17 Jul 2010

What Happened to the Land? An Exercise in Biblical Probing

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Abraham, Christian hope, eschatology, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Kingdom
I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Gen. 15.7, NRSV)

And I will give to you and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding, and I will be there God” (Gen 17.8, NRSV).

God’s promise to Abraham is a controlling axis in the story of Scripture. Christians know that through that promise Yahweh chose the line of Abraham to ultimately bring the Messiah to redeem his creation. We know that God gave Abraham a great name, many descendants, and he has blessed all the nations through him. But what ever happened to the land? The story recorded in the Pentateuch drives inexorably from paradise lost in Eden to paradise regained in the Promised Land. We as Christians also know that the promise to Abraham meant far more than the number of Jewish people in the world today. We know that the blessing to the nations was far more than Abraham could dream or imagine. So what about the Land? This is a question many thoughtful believers have posed.

In the Story that is revealed in Scripture, when God established his covenant of grace with Abram we understand that the universal scope of Genesis 1-11 is suddenly restricted (or narrowed) to Abraham and his seed. But this narrowing served the purpose of universalizing the promise to all nations. Within the NT the covenant is not restricted to ethnic Israel but includes myself and all believing Gentiles.

Did that narrowing for the sake of widening apply to only part of God’s gracious promise to Abraham? God chose one man, one family, one nation for the sake of the entire human race. Or does that narrowing for the sake of widening apply to all of the promise? Does it include the land? Does God choose one spot, one land, one area for the sake of the entire creation??

Let me probe in the Story of God a little deeper. Just as Yahweh narrowed his covenant people to mostly Israel but in the NT gathered all humanity, does the inheritance of the land that was limited to Canaan likewise now encompass all of creation? I think it does.

Note in Genesis 17.8 that it reads “and I will give to YOU, and to your descendants.” God promised to give the land not simply to the then unborn children of Abraham but to Abraham himself. Now as the Story presses towards its goal we learn that Abraham never owned a foot of the land except for a burial cave (Acts 7.5; Gen 23). Yet according to the Story what did Abraham think about this situation? The Eloquent Preacher to the Hebrews elaborates on Abraham’s point of view …

By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11.9-10, NRSV. See 11.13-16)

It is also interesting that this same Preacher to the Hebrews understands that Canaan was a type for the eternal rest of God’s people (Hebrews 4). To probe even further we learn from Galatians 3.29 that all those who have faith and are baptized into Messiah are “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Are we heirs to only part of God’s promise to Abraham?? or are we heirs to all of God’s promise of grace to Abraham?

The movement of the Story seems to be a universalizing of the land promise to include not only all believers redeemed but all creation redeemed. Already before Paul’s time Jewish thinking had been providentially led to understand the land promise to be way beyond simply the borders of Canaan. Though many examples can be adduced Jesus, the Son of Sirach will suffice.

Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath that the nations would be blessed through his offspring; that he would make him as Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 3.10.52 PMnumerous as the dust of the earth, and exalt his offspring like the stars, and give them an inheritance from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth” (Sirach 44.21, NRSV)

The careful reader of the Story will note that Paul makes use of all the promise to Abraham and applies it to all his “descendants.” “For the PROMISE that he would inherit the WORLD did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith …” (Romans 4.13, NRSV).

Note that Paul does not say land of Canaan but the world (as Sirach had understood too). There is no text in the canonical Hebrew Bible that says this. But as pointed Jewish thought already embraced the universal import of the promise of grace. So indeed just as God chose a man for the sake of all people, he chose a “spot” for the sake of the world. Abraham’s descendant are more than Jews and the promise land is more than a patch of ground.

But we must probe Paul in light of the Story a little deeper. What does Paul mean? He means what the Hebrew Preacher means … I will show this through Moses E. Lard’s insightful Commentary on Romans (something of a classic among Churches of Christ):

THE WORLD, The word “world”, kosmos, I construe as denoting simply the material earth, or globe; nor do I see how it can be made to bear any other meaning. But the word can not here signify the world in its present form; for Abraham and his spiritual offspring have never inherited it in this form, neither will they. It must, then, refer to the world in its future, renovated or glorified form–in its final form, when it becomes a ‘new earth.’ In that form, indisputably, Abraham and his spiritual seed will inherit the world, but never in any other. The reference, therefore, I conclude is the future earth” (Commentary on Romans, p. 142).

The land promise is ultimately fulfilled in the New Heavens and the New Earth. As Abraham sojourned in Canaan he looked forward, in faith like his offspring still do, to “inherit the world” (in Paul’s words). Abraham looked, in faith, to that City. According to the Story recorded in Scripture we learn finally where that City will be.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, COMING DOWN OUT OF HEAVEN from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21.2)

in the Spirit he carried me to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem COMING DOWN OUT OF HEAVEN from God” (Rev 21.10)

the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that COMES DOWN FROM GOD out of heaven” (Rev 3.12).

God did not renege on Abraham. When humanity brought sin into this good creation of God there was vandalism of shalom towards God, towards one another, towards creation. God’s promise to Abraham was aimed at healing all those war torn areas. The land promise did not disappear rather in the Story as a cast off piece of non-Spirituality. Rather it finds its goal in the genuine Spiritual blessing of the redeemed earth which the children of Abraham … the meek … will inherit.

Our Sabbath rest awaits us! Come Lord Jesus! Amen.

