The Land of the Living
January 28, 2018
A long time ago in a land far away, there was a kingdom. There was a wise king and a happy people who lived in a land of promise and enjoyed a rest of blessedness. The name of the king was Solomon. And the name of the kingdom was Israel. But the name above all names was God. And this earthly kingdom of a long time ago in a land far away was nothing compared to what God ultimately had in mind.
In the beginning, long before the days of Solomon or Israel, God created an ultimate kingdom that would be inaugurated and consummated for his glory. There was a king and a land. And there would be a people and a rest. The name of the king was Adam. The name of the kingdom was Eden. But the kingdom belonged to God. And something terrible happened.
Adam sinned against God. God made a covenant with Adam. And the kingdom would either rise upon Adam’s obedience or fall upon Adam’s disobedience. But Adam sinned against God. He rebelled against him. And so he failed to inaugurate and consummate the kingdom of God.
The results were devastating. God brought suffering and death to Adam. And Adam was exiled from Eden. Such were the consquences of a holy covenant that was violated and broken. And so, with that, the kingdom was brought to nothing.
But God declared a good news. Since Adam sinned and failed to establish the kingdom of God, God made a promise to establish it himself. He promised a righteous and obedient king. He promised a forgiven and royal people. He promised a new and majestic land. And he promised a perfect and final rest. This was to be his kingdom. This was to be his salvation. What wonderful good news! There would still be an ultimate kingdom of God that would be inaugurated and consummated for his glory. And so, heaven and earth waited.
As people of old waited for God’s promises to come true, God used the history and the nation of Israel to show the reality and the beauty of his promises. Everything that had to do with Israel - her kingship, her people, her land and her rest - was a beautiful preview of the ultimate kingdom of God - a kingdom that God would establish himself, a kingdom that we are still waiting for today.
But everything that had to do with Israel was not just a preview. It was a teacher. It served to remind people of Adam’s sin and Adam’s failure to establish the kingdom of God. And it served to drive people toward the need and the hope for a perfect king.
And that brings us to Solomon and today’s Scripture text.
Solomon was a wise king. His people were happy. They lived in a land of promise. And they enjoyed a rest of blessedness. This was the earthly kingdom of Israel.
Solomon built a temple for God. And when he finished it, God gave him a gigantic if-then statement. If Solomon were to have the wisdom of obedience and righteousness before God, then God would bless his earthly kingdom. But if Solomon were to have the foolishness of disobedience and sin before God, then God would take away everything. He would take away the kingship, the people, the land, and the rest.
This is what God said to Solomon: “…if you will walk before me… with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever…. But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples” (1 Kings 9:4-7).
Brothers and sisters, if the king of Israel were to fail, then Israel would be cut off from the land. The kingdom of Israel would either rise upon the king’s obedience or fall upon the king’s disobedience. This was the meaning and the drama of Solomon and Israel. And this was the meaning and the drama behind Proverbs 2.
The father in Proverbs 2 speaks to his son. And he gives him a gigantic if-then statement. This is what he says: If you receive and treasure up the commandments of God, if you make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding, if you call out for raise your voice for wisdom, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, … then you will know the fear of the Lord (verse 5), then you will have discretion and understanding (verses 9-12), then you will be delivered from bad people (verses 12-19), … and then you will stay in the land (verses 21-22).
But if you do not, … then you will be cut off from the land.
This is the father’s gigantic if-then statement. An echo of God’s word to Solomon when he built the temple.
Being cut off from the land was one of the worst things that could happen to a human being. The land of Israel was given to her by God after God redeemed and delivered her from Egypt. The land was his land. The land was his holy realm. And to be cut off from it meant that you were cut off from the blessed presence of God. To be cut off is to be banished from the kingdom. To be cut off is to be divorced and disowned and separated from God. To be cut off from it was like when Adam and Eve was exiled from the garden of Eden and barred from the tree of life. It is simple: there is only life where God is. Therefore, to be cut off from the land meant death.
