Go In and Possess the Land

Dr. Brian Allison

The motto text for Unionville Baptist Church for 1997 is: "Go in and possess the land" (De. 1:8b). Now, when Moses uttered these words to the nation of Israel on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River, God was giving Israel a second opportunity to enter the Promised Land. Forty years previously, having brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage, God commanded Israel to go into the Promised Land. Yet Israel failed to do so. Israel failed to believe God at that time. In order to appreciate the significance and the impact of this command, it may be helpful first to rehearse some of the history behind this command.

God promised Abraham a land

God called Abram (whose name was eventually changed to Abraham) out of Ur of the Chaldees. Ur was a city in southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). In calling him out of Ur, God made a promise to Abraham. God promised him success and prosperity (Gn. 12:1-3). God swore to Abraham that He would bless him (Gn. 15:5-7); that is, God made an oath and bound Himself to the welfare and prosperity of Abraham. In other words, God entered into a covenant with Abraham. This covenant consisted of two basic elements. God, first, promised that He would multiply the descendants of Abraham; He promised Abraham a great posterity. God, second, promised a country in which these descendants would dwell. He promised to give the land of Canaan – a land rich in resources, a land abundant in goods – "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8; De. 6:3). In Genesis 15:18 we read these words, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram saying, 'To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.'" This covenant that God made with Abraham was reaffirmed with his son, Isaac (Gn. 26:2-5); it was again reaffirmed with Isaac's son, Jacob (Gn. 28:13-15).

So, God was pleased to promise a particular land to Abraham. Now, God, generally speaking, is pleased to make promises to His people; and He is pleased to make promises to His people in order to strengthen their spirits, and to instill hope and confidence. More particularly, God is pleased to bring a special word to you, to confirm a truth in your hearts, so that you will have the assurance that what God is pleased to give you, you will in fact receive. Do you see what God is doing? He is catering to human frailty and weakness. God does not simply say what He is going to do; God promises what He is going to do in order that you may have hope and confidence. Thus, Hebrew 6:11-15 reads, "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, 'I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU, AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU.' And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise."

The promises of God, given through the Scriptures and impressed on the heart by the Spirit, have the design of encouraging you and spurring you on. For instance, about sixteen years ago, I was forced to resign from a ministry because of anticipated conflict with the senior pastor. Consequently, I was in limbo. I will not elaborate the means by which God made Himself known to me, but God confirmed a word in my spirit through His Word. He gave me a promise: "You will go to the city of Toronto, and there you will preach My Gospel" (cf. Jonah 3:2). In receiving that word, my heart was encouraged. I had some sense of what God was going to do in my life. Thus, confusion and discouragement disappeared. God did indeed bring me to the city of Toronto, and in different congregations I have preached the Gospel. So, God is pleased to give us a promise, to give us a special word, in order to encourage us and to spur us on.

Generally speaking, God has promised to His people His presence (Jn. 14:18); He has promised His power (Jn. 14:26); He has promised His peace (Jn. 14:27). And you should dwell on all His promises in order to be encouraged; that is one reason why God gives His people promises. He knows our weakness, He knows we need to be propped up. He knows we need confidence and hope so that we may press on. My Christian friend, meditate on the promises of God; remember that special word that He has been pleased to give you.

The fulfilment of the promise took time

Let us continue with the history behind the command to 'go in and possess the land'. Jacob's son, Joseph, was sold into slavery in Egypt; and through providential circumstances, Joseph rose to be second in command. Subsequently, all of Jacob's offspring and family went down into Egypt, and resided there, in order to survive the famine which had fallen upon the Near East. Subsequently, with the close of the book of Genesis, Joseph uttered, "'I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land [that is, the land of Egypt] to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.' Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, 'God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here [to the Promised Land]'" (Gn. 50:24,25).

