16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

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89. Clearing the Way

Meditations in Exodus: 89.  Clearing the Way

Num 20:14,17,18  Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying… Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory….. But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

We have endeavoured in this lengthy series to cover the whole of the story of the Exodus from the deliverance from Egypt to arriving at the border of he Promised Land. Now the final outcome shows that actually some of the land to the east of the Dead Sea and the Jordan river were given to the tribes of Gad and Reuben (see Num 32) and so technically they are about to enter the land that was to be theirs and so as we are in a transition stage, we will only cover it in basic outline form.

Kadesh Barnea, you will see from a map was in the far south of the Land, which is where Israel return to after the thirty eight years of wilderness wandering. To keep the story short we will simply summarise what follows:

  • To move north towards the Land they had to skirt Edom but the king of Edom refused them entry (20:18) and the Lord forbade them attack (Deut 2) so they moved south east and in the process…..
  • Aaron died on Mount Hor (20:22-29). They then skirted Edom and going north were attacked by the king of Arad (21:1-3) who they defeated.
  • There was then yet another time of grumbling and when a plague of snakes broke out against Israel, Moses provided salvation through a bronze snake (21:4-9).
  • As they approached the land of the Amorites that king refused them entry and fought them but was defeated by them (21:21-26).
  • The same thing happened as they travelled further north and they defeated the king of Bashan (21:33-35).
  • This brought them to the Plains of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho. To the east were the Midianites who had heard all that had happened and were fearful and so follows the bizarre story of Balak who hired the seer Balaam to curse Israel. Every time he went to do this he encountered the Lord and ended up blessing Israel, much to the displeasure of Balak (Ch.22-24).
  • Failing in this, Balaam advised Balak to get his women to seduce the Israelite men to overcome them and lead them into idolatry, which is what happened (Ch.25), and God’s judgment on them was only averted when Phineas stepped in (25:6-18), although many still died by plague and the Lord decreed that Midian were to be destroyed (see ch.31).
  • This is followed by settling Reuben and Gad in the land east of the Jordan, subject to their soldiers continuing to help the rest take the rest of the Land (Ch.32). This is really the last historical incident recorded in Numbers.
  • Moses actual death is recorded, as we have noted previously, in Deut 34 which concludes the book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch.

Thus we have observed the final historical events involving Israel as they come to the end of this forty year period of deliverance from Egypt and their travels until the point in time where they arrive on the Plains of Moab to the east of the Jordan, opposite Jericho, and prepare to actually enter the Land. They have arrived! We will in one final study recap all we have seen of their travels but for the moment we might ask ourselves what these final events, recorded above, say to us?

In the previous study we noted Moses’ failure in respect of the water from the rock but also noted that this did not stop him remaining fully active in his final year(s) as he led the people up to the point where there were to cross the Jordan and enter the Land. We usually think of Joshua as the great general who led Israel into the Land, but actually Moses had led them in the first stages. He had been their leader and seen them through the lands to the south and then east of the Dead Sea and he had been the one leading them to defeat Arad, then the Amorites and then Bashan and eventually the Midianites. i.e. he had led them through their first four battles, helping them gradually gain confidence in being a fighting force. He had had to overcome the spiritual battle over Balaam’s deception and he had had to preside over various administrative issues about ownership and settling the Land.

There is a portion of a psalm that we should perhaps consider at this point: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”  (Psa 92:12-15)  This is the challenge for the believer in old age, and Moses sets an example for us to follow, being the perfect illustration of what this psalm says. For those of us of more mature years, will this be us? The writer to the Hebrews testifies, “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.” (Heb 3:5) Will the same thing be able to be said of us when we are gone, that we have been a faithful servant of the Lord, who kept on to the very end? May it be so.

