God told Israel to “possess the land” that was their inheritance (Josh 1:11, 17ff). They were not called to live in the wilderness, but to take cities. In years past, this story inspired the church in its mandate. We knew we were not called to take up the sword in a physical sense like Israel of old, but we knew we were called to go to war. Onward Christian Soldiers.

In the traditional descriptions, the saints who had gone before were known as the “Church Triumphant”; those of us still here were the “Church Militant”. But now we think of ourselves as the “Church Pacifist”. If we are allowed to view life as a war zone, the only military metaphor we might use for the church is, as Reinhold Niebuhr put it, as a kind of spiritual Red Cross. We may be on the battle field, but we see ourselves as neither winning the war nor abolishing it.

However, the real challenge for Israel was not the military conquest of walled cities. It was how to possess cities in a way that truly reflected God’s life. The need to be “separate from the world”, building cities that were God-centred rather than man-centred, was vital if these cities were to be part of a nation that was truly a light to the world.

The giants that withstood them are no less real today, and the strongholds that keep cities in the dark continue to dominate. But God did not want his people to remain in the obscurity of the wilderness. He wanted them on the map. He wanted a model of the life of the heavenly Jerusalem seen in the bricks and mortar, the institutions and social fabric of a culture. And he raised up men like Joseph and Daniel to demonstrate that the light could shine even in the darkness of the most ungodly cities in the world. We have been made for life in the city, not life in the wilderness.

Treasure in the Field is now available as an e-book from major outlets for all kinds of readers.Click here to access it in any format, or as a free pdf. Or, you can listen to chapter 13 as audio files: Part 1 and Part 2 .