28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors. (Prov. 22:28 NIV)
As you read through the OT, you notice that there is a recurring mention of ‘land’ or ‘earth’. I will just use the term ‘land’ in this meditation. It could be argued that there is a theme in the OT associated with land. In fact, we could take in the whole of the Bible because at the beginning in Genesis, we find that God creates the land as a place for Adam and his descendants to live. At the end of the NT, we have in Rev 21 a new land in the New Heavens and the New Earth. We can best understand the idea of ‘land’ if we set it in the broader context of the OT.
This land is God’s land because God created it.
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Ps. 24:1-2 NIV)
God entrusted the land to Adam that he might be fruitful and have children and populate the land and rule over it. The land still belongs to the Lord, but God gives the management of the land to Adam. God also gives the Sabbath when Adam was to take his rest from working the land. In this way Adam imitates God because God took His rest from creating the land on the Sabbath.
In Gen chs 2-3 man is created out of the land. Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to care for it. The land is blessed, and Adam is the climax of God’s creation of the land, because out of the land he was made. There is a powerful link between Adam (mankind) and the land. When Adam obeyed God, he and his life in the land were blessed, but when he disobeyed, Adam and the land were cursed. We learn in Genesis how the land of blessing became a land of curse. Adam broke the covenant that God had made with him. Adam is driven from the land of blessing into a wilderness where he finds the land now covered with thorns and thistles, and now he must earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. The penalty involved the loss of a fruitful land.
Cain soaks the land with the blood of his brother Abel and Abel’s blood cries out from the land to the Lord. Cain had tilled the land and produced a bountiful harvest of fruit and vegetables, but because of his actions he is cursed by God and banished from the land. Cain lost the land that he had worked. In Gen 4:14 Cain is cut off from the land and from God’s presence.
The population in the land increased and God saw that the wickedness of the people also increased. People of renown roamed the land. God was grieved that he had made man in the land. The land had been filled with violence. In the creation God had caused the dry land to appear by causing the waters to disperse. Now in the Flood, God reverses the Creation and causes the water to cover the land removing every man and creature from the land.
God had saved animals and 8 people out of the land by placing them in an ark upon the water. God made a covenant with Noah. God re-creates the land by causing the waters to subside. Noah and his family emerge from the ark. God promises never to destroy the land again. God installs a new order to the land – seedtime and harvest will not fail as long as the land remains. God renews the command to Noah that He had given to Adam. Noah was to be fruitful, increase in number and fill the land.
Up until Gen. chs. 10-11 the land had been unified. Now the land would be divided through the splintering of the people because of their different languages.
The people built the Tower of Babel that they said would reach into the heavens. They wanted to make a name for themselves so that they would not be scattered across the land. They wanted to remain in one pocket of the land which contravened God’s command to fill the whole land. God introduced different languages and through the curse the people were driven from the land where they wanted to stay and were scattered across the land.
Clearly, we can see that at all times the land belongs to the Lord.
Again the Lord begins to rebuild His people in the land. God calls Abram to leave his land and go to a land that God will show him. The land that Abram was to go to now had a special promise associated with it. Abram and the land are associated with God’s plan of redemption. The worldwide land is now divided up into nations, and God will bring those nations together again and they will become one people blessed through Abram. To inherit the land and see the promise fulfilled Abram must have children. There were many barriers confronting the fulfilment of the promise. There was the problem that the land was occupied by other people, and they weren’t about to just give it up. But God promised Abram, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’ (Gen. 12:7). Abram then wandered through the land. Strangely Abram is forced from the land because of a famine. The famine drives him to Egypt, just as another famine will later do to his grandson Jacob. When Abram reaches the land on his return from Egypt the first town mentioned is Shechem. After the Exodus from Egypt and wilderness journeys the people of God return to the land under the leadership of Joshua and they bury Joseph’s bones in Shechem. Later it will be Shechem that will witness the splitting of the land in two after the reign of Solomon as the ten Northern tribes become Israel and the two Southern tribes are referred to as Judah (1 Kings 12).
Coming back to Abram, as he returns to the land, he is forced, because of conflict, to divide the land with his nephew Lot. Abram gives the land that was promised to him. Was it really in Abram’s gift to do this? God renews the promise of all the land to Abram and his offspring. The land was to be the place where Abraham and his descendants would live.
The one descendant that Abraham had was Isaac and God called Abraham to give him up in sacrifice to God. Abram was promised land but he had to give it up; he was promised generations of children and now he had to give his only son up. God’s promise seems to move along a slender line. Abraham by his might and power would never be able to build a great family through which all nations would be blessed, but God would do this by His might and power. After God provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore.
After Abraham’s wife Sarah died, Abraham bought the only piece of land that he was to own in his lifetime. Not a land flowing with life but a burial plot, a land to bury his wife Sarah in. Abraham died without having received all the land that God had promised him. (But God will not break His promise. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, Abraham along with the whole OT and NT church will receive the land that was promised.) After Abraham died God’s promise was repeated to Isaac. Throughout the remainder of Genesis, we learn how the formation of the family came about, so that we end Genesis with the formation of the family of Jacob’s twelve sons, who would become the twelve tribes of Israel. At the end of Genesis, the twelve sons are out of the land and living in Egypt. God brought a family of twelve brothers down to Egypt and they remained out of the land for 400 years. Meanwhile back in the land, the wickedness of the inhabitants would develop over 400 years and then God would bring a nation out of Egypt, and at their hand punish the inhabitants of the land for their wickedness. God would give the land that He had promised to His people.
As the time drew near God raised up a leader Moses. Moses was saved from death in the land by being taken out of the land of Egypt onto the River Nile in an ark, as God would surely save His people by taking them out of the land of Egypt through the Red Sea by dividing the waters to provide dry land for the people to escape. God would bring His people to a land flowing with milk and honey.
The people escape Egypt, and they are now a nation, with a new king called Yahweh. Yahweh was the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. They were a nation and had a king but had no land at this stage. Yahweh the King leads them on to Sinai and He gives them His law. The people were frightened when God spoke to them and so they asked that God should only speak to Moses. Moses became the mediator for the people.
The people of God refuse to enter the land out of fear. They had feared the Lord because God was with them and now they feared that the Lord might not be with them. God kept them out of the land for 40 years so that the whole generation, apart from two people, died in the wilderness and it would be the next generation that God would bring into the land.
Leadership passed from Moses to Joshua and under Joshua the people took possession of the land as a gift from God.
The land always belonged to God and the law specified how the land should be treated.
It is because of this long history of the land that the Teacher in Proverbs commands the people not to move the ancient boundary markers, because the land belongs to the Lord.
The theme of land continues through the time of the judges and kings on to the Exile and the return from Exile, into the NT. In the NT Christ commissions the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel. The fulfilment of the land promise is seen in the consummation of the Kingdom of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth. This history of land in the OT saw the theme of the land move forward to the cross of Christ. The history of the fulfilment of the Day of the Lord is a movement from the cross to the consummation of the Kingdom of God.
Lord God we are allotted a lifespan of approximately 70 years and if by Your will we receive more, our life is but a vapour that appears and goes. Yet, our God, You have blessed us and in Christ have made us the offspring of Abraham, so that one day all the redeemed of every age will be united in Christ and serve in the Kingdom of God. Lord bless our fleeting days and make us a grateful people that in the grand scheme of redemption that or names have been included. Lord our God accept our humble praise through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.