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THE PROMISED LAND
HEBREWS 11:8-9

9th February 2003

Many people seek a promised land somewhere. It is the place of their dreams. It may be a new country. After every war there are hordes of refugees traveling from one country to another seeking their promised land. Today in Australia we have Iranian refugees, Iraqi illegal immigrants and detained boat people who have destroyed their papers preventing their repatriation back to their country of origin. This looks like a Promised Land.

Sometimes the Promised Land is the work of a dreamer like William Lane. He envisaged a socialist utopia called New Australia that was founded in Paraguay in 1893. Sometimes the Promised Land is a new beginning. It is shifting to a new town, a new home, beginning with a new identity. The promise is there. A new spouse, a new house, a new figure, a new job, people everywhere seeking new satisfaction in some promised land!

I admire people who undertake such steps in faith. One of the young men who grew up in Wesley Mission with our children felt the call to ministry. He trained, is married with as family and has had a very good, long first ministry. But he has put on a lot of weight. That leads of loss of self-esteem, dissatisfaction with other people, a critical attitude to what is happening, and that in turn leads to feelings of self-centeredness and over-eating. It is a vicious circle. But he has sought his promised land - new church, new location, new home and a new figure! He has lost 36 kilos by diet. That is the weight of a bag of chook pellets or a bag of cement! He looks trim, taught and terrific. He has arrived! The promised land is an encouragement for everyone. The dream helps them achieve it.

1. ABRAHAM'S CHILDREN.

Given conflict between Israel and the Arabs, some do not believe the two nations are closely related. But they both have Abraham as father and both the Jews and the Arabs descend from the nomadic tribes that wandered the Arabian peninsula in ancient times. Abraham's call was God's gift of salvation in the midst of judgment. Abraham's call and blessing comes after an earlier account of a similar gift of salvation in the midst of judgment, the conclusion of the Flood of Noah's time. Genesis 8:15-19 The similarities between the two narratives are striking, showing that Abraham, like Noah, marks a new beginning as well as a return to God's original plan of blessing "all mankind".

The relationship between Jews and Muslims is complex. It is true that theologically Islam's Holy Book the Koran does criticize Jews and Islam's Prophet Muhammad is on public record as having been angry with Jewish communities living in the midst of the early Islamic communities. Scholars have speculated that he regarded Judaism - then well established in the Arabian peninsular - as more of a threat to the infant Islam than anything else. In any case, both Muslim fundamentalists and hardline Israelis have seized on this portion of the Islamic tradition to prove that the Arab-Israeli conflict is nothing less than an continuous Holy War between Judaism and Islam. Christians are quoted in the Koran as the slaves of Satan, infidels and friends of the Jews and they too deserved to be destroyed. Today in Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, many parts of Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, Irian Jaya, the Philippines, Christians are killed and persecuted by Muslims as are Jews.

2. ABRAHAM'S PROMISE.

God gave to Abraham a promise that included his heirs, land and a blessing to others. God's plan of salvation and blessing to His people, is one of the unifying themes of the Old and New Testaments. God's promise begins with a declaration by God. It covers God's future plan for not just one race, but all the nations of the earth. It focuses on the gifts and deeds that God will bestow on a few to benefit the many. We may define God's promise this way: it is the divine assurance given first to Eve, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then to the whole nation of Israel, that the Almighty God would be their God, that they would be His people, and that He would dwell in their midst. To enable this He will bless them with land and growth as a nation. These words and deeds of God began to constitute the continuously unfolding divine plan by which all the peoples and nations of the earth would benefit from that day to this.

For Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Patriarchs of Israel, the triple promise included: (1) the promise of offspring Geneses 12:7; 15:4; 17:16,19; 21:12; 22:16-18; 26:3-4,24; 28:13-14; 35:11-12, (2) the promise of land, Genesis 12:1,7; 13:17; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-5; 28:13,15; 35:12; 48:4; 50:24 (3) the promise of blessing on all the nations. Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:4; 28:14 Heirs, inheritance and the blessing of the gospel. The promise is to all generations so Abraham's descendants had to transmit the promise to subsequent generations until the final Seed, Jesus the Messiah, came. They too had to participate personally by faith. The promise-plan of God is both in His person and His works, to communicate a blessing to Israel and thereby to bless all the nations of the earth. The descendents of Abraham had this promise.

3. ABRAHAM'S LAND.

God told Abraham to go "to the land that I will show you." Genesis 12:1 Only after he reached Canaan was he told that this was the land God would give his descendants. Gen 12:7 The original Palestine was only the sea-coast of the land of Canaan. Exodus 15:14; Isaiah 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4 Abraham's promised land was called variously: "the land of the Hebrews", "the holy land", the "land of promise", the "land of Canaan", the "land of Israel", and the "land of Judah". This is the Jewish version of the events.