12 Responses to “What Happened to the Land? An Exercise in Biblical Probing”

  1. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Glad to have you here. Glad also to have your point of view even if I think it is mistaken. If I am reading what you are saying correctly you are saying the New Heavens/New Earth arrived in AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army. If this is what you are saying then we are currently in the New H/New E. I do not think, however, that can be sustained and is not sustained by any scripture u cited.

    When Jesus says in John 14 that he has gone to prepare a place the word is mone. A temporary dwelling or an inn. That is the meaning of the word. First Thessalonians 4 refers to a common (very) Roman custom of a town or city going out to welcome the returning Caesar or servant of Caesar and bringing back into the city for a heroes welcome.

    I’ve already commented at length on Rev 21 and I think Matthew refers to the end.

  2. kingdomseeking Says:


    I enjoyed your post and as always…a great Bible study. My views on God’s redemptive goal began changing when I had to write a paper on the resurrection of the dead (from 1 Cor 15) and it was not all that difficult since a bodily resurrection made more sense with what the scriptures ACTUALLY say. Then I preached a series titled “Resurrection and Christian Hope” from Jn 11, 1 Cor 15, 1 Thess 4, 1 Pet 1, & Rev and the old view of Christians ‘going to heaven’ died and the view of a ‘restored creation’ heaven comes to earth and God dwells with people (as he did in Gen 1) was resurrected. But that is still difficult to hold, not because it is untrue but because our hymnals are saturated with a platonic view of redemption and the Christian vernacular is so saturated with proof-texts used to espouse the platonic view that it makes it seem believable.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  3. george mearns Says:

    Thanks Bobby for your article. I agree with you. I wrote an article last year after a study of the covenants. I wondered why we looked at Abraham’s blessing as just the one found in Christ without looking at the land one, assuming it ended with Joshua. However, after studying and reading (including some of your material), I concluded, like you, that the meek shall inherit the earth. You can read it at http://www.blakehart.com/cypresswoodbulletin.htm under the date of 7/19/09.

  4. Randall Says:

    As you asked “Whatever happened to the land?”

    There is a lot more to eschatology that I don’t pretend to understand that there is that I do pretend to understand.

    However, the scriptures do seem to promise to the Jews that God will forgive them and fulfill his promises to them. As a Christian I do believe I am included in those promises though I may not know exactly how that will work out.

    Hosea (and many other OT passages) seem to suggest that God will redeem Gomer in spite of her harlotry b/c of God’s hesed and not b/c of Gomer’s worthiness.

    If the promises made to (ethnic) Israel cannot be understand to have a fulfillment to Israel then what what promises made to the church can be understood to have a plain sense fulfillment to the church?

    As you asked “Whatever happened to the land?”

    God’s lovingkindness trumps all our unfaithfulness for He is true though every man be false!

  5. Gardner Hall Says:

    Will try to get back and see where this exchange lead. I still think you are on the wrong track here with the emphasis on the physical. As pilgrims on this earth, our citizenship is in heaven and believe that homeland should be our focus when considering the future blessings God has for us.

  6. Gardner Hall Says:

    Will try to get back and see where this exchange lead. I still think you are on the wrong track here with the emphasis on the physical. As pilgrims on this earth, our citizenship is in heaven and believe that homeland should be our focus when considering the future blessings God has for us.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    I am glad to see you again. I’ve been out of town doing an encampment so sorry for the delay in replying to you.

    I suppose first i need to ask you to clarify a few things:

    1)was Jesus’ resurrection in the flesh or was it “spiritual”?

    2) in what way does our citzenship in heaven undercut the renewed earth? Does not Rev 21 say that the city of God came down OUT of Heaven … where is it coming down to??

    3) What do you mean by “spiritual”? Does “spiritual” mean “non-physical?” “non-material”? Does it mean “mental”? or just the “unseen”? Are these more pagan and gnostic notions than biblical??

    I think my “track” is on the whole biblical meaning of redemption and embraces the work of Christ in what God intends and has intended from the beginning.

  8. kingdomseeking Says:

    Paul’s decription of Christians having their “citizenship in heaven” in Philippians 3.20 is describing the political stature of the Christian rather than a homeland-location. The word ‘citizenship’ was used in the Greco-Roman world in political talk and Paul follows this description up with his identification of Jesus as Savior (not a common term for Paul) which was what citizens of Rome identified Caesar as. Thus, identifying Christians as “citizens of heaven” simply is meant as a reminder that we Christians bounce to a different drumbeat than the politics set on ‘earthly things’ (cf. v 19).

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts
    Dover, NJ

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Rex you are quite right. In my dialog with Gardner though I was going one step at a time.

    As for Philippians I recently did a post on Preaching thru Philippians and posted many good resources for it. Those sermons are all online too. When one does a careful study of this short letter we discover that Paul “rips off” quite a bit of Roman propaganda in the service of the Jewish Messiah.

  10. kingdomseeking Says:

    I was taking one step at a time too…just giant steps :-).

    I am finishing a sermon on Philippians this Sunday. I have been reading through three recent commentaries on Philippians…one by Stephen Fowl, one by G. Walter Hansen, and another by Moises Silva. I really have enjoyed the commentaries by Fowl and Hansen.

    I told the church that for a short letter, Paul really brings a big bat to the plate with this letter.

    Grace and peace,


  11. Anonymous Says:

    I would like to exchange links with your site http://www.blogger.com
    Is this possible?

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    That would depend on who you are and what your site is.

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