A Fruitful Land, An Abiding PromisePublished on: 29.8.2022
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
As we consider this year’s Feast theme of “The Land of Promise”, there is a tendency to focus on the “Land” part. And this is understandable, as the Land of Israel is so unique, diverse, bountiful and captivating.
You can go from majestic snow-capped Mount Hermon to the shimmering Sea of Galilee, on down to the lowest point on earth at the ultra-salty Dead Sea, past the striking Ramon Crater, and end up at the tropical Red Sea. There are fertile valleys like the Ayalon, Hula and Jezreel. There are the rolling hills of Judea and Shomron and the Carmel range, while the coastal region boasts the scenic plains of Sharon and Shephela, not to mention all the alluring Mediterranean beaches.
Israel also is known today for its amazing agricultural produce, its cutting-edge drip irrigation and water conservation, and its expertise in creating new fruits and vegetables. From choice greenhouse cherry tomatoes to flavorful Medjool dates to zesty Jaffa oranges, the successes of modern Israeli farmers are legendary. Israel has one of the most nutritious domestic food supplies in the world, even ranking above France and the US. The nation also is exporting high-quality farm produce in all seasons, even while all its Arab neighbors must import food to feed their people. And all this is taking place in a land that is largely desert.
Yet the Land of Israel was not always so fruitful. In fact, throughout all the centuries of Jewish exile the land lay desolate and would not yield its fruit for another people, just as the Bible said it would (Leviticus 26:20; Deuteronomy 11:16-17; Jeremiah 18:15-17).
Meantime, the dispersed Jewish people were not known for having a ‘green thumb’. In both the Christian and Muslim lands where most Jews were scattered, they were largely forbidden to own land, which meant they basically lost the ability to farm.
This makes the bounty coming from the Land of Israel today even more astounding. Still, God had promised that one day He would return the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, and the land would again yield its fruit for them, while the desert would “blossom like a rose” (Isaiah 35:1; Ezekiel 34:25-29, 36:8, 29-36; Zechariah 8:11-12).
Once you realise how remarkable this prophetic transformation of the Land of Israel is, then the focus starts turning to the “Promise” part of “The Land of Promise” – and especially to the God who promised all these things. That is where our attention truly belongs!
The Land promise
The modern-day restoration of the Jewish people back to the Land divinely promised to them is an incredible testament to the faithfulness, reliability and even love of the God we serve. Every Christian should be amazed that God has kept a promise made by sworn oath to Abraham four thousand years ago, because it demonstrates that He can be absolutely trusted to keep every promise He has made to us in Christ through the New Covenant. This, after all, is the whole point of Hebrews 6:13-20. So, witnessing Israel’s ongoing restoration in our day should build our faith and our awe of God!
Yet some Christians still question whether the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel is from God. They say it is a mere accident of history or the result of a ‘man-made Zionism’ fraught with injustice. Others contend the Jews forfeited their right to the Land by rejecting Jesus, or that the Land was only needed until Christ came and the Church was born. Many insist we should be more concerned about salvation than any physical piece of land. And then there are those who totally spiritualise the Land promise to the point it has no earthly relevance.
But think about it! If we love someone, shouldn’t we keep our promises to them? You can tell your spouse or child that you love them all you want, but if you start breaking your promises to them, it only rings hollow. That is why the Land promise still matters today. God’s loyalty to His oath is the hallmark of His love! Indeed, the very character of God is at stake over His faithfulness to keep His promise to deliver the Land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants as an “everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8).
Now, there indeed are wonderful spiritual lessons for our own lives which we can take from the biblical story of the Promised Land. But before we go there, let us first try to understand more fully the nature of the Land promise and how it is treated throughout Scripture.
Entrusted with God’s land
Clearly, the Bible records how God originally promised the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his natural descendants through Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 13:15, 15:17-21, 17:5-8, 28:13, 35:12; Psalm 105:8-12). But the nature of the title which Abraham and his offspring received is key to understanding the eternal purpose behind this promise.
As a former practicing real estate attorney, I was used to rendering opinions on title for landowners I represented. And I am amazed at the similarities between the divine Land promise to Israel in the Bible and property deeds today. The grantor and grantee are specified, there are clear words of conveyance and warranty of title, and there are several consistent ‘meets-and-bounds’ descriptions of the precise lands conveyed (Genesis 15:18-21; Numbers 34:2-12). But what exactly is the nature or kind of title which Israel received?
Normally, when someone conveys a piece of property to another person, they deliver title in “fee simple absolute”, which means the grantor is transferring all his rights and claims in the land to the grantee and he retains nothing. If the grantee then wants to build a beer joint on the property, the former owner can do nothing about it.
But that is not how God vested title to the Land in Abraham and his heirs. He did not just hand over the Land scot-free. How so?
In His covenant with Abraham, God chose both the Land and the people of Israel for the purpose of world redemption, so that together they might form a nation which over time would deliver all the means we need for salvation (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:4-8; 22:15-18; Psalm 105:8-11; Acts 7:2-5; Romans 9:4-5; Galatians 3:7-8).
But in His covenant with Moses, God placed conditions on Israel’s right to enjoy possession of the Land. These are summarised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which set forth the moral requirements Israel needed to meet to remain in the Land given to them. Otherwise, God vowed to exile them as a corrective measure. Yet loss of possession did not mean loss of the underlying title, as He also promised to always come find them and bring them back to the Land (Leviticus 26:40-45). Why? Because He had already promised to Abraham by sworn oath to deliver the Land to his offspring as an “everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8).
