Canaan - A Strategic Land
A Strategic Land
Often when we think of history we focus on individuals, movements, ideas, events, dates and etc. All these things are crucial to understanding history, however if the role of geography is not also included, we will loose much of the significance of what has taken place. There is no better example of the importance of land to the development of history than the relationship the land of Canaan to the nation of Israel.
Abraham was called to journey to a land that God had chosen for him and his descendents as an everlasting possession. The land God selected for Israel was the land of Canaan which received its name from the grandson of Noah who was cursed by Noah for “uncovering Noah’s nakedness” (Gen. 9:20-27). Canaan we are told settled into this land and became the father of several pagan nations (Gen. 10:15-19).
Throughout the Old Testament, the testimony of God’s everlasting gift of this parcel of land to Israel is declared time and time again. This can be illustrated by just citing a few passages from the life of Abraham and more about this will be covered in greater detail in a later chapter.
Gen 12:5-7, “And they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." NKJV
Gen 13:14-16, “And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: "Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are — northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” NKJV
Gen 15:7, “Then He said to him, "I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it." NKJV
Gen 15:18-21, “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates — the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites." NKJV
Gen 17:8, “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." NKJV
It is clear that God intended for Israel to possess the land of Canaan throughout the history of man and beyond, however, of all the land that makes up planet earth, why did God select this piece of land? We know that God did not select Canaan randomly for God is a God of purpose and all that He does must fit perfectly in His plan for the redemption of mankind. So what was God’s purpose in giving this land to Israel?
The best place to seek an answer to this question is to start with the testimony of God in the Bible. There are many places in Scripture that God explicitly discloses His reasons for the decisions he has made. Let me site just a few of the many passages that illustrate this point. In Ezra 1:2-4, God told Cyrus, king of Persia that He had raised him up to enable the Jews to return to Canaan and rebuild their temple. God sends the angel Gabriel to tell Zacharias that he would have a son who would play a very special role in preparing Israel for the coming of the Messiah (Luke 1:5-20). In the same way God told the parents of Samson that he would be born for the purpose of delivering Israel out of the hands of the Philistines (Jdg. 13:2-5).
So, what do the Scriptures declare about God’s reason or purpose for selecting Canaan for Israel? To answer this question we must first note that God does not declare directly “I chose this land because it was strategic, or defensible, or it was the best piece of land.” God says to Abraham, go to Canaan, a land I have given you in which I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. End of declaration; no “because” or “reason” given, just a statement of fact.
Though God does not directly declare His reason in selecting the land of Canaan this does not mean God has nothing to say on this matter. Through a study of the Character of God, His relationship with Israel, Israel’s calling, and God’s plan of redemption we can learn much of why Canaan was God’s choice.
1) A Strategic Land: It was strategic to the fulfillment of God’s calling for Israel. That calling was to take His message of salvation to all nations.
Israel’s Calling Communicated: To understand the how strategic the land is we must first understand Israel’s unique calling. Many have seen God’s choice of Israel to be His people as a show of partiality or favoritism toward the Jewish people. It is unfortunate that even the Jewish people came to believe this as well and in the process failed to carry out their call to world evangelism. Since they were God’s chosen people they saw themselves better than the Gentiles and therefore considered themselves the only race deserving of God’s salvation and blessings. We can see this illustrated all to well in the attitude of Jonah when God told him to preach the message of repentance to Nineveh. He chose self-imposed exile and even death rather than see these Gentile people saved from the wrath of God. Though favortism may be the conclusion of both the Jews and many Gentiles, the Scriptures are clear about God’s calling for Israel and His love for all people.
a) First of all, God openly declares that He shows no partiality. In all of God’s decisions He demonstrates His love for the Gentiles every bit as much as his love for the people of Israel.
Deut 10:17, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” NKJV
2 Chron. 19:7, “Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes." NKJV
Acts 10:34-35, “When Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” NKJV
Rom 2:10-11, “But glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” NKJV
b) Secondly, God expressed His desire to see all nations saved. This first indication of God’s desire may have been displayed in the time of Abraham. There was an extraordinary king named Melchizedek who ruled over the city of Salem, the city later called by David, Jerusalem (Gen. 14:18ff.). Abraham recognized him not just as a king but also as a priest of God and therefore paid him a tithe. It is important to note that this priest of God is the forerunner of the final High Priest, Jesus Christ. David writes that the Messiah is in the order of Melchizedek (Psa. 110:4). This theme is carried over by the writer of Hebrews in chapters 5, 6, and 7. The one thing to note is that though Jesus was of Jewish descent, yet he is in the order of a Priest who was of Gentile descent. This High Priest, Jesus Christ, would represent all people whether Jew or Gentile. God’s interest in the salvation of Gentile people is also seen in the book of Ruth, the protection of Rahab, and the inclusion of Tamar in the genealogy of Christ. Likewise through the witness of Daniel and his three friends, there is a possibility that Nebuchadnezzar may have become a believer. Daniel 4 is one of the few passages of Scripture given through the words of a Gentile King.
