Relevance of Israel: the Land
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The land of Israel is one of the most disputed territories on earth. Jews claim it as their ancient homeland. Muslims occupied it for centuries, reject Jewish claims, and consider the Jewish regions occupied territory. Many Christians believe God no longer favors the Jews, so they support the Muslim position.
In this article, we’ll examine what the Bible says about the land and whether it relates to the end times.
When God instructed the Israelites at Mount Sinai about the Promised Land, he made a very interesting and significant statement: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Lev. 25:23, NIV). God said the land belonged to him, not Israel. The Israelites basically were God’s tenants on the land, which is why he gave them specific instructions about how to care for it.
“It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deut. 11:12). God cares for the land and continually watches over it.
“The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there” (2 Kings 17:22-23). This passage states God removed the people from his presence, yet the next sentence states the people were taken from their homeland. That is, their homeland was equivalent to God’s presence.
“I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down” (Isa. 14:25). Here, God identified the land and the mountains as belonging to him. They’re all his.
“But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable” (Jer. 2:7). Again, God identified the land as his. He also referred to his “inheritance.” A common literary style involved restating a truth in a different form, so grammatically we see that God considered the land his inheritance. We see the same literary style used to make the same comparison in Jeremiah 16:18.
Now, let’s examine passages related to the end times. “In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land” (Eze. 38:16). The context is the Magog invasion of Ezekiel 38 and 39. This clearly relates to the end times and God states that in the end times, the land will still be his.
Before we consider an important passage in the Book of Joel, let’s confirm the passage is relevant to the end times. The context is the day of the Lord (Joel 2:31; 3:14), so this passage clearly applies to the end times.
I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. e
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land. (Joel 3:2)
The Valley of Jehoshaphat is the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem, so the reference to bringing “all nations” into the Kidron Valley may describe what we normally call the battle of Armageddon. Why will God bring judgment against all the nations according to this passage? Because they scattered his people and divided his land.
As of this writing (December 2019), the western nations have been working toward imposing a “two-state solution” on Israel, forcing Israel to accept a Palestinian state and surrender land it occupied since the 1967 war. There is almost universal support in the United Nations General Assembly for a Palestinian state, so we can expect the Assembly to pass a resolution affirming its creation. When we examine the boundaries of the land God promised Israel, it’ll be obvious the Palestinian state would occupy part of that land.
In other words, the “two-state solution” about to be imposed on Israel will divide God’s land. According to Joel 3:2, God will release judgment on the nations that take part in dividing his land.
“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever’” (Gen. 13:14-15). What conditions did God place on Abram’s descendants receiving the land? None. God unilaterally pledged the land, independent of the people’s faithfulness or anything else. Since that pledge was unconditional, we can assume it’s still in effect. God confirmed his pledge to succeeding generations through a covenant he made with Abram. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham as part of that covenant, as we’ll see in the following passages.
When God made covenant and affirmed his pledge to give the land, Abraham already had a son, Ishmael, and Abraham asked God to bless his son. God chose not to honor the traditional blessing of the firstborn son and instead selected a son yet to be born. “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year” (Gen. 17:20-21).
God blessed Ishmael but didn’t include him in the covenant; an important point, as we’ll see. In Genesis 21:12, God told Abraham, “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” So God made covenant with and promised the land to Abraham and his descendants, but only Isaac was “reckoned” as Abraham’s offspring for covenant purposes. The descendants of Ishmael do not have a legitimate claim to the land, which was part of the covenant God made with Abraham and Isaac.
Abraham had several other sons, as well as Ishmael and Isaac, but they weren’t included in God’s covenant and therefore had no claim to the land. “Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east” (Gen. 25:5-6).
Years later, God confirmed the covenant and blessing of the land with Isaac’s son, Jacob (known later as Israel). God said to Jacob, “The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you” (Gen. 35:12). So God reaffirmed his pledge of the land specifically to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Based on these passages, only the descendants of Jacob (later known as Israel) have any legal claim to the land.
Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn and Esau was Isaac’s firstborn, but God chose the second-born sons, Isaac and Jacob, to receive the covenant blessing, which included the land later called Israel. The descendants of Ishmael and Esau intermarried and practiced polytheism until Mohammad introduced the monotheistic religion of Islam in the AD 600s. The Muslim Ottoman Empire seized the land militarily in the 1600s and occupied it until the empire collapsed during World War I. To this day, Muslims believe their ancestors, Ishmael and Esau, were deprived of their legitimate, firstborn claim to Abraham’s blessing, including the land now called Israel. This is why Muslims claim Israel’s presence is an illegitimate occupation of their land.
However, the God of the Bible disagrees.
