Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LAND and ISRAEL in the Jewish Scriptures

I wrote this a number of years ago in answer to someone who asked about the fairness of the Conquest of Canaan. There is more to say about this. But here are three things about the LAND in ISRAEL and the promises of God in the New Testament:

1. God always intended his people to inhabit a PLACE.

We know from the Story of the Garden of Eden that God always intended his people to live in an environment. A ‘place’. A ‘good’ one. We were never intended for an existence outside of an environment (if that were possible). But it is only ‘good’ when God’s people live in that place under his rule (as God wills it). In the Garden, Adam and Eve did not live that way, and so the whole world is now subject to frustration. (Romans 8:19-20)

The Story of Abraham (Genesis 12) begins a new chapter in God’s redemption of the universe. God said that he would give a particular land (called Canaan) to Abraham's descendants. And in that land, by one of Abraham's descendants, God would bless the whole world (not just that particular land). The New Testament claims that Abraham’s descendant (seed) was Jesus, and in that land, God forgave sin, and provided new blessing to the world, in anticipation of a New Heaven and a New Earth.

So what is the progression from a nomadic Abraham pitching his tents in Canaan to the promise of a New Heaven and a New earth?

As you read the Old Testament, you begin to realize that God is always lifting the sights of the people higher and higher. Better and better. More and more glorious. There would be a land where justice and righteousness always reigned. And you begin to realize that even the land of Israel in the Old Testament was an image, a metaphor, a picture of what God promised to do with the whole world!

The fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham is in Jesus, who by his death and resurrection, invites us to the ‘New Heavens and the New Earth’, in which sin is dealt with and God’s people live in a land flowing with more than milk and honey!! You can read about it both Isaiah 65:17-25 as well as in Revelation 21-22.

2. God always intended to remove SIN and INJUSTICE.

The second thing about the land is this: That God’s intention was not just positive, but negative (although negative is the wrong word). God needs to remove sin and injustice. He needs to remove opposition to him. He is a just God, who cannot stand evil in any form.

So we learn as we read the Scriptures, that God asks Israel to rid the land of all opposition to him. And he asks them to never adopt the practices of the nations around them. That is what is going on in these verses. You can see in Deuteronomy 7:4-5 that the 7 nations who occupied the land were in opposition to the one true God. That is, in part, what the Conquest of Canaan was all about.

‘It’s still unfair’, we say.

But not if the wages of every sin for every person is death (Romans 6:20-23). Take a quick read of Genesis 15:16. There, Abraham is told he cannot have the land yet because the sin of one of the nations living there had not ‘reached its full measure.’ In other words, the conquest that you read about in Deuteronomy is not simply over innocent people and it’s not framed as simply one aggressive nation conquering an innocent one in the name of God. It is, in part, about God’s hand of justice.

The ‘conquest’ also just an image, a metaphor, a picture of what God promised to do with the Devil, with all sin and opposition to him. This is what Christ conquered on the cross. (Revelation 18).

3. God has always been free to GOVERN the world as he pleases.

The last thing to say about the Conquest is this: That God is free to govern people and nations as he pleases. In the OT, God chooses 'little Israel' to display his Glory to the world. In Romans 9-11, God displays his Glory back to Israel by having Gentiles believe the Gospel of Jesus. In other words, these Israelites, the Canaanites and all people are guilty of sin, and God will be glorified!

God’s Grace is the only possible salvation for anyone to enter the fulfilled ‘land flowing with milk and honey’.


Pic on Flickr by Karen_Horton

1 comment:

Anthony Douglas said...

I'll quibble with where you go on #1.

Seems to me a question exists over whether it's a 'place' or a 'place where God and his people can hang out'. If the former, then your trajectory is right. But if it's the latter, our target resting place is 'in Christ'.

And I'm willing to guess that the thing about Eden that set it apart was not that it was quite nice, but that it was the place where God was with Adam. The rest of the planet, pre-curse anyway, was also very good.

At the other end, 'the dwelling of God is with man' seems to emphasise not so much the place as the proximity.