23. The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Meditations in Hebrews 4:    23.  The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Heb 4:1   Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

In chapters 3 and 4 the word ‘rest’ comes up ten times, twice in chapter 3 and 8 times in chapter 4. We need to understand what it means. However, the explanation is spread out over the next eleven verses so we are going to have to do a large passage study, which unravels as the writer goes on. But be warned, this is, in our opinion, one of the most complex arguments in this book and it will take some thinking through. We will, however, do all we can to work through it to explain it clearly and then at the end, produce a summary of our findings.  Now as we come to these verses, I know I usually use the NIV but in this instance that version is, I believe, confusing and commentators and interpreters have struggled with it, so I am going to use the ESV which I think is more straight forward.

The ‘Therefore’ links us with the previous chapter that he ended with this reminder of what had gone on after the Exodus from Egypt. The ‘rest’ referred to in 3:11 and 3:18 was clearly the Promised Land which, through lack of faith, that earlier generation failed to take.

So now our writer starts with a warning which he assumes at the outset we will understand: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”  (v.1) Now I warned just now that this is a difficult argument to follow so let’s put out front what the writer is going to prove from the Old Testament Scriptures, that “entering his rest” has its origins at the end of the days of Creation, but was a term used to apply to Israel entering the Promised Land, BUT ALSO at any other subsequent time when God challenges and calls us.

Let’s just assume to start with that this ‘rest’ is in general terms ‘God’s goal for each one of us’. When ‘rest’ is used as ‘the goal of our salvation’, he tells us that the promise is still there, that it IS possible to enter a similar state that God entered when He finished Creation, so, says our writer, don’t miss the goal.

In case we haven’t understood the jump between the OT and NT goals, he links that Goal with the Gospel:  “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” (v.2) The ‘us’ is us who are now Christians and the ‘they’ refers to the Israelites under Moses. The implication is that they were told there was a land that God had for them, but it needed taking by faith. The only trouble was that they didn’t have that faith. There is a subtle indirect warning behind this, for us not to be casual about the Gospel. Be careful that you haven’t fully received it, is what he is saying.

Now in verse 3 he first reassures us because we have believed, and reminds us (by way of warning) what happened to those in the OT who didn’t believe: “For we who have believed enter that rest, (so we’re OK, in contrast with them) as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath,  ‘They shall not enter my rest’”, (even though that ‘rest’ existed from after the Creation) although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” i.e. God’s rest – His own goal achieved, Creation and rest – existed thereafter and He is telling us that we too can enter into that experience of rest if we come to Him by faith.

The words, “my rest” he referred to in the quote back in 3:11 and now here in 4:3 suggest that it is as if the Promised Land isn’t the only thing God means when he speaks about us not entering HIS rest. When he writes, “And yet,” it’s as if the writer means, “But don’t forget the Creation story where God finished His work and then rested,”  and so he goes on to speak of that, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”  (citing Gen 2:2)  That was God’s rest, the completion of Creation. God had done His part. When he now refers back to that warning of Psa 95: “And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” (v.5) it was simply to remind us that although God has a rest (a position of having achieved His goal of Creation and thus now being able to relax, so to speak) that particular group of unbelieving people did not enter into it. That’s what the prophetic warning was in that Psalm.

The ESV arrangement  of verses 6 and 7 show us a “this-then argument” i.e. IF one group of people failed to enter THEN God sets up a new way of thinking about it: “Since therefore (IF) it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, (THEN) again he appoints a certain day, “Today”, saying through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The Message Version explains it well: “God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen,  don’t turn a deaf ear . . .”  or as the Easy to Read Version puts it, “So God planned another special day. It is called “today.” He spoke about that day through David a long time later using the words we quoted before: “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn.” i.e. merely because that one group of people failed to enter into the ‘rest’ God had for them, that was not the end of the story. God applies the word again and again in history so it can apply numerous times, just as he did in that Psalm of David’s.

Do you see what the writer is saying? It seems complicated but is, in reality, very simple. The warning came first of all to those Israelites to enter the ‘rest’ God had planned for them, the Promised Land, but when they failed to do that, it didn’t annul the fact that after the Creation God rested and used that ‘rest’ as an illustration of what everyone who came to Him by faith could experience – rest, in a completed world, with all of God’s provision! The goal of God’s plans from before the beginning of time, is a ‘rest’ that means being at peace with God and at rest in His will, with all that He now has available for us.

