Songs From Scripture #9: “I’m Living in Canaan Now”

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!


    • John Situmbeko on August 4, 2014 at 11:54 pm
    • Reply

    I totally agree with your analysis Brian, the most appropriate spiritual application for Jordan and Canaan is indeed not in death, but in the life of the believer. Jordan may even as well represent baptism. After one has wondered many years in sin, finds the pleasures of sin rather unsatisfying and barren, hears of a better life, crosses the Jordan and lives free from condemnation. Perhaps many choose to interpret Canaan as heaven because of the milk and honey link. But the milk and honey doesn’t come ’til you have fought the good fight against the giants in whose sight you may appear “like grasshoppers.”

    My greatest concern with the crossing of Jordan into Canaan being interpreted as going into heaven at death, is that really there is lack of biblical support for this theory. The bible does tell of the resurrection, when the dead in Christ shall rise and those who shall be found alive at Christ’s coming shall be changed and be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. That does not seem to agree with the notion of the dead going into heaven at death. Why would Christ come all the way to earth for them, if they already are in heaven? And if they are already in heaven, “looking down on us,” as it is said, then their sorrows aren’t passed. For I’m sure none would enjoy scenes of loved ones suffering.

    I would like to find out how the two, heaven at death and heaven after resurrection, go hand in hand, if at all they do.

    1. Hi, John! Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that “To be absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord”. He also said in Philippians that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and that he had a desire “to depart, and to be with Christ”. It is clear that when a saint of God dies, he is immediately in the presence of the Lord.

      To reconcile that with the Rapture is pretty simple. The physical body does not go to be with the Lord at death…it is left behind. The soul is what is with the Lord after death. At the Rapture, that body will be resurrected, and glorified, and be reunited with the soul in the air.

        • John Situmbeko on August 5, 2014 at 10:13 am
        • Reply

        Thanks for the reply Brian. I do know the bible says at death, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Eccl. 12:7.
        I believe this to be true of all, both the righteous and the wicked. But if we take “the spirit will return to God who gave it,” to mean at death people go to heaven, then that would mean even the wicked go to heaven since their spirit also returns to God who gave it.

        What then of the soul? Is the soul an intelligent entity capable of a conscious existence apart from the body? If it is, then the bible does not on any of its pages say so. But at man’s creation, ’tis recorded in His word how after God breathed into his nostrils, man became a living soul, which seems to indicate a living soul is comprised of God’s breath (or spirit, rendered ‘ruach’ in the original Hebrew) and the dust of the earth. At death God’s breath or spirit (ruach) leaves (and returns to Him who gave it) and the body returns to the dust of the earth from whence it came, and man becomes a dead soul. The bible uses the word ‘soul’ to refer to the whole person and at other times to the affections and emotions, thus when the bible says, “the soul who sins shall die,” (Eze. 18:20), and when it says, “bless the LORD, O my soul,” we can know what application of ‘soul’ is being used.

        One biblical truth that seems to undo the “soul going to heaven at death” theory, is that there are going to be two resurrections.
        “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the grave will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5:28,29
        “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” Acts 24:15
        “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Revelation 20:5,6.

        As plain as it can be, the bible shows that the wicked and the righteous will booth receive their respective rewards at the time of their resurrection. It calls them blessed who will take part in the first resurrection (the resurrection of life, according to Christ) for over them the second death will have no power. “He who overcomes shall not be hurt at all by the second death.” Rev. 2:11. But not so for those who will take part in the second resurrection (of condemnation) for they will rise to be cast into the lake of fire. Over such the second (and final) death has power.

        So then, if the wicked at death go to hell, why would they again be resurrected only to be thrown back in that they may experience the second death? Unless they aren’t in hell in the first place, they need not be resurrected for hell. Same applies for the righteous, unless they aren’t in heaven already, they need not be resurrected for heaven.

        Against this background we see that in his letter, Paul is not giving a detailed exposition of what happens at death. He is simply expressing his desire to leave his present troubled existence and to be with Christ, without giving any reference or explanation as to the period of time between death and the resurrection. For those who die there is no long interval between the time when they close their eyes in death and when they open them at the resurrection. Since the dead are not conscious and are not aware of the passing of time, the resurrection morning will seem to come the moment after death. For the Christian, death is gain: no more temptations, trials and sorrows, and at the resurrection the gift of a glorious immortality.

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