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Chapter 5

The Promised Land

Joshua 19:17-23

The fourth lot came out to Issachar, for the children of Issachar according to their families. And their territory went to Jezreel, and included Chesulloth, Shunem, Haphraim, Shion, Anaharath, Rabbith, Kishion, Abez, Remeth, En Gannim, En Haddah, and Beth Pazzez. And the border reached to Tabor, Shahazimah, and Beth Shemesh; their border ended at the Jordan: sixteen cities with their villages. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Issachar according to their families, the cities and their villages.

When they entered the Promised Land, the territory allocated to the tribe of Issachar was bordered on the north by Zebulun and Naphtali, on the south and west by Manasseh, and on the east by the Jordan River. Most of the Valley of Jezreel fell within Issachar’s allocation. This valley was flat and fertile. It was good for rearing cattle.

The Promised Land was a very good land. It was a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flowed out of valleys and hills. It was a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates. It was a land of olive oil and honey. It was a land in which they would eat bread without scarcity, in which they would lack nothing. It was a land whose stones were iron and out of whose hills they would dig copper. When they had eaten and were full, they would bless the LORD their God for the good land which He has given them (Deuteronomy 8:7-10).

But there was always the danger of forgetting the Lord by not keeping His commandments, His judgments and His statutes. It would occur when:

  • they had eaten and were full.
  • they had built beautiful houses and dwelt in them.
  • their herds and their flocks were multiplied.
  • their silver and their gold were multiplied.
  • all that they had were multiplied.
  • their hearts were lifted up.

They might say in their hearts that they had gained this wealth by their own hands, their own power and their own might (Deuteronomy 8:11-17). When the people of God became rich and full, they might deny God. Who would need God when they had everything? Who would need God when they could do all things by themselves?

How did God deal with this problem of self-sufficiency and self-boasting? He leads us through a journey of trusting and obeying Him. No faith, no righteousness. The righteous shall live by faith in trusting and obeying Him. Salvation is a complete journey from justification to glorification. "And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:30; NIV) Between justification and glorification is the sanctification process.

Leaving Egypt was one thing but entering the Promised Land was another. Located between them was the wilderness. This wilderness experience was the sanctification process. The Passover delivered Israel out of Egypt, but the wilderness sanctified Israel. The wilderness removed any remaining Egyptian ways out of their hearts and minds. It was there God began to humble them, and to test them in order to know what were in their hearts, whether they would keep His commandments or not.

To gain full benefit of this wilderness experience, we must understand the nature of our spiritual bondage. In knowing this truth, we will be truly set free. The wilderness forces us to be with God and no one else. We will begin to see Who He is and who we are as He reveals Himself to us.

One of the greatest bondages enslaving us is our human tendency to cling to what is familiar, regardless of how painful and bad they can be. We also tend to resist change regardless of how promising and good they can bring. It is this bondage and false security in the familiar that caused Israel to murmur against God in the wilderness. They longed to go back to Egypt when they faced the unfamiliar in the wilderness.

In Egypt, they knew at least what to expect. In the wilderness, everybody needed God for everything from food to drink and from clothes to shoes! The slavery in Egypt had made them very comfortable even under the severe and strict control of Egyptians. They were at least able to know where to sleep, when to wake up, and what to eat or drink etc. Everything was routine and expected. But in the wilderness, they had to depend on God to provide everything they needed.

It was in this wilderness experience that God revealed Himself to His people. He provided everything they needed. He also gave them His laws and commands. These commandments were the terms and conditions of living in the Promised Land. They were not to bind Israel but to help her to live freely in the Promised Land. The Israelites had stayed in Egypt for more than 400 years. Throughout those years, they had been indoctrinated with the Egyptian ways and their types of leadership, ideas and ideals. As Egyptian slaves, they were entrapped not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually. In Egypt, they did not know God and His ways!