c) Thirdly, God chose Israel to reach the Gentile people: This is the reason God gave her a physical land, blessings, and the written Scriptures so that she might be used of God to bless all people. God had commissioned the whole nation of Israel to be a living testimony of the true and living God thus calling the Gentile peoples to turn to Him for salvation. In essence, Israel’s blessings from God were given to her so that she might bless the world with evangelism. This “Great Commission” of the Old Testament was given to Israel at various stages of her development.
a. The Times of the Patriarchs: God indicated this commission in the promises made to Abraham.
Gen 18:18, “Since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” NKJV
Gen 22:18, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." NKJV
Gen 26:4-5, “And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." NKJV
Gen 28:14, “Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” NKJV
b. The Time of Moses: As Israel is preparing to enter the land of Canaan for the first time as a nation, God lays out for Israel what she will be doing while living in the land.
Ex 19:6, “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." NKJV The whole nation was to be separate from the other nations that they might serve as priests of God to the other nations.
Deut 28:9-10, “The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord be afraid of you.” NKJV As God sets Israel aside through His earthly blessings and protection, by keeping His commandments all the peoples of the earth shall take notice of the Lord who calls them and will respect them.”
Deut 28:37, “And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the Lord will drive you.” NKJV Even in God’s chastisement of Israel’s disobedience she will be a testament to God among all nations
Deut 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people." NKJV
c. The time of David and the establishment of a Kingdom. Israel is now united around a King and Kingdom that will, though at times interrupted, last for an eternity. Through King David, Israel is once again reminded of its commission to reach the world.
2 Sam 22:50, “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord , among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name” NKJV David recognizes that what God has done through him and his people is a testament to the God of Heaven.
1 Kings 8:41-43, “Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name's sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name.” NKJV
2 Chron 6:32-33, “Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for the sake of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray in this temple; then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name.” NKJV
Ps 18:49, “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord , among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.” NKJV
Ps 67:2, “That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” NKJV
Ps 72:17-18, “His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who only does wondrous things.” NKJV
Ps 96:3, “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.” NKJV
Ps 96:10, “Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns; The world also is firmly established,” NKJV
Ps 117 Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! NKJV
d. The time of Disobedience and Exile of Israel. Israel, though blessed more than all the nations of the world and set apart from them by God Himself, yet she chooses to live like the world in defiance of God. Instead of witnessing to the Gentiles that their gods were false and there was only one true God, they pursued the Gentile gods and all of the wickedness associated with them. Likewise, their hearts became filled with pride, thinking that God showered His blessings upon them because they merited it. God, therefore, drove them out of the land into exile to chastise His people in order to drive out their love of idols. Though this was accomplished by the end of the Babylonian captivity, the heart of the rebel still reigned in most of the hearts of Israel. With this being the condition of Israel, the OT prophets foretold of a time in the future when a righteous Israel would fulfill their calling by leading the world in the worship of God.
Isa 42:6-7, "I, the Lord , have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.” NKJV
Isa 60:3, “The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.” NKJV
Isa 61:6, “But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, And in their glory you shall boast.” NKJV The “they” spoken of here are the Gentiles nations of the Millennial Kingdom.
Isa 62:2, “The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, And all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the Lord will name.” NKJV
Isa 62:12, “And they shall call them The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord ; And you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.” NKJV In that time the Gentiles will seek out the Jewish people in order to learn more about God.
It is clear from Scripture that God desired to establish the people of Israel to proclaim the existence and salvation of their God. For Israel to accomplish this they would need a land which would enable them to fulfill their calling. Not just any portion of land would be suitable for this task. What Israel needed was a portion of land in which the peoples of the world would continually journey through making regular contact with the people of Israel and the worship of their God
As we continue this study next week, we will see how Canaan was the best portion of land for Israel to carry out its calling to evangelize the world. It should be a reminder to us all that God has a purpose for the life of every believer. To carry out that purpose God gives the believer special provisions, resources, gifts, and talents. This should cause us to regularly inspect how well we are doing in being good stewards of God gifts to us. We should ask the probing questions, why has God given to me these blessings and am I using them to accomplish His will?