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Living at the Crossroads

God could have led Abraham to settle anywhere, so why did He choose the location we now know as Israel?
Marc Turnage, the executive director of the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies, provides a regular column to PE News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, he reveals how God’s positioning of the land of Israel was by strategic design.

"Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). Have you ever wondered why God led Abraham and his descendants to the land of Israel and settled them there? Why there? Why not somewhere else, like, say, Hawaii or Switzerland? While this might seem a deeply theological question to some, it really isn't. It's simply a question of geography. Look at a map of the ancient Near East and notice the two great river civilizations. In the north between the Tigris and Euphrates, you see the area known as Mesopotamia ("the land between the rivers"), where the great civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia resided. To the south, along the Nile River, lay the great civilization of Egypt, the land of Pharaohs. In the west of your map is the Mediterranean Sea, and south of Mesopotamia is the great Arabian Desert. Now, find the land of Israel on your map, and ask the question again: Why this land?

Quite simply, the land of Israel provides the best navigable land bridge between the continents of Asia and Africa. It sits at the juncture of the two great river civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the land between the crossroads of the ancient world. Whoever controlled the land of Israel controlled international travel, communication, and commerce. Israel has never lived in isolation. It was a highly coveted piece of real estate in the ancient world. By virtue of its location, Israel's flora, fauna, and wildlife blend together the species and habitats of Africa and Asia. In a similar manner, the cultures of the major civilizations of the ancient world blended in the land of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, this provided a challenge for the people of Israel.

So why this land? If you owned a business and wanted to let others know about it, where would you locate your advertisement? You would place it at the crossroads where the most people would see it. God placed Israel at the crossroads of the ancient world where they could be His greatest advertisement. The children of Israel didn't live in an isolated backwater, but at the place where cultures convened and collided. This provided Israel with incredible challenges because their ability to remain in the land depended upon their obedience to God (Deut. 8:7-20). Their ability to hold onto the land required their trust in God to sustain them at the crossroads.

Besides its strategic geographical significance, the land provided a classroom for God to reveal Himself to the children of Israel. The two great river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia possessed developed cultures and religions. There was no place in those cultures for God to reveal Himself and teach Abraham and his descendants His ways. The land of Canaan didn't have such developed cultures and religions, and by taking Abraham and his children into this land — the crossroads — God had a better environment to teach them about trusting Him and to help them understand His uniqueness among all of the deities of the ancient Near East. Israel struggled at the crossroads; it wasn't easy. The outside influences affected Israel's trust in and obedience to God, yet He didn't let them isolate themselves. He wanted to reveal Himself to the world through the descendants of Abraham and His relationship with them.

When the Adversary came before God at the beginning of Job, God thrust Job into the arena to be seen by all. God put Job on display. In the land of Israel, Abraham and his descendants were on display, just as you and I are on display to our world today. God doesn't want us to isolate ourselves from the world. Yes, sometimes it's tough to live at the crossroads, but God still desires to reveal Himself to people and to teach them about Himself. Living at the crossroads requires that we trust God to sustain us. It also requires that we obey Him in order to demonstrate to the world who He is: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

Excerpted from A Pilgrim's Journey by Marc Turnage. Copyright © 2016 by Marc Turnage. Used with permission.

Pictured: Jerusalem at the Center of the World, published in 1581 by the German Heinrich Bünting. The map shows Jerusalem as the crossroads of the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, underscoring its role as the "Land Between."