Focus On Jerusalem


12 Keys to Understanding Israel in the Bible
By Clarence H. Wagner Jr.

12 Keys to Understanding Israel in the Bible

by Clarence H. Wagner Jr.


   God has much to say about His Covenant people and His Land, Israel. The Land of Israel is the only place on earth that God says He himself owns in terms of property ownership that can be transferred. (Of course, we know the whole world is His, yet this one parcel of land on the earth has a unique relationship to Him.) About Israel, He says, "The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine: for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me" (Leviticus 25:23). Exactly what does the Bible say about God's parcel of land, and who has a right to it?  

   When we come to the modern-day Israel-Palestine issue, people often ask the question, "Just what right do Israel and the Jewish people have to this land?" Arguments are continually brought forth concerning the rights of the Palestinians and the rights of the Israelis that seem logical to the people who present them. But a basic question still remains in my mind as I listen to the many conflicting viewpoints concerning this parcel of land: "Who has the ultimate authority to determine rights concerning this special piece of real estate?" The biblical answer to that question is that God alone determines the "rights" that any of us have. Something is right or wrong because of Divine decree, not human feeling or human reason.

   The existence of God previous to the creation of the universe and mankind gives Him the right to determine our "rights." Morality exists because God exists. Authority exists because God exists. And, Almighty God has already determined the rights of Israel and the Jewish people to the land that God owns and has deeded over to them. Let's look together at what He has to say about the Land of Israel, the people He chose to possess it, and why:


Key # 1:


   The Land of Canaan, renamed Israel by the Lord, was given by God to Abraham and his descendants as an everlasting possession. In Genesis 12:7a, we read: "The Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land.'" In Genesis 13:15, He repeated His promise when He said, "for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever." He said the same thing in Genesis 15:18, "To your descendants I have given this land."


Key # 2:


   The gift of this Land to Abraham and his descendants was based on an unconditional covenant from God Himself. Genesis 17:7-8 states: "And 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. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." The sign of that covenant for Abraham and his descendants was circumcision. Twice in this passage, God mentions the everlasting nature of this covenant. There are some today who say that this covenant was conditional, that it was based on Israel's faithfulness to God. The Bible teaches otherwise. In Psalm 89:30-37, we read: "If his sons forsake My law, and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate My statues, and do not keep My commandments, then I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off my loving kindness from him, nor deal falsely in my faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of my lips. Once I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful." Jeremiah 31:35-36 declares: "This is what the Lord says, 'He who appoints the sun to shine by day, Who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar, the Lord Almighty is His Name; Only if these ordinances vanish from My sight,' declares the Lord, 'will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before Me.'" We agree that God promised to judge His people if they disobeyed Him. That is true for all of us. However, we do not agree with those who say that Israel's disobedience would forfeit their gift of the land and their national status as a people. Deuteronomy 28 shows that God's pronouncement of blessing and cursing only affected the quality of life of the Israelites, which was conditional upon their faithfulness. However, the promise of the land was not based upon Israel's performance, but upon God's oath and character, and He will not lie. Deuteronomy 30 shows that before they even entered the Promised Land, He knew they would violate His statutes and be evicted in a future day. Yet it also declares that He would bring them back into the land He had given their forefathers.


Key # 3:


   The Land was given to Abraham and his descendants as part of God's redemptive blessing to the world. In Genesis 12:1-3, we read, "The Lord has said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Israel was located in the center of the ancient world, and all transportation and communication between the continents had to pass through this territory to reach the other. In doing so, the travelers, merchants and traders, and even the armies encountered the Children of Israel. They were chosen for three purposes: to worship God in this land and show the world the blessing of serving the one true God of the Universe; to receive, record and transmit the Word of God (through them we have our Bible); and finally, to be the human channel for the Messiah from whom we have our salvation. In order for God to protect His purposes for the Children of Israel in the Land of Israel, He promised to bless those who blessed Abraham and his descendants and curse him who cursed them.


Key # 4:


   This land was not given to the descendants of Ishmael (one ancestor of the Arab peoples), but rather to the descendants of Isaac. I have no bitterness toward the descendants of Ishmael, nor do I wish to be unkind to our Arab friends. However, I must be faithful to what I know the Bible teaches. Abraham himself considered Ishmael as a possible descendant to whom God would give this land. In Genesis 17:18, Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee." But God's answer was, and is, very clear. In Genesis 17:19, God answered Abraham, "No, but Sarah your wife shall 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." God promised to bless Ishmael and to make him a great nation: "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" (Genesis 17:20). However, the bloodline of the covenant promise concerning the Land would go through Isaac, not Ishmael: "...In Isaac your descendants shall be called" (Hebrews 11:18).


Key # 5:


   This Land was not given to the other sons of Abraham, but only to Isaac. After Sarah died, Abraham had six more sons by Keturah, as well as others by his concubines, who are ancestors of many of the Arab peoples today. However, the covenant of the Land was not for them: "Now Abraham gave all he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east" (Genesis 25:5-6). Note that Abraham even sent these sons away from the Land of Canaan.


Key # 6:


   This Land and covenant were given only to Isaac's son, Jacob, and his descendants, not Esau and his descendants. Jacob received the birthright from his father, Isaac. In Genesis 28:4, Isaac said to Jacob: "May He (God) also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you: that you may possess the land of your sojourning, which God gave to Abraham." But it wasn't simply the words of his father Isaac that guided the future of Jacob. It was a direct revelation from God Himself that convinced Jacob of his destiny. The Lord God revealed to Jacob His message about this land. In Genesis 28:13-15, we read: "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." According to Genesis 36:6-9, Esau took his descendants and all his possessions and went to another land away from his brother Jacob. Esau lived in the hill country of Seir. The Bible tells us that Esau is Edom. It specifically tells us that the descendants of Esau are the Edomites, and Israel was not their land. The book of Obadiah is a proclamation of doom upon the sons of Esau (Edom) for their constant persecution of the descendants of Jacob (Israel): "Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever" (Obadiah 1:10).


