Many are familiar with the Promised Land of the time of Moses. But the Bible also talks about future fulfillments of God’s promises—physically and spiritually.
Mention the words the Promised Land and many automatically think of the story of Moses and the ancient Israelites leaving Egypt and entering a new land promised to them by God.
There have been movies made and songs written about the Israelites’ journey to this Promised Land. But when and why was this land promised, and what could it possibly have to do with those of us living in the 21st century? This Promised Land is important because it has end-time implications and it foreshadows an even bigger promised “land” in the future.
When and why was this land promised?
God used Moses to lead His people out of the land of Egypt. And, as we will see, the connection between God’s people and promised lands is significant.
Notice what God told Moses: “‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. … I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt. … So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey’” (Exodus 3:6-8, emphasis added throughout).
But this was not the origin of the Promised Land. The original promise was made more than 400 years earlier. Moses and the Israelites were the direct descendants of the individual God made that promise to.
The land was first promised to a man name Abram, whose name God later changed to Abraham. “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you’” (Genesis 12:1).
Here is the first mention of that land God promised. But where was this land?
“They departed to go to the land of Canaan. … Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land’” (verses 5 and 7).
And it was to the land of Canaan that God brought the Israelites (Leviticus 25:38).
But why were they promised this land? God made these promises as part of His plan for all of mankind.
The Bible shows that God selects certain people and nations to fulfill His purpose. In the account of the Israelites’ leaving Egypt, Pharaoh was used by God to show the futility of resisting Him (Romans 9:17; Exodus 9:16). God called Abraham and his descendants to show the blessings of following Him (Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 4:5-6, 7-8).
It was because of Abraham’s faith and obedience that God made several promises to him and his descendants. The land flowing with milk and honey was one of those promises. Because of Abraham’s total commitment, God promised that He would use Abraham’s descendants to become a nation of chosen people whom He wanted to use to be that example to the rest of the world. The descendants of Abraham became God’s people.
Abraham’s inheritance of the Promised Land not complete
God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, to his son Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son Jacob. And although Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in Canaan, they did not fully inherit it during their lifetimes. Instead of living as land owners, they lived there as strangers, dwelling in tents (Exodus 6:3-4).
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob understood that they would not receive their full inheritance in their physical lifetimes.
Instead of looking only toward an inheritance of a physical Promised Land, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob patiently waited for their inheritance of an eternal Promised Land!“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Instead of looking only toward an inheritance of a physical Promised Land, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob patiently waited for their inheritance of an eternal Promised Land!
Israel inherited the first Promised Land
God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and said that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land (Genesis 35:9-12). Jacob ultimately moved his entire family to Egypt during a drought (Genesis 46:2-4, 26-27). And from those 70 people, Jacob’s descendants grew into a population of perhaps 2 to 4 million.
Yet it was during this time of growth that a new leader took over in Egypt. The new Pharaoh saw the Israelites as a threat and made slaves of God’s people (verses 8-14), which also was part of God’s plan (Genesis 46:2-4, 26-27). Finally, after years of slavery, God was ready to fulfill His promise made to Abraham.
His descendants inherited the Promised Land—the land flowing with milk and honey.
Losing the land, and promises of restoration
But they didn’t keep it. After hundreds of years of sin and rebellion, God allowed His people to be carried away captive and to lose their land. But the prophets predicted a future time when the Messiah will return. Then, with a second even bigger exodus, He will bring the nation of Israel back to the Promised Land. (See more in “A Second Exodus?”)
Jesus Christ will return to the Mount of Olives and rule from Jerusalem, and the peace and prosperity that will accompany the physical inheritance of the Promised Land will be greater than in the days of ancient Israel. (Read more about this in the article “1,000 Years—the Millennium.”)
