When God tells Abraham to go to the place or land he is going to show him, Abraham obeys. This is despite all the challenges and obstacles that he faces. God has promised the land to him and his descendants, but he is old, without children and the land is already occupied.
Not only is the promised land occupied but specifically it is inhabited by Canaanites. This is significant because back in Genesis 9, Canaan as Ham’s son had been set up as the bearer of curse and in some sense the rival of Shem’s descendants including Israel. If there were two lines of descent in the Bible, the sons of God and the sons of men, the line of Cain and the line of Abel & Seth, then Abraham represents the first line and the Canaanites the second.
All the same, Abraham sets off, trusting God. Further challenges will include drought and famine, oppression from rival kings and powers as well as rivalry and division within his own family as Lot chooses the better, more fertile pasture- land. Through all of his, Abraham will learn to trust in God.
Notice that when Abraham first arrives in the land, he does not immediately settle in one place. He travels across the land. At different stopping points, he sets up altars. What is Abraham doing? I want to suggest that we are seeing him doing the two things I highlighted when talking about the Garden of Eden. He is marking out the boundaries, the extent of the land and he is making it clear that the worship of Yahweh is the reason for his presence in the land and that The Lord is at the centre of everything. Abraham and his descendants will be enjoying life in the presence of the living God.
The promised land of Canaan therefore looks backwards. Abraham is a new Adam and this is a new Eden. This is where God’s presence and rule -his blessing will be enjoyed. It looks forward to, towards Christ. Hebrews 11 highlights that Abraham looked forwards in faith to a promise he had not yet received.
As Christians today, even as we seek to set out the boundaries doctrinally and identify the centre by focusing on the Gospel, we too look back, not just to Eden but back to Christ and the Cross. We also look forward to a new and better Eden, the new creation when Christ returns.