Through mighty signs and wonders, God delivered them out of the hands of Pharaoh. But they could not enjoy true freedom. Their minds and souls were still trapped in their own thoughts and understanding. Their ways were not God's ways! To live in the Promised Land like the way they lived in Egypt would be disastrous. They had been slaves; they would make slaves out of their own people, and became slave drivers themselves. That was the only way they were acquainted and familiar with. That was the method they saw working successfully in the land of pyramids and sphinx. But this was slavery and not true freedom!

God wanted to completely set them free so that they would be able to live well in the Promised Land. But Egypt remained in their hearts even after they had left Egypt. The signs and wonders came and went, no longer thrilling them. They wanted to go back to slavery when their ways did not work out in the wilderness. God had to discipline them just as a man disciplined his son.

But they rejected His sanctification process. They could not understand the love of God. All they wanted was the fulfillment of the promise of God and the Promised Land. In the wilderness, everything was the exact opposite of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. All promises of God from conception to fulfillment required faith and patience such as Abraham having a son, Israel being delivered out of Egypt, the birth of the Messiah etc.

The main purpose of the wilderness was the preparation of their hearts so that their faith could be built upon solid foundations. It was also there and then the Israelites could build a habitation for God so that He could dwell among them. There and then they had to depend on Him for every piece of bread and every cup of drink. They needed to have total dependence on God so that they could have an intimate and personal relationship with Him.

But they kept disobeying the Lord, rejecting His laws and commands. After moving in countless circles for 40 long years, they remained untaught and unchanged. They nearly wore God out to that extent of God wanting to destroy them completely. In Exodus 33:3, God said, "But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way." (NIV)

Though the Israelites faced some of their greatest difficulties in the wilderness, they also experienced some of their glorious encounters with God. It was a great blessing and not a curse to be alone with God in the desert.

Spiritual slavery was not only evident in Israel, it was also in the Church. In the New Testament, Apostle Paul exposed spiritual slavery in the Corinthian Church: "For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face." (2 Corinthians 11:20) The type of church leadership in Corinth that Paul rebuked was:

  • one brings you into bondage
  • one devours you
  • one takes from you
  • one exalts himself
  • one strikes you on the face.

These characteristics of spiritual slavery were also evident throughout the church history and even today. The church has adopted worldly standards and ways of leading their sheep. Almost every church is playing the number game. We do not take care and pastor our flocks. We push our sheep to get other sheep in. We fill their weekly timetables with programs after programs until they become burnouts. We push them to give and give continually towards mega church building projects. This style of church leadership is derived from the secular world. Because we are familiar and comfortable with such systems, we become blind and we deceive ourselves. Carnal people will respond to carnal authority. Until we come to the realization and acknowledgment of this spiritual slavery, we would continue to abide by their rules and regulations.

We can talk about how silly and stubborn the Israelites were in their journey to the Promised Land. Yet how often our fingers are pointing back at ourselves when we commit the same errors over and over again. Church history is continually repeating itself in choosing familiarity of spiritual slavery instead of freedom of spiritual sonship.

Until we will to do His will, we will be moving in circles in our own wilderness. The wilderness experience is necessary. Even our Lord Jesus went through it. But He came out victorious after 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2). He passed the test with flying colors. He was tempted in the same way as the Israelites, and in a greater measure. Yet He sinned not! God has never intended us to overstay for 40 years in the wilderness. Maybe 40 days is more than sufficient!

The journey into the Promised Land can be a very pleasant one if we abide by His laws and commands, and do it in the manner He desires us to. We must turn ourselves back to God and be careful to follow every command that He has given to us so that we may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that He has promised us.

We must remember how the LORD our God has led us all the way in our wilderness experience to humble us and to test us in order to know what are in our hearts, whether or not we would keep His commands. He has humbled us, causing us to hunger and then feeding us with His Word, to teach us that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. We will acknowledge the dealings of the Lord that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD our God disciplines us. We will observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and revering Him (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).

When we do so, we will become joyful and fruitful like the sons of Issachar in the Promised Land. Our delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law we meditate day and night. We shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever we do shall prosper. (Psalm 1:2-3)

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