The Importance of Land in the Bookends of the Old Testament

Stephen Dempster is an influential evangelical scholar focused on the Old Testament narrative. Among other works, he is most notable for Dominion and Dynasty, one of the top books that have shaped my life.

At the beginning of Dominion and Dynasty, Dempster notices similarities between the first and last books in the Old Testament (called bookends). Since Dempster follows the Hebrew Bible order of the canon, this means Genesis and Chronicles.

Dempster notes there are two striking similarities between Genesis and Chronicles: both focus on genealogies and the land. And while the genealogies are important, the land is a main character throughout the Old Testament. Here’s what Dempster writes about the land in Genesis:

Genesis establishes a domain over which humans are to realize their humanity. The world is created by the command of God; the garden of Eden becomes the prime habitat of human beings until their exile from it. Humans are expelled from the earth with the judgment of the great deluge. The postdiluvian human community is dispersed across the face of the earth at Babel. And when Abram arrives on the historical scene he is promised a commodity that has been in short supply for human beings: a land to call his own. He never quite gets it, except a graveyard for his wife. By the end of Genesis his descendants are exiled in Egypt from this land of promise. From this exilic vantage point the aged Joseph’s remarks conclude the book of Genesis: ‘I am about to die; but God will surely visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (Genesis 50:24) (Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 48, emphasis original)

And here’s Dempster’s comments on the land in Chronicles:

Chronicles also focuses on the land, which Abraham and his immediate descendants did not possess. This focus narrows to Jerusalem and the temple within that land. For example, the heart of Chronicles concerns Jerusalem and the temple under David and Solomon, some twenty chapters! The ultimate tragedy is the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people to Babylon. Yet the end of Chronicles, like Genesis, is not exile. The note of promise is a directive from Cyrus for them to return to the land and rebuild the temple (2 Chronicles 36:23). (Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 48-49)

So both Genesis and Chronicles end with a glimmer of hope in the midst of exile: God will give them the land again. This promise of restoration will continue into the New Testament story, ultimately concluding with New Creation.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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