39: The Promises to Israel - The Promised Rest (Part 2 of 2)

The Present Truth : January 28, 1897

The Israelites were in possession of the land; not one word of God had failed; He had with Himself given them all things; but they did not appreciate the wondrous gift, and so received the grace of God in vain.

They were at least nominally faithful to God during the life of Joshua, but after his death “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn unto them; and they were greatly distressed.” God told them that because of their disobedience He would not drive the nations out from before them, but that their enemies should remain and be as thorns in their sides. Judges 2.1-15

Thus we see that although God gave them rest, they did not enter into it. It was therefore as true of them as of those who fell in the wilderness that “they could not enter in because of unbelief.”

What About Our Position?

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Hebrews 4.1, 2. We are in the world in precisely the same situation that ancient Israel was, with the same promises, the same prospects, the same enemies, the same dangers.

There are no foes upon whom we may use ordinary weapons of warfare, although the followers of the Lord are assured that they shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3.12), and that they shall be hated by the world, with a hatred that will not stop short of death (John 15.18, 19; 16.1-3); nevertheless “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” In this, however, our case is in no wise different from that of Israel of old.

Their victory was to be had only by faith, and, as we have already seen, if they had been truly faithful, there would have been no more need of their using the sword to drive out the Canaanites than there was to use it for the overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts.  Indeed, the reason why they did not gain full possession of the land was because of that unbelief which made the sword necessary; for it is absolutely impossible that the heavenly country which God promised Abraham can ever be gained by men with swords or guns in their hands. There was no more need for Israel to fight in the days of old than there is for us; for “when a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16.7), and we are absolutely forbidden to fight.

When Christ commands His followers not to fight, and warns them that if they do they shall perish, He is not introducing a new order of things, but simply leading His people back to first principles. Ancient Israel affords an illustration of the fact that they who use the sword shall perish with the sword; and, although the Lord bore long with them, and made many concessions to their weakness, and has borne still longer with us, He wishes us to avoid their errors. All the things concerning them “are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” 1 Corinthians 10.11

The Promise of Canaan

But we must go a little further, and see that our situation is precisely that of ancient Israel, and that the same rest and inheritance which God gave them, and which they foolishly allowed to slip from their hands, is ours, provided we “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Fortunately the evidence is very simple and plain, and we have already considered the most of it at some length. Let us refresh our minds with the following facts.

Canaan is a land, which God gave to Abraham and to his seed “for an everlasting possession.” Genesis 17.7, 8. It was to be an everlasting possession for both Abraham and his seed. But Abraham himself had not so much as a foot-breadth of the land in his actual possession (Acts 7.5), and none of his seed had it either, for even the righteous ones among them (and only the righteous are Abraham’s seed) “all died in faith, not having received the promise.” Hebrews 9.13, 39

Therefore, as previously shown, the possession of the land involved the resurrection of the dead at the coming of Christ to restore all things. By the resurrection of Christ, God has begotten us unto a lively hope, “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1.3-6

A World-Wide Kingdom

But the possession of the land of Canaan meant nothing less than the possession of the whole world, as we learn by comparing Genesis 17.7, 8, 11, and Romans 4.1-13. Thus: circumcision was the seal of the covenant to give Abraham and his seed the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. But circumcision was at the same time a sign or seal of righteousness by faith; and “the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham or his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” That is to say, that which sealed to Abraham his right to the possession of the land of Canaan, was the seal of his right to the whole world.

In giving to him and his seed the land of Canaan, God gave to them the whole world. Not of course “this present evil world,” for “the world passeth away;” and Christ gave Himself for us that He might deliver us from it and its destruction; but “we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” 2 Peter 3.13. It was not the temporal possession of a few thousand square miles of land tainted by the curse that God promised to Abraham and to his seed, but the eternal possession of the entire earth freed from every vestige of the curse. Even though it were true that the little territory of Canaan constituted the whole of the promised inheritance, still it would be true that the Israelites never had it; for the promise which God confirmed was to give Abraham and his seed the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, that is, Abraham must have it for an everlasting possession, and his seed must also have it for an everlasting possession. But they all died, and in time even the country itself passed into the hands of other people. No temporal dwelling in Palestine could possibly fulfill the promise. The promise still remains to be fulfilled to Abraham and to all the seed.

The New Earth

The rest is the inheritance; the inheritance is the land of Canaan; but the possession of the land of Canaan means the possession of the whole earth, not in its present state, but restored as in the days of Eden. Therefore the rest which God gives is inseparable from the new earth: it is rest which the new earth state alone can give, rest found only in God; and when all things are restored, then God in Christ will absolutely and without hindrance fill all things, so that everywhere will there be complete rest. Since rest is found only in God, it is most evident that the children of Israel did not enjoy the rest and the inheritance, even while in Palestine, for although “He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents, yet they tempted and provoked the Most High God, and kept not His testimonies; but turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers; they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their graven images,” so that “God greatly abhorred Israel.” Psalm 78.55-59

Remember that it was an heavenly country that Abraham looked for. Nevertheless, the promise of God to give him and his seed (including us, if we are Christ’s, Galatians 3.16, 29) the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession will be fulfilled to the very letter.

