The literal approach to Old Testament prophecies about the land, and Israel's restoration, views the promised land as a territory on the earth to be fought for and possessed, and defended. But many aspects of the geographic changes in the territory of Canaan described by the prophets are difficult to understand, unless interpreted, and viewed as figurative.
Isaiah said mountains would be made low, and valleys filled; this was the message preached by John the Baptist too. But mountains were not literally made low, nor were valleys literally filled up, in the first century. Isaiah said the wilderness would flourish and blossom, and trees would grow there; rivers would flow in the desert; he said Jerusalem would be raised up, and rivers would flow from it, and when the river reached the Dead Sea, the salt water would become fresh.
Zechariah said the Mount of Olives would be cleaved in the midst, and half of it would move towards the north, and half towards the south.
Joel said the sun would be turned into darkness, and the moon to blood.
Besides these remarkable changes in the environment, Isaiah said the natures of the animals, and even their diets, would be altered.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
Clearly the geographical changes in the promised land that the prophets described are metaphors, and not literal. And similarly, changes in the natures and diets of various animals, in Isaiah's prophecies, are no doubt metaphors, perhaps depicting men turning from violence, and nations becoming peaceful, under the influence of the kingdom of God. [Isaiah 11:7; 65:25]
The symbolic meaning of the land is evident in the earliest parts of the Bible. It is implicit in the story of the Garden of Eden, where man was in fellowship with God. The promised land, also, was a place where men could live in fellowship with God, and from which they were removed, in the exile, just like Adam and Eve were banished from Eden.
When Moses noticed a burning bush, that was not consumed by the flames, he turned aside to investigate. A voice told him to take off his shoes, "for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
This incident illustrates what "holy land" meant, and how land could become holy. It was where some revelation of God occurred. The promised land was associated with many revelations of God, which made it special. When God revealed himself, the place where that revelation occurred became holy.
This was the case in the account of the dream of Jacob at Bethel. The place where that revelation occurred is given special prominence. Jacob said, "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not." In this dream, God promised Jacob that he would possess the land of Canaan: "...the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed."
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
The land promise is a great spiritual metaphor; the land where the revelations were given, the entire land of Canaan, represents the revelations and promises of God contained in the scriptures. But the literal text of many scriptures is like a barren desert, or a wilderness.
In Revelation 12:6, the church is pictured as a woman who flees to the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, and she is nourished there for 1,260 days.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
In Revelation 12:14, the woman flies to the wilderness again, equipped with two wings of an eagle. Again she is nourished, but having two wings of an eagle, she would have a more lofty perspective. The nourishment she receives is spiritual.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
These two accounts of the woman in the wilderness occur in the same chapter, they involve the same woman, it is the same wilderness, in each case her place was prepared by God, and she remains there for the same period of time; and in both verses, the purpose is the same, as she is fed both times; but there are two different perspectives; one is higher, as it is from above.
I suggest, these two accounts of the woman in the wilderness describe two different perspectives upon things in scripture. One is literal, and that is the earthy, lower view; the other is from above, and heavenly. Notice that these two accounts of the woman in the wilderness are placed between an account of a great spiritual war in heaven. It is spiritual because the participants are angels. The woman's wings are a result of the warfare, which probably involves the controversy among Christians about literal vs. spiritual or figurative interpretations of prophecy.
The story of the Israelites taking possession of the promised land teaches the saints how to take possession of their spiritual inheritance. The enemies who previously possessed the land, which the Israelites had to overcome, represent spiritual enemies, including flawed interpretations, and false doctrines, the delusions and imaginations of men, that are opposed to God, which Christians need to overcome, and eliminate, like the Israelites overcame the nations of men which dwelt in Cannan, when they took possession of it under Joshua.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
In Revelation 12:15, a flood from the mouth of the serpent is directed at the woman in the wilderness, who represents the saints.
The wilderness to which the woman flees alludes to the sojourn of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and their journey to the promised land. Paul showed, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, these things occurred for the instruction of the church.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
The flood from the serpent's mouth clearly depicts a flood or river of false teachings. It is swallowed up by the earth.
How does the earth or land swallow up the serpent's flood? A flood of literalist folly has carried away many. Flawed interpretations of prophecy are often founded upon misunderstandings about the land promises given to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, so the true understanding of the meaning of the land promise, and the saints taking possession of their spiritual inheritance, that those promises represent, swallows up the flood!
Copyright © 2010, 2012, 2013 by Douglas E. Cox
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