When I read the question “What if God chose [Australia] as the Promised Land?”, my first thought was for size. The modern state of Israel can fit about 360 times into Australia, so even if we were just considering South Australia, the distances would be so much greater. Forget 40 years’ wandering, it would take them that long to walk here from Egypt! (Although, in thinking about how the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism is also the traditional site of Joshua’s crossing, one wonders whether Jesus might have been baptised in the Arafura).
One can see Cana from Nazareth and I’m told it’s possible to walk from Joffa to Jerusalem in a day. How much longer would everything take if logs shipped in to Sydney needed to be carted halfway across the country to Adelaide? The Biblical timeline would progress so much slower we’d just be coming out of Exile now, no doubt having been taken away to China.
My second thought was to geography, and then to climate. To be honest, the climates and geographies in Australia and the Holy Land are pretty similar. Both areas have deserts, hills, rivers, and below-sea-level salty depressions. Australia’s a bit tropical in the north, which Israel isn’t, and of course, all of Israel’s different climates happen in a much, much smaller space. I don’t imagine the climate-induced culture would have been terribly different, except that rather than struggling with Ba’al worship and other Canaanite practices, the question might have been about animal-based kinship skins.
So in terms of geography and culture, I don’t believe there would have been much difference. Rather than hearing about deer and hyrax, we might read psalms about kangaroos and bilbies, and during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus might have shown a gum seed and gestured to a massive tree, rather than a mustard seed and its spreading bush.
It’s really when I started thinking about the political side of things that I realised why Australia was so completely unsuited to being the Promised Land. Throughout the Bible, the people are faced with the constant threat – indeed, outright presence – of various major, mighty civilisations. Even assuming the Maoris to be a mighty empire, or taking into consideration China, Japan, India and Thailand, Australia as the Promise Land, like Australia today, would have the assurance of miles and miles of sea all around as protection. We’re no major thoroughfare between two warring civilisations, as the land of Israel was (or, indeed, is).
These ideas of world geography and politics also come into play when thinking about the faith and the impact of the early church. An Australia with a powerful indigenous culture and religion would be seen as “eastern”, and its beliefs and practices rejected by Europeans as “not for us” along with Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shinto.
Likewise, in my brief thinking about the British Isles as the Promised Land, I noticed that while they also faced the threat of powerful civilisations (although in a slightly more detached manner than Israel), and had the benefit of lots of rain, had Christianity arisen there, it’s most definitely a “western” nation, and therefore most probably would never have made the same inroads in the middle-east.
God really couldn’t have chosen anywhere but the land He did. Yes, the climate and geography can be found elsewhere (like here), but that really wasn’t the point of the land. A culture made slightly different because of a wetter climate wouldn’t have made much difference in the overall scheme of things; proximity to and threats from major empires (or the lack thereof), and a positioning anywhere but right at the meeting-place of “east” and “west”, would.