Meditations on “The Big Picture” 7. The Promise of the Land
Gen 12:6,7 At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
In trying to plot the big steps along the path of human history recorded in the Bible or, to put it another way, to identify the most important features that stand out in the history recorded in the Bible, following the Exodus (including the giving of the Law to Moses) we must pause and gaze with awe at the whole phenomena of the ‘Promised Land’, a subject that has caused contention from the days of Abram right through to the present days. Let’s consider first of all how God revealed His intentions in respect of Canaan and then in the next study how Israel eventually took it, for both are steps in themselves that should be observed when we are trying to understand the broad scope of Biblical history.
First of all how God revealed His intentions. Prior to our verse above we find, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) That had been the start but now Abram is in the land the Lord says this will be the land of his descendants. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his family lived in it but eventually left it, as we noted previously, because of a massive famine and for the following centuries lived in Egypt. But then God revealed His plan to deal with Pharaoh and Egypt and within part of that plan showed it was His intent that Canaan should become the home of Israel.
Again, as we previously noted, He revealed this to Abram a number of times The next time after the initial verses in 12:1-3 we see, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) He reiterated this in 15:7 and then at the evening covenant ceremony he explained about the exodus in some four hundred years’ time (Gen 15:13-16) and reiterated it in 17:8 – “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Note the words in these various verses that speak of the length or duration of their occupation of this land: “to your offspring forever” (13:15) and “as an everlasting possession,” (17:8)
Later the Lord reiterated this to Isaac (26:1-4) and then later to Jacob: “There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying… I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13,15) See also 35:12. Jacob later conveyed this to Joseph in Egypt – see 48:3,4.
To ‘fulfil’ this Jacob later instructs his sons, “Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field.” (Gen 49:29,30) This subsequently happened – see Gen 50:12. Later on Joseph would do the same thing instructing his brothers to take his bones to Canaan (Gen 50:24,25) which Moses later did (see Ex 13:19) and then later Joshua made happen (Josh 24:34).
Thus we see very clearly, it was declared to each of the Patriarchs that God’s intent was for Israel to have this land when they returned after the Exodus and to have it for ever. Before we move on to the next study and consider just how Israel went about taking Canaan, a major event with serious consequences, it might be well to consider the big picture and see long-term what happened to Israel, the land.
Israel eventually took it, as we will see in the next study, and the date is likely to have been somewhere around 1200BC. For roughly the next two hundred years they lived in it under the rule of judges, followed in roughly the next hundred years by the rules of Saul, David and Solomon. After Solomon’s reign the land was divided into two kingdoms, so-called Israel in the north comprising ten of the tribes and so-called Judah in the south comprising the Judah and Benjamin. The division was about 930BC and Israel continued until the fall of Samaria and deportation of the occupants of the northern kingdom in 722BC. Judah continued on until the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC when most of the occupants of the land were taken to Babylon where there remained for the next 40 years. The ‘Exile’ was the first time they completely lost the land. Throughout the period of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early church in Jerusalem, Rome ruled over the land but Israel, the nation, still occupied it.
In AD70 there was a Jewish rebellion and the might of Rome crushing it, completely destroyed Jerusalem. Since then, until the middle of the twentieth century, Israel were scattered across the face of the globe. The vision in Rev 12 appears to show a woman, Israel, bearing a son, Jesus, but being chased into the desert by a dragon (Satan) for a period of three and a half years. In prophecy seven is the number of completion and the suggestion is that for the first part of God’s plan, Israel would be scattered into the world to be preserved and thus the returning to the land in the middle of the twentieth century would seem to suggest that we are now in the second part of God’s long-term plans for this land and this nation. Watch this space!
Without doubt, therefore, the ‘Promised Land’ is a key part in God’s plan to reveal Himself to the world and every time there has been a threat to it, He has been there on behalf of His people and on behalf of His long-term plan for the land. It is amazing that such a small piece of land should have such strategic importance in God’s plans. When we get to the Exile we shall see the detailed activity of the Lord to preserve the land and the nation, even to the point of guiding and directing major pagan kings. Incredible!