Now, the promise that God made to Abraham took 500 years to fulfil. Abraham failed to see the fulfilment of God's special word to him. Accordingly, sometimes you too must wait for God to fulfil His word in your life. Sometimes you may have to wait a very long time; and you may not even see the fulfilment of some of the promises that God may make to you. Maybe you are involved in a particular ministry and God has promised you 'fruit'. Maybe you have sought the Lord, and have prayed and wrestled with God, and He has given you the assurance in your spirit that He would pour out His Spirit; but you may not see the realization of it. You may have to labour – tilling the hard ground and sowing the seed by the sweat of your brow – day in and day out, month after month, and year after year, and yet not see the spiritual fruit of your labours. Or, it may be that you have prayed for the salvation of your children or your grandchildren, and God may have given to you the assurance that your loved ones will be saved. Yet, He may be pleased not to show you the fulfilment of that promise. For instance, my grandmother prayed every day for her family: children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She died a few years ago, in her early nineties, and did not live to see the fulfilment of all her prayers; but different family members continue to come into the kingdom. So, God may give you a promise, He may impress a special word on your spirit; He may give you an inner conviction of future fulfilment in order to give you confidence and hope to press on, even though you may never see the actual fruit or results. Again, God made a promise to Abraham, and the promise took 500 years to be fulfilled.

God works through means to fulfil His promise

Now, while Israel – the descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – were in the land of Egypt, they became slaves, and thus they required deliverance. Accordingly, God raised up a deliverer, Moses. He commissioned Moses and gave him the task of leading His people Israel out of bondage and guiding them to the Promised Land. Exodus 6:6-8 reads, "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements. Then I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'" So, Moses received a special word from God, a reiteration and a reconfirmation of the promise made to Abraham.

Now, what was true of Israel in a physical sense, is true of God's people today in a spiritual sense. God has promised His people today a heavenly country, spiritually flowing with milk and honey. Notice Hebrews 11:13-16,39,40, "All these died in faith [e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, and others] without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them....And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect."

God has promised to us a heavenly country, a land flowing with spiritual milk and honey. Now, the critical point is this: we should be entering and possessing this land in the here and now, in this life. Even though one day we will fully enter and occupy that heavenly country in that future life, we should now be entering and possessing that land. One day we will enter into the fullness of fellowship with God, but right now we are to be entering into that fellowship. One day we shall be entering into the fullness of holiness and righteousness, but right now we are to be entering into that holiness and righteousness. One day we will enter into the fullness of spiritual adoption, but right now we are to be entering into that adoption. One day we will know what it is to be the citizens of the kingdom of God, but right now our citizenship is in heaven, right now we are the citizens of that heavenly country, seated in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:6).

Israel failed to believe and act on God's promise

So, we continue. Having delivered Israel from bondage by Moses, God thus commanded Israel at Mount Sinai to go into the land and possess it (Ex. 33:1-3). Now, recall that while Israel was in the wilderness in Paran, Moses dispatched 12 spies (a representative from each of the 12 tribes) to go into the land of Canaan to spy it out in order to see the fruit and wealth of the land, and to bring back a report. Ten of the twelve spies brought back a bad report (Nu. 13:27ff.). They reported that the inhabitants of the land were too strong, and that the cities were too fortified. They said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us...The land through which we have gone...is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size" (Nu. 13:31,32).

Subsequently, the people of Israel complained and murmured. These 10 spies caused the people of Israel to spurn God. With their bad report, they caused the people of Israel to disbelieve the word of God. Hence, the people of Israel rebelled against God; they did not trust Him. Rather, they feared the inhabitants of the land; and as a result, they failed to enter.

Now, my Christian friend, God sets 'the land' before you and He says, "Go in and possess the land." Do you know what is going to keep you from doing that? Your lack of belief in God's Word; your lack of belief that He is able and sufficient to help you through His presence; your lack of belief that He can provide for all your needs; your lack of belief in His power to meet every situation. Again, do you know what is going to keep you from entering the land? Your mistrust of God and His promises. You may hear a whisper from the evil one in your spirit, "Yea, has God said?" And you will begin to doubt.

