GOD'S PLAN FOR MAN AND THE PLACE OF BLESSING
July 21, 2017
I grew up in the country a place called “Vega de Oropouche” an old Spanish name with the English translation “Valley of the Golden Pocket”, where I lived near a brook in the midst of many trees including a gigantic Mora tree over 35 feet tall. I have a strong attachment to the land of my childhood where I spent so much time growing up. To me, my homeland was “God’s Country.” I never experienced and seen snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests, before I migrated to the United Kingdom and I still wonder how anyone can possibly claim their otherwise homeland as “God’s Country.”
“God’s Country” is an expression men use even though they seldom agree upon its location. I came from Trinidad in the Caribbean, “the land of calypso, carnival, feté, freedom and year-round sunshine.” On reflection I must confess Trinidad did not look like God’s Country to me. A Minister/Bishop of a church and another notable Pastor both and I met in the USA and came from different countries all invited to speak at a Clergy Conference. The first an Arch-Bishop, George Offori-Atta from Ghana West Africa and the latter Dr. Miles Monroe a Senior Minister, Renowned Author and Speaker from the Bahamas. The subject of my teaching was “God’s Country and His Plan For Man” ... in relation to my speaking subject we compared pictures, each in jest attempting to convince the other that God’s Country is our respective home land.
In studying the Scriptures, I have concluded that God has a special attachment to a certain piece of real estate. Biblical revelation discloses that God’s Country is not in North or South America, Europe, India, Africa or the Caribbean. Rather, it is a small stretch of land known as Israel or Palestine. Both the Jews and the Arabs claim this very region as their land. Within the land of Israel is a very special city, the City of Jerusalem, known also as Zion. Israel is truly “God’s country” and Jerusalem, “His city.”01
“For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. “But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).
Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King (Psalm 48:2).
The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. Selah (Psalm 87:2-3).
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth (Psalm 50:2).
God has chosen to identify Himself in the Bible with a certain part of the world, with a special piece of land. We may legitimately call this place “God’s country.” In this lesson we will seek to learn about the place where God has promised to bless men, and the role which this place has in God’s eternal plan for creation.
The Key to History
God’s plan for creation is first unveiled in the Bible as a promise. God’s promise quickly begins to reveal a program as the Scriptures unfold God’s purpose for creation and His provisions for achieving it. The unfolding of God’s plan for man is disclosed first in God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
God’s promise to Abram introduces three major themes: (1) a place of blessing (“Go forth from your country . . . to a land which I will show you,” verse 1); (2) a blessing; and, (3) a seed, which is both the recipient (“I will make you a great nation, . . . And I will bless you,” verse 2) and the source of blessing for the rest of mankind (“And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (verse 3).
The three themes of land, seed, and blessing can be traced through the Old and New Testaments. They provide the major elements of God’s plan for man. Each theme is extensive, requiring separate consideration in three lessons. This first lesson follows the theme of “the land,” the place of God’s blessing. Our next lesson will consider “the seed,” the source of God’s blessing. Finally, we will study the blessing itself, the nature of God’s blessing.
The Problem of Sin and the Need for a Sacred Place
In one sense, there is no need for a special place of blessing. Long ago, David praised God because there was nowhere he could ever go that would take him away from the blessing of God’s presence:
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me (Psalm 139:7-10).
But there is a problem with God’s presence arising out of the conflict between God’s holiness and our sin. David raised the question in one of his psalms:
O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbour, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honours those who fear the Lord; He swears to his own hurt, and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken (Psalm 15:1-5).02
This Psalm, like the Old Testament Law of Moses, sets the standard for who may abide in the presence of God--with Him. The problem: all men are sinners who fail to meet God’s standard:
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE. THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING, THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS; WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS; THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN. THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:9-18).03
Because of man’s sin and God’s holiness, no person can ever be expected to see God and live.
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “Thou art a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” (Genesis 16:13). (Speaking of Hagar, Sarai’s maid when she flees from her mistress and the angel of the Lord advised her to return...)
Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:18-20).04
In the Old Testament, the solution to this dilemma was to designate a “sacred place,” a place where God’s presence could be manifested without being contaminated by man’s sin. Usually the solution involved some kind of barrier or separation between God and man, keeping sinful man at a distance.05 Throughout the Old Testament, God designated a place of blessing where men could enter into a certain level of fellowship with Him and from which God poured out His blessings. In the New Testament, dramatic changes take place. We will look first at the place of blessing in the Old Testament and then turn to the New.
The Place of God’s Blessing in the Old Testament
Before the fall, the Garden of Eden was the place of God’s blessing. There God provided for all of Adam’s needs, including Eve. In the Garden as well, God met with Adam and Eve, and man was able to enjoy the “presence of the Lord” (see Genesis 3:8). With the fall came the curse. Part of the curse included the banning of man from the garden, especially from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).
Only a few generations later, man’s sin became so great that God brought yet another curse upon the earth. The curse came in the form of a flood which wiped out every breathing being, except those who were spared on the ark (Genesis 6-8). When Noah’s offspring sought to bring about their own blessings, they determined to work together to build a city and a tower. Once again God intervened, putting an end to this project by confusing man’s language (Genesis 11).
In Genesis 12, God chose to bless Abram. God’s promise of blessing contained His instruction regarding the place of blessing. God’s blessing was contingent upon being in the right place. But the place of blessing was not Abram’s own country. He was thus instructed to leave his homeland and his family:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
Abram (along with Terah, his father, Sarai, Abram’s wife, and Lot, his nephew) left Ur of the Chaldeans to enter the land of Canaan, getting as far away as Haran (see Genesis 11:27-32). In Haran, Terah died (11:32), and Abram was called by God to press on from Haran to a place not yet specified.
By faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).
Abraham was seventy-five years old when he, his wife, and his nephew Lot reached the land of Canaan (12:4-5). There God promised him the possession of Canaan as the place of His blessing:
And Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him (Genesis 12:6-7).
The land was not yet Abram’s. The Canaanites were then in the land (12:6). Someday it would be Abram’s land, even though it would be later when God would give it to Abram and his descendants.
A famine in the land of Canaan prompted Abram to leave Canaan and to sojourn in Egypt.06 Upon his return to Canaan, Abram and Lot found it necessary to separate. Abram gave Lot his choice of land, and Lot took what seemed to be the best land:
And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. “Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me: if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere-- this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah--like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other (Genesis 13:7-11).
Lot took the land which seemed to offer the best hope of blessing, a land much like the Garden of Eden (13:10). Abram took what was left. As history records,07 Lot’s decision proved to be unwise. Sometime later, God spoke more specifically to Abram about the land He was going to give him and his descendants. He also indicated a considerable wait would be required, with the seed of Abram sojourning in an unknown land for 400 years:
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite” (Genesis 15:12-21).
God indicated to Abram that He would give the iniquity of the Canaanites more time to mature into full bloom. He would then drive the Canaanites out of the land and give this land to Abram’s seed. Two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, the very place Lot had chosen to dwell, had already reached the point where judgment could wait no longer. God informed Abraham of His intention to judge the cities, and he pleaded with God for mercy. God promised to withhold judgment if but a handful of godly people ten could be found. Ten could not be found, and the cities were destroyed (Genesis 18 and 19).
Abraham began to understand that this land, the land of Canaan, was God’s special place of blessing. He did not yet understand that God could bless those outside the land as well. When Abraham and Sarah went to Gerar to sojourn, they were at the southern border, the very edge of Canaan. Abraham again passed Sarah off as his sister, and Abimelech took her for his wife. When Abraham’s deception became known to Abimelech, Abraham explained that he did not think God could protect him in this place: And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place; and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:10-11).
I believe it was for the benefit of both Abraham and Abimelech that God gave Abimelech these instructions:
“Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours” (Genesis 20:7).
And so Abraham did pray on behalf of Abimelech and his people, and the wombs of the women were once again opened (20:17-18).
Abraham’s son, Isaac, had twin sons: Esau, who was born first, and Jacob. Through treachery and deceit, Jacob acquired his brother’s birthright and his blessing. He also aroused his anger. Jacob’s parents arranged for him to travel to Paddan-aram, to the house of his uncle Laban to find a wife (Genesis 28:1-2). Jacob made his way from Canaan back to the place where Abraham had once lived. But before he left Canaan, Jacob had a most unusual dream:
Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. “And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17).
