention to cast aspersions at songs or songwriters who use this motif, because I certainly think there are some spiritual applications we can draw from it.
That said, the most appropriate spiritual application for Jordan and Canaanland is not in death, but in the life of the believer. The biggest reason is quite obvious when Canaan is considered. When the children of Israel entered Canaan, they were most certainly not at rest! There were still many battles to be fought with the enemies of God. This is not a characteristic of heaven in the least.
Canaan, therefore, is not a type of heaven, but of a victorious Christian life. The typology can then be extended to give spiritual application to the entire Exodus. Egypt is a type of the world, which held us in the bondage of sin. Deliverance from Egypt, and salvation from that bondage, came at the Red Sea, where God cleared a path of redemption. But there were still many years of wandering left for Israel, as they had to learn to fully trust God. We, too, are simply wandering through life as Christians, not fulfilling our purpose for Him, until we have learned to trust. Once we have done that, we can cross into the wonderful land of Canaan, where God grants victory after victory over the trials of life.
Unfortunately, songs that use the Exodus in this most appropriate way are much more rare than the songs that use the lesser application. My ears always perk up a little bit when a songwriter hits the nail on the head! Probably my favorite such song is “I’ve Passed Over Into Canaanland,” written by Dianne Wilkinson and recorded by the Kingdom Heirs and Gold City. That one is a grand slam home run!
But I’m choosing to highlight probably the most well-known song, in gospel music circles, based around this lyrical theme. “I’m Living in Canaan Now” (page 287 in the red-back!) was composed by Claud H. Center and J.R. Baxter, and originally published in 1938. It has been recorded by many gospel music artists in the decades since. I won’t spend time going over the song line by line, as most readers probably are familiar with it. The verses set the scene of the past life, under slavery to sin, in Egypt. And the chorus gives the payoff of the Christian living in Canaan NOW!
Though many have recorded “I’m Living in Canaan Now,” probably the most iconic rendition, and deservedly so, is that of the Happy Goodman Family. Enjoy this classic clip from the Gospel Singing Jubilee!