In the land promise, there is a great metaphor, which must be recognized in order to understand many prophecies. In some prophecies, the land of Israel represents the saints, and the area outside it, beyond the boundaries, represents the world. Ezekiel's prophecy of the invasion of Gog and Magog and their armies is an example. They come against the "mountains of Israel." [Ezekiel 38:8]
Another example is the antichrist figure in Daniel chapter 11, who establishes himself "between the seas" in the holy mountain. This alludes to the eastern and western boundaries of Israel, as they were defined in Numbers 34:6,12, and Ezekiel 47:18,20.
And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
Similarly, the city of Jerusalem is a metaphor representing the saints, in Zechariah's prophecy.
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
Here, Jerusalem is not the earthly city, but the heavenly one. The saints are scattered in all nations, and they are represented by heavenly Jerusalem.
Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain.
The church of Christ is the "city of truth," not the earthly Jerusalem. In the first epistle to Timothy Paul called the church the house of God, or the temple, and "the pillar and ground of the truth." He probably had Zechariah 8:3 in mind.
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Truth can't be constrained to a literal city, or to literal borders! Thus the land is a metaphor, that is fulfilled in Christ.
Israel's southern border, which was the land of Edom, is called a "border of wickedness" in Malachi 1:4. Edom is metaphorical, no doubt representing those who oppress and try to dominate the saints, and oppose the gospel. Malachi called them "The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever." In history, the Edomites became Jews. The Herodian dynasty in New Testament times was Edomite.
Was the land promise given to Abraham really meant to be understood
spiritual promise? Being a spiritual promise, does not rule out a
fulfilment, in Israel's history, that served as a type or shadow of its
This promise was to result in a blessing for all nations. "In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed." [Genesis 22:18, 26:4] But, in the fulfilment of the promise, as things worked out, the nations residing in the land of Canaan were not "blessed" by their contact with Abraham's descendants. For example, the sons of Jacob slew the men of Shechem, after they had agreed to become circumcised, and were unable to defend themselves. And when the Israelites invaded the territory that was promised them, under Joshua, many of the nations occupying the land were wiped out, in the series of bloody events described in the book of Joshua. Eventually, the land was settled, but periods of peace for the Israelites were relatively few, until the northern 10 tribes of Israel were removed from the land by the Assyrians, and the Jews were removed by the Babylonians.
The coming of the Israelites was no blessing to the nations in Palestine in the time of Joshua. But, the promise to Abraham said that in his seed all nations will be blessed. The prophet Balaam was appointed to curse Israel, but his prophecy instead blessed them. [Numbers 22-23]
How has the land promise to Abraham been a blessing to all nations? During the history of ancient Israel, the holy scriptures were revealed to the prophets, and the Old Testament was the chief result.
Paul considered possession of the scriptures to be chief among the benefits of being Jewish.
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
According to Paul, this surpasses even the land promise, no doubt because the land promise is included in "the oracles of God."
Was the land promise intended to be taken literally? The two different sets of boundaries that are revealed as the extent of the promised land, suggest that it is really a spiritual promise, having a literal fulfilment, that is symbolic having spiritual meaning for the church.
In the promise to Abraham, the river Euphrates was mentioned as one of the borders, and the "river of Egypt" as another.
In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
The land was to extend from the "river of Egypt" in the west to Euphrates in the east. According to some scholars the river of Egypt refers to the Nile River. Easton's Bible Dictionary says:
River of Egypt: Heb. nahar mitsraim, denotes in Gen
15:18 the Nile,
its eastern branch (2Chr 9:26).
In Num 34:5
(R.V., "brook of Egypt") the Hebrew word
is nahal, denoting
stream flowing rapidly in winter, or in the rainy season. This is a
desert stream on the borders of Egypt. It is now called the Wady
el-'Arish. The present boundary between Egypt and Palestine is about
midway between this wady and Gaza.
Most of the references to "river of Egypt" refer to Wadi el Arish, a dry valley that occasionally receives flash floods from the northen and central Sinai Peninsula.
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites were promised the entire area, from the Euphrates in the east, to the Mediterranean sea in the west.
For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him;
Then will the LORD drive out all these nations from before you, and ye shall possess greater nations and mightier than yourselves.
Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be.
These borders are again stated in the first chapter of Joshua.
From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.
The conquests of David extended his dominion to the river Euphrates. [1 Chronicles 18:3] He also reigned over the Philistines, Moabites, and Syrians. [1 Chronicles 18:1, 2, 6]
In the book of Numbers, and in Ezekiel 47, the northern boundary of Israel's territory was located at the southern part of the mountains of Lebanon, in regions now in Lebanon and Syria.
Numbers 34:7-9 maps the northern border from the great sea, through mount Hor, the entrance of Hamath, Zedad, Ziphron, and Hazarenan.
The eastern border is given in Numbers 34:10-12; it extends from Hazarenan to Shepham, "And the coast shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward: And the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea: this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about."
The sea of Chinnereth was Galilee. The eastern border was through the Jordan Valley and coast of the Dead Sea.
The southern border was the border of the land of Edom, south of the Dead Sea, east to the Mediterranean to "the river of Egypt" or Wadi el Arish.
In Numbers 34 and Ezekiel 47, there is no mention of Euphrates as a border of Israel.
The promised land being assigned two incompatible sets of boundaries suggests there is a spiritual meaning to the promise, as these apparently contradictory scriptures thwart attempts at literal interpretation.
This parallels the prophecy of the 70 weeks. The duration of the last half-week, the final half of the 70th week, is represented by two different numbers: 1,290 days, and 1,335 days, in Daniel 12:11-12, which shows that it was not intended to be understood as a literal three and a half years, but a symbolic period. In the NT it is assigned yet another number, 1,260 days, and it represents the entire age of the church.
No literal three and a half years can have two or three different number of days, but a symbolic period can! And similarly, a land that is symbolic, can have different boundaries.
Ezekiel also assigns different areas within the promised territory to the various tribes. Zebulun, for example, is assigned an area located between the sea of Galilee and Mount Carmel, in Joshua 19:10-16; in Ezekiel 48:27, Zebulun is assigned an area far to the south. The areas assigned to each of the tribes are quite different in Ezekiel's prophecy.
In the New Testament, Zebulun was still located in the area of Galilee. [Matthew 4:13]
Clearly the land promise was meant to be understood as spiritual and symbolic, and it is fulfilled in Christ, who has gained authority over the entire earth. David wrote:
The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
The apostle Peter said:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
Copyright © 2010, 2012, 2013 by Douglas E. Cox
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