They abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns. (1 Sam 31:7 NLT)
Back in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s, the United States was involved in a war with the Communist North Vietnamese. We had in that day one of the most advanced, equipped and trained militaries in the world. America went half way around the world to fight a nation where most of the population still lived multigenerationally in shacks in the jungle. The war was prosecuted ostensibly to curtail the domino effect of one nation after another falling to communism.
America lost this war. We lost this war principally for three reasons. One, the effort was strategized and run from Washington, D.C. rather than the Pentagon. Two, the propagandist press poisoned the minds of the American people making the military despised in their eyes. Three, and maybe the most important factor, our military violated an ageless principle of warfare: namely, they failed to take the land and hold the land. In almost all warfare, a fundamental objective is to take the land and secure it this way denying the enemy advantage through its use in any manner.
Vietnam became more a war of body count than of taking the land. A major example of violating this principle can be seen with respect to the famous Ho Chi Minh trail (actually this trail had multiple threads). This was the principal avenue wherein war materiel was moved from north to south by the enemy and it was never successfully shut down during the course of the war. Ask veterans who fought the ground campaign how many times a particular hill or area was won only to be ceded back to the enemy and fought for again on another day.
This article is about land. Not land in the normal or natural sense such as soil, dirt, earth, acreage, etc. In this article I want to explore the biblical and spiritual concept of land presented to us in the Old Testament. In the O.T., many events, activities, people and things served to represent biblical truths and concepts as revealed in the New Testament. The tabernacle, priests and their service, sacrifices and the feasts of Israel are all examples of what we refer to as types and shadows. The Old Testament types, are representative of activities, people, events or things revealed in the New Testament where we see the spiritual realities unfolded. We can see an example of this in Hebrews 8:
And since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices, our High Priest must make an offering, too.…They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven.
Jesus in essence cited this biblical convention when he said:
Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.
The “old” would refer to the O.T. types and shadows and the “new” would be the antitype or N.T. reality or truth. This is the sense in which I am looking at “land” in the Old Testament. As we look at this, we will see a powerful spiritual reality that greatly enhances our understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection and its meaning for us.
Land ownership has always been significant in terms of the social and cultural hierarchy. The “landed gentry” of past centuries held social status equivalent with nobility and aristocracy with the added dimension of often being wealthier. Interestingly, suffrage in early America was only given to white, male landowners.
The westward expansion of our nation, what became known as the greatest migration event in history, was greatly stimulated by the Homestead Act of 1862. This act furnished 160 acres free to anyone who had not taken up arms against the U.S. and who would develop a residence and farm on it within five years. This Act resulted in 10% (270 million acres) of U.S. lands being claimed and settled. Tragically, this westward push resulted in the displacement and death of Native Americans through starvation, relocations, broken treaties and wars. Although the Homestead Act provided settlers with access to “public” lands, the majority of the free land was claimed primarily by speculators, miners, cattlemen and railroads. It is fascinating that among the many varied tribes of Native Americans, there is no word in their languages for possessing or owning the land.
In our opening reference to 1 Samuel 31, David was successfully defeating Amalekites while Saul and his men were being routed by the Philistines. In the midst of the Israelite defeat, the people of Israel abandoned their homes, their towns and in essence their land. This was most significant because this land was their inheritance from God and was part and parcel to the origin and history of their community life through the call of their patriarch Abraham.
It is with Abraham’s call that we begin to piece together our understanding of the spiritual ramifications of the land. God tells Abraham that he is going to give him a land, is going to multiply his progeny into a great nation, and that through them all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Abraham’s side of this covenant is to leave where he is and go to the land that God will show him. This leaving that Abraham is to do includes separation from his relatives, from his immediate family and from the country of his present residence.
There is a spiritual principle in this Abrahamic covenant and call that is seen in other matters in the Bible. In a sense, it is a call to follow God. It is showing the necessity of leaving one place in order to go to another. We see this principle employed in biblical marriage wherein a man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Another example is seen in Jesus’ call of his disciples. When Jesus called Levi to follow him, the Scripture says that Levi “left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.”
Finally, there is a great illustration of this principle in the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. Numerous times in the Pentateuch, the concept of—he brought them out to take them in—is presented. Here is an example from Deut. 6:23:
Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. NKJV
He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. NRSV
He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to [give] our fathers.’ Amp
It seems obvious from this and other passages that the whole reason God brought them out of Egypt was to get them into the Promised Land. In other words, the ultimate goal wasn’t just deliverance from Egypt, it was always Canaan. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was simply the initial step launching them on their way to the inevitable goal of Canaan. Deliverance from Egypt would in no way honor and fulfill the promise to Abraham; the promise could only be completed in Canaan.
Most all evangelical thinking accepts Israel’s experience of escaping Egypt and passing through the sea as types of salvation and water baptism. However, the missing link for so many is understanding Canaan, the Promised Land, in type. What than is the essence of the spiritual meaning in Israel gaining the Promised Land? If we don’t get this right, we may be sentencing ourselves to a lifetime of wilderness wandering.
In the Bible we see many spiritual realities in patterns of three. We have Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three parts of the tabernacle as outer court, Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. In the Old Testament we have three major feasts, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. With many of the biblical trios there are correspondences between them. For example, Passover corresponds to salvation, Pentecost corresponds to Holy Spirit baptism and Tabernacles corresponds to the full stature life in Christ.
Most evangelical churches recognize Passover as a type of salvation. The Pentecostal churches emphasize the additional grace of the baptism in the Holy Spirit relating to the O.T. feast of Pentecost. However, there seems to be a dearth of recognition and teaching regarding the third major feast of Israel which is Tabernacles. Entering and occupying the Promised Land was the culmination of Israel’s experience with God. They had their Passover in their deliverance from Egypt. Their Pentecost was represented in being led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The remaining part of the spiritual trilogy was entering into fullness, coming into and possessing the land. This was their spiritual Tabernacles.
This is where we have to see salvation as more than a destination; it is also a journey, a spiritual pilgrimage unto completion in Christ. Jesus didn’t just suffer death and judgment on our behalf so we could avoid hell. He took our penalty in order to bring us fully into the family of God. He died to make available to us the same relationship with the Father that he had always known from eternity past. This is why he could call the disciples his brothers.
Possessing the land is all about pressing into the fullness of Christ, about being completed in him. It is our inheritance in Christ. Consider these passages:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Rom 8:17 NIV)
Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers… (Rom 8:29 NASB)
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Eph 4:13 ESV)
Our taking the land is a day-to-day proposition as we do exactly what Jesus meant in his calling us into his kingdom. When Jesus said, “follow me,” he was calling us into a completely new life under his auspices. It means turning from the kingdoms of this world and turning to the kingdom of God. Taking the land isn’t a decision to believe something, it is a life changing obedience to Christ. It is the total surrendering of governance of our lives to the Lordship of Christ.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (Lk 9:23 NKJV)
Each day as we face the challenges, difficulties, heartbreaks and failures of life, we have the opportunity to make faithful responses thereby inviting the Lord’s presence into our needs, concerns and situations. As we practice employing the values and truths of the kingdom—giving up what pleases us and surrendering our wills to God—we will experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit shaping us into the image of Christ. As we consistently take more and more land—refusing to yield any of it to the enemy—we will also experience the joy that can only come from pleasing our heavenly Father.
Satan will work overtime to beat down those who have chosen the narrow over the wide way. He will offer shortcuts and compromises to draw us off the true path that leads to fulness in Christ. Our resolve will be sorely tested and our faith assailed. When things look bleak and we are tempted to falter, let us remember the eternal promise which started with Abraham and passed to us through Christ and determine that we will never give up the land.