Canaan

Change in the Land - Part 1

 

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The Change in the land - Part Two

 

The land of Israel as we have noted was a beautiful and fruitful land at the time of the conquest of the land under Joshua. It was a land with great forests and fertile valleys that yielded bountiful harvests. So productive was the land that when Moses sent the spies to scout out the land, it took two of them to bring back one cluster of grapes. As Numbers records,

Num 13:23-25, “Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs. The place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the men of Israel cut down there." 

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 Map 4

 

However, by the time of our Lord’s first coming, the land was hardly the land flowing with milk and honey that Joshua conquered. It had become a land whose forests had been cut down and whose grasslands had turned to desert. Fields that once yielded fine crops with its fertile soil were now heavily eroded even to the level of bedrock. J. H. Patterson has written regarding this,

“In view of the description given of Pal. So far, the question inevitably arises as to whether the land as we see it today is, in terms of resources, better or worse than it was when the Israelites entered it. The references in Exodus to the land of promise described it very favorably; so, too, did the spies sent ahead to prospect from Kadesh-barrea (Numb. 13:27; 14: 7, 8). Yet the bare, barren hillsides of Pal. today hardly seem to confirm these reports, and the kibbutz workers of modern Israel, toiling on the dry soil, might well feel that Pal. Could have been a land ―flowing with mil and honey only by force of contrast to a nation grown accustomed to the desert. Yet this would be to charge Israel’s God with a kind of confidence trick – with conditioning His people so that they would think that He was offering them a good land when in reality the bargain was a poor one.”

“The land which the Israelites have done so much to restore since 1948, would not at that starting date have struck the unbiased observer as flowing with milk and honey. It was barren and largely treeless; its soils had been eroded to a point where the bare bones of the underlying rock structures protruded and everywhere could be seen the traces of former cultivation long since abandoned – blocked aqueducts and crumbling terraces.1 “

The Cause of the Change in the Land

God’s Instruction to Israel: The cause of this change or better destruction of the Promised Land can be blamed on one contributing factor, the sin of Israel. God promised Israel that if she obeyed Him, the land would always be a fertile one but if she disobeyed, the land would become a waste land.

Lev 26:1-7, 'If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land. However, God also promised Israel that If the people rebelled against God by going after idols and the wicked sinful ways of the Gentiles that He would destroy the fertility of the land. (Deut. 28:15-52) Lev 26:14-32, ―'But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you. 'And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. 'Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate. 'And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied. 'And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you. I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.”

God’s Illustration to Israel: Even before God gave these words of warning to Israel, He created a lasting monument in the land by which He would serve notice to Israel that He meant business. This lasting monument was formed in the time of Abraham. In Gen. 13, Abraham and Lot had just come out of Egypt as very rich men. Because of their great wealth, it becomes apparent that the two must split up lest their servants be continually fighting over the resources of the land. Abraham gives Lot the choice of which part of the land he wanted and Lot chooses the plain of Jordan. 

Gen 13:10-13, “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord , like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” NKJV

The plain of Jordan was well watered and the ideal place to feed large herds. Genesis describes it as being “like the garden of the Lord” or in other words, like the Garden of Eden. It was also the place where Sodom and Gomorrah were located and for that reason alone Lot should have selected a different portion of the land. The fact that the Southern portion of this land is toward “Zoar” tells us that the plain of Jordan was located where the Dead Sea is today.

When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the other three cities associated with them, God also determined to destroy the land to a point that it would never be inhabited again. God’s judgment did more than just destroy five cities, it also destroyed the whole plain. This is clear from the statement in Gen. 19.

Gen 19:24-25, “Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” NKJV

In destroying this area God did several things. First He lowered the land significantly so that the Jordan River would no longer flow to the Gulf of Aqaba. Secondly, because of its new elevation, the area became an extremely hot and barren land. The rise in temperature was capable of evaporating all of the water that followed into the valley from the Jordan River. The Jordan River being a muddy river now created a lake so laden with minerals that no life could exist in it nor would there be any water available to aid any vegetation that tried to grow there. The valley was left a dead zone where no one could live nor was there any opportunity of reclaiming the land. By doing this God left a lasting memorial for Israel as she came into the land. As the Israelites came to the Dead Sea valley, they could see how God turned a beautiful, fertile valley into a waste land of death because of unbridled sin. As God had destroyed the plain of Jordan so God would do to Canaan if Israel also disobeyed. Sadly, Israel did not take this memorial seriously as we will see in the following paragraphs.

