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Possess the Land!

Here are words God gave His people three millennia ago just prior to their entry into the land of Canaan, the land He had promised Abraham 500 years earlier.

[1] Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.
[2] Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
[5] Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
[6] Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
[7] For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
[8] And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4)

These words were a reminder of what God had told the Israelites forty years earlier when He released them from their bondage in Egypt. These people were the “Christians” of that day. They were called Israelites because they were the descendants of Israel (or Jacob), Abraham’s grandson. But they were Christians in that they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah just as we today look back to that same event. They worshipped the same God we worship and were given the same law we are given today. We see in this passage the importance and centrality God places on His law. Obedience to this law was to be a source of blessings for Israel and for all nations.

The Law
Deuteronomy means, “second law” (second giving of the law). It was not a different law from the law He gave a generation before; nor is it a different law from the law God gave us through His Son to govern us today (see Matt. 5:17-19). God says, “For I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). God does not go back on His word; He does not give one law to one group of people and another to another group. When He lays down His law, He gives it once for all of mankind and, like He Himself, it never changes. We see in verses 6-8 above the great value God sets on His law. When a nation obeys this law, it becomes a beacon to the other nations of the world. It is seen as a great nation, one the rest of the world will seek to emulate.

America was such a nation; it began with a serious attempt to implement this law as its civil law. It didn’t do so fully or perfectly but, even so, it became and still is the greatest nation in the world. Only God knows how much greater it might be today if it had fully implemented this law and had been careful to maintain adherence to it. But this was not the case and, alas, America’s laws are now drifting farther and farther away from God’s injunctions. Some of the greatness is still there but it is fading ever more rapidly.
Ever since Satan deceived Adam and Eve, man has attempted to find some area of independence from God. Satan’s subtle temptation “you can be as gods, knowing good and evil,” the one thing man could never achieve, has cast an indelible stain on his character. Man has a lingering desire to control some aspect of his life; it varies in individuals but all feel its effects. Even Christians, those that possess the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, are not completely free of this taint. At times they follow their old nature and seek to assert their own ideas instead of just, simply obeying their God. Forgetting that they are only creatures, totally incapable of governing themselves, they make themselves judges of God and His law. They say that some of these laws are too harsh; they come up with excuses for changing it, such as: “we are a much more elevated people than were those crude ancient Israelites” and they proceed to edit God’s law. God tells in this passage and throughout Scripture that we need His law and that we need to obey it exactly as He gave it.

Possessing the Land
We see in verse 1 that the Israelites were to take possession of the land. The land was a gift from God but not a gift that required no effort on their part. The Israelites were responsible for taking actual physical possession of it. They would need to fight and die if necessary in the process. This is what God commanded Adam and Eve to do and what He commands every Christian in every age to do. The earth was created for man but not for man in rebellion against God. It was always intended to be the home for man in subjection to God. Christ came to save the world, to return it to faithful man. His work on the cross initiated the crushing of Satan’s head, a task left for His Body, all true believers, to complete.

Adam and Eve had the more pleasant task; there was no enemy to overcome; all they had to do was to procreate and educate. They were told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God-fearing people (Gen. 1:28). Christians have the more difficult task of restoring a fallen world, which means crushing the Serpent’s head by teaching the nations to obey God (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 28:18-20). This world is God’s world and unbelief is a temporary disturbance, a blemish that came with Adam’s fall and will eventually be corrected. But effort is involved; God will not do for us what He has commanded us to do.

Just as the Israelites of old were made responsible to take the land of Canaan, so Christians today are to take possession; they have been given the responsibility to convert all the nations of the world and thereby eliminate every form of unbelief. This is not a task that can be delegated to pastors and missionaries alone. The battle for the winning of the culture must be fought at every level and all Christians are involved. They are to reprove the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11) and seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness as a top priority in their lives (Matt. 6:33). They should see themselves as soldiers for Christ, doing everything in their power to establish His rule over all people. This means getting involved in every aspect of the culture, the schools, the media, government, politics, etc. Every area of activity must be brought into subjection to Christ and His law must become the law of all the nations. This is war, not a physical war such as the Israelites had to fight, but a war nevertheless. It needs to be seen in this light and be taken seriously. It is God’s command and cannot just be brushed aside with impunity. Consequences follow disobedience. People continue to suffer and die under the rule of unbelief, all because Christians fail to fulfill the task God has assigned them. Two thousand years of suffering and death have passed since the Great Commission was given and the nations have not yet been taught to obey Christ, their rightful king. We need to face up to the fact that we Christians haven’t done our job. We have not been obedient to our Lord, the One that died for us.

