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The paradox of the promised land and the gospel

July 1, 2012

The land promise to Abraham is connected with the promise that he would be the father of a multitude, who will number as the stars of heaven, and the promise of a seed in whom all nations will be blessed, who Paul identified as Christ. [Galatians 3:8, 16]

There are three components to the promise to Abraham: an innumerable number of descendants, land, and a seed, who is Christ. The three components are inseparable. A vast number of descendants specified in the promises to Abraham would require a large area of land, but the land of Canaan was one of the smallest countries. The three part promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are presented in the following tables.

Promises to Abraham

land a great nation a seed
Genesis 12:1
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
Genesis 12:2
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
Genesis 12:3
and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Genesis 15:18
In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
Genesis 15:5
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
Genesis 22:16-17
And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore
Genesis 22:18
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;

Promises to Isaac

land a great nation a seed
Genesis 26:3
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries
Genesis 26:4
And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven,
Genesis 26:4
and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed
Genesis 26:24
And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.

Promises to Jacob

land a great nation a seed
Genesis 28:12-13
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
Genesis 28:14
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south:
Genesis 28:14
and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The vast number of Abraham’s descendants, and the relatively tiny area of the promised land, presents a paradox. Water resources in the land of Canaan were limited; even in the days of Abraham and Isaac, there were disputes about the digging of wells. Jacob went to live in Egypt because of a seven year drought that affected the land of Canaan.

When the promises were made to Jacob, in his dream at Bethel, the land which God promised to give him was associated with the revelations of God, because in his dream, he saw a ladder reaching from the earth to heaven, and angels ascending and descending on it.

In his book “The Gospel and the Land,” W. D. Davies identified several ways in which Jesus identified himself with the land of Canaan. [W. D. Davies. The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine. U. of California Press. 1974.] Davies pointed out that Jesus put himself in the place of Bethel, where Jacob had his dream, when he said to Nathaniel, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” [John 1:51] Davies provided many similar examples.

The same three part pattern evident in the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as illustrated in the three tables above is associated with the fulfillment of the promises to Christ and the church. The Abrahamic promise of land, the promise that he would be the father of a great nation, and the blessing of the world through his seed are implicit in the following verses in Hebrews 12.

Promises fulfilled in Christ and the church

land a great nation a seed
Hebrews 12:22
ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem
Hebrews 12:23
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect
Hebrews 12:24
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel

Paul said that Jesus came to “confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” [Romans 15:8] The promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the core Old Testament promises that Jesus confirms. The apostle Peter described the Christian church as a “holy nation.” He wrote:

1 Peter 2:9-10
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

The church is a nation in a spiritual sense; it is the nation of Israel, as explained in . See also  and . The promise of land is often viewed as an exception to the promises fulfilled to the church; however the land component of the promises is inseparable from the other parts of the promise. The number of Abraham’s descendants, and the promised seed through whom all nations will be blessed, who is Christ, and the land, are mutually complimentary.

Jerusalem, and mount Zion, which represent the land, were raised up to heaven in a spiritual sense, when Jesus ascended to his Father’s throne, after his resurrection. This fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that the mountain of the Lord’s house would be established in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills. Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 2:1-3
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Hebrews 11:16 says the saints now look for a “better country.” Only in the period before the Holy Spirit was given, was there any expectation of an earthly kingdom by the disciples. [Acts 1:6] After Pentecost, the Jerusalem to which prophecy applies is the heavenly one.

In John 14:2, Jesus said he was going to “prepare a place” for his saints, and that he would come again, and receive them unto himself. The nature of the place he is preparing is revealed in Revelation 12, where the woman who represents the church has a place in the wilderness that is prepared for her by God. It means the spiritual environment where the saints dwell in the earth throughout history. Just as in the wilderness, the Israelites moved about from place to place, the church’s environment tends to change. But the scriptures remain the same. The land, or earth, which opens her mouth and swallows up the serpent’s flood in Revelation 12:15, is this same place in the wilderness, where the woman is nourished. Paul said the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” [1 Timothy 3:15]

Nourishment is connected with the land of promise. In Leviticus 20:24 the promised land is described as a land of milk and honey, which are foods, and both are connected with God’s word. Peter spoke of “the sincere milk of the word.” [1 Peter 2:2] David said, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” [Psalm 119:103]

In the scriptures, eating is a metaphor that represents learning, and education in spiritual things. The land is connected with God’s word, and the knowledge of God. In Hebrews 3:19 and 4:6-12, the land is identified with God’s promise of rest. Belief is a requirement for entering the rest.

Jesus confirms the covenant, throughout the present age of the church, by leading the saints to their spiritual inheritance, and the truth, which the promised land represents.

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