There is more to come but we’ll leave it until the next one. There has been a lot to take in and you may need to reread the whole of the study to catch it. (We will do a recap in the next study) The outworking of all this?  God has an experience that He wants for all of His children, all those who will come to Him by faith, an experience whereby we can be at complete rest in the knowledge that we have received the end goal of God’s plans – His salvation through Jesus Christ that reconciles us to Him, so no more striving, no more worry, no more wondering, ‘Am I good enough for God?’  As Jesus said on the Cross, “It is finished!”  Hallelujah!

49. Desert & Promised Land

Part 6: The Road to Sinai

Meditations in Exodus: 49. Desert & Promised Land

Ex 15:22   Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.

And so we move into a new phase in the life of Israel. They have been delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh has been dealt with so he will not come after them again. Now, as we have already seen, Israel are being led by the presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud moves they move, when the cloud stands still, they stand still. It is, if you like, a picture of the life of the Christian being led by the Spirit.

Now the moment we say that, we need to introduce the subject of ‘types’ in the Old Testament. Types in the Old Testament mean pictures from the Old Testament history that reveal something of the truths and reality of New Testament experience. Rom 15:4 tells us that the Old Testament writing were written for our instruction and encouragement. In the New Testament, we find it constantly refers to the Old Testament and often indicates that the Old Testament showed pictures that speak of things to come in the New. Wherever possible we should look for Types where the Bible expressly indicates one, but sometimes we may assume a Type where it is so clear that one can be considered. So, before we rush on to observe Israel’s journey through the wilderness, it might be helpful to see these ‘types’ or analogies in the bigger picture.

Egypt is seen as a picture of the world and of our life before Christ.  “World” in Scripture has three different meanings:   i) the planet on which we live,  ii) the people on the earth, iii) the system of godless attitudes held by the majority of people. It is this last meaning that we consider here. Egypt or our unsaved lives is where the people are in slavery, ruled by a tyrant (1:8,9 / 1 Jn5:19 ) where the people want to be free but are unable to deliver themselves.

The Desert or the Wilderness is seen as the start of the redeemed life. It is entered through the Passover, a picture of Jesus dying for us. It is a place of learning to trust God and that is what all the immediate studies will be about. It is a place where God guides but we have to learn to trust Him to overcome every difficulty.  It was supposed to be a limited experience and they were supposed to pass through it and enter the land. We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15).

The Promised Land is, if you like, the second phase of the Christian life where we now trust God and see that it is a place of receiving our inheritance from Him.  It was God’s promised inheritance for Israel (see Gal 4:7 / 2 Pet I :4 / Mt 25:34) and it was to be a place of natural abundant provision (see Eph 1:7,18).  It was also a place of battles to take the inheritance from the unbelieving, godless, occupiers of the land (see Eph 6:12 ) but the victory was assured for them in accordance with God’s promise Josh 1:3-5 (see 1 Cor 15:57 / Rom 8:37 / Rom 16:20 / 1 Cor 15:25 ) and that was obtained as they obeyed his instructions (see Jn 15:5/ Jn 14:12.15)

Before we leave these particular ‘analogies’ can we emphasise the difference between the Wilderness and the Promised Land, for they often confuse Christians. They are both places of learning and obedience and they are both places of God’s provision. The Wilderness experience, we will see, takes God’s people through a number of trials or testings all to do with daily provision and the key lesson to be learnt is to TRUST this loving God that He is for us and WILL provide for us everything we need. There are no exams for this and there is no set time for this; it is simply a learning process that we have to go through, and sadly many Christians never seem to leave the wilderness and get to the place of simply RECEIVING all the goodness of God that He has for us that just has to be taken.

So, we have been delivered out of the ‘world’ (Egypt) and are transiting to the Promised Land through a world that is not always comfortable. This phase begins, Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.” (v.22a) The fact that Moses is mentioned as the leader doesn’t detract from the fact that it is God leading them as we noted above, but Moses is still simply His figurehead at the head of this people. At first sight this might seem bad news that God (and Moses) is leading this people into the desert on the Sinai Peninsular, a distinctly inhospitable part of the world but there are two reasons for this.