Another Promised Land
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and even Moses didn’t inherit the first Promised Land. Rather, they looked for another Promised Land—the Kingdom of God.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual “land” promised to those who follow God and keep His commandments. This Promised Land doesn’t just offer a good life; it offers eternal life! And incredibly, the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land has many similarities to a Christian’s deliverance from sin and journey to the future Promised Land.
The Bible teaches that the journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land is an example for Christians today (Genesis 15:13). The events and difficulties the Israelites experienced on their journey have parallels to those of Christians today who are striving to enter the Kingdom of God:
1. God is faithful. God promised Abraham that if he obeyed His laws, his descendants would inherit the Promised Land. God delivered on that promise. God has promised us eternal life in His Kingdom if we obey Him, and He will deliver on that promise also (1 Corinthians 10:6; Matthew 19:17).
2. We were slaves of sin. Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-22). Egypt represented sin, and God delivers us from sin, just as He delivered the Israelites from Egypt.
3. Satan pursues and wants to keep us from reaching the Promised Land. Pharaoh was a type of Satan who tried to prevent the Israelites from leaving Egypt. Today Satan tries to prevent God’s people from escaping this present evil world and making it into the Kingdom of God.
4. Only with God’s help can we enter the Promised Land. When Israel was trapped at the Red Sea, it took a miracle from God to save them from Pharaoh’s army. Some spiritual obstacles are humanly impossible to overcome without divine help.
5. We need God’s presence in our lives. Throughout the Israelites’ entire 40-year journey, God’s presence was seen through the pillar of cloud and fire. Today God’s presence is with His people through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.
6. We live in a spiritual wilderness. The Israelites traveled through a hostile physical wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land. The corruption and immorality in the world today is a spiritual wilderness God’s people have to endure on their journey to the Kingdom of God.
7. We must trust God by having faith. Despite all the miracles God did for the Israelites, they continually “walked by sight,” seeing only the immediate problem, forgetting how God had taken care of them all the times before. God’s people today walk by faith, not by sight. Without faith, we cannot enter the Kingdom (Hebrews 3:8-19).
8. We will be tested. The 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was a time of testing and judgment (Deuteronomy 8:1-2). Perhaps Israel’s biggest tragedy was the first generation’s failure to make it into the Promised Land. Those 20 and older forfeited their entrance because their hearts weren’t right without His Spirit (Numbers 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 5:29). Today God is also testing and judging those who are following Him. If we are diligent to make our calling and election sure, we will be granted entrance into the Kingdom (1 Peter 4:17; 2 Peter 1:10-11).
Who are God’s people today?
The vast majority of those who entered that first Promised Land were direct descendants of Abraham—the children of Israel. As direct descendants, they were heirs of God’s promise to Abraham.
Those who respond to God’s call—whether Israelite or not—become God’s people and spiritual heirs to the promises made to Abraham.But today God’s people are not limited only to the descendants of Abraham, but are made up of all whom God the Father calls (John 6:44). Those who respond to that call—whether Israelite or not—become God’s people and spiritual heirs to the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3:28-29).
And that includes the promise of a future Promised Land!
A better inheritance
The children of Israel were promised national greatness and incredible physical blessings if they obeyed and followed God completely (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). God promised them a good life.
But they were never offered eternal life. However, God is offering it to His people today. That is why the future Promised Land is so much better.
In His time, God will offer eternal life to everyone who has ever lived. But according to His plan, God has chosen a select few now to be examples for the rest of the world.
God will then use these leaders during the Millennium to help others gain entrance into this spiritual “land” flowing with milk and honey. The benefits of living God’s way will be so powerful that others will seek God so they can be blessed also (Zechariah 8:20-23).
The story of the first exodus and the Promised Land showed how God rescued His people from physical slavery and brought them into a land of physical abundance.
Yet the Bible says much more about the future promises—how God will rescue mankind from spiritual slavery and bring them into not just an abundant spiritual life, but eternal life.
That is the ultimate Promised Land Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sought. And that is the inheritance we should seek.
Learn more about the promised future Kingdom of God in our free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.