An essay on the similarity of the taking of the Promised Land by the Old Testament Hebrews and the Great Commission of Jesus.
I was struck last night with a particular thought. The divine command to the Israelite tribes was to take the land that was before them and God would go before them and fight for them. Similarly, Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the nations, making disciples, and he will be with them even unto the end of the age. I find it striking that these are very similar. In the OT, Israel is to physically conquer a people, utterly destroying them. In the NT, the new Israel—believers under Jesus—is to spiritually conquer the world, pulling down strongholds of falsehood and training people in truth, that is, making disciples.
In both situations, God goes before them. Physically, the LORD will go before Israel into the land and put fear into the hearts of men for the sake of his people and slay them even before his people can. In a very real sense, there is nothing to fear given the showing up of the LORD on the battlefield, but Israel is very much afraid. They fear that the LORD is leading them to their deaths, they doubt that they matter at all to him or that he is truthful.
Similarly, the Holy Spirit goes before the church into the spiritual wilderness, conquering the hearts of men and rendering them unto Jesus. His people are merely to, metaphorically speaking, go in and take the land, or as Jesus puts it, bring in the harvest. We have no arguing to do, no persuading to do, no convincing, no fighting. The gospel is merely sweet to those who are being saved and bitter wormwood to the perishing. And yet the people of Jesus are also afraid. Afraid of rejection, afraid of mocking, afraid of destitution or torment. Those who live under this fear are proud. Too proud to be rejected, so they hide, too proud to be mocked, too proud to share in the sufferings of Jesus.
There were consequences for Israel; they didn’t get to see the promised land, they died outside it’s boundaries, never tasting the goodness of that place and the protection of God under the covenant. Will there be consequences for the new Israel? Will the fear of the people of Jesus lead to similar wilderness? Will keeping silent, refusing to bring in the harvest, yield a wilderness for us? Will we die outside of the walls of the promised land, embarrassed of the LORD? How does Israel’s experience teach us in the new covenant of grace?
I still haven’t answered these questions, but it’s food for thought.