The Bible and the Land – 1 Whose Land is it Anyway?

When it comes to the question of “the Bible and the land,” we must begin with the question: “Whose land is it?” This is a simple yet immensely significant question. You get this wrong, and you get the rest of the story wrong. And the good news is that you don’t need a PhD to get this right! Are you ready for it?:

THE LAND BELONGS TO GOD. PERIOD.

The Bible is clear that the whole earth was created by God and belongs to Him. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1; see also Deut. 14:10). What the Bible teaches about creation is foundational for our discussion on the theology of the land. God created this earth and appointed Adam as His representative on it, and Adam was assigned as God’s vicegerent. As humans, we are stewards of God, and He holds us accountable for our actions with regards to His creation. The earth – God’s earth – is humanity’s mandate:

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ ” (Gen. 1:28)

This concept of the creation mandate is the same one reflected in Israel’s theology of the land. When God gave biblical Israel the land, in accordance to the promises to their forefathers, He made it clear that the land will remain His land regardless:

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.” (Lev. 25:23)

“The land is mine,” says God. The land belongs to God. It was His land. It is His land. It remains His land.

This verse comes in the context of the Jubilee laws in the book of Leviticus. The importance of these laws is that they are a reminder to biblical Israel that she does not own the land, for the land belongs ultimately to God. Biblical Israel is not free to do with the land whatever she wants, or to claim eternal possession of it. These laws are a reminder that “land is not from Israel but is a gift to Israel, and that the land is not fully given over to Israel’s self-indulgence.”[1]

“Like all tenants, therefore, Israelites were accountable to their divine landlord for proper treatment of what was ultimately His property.”[2]

Such a way of administrating the land in the Bible was a challenge to the concept of empire, where the king owned and administrated the land, and the people were mere servants or slaves (1 Sam. 8:10-17). Here we are reminded that God is the ultimate king.

This is also a reminder to us today that we possess nothing. We think we do, but in fact, everything we own or possess ultimately belongs to God. We are God’s stewards on earth.

Once we establish this crucial foundational point, then – and only then – we can move forward with the study of the land in the Bible. The land belongs to God. Amen.

NOTES:

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, 2002, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, p. 59.

[2] C.J.H. Wright, 2004, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Inter-Varsity Press, Illinois, p. 94.

Posted on CATCUSA on: July 23rd, 2018

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