Intro to the Bible (Study #5) – The promised land and God’s good purpose
The land of Palestine:
Much of the bible is set in the land of Palestine – strip of land approx. 50 – 70km wide between the Arabian Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. It was a significant piece of land in the ancient world because of it’s location between the great civilisations to the north (in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) The Assyrians and Babylonians and the Egyptians on the Nile to the south. These super powers wanted to control this trade route. Canaan refers to the land only to the west of the Jordan river (p.60-61).
Geography and Climate:
The area eventually occupied by the Israelite tribes was approx. 25,600 km². The coastal plain, the mountains and Jordan valley all run north-south. The winter is the rainy season (Dec – March) and Summers are dry and warm. The exalted description of Palestine (e.g. Deut 8) may be accounted for in its contrast with the desert in which Israel had been home for generations. Moreover, there is an important theological reason for this exalted description. (p61)
The significance of the land – Deuteronomy:
God commanded Abraham to go to a new land, which would be the place of His blessing- His purpose for humanity from the beginning. “The land promised to Abraham was to be, therefore, what the Garden of Eden had been”(p62)
The Israelite’s journey of redemption from slavery towards the promised land occupies Exodus, Leviticus,, Numbers & Deuteronomy. In Deut, the people are on the verge of entering into the land. Moses’ address to the people is the significance of the land.
God’s land – Deuteronomy 11:10-12
A contrast between’the land you are entering’, and’the land of Egypt from which you have come’. The symbolism of irrigated crops in Egypt contrasted with rain-watered fertility in Palestine points to God’s care and provision – it is His land. (p62)
A ‘good’ land
The language used to describe the land is “extravagent and trancends any literal discription of Palestine” because it is not a reference to natural fertility but to it being the place where God’s blessings will be enjoyed. (compare Gen2:8-14 with Deut 8:7-10) It is His land, and therefore good. (p63)
The ‘promised’ land
The people are frequently reminded that this is the land which God has promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – they are about to enter becaue of God’s faithfulness to his Promise, not because of the people’s righteousness (Deut 9:4-5).(p63)
The land is given to the people, as a gift of God, not earned by them.
The place of ‘Blessing’ – Deuteronomy 7:13-15
Blessing is to be the hallmark of life in the promised land. This life of blessing can be summed up as ‘rest’. Compare with Genesis 2:1-3
The place of ‘obedience’
While the land is a gift of God’s faithfulness, the life of blessing in the land is closely linked to the peoples’ obedience. While God’s favour is not earnt, obedience is the response of gratitude – the naure of redemption. The goal of redemption is new relationship. “The fundamental blessing of the land promised to Israel is that it is to be the place where they are to enjoy this new relationship to God. Their obedience is an aspect of God’s blessing!” (p64)
The other possiblity – Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Moses presents the people with a choice which included the possiblity of turning away from all that God had done for them. The consuequence of such a choice woul result in the ‘curse’ being upon them instead of blessing, becoming objects of God’s anger, and being driven out of the land.
This is exactly what happened. The blessing of God was never fully experienced by Israel in the land, for the people were, in various ways, disobedient.
The people were eventually scattered.
The experience of Israel in the land is the subject of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.
- The conquest of the land – Joshua
Joshua tells the story of God’s conquest of the land after Moses has died.
Moses was a channel of revelation to God’s people, where Joshua’s leadership begins with obedience to the law which Moses had written down which is now the ‘mediator’. Joshua’s leadership is political and military. (p65)
Joshua 1-12 deals with the conquest of the land, 13-21 describe the division of the land between the twelve tribes of Israel. The emphasis of the book is the fulfilment of God’s promises.
While the Israelites have not yet entered into the full experience of God’s blessing promised to Abraham, they have experienced the complete faithfulness of God – they have received what what promised.
Response of obedience
“The further experience of God’s grace which has been the subjct of the book of Joshua can only be enoyed in obedience.” (p66)
Th people affirm their eagerness to serve God (Josh 24:16-18). But human sinfulness has not been dealt with.
Rebellion in the land – Judges
“Judges presents a most depressing view of human nature. The faithfulness of Joshua’s generation was shorting. The next generation did exactly what their fathers had sworn not to do.” (p67)
The people’s sin – Judges 2:11-13
The people break the first commandment in serving other gods (the gods of the canaanites)
The Lord’s judgement – Judges 2:14-15
God was angry at their unfaithfulness and allowed them to be plundered and defeated by their enemies.
The Lord’s grace – Juges 2:16
God raises up judges to save his people from his own judgement. They were raised up by God to lead the people in military victory over the enemies who opressed them, and they usually ruled over the people for the rest of their lifetime. (p67)
A recurring pattern – Judges 2:17-23
A cycle of events which recurrs throughout the book:
Israel sins > God’s judgement > Israel repents > God sends a saviour (judge) > Period of peace and prosperity > Israel sins….
Like in Genesis, human sinfulness brings God’s judgement, but also his continued grace.
The book closes with a reminder that the people are still the recipients of the ‘inheritance’ given them by God.
Move towards a monarchy – 1 Samuel
Samuel was the last of the judges, and a prophet.
The demand for a king – 1 Samuel 8
The elders of Israel requested that Samuel appoint a king (vv4-5)
“This request was yet another instance of the people’s sinfulness” (p69) as it was a rejection of God’s kingship over them, and a desire to be like the other nations, instead of set apart for God. Samuel’s warning goes unheeded and the people continued to demand a king. God then told Samuel to appoint a king.
“The monarch in Israel.. was introduced as a concession to the sinful demands of the people.”
The possible future – 1 Samuel 12
Samuel meets Saul, the man God has chosen to be the first king.
God’s purpose for his people has not been abandoned. The people’s request for a king is shown as a climax in their sinful history, yet even then there is a chance for the people and the king to choose to follow the Lord.
Samuel then stands “at the head of a long line” of prophets who act as a check against the dangerous possibilities of a kingship – he is to intercede for and instruct the king in the ways of the Lord.
The failure of Saul – 1 Samuel 15
“The possibilities sete before the people and their new king in 1 Samuel 12 are in priniciple the same as those in Deuteronomy 30:15-20. And just as Israel failed in faithfulness during the period of the judges, so Saul failed to live up to the exhortation of 1 Samuel 12:24-25
Saul’s failure is his disobedience to God’s word concerning the total destruction of the Amalekites and their animals, and finally, his use of divination. God regrets having made him King. Saul’s response is to provide excuses, that disobedience is justified in the reason is religious purposes.
“The essence of true relationship to God is obedience to his words, not scarficies or other ritual. Indeed, to disobey God’s words, no matter how ‘religious’ the motive might be, is the same kind of sinful action as divination or idolatry. Saul’s rebellion amounted to a rejection of th Lord.” (p70)
The choice of David – 1 Samuel 16:1-13
After God rejects Saul, God chooses David to be the next king. The continuation of the monarchy in Israel is not at the behest of the people, but is God’s sovereign choice.
The remainder of 1 Samuel is dominated by the tension of having a a rejecte king on the throne and a chosen king who cannot yet reign.
The land has not proved to be the place of ultimate blessing, because the story has been one of the people’s unfaithfulness to the God who gave them the land.
“The story has nevertheless been, once again, a case of ‘where sin increased, graec increased all the more'(Rom 5:20).” (p70)
God will bless his people (Gen 12:1-3) by choosing David to sit upon the throne of Israel.