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Canaan: Promise made, promise kept

By David M. McNabb

The Bible. It is the greatest book in the world. The Bible alone holds the key to all things. It reveals God’s plan for the course of the Earth, from its beginning until its end. It shows the origin and purpose of man. In the Bible, we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, by which we can understand the way thin­gs work: whether it be science, agriculture, society, or above all man’s relationship with God.

The Word of God was written by the unction of the Holy Spirit beginning with Moses nearly 1500 years before the birth of Christ and ending around 90 years after His birth with the Book of Revelation: a period of around 1600 years

More than 1900 years have past since John recorded his vision on the Isle of Patmos, and the world is a very different place, but an amazing characteristic - unique to the Bible - is that it is as relevant to modern life as it was in the days of Moses. God’s Word transcends the boundaries of age, gender, nationality and even time - something no human author could ever do.

That it should be relevant to people of all nations is of itself astounding, considering that it is set almost entirely in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East (especially Canaan), and deals almost exclusively with the Israelites.

Volumes have been written, trying to unravel biblical mysteries and discover God’s intention hidden in every line. Entire lifetimes have been spent meditating on its words - all in an effort to better know its Author. Millions have died to preserve it that we might continue to partake of its many benefits.

Peter, after testifying to what he saw and heard on the mountain of transfiguration, declared the superiority of the Scriptures over any human experience, saying, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, … Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:19-21). The men who wrote down the Word of God did not paraphrase what He said, or pen their interpretation of it. They wrote only what they were moved upon to write, and spent the remainder of their lives pursuing its meaning. Although the writers of the Bible did not put their personal spin on it, many others certainly have.

Many doctrines have arisen, concerning a great host of things. All too often, an individual formulates an opinion prior to opening the Bible. Inevitably, one will find a phrase, a verse, or even an entire passage that seems to support the preconceived notion. Being satisfied with the “biblical evidence,” the individual proceeds to promote the doctrine. The Bible, however, is a big book, and to use it effectively, one must believe that it - in its entirety - is inspired by God and, as such, is in perfect harmony with itself. Therefore, having found even a handful of scriptures to support a particular viewpoint, if even one passage seems contra­dictory, one must necessarily reexamine the doctrine, and conform it to the Word of God as a whole. As Paul said, “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

One such doctrine concerns the land of Canaan: the Promised Land. God said to Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation” (Gen. 12:1-2). When he reached the land of which God spoke, 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 Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-21). Here, the boundaries of the land of promise are specified, as well as the nations which shall fall before the seed of Abraham.

At a cursory glance, one begins to imagine the extent of the promise. “The river of Egypt” immediately brings to mind the Nile, while the Euphrates flows from eastern Turkey, through Syria and central Iraq, and empties into the Persian Gulf.

Many scholars look at the list of ten nations mentioned in the promise for further clues about the eventual borders of Israel. The ancient Hittite empire was predominately located in what is today Turkey. According to one study on this subject, since the Kenites were prophecied to be taken to Asshur (Num. 24:21-22), the land of Asshur should also be included in the eventual possession. Asshur, Shem’s son, and his brethren had their dwelling “from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east” (Gen. 10:30). That land is actually beyond the Euphrates, the city of Asshur being situated on the Tigris.

It would appear to some, then, that God promised to give the children of Israel all the land southwest to the Nile (the river of Egypt) to most of modern Iraq in the east to Turkey in the north, including all of Lebanon and Jordan, and most if not all of Syria.

God always keeps His promises. Rest assured that all of the land God vowed to give to Abraham’s seed will be theirs at some point in the history of the world. When we examine history, however, the above scholarly description has never been occupied by Israel. Many suppose, therefore, that the promises are for a time yet future.

But as one reads the book of Joshua, a few verses are found that seriously conflict with scholarly thought. In Joshua 21:43-45, we read, “And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.”

The implications of this passage are clear: if the promise was fulfilled, then there is no need to continue to expect it to happen. But how could it have been fulfilled, when Israel never occupied the land from the Egypt to Iraq to Turkey? The answer is simple: conventional wisdom bases its theory on an erroneous explanation of the promise.

First, one must examine the river-borders of the land of promise: “From the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” If the river of Egypt indicates the Nile, then how indeed could the Euphrates be referred to as “the great river?” The Nile is 4,180 miles long, while the Euphrates is a mere 1,739 miles in length. The “river of Egypt” mentioned in Genesis 15 is, in fact, the River of Egypt - also called the Wadi or Stream of Egypt. This was indeed the southern border of the land occupied by Israel during the leadership of Joshua as well as in the golden age of the Kingdom of Israel in the days of King Solomon.
Solomon’s kingdom also reached northward to the Euphrates. The Lord did not lie, neither was He slack concerning His promise. One might ask, “But what about the nations listed in the promise? Will not Israel conquer and occupy those nations?” The answer is “No,” because God promised to give them those nations, so long as they were within the boundaries of the land He had promised. God did not promise to give the Israelites Turkey, home of the Hittite empire. He promised to give them the Hittites situated in the land of Canaan, a promise He kept according to Joshua 12:7-24, “And these are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel smote on this side Jordan on the west …which Joshua gave unto the tribes of Israel for a possession according to their divisions;… the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: … All the kings thirty and one.”

Further scriptural evidence of the true borders of the promise are found in Numbers 34:1-15, where God tells Moses what boundaries they shall have when they come into Canaan. From the river (wady) of Egypt and the wilderness of Zin by the coast of Edom in the south, to Mount Hor (Mount Hermon) in the north. From the great (Mediterranean) sea on the west, to the sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and the river Jordan on the east. Together with the lands east of Jordan which the children of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh had received for an inheritance, the Lord said, “this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about” (Num. 34:12).

So the promise to Abraham’s seed after the flesh - natural Israel - has most assuredly been fulfilled. So says the Word of God. If it has been fulfilled, then it is not a prophecy for a time yet future.

But there is more to the promise. After that Lot had left Abram, God said unto Abram, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (Gen 13:14-17). Paul shows that this promise to Abraham held within it a deeper, more expansive, spiritual implication than merely the land which He could see with his natural eyes, and was commanded to “walk through … in the length of it and in the breadth of it.” Paul told the Romans that Abraham was promised the WORLD. “The promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:13).

The prophecy regarding natural Israel’s possession of the land has been fulfilled, but that Old Testament conquest is described in Hebrews 10:1 as “a shadow of good things to come.” The ultimate fulfillment, a fulfillment yet future, will come when the seed of Abraham through the righteousness of faith - all them that believe (Rom. 4:11) - inherit the world with King Jesus.

Then shall another of God’s great promises come to pass, as He said, “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” AMEN!