God told Abraham, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever” (Gen. 13:15). Notice the word, “forever.” Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, quoted God as saying, “I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you” (Gen 48:4). Notice the phrase, “everlasting possession.”
Moses told the Israelites, “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time” (Deut. 4:40). Notice the phrase, “for all time.”
The land is Israel’s inheritance, as stated in the following verses in Deuteronomy:
- “You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut. 21:23).
- “Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut. 24:4).
- “… in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance” (Deut. 25:19).
- “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut. 26:1).
Repetition emphasizes the point, making it absolutely clear. The following passage is relevant to the end-times, after Israel’s worldwide dispersion (see Eze. 36:19-22). “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land” (v. 24).
According to Ezekiel 36, God is returning the Jews to Israel for the sake of his holy name, not because they deserve it. As Christians, we understand we never deserve God’s blessings, and that point is stated very clearly about Israel. God promised he would return the Jews to the land, and he is doing so simply because he said he would.
Jeremiah 31 shows Israel’s return to the land in the end times relates to a new covenant he’ll make with them. He’ll gather them from the ends of the earth, where he’d scattered them (vv. 8, 10). He’ll make a new covenant with them, in which he’ll forgive their wickedness and never remember their sin (vv. 31-34). Then Israel will never cease being a nation and never again will he reject their descendants (vv. 35-37).
These passages help us understand how emphatic God is about the land of Israel belonging to descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; not those of Ishmael, Esau or Abraham’s other sons. In the Old Testament and during the end times, God states the land is his own and the Jews are his people. Does this mean God’s favor is on the land of Israel today? Yes! Will the nations that impose a two-state solution on Israel experience God’s judgment? Yes!
Did God make a mistake when he promised the land to the Abraham’s descendants forever? No! Didn’t he know they’d reject him and worship other gods? Yes! But in his mercy, after he drove them from the land and scattered them throughout the world as punishment for their unfaithfulness, he’s now bringing them back to the land; his land.
We’ve seen that God claims the land as his own and he gave it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a gift, an everlasting inheritance. Now let’s identify the land’s boundaries, so we know what land belongs to Israel, according to the Bible.
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites’” (Gen. 15:18-21).
Most of these peoples lived in Canaan, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The Hittite kingdom mainly was in what is Turkey today, but they also occupied land in northern Canaan. Two and a half tribes of Israel chose to remain east of the Jordan, and they conquered the land of the Rephaites and Amorites. That portion of land would not be included in the Promised Land, but God knew the people coming out of Egypt would want it and included it in the list he gave Abraham. That is, God honored their choice more than 400 years before they made it.
Notice the reference to the Euphrates River as “the great river.” The Euphrates is the longest river of Western Asia, at 1,780 miles long. Verse 18 also refers to the “Wadi of Egypt” or “river of Egypt” in some translations, today called “Wadi Al-Arish.” The Hebrew word translated “river” is the same in both cases and could apply to any flowing body of water, including a small stream. Could “the river of Egypt” be the Nile River? The Nile is the longest river in the world, at 4,160 miles long; more than twice as long as the Euphrates. But if “the river of Egypt” referred to the Nile, then the Euphrates would hardly be “the great river.” Traditionally, the “river of Egypt” or “wadi of Egypt” is a small stream on the boundary between Israel and the Sinai Peninsula, which empties into the Mediterranean south of Gaza. As further evidence this doesn’t refer to the Nile, Genesis 15 doesn’t give Israel “the land of the Egyptians.”
Genesis 15 includes the description God gave Abraham. Numbers 34:1-12 includes the description God gave Moses after he led the Israelites out of Egypt, more than 400 years later, including landmarks and cities on its borders. The western and eastern borders are the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The southern border passes through the Negev, from south of the Dead Sea to the Wadi of Egypt. It’s significant the northern part of the Promised Land includes what today is southern Lebanon and a large part of modern Syria.
A third description appears in Ezekiel 47:15-20, but based on the context, it applies to the era after the Magog invasion (Ezek. 38-39), when Jesus returns to earth to rule from Jerusalem for 1000 years. Ezekiel 40 through 48 contains detailed descriptions of the new Temple, sacrifices, boundaries of the land, and division of the land among the twelve tribes of Israel after the Magog invasion. Therefore, we can conclude that description of the land is future, not relevant today.
The land God claimed as his own and promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was known as the Promised Land by the Israelites when they left Egypt. It included all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, from the area west of the Dead Sea to portions of Lebanon and Syria.
In other words, the Promised Land included what we call the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights; plus parts of Lebanon and Syria.
This means any Palestinian state west of the Jordan River officially divides what God calls his land. As quoted in Joel 3:2, God states that any nation involved in dividing his land will receive his judgment.
From a biblical perspective — that is, God’s perspective — all the land belongs to God and Israel.