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Geography and the Bible

Geography and the Bible

Geography & history in the Bible—every biblical event took place in a particular location at a particular time. Understanding the “spiritual” message of the Bible is directly related to the physical topography of the land of Israel, and on occasion, the land of its neighbours.

The Old Testament

  • Earth as the scene of salvation history. Gen 1-2 gives a careful description of that land and the solidarity of Adam & Eve with it. The Biblical story begins with a garden and ends with one.
  • Chapters 3-9 center around the loss of the garden and the destruction of the land and the rebirth of both humankind and the land (the olive branch). The theme of the land envelopes the biblical message with the creation of a New Heaven and New Earth. The earth is destroyed because the land is “filled” with violence.
  • Canaan as God’s gift to Israel
    • To the Patriarchs.
      • The refusal to invest the whole earth (11:1-9) occasions a divine response forcing all humans to fulfill the creation order command in Gen 1:28.
      • Abram’s great test is to go to the “land” that Yahweh would show him (12:3).
      • This promise of land is continued in 13:12-17 and forms a tangible basis for the covenanters.
      • There is a temporary threat to that promise in 15:13-15 followed by the first identification of the boundaries of that land (15:18; 23:31). Another threat to the heir of the promise (ch. 16) is followed by another promise of the land in 17:8.
      • The promise is perpetuated to Isaac (26:3-5) & Jacob (28:13-16; 35:9-12).
      • The rest of the story of Genesis is woven around the thread of the land and the threat to the promise of that Land (note the last words of Genesis “in Egypt).
    • To the Israelites
      • It is the Promised Land. Num. 34:1-12; Dt. 1:7-8; 11:22-25; Joshua 1:4-6.
      • It is the means by which Yahweh blesses them. Dt. 11:26ff.; 15:4; 28:1-15 (esp. vss. 8, 11-12); Lev. 26:3ff.
      • He punishes via the land. Dt 11:8-17; 28:15-68; Lev. 26:14ff, Zech 14:17
      • The rain line. Dt 11:14, 17; 28:12
      • The location. Dt. 7;7-8,22; 11:23-25; 28:49; Ex 23:24-39, Josh. 23:13
      • Yahweh owns it. Lev. 25:23; Ex. 19:5. Indeed, He is the owner of all the earth (note the struggle with Pharaoh and Yahweh’s domination of the land of Egypt).
      • It is beautiful. Dt. 8:7-10; 11:9-12
      • It is eschatological. Jer. 32:36-*44; Gen. 15:18-21; Is. 35:6-7; Ezek. 11:16-17; chps. 40-48. (note the New Covenant context in Vs 19-29 of Ezek. 11 and the similar idea in Jer. 31 where land is Juxtaposed to the New Covenant). Surely the church must have considered these passages to be yet fulfilled.
      • Note the “landlessness” of the tribe of Levi (Dt. 18:1ff.; Josh 13:33; Ezek 44:28). Note that “Israel” is God’s inheritance (Dt. 9:26;Psalm 94:5, 14) thus emphasizing the primacy of relationship.

The New Testament

The land is vital to the telling of the story: Luke’s travel section (9-17) is almost 1/3 of his book. The land as holy and holy sites such as Jerusalem, the Jordan River, the Mount of the Beatitudes, etc. permeate the story of the Gospels & the revelation of the Christ. The spread of the Gospel to the whole earth (Acts 1:8; Lk. 27:47) typifies the original filling of the whole earth with people and creates an envelope for God’s redemptive plan for land & people.
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