Who Owns the Land?
Wherever I travel, land seems to be one of the core issues of contention in every nation. Who owns it, who has it, the power behind controlling it, food production, shelter, labour and much more are all linked into land. What should be our response to the political, economic, social and spiritual questions raised when considering land today?
This month’s devotion explores a number of concepts about land in the Old Testament and compares then with the New Testament. I encourage you to reflect on these points and prayerfully consider how they impact your own thinking about land in your country, region and globally. How should we as Christians respond and prioritise our efforts towards holistic transformation in our communities?
The Bible and Land
What was the function of the Land in the Old Testament and how does this impact us today?
1. The Owner: Leviticus 25:23-24 states that God is the owner of the land.
2. A Gift: the land was always understood as a gift from God. It was seen as a fulfilment of his promise to Abraham, and evidence of his special relationship with the Israelites. There are many references, especially in Deuteronomy that links the land with assurances of their election in Abraham. They were God’s people because they lived on God’s land, given to them.
3. An Inheritance: each Israelite family were given a portion of the land as their inheritance. Exodus 4:22 refers to Israel as God’s firstborn son revealing a relationship between God and son ship / inheritance of the land. Belonging to the Israelite nation, living in God’s land gave a sense of inclusion and covenant relationship.
4. Life with God: the land represented relationship security with God. He was their King and Father, they were his people and his firstborn.
5. Sense of Purpose: the relationship and land came with responsibilities. The lifestyle of the people on the land was to demonstrate the morality, values and characteristics of God. It was to be a light to surrounding nations to reflect God and to call them to respond to God.
The Old Testament is full of references and inter-connectivity between God, his people and the land. Interestingly, the vocabulary of the land as a holy place is not used in the New Testament as it is in the Old Testament. The church was so quickly spreading out beyond the boundaries of the Israelite nation that defining a specific geographical area as the Land of Promise did not make sense. More importantly, the significance and holiness of the land described in the Old Testament was now transferred fully into Jesus Christ himself.
The Kingdom of God is here, referring to the presence of Christ. Thus the spiritual presence of the risen Christ now sanctifies any place where believers are present. The holiness of place has been substituted by the holiness of the Person, Jesus Christ. Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” This demonstrates a living reality of God’s promise to be present amongst his people in their land. God has come to redeem the world (John 3:16). This promise of salvation through Jesus is available to anyone living anywhere in any land. In Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:20-26), Jesus directs her attention away from a geographical location as a centre for worship to the spiritual of God.
In Christ, the barriers between Jew and Gentile are removed. Ephesians 2:19 “Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” In Christ, through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6).
In other words, what Israel had through their land, all believers now have through Christ. To be in Christ is to be in the Land!