In his dream, Jacob saw a ladder reaching up to heaven, a ladder which was to become very important later.08 But for Jacob, the significance of his dream was where the ladder was placed. He indicates by his words that he understood the significance of the place he was leaving. It was an “awesome place,” the “gate of heaven.” Somehow, the land of Canaan was the place where heaven and earth met, where men and God met. Leave Canaan though he might, Canaan was the place of God’s special blessings. Jacob would never forget it.09
By means of his two wives and their handmaids, Jacob had twelve sons who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Due to his sons’ cruelty to their younger brother Joseph, Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt. Under the Pharaoh, he was elevated to a position of great power. Joseph sent for his family to prevent them from perishing in the severe famine which had come upon Egypt and Canaan. As a result, the nation Israel spent 430 years in Egypt, fulfilling the words God had earlier spoken to Abram in Genesis 15 (see Genesis 37-50).
In His appointed time, God raised up Moses to deliver His people, the Israelites, from Egyptian bondage and lead them into Canaan to possess the land (Exodus 1-4). Through the series of ten plagues, God delivered the Israelites and brought them through the Red Sea (Exodus 5-15). After passing through the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a song of joyful celebration. Their song looked forward to their possession of the land of Canaan, the place of God’s blessing:
“Thou wilt bring them and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established” (Exodus 15:17).
God’s presence had been with the Israelites from atop Mount Sinai. After the Israelites set out from the base of Mount Sinai toward the Promised Land, it was necessary for a dwelling place to be provided for God to accompany them on their way to the land. The solution was the tabernacle:
“And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Exodus 25:8-9).
In the tabernacle, at the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, God would meet with His people:
“And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you. And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:21-22).
The altar and the sacrifices made it possible for God to meet with His people:
“Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; and there shall be one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a libation with one lamb. And the other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it the same grain offering as the morning and the same libation, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the Lord. It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. And I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. And I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:38-46).
When Israel sinned by worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6), a serious problem arose. How would God dwell among this sinful, stiff-necked people? Their total annihilation was their initial threat (32:7-10). After Moses appealed to God for mercy, they had reason for great concern that God would send them into the land, but His presence would not go with them:
“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:3).
To enable God to dwell in the midst of a sinful people, God provided the Law, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices.10
Once the Israelites reached the land of Canaan, God would designate the holy place where men could worship Him with their sacrifices and offerings:
“When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, then it shall come about that the place in which the Lord your God shall choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the Lord. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the Lord chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you” (Deuteronomy 12:10-14).11
When David proposed building a house for God, God informed David that He did not need a house, promising instead to build a “house” (a dynasty) for David:
Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.” But it came about in the same night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying, “Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle. Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’”’ (2 Samuel 7:1-7).
Once established in the land, the sanctuary of the Lord was located in several temporary locations: Shiloh, Shechem, and Bethel. The permanent place for God’s sanctuary became known in a most interesting way, as described in 1 Chronicles 21 and 22.12 David had wrongly numbered Israel. As a result, God offered David three alternative forms of discipline. David chose discipline at the hand of God. The Lord sent a pestilence which killed 70,000. As the angel of the Lord was standing between earth and heaven, the hand of God was stopped at Jerusalem. At the instruction of the prophet Gad, David built an altar on the land he purchased from Ornan. He then offered burnt and peace offerings since God answered his prayer at this sacred place. God chose to have His name to dwell at this very place:
“‘Since the day that I brought My people from the land of Egypt, I did not choose a city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house that My name might be there, nor did I choose any man for a leader over My people Israel; but I have chosen Jerusalem that My name might be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel’” 2 Chronicles 6:5-6).
Some years later, David’s son Solomon built the temple on the very spot where God had appeared to David (Mount Moriah, see Genesis 22:2):
Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (2 Chronicles 3:1).
Solomon’s words, spoken on the occasion of the dedication of the temple, reflect the words of God spoken to his father years before:
“Now therefore, O Lord, the God of Israel, let Thy word be confirmed which Thou hast spoken to Thy servant David. But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have built. Yet have regard to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Thy servant prays before Thee; that Thine eyes may be open toward this house day and night, toward the place of which Thou hast said that Thou wouldst put Thy name there, to listen to the prayer which Thy servant shall pray toward this place. And listen to the supplications of Thy servant and of Thy people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear Thou from Thy dwelling place, from heaven; hear Thou and forgive” (2 Chronicles 6:16-21).
