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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:God's covenant promises include possession of the land
Text:Genesis 17:8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of praise

Bible translation:  NKJV

Psalm 107:1

Hymn 11:1,2,6

Psalm 37:2,5,13

Psalm 25:6

Psalm 105:4,15

Read:  Genesis 17:1-14; Hebrews 11:8-16

Text:  Genesis 17:8

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When we think about God’s covenant we tend to think about that those wonderful words that the LORD repeats throughout the Scriptures:

“I am your God and you are My people.”

When we think about God’s covenant it is His relationship with us that we focus on.  And that is right.  In a previous sermon we saw that a covenant is basically “an agreement which brings about a relationship of commitment between God and His people.”

  But there is also another aspect that the Bible emphasizes when the LORD established His covenant with Abraham, and that is the aspect of land.  When the LORD made his covenant with Abraham not only did He say to Abraham and his descendants “I am your God and you are My people” but He also said in Genesis 17:8,

“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

This was an integral part of God’s covenant promise, a promise that was repeated again and again to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob and a promise that at least in part was fulfilled when, 400 years later, God’s people entered the Promised Land.

But what about now?  Does God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants would be given the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession have any relevance to us today?  Today we live in the time of the New Covenant.  The sign of the covenant has changed – from circumcision to baptism – and the promise of the covenant has been expanded “to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:39)  But what about the Land promise?  What about God’s promise to Abraham that

“I give to you and your descendants after you . . . all the land of Canaan”?

Does this mean that we should insist that the Jews, and the Jews only, live in the land of Canaan today?  Should all the Arabs be evicted?

And what about us?  For we, even more than the unbelieving Jews, can be counted as Abraham’s children today.  Does God’s promise concerning land mean anything to us today?

It is striking that when the Bible describes the position New Testament believers in this world it describes us as exiles, as pilgrims and as sojourners.  You can read that in 1 Peter 1:1 and 1 Peter 2:1.  And Hebrews 13:14 says that

“here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

And so the Bible tells us that this world is not our home but we look forward to a better homeland, a heavenly one.  And yet the promise that we may live long in the land that the Lord our God is given us remains.  We look forward to the day when we will inherit the earth, we look forward to the day when we will dwell with God in the land forever.

I preach to you the Word of God from Genesis 17 and Hebrews 11 under the following theme:

God’s covenant promises include possession of the land.

1. The land of promise.

2. The land of fulfillment.


1. The land of promise. 

The first time we read about God’s plan to give Abraham a land of his own is in Genesis 12:1 where the LORD said to him,

“Get out from your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”

And then, when Abram went to the land of Canaan – which today is called Israel – the LORD said to him in Genesis 12:7,

“To your descendants I will give this land.”

Now on the one hand the LORD was promising to do something new here: He would adopt Abraham’s descendants to be His special people and He would live with them in the land of Canaan.  But on the other hand we need to see this promise of land for Abraham’s descendants in the context of how God has worked and is working in this world since the beginning.  The first chapters of Genesis describe the land of Eden, that garden where the Lord placed Adam and Eve, the garden where the Lord met with them and walked with them.  Genesis 2 describes the garden of Eden and the land around it as a good land, a land well watered by four rivers and a land that had gold and bdellium and the onyx stone.  But Adam and Eve sinned and so they were driven out of the garden of Eden, away from the presence of the Lord and into a land where the ground would be cursed, where there would be thorns and thistles and where there would be pain and grief.

  But that is not where the Lord would leave His people.  From the very beginning, right after Adam and Eve fell into sin, the Lord gave the promise of hope and of a future for Adam and Eve and their descendants.  And now with Abraham the Lord would once again live with His people in a special way in a special territory.  No, it would not be Eden – it could not be Eden since the sin of the people still barred the way for that to be possible – but it would something like Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land or iron and of copper, a land where everyone could sit under their vine and fig tree and live in peace.  And that land was the land of Canaan.

  And so that is what the Lord promised to Abram and that is what He had in mind when He said “to your descendants I will give you this land.”  It would not simply be a place to live: it would be a place in which to live in covenant with God.  And indeed, those who kept God’s covenant would live in the land with God but those who broke God’s covenant, who turned away, would be cut off.

And now God promised this land to Abraham and to his descendants.  In Genesis 13:13 the LORD told Abram,

“Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”

And then again in Genesis 15:18-21,

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates- the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

But it was not just the land for land’s sake that God was promising Abram.  Rather it would be in the land that the LORD would be their God, where He would bless His people and where they would serve him.  The promised land of Canaan was intimately tied to the covenant that God had made with Abraham, and you can clearly see that in Genesis 17.  In Genesis 17:7 the LORD had just said to Abraham,

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

And now in verse 8, in the context of establishing His covenant with Abraham and just before He gave the sign of the covenant, circumcision, the LORD said:

“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession…”

And then hear that covenantal promise:

and I will be their God.

