Friday, May 6, 2011

More on the Promised Land

When I was at Jerusalem University College, Dr. Paul Wright presented a very different, but meaningful, idea of the Promised Land than I had before heard or considered.  God describes the Promised Land to the Israelites as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (first in Ex. 3:8), which usually makes us Westerners think of all the good things in life, and plenty of them!

Shepherding: A view from our apartment in Amman--isn't it great that you can see flocks of sheep in the middle of a large city?
The lands of Israel and Jordan are pastoral: "milk" indicates the numerous sheep and goats (or "shoats," as Owen calls them) and the life of shepherding; while "honey" indicates date palms and fig trees, from which honey is derived, and the life of agriculture.  Still sounds good, yes?  But these are hard "professions" when you think about it.  Shepherding involves long days under the hot sun; long, cold nights; danger from animals and marauders; sometimes insufficient food or water...Tending agriculture also involves long, hot days; dependence on weather for successful crop growth; danger from animals and marauders (Matt. 21:33--why else would they need a watchtower?); back-breaking work...In both cases, it's a life of dependence on God, who sustains all.  

Agriculture: also right outside our building. 
To borrow an idea from Rabbi Hirsch from his The Pentateuch – Translation and Commentary, (Judaica Press, Gateshead, 1982):
(the below excerpt is also found in this article)
It is very characteristic that the abundance of produce by “zov” only occurs in reference to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel)… In Tanach, the word zov never means overflowing. It occurs mainly to describe a human pathological condition, and otherwise as a flowing forth caused by miraculous power…“Eretz zavas…” (land flowing) does not seem to describe a land that develops the abundance in accordance with its natural fertility, but a land that only does this under special conditions. Palestine is a hard land… which can only blossom and flourish “under the continuous special care of G-d for it, from one end of the year to the other.” When it gets water, it blossoms luxuriously. But it only gets the water from above. It is a land that makes it necessary for its inhabitants to be good.
Thorns are plentiful in this hard land.

That pretty much sums it up...though I might prefer to change that last word "good" to "redeemed."

It IS a hard land.  The geographical area today referred to as Israel and Jordan is called by some scholars the "land between"--because it is directly "between" all the major powers of the ancient world.  Thus, it was traversed heavily and caught in the crossfires of warring countries, fought over, and often even at war itself.  It is hilly, rocky, and dry in many places, cultivated only by hard work and divine intervention.  The idea of it being an "easy" land to exist in just doesn't compute when you experience the land itself.  But under God's blessing, it becomes indeed a beautiful land, a promised land.
I still definitely think of the Promised Land as a positive place.  At the very least, the Israelites must have been tired of traveling and thrilled to settle their own land.  And when something is YOURS, though it be un-ideal, it is infinitely better than more amazing places that aren’t yours…which brings us back to the theme of belonging and place.  It is also a very positive thing to live in dependence on your Creator and to live in the fulfillment of His promises to you, even if that brings your way  adversity instead of abundance.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed these two posts cutie. The idea of the Promised Land makes me think about the modern political conflicts in the same land. Everyone is fighting over this land because it is the Promised Land, because God made it so. Why did God make it so? Was it an ancestral connection to the land or was this best land? I don't think so. I think it was like you said, to aid in the Israelites commitment to God. In any case it makes me wonder, how does the New Covenant affect this idea of the Promised Land? Obviously we as Christians aren't storming Jerusalem and kicking out the Jews (why does that sound familiar?), and like you said Ang its a reminder to always rely on God, but shouldn't there be something more? Well I've gone on long enough, and to think this was a condensed version of my ramblings.