The Land Promise In Creation

This post is part of the the biblical promise of land series (click to view the other posts in this series).

What does the Bible say about promises of land? Does God promise land to anyone? Are there specific promises to the nation of Israel? What do the promises of land really mean? In this series we're going to take a wide angle view of the subject through the lens of biblical theology, starting at the beginning with the land promise in Creation.

In creation, God created the heavens and the earth, and on the earth God set aside a small portion of land for Eden. God gave it specific borders and a specific purpose. In a very real sense, Eden was not just a garden but was also a temple, a "holy of holies" if you will, for the whole earth because this is where God would locate his presence and commune with his creation. Then, God created Adam to reside in the garden and take care of it. With respect to the temple theme, Adam was the high priest living within Eden and having perfect communion with God. But God's desire wasn't for Adam to be inactive. God gave Adam the "Cultural Mandate" (Genesis 1:26-28). God blessed Adam and gave him the job of filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion over it.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen. 1:28)

This was God's promise of land to Adam in creation; the whole earth was his inheritance. The important thing to note here is that God didn't intend for Adam to fulfill this directive by leaving Eden. Instead, he wanted Adam to expand the borders of Eden, to spread Eden, to take Eden to the rest of the world. Therefore, Adam was not to leave his land, but, as the divine image-bearer, to grow his land and fill the earth with God's glory, the glory that was already present in Eden.

So, what happened? Simply put, Adam failed in his mission. Adam did not rule well, failing to have dominion over the satanic snake and allowing it to rule and subdue him instead. Adam became an idolater, shifting his allegiance from God to himself (and the serpent) by deciding that he wanted to follow his own will and not the will of his creator. In doing so, he no longer reflected the image of God; he reflected the image of the serpent. In this, Adam disobeyed and had to be removed from the garden and the very presence of God. This effectively eliminated any chance for Adam to fulfill the cultural mandate because he was no longer able to be in Eden to expand it. In fact, the very object that Adam was supposed to subdue, the earth, ended up becoming his curse. He would toil upon the earth in work and pain, returning to the earth as dust at the end of his life (Gen. 3:17-19). Adam's ultimate punishment, death itself, showed that he would not conquer the land but the land would conquer him.

This is the beginning of the primary story of history. Adam was given the cultural mandate but he sinned and failed to fulfill it. Does this mean that the cultural mandate no longer exists? Did God repeal it and withdraw the land promises contained within it? Well, just to give you a hint, this would be a very short series if the answer was yes. But God, in his infinite wisdom and grace, has set about restoring humanity and ordaining the events in history that would ultimately fulfill his original mandate. The remaining posts in this series will trace this story of redemption and restoration.

Bibliographical Note: I'm currently reading the fantastic A New Testament Biblical Theology by G.K. Beale and will be leaning heavily on it throughout this series.

This post is part of the the biblical promise of land series (click to view the other posts in this series).