Like The Other Nations: Danger and Temptation in the Land of Promise

Israel's journey from the sacred mountain of Sinai leads into the long years of the wilderness and toward the land of the promise. The wilderness is a place of paradox where, in settings of hardship and trial, Israel learns to trust in God's providence. "God knows your going through this great wilderness; these forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing" (Deuteronomy 2:7). Ironically it will be in the land of promise, where hardship seemingly has been left behind, that Israel will be most tempted to forget God's providence. The sojourner and wanderer becomes the dweller and the possessor.

The land is an important Old Testament symbol embodying both promise and danger for the people of God. Those summoned by God's call away from preoccupation with securing a place in the world are promised the gift of place through God's grace. For Israel that place was the land into which they came by crossing the Jordan River.

It is unfortunate that this experience of coming into the land is so frequently referred to in scholarly and church literature as "the conquest." The dominant witness in the Old Testament is to the land as a gift of grace, not as the spoils of violence. Much of the book of Deuteronomy is a speech on the eve of entry into the land in which Moses stresses the character of the land as an opportunity to continue the receiving of life as God's gift. Much as Israel had learned to trust God's gift in the manna and quail of the wilderness, they were to trust that their needs would be provided for in the land to which God had brought them.

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