The Land as the Fifth Gospel
by Pastor Ed Visser
One of the first lectures I heard when I traveled to Israel was entitled, “The Land as the Fifth Gospel.” Since we would be visiting largely New Testament-related sites, it was helpful to see that the land was nearly as illuminating as the four gospels when it came to understanding the life of Jesus.
For the people of Israel, the wilderness had been a testing field, causing their dependence on God. As they came to the promised land, God reminded them of its goodness, but he also issued a warning:
Such forgetfulness, which can easily happen when one has all that he/she needs and doesn’t feel the need for God, would bring about dire consequences for Israel. God explains this very pointedly a few chapters later:
God had brought Israel into a very unique land in the Middle East: a land of milk and honey; that is, a land flowing with both shepherds (milk from goats) and farmers (honey from dates) ¬– very unusual in a region that has either one or the other. But a more crucial uniqueness is that the land is utterly dependent on rain — and the God who brings rain. While the Mesopotamian region has the Tigris & Euphrates rivers, and Egypt the Nile, and their fertility comes from flooding and irrigation — Israel is dependent on rain that comes down from the mountain regions to water the land. And it had to come at just the right times: autumn & spring. No rain, no crops = famine!
God makes it very clear that the rain is dependent on covenant faithfulness on the part of Israel. Famine would be punishment for their failure; and if they got really bad, God would exile them from the land. We see both types of punishment through the Old Testament, and the Bible and land together help us understand the reasons for it.
While most of us do not live in the land of Israel, and famine is something we’ve never experienced, this connection between God’s blessing of the land and Israel’s obedience to the covenant reminds us that God takes his covenant relationship with us very seriously. Do we?
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