God's Chosen Settlers

When God wanted His garden in Eden cared for, He appointed Adam. When God wanted His land managed He appointed the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It seems that when God wants something done He graciously works through some human agency. How He can be bothered must surely be one of the miracles of grace and patience.

The land of Canaan was not empty space waiting to be claimed by pioneering Hebrews. It was inhabited land that had to be wrested from the grip of nations such as the Amorites, Jebusites, Hittites 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:

" . . . the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there . . . We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we" (Numbers 13:28,31).

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

The Land Prepared

"According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do, and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances …

"For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants … therefore you shall keep my ordinances, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them; I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 18: 3, 25, 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 all people of His curse on moral and spiritual degradation. Why did it take God so long to carry out His intentions? Speaking to Abraham, 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! "For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and he pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down." (Psalm 75:8).

Another reason for God's seeming delay was the moulding of the twelve tribes of Israel into a functioning nation, a nation that came into being before it had a Land. They received the Law from Moses while still in the desert. They came into being, not in a certain place, for even their father Abraham was a wanderer. At a particular time, before they could call any soil their own, the Land was their 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 he loved your fathers, therefore he chose their descendants after them; and he brought you out of Egypt with his Presence, with his mighty power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as 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 their strategy or strength or skill that won the day, but as the Psalmist put it: "For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; but it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your countenance, because you favoured them" (44:3).

In coming out of Egypt Israel faced the test of water (the Red Sea). To get into the Promised Land water was once more a problem (the River Jordan). 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. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Letter to the Hebrews 11:1).

The Land Occupied

Undoubtedly many 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 and character and spiritual values this was not God's plan. Possession was to be gradual and dependent upon obedience.

This was stipulated to Moses in their wilderness experience as recorded in Deuteronomy 7:1 to 8:1. It is summed up in Exodus 23:29-30: "I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land."

Their struggle for the Land, their failure on many occasions, their bondage to invaders, and their slow emergence as a mighty nation make absorbing reading from the Scriptures, as in it all they were exhorted: "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses" (Joshua 1:3).

From the human standpoint it is almost impossible to understand how God puts up with humanity. That He does speaks volumes for His promise to Abraham and the people of Israel, as we read in Paul's Letter to the Romans: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (11:29).