Maybe God will speak to you; perhaps He will speak a word of greatness or a word of challenge; but you will fail to enter and possess 'the land' because of your doubt in His word or because of your fear of 'the inhabitants'. You too may say, "There are giants in the land. I can't handle the opposition; I am not up to the challenges." As a result you will fail to go in and possess the land. I met a promising, well-gifted young man about 12 years ago. He was unquestionably endowed by the Spirit. He had the gift of teaching, and had set his sights on the pastoral ministry. But his unbelieving parents dissuaded him; they challenged him and put doubts into his mind. So, rather than preparing for the ministry, rather than 'going in and possessing the land' – doing exploits for God, taking spiritual territory for God by being a blessing to the people of God through his gifts – he decided to major in philosophy, and today he is speaking to a very select group. What a waste! He failed to enter 'the land' because he doubted the word that came to him, he doubted God's call. He feared the 'inhabitants of the land'.

But notice this. God became angry with Israel, because of their disobedience to His word. Israel's rebellion – their failure to enter into the land and possess it because of unbelief, fear, and mistrust – evoked the wrath of God. Accordingly, Moses interceded for the people. God wanted to wipe out Israel (Nu. 14:11,12). God wanted to make for Moses a greater nation. But Moses pled with God on Israel's behalf, claiming that God's glory and name was at stake – "Now if Thou dost slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Thy fame will say, 'Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness'" (Nu. 14:15,16). And God listened to Moses, and He pardoned Israel, but He punished them. We read, "So the LORD said, 'I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs, which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring him into the land which he entered and his descendants shall take possession of it'...And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, 'How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me. Say to them, 'As I live,' says the LORD, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely, you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey – I will bring them in and they shall know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness'" (Nu. 14:20-24,26-32).

God became angry with Israel because of their doubt and unbelief, and thus they failed to enter and possess the land. I suggest to you that if you have not yet possessed 'the land', maybe it is because God is angry with you. Moses interceded with God and God relented of His wrath. Similarly, if God is angry with you, He is pleased to respond to intercession and turn away that anger. The ministry of intercession is essential for the well-being of the Church. I suggest to you that we need to diligently intercede for one another because we may not know God's disposition towards the Church nor towards our Christian brothers and sisters. Prayer not only 'moves the hand of God', but it also 'changes the mind of God'.

Here is another truth from this passage that we should consider. As mentioned, God pardoned Israel, but punished them for their sin. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and many dropped dead in that wilderness. I have a friend who committed adultery; and in a sense, he failed to continue 'to enter in and possess the land' – to be a representative for God, a shepherd of the flock, a proclaimer of truth – and God was angry. He sought the Lord, and God apparently has forgiven him; but he is still in the wilderness after 18 years. He has not yet returned to his previous ministerial power and effectiveness, nor is it likely that he will. The doors to pastoral ministry have been barred to him. He is bearing his judgement; and so it was with Israel. So, God is pleased to forgive you, He is pleased to pardon you, but you may have to bear your judgement. Psalm 99:8 reads, in referring to God's prophets, "O LORD our God, Thou dost answer them [Samuel, Moses, and Aaron]; Thou wast a forgiving God to them, and yet an avenger of their evil deeds." You must learn to accept God's judgement, even though you have the joy of His forgiveness. It may be, my Christian brothers and sisters, that your portion for the rest of your lives is that of 'the thorn in the flesh' because that is His judgement for sin, though He has graciously forgiven you.

God has placed the land before His people

With this brief history, we now come to Deuteronomy 1:8. Israel wandered in the desert for forty years; and now on the plains of Moab, Israel is given another chance. As they stood on the other side of Jordan, forty years later, God, in effect, said, "Have you learned your lesson? Now, go in and possess the land which I swore to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob." God gave them a second chance. In 1985, I felt burned out, and I quit the ministry. I said, "Lord, I have had enough." And I abandoned a flock. There was another pastor there to continue on with the work, but I was still wrong to abandon the flock. In a very real sense, I failed to enter 'the land', that is, continuing to preach and minister, and to take spiritual territory for God. As a result, God took me out to the wilderness, and yet (hallelujah!), He gave me a second chance. That is what Israel had here.