The giving of the land of Canaan, therefore, was an integral part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham.  It would be in the land that the LORD was giving them that His people live in covenant with Him.

And yet there is something unsettling about the promise.  There is something unsettling about God’s promise to Abraham that

“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession.”

Because in the first place, Abraham himself would never personally receive what the LORD had promised.  Abraham himself would never inherit the land.  In fact for as long as Abraham lived, he would be a stranger and a sojourner in it.  The only piece of real estate Abraham would ever own would be a tomb in which Sarai and later he would be buried – and he paid full price for that.

But there was something else that is unsettling too.  Although the promise of the land of Canaan was a tremendous promise, Canaan would never be another Eden.  Canaan would never be the place of true rest, nor the place of full blessing.  Do you remember what happened almost immediately after Abram arrived in Canaan?  There was a famine in the land!  A famine so severe that, rightly or wrongly, Abram went down to Egypt.  And then when Abram, along with his nephew Lot came back from Egypt to dwell in Canaan once again, they had to separate because they land was not able to support them both.  Genesis 13:6 says:

“Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.”

It is true that the land could not support them because they had become so wealthy and it is true that it was God’s will that Lot and Abram should separate, but the fact remains that the land was not able to support them.  Here was Abram and Lot – two families – and the land in which they were living could not support them.  What would happen, then, when the number of Abram’s descendants would be like the dust of the earth?  What would happen when they would be as countless as the stars in the sky?  Yes, the land of Canaan was a special land and Abraham’s descendants would be able to have a good life there, but it was still relatively small.  In fact, the present state of Israel can fit into Australia 348 times!  And even the entire land that was promised, from the River Euphrates in the north to the River of Egypt, even then it would only be a tiny piece of the entire earth!  But the LORD had said to Abraham in Genesis 17:2,

“I will multiply you exceedingly.”

And in Genesis 17:4,

“As for Me, behold My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.”

And verse 5 and 6,

“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.”

And there is the problem.  You see, the promise is bigger than the land!  Canaan, as in that piece of Real Estate that would be given to Old Testament Israel, would not be enough!  If Abraham’s descendants were as many as the LORD had said they would be, they would be falling over each other!  And so, seeing these things in the context of what we read in Hebrews 10, we begin to understand that as Abraham thought about all these things that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God, and he desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.

But we should not spiritualize God’s promise to Abraham too soon. His descendants would truly receive what God had promised, and it would be a good land, a land of milk and honey, a land of vines and fig trees and flowing water, a land that had iron and copper.  And the descendants of Abraham inherited that land in the days of Joshua.  Joshua 11:23 says,

“So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had said to Moses; and Joshua gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes.”

And then later in the days of Solomon the borders of Israel were expanded.  I Kings 4:20-21 says,

20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. 21 So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

And verse 25,

25 And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.

This was the blessing that the LORD had promised to Abraham in Genesis 17:8.  This was what it was like to live in covenant with God in the Land of Promise.

And yet there was something missing.  This was not Paradise.  This was not the garden of Eden.  Towards the end of his reign Solomon himself turned away from the LORD and the LORD said to Solomon in 1 Kings 11:11,

“Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.”

And when Solomon died the people complained that he had made their yoke heavy, that it was a burden to live under him as king.  And from there on, with the exception of times under godly kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah, the nation of Israel degenerated and they received not God’s covenant blessing but His curse until God said “Enough!” and the land vomited out the people and the people of Israel and the people of Judah went into exile.  These days were hard ones for the faithful remnant, for the people of God who remained true to God’s covenant.  But the LORD comforted them: he had not forgotten His covenant promises to Abraham.  He would bring them back, they would return to the Promised Land once more.

And they did return to the land – all fifty thousand of them, a small number of those who had gone into exile and a fraction of the number who had entered the Promised Land in the first place.  Jerusalem was rebuilt and so was the temple.  But as the years went on the people yearned for more.  They waited for the One whom Luke 2:25 calls “the Consolation of Israel.” 

  And then the Consolation of Israel appeared, our Lord Jesus Christ was born.  And as our Lord walked through the Promised Land the people flocking after Him had dreams that He would drive out the Romans and “once more restore the kingdom to Israel.”  But the reality was something different.  When our Lord Jesus Christ was on earth He did not establish an earthly kingdom, nor did He reclaim the land of Canaan for the people of Israel once more.  In fact Jesus Himself had no inheritance among His brothers.  Instead we read of Him wandering from place to place, ministering to the people and preaching not about the land of Canaan but about the Kingdom of God.  In fact the Lord Jesus Himself said,

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  (Matthew 8:20)

It was not just that our Lord “came to his own and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11) but there was no place in the land for him to really call “home”.  But there we see that our Lord had not come to establish the land of Canaan as the ultimate resting place for God’s people.  He had come to prepare a better homeland, and land where His people might live with Him forever.  A land where Eden would finally be truly restored.  We will see this further in our second point.


