Abram (or Abraham) came from the area of Mesopotamia—the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It boasted larger cities, more developed culture, and wealth than the land of Canaan. Would it not have made more sense for God to establish Abraham and his descendants into a nation here and give them some of the well-watered land in Mesopotamia?
Yet God called Abraham and his descendants to the land of Canaan. To understand why, we must understand the geographic setting of the land of Canaan. Its location created a physical climate of faith in which God taught Abraham’s descendants about Himself and called upon them to live in obedience to Him.
The land of Canaan lay at the strategic land bridge connecting the continents of Asia and Africa. It sat at the crossroads of the ancient world, between the imperial powers of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the barren desert to the east, the land of Canaan provided the land corridor for routes connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia. Its location made it strategic for travel, commerce and trade, and communication.
Its location also meant security and peace were not to be found as empires and local kingdoms fought to control the crossroads of the ancient world. Periods of peace were few, short, and far between. Personal and national existence could never be taken for granted, and here God called Abraham and his descendants to live in faithfulness to Him. This geopolitical insecurity of the region served as “God’s testing ground of faith” and the stage upon which the redemptive drama played out, where sinner and saint struggled against internal upheaval and external threat.
The lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia were sustained by great rivers (the Nile in Egypt, and the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia). These rivers provided consistent water for life and agriculture. The topography of the land of Canaan meant the fresh water sources (the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River) lay below sea level while most of the population dwelt in the hills at an elevation removed from the fresh water sources, or on the coastal plain separated from the fresh water sources by the hill country.
Therefore, the land of Canaan relied upon the rains from heaven to nourish life, herds, and agriculture (Deuteronomy 11:10-11). God promised if Israel obeyed Him at the crossroads, He would send rain in its season, but if they disobeyed, He would withhold rain from the heavens.
The topography and climate of the land became part of God’s call to Abraham and his descendants to trust God at the crossroads and live obediently to Him in this challenging location. To trust whether He would protect them and sustain them and to demonstrate their trust through their obedience.
Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.