When God called Abraham in Genesis 12, He called him into the land of Canaan. The land was the destination of God’s calling. In a general way, we can say that the land represents God’s purpose, what God wants.
After God called Abraham in Ur of the Chaldeans, he journeyed about 600 miles up to Haran. Abraham seems to have displayed some hesitancy in fully answering God’s call (my friend Chris has a great post on this on his blog). He left his country, but not his relatives. Also, all this time Abraham never crossed the Euphrates river, which stood between him and God’s purpose. Finally, he crossed over the river and journeyed back down south another 400 miles, entering the good land from the top.
In his journey through the land of Canaan, Abraham settled in three places and built three altars- Shechem, Bethel, and Hebron. In The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (on my 2014 reading list) Watchman Nee indicates that these places are representative of what the good land means.
God used these three places–Shechem, Bethel, and Hebron–to represent Canaan.
–Watchman Nee, p. 31
Because in each of these places Abraham built an altar, these places represent three experiences of consecration that allow us to advance in our experience of God’s purpose. Also, if you look at a map, these three places are progressively further into Canaan. This indicates that we advance by consecration and that our consecration is progressive. When we look at the meaning of these place-names, we see lines along which our consecration develops. We need a progressing consecration that brings us deeper into God’s purpose.
The stages of our consecration are indicated by the meaning of these names. Marcel Proust commented in numerous passages how the name of a place can symbolize an entire complex of associations and experiences. It’s often the same in Genesis. Babylon, Egypt, and Sodom are more than geographical markers or municipal units. They are symbols for spiritual realities (here, all negative ones). In this way, names can be imbued with spiritual significance and can come to stand for particular experiences.
Surely it is only a twisted mind that would maintain that books which have been so scrupulously preserved for thousands of years, which have been safeguarded by such a concern for so well-ordered a transmission, that such books were written without serious purpose, or that we should consult them simply for historical facts?
–Augustine, City of God, 15.27
The first place Abraham built an altar was Shechem, by the oaks of Moreh. Shechem means ‘shoulder’ and indicates strength; Moreh means ‘teaching’. The fact that there was an oak tree there indicates strength and life. Taken together, the first thing we need to consecrate ourselves for to advance in the good land is the healthy teaching of God’s economy (1 Tim. 1:10, 4). Sound teaching, as some translations have it, doesn’t necessarily mean error free (while this should obviously be the case); it means hygienic, healthy, which are matters of life. The teaching that ministers the riches of divine life and unfolds the light of divine truth causes us to enter deeply into God’s purpose. To advance, we need to consecrate ourselves to get into the healthy teaching of God’s economy.
The second place Abraham built an altar was in Bethel. Bethel means the ‘house of God’ and typifies the church life (1 Tim. 3:15). The altar at Bethel indicates a further experience of consecration for the experience of the church life. God’s goal is not strong, well-taught individual Christians. He is after the church as a visible, corporate testimony of many different people in oneness. The church life has one main requirement- gathering. The church in its most basic definition is an assembly. Thus in our consecration we must advance to the place of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices for the house of God (Rom. 12:1). In Romans 12, consecration is the bridge between the personal and corporate dimensions of our experience. And this consecration must be tangible, practical, and church-centered.
The third place Abraham built an altar was in Hebron. Hebron means ‘fellowship’ and indicates the reality of the Body of Christ, which is a life of vertical and horizontal fellowship. God’s ultimate goal is not the church life as a series of events on a calendar or a schedule of weekly meetings to attend. It is possible to go to church and yet not be living in the reality of the church, to be in the church and yet not be built up in the church. The church intrinsically is the Body of Christ–the living out of the divine life by a group of people. God’s ultimate purpose is to gain the Body of Christ as His corporate expression. For us to be up to the standard of God’s purpose our consecration must reach the level of the Body.
Consecration however is a product of God’s appearing. Abraham’s altars were issues of his seeing the God of glory. God’s appearing changes us. Revelation makes us different. Abraham, Moses, Job, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John all experienced this.
Where there is no divine appearance, there is no altar. No one can offer himself to God unless he has first met God… Consecration is not the result of man’s exhortation or persuasion but of God’s revelation… A turning point in our spiritual life does not come through our decision to do something for God; it does not come as a result of our resolving to do this or that for God. It comes when we see Him. When we meet God, a radical change takes place in our life.
–Watchman Nee, CWWN, Vol. 37, p. 89
Thus, if we want to advance in the good land, the real question is how do we secure God’s appearing?
Three verses came to mind:
And you shall put the expiation cover on top of the Ark, and into the Ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you. And there I will meet with you… –Exo. 25:21-22
But if all prophesy and some unbeliever or unlearned person enters, he is convicted by all, he is examined by all; The secrets of his heart become manifest; and so falling on his face, he will worship God, declaring that indeed God is among you. –1 Cor. 14:24-25
He who has My commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him. –John 14:21
These verses give us three practical keys to secure God’s appearing: our spirit, the meetings of the church, and loving Jesus. If we spend time in our spirit, attend the meetings of the church, and practice loving the Lord Jesus then the God of glory will appear to us, we will spontaneously progress in our consecration, and we will advance in our entrance into God’s eternal purpose.