First, as we saw in Study no,45, God did not want them to go due north because that would have meant war with the belligerent Philistines and Israel were not yet ready for war. Second, the desert affords Israel the opportunity to learn many thing about their deliverer. So far they have only seen God as the bringer of judgments; now they need to learn that He is also the provider of their daily needs. He is not just a warrior but a loving father who looks after His children.

So they are led into the desert. What does that remind you of? Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert” (Mt 4:1) God’s training and, yes, God’s victories, are often won in the desert, the dry and arid place, the place where you feel all alone. There is nothing romantic about the desert: “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (v.22b) It is a place of shortages, a place of limitations, a hostile place – but God is still there with us and in that dry, arid, hostile place, He will reveal Himself as our provider, our carer, the One who not only delivered us out of Egypt but the One who will walk every step of this life with us, being there for us all the time.

So if you feel like you are in a desert – you probably are, but it is a place of learning and a place of trusting and a place of God providing. It is also a place where our limitations are revealed, our imperfections shown up and we realize afresh that we are here by God’s grace and mercy, not because of our endeavors, our cleverness, our brightness, but because a lamb was slain for us. Do you feel excited by all the lessons that are about to come? If not, let me reassure you that God IS love and everything He allows in this desert experience is for your good and for your maturing and for the blessing of His world. Are we ready? Then let us begin.

7. The Promise of the Land

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!

10. Is this it?

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 10.  Is this it?

Heb 11:9   By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

This is the second of four ‘faith’ things in respect of Abraham that the writer to the Hebrews covers. It is easy to miss it but the fact that Abraham “made his home in the promised land” is quite amazing; we’ll explain as we go along. To get to his new home he has had to leave his old home. It’s rather obvious but important. Home had been Ur. He had grown up there and it was familiar. The thought of going somewhere else is challenging. Will it be similar to here? Will I like it? What will it be like?

Going and being “a stranger in a foreign country” for the first time raises questions in the mind. It is easier today with the Internet able to show you images of that country and there is always plenty of information about whatever country it is you want to find out about. I remember the first time I flew out to Malaysia to teach, part of a team. I really had no idea what to expect. A friend of mine went on a similar ministry trip to Nepal and suffered with culture shock for the first week; it is a very real thing.

So God has told him to go and he set off, stopped at Haran but eventually carried on and he arrives in Canaan. Is this the place God meant for us or have we got to travel some more?

When we talk about God leading us by faith, what are we expecting Him to lead us into? What do we think we are going to find ‘when we arrive’? Do we have expectations, good or not so good? Some things are very simple and so we simply hear and do and that it is and we move on to the next thing, but suppose it is something bigger. Suppose it is moving on to a new job or a new career or, like Abram, a new place that we feel the Lord is leading us to? What were you expecting?  Suppose you find something different from what you were expecting? Consider what happened to Abram. There were three things that would make him wonder.

First he encountered different people: Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (v.6) Faith so often has to do with people and the question that arises is how will these people respond to me? These are Canaanites and they have different gods, in fact they have gods and I have the One true God? Faith for us so often means interaction with people and the same sort of questions will arise in us. How will these people respond to me? What are they like? Who or what are their gods? How will they respond to my God?

Whatever the questions they ultimately boil down to the same fundamental question – am I in the right place, but somewhere along the line the Lord will bring reassurance: “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. “ (v.7) Ah, that’s not quite what I expected – my offspring? Well yes, the Lord works on a long-term plan and our part is only a part, there is more to follow always. This step of faith may seem big for us but I have to tell you it is only A step and there are more to follow, but you’re in The Plan and God is with you!

So he’s apparently in the right place and has built an altar to worship the Lord, a sign of permanence, but am I to stay here or move on? Is there more to take in this experience: “From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” (v.8,9) i.e. he kept going. The second thing about faith here is that we don’t settle! This may have been an amazing experience and I am truly blessed having come through it, but this is not a placer to settle. Faith can grow, our experiences can multiply, our lives can mature, we move on!

