There is geography in my Bible. In our first session together, we had the chance to define what I mean by geography, which expands things out maybe a bit from where you were at the beginning of this conversation. Geography, for me, remember, is physical geography, human geography, and natural history. But that doesn’t answer the question why—Why is there geography in my Bible? And that’s the question we’d like to take on in this session today.
The Bible Had Human Authors
Why is there geography in my Bible? has more than one answer. Let’s start with the fact that the Bible had human authors. That’s part of the answer to the question. Who we are, how we think, and how we communicate most naturally is very much a product of where we’re from. If there’s one thing we know about ourselves that is that we are people of place. Geography shapes us.
I have a snow blower and a lawn mower in my garage—that’s geographically determined. I have snowshoes and a mountain bike—that’s geographically determined. I have a furnace and an air conditioner in my home—that’s geographically determined. But it’s not just the stuff I have or use; it’s even the way I think and the way I speak that’s geographically influenced.
Let me give you a couple of examples from my own life. I’ll talk about something called “lake-effect snow.” In fact, just a day or two ago, I said, “It looks like this is going to be a good day for lake-effect snow.” Living near the Great Lakes, I know that when cold air is going to blow across the warmer lake of Lake Michigan, it’s going to bring in additional snow showers into my area. That communication is affected by where I live. Not only do I talk about lake-effect snow, I talk about January snow in a different way than I talk about March snow. They have different qualities. My language is shaped by place.
When I want to get away for the weekend, I might talk about going “up north.” For me, “up north” is more than a cardinal compass direction. I live in southern Wisconsin, which is very agricultural and industrial. If I want to get away from it all and want to get to where the forests and the lakes are, I go to the northern part of the state. I go “up north.”
Who I am, how I think, and how I most naturally communicate is intimately connected to where I’m from; and remember, the Bible had human authors. Who the biblical authors were, how they thought, and how they communicated most naturally is intimately connected to where they were from. The biblical authors were not always speaking inspired truth. They had conversations with friends and family members, and when they had those conversations, their communication was, in part, shaped by where they were from. They would say things like—not “we’re going up north”—but they would say, “We’re planning to go up to Jerusalem.” That was shaped by where they were from. They would say in spring, “The almond trees are starting to blossom.” That language is shaped by where they’re from. As they had conversations with family members and friends and their kids, the biblical authors’ communication was shaped by place. Who the biblical authors were, how they thought, how they communicated most naturally is intimately connected to where they’re from.
Take a look at this Bible passage from 2 Peter 1:21. I suspect you’ve read it before, but there are two words in there I wonder if you’ve paid close enough attention to. Second Peter 1:21: “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” When the Holy Spirit took human beings and chose to use them as conduits through which to share the thoughts of God, they never lost their humanness. “Prophets, though human, spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And so, in sharing the thoughts of God, they would naturally use the sort of language that they would use in talking to their family or their friends or their kids—language that was filled with geography. They would talk about mountains and they would talk about wilderness. They would talk about tools, like grinding mills and winnowing forks. They would talk about animals, like the red Persian fallow deer, and flowers, like the crown daisy.
As God moved His thoughts through the biblical writers into this precious document we have as the Word of God, He used human beings. And if there’s one thing we know about human beings, they will speak geographically. And that means that as God shares His thoughts with us, He will speak geographically as well. Why is there geography in my Bible? First answer: because it had human authors, people like us who used geography as they thought and they spoke.
The Bible Links the Plan of Salvation to Place
The second answer to the question Why is there geography in my Bible? has to do with the linkage God made between the plan of salvation and geography. If you’re serious about integrating geography into your Bible reading, this is a Bible passage you have to mark if it isn’t marked in your Bibles: Genesis 12:1–3. It’s the first time that God takes the promise of salvation, the promise it brings you and me—forgiveness of sins…He takes that promise and links it to land. Genesis 12:1–3: “Go from your country,” God tells Abram. “Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you’ll be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse. And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abram, at the time God came to him, was in Haran, at the top of our map. God was not going to bring His plan of salvation to completion in this area. And so He said to Abraham, “Leave. Leave and head south.” Abraham didn’t know exactly where he was going, but he knew that he had arrived at the spot when God said to him, “Far enough.” Genesis 12:6–7: “The LORD appeared to Abraham”—and this is at Shechem, in the valley between those two mountains that you see, Mount Ebal to the right, Mount Gerizim to the left. Abraham has arrived at Shechem, and the Lord appeared to him and said, “To your offspring I give this land.” Now that’s a lightning bolt for a Bible geographer. “To your offspring I will give this land.” And so he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.
From that moment on, the land of promise, the land of Canaan, the land that would become the land of Israel, was intimately bonded to the promise of forgiveness. Look at the triangle here. It will help you understand a vital relationship that lives throughout the entire Old Testament. God had come to Abram and said I’m going to turn your family into a great nation. I’m going to give that family a land on which to live. We know it as the Promised Land. And from that family on that land, I’m going to fix the brokenness, I’m going to restore blessing, I am going to deliver the Savior, the Messiah, in that land.
Those three promises live together and become the heartbeat of hope that appears on page after page after page in the Old Testament. One of the most important thoughts that God wants to share with each of us is that all of our sins have been forgiven. From an Old Testament perspective, there’s no way that you can say a whole lot about that plan of salvation, unless you start talking geographically. Because land is intimately connected to the promise of salvation. We see it in the lists of places that Joshua is distributing among all the tribes of Israel, so that every single family member got a piece of land.
It becomes not just a place to grow their grain. It becomes not just a place to pasture their animals. It becomes a place for them to remember that God had said On this land I will work out My plan of salvation so that you can live and die assured of your forgiveness. In the Old Testament you can’t say a whole lot about forgiveness without saying something about geography. And that’s the second answer to the question Why is there geography in my Bible? It’s because the Bible speaks about a plan of salvation intimately linked to place.
There is geography in my Bible. There’s no doubt about it. You’ll find it on page after page after page after page, but why is it there? We’ve seen two answers. First of all, when the Lord chose to share His thoughts with us, He used human beings. And the human beings who put God’s thoughts into writing for us were folks like you and me. Who we are, how we think, how we most naturally communicate with one another is intimately linked to where we’re from. I would be shocked if there wasn’t geography in the Bible, given the fact that human beings are the ones who wrote it. The Bible has human authors who naturally used geography when they spoke.
The other part of the answer to the question Why is there geography in my Bible?…The core message of Scripture, the one that you and I cherish and love so deeply, the news of forgiveness, is intimately linked to place. The Bible speaks about a plan of salvation, and that plan of salvation is linked to the Promised Land.
There is geography in my Bible. So far we’ve had a chance to define what geography is and had a chance to answer the question Why is it there? In our next session, we take the necessary step of answering the question Now what?