Abraham's land was bounded on the east by the River Euphrates in Iraq, on the west by the Mediterranean, on the north by Iran and on the south by the river Nile. This territory, about 60,000 square miles, was conquered by King David, and ruled over by his son Solomon. 2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 18; 1 Kings 4:1, 21 This vast area is the Promised Land occupied today by both Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs. The internal borders are in dispute. What we called Israel is only part of it.

No single country has so great a variety of climate, and hence also of plant and animal life. In the time of Christ, the country looked, in all probability, much as now. There is no Biblical reason why part of this area cannot be called Palestine and be divided from Israel as a home for the Palestinians. Israel believes it should not give up any territory it has won by grant or victory in war. The Muslims believe they too should share in Abraham's inheritance of land as his descendents. Christians own none of the land but want to live there simply as Jewish Christians or Palestinian Christians. The land could be divided by rational compromise with freedom for all.

4. ABRAHAM'S PARADOX.

Paradoxically, when he got to the land of Canaan that God had promised to him, Abraham lived in it, not as its owner, but as a resident alien. The verb translated "made his home" is not used of permanent residence but, it means to "inhabit as a stranger" as illegal immigrants live in Australia today. "The promised land" was to be his own land in due course, but Abraham lived there as though "in a foreign country." He had no rights. He and his household lived in tents, in temporary dwellings. The whole land had been promised to him. Yet Abraham did not even have a proper house in it. Abraham's permanent dwelling place in Canaan was a tent! Right to the end of his life the only piece of the country he owned was the field he purchased as Sarah's burial plot. Genesis 23 God "gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground". Acts 7:5

Nor was it any better with Isaac and Jacob, his son and grandson. They shared the same promises. They were the descendants through whom God's purpose would be worked out. However, they had no more share in Canaan than Abraham did. Toward the end of Jacob's life the clan went down to Egypt, and when they came back many years later, it was not as sojourners but as a mighty people who made the land their own. The lives of the three patriarchs thus cover the whole time of the temporary dwelling in the land. When the descendants arrived back from Egypt, the land was not empty. They had to fight and defeat tribes who occupied the land. The land ever since has been the subject of wars and occupying forces, and local resistance to occupation.

What lessons can we learn from all of this? Look again at the promise:

Genesis 12:1-3 "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. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

The descendants of Abraham, through Ishmael are Arabs and through Isaac, Jews. The Arab race is predominantly Muslim. Both occupy the Promised Land. Jewish Christians and Arab Christians should have the right to live in it, as people of other lands have the right to live here, provided they abide by the laws of the country. To preserve peace there is no scriptural reason why Palestinians should not have a place they can call their own. Christians should not recognize Jews as the only people who can inhabit the Promised Land. American evangelical Christians especially have to change their views on this.

There are other insights here as well. You will remember that when Abraham was in his promised land he did not recognize it. So he went to live in Egypt thinking it had the answers to famine and drought. Many people think the answers to their problems are always somewhere else. They are never content, always looking elsewhere. Some people are always looking for the new: new place, new spouse, new house, new location, new friends: always dissatisfied, always looking. Never belonging, always discontented.

The lesson of Abraham is that the Promised Land is where you are! Bloom where you are planted! Lovely lilies can bloom in mud! This is not to disparage the new or the adventure. But so many people never arrive because they are always traveling! When you find your Promised Land, it may not be all you dreamed, but make the most of what you've got. Otherwise you will spend your life dissatisfied and miserable.

That also applies to your family. Usually families are not perfect, but they are yours. Your husband could be improved or traded in, but there is no-one perfect in this life, and so many people have learned the hard way that the new does not always satisfy more than the old. This does not mean you should be trapped in a marriage that is abusive and demeaning. What it does mean is the grass on the other side of the fence isn't always greener!

The dream of a Promised Land somewhere else can drive you on and make the prospect of the future exciting. But if you have been searching for a long time, if the prospects seem no closer, if the journey is too exhausting, then why not take stock of your situation and ask, "Am I already in my Promised Land, only I cannot recognize it? Can I make more of what I already have? Can I bloom where I am planted? Can I stop traveling and discover I have already arrived? Can I make the most of what I have already got?" These are the questions the children of Abraham still have to answer. The great thing about Abraham was his faith in God. It was His faith that saved him and marked him out. That faith is something we all can emulate. Abraham's faith made him, and it can make you too!

REFERENCES.

  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary. F E Gaebelein Ed 1981.
Wesley Mission, Sydney.