Israel & the Road Home—Theological, Canonical, and Contemporary Significance (Pt. 2)

Posted: December 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

Now that we have considered a few of the theological issues raised by this text, we now need to consider the canonical significance. What we are asking in this section is how this passage fits into the canon. In other words, how does this passage fit into the storyline of Scripture? What do we learn about the meta-narrative? How does this passage advance the story of the Bible? Though we can only scratch the surface, these are some of the issues we will explore in this section.

Canonical Significance

The biblical story begins with God’s people (Adam and Eve), in God’s place (Eden), under God’s perfect rule (Gen. 1­–2).[1] However, three chapters into the story this harmonious existence is thrown into disarray because of the entrance of sin into the world (Gen. 3). God’s people are cast out of God’s place and are at enmity with God instead of peace. In one sense, the rest of the story is about putting this kingdom back together.[2] In the future, God will bring his people back into his place. In that place God’s people will joyfully submit to his rule and enjoy his presence through Christ.

In Genesis 12 God had chosen one man from the peoples of the world through which kingdom restoration would be realized. To Abraham Yahweh promises offspring, land, and blessing (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:5–13; 17:7–8). These three elements have traditionally been understood as the three parts of the Abrahamic Covenant.[3] And the biblical story continually shows these promises coming to fruition.

Deuteronomy asserts in the opening chapter that Abraham’s seed was as numerous as the stars of heaven (Deut. 1:10; cf. Gen. 15:5). Yahweh “had fulfilled his promise to the ancestors and transformed Israel from a small clan into this innumerable host (1:10).”[4] Now, the land promise was on the verge of becoming a reality as well. What the previous generation failed to believe was that God would be faithful to give them the land he had promised. Would the current generation do the same?

Tom Schreiner writes, “The prospect of entering the land informs the entire book. Indeed, the geographical motif is omnipresent.”[5] If Israel would trust in the Lord then he would bring his people into the place that he had swore to their fathers. If they did not, yet another generation of God’s people would fail to enjoy the covenant promise of the land.

In Moses’ opening sermon in Deuteronomy he recounts for the people the past faithfulness of God. His wording in reference to Sihon should cause Israel to recall the exodus event and the triumph over Pharaoh. As J. G. McConville rightly notes, “The point of the parallel with the exodus is to show that the conquest of the Promised Land continues the history of deliverance that began there. No human power can stand against Yahweh’s will to save his people.”[6] I will simply add that no human power can keep God from fulfilling the promise to give his people the land.

As the story unfolds the people of Israel would conquer Sihon and then meet yet another obstacle in the road to the land. Og, the king of Bashan, would stand in Israel’s way. He would meet the same fate as Pharaoh and Sihon. Since Yahweh defeated the Egyptians, the two Amorite kings of Sihon and Og (3:8), “Israel should not fear the tribal groups in the land of Canaan. The same warrior God who freed them from Egypt [and gave Sihon into their hands] would fight for Israel in Canaan as well (3:22; 4:34).”[7]

The land was to be a place of rest for God’s people. “Through the conquest, Yahweh exalted himself before the nations as the only true God, fulfilling his promises to give Israel rest in the land as an echo of the Edenic paradise (Josh. 11:23; 43–45; cf. Ex. 15:17).”[8] As Israel moved into the land they would once again be God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. In that context they would enjoy covenant blessings and would be blessings to the nations.

We know, however, that due to their disobedience Israel would eventually be exiled from the land. The rest that they had longed for was not realized. Ultimately, however, the land was never meant to provide lasting rest for God’s people. They were strangers and exiles on this earth (Heb. 11:13). Lasting rest, even when in the land, was a future reality for Israel. And it is a future reality that Christians are longing to realize today (Heb. 4: 1, 6, 9). We enter into that rest as we come to faith in Christ. Through faith in Jesus we find that the war with the Lord is over. Though we fight the fight of faith, we do so knowing that some day soon Christ will return. In his return he will establish a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21). Once again God’s people will dwell in God’s place and enjoy God’s rule through Jesus Christ.

[1] Graeme. Goldsworthy et al., The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 2000), 54.

[2] Bruce Waltke supports this understanding when writes, “The Bible is all about the irrupting kingdom of God…” (Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (1st ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2007), 305).

[3] Jason C. Meyer sees four parts to the Abrahamic covenant (a ‘quad-promise’). The four parts, according to Meyer, are land, seed, blessing, and protection. However, one could make an argument that God’s promises to bless Abraham and his descendants is the over-arching principle with protection being part of God’s blessing. There is no need to add a fourth category. Meyer is helpful, however, when he writes, “The rest of the Bible plays out the fulfillment of these promises” (Jason C. Meyer, Preaching: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 86).

[4] Block, Deuteronomy, 64.

[5] Schreiner, The King and His Beauty, 80.

[6] McConville, Deuteronomy, 87.

[7] Schreiner, The King and His Beauty, 83.

[8] Jason S. DeRouchie, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared about: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2013), 36.

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