The Process of the Change in the Land

The account of the Old Testament is one of continual disobedience on the part of Israel. Israel believed that since they were the chosen people of God, God’s blessings would be poured out upon them regardless how they lived their lives. God being true to His word brought about destruction upon the land through several means. 

1) Poor conservation: Man has all too often been guilty of stripping the land God entrusted to his care turning it from a valuable asset into a worthless barren waste land. We have experienced that very thing in our own country. We did this to the beautiful prairie land in the Midwest when we plowed it under in order to grow crops in the early years of the 20th Century. The dust bowl of the 1930s taught us the hard lesson of how important conservation can be in keeping our land a valuable asset.

Though the Bible does not actually speak of Israel stripping the land bare, it does speak of Israel refusing to follow the conservation methods given by God through His servant Moses. In Leviticus 25, God commanded the Israelite people to care for their land by giving their lands a Sabbatical year of rest every 7th year.

Lev 25:3-7, ―"Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the Sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land — all its produce shall be for food.

During that Sabbatical year of rest, the land was not to be tilled nor were the vineyards and orchards to be pruned. The people of Israel were to live solely off of what ever grew of its own accord. In doing so the people of Israel would have to learn to put their faith in God’s provision and in the process they would also allow the land a chance to recover some of the nutrients that it had lost over the previous 6 years of farming. The law went on to add that at end of a period of 7 Sabbatical rest years or a total of 49 years, the 50th year would be a year of Jubilee. In that year of Jubilee the people were to leave the fields and orchards alone for a second year.

Lev 25:11-12, ―That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.

To put it another way, out of every 100 years, the land was to have 16 years of Sabbatical rest from the work of farming. This was God’s way of providing a means of conservation in order to maintain the land as a fertile possession for His people. However, Moses a few verses later goes on to record that God knew that the people would not always practice His law and in doing so would cause harm to the land. For this reason God’s eventual removal of the people from the land would have a duration based upon the number of years Israel had forsaken the Sabbatical year of rest.

Lev 26:33-35, "I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest — for the time it did not rest on your Sabbaths when you dwelt in it.”

This prophecy of the Lord was fulfilled at the time of the Babylonian captivity. According to 2 Chron. 36:20-21, the length of Israel’s sojourn in the land of Babylon was based upon the number of Sabbatical years of rest that Israel had denied the land.

2 Chron 36:20-21, ―And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”

From the time of the conquest of the land under Joshua until the captivity under Babylon, the Israelites lived in the land about 800 years. Since there were 16 years of Sabbatical rest for each century, then Israel should have observed 8 centuries of 16 Sabbatical years totaling a 128 Sabbatical years. The fact that the land was given 70 of Sabbatical years of rest while Israel dwelt in Babylon indicates that out of the 128 Sabbatical years of Israel’s occupation of the land, only 58 times did they keep the Sabbatical year of rest. This rebellion against God’s law of conservation probably contributed to the land loosing much of its fertility.

We will quite at this point for this week and cover the other reasons for the devastation of the land next week. It should be noted at this point that God expected Israel to care for the land He gave her or pay the consequences. There is a truth to be learned here for all generations. When God gives us His gifts and resources He expects two things from His children. First of all, He expects that we will use them wisely to carryout His work and to bring glory to Him. Do we see our gifts and resources as ours only or do we recognize they are on loan from God. Remember, there is nothing that God gives us in this life that we can take with us apart from salvation. 

Secondly, He expects that we will take care of what He has given us. It is our responsibility to keep up those resources and gifts in a manner that is pleasing to God. That means the local congregation should care for their building so that it honors God. That means the individual Saint should strive to keep his home, his possessions, his health and all other resources in a way that honors God. 

1 - J. H. Patterson, “Palestine,” Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Merrill C. Tenny, Zondervan Publishing House, 1975, Volume Four, Section VIII, Pages 584.