2. The land of fulfillment.

Although God’s promise of the land of Canaan for Abraham’s descendants was a rich and an enduring promise, this promise was not ultimately fulfilled in God’s people receiving the Land of Promise.  After walking through the land for three years, preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God, our Lord Jesus Christ was ultimately cut off from the Promised Land, cut off from the land of the living by being raised above the ground, suspended on a cross between heaven and earth, suffering the curse for our sin.  But after He died He was buried and the third day was raised from the dead.  And then our Lord Jesus turned to His disciples and He said,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”

And with those words He declared that His kingdom was not limited to the geographical boundaries of the land promised to Abraham but His kingdom spilled over those boundaries to encompass the whole world!  And that is why He told His disciples – and us – to go into all the earth to make disciples of every nation.  And today He is King over all the earth and His people can be found among every tribe and tongue and nation!  And that is so much greater than what Old Testament Israel enjoyed as fulfillment of God’s promise of the land to Abraham.

But now what about the land promise?  What do we now do with what God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 that

“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God”?

In 1948 the present State of Israel was formed and the Six Day War of 1967 meant that Jerusalem came under Jewish rule – although since that time there has been no peace but instead ongoing tension between Jews and Arabs.  And many Evangelical Christians have rushed to the side of the Jews, insisting that the land belongs to them, that this is their birthright, that this is their land under God.  But is that what we should be focused on?

  It is striking that the New Testament does not do this, but the New testament turns its focus from the land of Canaan to the whole world.  It is striking that in Ephesians 6:2-3 the fifth commandment “Honour your father and your mother” is given along with the promise “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord Your God is giving you” not just to those living in Israel but to all God’s people everywhere.  And it is striking that in the New Testament the nations were no longer expected to come to Jerusalem but the gospel went from Jerusalem to the whole world.  And the reason for this is that our Lord Jesus is king not just over Israel but over the entire world.  The boundaries of the Promised Land have been expanded far beyond what they were under King Solomon and the Lord Jesus now reigns from sea to sea. 

  And that is why Romans 4:13 says that the promise to Abraham would be – not just heir of the land of Canaan but – the heir of the world!  In Christ that has now happened.

Do you see how great this is?  Do you see how magnificent the fulfillment of God’s promises is?  The land of Canaan could never have held all the descendants of Abraham, all who belong to him by faith.  But God had a bigger plan.  It is because he loved not just Canaan but because He loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

And that is what we should be telling the Jews today.  Along with us they need to lift up their eyes and look beyond the earthly land of Canaan and the earthly city of Jerusalem.  Because there is another Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is above – and she is our mother!  (Galatians 4:26).  In Galatians 5:2 the apostle Paul wrote,

“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.”

And the same applies to those who cling to this land!  Any Jew today – whether he is in the land of Israel or not – any Jew today who is living outside of Jesus Christ is living out side of God’s covenant blessing.  And so we must direct our Jewish neighbors beyond the land of Canaan to the heavenly city whose builder and maker is God.  (Hebrews 11:10)  We must direct our Jewish neighbor – and indeed everybody – to the Great Seed of Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ.

And the amazing thing is that Abraham already did that!  Abraham, who had been promised so much but in his own life received so little, lifted up his eyes and, confessing that he was a stranger and a pilgrim on this earth, looked for a better homeland, looked for a heavenly country.  (Hebrews 11:13-16.)

And now what about us?  Where is your homeland?  How are you living on this earth and what are you looking forward to?  Concerning Abraham as well as the other men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11, chapter 11 verse 39,40 says,

“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”

And then Hebrews 12 goes on to tell us to throw away every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us and to

“look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The land and the houses and the life we have – as one would say – made for our selves is important to us because we long to be settled, we long for a home.  But this life and this world is not our home, nor is it the place that we should ultimately be focused on.  We are still strangers in this world.  We are exiles and pilgrims looking forward to a better country.

And the good news is that this “better country”, this heavenly homeland will come!  2 Peter 3:13 says,

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

And we who look for this will receive it!  Just as God was true to His promises to Abraham, so He will be true to His promises to us.  Please turn with me to Revelation 21:1-7 where we read about what God is preparing for us:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

And so Eden will be restored – except it will be better than Eden!  Because we shall inherit all things and all of God’s promises will have been fulfilled.  And so God’s covenant remains!  What God had promised to Abraham in Genesis 17:8, that “I will be their God” will be true for all eternity.

Brothers and sisters in Christ:  do you see this?  Do you see it in faith?  Lift up your eyes and look towards that heavenly country, trusting and believing that God is preparing a place for you! Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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