Posted by: rcottrill | November 1, 2013

Dwelling in Beulah Land

Words: Charles Austin Miles (b. Jan. 7, 1868; d. Mar. 10, 1946)
Music: Charles Austin Miles

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Austin Miles)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This 1911 gospel song comes for the pen of C. Austin Miles, a former pharmacist, turned hymn writer and gospel music publisher. Elsewhere on this blog, some of his other songs are treated: In the Garden, A New Name in Glory, and the little chorus Wide, Wide as the Ocean.

The Cyber Hymnal lists quite a number of gospel songs that speak of living in “Beulah” (e.g. Beulah Land, by Edgar Stites). So, what does that mean? And where does that expression come from?

To deal with the latter question first, the word Beulah is used once only in our English Bibles (though the Hebrew word by’ulah is used a dozen or so times of aspects of the marriage relationship). In English, it is found in a prophecy of Isaiah, reassuring the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem that the time of God’s chastening will not last forever.

“You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah [meaning: My delight is in her], and your land Beulah [by’ulah, married one]; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married [by’ulah] (Isa. 62:4).

The imagery pictures the time when the Messiah will come to reign. It describes the joy and contentment of the people at that time, in the intimacy of their relationship with the Lord, and His tender affection for them. The prophecy goes on later to say:

Indeed the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the world: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.’ And they shall call them The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken’ (Isa. 62:11-12).

So, how does this prophecy, which is clearly about the nation of Israel, apply to Christians today? Some seek to blend Old Testament and New to the point that there is no real distinction between Israel and the church. But I don’t believe we should do that. Israel is not the church, and the church is not Israel.

The nation of Israel is God’s earthly people, with a land and an earthly throne of their own. The church is God’s heavenly people (Phil. 3:20), the spiritual body of Christ made up of all nations. Therefore, the above prophecy can only be applied to Christians today in a secondary and illustrative way. And this must be done with caution, not annulling the original meaning and application of the words.

God’s stated purpose for Israel was to bring them out of bondage in Egypt, and take them to the land of Canaan, a land that He had promised to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers” (Deut. 6:23).

That deliverance from bondage into freedom and blessing is analogous to the salvation of sinners today. Our “Canaan” (or “Beulah”) is the abundant Christian life, a life of peace and victory, that Christ came to provide for us (Jn. 10:10). A few hymns picture Canaan as heaven, but that does not fit as well. (The Israelites still had many battles to fight in Canaan.) Miles does not make that mistake.

Austin Miles pictures the Christian as separated from the world, in a moral and spiritual sense, blessed as He is by fellowship with God. But notice that, in treating the word Beulah in that figurative way, he makes an anachronistic error. The people of Israel were not “feasting on the manna” in Canaan. That provision ceased when they entered the Promised Land (Josh. 5:12).

Given these caveats and limitations, the song expresses joy in the believer’s union with Christ, and his eternal safety in Him.

CH-1) Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is falling.
Then I know the sins of earth beset on every hand.
Doubt and fear and things of earth in vain to me are calling.
None of these shall move me from Beulah Land.

I’m living on the mountain, underneath a cloudless sky.
I’m drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry.
O yes! I’m feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.

CH-2) Far below the storm of doubt upon the world is beating.
Sons of men in battle long the enemy withstand.
Safe am I within the castle of God’s Word retreating.
Nothing then can reach me–‘tis Beulah Land.

Questions:
1) Do you believe this is an appropriate and meaningful use of Old Testament prophecy?

2) How can the Christian manage to be in the world, and a witness there, without being of the world (in the bad sense of the word worldly–cf. I Jn. 2:15)?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Austin Miles)
The Cyber Hymnal


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