Psalm 37: The Promise of the Promised Land

Read Psalm 37.

A few miles from where I sit, there is a beautiful piece of land at the end of a gravel road. The acreage is mostly wooded, but there is a clearing at the top of a hill where a house could be built. From that spot, you can look down into a valley and see horses run. On one side of the property, there’s a place marked out for fruit trees, and on the other, the remains of a pond, just waiting to be resurrected.

Someday, hopefully not too many years from now, my wife, Laurin, and I hope to build a house on that land. It’s our property now—the tax bill that comes in the mail tells me so—but we don’t really possess it. We don’t really live there. It’s just a dream at this point.

The Israelites dreamed of a land and a home—a piece of property a little bit larger than what we’re looking forward to. It all started when God told Abraham, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:17). From that moment forward, God’s people became very concerned with real estate.

The Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt to give them the land He had promised their ancestor. Joshua led a military campaign to take the land from the people groups that held it. The judges and the earliest kings of Israel fought to secure the land. The prophets warned Israel and Judah not to turn to other gods and forfeit the land. And sadly, when the people failed to listen, God sent foreign powers to exile them from the land.

Decades after Nebuchadnezzar deported the people of Judah from their homes and brought them to Babylon, the Persian king Cyrus began allowing the Jewish people to return to the land. Their exile was over—or so it seemed. But empire after empire came to rule over them, making God’s people little more than slaves. The land of promise wasn’t really theirs. Not really anyway.

The blessing of land was part of the covenant God made with His people. It was theirs to possess as long as they obeyed God’s commandments. In Psalm 37, David reminds his fellow Israelites of this by describing the type of person who will get to dwell in the promised land:

Those who hope in the LORD will dwell in the land. (v. 9)

The meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. (v. 10)

Those the LORD blesses will inherit the land. (v. 22)

Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. (v. 27)

The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. (v. 29)

Hope in the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land. (v. 34)

But the promise of land was never really about real estate; it was about living in the place where God’s presence dwells. The land of Israel was where the tabernacle came to rest, and later, it was where God’s temple was built. God wanted to give His people the land, because He wanted them to be close to Him.

In the beginning, human beings lived with God in the garden, and at the end of history, God’s people will live with Him in a garden city. Somehow, Abraham understood where God’s promise was leading:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8–10)

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:1–3)

Better than the land is the God who lives there. That is why David could write, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). For the one who delights himself in the Lord has his heart’s desire when he has God.

What is this all about?

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