How Biblical Geography Motivates Us in Missions

Discovering the geographic and historical background of biblical locations helps us better understand God’s heart for the world.

Growing up, I was often jealous of missionaries.

They had the opportunity to visit so many amazing places. It is great to see pictures of places, but to experience a special location is so much more meaningful. But have you ever wondered how locations can help us better understand the Bible and missions?

Regular readers of the Bible are usually familiar with the names and places mentioned in the text. However, familiarity with a name does not always connect with a practical understanding of what that place is like. This is due in part to not having experienced the places through visiting and viewing them. But secondly, this happens because we don’t spend sufficient time researching specific locations. They merely serve as background information rather than integral parts of the stories. If one would stop for a moment and consider the locations, this act of Bible study would greatly increase one’s biblical understanding.

It would also enhance one’s missional understanding of the world. This is because as we read the news or hear missionaries’ stories, the places mentioned often mean little more than a name. But if we can learn to study biblical locations to help our Bible understanding, we can apply similar principles to study modern locations to better understand God’s work in the world.

But where should one begin? There are so many biblical stories in which the details of the location offer a better understanding of the story. Seeing a picture of Mount Tabor helps one understand why Barak was so hesitant in the book of Judges (4:6-8). Mount Tabor rises from the plains as a solitary, rounded hill. As God commanded Barak to go there with his entire army, they became an easy target for the chariots of Sisera. Without a firm trust in the Lord, Barak’s delay in obedience is not surprising.

Likewise, seeing the valley of Shechem that lies directly between the hills of Ebal and Gerizim awakens the sound of worship in Joshua 8:30-35. The two hills come together and form a natural amphitheater. It would have been the perfect location for such a gathering to worship and speak back and forth the blessings of God.

There is one biblical location that I believe offers the greatest opportunity to help one develop a missional heart and challenge oneself to grow. That is the city of Tyre. The city name appears throughout the Bible from Old to New Testaments. The city is first mentioned as the people of Israel enter under Joshua to conquer the land. It was a strong, fortified city and was never taken by the Israelites. Yet over time, Tyre built a relationship with Israel of partnership. By the time of King David, they supplied resources and support to build David’s palace (2 Samuel 5:11).

Tyre’s success and power was in large part due to its location and resources. Located on the Mediterranean coast near the mountains of Lebanon, it had a valuable seaport on an island near the mainland. The separation of the island provided security from attack. Both the wealth of the port and its security allowed the city to maintain great influence in the Phoenician region. The rich natural resources of this region, such as stone and wood, in addition to materials from around the world arriving in the port, gave the people of Tyre access to many supplies. The city became known for its skilled workmen.

The peak of Tyre came during the reign of Solomon. It is here where the missional love of God is most clearly seen in his relationship with Tyre. This city that could have been destroyed by Joshua now assists in building the house of God. The king of Tyre sends supplies. The king sends workers. And even the chief builder, a man named Hiram, comes from Tyre (1 Kings 7:13-14). This man had a mother from the tribe of Naphtali but a father from Tyre. Yet it is this man who leads the construction of the house of God. It is only by the loving grace of God that such an outsider would gain access to shape and fashion the most holy place. The wealth and success of Tyre was given to them by God through their geographic location but was used to bless God’s people.

But this blessing and access to God’s house did not affect the entire nation. While deserving destruction, the city of Tyre had achieved a great opportunity to be close to the presence of God. Yet this privilege did nothing but build up their pride. Their status before God and the world gave them a perception of importance and invincibility. And it is against this pride that God ultimately strikes.

For three chapters of the book of Ezekiel (26-28), God describes the destruction and judgment that would come to Tyre. This passage even references the garden of God, an allusion to the garden motif inside the temple built by the craftsmen from Tyre. God details the great access that Tyre had to worship him, and thus the great destruction they would experience for their rejection. The very grace that offered the presence of God now demands a greater punishment. In addition, the people of Tyre believed that the security of their island and fortifications protected them from attack. Their pride was in nature itself rather than in the God of nature. But eventually, Alexander the Great destroyed the portion of the city on the mainland and used the city rubble to reach the island and conquer the entire population of Trye. Their very pride and skill became their destruction.

The judgment that Ezekiel describes for Tyre comes into clearer focus when viewed against the rest of the Bible. Tyre’s story becomes our own story. We too are afforded grace. God reaches into the world to offer his presence and power. With that opportunity comes an expectation and a choice. We, like Tyre, have been extended grace as outsiders to the people of God through the presence of God with us, and our response should be to draw near and worship him. Furthermore, the story of Tyre should increase our passion to reach the world. Since we share in the same grace as Tyre, but have accepted it, we have an opportunity to reach and love this world with the gospel.

With this in mind, studying Tyre’s location helps us to grasp its importance and role in the Bible. May this location serve not as a footnote on a map in your Bible, but as a powerful example of the missional heart of God and the driving force for missions to continue. If we spend time studying Tyre, or other biblical locations, God’s love and justice become much more real. Likewise, as we consider the world, if we take the time to listen and research the challenges and issues around the world, we too would love, pray, and serve with greater focus and passion.

Caleb Gibbs

Caleb Gibbs serves with his family in Jamaica as a missionary with ABWE. His focus is on training and discipleship with the churches of Jamaica. He is passionate about teaching every part of the Bible and seeing people grow in their understanding and excitement for the more obscure aspects of the Bible. Support the Gibbs’ ministry.