The topic of land in the Old Testament is said to be only secondary to that of God Himself. It is a complex topic and one I find myself delving into more deeply as an analogy of the marketplace as the means of human provision. Land, from the beginning of creation, has been the primary means of production. It is from the earth that we draw our livelihood as crops for consumption and materials for creating an unfathomable range of products and buildings.
Walter Brueggeman, in his seminal text, The Land, creates a mental picture of the interconnectedness of Yahweh, the land, and God’s people. They are inextricably linked. But God provided for Israel even in their landlessness of the desert journey with meat (quail) and bread (manna) and water, all connected even to that barren land. Their clothes did not wear out and their health was maintained.
We often hear phrases in the church like “taking back the land” as reclaiming something that has been taken from us. The sentiment seems to be that we must take charge of the situation and forcefully drive out those who have misappropriated that which was somehow “ours” (as the people of God).
The land of Canaan was the land promised to Abraham. It represented provision and security, even prosperity, the actualization and fulfillment of the very shalom of God. This was by no means taken by the Hebrews to mean some future, spiritual heavenly status. This was temporal and at hand, in contrast to the slavery of Egypt and the un-settledness of the desert. This was a real promise in real life.
As Joshua and the second desert generation entered the land, God went before them. They had only to march around Jericho, according to God’s command, and the walls tumbled to the ground. The city was taken without war or coercion or the loss of Israeli life or livelihood. The wealth of that great city, except for the foolishness of Achan (Joshua 7), was consecrated to God.
The nation of Israel was walking into a promise that seemed even more unbelievable than the giving of the land. They were to have cities they did not build, houses already furnished, cisterns they did not dig, vineyards and olive trees they did not plant (Deuteronomy 6:10–11). Prosperity was being handed to them on a silver platter!
The phrase “taking back the land” has a clear militancy to it. But as we have just seen, the Lord went before them and prepared the place for Israel (sound familiar?–John 14:2–3). Israel had to do little other than to walk in and take up residence. The Lord had promised that He would do the work of clearing the land (Exodus 23 and Deuteronomy 11:23). It seems reasonable that the Israelites had to war against the inhabitants only as they disregarded seeking God’s counsel and were deceived by the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), and they fell into disobedience, perhaps in following after the gods of the inhabitants. They lost the purity of their worship of Yahweh and possessing the land became strife laden.
To receive the gift of the land of promise, Israel had only to seek after God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. This is where I draw a strong analogy to Christians in the marketplace today. It is easy to see how the marketplace has been corrupted by sin.
Our work, whatever our vocation, as worship or service to God (see ‘abad–Strong’s 5647), programmed into the DNA of being human at creation (Genesis 2:15), is a sacred calling and trust. But the land, as gift, should give us pause as to how we work and how we “take back” the marketplace for God. We tend to strategize and create actions plans, we control and manipulate, we scheme and execute . . . all by our striving and, perhaps, by some leading of the Spirit.
But the land, and now the marketplace, as the place of our provision was simply to be lived in, in obedience. We even find encouragement that the marketplace and its wealth is a promise of God for his people and for His glory in Proverbs 13:22b, “And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.”
Missiologists (those who study the mission of God, the misseo Dei, in the world) are just beginning to observe, catalog, and study God’s movements in the marketplace. In God’s grand scheme of the redemption of all creation, meta-institutions, like government and the marketplace, continue to undergo reformation.
As marketplace Christians, “living into” our vocational callings by obedience, we demonstrate the glory of God in how we first rely on God for His provision amidst the dryness of our deserts and act wisely as he leads us into His promised land, where righteousness, as economic and social justice, will overcome the sinfulness of humankind even in the marketplace.
The work that God gave to Adam, to cultivate and keep the Garden (Genesis 2:15), was without the toil, resistance, and sweat brought on by the sin of disobedience (Genesis 3:17–19). Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Work is a key component in our daily lives. Our vocations can be fulfilling or troublesome. Hopefully this leads us to question our vocations, or how we are performing in them, if we find ourselves vexed at worked, despising our bosses or even the work itself. If we are “living into” God’s Kingdom, we will stop striving after our ambitions but seek only to please God in the marketplace. By pursuing righteousness, we will see the reward of His “Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), the shalom that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), even at work.
(David Doty has been a serial entrepreneur, a seminarian, and an author. His first book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission – Wipf & Stock Publishers, January, 2012 – articulates the first theology of the marketplace as an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 and vital to God’s redemptive mission in the world.)