God's Chosen Settlers

by Ray Hawkins

When God wanted His Garden in Eden cared for, He appointed Adam. When God wanted His Land managed He appointed the descendants of Isaac. It does seem that when God wants something done in this world He graciously works through some human agency. How He can be bothered must surely be one of the miracles of grace and patience.

Palestine was not empty space just waiting to be claimed by pioneering Hebrews. It was inhabited land that had to be wrestled from the grip of nations such as the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites. When the Israelite spies saw these nations and their fortifications ten of the twelve reported that it would be impossible to gain even a foothold in the land. (Numbers 13)

What those ten spies and the nation of the Hebrews forgot was that God had decreed that the inhabitants of Palestine had to go. The verdict of the Bible on these nations is one of total condemnation.

The Land Prepared

"For all these nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves (with immorality, bestiality and other perversions) and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants ... So keep my charge never to practise any of these abominable customs which were practised before you, and never defile yourselves by them; I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 18:24-30)

The removal of the inhabitants was to be a visual expression of God's concern for His land and a warning to Israel and us of His curse on moral and spiritual degradation.

Why did it take God so long to carry out His intentions? Speaking to Abraham on one occasion, God underlined the reason as due to the fact that "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:16) Time after time this principle is employed by God. Individuals and nations are given time to fill their cup of iniquity to overflowing. Then God steps in and makes them drink it. (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:21-23)

Another reason for God's delay was the moulding of the twelve tribes of Israel into a functioning nation. Herman Wouk has pointed out an interesting situation in this regard in his book, This Is My God. ' … our nation came into existence before it had a land. We received our statutory law from Moses in the desert. Nationhood for other peoples means first of all living together in one place. The Jews are peculiarly a nation in time. They sprang into being not in a certain place, for even their father Abraham was a wanderer, but at a certain time, long before they could call any soil their own. This fact, I believe, lay under their ability to survive so long the loss of their soil. The Holy Land was their historic fulfilment, but not their origin'.

The Land Promised

Time could not dim, let alone erase the covenant of God as given to Abraham. So it was that when Israel stood poised to enter and claim the land, Moses reminded them, " ... because God loved thy fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them, and brought thee out with His presence and mighty power out of Egypt; to drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day." (Deuteronomy 4:37,38)

In the conquest of the land it soon became apparent that it was not Israelitish strategy or trickery that won the day. But, as the Psalmist put it, "For not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them the victory; but thy right hand, and thy arm, and the light of thy counterance; for thou didst delight in them." (Psalm 44:3)

In getting out of Egypt, Israel faced the test of water. To get into the promised land water was once more a problem. Success in both instances rested with God. The people had to cross over on dry ground, and they did. In both cases it was the result of faith putting the promise of God into action. And isn't that always true!

The Land Occupied

Undoubtedly a few of these new settlers would have felt that with a miracle-working God on their side, conquest of the land would be easy and painless. Fortunately for their faith, character and spiritual values this was not in God's plan. Possession was to be gradual and dependent upon obedience. This was stipulated to Moses in the wilderness experience. (read Exodus 7:1 - 8:1). It is summed up in Exodus 23:29,30. "I will not drive them out before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you are increased and possess the land."

The struggle for the land, the failure and civil strife, their bondage to invaders and their slow emergence as a mighty nation make sad but informative reading. In it all however the land exerted a tremendous influence upon the national outlook and temper. As the book 'Judaism', edited by A. Hertzberg points out, 'This land was fashioned by God for a particular service to Him, that its very landscape should help mould the character and spirit of His beloved people.'

From the human standpoint it is practically impossible to understand just how God put up with this nation (or any nation). That He did (and does) speaks volumes for His promise to Abraham. When God promises something He means it. As Paul of Tarsus so wonderfully puts it, "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Romans 11:29)