Monday, October 25, 2010

Some Thoughts about the Land

Some thoughts crossed my mind as I wrote about Genesis 15:7,12-16,17-21 in my last post. In Genesis 15, God definitely and clearly made a royal land grant to Abraham and his descendants. However, some may have problems with the fact that there are already people groups living in the territory named by the grant. At least in the past, it had been the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites,Girgashites and Jebusites. (Genesis 15:18-21 NIV)

These objections still persist to this day. Other people groups maintain that the land of Israel, or parts of it, is their own homeland. How do we deal with this objection? I am not talking here about those who wish to see the Israelites pushed into the sea, or any other such nonsense. It is not going to happen. God will not abandon His people. We have His word on it: 1 Chronicles 17:20-27; Psalm 98:2-3; Psalm 100:5; Isaiah 44:21-22; Micah 7:20 -- to name just a few verses. Psalm 89 is a psalm in praise of God's faithfulness. Especially in verses 19-37, the fact of God's utter love and commitment to Israel is repeated over and over again. One of my teachers used to say that if something in the Bible is repeated, it is important. By that measure, the concept of God's faithfulness to Israel is very important! Also, when God says that He has given Israel the land, you had better believe that the land is exactly what Israel will be given.

Let me pause a moment to say that this does not mean that God is not interested in the other nations. Scripture is equally clear that He wants all nations to come to Him in worship. Almost every book in the Bible repeats this theme. Israel was chosen by God as His people, not because they were more powerful than other nations or somehow more worthy. Scripture makes this very clear in these verses: "The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands." (Deuteronomy 7:6-9 NIV) Isaiah 64:6 notes that "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;..."

Israel has been given the task of revealing God to the nations. As Israel came in contact with various nations, some have had a good relationship with Israel and some fought against her. Regardless, her task is to reveal God to the nations.

In my last post, the fact came out that God told Abram that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years, and that one reason why this was so was because the iniquity of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure. In other words, these Amorites were not yet as sinful as they could be, and God was giving them further time to repent. Now, that is not the only reason the Israelites were enslaved and mistreated. Yet it reveals something of the marvelous wisdom of God in that He is able to work all things out for His own purposes and glory. Even if it is in a strange, roundabout kind of way, the Amorites are reaping a blessing -- additional time to repent instead of being destroyed immediately -- due to their contact with Israel. Remember Genesis 12:2-3? -- "...I will make your name great and you will be a blessing...and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

However, later on, when Israel is escaping from slavery in Egypt, they do return to this same territory. This is many years later, of course, and we are temporarily skipping over a bunch of texts just to get some idea of the ways of God in His dealings with Israel and with the other nations. Moses, the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, had died, and Joshua had been appointed to lead the Israelites. Now in Joshua chapters 23 and 24, Joshua is giving his farewell address because his own death is imminent. He also gathers the tribes together at Shechem to renew the covenant they had made with the Lord. (Please read both chapters 23 and 24 before continuing here.)

In chapter 23, Joshua reminds the Israelites that God has fought for them. He has allowed them to rout their enemies. Even though they were few, marvelous victories had taken place. Joshua warns them to continue to love the Lord their God and to serve only Him. He warns them not to intermarry with the nations around them, for then they would easily become ensnared to worship their 'gods'. Then they would be destroyed by the Lord, for they would be violating the covenant they had made to serve only Him.

In chapter 24, Joshua prepares to renew the covenant that they had made with the Lord. He recounts highlights of the history of what the Lord had done for Israel. He reminds them how God delivered them from Egypt and how God gave them the land of the Amorites and other peoples as He had promised (Joshua 24:5-18). Joshua warns the Israelites that they cannot serve two masters. They must choose between serving the true God or the gods of the peoples around them. The Israelites choose to follow the Lord.

Later, in the period of the Judges, a troubled time when "...Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (Judges 21:25 NIV), Jephthah is chosen by the elders of Gilead to lead them into battle against the Ammonites, who were poised to attack them. In Judges 11:12, we read that "...Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: 'What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?'" The king replied, "...When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably." (Judges 11:13 NIV)

Jephthah's reply is succinct and thorough. As the New International Version (NIV) Study Bible points out, Jephthah's defense can be divided into three areas:

1)Israel had not taken the land from the Ammonites, but from Sihon, king of the Amorites. Also, it is important to note that Israel had asked permission to pass through the lands of other nations (Edom and Moab) as they traveled to their promised land, and when those nations refused to let them pass through their territory, Israel had skirted those lands, even though this made their travels longer. Israel had only attacked Sihon and the Amorites when he began to attack Israel. (Judges 11:14-22)

2)The Lord gave the Israelites the power to conquer their Amorite attackers. In the eyes of the peoples of that day, territorial disputes were actually settled by whichever god was able to prevail on behalf of his people. As Jephthah notes: "Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess." (Judges 11:23-24 NIV)

3)The time element. Israel had long possessed the disputed lands. As Jephthah notes, "For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn't you retake them during that time?" (Judges 11:26 NIV)

It is interesting to see that some of the same disputes are going on over the land of Israel today. The country is not a theocracy today, as it was then. However, the covenant of God is still in effect, as is His desire for all nations to worship Him, the only true God.

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