THE SYMBOLIC WILDERNESS
WHILE the Puritans obviously lacked direct knowledge of the New World prior to colonization, they possessed nevertheless elaborate resources to interpret the meaning of their endeavors. Biblical references to the wilderness are manifold, and the Puritans well understood the significance of the wilderness in historical Christianity. Such metaphors provided the founders of New England with adequate standards to assess their wilderness adventure in America.
The wilderness of the Old Testament is often depicted as a desert or wasteland. In Exodus, the Lord led the Israelites through these and areas in order to test their faith. The difficulties and hardships of this journey afforded the Puritans a useful precedent for explaining their problems in America. By viewing themselves as the children of Israel, the Puritans saw the hazards of settlement as part of a divine plan to purge the colonists of their iniquities before they could enter the Promised Land. The Puritans' need to surmount these temptations, moreover, constituted an important part of the moral battle against Satanic forces. Only by defeating the forces of evil concealed in the wilderness could the settlers of New England hope for salvation among the Elect.
Although a time of trial and temptation, the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness also signified an escape from the persecutions of Egypt. The concept of the wilderness as a sanctuary from worldly corruption persisted in Christian thought and influenced, in fundamental ways, the Puritans' understanding