From this time on, the city of Jerusalem, also known as Zion, becomes the place of God’s presence in the hearts and minds of the Israelites. Zion is the dwelling place of God and of His appointed King. Zion is the place from which God hears and acts on behalf of His people:
“But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain” (Psalm 2:6).
Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds (Psalm 9:11).
May He send you help from the sanctuary, And support you from Zion! (Psalm 20:2).
Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King (Psalm 48:2).
And His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion (Psalm 76:2).
That men may tell of the name of the Lord in Zion, And His praise in Jerusalem (Psalm 102:21).
Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever
For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation (Psalm 132:13).
May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth (Psalm 134:3).
Because Zion was the “city of God,” its inhabitants, beginning with the king, were to live in accordance with the Law God had given His people. As God warned long beforehand, His people turned from Him and from His Law to worship and serve other gods. In time, Jerusalem became known not for her righteousness but for her wickedness.
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the Lord speaks, “Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts, and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil . . . . How the faithful city has become a harlot, she who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your drink diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe, and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them” (Isaiah 1:1-6, 21-23).
For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their actions are against the Lord, to rebel against His glorious presence. The expression of their faces bears witness against them. And they display their sin like Sodom; they do not even conceal it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves (Isaiah 3:8-9).
The leaders of the nation were those who abused their position and power, oppressing the people, especially the vulnerable and helpless:
The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people, “It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people, and grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord God of hosts (Isaiah 3:14-15).
Israel did not heed the Law nor did it listen to the prophets warnings.13 Foolishly, Israel looked at the temple as the guarantee of God’s presence among them and of His unceasing blessings. Because of this, God would judge not only the people but the city and the temple:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbour, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’-- that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the Lord. “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim” (Jeremiah 7:2-15).
“For, behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north,” declares the Lord; “and they will come, and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah. And I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands” (Jeremiah 1:15-16).
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, ‘declares the LORD,’ and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, and against its inhabitants, and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them a horror, and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. ‘Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. ‘And this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:8-11).
In the midst of God’s warnings was also the assurance of God’s mercy and compassion, and the certainty that His promises to His people would be fulfilled. There was thus also the promise of Jerusalem’s deliverance and restoration:
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers. And is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:19-24).
There was also the promise that God’s time of judgment was limited. When God’s righteous anger was satisfied, God would restore His people. He would also punish the wicked that delighted in afflicting God’s people.
“‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. ‘And I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations. ‘(For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them, even them; and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the work of their hands.)’” (Jeremiah 25:12-14).
Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, “O LORD of hosts, how long wilt Thou have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which Thou hast been indignant these seventy years?” And the LORD answered the angel who was speaking with me with gracious words, comforting words. So the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster.” ‘Therefore, thus says the LORD, “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem.”’ Again, proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “My cities will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem”’“ (Zechariah 1:12-17).
The prophets spoke not just of a return from captivity in Babylon brought about by Cyrus, but of a fuller, final, deliverance. This deliverance would be brought about by the Messiah Himself, who would appear in Jerusalem to deliver His people:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:9-10).
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. And you will flee by the valley of My Mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! And it will come about in that day that there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And it will come about in that day that living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from
Benjamin’s Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses. And people will live in it, and there will be no more curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security (Zechariah 14:4-11).
As the history of Israel in the Old Testament period draws to a close, and as the time of the coming of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah arrives, two very different perceptions emerge concerning the “place of God’s blessing.” Because they set the scene for the place of blessing taught in the New Testament, we shall briefly pause to bring them to mind.
As seen from the Old Testament and the New, the ungodly, unbelieving Israelites thought only of an earthly place of blessing and of earthly, physical blessings. No wonder wealth meant so much to the Jewish religious leaders (Luke 16:14) and the temple had been turned into a market place (John 2:14). Israel was God’s dwelling place, particularly His temple in Jerusalem. Being born within Israel’s borders and living there made such Jews feel superior to others, including both the Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews. Much friction existed between the native Hebrews and the Hellenistic Jews (see Acts 6:1). When Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, one can see how upsetting His words would be. One can also understand why the Messiah Himself could come to the temple, have His authority challenged, and even be put to death by those who claimed to revere it (see John 2:14-22; Luke 19:28--21:38). No wonder the enemies of our Lord also accused Stephen of speaking against “this holy place” (Acts 6:13).
