“According to the eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11)

By Bob Myhan

The Formation of a Nation

In a series of sermons just prior to his own death and the entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land, Moses rehearsed their history up to that point. Among other words of admonition, Moses said,

"And it shall be, when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.

“And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, 'I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.'

“Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

“And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: 'My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous.’” (Deut 26:1-5)

God had promised Abraham,

"Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:1-2)

"Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (Gen. 15:13-16)

As mentioned in the Faith Builder for January 15, “A large population, a large territory, and a spiritual character make a nation great.” (Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, page 275)

It would be extremely difficult for the descendants of Abraham to develop a spiritual character among the Amorites and the other wicked nations in Canaan. For that reason, God was going to move them to a place where they could become “a nation, great, mighty, and populous.”

This was done in at least three stages through Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson. First, God favored Joseph with prophetic dreams, which, combined with the favoritism shown by Jacob, produced in his brothers such envy that they “sold Joseph into [slavery in] Egypt” (Gen. 37; Acts 7:9).

Second, God blessed Joseph, “delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house” (Gen. 39-41; Acts 7:9-10).

Third, God caused a famine, making it necessary for Joseph’s family to move to Egypt for their survival (Gen. 42-46; Acts 7:11-15).

Some four hundred years later, when the iniquity of the Amorites was complete, God raised up Moses to be a great deliverer and lawgiver. Through him God demonstrated His power so that Israel, Egypt and the neighboring nations would know that “He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:8-11; Rom. 9:17).

Moses was born an Israelite but raised an Egyptian. In a failed attempt to deliver Israel, he lost face and went into the wilderness (Ex. 2:1-15; Acts 7:17-29; Heb. 11:23-27). After forty years of nomadic life he was ready to be used by God to deliver the people. The problem—Moses did not know he was ready (Acts 7:30-35; Ex. 2:16-25; 3:1-22; 4:1-31).

For the next forty years, Moses led a grumbling, ungrateful people through the wilderness. But he was not allowed to enter the promised land because he failed to sanctify God (Acts 7:36-44; Ex. 5-40; Numbers & Deuteronomy).

The next stage of returning the people to Canaan called for a different kind of leader—a military man. Thus, the land of promise was conquered under Joshua’s leadership. The people entered the promised land walking across another body of water on dry land (Josh. 3:1-17; 4:19-24).

With God’s help they took the land by faith (Josh. 5-12; Heb. 11:30). Remember, it was God who decided that those nations were no longer fit to live (Gen. 15:13-16).

After seven years of combat, Israel gained control of the land, which was then parceled out to the twelve tribes, according to the needs of each (Josh. 13-22; Acts 13:17-19).

It should be kept in mind and perhaps this is a good place to discuss the fact that God’s choice of the nation of Israel was not an end in itself but a means to an end. The eternal purpose of God was to “give eternal life” to those who choose to hear His Son’s voice and to follow Him (John 10:25-28; 17:1-3; Titus 1:1-2). God’s intention to make of Abraham a great nation had as its object the blessing of “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:1-3). It was necessary to preserve his physical descendants until “the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4).

Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them." Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal.3:7-16, 26-29)

It was to Christians that Peter wrote,

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Thus, the ancient nation of Israel—God’s Old Testament people—was a type of the church of Christ—God’s New Testament people.


1.  The physical offspring of Abraham were providentially moved and preserved through Joseph.

2.  The law was given through Moses so the new nation could develop a spiritual character.

3.  The Promised Land was entered, conquered and divided under Joshua giving the nation a large territory.

[To be continued]