The Promised Land in the Bible Was God's Gift to Israel

God blessed Israel with a land flowing with milk and honey

Illustration of Moses talking to God after the Israelites rejected the Promised Land
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The promised land in the Bible was that geographic area God the Father swore to give to his chosen people, the descendants of Abraham. God made this promise to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 15:15–21. The territory was located in ancient Canaan, on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Numbers 34:1-12 details its exact boundaries.

Besides being a physical place (the land of Canaan), the promised land is a theological concept. In both the Old and New Testaments, God promised to bless his faithful followers and bring them into a restful place. Faith and faithfulness are the conditions of entering the promised land (Hebrews 11:9).

The Promised Land

  • The promised land was a real territory in the Bible, but also a metaphor pointing to salvation in Jesus Christ and the promise of the Kingdom of God.
  • The specific term "promised land" appears in the New Living Translation at Exodus 13:17, 33:12; Deuteronomy 1:37; Joshua 5:7, 14:8; and Psalms 47:4.

For nomadic shepherds like the Jews, having a permanent home to call their own was a dream come true. It was a place of rest from their constant uprooting. This area was so rich in natural resources God called it "a land flowing with milk and honey."

The Promised Land Came With Conditions 

God's gift of the promised land came with conditions. First, God required that Israel, the name of the new nation, had to trust and obey him. Second, God demanded faithful worship of him (Deuteronomy 7:12-15). Idolatry was such a serious offense to God that he threatened to throw the people out of the land if they worshiped other gods:

Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

During a famine, Jacob, also named Israel, went to Egypt with his family, where there was food. Over the years, the Egyptians turned the Jews into slave labor. After God rescued them from that slavery, he brought them back to the promised land, under the leadership of Moses. Because the people failed to trust God, however, he made them wander 40 years in the desert until that generation died. 

Moses' successor Joshua finally led the people into the promised land and served as the military leader in the takeover. The country was divided among the tribes by lot. Following Joshua's death, Israel was ruled by a series of judges. The people repeatedly turned to false gods and suffered for it. Then in 586 B.C., God allowed the Babylonians to destroy the Jerusalem temple and take most of the Jews into captivity to Babylon.

Eventually, they returned to the promised land, but under Israel's kings, faithfulness to God was unsteady. God sent prophets to warn the people to repent, ending with John the Baptist.

Jesus Is the Fulfillment of God's Promise

When Jesus Christ arrived on the scene in Israel, he ushered in a new covenant available to all people, both Jews and Gentiles alike. At the conclusion of Hebrews 11, the famous "Hall of Faith" passage, the author notes that the Old Testament figures "were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." (Hebrews 11:39, NIV) They may have received the land, but they still looked to the future for the Messiah—that Messiah is Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of all God's promises, including the promised land:

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT)

Anyone who believes in Christ as Savior immediately becomes a citizen of the kingdom of God. Still, Jesus told Pontius Pilate,

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36, NIV) 

Today, believers abide in Christ and he abides in us in an inner, earthly "promised land." At death, Christians pass into heaven, the eternal promised land.