Now if God just handed over the Land to the Israelites in ‘fee simple absolute’, He would have no right to come along later and impose these conditions. What this means is that Israel actually received title to the Land in the nature of a trust, whereby God retains ultimate ownership, but entrusted the Land of Canaan to them to further His plan for redeeming the world. They do hold title exclusive of any other claimant, but it is not absolute ownership free of any obligation to God or to others. In this trust relationship, Israel is both a trustee and a beneficiary, as the Land was there to protect and provide for them over time. And even we Gentiles are beneficiaries of that trust relationship, as salvation ultimately came to us as well.
We see this trust relationship evidenced in Leviticus 25, where the Lord sets out the commands for observing the Jubilee every 50 years. One of His core commands was that any family or tribal lands which had been lost due to debts had to be returned to their original owners, while no part of the land could be permanently sold, “for the Land is Mine” (Leviticus 25:23).
This trusteeship also is reflected in the intriguing words of conveyance found in the passage where God assures Jacob: “The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I [will] give this land.” (Genesis 35:12) Here, the Lord says He already gave the Land (past tense), He is giving the Land (present tense), and He will give the land (future tense) – all in one verse. This speaks of God’s continual, abiding entrustment of the Land to Abraham’s offspring, while retaining its ultimate ownership.
This unique trust relationship involving the Land and people of Israel, which has seen them separate and come back together at various preordained times, has been working out God’s plan for world redemption all along. Israel has never forfeited its title to the Land. God has never reneged on His Land promise to Abraham. And the Land promise still awaits an ultimate future fulfilment. We see this, for example, in the simple but powerful words: “I will give you rest.”
Entering our rest
Despite the doubts of some Christians, the New Testament affirms in numerous places that Israel indeed has a future destiny back in the Land of Promise, and one ‘proof text’ can be found in the Book of Hebrews.
The writer of Hebrews spends much of chapters three and four urging us to “enter” the rest provided in Jesus, drawing an analogy to the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness to enter the rest promised them in the Land of Canaan.
Now this promise of rest originates in an emotional conversation between God and His servant Moses in the days after the first giving of the Ten Commandments. The Lord was still angry over the sin of the Golden Calf and told Moses he and the people should go on ahead to Canaan without Him, lest He “consume” them along the way. But Moses interceded and God relented, vowing: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
This promise of rest in the Land is then repeated elsewhere in the Books of Moses, including in Deuteronomy 3:20, 12:9 and 25:19.
Now, some assert that this promised rest was fulfilled when Joshua led the people in conquering the Land, citing such passages as Joshua 21:44: “The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers…”
Yet the writer of Hebrews insists that if Joshua had truly given them the rest intended by God, there would have been no need for David to later speak of a future day of rest in Psalm 95:9-11.
Taken together, these verses clearly indicate that God intends for Israel to one day enter a permanent rest in the Land promised to them as an “everlasting possession”. It is a rest whereby the nation never again has to struggle to possess the land and can finally rest from their works – meaning striving for righteousness through the law – just as God rested from His works.
The Book of Hebrews affirms this in the simplest of terms: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:10; see also Hebrews 4:1)
To this day, the promise of an abiding rest for Israel back in the Land has never been completely fulfilled. But we are now witnessing a process of restoration which will eventually end in Israel as a nation entering this rest in their ancestral homeland. They will finally meet the conditions which God placed on their right to enjoy possession of the Land, because they will have appropriated to themselves the same atonement which you and I have accepted by faith in order to enter our rest in Jesus.
This is the same destiny of Israel prophesied by Moses long ago, when he declared that the Lord Himself would one day provide atonement for both the Land and the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:43).
When that day arrives, Israel will no longer need to strive for righteousness through their own efforts. Their fear of enemies and exile will be over. And even the whole world will be at rest in what we refer to as the Millenium or Messianic Age.
Surely, God has solemnly vowed to deliver the Land of Israel to the Jewish people in rest and peace forever. And you and I will be beneficiaries once more of that unique trust relationship between God and the Land and people of Israel.
Our own promised land
No doubt, there are many important lessons we can draw for our own spiritual walk from the biblical truths surrounding the Land of Promise. We have all heard sermons on how we each have a promised land from God but must fight the giants to possess what is rightfully ours. This is a land that will provide for us, and if we are pleasing to the Lord we will have rest from our enemies. These are all valid and helpful and inspiring analogies. But let us narrow in on what we can take away from this understanding that God entrusted the Land to Israel for His divine purposes.
When the Lord gives us our own promised land – a ministry, a building, a business – it is because He wants to accomplish some divine purpose in and through our lives. But whatever He gives us, it is never truly ours. He simply entrusts us with what we need to pursue His Kingdom purposes. We cannot just waste it on our own pleasures. We have obligations to Him and to others. The New Testament often refers to this as “stewardship”.
Indeed, Jesus speaks in several parables about good and bad “stewards” in the Kingdom of God (see, for example, Matthew 20:1-16; Luke 12:42, 16:1-8).
Paul also urged believers to consider him and his fellow Apostles as “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) Elsewhere, Paul says we should be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10; see also Colossians 1:25). Paul also states that he was “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
God entrusts us with everything we need to fulfil His eternal purposes in our lives. But ultimately, it all belongs to Him, and we are just trustees and stewards of His grace and provision. We do not have absolute ownership or possess anything for ourselves, but are sojourners in this world. Yet God supplies everything we need according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). This is a continual, abiding promise of His provision – past, present and future. And it ends with all the redeemed – including Israel – entering that promised rest of His glorious, eternal reign!
Meanwhile, we should continue to be amazed and inspired by the faithfulness of God to release the fruitful bounty of the Land of Israel to a Jewish people regathered from the four corners of the earth. That should do something for our faith in Him and our trust that God will perform every good promise we have in Christ Jesus!