Sermon: The Promised Land — ‘March 6, 2022
Text: Deuteronomy 26:1
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, … Deuteronomy 26:1
In today’s reading out of Deuteronomy, Moses, and the nation of Israel, stand on the edge of the Promised Land, poised to enter, and conquer it. Moses would not be allowed to enter. Joshua was designated by God to lead the people into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:1-9)
I need to stop right here and make a linguistic point. In the Hebrew language Joshua is pronounced “Yehoshua.” The name “Jesus,” in Hebrew, is pronounced “Yeshua. Both names mean “the Lord Saves,” or “the Lord delivers,” or “the Lord rescues.” While the vowels are different, the Hebrew consonants are the same. However, in ancient Hebrew they had no written vowels. So, the names Joshua and Jesus were spelled the same. (The Jews finally added a vowel system beginning around 600 ad.) Therefore, the text depicts “Jesus” leading the people into the Promised Land.
Let us return to the people standing on the edge of the Promised Land. As I’m sure you know, the “Promised Land” was basically the territory Abraham traveled through as a wanderer (Genesis 13:15; 15:18-20). It reached from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the waist-land beyond the Jordan River in the northeast going as far as the Euphrates River. In the South it reached to the boarder of Egypt and in the north, it reached to the edge of the Anatolian Peninsula (where modern Turkey is located). This is a huge piece of land which the Hebrew people could not hope to populate at this time. However, under Joshua, they took the heartland of the territory.
This area was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Moses said:
7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)
There is an elephant in the room when we think of this land. It deals with the question of whether or not God keeps his promises. First, except for a short time under Solomon, the Israelites came nowhere near possessing all this land. Has God’s promises concerning the land failed? Second, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were deported by the Assyrian Empire, assimilated into their culture, and never heard from again (2 Kings 17:5-6). So has God’s promises concerning this land failed because these descendants of Abraham do not, and no longer can, possess the land? Furthermore, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians and they were exiled for seventy years (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 29:10). Because the Jews did not possess the land at all during this time, does that mean the promises of God concerning the land failed? Even after the Jews returned to the land, after the fall of Babylon to the Persians, for the most part their subsequent history is that of a dependent kingdom, not fully in charge of their own destiny except for a few short bursts of time. Does that mean God’s promises concerning the land failed? The same question comes forth in the years following the earthly ministry of Jesus. After a rebellion, the Romans came, conquered, and deported the Jews. The Romans then passed a law making it illegal for Jews to live in the land they once called home. No significant number of Jews lived in this area until the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. So, for close to 2,000 years there was no significant Jewish presence in the Promised Land. Does that mean that the promises of God to Abraham concerning land failed?
Some say that the promise of land has not failed; it simply has not been fulfilled yet. One day the descendants of Abraham will own the land. That was part of the thinking behind the creation of the modern state of Israel. But the Bible has a different view. The promise concerning possession of the Land has been fulfilled. So we read, at the close of the book of Joshua, “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). There you have it. The promise of the land, and other promises like deliverance from Egypt, was fulfilled by the end of the days of Joshua. In another place, near the end of his life, Joshua said, “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14). Solomon agrees. When he built the Temple, centuries later, he said “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant” (1 Kings 8:56).
Subsequent loss of land was not because God failed to keep his promises. It was due to the rebellion of the Israelites who did not remain faithful to God. They were warned that such unfaithfulness would lead to the loss of the land. In Deuteronomy 28 Moses tells the people that if they obey the Lord they will enjoy the many blessings of the Land. However, he goes on to say that they will suffer many cruses if they fail to obey the Lord. The failure of Israel to maintain possession of the dirt called the Promised Land is because they rejected God. They, not God, nullified the promise of land.
We read at the end of the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). They were doing what they wanted, not what the Lord wanted. They were following their own heart’s desire, like we are so often encouraged to do today by pop-culture. They followed the example of Adam and Eve, who followed their hearts while in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). But Jeremiah correctly said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We are told to heed the revealed word of God, not our hearts.
God kept all his promises, but Israel did not. The promise of land was fulfilled millennia ago.
But does all this mean that the God’s word concerning the Promise Land has no lasting value? Do we say something like, “The Jews blew it, so that is it for the promise of land?” Surprisingly enough, no. God’s word concerning the Promise Land remains in force, only it is not about dirt.
One of the key promises concerning this land is that God would give his people rest from all their enemies (Deuteronomy 12:10; 25:19; 2 Samuel 7:11). In this land people would live in safety. Also, if you remember the description of the land Moses gave that I read earlier, it sure sounds like an Eden restored. These two descriptions, a land of great abundance and a land of rest, are expanded in the Bible and used as a description of heaven. In Hebrews 3 we discover that the Land of Rest always pointed to faith in Jesus and a home in heaven. So, when we find in Isaiah this peaceful “land” being described as where a lion and a lamb can lie down together, we correctly understand the prophet as speaking of heaven (Isaiah 11:6-9).
The description of heaven, with Eden-like abundance, teaches us that the Land “flowing with milk and honey” has always, ultimately, been heaven. So something as simple as the overflowing cup in the twenty-third Psalm turns our minds to its ultimate fulfillment in heaven (Psalm 23:5). Promises like Isaiah 51:3 turn our thoughts to their fulfillment when Christ returns:
For the Lord comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Another great expression of this promise is found in Jeremiah. We don’t have time to explain why, but remember that when I read this the words “Israel” and “Judah” should be understood as meaning the people of God, people who believe in Jesus, simply not the believing physical descendants of Abraham. Jeremiah wrote:
10 “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’
11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
and they shall languish no more.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,
declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:10-14)
Now you may have noticed that I have not been quoting the New Testament very much. That isn’t because the New Testament doesn’t touch on such things. It most certainly does. All you have to do is read the book of Hebrews to see how the New Testament handles such things or notice how many times the Old Testament is quoted in the New. The whole “rest” theme is explored in Hebrews 3 & 4. However, some mistakenly think this approach is a New Testament spin on the Old Testament, so I have chosen to stick mainly with the Old Testament today. This understanding that the fulfillment of the Promise Land is, ultimately, the new heavens and the new earth Jesus establishes at his return is firmly grounded in the Old Testament. It has, ultimately, always been a promise to believers in Jesus, the promised Messiah in the Old Testament. The New Testament simply builds on that foundation.
One of the truly great things we find in the New Testament is its summary statements. So, we see that John 3:16 summaries the earthly ministry of Jesus in just a few words. Paul does the same thing for us concerning all the promises, like the promise for land. He told the Corinthians, “For all the promises of God find the Yes in [Jesus]. That is why it is through [Jesus] that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). That includes all the promises concerning land, peace, prosperity, salvation, deliverance, and so on. When Christ returns, he will bring with him all who have trusted in him, and they will join all who are alive and trust in him in the eternal Promised Land. That is the Promised Land God promised through Moses. It is the Promised Land he has promised to you, and to all who believe in Jesus. Joshua, that is Jesus, leads us into that land. Under our New Testament “Joshua,” we will all take possession of our Promised Land and live eternally with the Lord. Amen.