God promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their seed. [Genesis 12:1; 13:45-15; 26:3; 28:13] Each of them was a stranger and a sojourner in it; [1 Chronicles 29:15] they dug wells in the land, [Genesis 21:30; 26:18, 22; John 4:6] but none of them possessed any of it in their lifetimes. [Acts 7:5] It would be a land where revelations were given from God, and where angels ascended and descended from heaven. [Genesis 28:12] The land was promised to the seed of Jacob as an everlasting possession. [Genesis 48:4]
In the New Testament, a better land replaces the land of Canaan of the Old Testament; the literal land has become merely a type and a shadow of a spiritual reality.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
What exactly is this better country? It is not the same as the heavenly city, but it is the land on which that city is built. Some claim the promised land is symbolic of heaven, and is entered only after this life ends at death. But things said about the promised land in the Scriptures suggest that it has another meaning. Consider, when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rise up in the resurrection, why would they need to possess the rather small territory of Canaan? Unless it represents something more, possessing that land forever seems to make little sense. In the resurrection, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will probably not need to herd cattle, or plant crops, so the land that they were promised must have another, spiritual significance. And besides, they would need to share it with all their progeny, who are to number as the stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea shore. With that many people, how much room would there be in it for each person?
The promised land belongs to God; [Leviticus 25:23] his eyes are always on it, [Deuteronomy 11:12] and they also “run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” [2 Chronicles 16:9]
Ezekiel said it is the glory of all lands. [Ezekiel 20:6, 15]
The Israelites who aspired to enter the promised land had to be strong, and very courageous; [Joshua 1:7] the nations dwelling in the land were bread for them. [Numbers 14:9]
The land of promise contrasts with Egypt, the wilderness, and with all other lands.
The land is a place for rest; [Joshua 1:13; 14:15; Judges 3:11] it is set in the midst of the nations of the world; [Ezekiel 5:5] the words of the law were written upon it; [Deuteronomy 27:3 Joshua 8:32] entering the land required belief. [Hebrews 3:19; 4:11-12]
The promised land is a land that flows with milk and honey; [Exodus 3:8; 13:5; 33:3; Leviticus 20:24] manna tasted like wafers and honey; [Exodus 16:31] the apostle Peter used milk to represent God’s word. [1 Peter 2:2]
The land is watered from heaven, [Deuteronomy 11:11] and it produces grapes, pomegranates, and figs. [Numbers 13:23]
Israel wandered in the wilderness no more, when they possessed the land; they lost their land when they did not worship God. The land was invaded by other nations; after the northern tribes of Israel were carried away into captivity, the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon and other cities in Mesopotamia, to settle in Samaria; [2 Kings 17:24] and when Judah also was taken captive, Edom was confederate with them that cast lots upon Jerusalem. [Obadiah 1:11-14]
Isaiah said Mount Zion would be established in the tops of the mountains. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” [Isaiah 2:2-3] The prophet Zechariah said Jerusalem would be raised up, and the country around about will become a plain. “All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up.” [Zechariah 14:10]
In the New Testament, Jerusalem is raised up to heaven. [Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22]
In Revelation 20, deceived people from all parts of the earth come against the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
The prophecy alludes to Ezekiel’s prophecy about the invading hordes of Gog and Magog. Ezekiel said that they would “be like a cloud to cover the land.” [Ezekiel 38:9] They “go up to the land of unwalled villages” and “take a spoil, and a prey.” They plunder the “desolate places that are now inhabited,” and “the people that are gathered out of the nations.” [Ezekiel 38:12] Like the prophet Isaiah, Ezekiel described the land as desolate.
Ezekiel’s prophecy reveals the spiritual meaning of the land; he said the invaders come against “the prophets of Israel.”
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them?
The attack by the hordes of Gog and Magog in Revelation is an attack upon the church, which is the “beloved city.” Here, in verse 17, they come against the prophets; this can only mean that they misinterpret the prophecies. They do not understand them. The “land that is brought back from the sword” in Ezekiel 38:8 seems to allude to Eden, which was guarded by a flaming sword. “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” [Genesis 3:24]
The word of God, in Hebrews 4:12, is compared to a sword. It is a sword that goes foth from the mouth of Christ. [Revelation 19:15, 21] The land that the hordes of Gog and Magog come against is related to Eden, and to the promised land. It is not the literal land, as it is called a “land of unwalled villages,” and a land where the people are “at rest,” and where they are “dwelling without walls.” This does not fit the modern Jewish state, or the West Bank, where a prominent wall up to 8 m high and over 700 km long separates the Palestinian population from the Jewish population.
Through Ezekiel, God said: “I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” [Ezekiel 38:20] Their weapons are burned as fuel for seven years. [Ezekiel 39:9-10] In the psalms, weapons such as spears and swords represent the bitter words of the wicked. “Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words.” [Psalm 64:3]
The rain, hail, fire, and brimstone in verse 20 are symbolic of God’s word, and his judgments. [Isaiah 55:10-12; Jeremiah 5:14] Paul spoke of God’s fiery judgments coming upon them that do not know God:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
The land of promise, which is the “better country” of Hebrews 11:16, represents the knowledge of God, and the people of God are to be restored to it; this is what the prophet Jeremiah foretold when he said Israel will be brought back to their land with weeping; [Jeremiah 50:4] they will ask the way to Zion. [Jeremiah 50:5] Isaiah said they will possess the land forever; [Isaiah 60:21] and all nations will flow to Zion. [Isaiah 2:2] Then, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” [Isaiah 11:9]
Copyright © 2010, 2012, 2013 by Douglas E. Cox
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