Paul is the first person in the history of world literature
to argue that all human beings are equal.
— Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis)
I love looking at ancient maps. Maps of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes are particularly instructive. They are very accurate along the water front, only to degenerate as the land stretches out. The reason for this is obvious: people were familiar with waterways before land. The trade routes were more important than distant settlements.
If you look at property maps of the St. Lawrence/Great Lake system now, you’ll see their continuing importance. Everyone is attracted to waterfront property.
This last chapter of Ezekiel can seem a bit anti-climactic. (However, if you were an exile hearing about re-inheriting your land things might seem different!) The verses we’re looking at today are extremely repetitive—with three minor exceptions, every tribe is listed identically. But the point of these verses is lies in their monotony.
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The natural topography of Israel runs north to south. The Mediterranean Sea is a north-south border. The Jordan river (from Galilee to the Dead Sea) is a north-south border. If you take a look with Google Earth, you’ll see how obvious the north-south orientation of the land is.
When God restated his plans for the twelve tribes to resettle the land, he listed them in their traditional order, giving each tribe a strip of land that ran from east to west. Everyone received their allotment of ocean-front property. Everyone received the same amount of land. Everything was to be equal.
The old distribution of the tribes was far from equal. A quick look at the map page at the back of your Bible will demonstrate this. Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had land east of the Jordan River. Judah had a big hunk of prime real estate. In God’s ideal resettlement plans, things become equal.
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Regardless of your thoughts on the prophetic future of Israel, you have to admit (with Paul) that Gentiles have been grafted onto the vine of God’s people. In addition to that, the land is expanded. Matthew makes it clear. Near the centre of his Gospel, Jesus sent the twelve apostles out to the lost sheep of Israel (the Jews). At the end of the gospel, he sent them out to every nation. Next came Acts along with the entire Gentile explosion.
What does that equality principle mean for us today? Could it mean that the people that have been marginalized—the people who are not able to afford land deserve an equal portion along with the rest of us? Could it mean that affordable housing could be a religious issue?
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Generous God, help us to live that bold new eternal live that you’ve given us. Give us the courage to be radically generous. In Jesus’ name, Amen.