But godly Jews saw things quite differently. They understood the “place of God’s blessing” was not an earthly city, but a heavenly one:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
They understood God’s blessings were not necessarily obtained immediately, but that God’s full and final blessings would be obtained after death and resurrection. The blessing was not so much that which God would bestow upon men, but God Himself. The ultimate blessing was, as Moses rightly understood, to see the glory of God (see Exodus 33:18). It was not so much that God would dwell in some place fashioned by men, but that men might dwell with God in His presence forever:
Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).
Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6).
One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4).
Let me dwell in Thy tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Thy wings. Selah (Psalm 61:4).
The Place of God’s Blessing in the New Testament
Several key texts in the Gospel of John demonstrate the radical contrast of Jesus’ teaching on the place of God’s blessing with that of the Jewish religious leaders of His day. Let us briefly consider a few of these texts.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4, 14).
In Old Testament times, God did dwell among men, but always at a distance and always with barriers. God was separate, removed from men even while among them. Moses was not allowed to draw too close to the burning bush. The foot of Mount Sinai was roped off with a barrier, so men could not get too close. Moses was not allowed to see God’s face, but only His “back side.” Those who did see the “angel of the Lord” got only a brief look. In the tabernacle, the veil separated people from God’s presence.
John tells us in the above verses that Jesus was not only God, but that He was God manifested in the flesh (see also 1 Timothy 3:16). Specifically, John says that Jesus “tabernacled among us” (see the marginal note at John 1:14). In Christ, God took on sinless humanity. Never before had God dwelt among men in this way.
The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:43-51).
This text is one of the most marvellous verses in our study. Jesus had begun to present Himself to Israel as her Messiah. He was calling men to follow Him. He found Philip and called him. Philip found Nathanael and told him that they had found the Messiah. When Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael responded in the way nearly any Jew would have thought: “Nobody important would come from Nazareth. Anybody who is somebody would come from Jerusalem.”
Nathanael saw that Jesus was truly the awaited Messiah when our Lord spoke to this godly man about his being under the fig tree. He said so. Jesus’ response to him is incredible. Our Lord refers to the Old Testament experience of Jacob described in Genesis 28. Jacob had dreamed of a ladder, with angels ascending and descending upon it. He was impressed because the ladder rested on the land of Israel, and it reached into heaven.
Jacob was right; the land he was leaving was very special. It was a sacred place, the place of God’s presence and of His blessings. But when our Lord speaks to Nathanael, His words draw our attention to the ladder, not the ground on which the ladder was placed. If Jacob was impressed with the place, Jesus’ words call attention to the Person, to the ladder. Jesus is the ladder. He is the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is the “door” (John 9:7-18). Through Him alone men obtain a way to heaven and to God’s eternal presence.
Nathanael was more concerned about the place than the person. The place did not make the person; the person made the place. The place of blessing was the place where God dwelt, the place of His presence. God was now dwelling (tabernacling) among men, in Christ. In John 2, the One in whom God dwelled came to His Father’s house, the temple. It was not a house of prayer, nor a place where men came to be in the presence of God to worship. It was a place of business:
And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.” The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken (John 2:14-22).
Of great significance is our Lord’s reference to the destruction of “this temple.” The physical temple would soon be destroyed (see Mark 13:1-2). Jesus was talking about His own body rather than the literal “temple.” Christ is God’s dwelling place among men. The One who came to “tabernacle” among men (John 1:14) is the “temple” (John 2:19). By so speaking, Jesus informed us that we should begin to think of the place of God’s blessing in terms of a Person--the Messiah--rather than a physical place.
In the third chapter of John, Nicodemus, a prominent teacher of the Law,14 could not think of entering into the kingdom of God in other than physical terms. To him, the expression, “born again,” could only mean a second physical birth. Jesus challenged Nicodemus to go beyond the physical to the spiritual realm. The kingdom of God could be entered into by faith in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Saviour, the One in whom God dwelled. The same emphasis is found in chapter 4:
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people