The Israelites were to cross the Jordan and enter in and possess the land of Canaan. So, Deuteronomy 1:8a reads, "See, I have placed the land before you." This was God's word through Moses to Israel, and this is God's word through the Scriptures to us. God has promised you 'a land'. God wants to give you a land; it is His inheritance to you, Christian, not only in the future, but now. You are to begin to enter and possess 'the land' now – that spiritual territory of prayer, of a deeper commitment to the Lord, of faithful service, of Christian love, of zealous witnessing and evangelism, of deeper spirituality, of greater meekness, compassion and kindness, etc. God says to you, "I set the land before you. It is yours." He has promised it to you; and you know what the land is in your life. Yes, you do. What is the land that God has set before you? What is God saying to you? What is the land He wants you to conquer? What is the territory He wants you to subdue?

As I think of the Church of Christ, God has set 'the land' before it. I believe that He has set 'the land' of its surrounding community before it. God may be saying, "I have brought you here. You have been in the wilderness for forty years, and have not enjoyed much of the fruit or prosperity. You knew what you had to do years ago. And once again I am setting the land before you, this community." Many never even think about their community. They simply think about attending Church. They do not think about witnessing and evangelizing. They have become very comfortable; and God says (he who has ears let him hear), "I have placed the land before you."

God commands you to enter and possess the land

Now, having placed the land before His people, having promised it, God said, "Go in and possess it." Do you notice that it is a command? My Christian brothers and sisters, some of you are being given a second chance by God. God now commands you to enter and possess your 'land'; and because He commands, it thus becomes a question of obedience for you. Only in faith and obedience do you enter in and possess the land. You enter and possess the land by remaining faithful to His Word, by being true to His standards, by seeking only to do His will. Deuteronomy 4:1 reads, "And now, O Israel, listen to the statues and the judgements which I am teaching you to perform, in order that you live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers is giving you." Deuteronomy 8:1 reads, "All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers."

So, you must be obedient to God's Word if you are to secure the land flowing with milk and honey. Do you see what that means? You are going to take the land by doing it God's way, not your own way. It is His agenda and His schedule by which you are going to possess the land. You need to be committed to Him and to His Word. You need to live in belief. You need to be as Caleb who followed the Lord with his whole heart. That is the condition for subduing your 'land'. If you do not wholeheartedly follow the Lord, most likely you will continue to wander in the wilderness. You cannot be distracted by the pleasures of this life. You cannot be preoccupied with the issues of this life; you especially cannot become self-preoccupied. Many Christians struggle with self-preoccupation. It is nothing less than pride. Do you know what the opposite of self-preoccupation is? Ministry – reaching out in love to others. Are you self-preoccupied or are you engaged in ministry?

In being occupied with God and 'the land' that He has set before you, you must be courageous. You are to go in, not fearing, nor being discouraged. Deuteronomy 1:21 reads, "See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed." Possessing 'the land' will not be easy. God never promised that it would be. You will find various obstacles, and be confronted with different challenges. You will engage in 'battle' and 'warfare'; and that is why you must be fearless and strong. You will need discipline and resolve to possess your 'land'. As you endeavour to take the territory of mystical communion with God, you will have to labour in prayer. As you endeavour to secure heavenly wisdom for life, you will have to persist in Biblical meditation. As you endeavour to overcome the lust that wars against your soul, you will have to give yourself to abstinence and sacrifice. It is not going to be easy in taking the land, and that is why God says, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

The land already belongs to God's people

When God says to go in and possess the land, do you see what is implied? My Christian brothers and sisters, the land is already yours; and God says, "Go and get what you already own." The holiness is already yours, the deeper fellowship with God is already yours, the powerful ministry in people's lives is already yours. Now, go in and appropriate it; go and enjoy it. This fact simply points to the grace and mercy of God. Deuteronomy 9:4-6 reads, "Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people." God is pleased to give the land simply because He wants to. God has given you 'the land' because He wants to; and your response should be that of thanksgiving and humility.

Are you going in and possessing the land? Israel heard that command from God; and the first time, they said, "No! We are not going in." And God said, "Fine, you will not go in, and you will die in the wilderness." And yet He is a God of grace, and He came again to Israel and offered them another chance. And maybe God is coming to you again, and He says, "Will you go in now?" My Christian friend, do not hesitate. Go in and possess the land, which already belongs to you. None of God's promises will fail. He is faithful. Do you believe this? According to your faith, it will be done for you.