SUNDAY POST: The Land Belongs to Israel

The Land Belongs to Israel

by Wil Pounds

A question that has confronted mankind for centuries is: To whom does the land of Palestine belong?

Does it belong to the Arabs who lived there for generations? Does the land belong to the ancient descendants of Abraham and the chosen people of Israel? To whom did God make the promise, and who were the first people to enter the land? If people were driven out of the land by enemies, does that disqualify them from occupying their land again?

These are not just questions for politicians to ponder, but something every Bible-believing person must consider.

What does the Bible teach regarding the land of Palestine and the chosen people of God? To whom does the land belong? Why?

Who owns the land? From the time of creation there is one owner. The land belongs to the LORD God (JHVH “Jehovah”) Himself. Therefore, He can give it to whomever He pleases.

God created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was very good. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and sin entered into mankind. From then on mankind made the wrong choices based upon wrong belief. Human depravity grew worse until God destroyed the earth by the great deluge. The exception was the preacher of righteousness, Noah, and his family. Even after the flood and a new humanity, mankind was still radically depraved.

The LORD God’s Covenant Promises to Abraham

The history of Israel began with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. God in His saving grace chose one man from the pagan idolaters in the city of Ur, land of the Chaldeans. His father died an idolater (Joshua 24:2). God separated Abraham to Himself and blessed him. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed'” (Genesis 12:1-3, NASB95). All Scripture take from New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update unless otherwise noted.

God chose Abraham and blessed him. Included in this blessing of God to Abraham is the Promised Land. “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him” (Genesis 12:7).

In the next chapter, the LORD gave Abraham the dimensions of the Promised Land. “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever'” (Genesis 13:14-15).

The promise was renewed repeatedly to Abraham, and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob, in the chapters that follow in Genesis. The land belongs to Abraham and his son Isaac and his descendants forever. God demonstrated Himself in faith to Abraham, and he took God at His word and trusted Him to do what He said He would do.

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.’ Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’ Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it'” (Genesis 15:1-7).

God entered into a covenant with Abraham. Abraham believed God. “For what does the Scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness'” (Romans 4:3). Abraham was declared righteous by faith. In the same way, we are declared righteous before God the Father when we place our faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

God entered a covenant with Abraham sealed by a blood covenant. The interesting thing about this covenant God entered with Abraham is that it is one sided. God cut the covenant with Abraham. Abraham slew the animals and laid them before God, and God caused Abraham to fall into a deep sleep. Abraham did not participate in the ritual personally. He could only observe the cutting of the covenant. “It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates'” (Genesis 15:17-18).  The burning lamp symbolized the Shekinah glory of God. God was solely responsible for this covenant with Abraham. It is one sided. God was binding Himself by a blood covenant to fulfill the covenant promise with Abraham. It was not a conditional promise.

The promise was repeated, not in regard to Ishmael the son of Abraham and Hagar the Egyptian maid, but to Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7-8). It is “an everlasting possession” (olam) meaning “in perpetuity,” continuance as long as this earth should last. This is the strongest expression for eternity in the Hebrew language.

Abraham asked the question about Ishmael being the son of the promise. “Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!” (Gen. 17:18) God makes the promise extremely clear to Abraham in Genesis 17:19. God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Gen. 17:19).

The land in the covenant stretched from the Nile River to the Euphrates River and from the Persian peninsula to Asia Minor. It is very clear from this covenant-promise that to Abraham, and his descendants through Isaac, the land of Palestine belongs to Israel forever.

Does the State of Israel currently possess all of the Promised Land? No. They share only a limited amount of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-7; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 22:15-18). Down through the centuries, the land has passed back and forth from God’s Chosen People to their enemies. Abraham’s descendants spent 400 years in Egypt and became slaves. God delivered His chosen people from Egyptians slavery and redeemed them by the Passover lamb. As a nation they became His people, again fulfilling the promises to Abraham when God said: “I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you” (Genesis 17:6). In Genesis 25;27 the promise is further refined to the descendants of Isaac through his son Jacob, not Esau (Exodus 3:15).

After 400 years, did the land still belong to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob? Yes. Deuteronomy 28 tells us that God will punish His people for disobedience. “Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known” (Deuteronomy 28:64).

The books of Kings and Chronicles tell us the tragic story of idolatry and disobedience. Did God forsake His sinful people? No. He was faithful because He is determined to fulfill His eternal purposes through His chosen people. Israel was exiled to Assyria and Babylon because of her unfaithfulness to the LORD God. God brought them back into the land after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. This was in keeping of the promise in Jeremiah 29:10. “For thus says the Lord, When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

Israel was treated cruelly under the Romans who carried off hundreds of thousands of Jews into slavery. Jesus was ultimately crucified by the Romans.

  • What about the rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah?
  • How does that affect the choice of Israel as the Chosen People?
  • What is the status of Israel now?
  • Did the church replace Israel as the chosen people?

God is sovereign and He is able to make promises and keep then regardless of sinful man. Every one of us who are saved by grace understands that He is faithful even when we are not. Some interpreters seem to have double standards when it comes to Israel. Israel disobeyed and was punished. We disobey and we, too, are chastised. However, God is faithful to His promises.

The apostle John says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).

Just before His death, Jesus made this prophecy regarding Jerusalem and Israel in Luke 21:20-24. Jesus said: “they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

He makes clear predictions about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple that literally came true just as He said. Once again, the people of Israel were removed from the land and dispersed all over the earth as a punishment for their sins.

The Roman general Titus encircled the city of Jerusalem with troops and put the city under siege beginning A. D. 68. Jerusalem was destroyed A.D. 70, and again in A.D. 132-35. Emperor Vespasian completely destroyed and plundered the Temple and slew tens of thousands of Jews. The weak and aged were killed without exception. The remainder was carried off to Rome. Not a single Jew was left in the city. For many years, Jewish people were not allowed to live in Jerusalem or even its surroundings. Once every seven years and only on one day (Tisha B’Av) they were allowed to go to the hill and mourn in the vicinity of the city.

In A.D. 132 the pseudo Messiah, bar Coshiba, led another insurrection and was destroyed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian who made Jerusalem a permanently pagan city and named it Aelia Capitolina with a pagan shrine on the Temple mount. It was changed to pseudo-Christian under Constantine. Then in A.D. 637, it was taken over by the Muslims under Omar.

Finally, in 1948, it became Jewish once again. The punishment of the Jews has a limit. The “time” is probably until the end of the present age of the Gentiles when Christ will come with divine majesty and power. At that point, the Great Tribulation will begin.

The important thing to observe is Israel never has been under its own Davidic king since the city was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. until the present time. There was a hundred-year streak of independence under the Maccabees, but they did not have a descendant of David as king. They lived in the land, but no descendant of David was on the throne. However, Israel’s national entity was never lost as a result of the dispersion. “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: if this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the Lord, Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever” (Jeremiah 31:35-36).

Their chastisement will continue until the LORD regathers His people into their own land and causes them to see His glory. From A.D. 135 until the present time, the nation Israel has been dispersed all over the world.

The modern Jewish people are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel has continued as a nation, and is in existence today by the mighty hand of the LORD God. The covenant is an everlasting covenant, and the land is promised to Israel as an everlasting possession.