Satan’s Gain

Because God’s people have been negligent, unbelievers have usurped a great portion of God’s creation and have twisted it out of shape. It is time for Christians to repent of their selfish ways, turn to God for forgiveness, and begin to take possession of the land. The problem is that today’s typical Christian doesn’t have a clue that God expects any more of him than to pray for the nation and its leaders. A century ago, anything in the news that was the slightest bit contrary to the Christian faith provoked a flood of letters to congressmen, senators, the president, newspaper editors, etc. Today, the most blatant anti Christian court judgments, laws or actions do not evoke more than a whimper of protest from the Christian majority. What has happened? What has brought about this reversal in behavior?

Strange as it may seem, the change in attitude is primarily due to a change in how Christians view the future, how they see the golden age Scripture promises will be theirs. Will it be realized in this world or in the next? Does it come before or after Christ returns? Up to a century or two ago, the answer was almost universally, that it would come before Christ’s return. The view of most Christians was that Christ would return to a Christian world. The many Scriptures that support this view were taken literally, at face value (Psa. 72:8-11; Isa. 11:1-10; Jer. 31:33,34; Dan, 7:27; Mic. 4:1-4; Acts 2:33,34; 1 Cor. 15:23-25, etc.). This began to change in the 19th century, which saw the rise of new ideas and new interpretations of Scripture. Many of the mainline Protestant churches went into what was called “modernism,” which amounted to a departure from the basic tenets of the faith. Others, retaining the basic teachings, reject the older idea of a Christian victory in two ways: Some say that there will be no millennium, no golden age, no victory in this world. For these, the Christian hope lies in heaven, in the age to come. The rest, the great majority of the evangelical churches, though they believe in a millennium, believe it will only come after Christ returns. They believe that, no matter what they do, no matter how hard they might work for it, the world will not get better but will rather get worse and worse until Christ arrives and sets it straight.

Both these views are pessimistic regarding the prospects for the present age. Neither holds any hope for the future that relates to something individuals can do or work for. For both, Christians are not responsible for the larger picture of what happens in this world. The world, over which Christ declared He had all authority (Matt. 28:18) is seen as Satan’s territory. These defeatist ideas have severely limited the effectiveness of Christian action; Christians are not fools or fanatics and do not work for what they believe is impossible. They don’t write letters and don’t make themselves heard on public issues because they no longer believe they have anything to say that could possibly be of any real and lasting consequence. They have relegated the world at large to Satan and his emissaries!

Instead of going in to possess the land, Christian activity has been focussed on evangelism. Having given up all hope of victory over Satan’s forces, they have reduced the Great Commission to an action of attrition. They have convinced themselves that all that is required of them is to seek and to save as many souls as possible before the end comes. This is good activity but it falls short of the commandment and for that reason cannot be as effective as it should be. When Satan’s forces control the schools, the media, the laws, the entire public environment, evangelism suffers. Evangelism is needed but evangelism alone cannot fully accomplish God’s purposes for man. He will not be satisfied with partial success; the world must and eventually will submit to its rightful King. If this generation doesn’t do it, another will. Each of us is responsible to do whatever we can to correct the wrongs we see about us and to work toward the Christian world that will eventually come into being.

Because so much ground has been lost, the work must begin at the most basic level. The immediate need is for Christians to regain a sense of responsibility for the world. Sadly, so many of the 300,000 pastors in America, those in the best position to bring about this needed change, have themselves fallen captive to Satan’s lies and have become the promoters of these false doctrines. These men need to be turned around or replaced. Many of them are already beginning to see that they have been leading their flocks in the wrong direction. But admitting error and changing what one teaches is a difficult thing for anyone; these men need the support and encouragement of their congregations. Dear brother in Christ, if this makes sense to you, it may just be where you can make a real and significant contribution toward the building of God’s kingdom on earth. God bless you as you put your shoulder to the task.