This was why Solomon was so concerned about wisdom. This was why the father here in Proverbs 2 urges the son to be upright and walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. The kingdom of Israel would either rise upon the king’s obedience or fall upon the king’s disobedience. The inheritance of the land was directly linked to the righteousness of the king. And it was all or nothing. If you went one way, then there will be a king and a people and a land and a rest. But if you went another way, then there will be no king, no people, no land, and no rest. And so the stakes are very high in Proverbs 2.
Unfortunately, none of the kings of Israel were able to fulfill the call of Proverbs 2. Not even Solomon himself. For after he built the temple, he turned away from the Lord. He listened to the perverted speech of evil men who walked in crooked paths and dark ways. He fell for the smooth words of forbidden and adulterous women whose houses sank down to death and whose paths lead to the departed. Solomon and all the kings before and after him were unable to fulfill the call of Proverbs 2.
And so all was lost. Israel had no king. The people plunged into sin and civil war. There was no rest. And, last but not least, Israel was cut off from the land. God sent Israel into exile. And so, in a very real sense, Israel died. And as time went on, hope turned into hopelessness. As heaven and earth waited, bodies turned into bones. The prophet Ezekiel saw all of this, and he described the lament of Israel with these words: “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11).
But remember: God declared a good news. Since Adam sinned and failed to establish the kingdom of God, God made a promise to establish it himself. He promised a righteous and obedient king. He promised a forgiven and royal people. He promised a new and majestic land. And he promised a perfect and final rest. This was to be his kingdom. This was to be his salvation. There would still be an ultimate kingdom of God that would be inaugurated and consummated for his glory.
And so God showed Ezekiel the reality and the beauty of his promises. And he did it with one of the most jaw-dropping images in all of Scripture.
God brought Ezekiel to a valley full of bones.
There were very many bones on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
So Ezekiel prophesied as God commanded him. And as he prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And Ezekiel looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
Then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”
So Ezekiel prophesied as God commanded him, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
On that day, God showed to his people that he loved so much that his promised land would not be the land of the dead, but rather the land of the living. Dry bones would transform into new life. Death would give way to resurrection. And the promise of a righteous and obedient king, the promise of a forgiven and royal people, the promise of a new and majestic land, and the promise of a perfect and final rest… would all come true. For God is not God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32).
And this was made possible because of what happened to Jesus Christ.
There is a famous passage in the book of Isaiah that describes the person and the work of Jesus Christ. It is found in chapter 53. And in it, the prophet Isaiah says that the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would be cut off from the land of the living. He writes, starting in verse 7:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus was cut off out of the land of the living. He was crucified. He died. He was buried. This was not supposed to happen. According to Proverbs and according to all of the Bible, evildoers are supposed to be cut off, while those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land (Psalm 37:9). But Jesus, out of his great love for you, took your sin and put it under his name. Jesus, out of his great mercy toward you, took the punishment and the wrath that you deserved and paid the price for your sin. Jesus was cut off… for you.
Now you have a rest. Jesus Christ, by his exaltation and glory at the right hand of God, has secured an eternal sabbath rest for you.
Now you have a land. Jesus Christ, by his perfect obedience and righteousness and wisdom and love, has resurrected from the dead and has secured a place for you in the ultimate promise land of the new heavens and the new earth.
Now you have a people. Jesus Christ, by his body and blood, has secured his bride and his church and his family and his sheep.
Now you have a king. Jesus Christ, by virtue of being the Son of God, has inaugurated his kingdom and soon and very soon will consummate it for his glory.
Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Since our king has fulfilled Proverbs 2, we love Proverbs 2 and we want to follow after him. Not because we are trying to establish the kingdom. But because the kingdom has already been established for us. We want to be wise simply because our king is wise. Our kingdom was quite literally built by the majestic obedience and the holy righteousness and the perfect wisdom of Christ. We are not cut off. We have an inheritance in the land of the living. Therefore, we treasure up God’s commandments. We make our ear attentive to wisdom. We raise our voice for understanding. We ask God for wisdom. We desire discretion. We denounce men who are evil. We avoid women with smooth words. We seek to be upright people with integrity. And the reason is simple because we are already walking and on our way to the land of the living.