When I embraced this topic, I realized that the Bible says a lot about types, shadows, and figures, things in the Old Testament Scriptures that picture for us the person and works of Jesus Christ, particularly in His first coming. For example, Moses leading Israel out of its bondage in Egypt is a type of the spiritual salvation found in the greater Moses, Christ, who leads His people out of their bondage to sin (Jn. 8:34-36; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:1). There are many such foreshadowings of Christ, and books have been written addressing this glorious topic. My topic here, however, is narrower. I am focusing on historical, Biblical events revealed under the Old Covenant that are harbingers, forerunners, of events that are still future to our time in the twenty-first century. I’ve discussed three such harbingers already in my previous two posts: the days of Noah, the days of Lot, and the one language of the earth before Babel. Today, I wish to focus on nations: one harbinger being a predominantly negative contemplation dealing with judgment; the other is positive.
The Routing of the Canaanites
It is a Biblical fact that the fledgling nation of Israel which came out of Egypt long ago was led by God through the wilderness for forty years. After that, under the military leadership of Joshua, it entered the promised land and routed the seven Canaanites nations living there, taking possession of their land. We read in Deuteronomy:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess
and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites,
Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger
than you – and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and
you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. (Deut. 7:1, 2)
Many people today may revolt at this account. How could God allow such a thing, or command such a thing? It seems atrocious to our modern way of thinking, at least those of us who live in so-called civil, democratic nations. But the context of this historical event makes it clear that it was a judgment of God upon the wickedness of those seven nations. God found their idolatry so deplorable that He decided to do something about it.
This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred
stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deut. 7:5)
…it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to
drive them out before you. (Deut. 9:4; cf. 18:9-12)
Maybe the worst practice was the literal sacrificing of children to their gods: “They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (Deut. 12:31). Hence, we read many warnings by God to Israel not to practice such a detestable thing: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek” (Lev. 18:21).
God could have wiped out these evil nations without the help of Israel, if He wanted to. But He chose to use the army of Israel to do this unpleasant, but necessary, job.
How is this a harbinger of our future? In the previous two harbingers of future judgment, the global flood and the fire on Sodom, it was God Himself who was the executioner. I think it will be so in the final judgment as well, but with this caveat. It seems that somehow the saints of God will participate in the routing of evil people from the earth. In Jude we read:
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming
with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones [saints] to judge everyone, and to
convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness,
and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14, 15)
The Apostle Paul writes: "Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?" (I Cor. 6:2)
And Jesus Himself speaks of a reward for his faithful servants being this:
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority
over the nations --- that one will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash
them to pieces like pottery (Rev. 2:26, 27)
The image of Jesus the warrior judge on the white horse is depicted as not coming alone but with his army:
The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in
fine linen, white and clean. (Rev. 19:14 cf. Rev. 17:14; 19:19)
Again, this is scary stuff. It’s supposed to be. It should wake some people up to get serious with God before it’s too late. But in the process of contemplating this future event, we should not lose sight of the goodness of God. He is telling us ahead of time what is coming. Israel destroyed the wicked Canaanite nations long ago and the saints of God (believers in Christ) will participate in some way in the routing of the ungodly from this world when the Lord returns.
The Glory of the Nations
On a brighter note, let me finish this post with some positive thoughts about nations. Though there is plenty of evil to go around among all the nations, there is also beauty. Every nation or ethnic group brings something glorious to the table which is honorable in God’s sight. John’s vision of the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven to the new earth includes this:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor
into it . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Rev. 21:24, 26)
I recall watching a music video not long ago of a group of Nigerian singers who were praising God on the rocky shore of some waterway. It was beautiful. It was like things should be, people stopping to praise God where they are, even out in nature. My folks’ homeland of Estonia is famous for their huge nationalistic music festival which takes place in Tallinn every five years. The country only has a population of 1.4 million, but the festival gathers together over 100,000 people to dance and sing about their national heritage, wear Estonian outfits, and wave Estonian flags. I don’t speak Estonian, unfortunately, but I am moved watching this even on video. I think it portrays the best kind of heart-felt nationalism. Won’t some of this glory be carried into eternity as part of “the glory and honor of the nations”? I think so. And finally, which one of us isn’t moved when we watch the opening ceremonies at the Olympics and see the beauty and diversity in the nations of the world as they march into a stadium decked out in their national uniforms and carrying their national flags. God created all these people groups, and there is a distinct dignity, beauty, and glory in each one.
So, this harbinger then is the beauty in the nations which has existed even before the time of Christ (see Is 60:1-13; Mat. 4:8) and continues on after Christ. It is a glory that will not be lost. It is a harbinger of what life on the restored, new earth will be like. What was will be.
(Bible verses quoted are from the NIV.)