There are times when it is good to step back and look at the big picture. I need to do this for myself. It is too easy for me to see only my immediate circumstances at this moment. Instead there are times when I need to remind myself of my context, my place in life.
The Bible does this sometimes as well. For example, the book of Nehemiah tells how this was done for the nation of Israel. In chapter eight, Ezra the priest reads to all the people. “On October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand.”
They all assembled again on October 31. “They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God.” After that, the story of God and his people was told, starting with God calling Abram out of Ur.
Stephen did the same thing in Acts 7, when he was accused and addressed the high council. He started in the same place, saying in verse 2: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran.”
He continued all the way through Solomon and up to Jesus, at which point they killed him.
All of the people in the Bible and all of the stories we have learned are part of one big story. We are part of that story. Our lives are not isolated in history. Our lives are part of a great picture of what God has been doing since he created Adam and Eve. What God is doing today in our lives is not part of another story, although it can look like that when we forget the context.
Noah had a son who was faithful, who followed in his ways. He had another son who wasn’t and that son’s son was cursed. Descended from the faithful son, Shem, came Abram. From the line of the cursed grandson Canaan, son of Ham, came the Canaanites and the Amorites.
At its simplest, what we are introduced to here is the story of the battle between good and evil. It’s a story as old as Cain and Abel. What are these two forces fighting over?
Matthew describes the first words of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection in Matthew 28:18 – “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”
The victory of Jesus was to reclaim the authority that had been stolen by Satan.
When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them authority over the garden. Genesis 1:28 – ‘God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.”’
The forces of good and evil, or the armies of God and Satan, are fighting for control of the earth. What we see with Abraham then is God calling a man to join his army and fight on his side. Abraham is the father of faith because he agrees to take God’s side. God for his part promises to give control of some land to Abraham.
That land turns out to be Canaan. It is filled with warlike people. That starts a long and familiar story of how God worked with sinful people to establish a land that accepted his rule.
God has given the whole earth to the human race. It has always been God’s intention for the world to be ruled by humans made in his image on his terms. Jesus in his victory over Satan now has restored the authority of man to rule the whole world. God will ultimately renew and restore it because it always was, and still is God’s intended home for the human race, and will be our home forever.
The people who God recruited into his service were all sinners, and we see how evil kept derailing God’s plans. One of God’s first challenges was to separate his people from the people of the world. He wouldn’t let the son of Abraham marry a Canaanite woman.
Keeping them separate seems to have been rather difficult, and the peoples were inclined to mix rather too easily. Lot moving to Sodom is perhaps an extreme example, but at least one of the 12 tribes of Israel had Canaanite blood. Simeon the second son of Jacob married a Canaanite woman.
God moved them all to Egypt, where it was much easier to keep them apart because of the extreme prejudice of the Egyptians against shepherds. And so God worked for a long time through hundreds of years to prepare his army. When they were ready, he brought them out of Egypt into the desert.
He led them through the desert and back to the promised land. All along the way, God taught them the importance of faith and obedience. And he kept reminding them that he was going to give them their own land. He also reminded them that he was doing it so that they would be a blessing to the whole world. Genesis 12:3 – “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
God led his people into the promised land. God led them into a land that was already filled with other people. He told them often not to be like these evil people. He told them not to follow the ways and customs of these evil people. From that time until the birth of Jesus, a war raged. The people of God never took over the whole land. There were always other people living there alongside them. They fell into temptation and lost their way again and again.
As we look at the story of Jesus, we see it as following the previous pattern. Jesus is like Moses, coming to a people enslaved and ignorant. He came to lead those who believe out of the old kingdom and into a new kingdom. Jesus arrived saying that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Up to the time of Jesus, Israel had never fulfilled her vocation, and the Gospels begin, in part, with a view of Israel under Gentile (that is Roman) occupation.
John says in 1 John 5:19 – “We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.”
This reminds me of how the promised land was when the Hebrews entered. It makes me ask this question. As disciples of Jesus, where are we on the parallel timeline with the Hebrews. Are we in the time of crossing the desert, or are we in the time of conquering the promised land.
I think this matters. It is traditional for many people to say we are in the desert period. When we cross over the Jordan we will enter the kingdom of heaven, a land without any sin.
What if we have already crossed over, and we are in the time of claiming the land for God. It’s full of sin, just as John says, and the power of God is working through the disciples of Jesus to exert control and establish God’s rule.
Is the Bible telling the story of how God gets people out of the world? Are we part of God’s effort to get us off the earth (out of the land) and into heaven?
It looks more like we are part of a story of how God restores his rule over the earth. It looks as though we are the people God has called to be his image on earth. What this ought to mean is that it matters very much how we live our lives. It matters to God how we treat the world around us. We should care for the environment. We should care about climate change. We should protect animals, keep the seas clean, stop pollution and do all the other things that are part of seeking the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The battle is not over. We are living in the promised land already, but it hasn’t been conquered. We live alongside other people, and we should not be like them. We urge them to be like us, to be God’s new people. We pray the Lord’s prayer, your kingdom come. We have to live that prayer, and let go of all other worldly kingdoms. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, but he also said several times his kingdom was here on the earth.
The story has not finished. It’s a great movement across all of human history, and it will end one day with the return of Jesus and his rule on earth. That’s the story we are living today. We are the people who are living under his rule already. We are part of God’s force driving sin out of this world. You have a great role to play in God’s story.
“But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13)