So far so good, but, “Now there was a famine in the land.” (v.10)  What? It has suddenly gone pear-shaped. This placed that seemed so good initially suddenly seems to be putting pressure on us. We have a problem. What do we do with it? How do we cope with it? Yes, that is precisely the problem and it is a learning situation we have been presented with. The third thing about faith is that so often the Lord leads us into a learning situation and that may be in the very act of faith or in the circumstances resulting from your act of faith.  The sensible thing at this point would be to ask God for wisdom but Abram is only in the very earliest stages of his relationship with the Lord. He has yet to learn that, and its absence is going to get him into trouble which you’ll see if you read on in Genesis.

For Abram this is only the first part of the fulfilment of God’s words to him. He’s stepped out and followed the leading and left his home land and journeyed to the new land. In the new land he has been exploring what is there but in the course of that he finds himself in trying circumstances. The good news is that although he doesn’t do very well in those trying circumstances the Lord doesn’t give up on him and He doesn’t give up on us as we sometimes stumble around in the waters of faith.

6.1 Origins

Part 6: The Struggle for Canaan

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.1 Origins

Gen 15:16   In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.

Of all the questions I have been asked about God, the one that comes most is why did God instruct Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan? Not only is that perception inaccurate but the understanding of all that went on is complex because it is covered over quite a wide area of the early books of the Bible. Nevertheless, dealing with the Canaanites, one way or another, was clearly on God’s agenda and if it did involve their destruction – or even some other act – then it could constitute a judgement and we need to consider it here.

Our starting point must be to consider ‘the Promised Land’ in a wider context. Our starting place must be with Abram’s family: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Gen 11:31) Although the patriarch, Terah, seems to have led the family to leave their home in the area of Mesopotamia, we find that the motivator to do it came from Abram for, “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) So Abram and his family (less his father who had died in Haran) end up in the land of Canaan.

Later on in his story we find, “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) Hence we refer to it as ‘the Promised Land’. God promised Abram that this would be his land and the land of his descendants. Later the Lord reiterates this: “He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Gen 15:7) It is as they act out a covenant procedure that our verses above appear.

The name Amorites appears to have been used to cover all the inhabitants. As one dictionary says of the state of Canaan 400 years later, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” They had seriously strayed from God’s design for human beings!

So to summarise so far: God took Abram and his family to this land where he lived alongside the other people groups there. Isaac was born there, as was Jacob and although Jacob left there, fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he did finally come back and settle there, only to leave and settle for his final years in Egypt when a famine struck forcing them to go to Egypt for food provided by Joseph. (We considered the Lord using famines in an earlier study). There they stayed until some four hundred years had passed and Israel developed into probably well over a million people who were forced into slavery by the Egyptians.  In the mean time the state of Canaan was getting progressively worse. In fact it would seem that God waited for that people grouping to get so bad that His judgement was essential, and Israel to get so desperate that they would do anything to escape from Egypt.

The entry into Canaan had been postponed for forty years when Israel refused to enter the land initially in a crisis of confidence when the twelve spies returned with their reports of what they found there. Now the forty years has passed and the previous generation (all those over the age of twenty except Caleb and Joshua) had died off. The next generation are now ready to enter the land and so before we see them doing that we will (1) consider the instructions the Lord gave them, (which many people are confused about), and then (2) see how they progressed from their desert wanderings to arrive at the border of the land, before (3) we will finally see how they got on with the task of clearing the land that the Lord had given them. These will make up the next meditations.

There are two issues to be considered in what follows: judgment on the pagan practices in Canaan, and then providing a home for the nation of Israel. Before we finish this one let us note God’s purpose declared again and again. At the burning bush, the Lord said to Moses, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Ex 3:8) 

 Later he instructs him to tell the elders of this:  Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Ex 3:16,17).

Finally before the plagues start He reiterates this: “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens,” (Ex 6:2-4)before saying what He will do with the Egyptians but ending yet again with the promise: “And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ” (v.8)

The scene is well and truly set. God’s intentions are clearly stated. In the next meditation we will see how He intended to do that.