Prior to a study trip to Israel in 2014, I understood it was the Promised Land, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” I was not expecting there to be so much desert, so much desolate country, or so many rocks. I’d read the story of the twelve spies coming home with a single cluster of grapes carried between two poles, and I imagined the whole country was extremely fertile. But in fact, these grapes came from a fairly small area: the Valley of Eshkol.
Since my visit, I have read prophecies that speak about the deserts and wastelands in Israel being transformed, and there are lots of them. Like this one from Isaiah 51:3: “For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in it.” Parts of Israel are so desolate, I long to see them as God intends.
When these “fertility” prophecies were given, they were believed to refer to when the Jews would return from the Babylonian exile. But we are still waiting for their fulfillment. In modern Israel, as in ancient times, the authorities use amazing engineering feats to correct the lack of water. They store huge amounts of water underground and divert water sources to ensure adequate supplies for crops and homes. Yet God still longs to bless His people with rain that would turn the wastelands into gardens.
But we are not there.
In Isaiah 2:4, we find this prophecy: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 11:6, 8 also tells of a time when
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together . . . The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
These prophecies refer to a future time on earth. But we’re not there yet.
We live by faith because we don’t see the wolf and the lamb lying down together or children playing near snakes or nations beating their swords into plowshares. We don’t see people being Christlike, but we have hope: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2, emphasis added).
The now in this verse tells me God has restored my relationship with Him through Jesus’ death, so I’m currently God’s child. The not yet tells me we’ve not gained all that was lost as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. Therefore, no matter how spiritually mature I become, my garden will still produce weeds, and annoying things will still happen in my daily life.
God’s kingdom is both a present reality and a future one. We have faith because God has more in mind than we presently see. We have hope because we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him.