When the Lord comes for His people to take them to Himself, to the place which He has prepared for them (see John 14.3), the righteous dead will be raised incorruptible, and the righteous living ones will likewise be changed to immortality, and both together will be caught up “in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4.16, 17; 1 Corinthians 15.51-54. The place to which they will be taken is the free Jerusalem above, “which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4.26); for that is where Christ now is, and where He is preparing a place for us. A few texts may be quoted to show this fact more clearly. That the heavenly Jerusalem is the place where Christ is now “in the presence of God for us,” is evident from Hebrews 12.22-24, where we are told that those who believe are now come to Mount Zion, unto “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” “to God the Judge of all,” and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” Christ “is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,” (Hebrews 8.1), and from this throne, it will be well to remember, proceeds “the river of water of life.” Revelation 22.1

The City for Which Abraham Looked

This city, the New Jerusalem, the city that God has prepared for those of whom He is not ashamed, because they seek an heavenly country (Hebrews 11.16), is the capital of His dominions. It is the “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (verse 10), for which Abraham looked. In the twenty-first first chapter of Revelation we find a description of those foundations, where we also find that the city will not always remain in heaven, but will descend to this earth with the saints who have reigned in it with Christ for a thousand years after the resurrection. Revelation 20. Of the descent of the city we read: —

“And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write; for these things are true and faithful. And He said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”

From Isaiah 49.17-21 we learn that the believing, righteous ones, the children of the New Jerusalem, constitute the adornment, which the city has when it comes down prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. So we see that the saints of God go at once to the New Jerusalem, when Christ comes for them, and then return with it to this earth, when the time has come for the cleansing of the earth from all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and for the renewing of all things as at first.

The Place Where the City Will Come Down

But to what spot on this earth will the city descend? Speaking of the time of the destruction of the wicked, the prophet Zechariah says: —

“Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee by the valley of My mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azel; yea, ye shall flee like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the holy ones with thee. And it shall come to pass in that day that the light shall not be with brightness and with gloom; but it shall be one day which is known unto the Lord; not day, and not night; but it shall come to pass that at evening time there shall be light. And it shall come to pass in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the western sea; in summer and in winter shall it be. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be One, and His name One.” Zechariah 14.3-9

Thus we see that when God brings back the captivity of His people, He brings them to the very spot of earth that He promised to Abraham for an everlasting possession—the land of Canaan. But the possession of that land is the possession of the whole earth, not for a few years, but for eternity. “There shall be no more death.” It was this glorious inheritance that the children of Israel had in their grasp when they crossed the Jordan, and which they faithlessly allowed to slip. If they had been faithful, a very short time would have sufficed to make the name and the saving power of God known in every part of the earth, and then the end would have come. But they failed, and so the time was lengthened, until our day; but the same hope has been the one thing ever before the people of God. So we may look forward to the possession of the land of Canaan with as much earnestness as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, yea, and David also, and all the prophets, and with the same confident hope.

The Restoration of the Israel of God

With these few outlines well fixed in mind, the reading of the prophecies both of the Old and the New Testament will be a delight, for we shall be spared much confusion, and many seeming contradictions will be seen to be plain. When we read of the restoration of Jerusalem, so that it will be the joy and praise of the whole earth, we shall know that the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, to take the place of the old. If a city on this earth is burnt entirely to the ground, and men build a new city on the same site, the city is said to be rebuilt, and it is called by the same name. So with Jerusalem, only the city is rebuilt in heaven, so that there is no interval between the destruction of the old and the appearance of the new. It is as though the new city sprang at once from the ruins of the old, only infinitely more glorious.

So also when we read of the return of Israel to Jerusalem, we know that it is not the return of a few thousand mortals to a mass of ruins, but the coming of the innumerable, immortal host of the redeemed to the ever new city where their citizenship has long been recorded. Mortal men will not rebuild the city with brick and stone and mortar, but God Himself will rebuild it with gold and pearls and all manner of precious stones. “When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” Psalm 102.16. He says to Jerusalem, “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” Isaiah 54.11-13.  These are the stones in which her children take pleasure. Psalm 102.14

Here will be rest, perfect eternal peace. The promise is, “in righteousness shalt thou be established; thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear; and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.” “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” God Himself will be with His people for evermore, “and they shall see His face,” and therefore they will have rest, for He said, “My presence,” literally, My face, “shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”

Why will men nullify all these glorious promises, by reading them as though they taught merely the temporal possession of a ruined city on this old sin-cursed earth? It is because they limit the Gospel, not realizing that all the promises of God are in Christ, to be enjoyed by none except those who are in Christ, and in whom He dwells by faith. Would that God’s professed people might speedily receive “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” in the knowledge of God, that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened, that they might “know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” and that it is to be gained only by “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 1.17-20

Now that we have taken this hasty glance ahead, and have seen the consummation of God’s promise to give His people rest in the land of Canaan, we may return and fill in a few of the details, which will be more easily understood by reason of this outline, and which in turn will bring out in still bolder relief the view we have already had.

The paper in this series, which appears next week, will consider—under the title “Another Day”—the rest that now remaineth for the people of God. Hebrews 4