“The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7-8).
“[Yahweh] brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9).
When the earth was defiled by human evil, God cleansed it with water. When the earth was defiled again by human arrogance who thought themselves gods, he chose Abraham and his descendents to be the heir of the cosmos (Romans 4:13). God will provide them land, and there God will dwell among them as their God and they his people.
By giving Abraham the land of Caanan God intended that through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed, that the whole earth would come under the reign of God. There was no intent to leave the rest of the cosmos under the dominion of evil. Instead, God would redeem the whole earth–all the nations and the cosmos itself–through Abraham’s seed.
As a promise of the future and an experience of the new creation itself, God gave Israel a fertile land “flowing with milk and honey.” The land itself was a foretaste of the new heavens and new earth; a foretaste of a renewed creation.
Israel, in their fertile land, was the kingdom of God in the midst of a broken world. God invested his love and gifts in them so that they might be a witness to the nations for the sake of calling them into communion with Yahweh, the king of the earth. They were to care for their land and animals with stewardly love, love each other, and love God with all their heart, soul and mind. God gave them the Torah to guide them, priests to mediate his redemption, prophets to exhort them, and judges to protect the weak.
Israel was, in effect, a new creation; a new beginning of God’s creative intent; a light in the darkness. A redemptive, royal priesthood through whom God would work to further his reign on the “cursed” earth.
”I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable” (Jeremiah 2:7).
“I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone….I looked, and there wre no people…I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert…” (Jeremiah 4:23, 25a, 26a).
Alas, Israel defiled the land, themselves and turned to other gods. Like their ancestors, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, they chose their own autonomy over the divine invitation to participate in God’s reign. They set themselves up as rulers over the earth–or at least their parcel of land–instead of reigning with God and serving his goals for the sake of the nations and creation.
With this defilement, God returned the land–what was designed as a new Garden (Eden) upon the earth–to chaos, darkness, and death. The language of Jeremiah is quite striking. The only two times the Hebrew terms ”formless and empty” are used are in Genesis 1:2, describing the cosmos before God’s creative ordering, and Jeremiah 4:23, describing the land of promise after Israel’s defilement. The divine inheritance was no longer “fruitful” but a “desert.”
This is a reversal of creation. This is the nature of the “curse.” It is a return to chaos, darkness and death. God promised that he would curse their flocks, land, etc. if they defiled his land, rejected his mission for them, and rebelled against God’s righteousness (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
Israel, called to reverse the curse and live as new life within a broken world, chose chaos over creation, evil over good, and darkness over light. As a result, they experienced what the original couple experienced–their Garden existence turned into a desert filled with brokenness, a cursed reality.
Meanwhile, the curse continued to consume the earth (Isaiah 24:6). The world lies in the power of evil, lives in darkness, and chaos reigns.
But hope did not die because God yearns for his people, loves them, and does not give up on his creation.
“‘Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.’ …I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more….The wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. ” (Isaiah 65:1a, 3, 25a).
“The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).
God intends to renew the heavens and earth he created; to create them anew. He will yet fully reverse the curse. He intends to remove weeping and violence, even violence in the animal kingdom. He will reverse what the serpent inaugurated with his temptations and defeat the serpent himself. Shalom will reign in the whole earth; the kingdom of God will fill the whole earth.
Israel was not the creation’s last, best hope. It was a divine project; a renewal of the divine mission for humans as imagers of God to co-rule over the creation and co-create the future with God. It was a way for God to effect the renewal of the earth through human participation. It had its successes, but it also had its dismal failures as humanity continued to seek its own interest rather than participate in God’s life.
Israel was not creation’s last, best hope. God is the hope of the cosmos. God will act. God will redeem. God will create.
God incarnate, the seed of Abraham, will bring light into the darkness and enlighten the world. God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, is the creation’s last, best and only hope.
More to come….