FROM DAN TO BEERSHEBA :
ABRAHAM AND THE PROMISED LAND
by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca), Kingston, Ontario, January 2006
Abraham had been told to go to a land that the LORD had promised to show him (Genesis 12:1). It turned out to be territory occupied by a group of Canaanite tribes (Genesis 12:5-7) It was promised in due course to Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 15:18; 17:8). And this promise was repeated exactly to Abraham’s son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob (Genesis 26:3-4; 28:6; 28:4,13).
In the historical books of the Old Testament this land was defined as stretching a distance of 150 miles (240 km) from Dan in the foothills of Mount Hermon in the north to Beersheba in the south. That is quite a bit less than the distance from where I live in Kingston to Toronto, less than New York to Boston, or Miami to Key West. Here are six occasions when the term was used:
Judges 20:1 "Then all the Israelites came out from Dan to Beersheba" (to punish the tribe of Benjamin for refusing to correct a despicable crime).
1 Samuel 3:20 "All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD."
2 Samuel 17:11 "My counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba" (at the time of Absalom’s rebellion).
2 Samuel 24:2, 15; 1 Chronicles 21:2, 14 "Go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba" (King David’s misguided census and the death by pestilence of 70,000 people).
1 Kings 4:25 "Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba" (During the reign of Solomon).
2 Chronicles 30:5 "They decreed to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan" (The Passover under King Hezekiah).
The southern border was also known as the River of Egypt (the Wadi or Brook Besor) which flowed west from Beersheba to the Great Sea (Numbers 34:6; Joshua 1:4) now known as the Mediterranean.
A serious mistake was made when the Hebrew word parat was translated in ten texts as the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18; Numbers 22:5; Deuteronomy 1:7; 11:24; Joshua 1:4; 2 Kings 23:29; 24:7; Jeremiah 46:2, 6, 10). The Hebrew word parat seems to come from the root parash which means to spread out or become an overflowing river. This was true both of the Jordan and the Euphrates. But the bend of the Euphrates (Genesis 31:21) that Jacob crossed was 350 miles (560 km) across Syria, and so very far from the northern border of Israel. The Jewish people were constantly at war with Syria, but they have never viewed their territory as part of the land promised to Abraham.
Throughout Old Testament history the Jewish people had parts of their land taken by invaders (as in Judges 3:8, 12-13; 4:2; 6:1-3). But after the time of Abraham there were three long periods in which the Jews lived right out of that land. They became slaves in Egypt. They lived for 70 years as exiles in Babylonia. And they were a persecuted stateless people for eighteen centuries from 70 AD till 1948 when Israel became a nation.
So as Christians what are we to make of this tiny strip of land? It is obviously of supreme interest to the Jewish people. And again and again it has been at the hub of world history.
Abraham had foreseen the slavery and exodus from Egypt (Genesis 15:13-16). Jeremiah prophesied the exile in Babylon and return seventy years later (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10). And Paul expected a restoration after the good news had gone out into all other nations (Romans 11:12, 25). So in each case God made clear in advance that he would be in control of the timing. But no one could have imagined how the Exodus would take place, or how Persian emperors would order the rebuilding of the temple and walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4; Nehemiah 2:5-8). And no commentator guessed the astonishing details of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the wars that followed. So we had better be careful about defining exactly how God will accomplish his purposes.
There were three strands of promise given to Abraham. We have looked at the tiny piece of land from Dan to Beersheba (Genesis 12:1). The second strand pictured the vast numbers of Jewish and Arab people that would be the physical descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12:2). With all other nations we cherish our own inclusion among the faith children of Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And like Abraham, we look beyond to the ultimate fulfilment of what God is doing right now in world history. "He looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10, 16).
So when unexpected events unfold in the Middle East we can be confident that God has the matter in hand. As we share in the continuing reign of the Messiah, our task is to pray for the leaders of the Jewish and Arab nations. "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).