For many years, I believed that the scriptures taught that God had never completely fulfilled the land promise that He made to Abraham. This is what I was taught to believe and what, I in turn taught others. Now we all know that God will not go back on His promises. So assuming this teaching is true, then at some point in the future, God will have to keep His promise that He made to Abraham. This “promised land” will have to be given to Abraham’s descendants. Did God fulfill His promise to Abraham? Or should we look to the future for this fulfillment? What do the scriptures reveal? Get your Bibles out! Let’s start in the book of Genesis.
Land Promise Given to Abram/Abraham
The first mention of a land promise is in the twelfth chapter of Genesis.
Genesis 12:5-7 (KJV) – And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.”
The first question we should ask is “which land”? We find the answer in the previous two verses. At that time, Abram was dwelling “in the land of Canaan”. However, where is “this land”? From the previous two verses, we find that Abram, during this time, was dwelling in “the land of Canaan.” This was the territory situated between the Great/Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. It was so named because the descendants of Canaan, who was the grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:1,6), lived there. Therefore, the land of Canaan was “the promised land”.
At a later time, when Abram was living once again in Canaan, the Lord told him, “And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (Gen. 13:14-15). In Genesis 26:1-4 we see God repeating the land promise to Isaac and then to Jacob, his son in Genesis chapter 28.
There is a second part of the land promise that sometimes goes unnoticed. God originally promised Abraham the “land of Canaan.” Later we see that promise expanded. In Genesis 15:18 we read:
Genesis 15:18 (KJV) – “In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates”.
Obviously that is a much larger area than just the land of Canaan. This portion of land goes all the way to the Euphrates River. Now please note that the “river of Egypt” was not the Nile River. It was a stream or brook that flowed near the southern border between Canaan and Egypt. You can verify this fact by referring to various Bible commentaries.
Land Promise Fulfilled – The Evidence
Is there any scriptural evidence concerning the promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring? Yes, there are three lines of proof which clearly show that such a promise was fulfilled over 3,000 years ago! First, in the Book of Joshua there are plain statements that declare that God did, in fact, fulfill His land promise.
Joshua 21:43, 45 (KJV) – “So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it . . . Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass”
About 1400 B.C. Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan. According to the text just quoted, in Joshua’s lifetime the land promise was fulfilled. However, we later read that God did not drive out all of the Canaanite people. Judges 2:20-23 indicates that some of the Canaanites were still living in the land when Joshua died. Make no mistake about it: the Israelites did conquer the land. They also did divide the land among the tribes. What occurred was, when the Israelites subdued the land, they were the ones ruling over it. However, there were “pockets of resistance” that caused the Israelites to be engaged in “mop-up warfare.”
Cities of Refuge
The second bit of evidence centers around the cities of refuge. Part of God’s plan was to establish six cities of refuge for the nation of Israel (Numbers 35:13). God gave three such cities to the Israelites on the east side of Jordan after they conquered the peoples living there. The Lord then made this promise:
Deuteronomy 19:8-9 (KJV) – “Now if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as He swore to your fathers, and gives you the land which He promised to give to your fathers . . . Then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three.”
Thus, the addition of three additional cities inside Canaan would be proof that God had fulfilled His land promise (Deu. 19:1,2). Well were those three extra cities of refuge established? They certainly were! Joshua 20:1-7 reveals this fact. The three additional refuge cities were added, proving that the land promises was fulfilled. Why? Because the fulfillment of that promise was required before those other cities would be added.
Third, Levites of Nehemiah’s generation (444 B.C.) praised God in prayer, saying that He made a covenant with Abraham to give the land of the Canaanites and other nations to his descendants. In the clearest terms imaginable, the Levites said to Jehovah, “You have performed Your words, for You are righteous” (Nehemiah 9:8,9). Again more scriptural proof that the land promise made to Abraham was fulfilled.
What about the extended land promise? The part of the promise stating that the Israelites’ territory would include the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates? Well according to scripture it was fulfilled in the days of Solomon:
1 Kings 4:21 (KJV) – “So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt.”
Really we can stop right here! We do not have to go past the reign of Solomon (B.C. 971-931). God’s land promise was fulfilled – totally.
Is “Forever” Forever?
However, didn’t God say that He would give the land to Abraham’s descendants forever? This is what we read earlier in Genesis 13:15. “Forever” means “forever” right? Well no, not in the context of Genesis 13:15. Under God’s covenantal system, all promises come with “strings attached”. The word “forever” simply means throughout the complete duration of a definite period. The land promise was conditional. It was dependent on obedience on the part of the children of Israel. The Lord warned them that if they did not obey Him, then He would pluck them from off the land of Canaan. The Lord would scatter them from one end of the earth to the other (Deuteronomy 28:15,63,64). Because of their rebellion against the Lord the Israelites forfeited the right to live in the land (Deuteronomy 30:17,18).
Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (KJV) – “But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.”
Yes, the Lord God kept His Word long before Jesus was born. God kept His promise that He made to Abraham. The scriptures clearly reveal that the promises were fulfilled shortly after the Lord made them. To believe that these promises were not fulfilled until the 20th century does not make sense based on the clear reading of scripture. God is a faithful God that keeps his covenants. So the land promise that God made to Abraham was fulfilled – over 3000 years ago!