Sunday, October 14, 2018


Centuries ago, the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Rome: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NAS).

Some people have trouble believing the accuracy of the history as it is written in the Old Testament. Some of the stories written there seem incredibly fantastic and even bizarre. These things, many think, simply cannot be true.

I myself am more of a literalist. I tend to first accept the stories written in the Bible as true representations of what happened those many thousands of years ago. They were written as history, and I accept that the person who wrote them intended them to be interpreted as history. And yet, if we take the words of Paul seriously, we can see that historical preservation was not actually the main reason that the writers preserved these historical records.

The primary reason of the Old Testament Scriptures, to again quote what Paul said, is that “through perseverance and encouragement…we might have hope.”

It is partially because of these words from Paul that although I still regard myself as a literalist when it comes to the historical accounts of the Old Testament, I do not deny that much of it is meant to be taken also in an allegorical sense. That is why it does not bother me that there are sometimes gaps in the historical record or when we are given two perspectives of the same account.

In fact, it is at the very time that these things occur that I tend to take special notice, because I think that the writer is trying to impart something of importance. He has emphasized a certain perspective because of its spiritual importance rather than its historical importance. I take notice because there may be something here that may help me even in my own life—something here to teach me to persevere and to be encouraged. 

Inheriting the Promised Land 
There is no better example of this than some of the stories we read concerning the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. The history of that land is old. It is a history that slowly develops through the centuries, and it is a history full of enigmas.

The first reference that we have to a land of promise is when God instructed Abraham (then called Abram) to leave his land of birth to go to a new land, “The land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). As God’s story continues with Abraham, the mention of this Promised Land also continues and develops.

Not long after Abraham had entered that land, God tells him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever” (Genesis 13:14-15 NAS).

God further tells him, “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8 NAS).

Of course, when taken in strictly a literal sense, these words are not true. Even in the generations immediately following Abraham, his descendants did not possess the land. In fact, for about four hundred years those descendants of Abraham lived as slaves in Egypt, far away from the land.

But this does not mean that God was misleading Abraham or that he lied to him. It means that, while it is true that God may have been speaking of the literal piece of real estate of Canaan, he was also speaking in an allegorical sense. After all, how can a bit of land become an “everlasting possession” for anyone? It cannot, not if we take into consideration what the Apostle Peter says when he tells us that there will come a day when “the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10 NAS). 

Abraham’s Long Range Sight
I believe that Abraham knew that when God spoke to him of the literal land on which the patriarch was standing, his meaning went beyond the land of Canaan. In the end, God was not actually speaking of Canaan at all. He was speaking of a place beyond Canaan. Canaan was just a representation of something greater. It was a mere shadow of the something that is pure, someplace of great richness. God was speaking of something eternal—an “everlasting possession.”

It is because Abraham knew that God was speaking more than the land of Canaan that when he lived there, he lived by faith as “an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land.” He never even bothered to build a permanent structure, but dwelt only in tents, “For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).

Jesus said something interesting concerning Abraham. He said that “Abraham rejoiced at seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:36).

Jesus was not merely speaking of some earthly possession that Abraham had in his vision. Jesus was speaking of the everlasting Kingdom of God. Even many centuries earlier, Abraham saw and understood this. He understood something that many and even most people today do not. 

Returning to the Promised Land
About six hundred years after God first spoke to Abraham about a Promised Land for the Israelites, and some four hundred and seventy years[1] after the Israelites were driven by hunger from their Land of Promise, they as a nation once again crossed the Jordan River to return to their ancestral home. They entered the kingdom that God had prepared for them.

When Jesus spoke of Abraham rejoicing in the day of Jesus, Jesus was referring to the fact that Abraham foresaw the day when Jesus would come to earth to announce that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 4:17).

Two separate kingdoms. They are alike in some ways but they are not the same. The first is merely a representation or a symbol of the other. It is an allegory,

The allegory is this: In much the same way as the Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter into the Promised Land, Jesus provides and is the gateway for us to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. This Heavenly Kingdom is the true Promised Land. This Heavenly Kingdom is the Promised Land which Abraham saw and for which he was waiting. This is the Everlasting Kingdom of which God spoke to Abraham.

Thus, when the Bible speaks of the “Promised Land,” we must realize that it speaks of implications far beyond what we see today. It is not speaking merely of the land of Canaan.

So it is that the history of the Israelites, as they entered the Promised Land, is a history that has implications far beyond a simple historical record of what happened. It is a history that is meant to teach us something about our own lives in the Kingdom of God. It is a history that is recorded for us that “through perseverance and the encouragement, we might have hope.” 

Trouble in the Kingdom
Nevertheless, all was not well in the Land of Promise for the Israelites. Not only were there immediate obstacles that they needed to overcome in order to possess it, but even once they had taken possession, things did not always go well.

We know also from our own experience that once we become believers in Christ, everything does not automatically go well. Not only are there obstacles to our faith, but we often have failures in our faith.

In a conversation that Joshua had with the Israelites after they had taken possession of the Promised Land, he was seeking to instill in them the importance of faithfulness. Joshua was an old man at the time, near to his time of death. It was to be his farewell speech. Joshua told them this: 

Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 

The people answered and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed. “The LORD drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who lived in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” (Joshua 24:14-18 NAS) 

It sounded like a firm commitment on the part of the Israelites. They had witnessed what God had done and they were determined that they would remain faithful. They could never see themselves forsaking the Lord. 

The Promised Land in the Book of Judges
But then we turn the pages from the book of Joshua to the book of Judges. The setting for the entire book of Judges is written for us near the beginning of the book. The words that we read there do not set a positive tone. They show a cycle in the relationship of the people with God that will be repeated often.

The cycle is one of falling away from God and adopting the pagan lifestyles of the surrounding nations. This period is then followed by a judgment of God, which he would put them through with the intention of waking them up to their sin and to bring them back to him. Once the people came to the realization that they had gone astray, God then raises up someone to rescue them. These individuals are called the “judges” for the nation. They were also called the “deliverers.”

After the judges rescued the nation from oppression from outside, there is a general revival among the Israelites and then a resumption and a continuation of the blessings of God. This revival usually lasts several years, usually about a generation. Sometimes longer. Often the revival lasted until the judge of the time died. But then, the following generation forgets the lordship of God and again falls into idolatry.

The entire period is a violent time. There is much violence in the book of Judges. It is violence on the part of the oppressors of Israel, and also on the part of the Judges and the Israelites. Rebellion against the authority of God will always bring about violence.

Mere possession is not enough. Remaining faithful is also critical. 

Our Own Struggles in the Promised Land
When reading about these unfaithful and capricious Israelites, we of course realize that neither are all of our actions pure after we become believers. We also fail, and we often fail in the very same ways that the Israelites did.

Thus, the struggles that the Israelites experienced once they had taken possession of that Promised Land of long ago are more than a record of their history. The stories of these struggles are also meant to be lessons for us. They are allegories of our own lives. 

Future Rest from Struggle
We will not always struggle. It is not God’s intention for us that these struggles continue. In the end, he promises to present to himself “a church in all her glory, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).

The prophet Jeremiah gave the people of his day a message from the Lord concerning finding rest from struggle in our lives. They did not listen. 

Thus says the LORD,
Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16 NAS) 

The words of the Lord still apply. Are we yet ready to hear them? Thus says Jesus, 

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28 NAS)

[1] 430 years exile (Exodus 12:40) plus the 40 years of wilderness wanderings

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