INTERNATIONAL BORDERS: PART FOUR
Few issues raise the ire of more people more quickly than the issue of what nation has the right to call what land their own at any given time, and so any series of discussions regarding international borders would not be complete without treatment of it. Nations and peoples have long been overrun, enslaved and/or ruled by others, leaving no one’s ancestry unstained by the tint of it, causing national and ethnic rage to burn in many a heart and soul from memory of the issue. And so as we conclude this series on international borders, we must now explore what can be done about such seemingly intractable things. As we shall see, the Bible’s answer is simple: Get over it, move on and make your nation a better place.
In Genesis 9:1, when God commanded Noah and his sons to fill the earth, Shem was not told to go eastward, nor Japheth westward, nor Ham southward, nor did the later Dispersion of Babel see the language groups spreading out with maps and property deeds in hand. Instead, they went where they desired to go. They moved, explored and settled.
This, in essence, means that the earth was (and is) up for grabs, for no one was given a title deed to any part of it. The harsh reality of the matter is that, both Biblically and historically, the only people who may call a particular land their own are those who currently occupy it and can hold it by their strength. In fact, of all people upon Earth, only Israel was eventually given a deed to any part of it (Genesis 13:14-17; 26:3-5; 35:12), and even they were (and are) subject to this same harsh reality. Furthermore (and of tremendous importance), Israel was not the first to inhabit the Promised Land (Exodus 23:23), proving that the notion of finders, keepers or of first come, first served does not determine final ownership of any corner of Earth.
Please understand that I do not say these things in order to facilitate a new land war among the peoples and nations of this beautiful sphere that we all call home, for the spreading of humanity was meant to be done in a manner as free of murder and as befitting of the image of God as possible (Genesis 9:6). Instead, I say these things to comment on Biblical reality, that we might learn from the truths and principles involved. And as in many things, ancient Israel is our great teacher here.
Israel occupied her land and called it her own as long as she was strong, and she was strong so long as God blessed her, and God blessed her as long as she was good (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). We must remember that it is God Who ultimately owns this planet (Psalm 24:1); we peoples and nations are but tenants and stewards upon it, and may be removed for cause as Heaven sees fit (Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32), for it is the right of any landlord to do so. Such a harsh reality should breathe sobriety into the thinking of any people who love their portion of Earth and want to remain sovereign upon it.
But let us not think that simply because we are but tenants and stewards upon Earth that we are not meant to be connected to the land of our people or nation, for good stewardship demands that we be connected to the land that sustains and nourishes us. We are therefore meant to have a personal stake in the land and to think of it as our own, for we will then want to hold onto the ownership of it. If we want to hold onto the ownership of it, we will need to be strong. If we want to be strong, we will need to seek the blessings of God. If we want the blessings of God, we will need to be a people or nation of righteous conduct. And if we want to be a people or nation of righteous conduct, we will need to be a people who deeply study and apply the Scriptures to our lives, society and culture.
Simply put, the land belongs to the nation that occupies it and can hold it by their strength. When a nation loses its land, it is because it is not strong enough to hold it, and someone else is strong enough to take it. Welcome to planet Earth. If our ancestors lost their ancestral lands, it was because they were either relatively weak or naïve (Judges 18), which in most cases meant that they were morally deficient or soft-headed to some degree. But chances are that our ancestors once also wore the shoe on the other foot and were the aggressors and victors, and so back it goes until we all find our ancestors babbling incoherently at one another under the shadow of Babel’s tower, wondering in which direction they should spread in order to rid themselves of those others of strange speech.
Where does the Believer stand regarding all of this? Our first allegiance is to the Scriptures, in whose pages the principle of ownership by strength is revealed, and which for all intents and purposes means that bygones must be left as bygones. Nations rise, spread, diminish and fall based upon strength and morality. What once was is simply that – it once was, but it is no longer. Let it go. Jesus recognized Rome’s authority in Israel (Matthew 22:21).
Secondly, we are called to make the best of the current situation, or to essentially bloom where we’re planted. We should be praying for all of those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:2), should be seeking God’s blessing and prosperity for our currrent nation (Jeremiah 29:7), and as salt and light we should be influencing our nation toward the goodness of Biblical morality (Matthew 5:13-16), which will ensure its blessing from Heaven, lending it strength and longevity in its land, allowing us to enjoy long life and prosperity upon it (Exodus 20:12).
Although our ultimate citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), we are nowhere called to leave the issues of Earth in the hands of others. This means that we are to be patriotic citizens of each of our nations, and may only disregard national or local law and identity when they clearly and unambiguously oppose the expressed will of God as written in His Word (Acts 5:29).