Relevance of Israel: the Land
Summary: God claims the land of Israel as his own and he gave it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a gift, an everlasting inheritance.
While much of the debate today is whether the nation of Israel has a right to exist, an equally important and related issue is what land it has the right to occupy. In this article, we’ll examine what the Bible says about the land and whether that relates to the end times.
Before we examine the biblical definition of the land in question, it might be helpful to consider the right of ownership. This will resolve some issues that might arise when we consider the boundaries of the land.
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 are but aliens and my tenants.” (Lev 25:23)
God stated that the land was his, not Israel’s. The Israelis 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 Ki 17:22-23)
The passage states that God removed the people from his presence, yet the second part of the same verse states the people were taken from their homeland. That is, their homeland was equivalent to God’s presence.
The Lord Almighty has sworn,
“Surely, as I have planned,
so it will be,
and as I have purposed,
so it will stand.
I will crush the Assyrian in my land;
on my mountains I will trample him down.
His yoke will be taken from my people,
and his burden removed from their shoulders.” (Isa 14:24-25)
According to this passage, God identified the land and the mountains as belonging to him. They’re all his.
“This is what the Lord says: . . .
I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.” (Jer 2:5, 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’ll see the same literary style used to make the same comparison in the next verse.
“I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols.” (Jer 16:18)
First he states they “defiled my land with . . . lifeless forms” then they “filled my inheritance with their detestable idols.” As in the previous passage, God refers to his land as his inheritance.
“In days to come, O 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 end times, the land will still be his.
Before we consider a very important passage in the Book of Joel, let’s confirm the passage is relevant to the end times. The first verse of Joel clearly states that the text is the word of the Lord, followed by the following verses.
A nation has invaded my land,
powerful and without number;
it has the teeth of a lion,
the fangs of a lioness.
It has laid waste my vines
and ruined my fig trees. (Joel 1:6-7)
Notice the Lord states the land is his, as are the vines and fig trees on it. Even the crops the land produces are his.
I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will enter into judgment against them
concerning my inheritance, my people Israel,
for they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land. (Joel 3:2)
Why will God bring judgment against all the nations? Because they scattered his people among the nations and divided up his land. The Valley of Jehoshaphat is the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem, so the reference to bringing “all nations” into the Kidron Valley seems to describe what we normally call the battle of Armageddon. The context is the day of the Lord (2:31; 3:14), so this clearly applies to the end times and pronounces judgment for dividing up God’s land.
As of this writing (May 2011), the western nations (especially Europe and the United States) 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. The Palestinian Authority has announced it intends to declare a sovereign Palestinian state before the U.N. General Assembly in September 2011. There is almost universal support in the 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 will 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 participate in dividing his land. Not only can we expect God’s judgment on America for pressuring Israel to give up land, the harder we push Israel, the more severe that judgment on America is likely to be.
“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, 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 later 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. 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, not Ishmael. 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, in addition to Ishmael and Isaac, but they weren’t covered by God’s covenant and therefore had no claim to the land.
“Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. . . . 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 25:1-2, 5-6)
Years later, God confirmed the covenant and blessing of the land with Isaac’s son, Jacob (known later as Israel):
“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 or Israel have any legal claim to the land.
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 am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and 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.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. . . . 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.’” (Eze 36:22, 24
According to this passage, 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, but that point is stated very clearly about Israel in this passage. God promised he would return the Jews to the land, so he is doing it simply because he said he would.
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 or Abraham’s other sons. In both the Old Testament and the end times, God considers the land his own and the Jews his people. Does this mean God’s favor is on the land of Israel? Yes! Will the nations that impose a two-state solution on Israel experience the consequences? Yes!
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 river 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 was primarily 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 Amorites and Rephaites. That portion of land would not be included in the “promised land” (Num 34, below), 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 “river of Egypt.” 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 the length of the Euphrates. But if “the river of Egypt” referred to the Nile, then the Euphrates would hardly be considered “the great river” by comparison. Traditionally, the “river of Egypt” is a small stream on the boundary between Israel and the Sinai Peninsula; the Wadi Al-Arish, which empties into the Mediterranean south of Gaza. As further evidence this doesn’t refer to the Nile, Genesis 15 doesn’t include “the land of the Egyptians.”
Genesis 15 includes the description God gave Abraham. The following passage includes the description God gave Moses after he led the Israelites out of Egypt, more than 400 years later.
The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance will have these boundaries:
“‘Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. On the east, your southern boundary will start from the end of the Salt Sea, cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Sea.
“‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Great Sea. This will be your boundary on the west.
“‘For your northern boundary, run a line from the Great Sea to Mount Hor and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary will go to Zedad, continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north.
“‘For your eastern boundary, run a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham. The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Kinnereth. Then the boundary will go down along the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea.
“‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.’” (Num 34:1-12)
This describes the Promised Land God gave the Israelites and identifies the landmarks and cities along its borders. This is the land God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as an everlasting inheritance for their descendants. Notice verse 5 states the southern boundary follows “the Wadi of Egypt” and ends at the Sea; the Mediterranean Sea. 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 this 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 also was known as the Promised Land by the Israelites when they left Egypt. As we have seen, it included all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, from the area west of the Dead Sea in the south to portions of Lebanon and Syria in the north.
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 that any designation of a 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, from God’s perspective — all the land belongs to God and Israel.