Land That is More than Land: Why Do They Call It “Holy”?

In Genesis, God calls Abram to go to a specific land, and the world has never been the same since. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NIV) Abram went, and the evidence of his calling is still all over that land today. It is well-known that Abram is considered to be the father of the three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), all of whom trace their roots to his calling.

I visited the Holy Land, and I’d have to say that on the one hand, it is merely a geographical region composed of a Mediterranean coastline, some mountainous terrain, the Jordan Valley, and a fair amount of forbidding desert. In the ancient world, it did indeed sit strategically between Turkey, Mesopotamia and Egypt, and was thus situated directly in the path of every marauding force and conquering army that ever journeyed along that one and only route to success. Topography and the availability of water enhanced its unique position as the only way to travel through it to where people really wanted to go, so it had the dubious distinction of being the crossroads in the crosshairs of every conquering general in the ancient world. It was occupied at one time or another by the Egyptians, Medes, the Persians, and Assyrians; and Babylonians, the Greeks, then the Romans; the Turks, the Muslims, and the Crusaders; then the Muslims again. Archeology in the Holy Land displays the remnants of one culture after another, built on top of the one it just destroyed…

land destruction

Its population is a volatile mix of passionate people, most of whom feel they have been wronged or displaced not just in the recent past, but for centuries. Depending on your point of view, all of them have a case. The early Canaanites gave way to the Children of Israel who reached their zenith under David and Solomon. Israel was conquered by Assyria and Babylon and disappeared for centuries, but enjoyed a tremendous resurgence under Herod the Great, a Roman protégé who flourished for three decades under Roman protection (c. 38 to 4 BC). His heirs were not nearly as effective, and had to contend with a Jewish revolt against oppression. That was ended by the Romans when they destroyed Jerusalem and killed as many as 1,000,000 Jews in 70 AD. Constantine emerged from Asia Minor, and the Holy Roman Empire possessed the land for a while until the Muslims came along in the Seventh century CE and conquered it. The Crusaders came and attacked the Muslims, but only held it for a while. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Ottoman Empire rose up out of Turkey and possessed it.

On the surface, it is an unforgiving land filled with unforgiving people. There are conflicts and border disputes, there are places taken by force in the name of peace. There is a holy Temple where they won’t let Westerners even glimpse the inside, and attendants give you dirty looks if you get too close. Traditions are built on top of traditions, reflecting a centuries-old tug of war between religious people who all claim to worship a loving God. There are armed guards at places of prayer and extremists on all sides who believe the only path to peace is to eliminate all dissention. Those radicals belie the average people there, who love and raise families, and who do compromise and live together peaceably in a powder keg of politics and emotion.

land guards

So why do they call it “the Holy Land”? It is because of the REST of God’s promise to Abram, and the covenant He made with him: (Genesis 12:2)“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all Peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” It is not the topography that makes the land holy; it is not the passionate, zealous inhabits; it is not even the religions. It is holy because it is where God proclaimed His intention to bless ALL men, and to stay in relationship with us in spite of our rebellion and independence.

It’s difficult to pinpoint, and it’s hard to understand
That there’s a place in Israel they call the Holy Land.
The Holy Land’s not special just because it’s in that region;
It’s not because it offers us the birthplace of religion;
It isn’t ground made sacred by where holy men have trod,
But it’s made holy by the promise of a Holy God.
He promised that through Abram, every person would be blessed;
So concentrate on that, and you can leave out all the rest.
The blessing’s not attached to a religious or political boss,
But it resides in reconciliation on a cross.
History proves that men will only lead us to our doom:
God’s promise in the Holy Land is in an empty tomb.

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For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Unthinkable Sacrifice That Never Actually Happened

The Bible tells many stories about sacrifice and redemption, and one of the most striking occurs early in God’s interaction with Abraham. The Genesis account says this:
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:1-2 NIV)

This request from the Lord was surprising to say the least. There were pagan cultures that sacrificed children to deities, but YHWH never endorsed such activity. In fact, when the law was written later He called it an abomination in Deuteronomy 12:30-31: “for every abomination to YHWH, which he hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt (sacrificed) in the fire to their gods.”

Abram had left Ur and been obedient to God, following Him geographically to a distant place; but the Lord apparently wanted to take Abram further still, and so He asked Abram to do the unthinkable. Abram and Sara had waited all of their lives in hopes of having a son, and it seemed the opportunity had passed them by. They were overjoyed (and yes, a little skeptical) to receive the promise of an heir when they were seventy-five years old. Then they waited TWENTY FIVE YEARS to conceive and have a son. It is impossible for us to underestimate the depth of their love for Isaac. Just imagine the attachment these old folks must have had! Isaac was their true heir, their legacy, and their promised child.

sacrifice

Surely they enjoyed watching Isaac the toddler develop and become a healthy boy in their old age, assured now that God keeps his promises… Surely as they sang songs with him or watched him grow up in their household with unrivaled love and affection, they treasured him as much as any parents had ever treasured any child. And yet God told Abraham to go and sacrifice his only son. In light of these new instructions, Abraham’s response was amazing. It’s hard to put yourself into Abram’s shoes; it’s even harder to believe he could do such a thing.

He immediately took Isaac, his only son, and prepared to sacrifice him as God instructed. So many questions come to mind when you read about the way God tested Abraham in Genesis 22. Why on earth did God do that? How could God be so cruel and heartless? What was the Lord thinking? What kind of God would require you to offer up your only son as a sacrifice? Wasn’t this the child of the Promise, the one through whom the covenant would be fulfilled? Was this a fair test? These are all legitimate questions to ask about this sacrifice, but really, aren’t those questions all between God and Abraham?

There’s really only ONE question, perhaps, that YOU should ask about this: what is it that you love more than anything, that you are withholding from God, that you refuse to offer him? “Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NIV)

Abraham denied himself and offered God the one thing in his life that he treasured the most. His relationship changed the way men perceived God, and it changed history from that moment on. God fulfilled the covenant of redemption through Abraham because he had faith and because he was willing to offer everything as a sacrifice to God. What will be different about history when your life is done? Think. Offer. Move to a new place. Find a new blessing.

What things went through Abram's mind? How could God be so inclined,
To make him give his only son? How could such a thing be done?
He had to hold up once or twice as he prepared the sacrifice;
Did God go back on promises made? And yet, old Abraham obeyed...
Isaac's birth and all the rest had led him to the toughest test
A man would ever think to face! And what did Abram know of grace?
God said, "Take him to the place that I will surely show you."
Abram had to think, "Oh Yahweh, do I really KNOW you?
Would you have me offer up my one and only son?
Why, Lord, would you sacrifice the only Promised One?"
Looking back now, Abram knows the answers to his plea;
Yahweh's test foretold a sacrifice he'd yet to see:
For God allowed His only Son to go to Calvary,
Offered as a sacrifice for them. For you. For me.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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