Key # 7:


   God told Israel to conquer the Land which He had given to them. In Deuteronomy 1:8, we read: "See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them." On the east side of the Jordan River as the Israelites were about to enter into the Promised land, the Lord said to Joshua: "Moses My servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them, to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert and from Lebanon to the great river, the Euphrates, all the Hittite country, and to the Great Sea on the west. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them" (Joshua 1:2-4,6). Joshua then told his people with these words: "This is how you will know that the living God is among you, and that He will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites"(Joshua 3:10). He then told them how the Lord would part the flood waters of the Jordan River so they could cross over to the other side. This is what happened and then the people knew that God was with them, and they conquered the land, region by region, starting with Jericho. The reality of conflict over the land of Israel is nothing new and in no way indicates that God is not with the Jewish people concerning the land issue today. I have heard Christians say that Israel today could not be part of God's plan, because there is so much war and strife that it can't be of God. However, since when has it been any different? All through the Older Testament, nations rose up to fight against the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham, in the Land of Israel. From the moment Joshua brought the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, it was a fight to possess the Land. King David was seemingly at constant war with his neighbors, the Philistines. Why should it be surprising that conflict is still happening today? The enemies of God have always fought against His plans. The prophet Zechariah makes it quite clear that at the end of days, God Himself will make Jerusalem a stumbling block for the nations and will judge them by whether or not they understand and support God's plans for Jerusalem and Israel. If they do, they will be blessed; if they don't, they will be destroyed: "I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. On that day, I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem" (Zechariah 12:1-2,9).


Key # 8:


   Israel's sin and subsequent exile from the Land did not change their divine right to this Land given to them by the Lord in covenant. Many people have said that God's promise to give Israel this land was based upon Israel's faithfulness to God's laws, and that when they were disobedient and sent into captivity, this nullified God's promise. The Bible teaches otherwise. In Leviticus 26:40-45, we read that God would punish Israel for its disobedience and send them into captivity. But, according to verses 44-45, God will bring them back: "Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord." In Deuteronomy 30:3-5, God promises: "Then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. And the Lord; your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers." Amos 9:14-15 thunders forth these remarkable words: "'Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,' says the Lord your God." Some opponents to Israel's right to the land say that these verses were fulfilled when the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian captivity. However, we know that there were other exiles and ingatherings, as well. Yet, Amos speaks of a return to their ancient homeland, Israel, once and for all, when he says, "'and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,' says the Lord your God" (Amos 9:15). That has never happened in history and many believe that this return to Israel is that final return that will culminate in the coming of Messiah.


Key # 9:


   The name of this Land is not Palestine, but Israel. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the prophet Ezekiel spoke of the restoration of Israel to its land in the last days. Ezekiel spoke of dry bones coming to life. Never before in history has a nation been destroyed and scattered all over the world, and then been brought back to life. It is a miracle and a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. We read in Ezekiel 37:11-12: "Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, 'thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.'" Notice that the name of that land is Israel, the land that so often is called the "land of Canaan" in the Bible. God says that in the last days it will be called Israel. The name, Palestine, was a regional name that was imposed on the area by the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, who suppressed the Second Jewish Revolt in AD 135. He was so angry with the Jews that he wanted to humiliate them and emphasize that the Jewish nation had lost its right to a homeland under Roman rule. The name Palaestina was originally an adjective derived from Philistia, the arch-enemies of the Israelites 1000 years earlier. Hadrian also changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina after his own family name, Aelia. He also forbade Jews from entering the city, except on the 9th of the Hebrew month, Av, to mourn its destruction. Since he was considered a god in the Roman Empire, this was his attempt to break God's covenant between the Jewish people and their land. This effectively declared his pagan authority over Jerusalem, which had been the place of the presence of the God of Israel. To this day, the name Palestine flies in the face of Israel and the entire issue can be boiled down to a religious (spiritual) battle over a land whose fate will be decided by the God of the Bible, since it is His land (Leviticus 25:23). Yeshua (Jesus), in describing the signs of the end of the age, said: "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24b). From the time of Hadrian until 1967, Jerusalem was controlled by Gentiles. It is now back in the hands of the Jewish people, which is one sign that Messiah is soon to come to Zion.


Key # 10:


   The stranger (those outside the Covenant) will live among you and be treated with respect. "They (God's covenant people) will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated: they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. The stranger will shepherd your flock; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards" (Isaiah 61:4,5). "If you (Israel) really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your forefathers for ever and ever" (Jeremiah 7:5-7). The "alien" or "foreigner" in these verses would include the Palestinian Arabs and other non-Jewish people who live in the land. They would receive a blessing by living and working in the Land of Israel, not the Land of Palestine. On the one hand, Israel should treat them with respect. On the other hand, they have the responsibility to live at peace, abiding by the laws of the Land, recognizing under whose sovereignty it belongs. This is what Moses taught: "The community (of Israel) is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord; the same laws and regulations will apply to you and to the alien living among you"(Numbers 15:15,16). When this relationship is broken, as has happened today, then crisis ensues. Scripture has much more to say about the Land in prophecy, including the fact that Israel will go through many more trials before Messiah comes to fully restore Israel as the head of all nations.


Key # 11:


   The return of the Jewish people at the end of days will be initiated by God, and their return will signal the restoration of a barren and broken land. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God's plan to bring His people back to Israel, saying: "He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel, He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12). When the Jews began to return from the nations of the world at the end of the last century, the land was barren and sparsely inhabited. In the 1860s, the author, Mark Twain, traveled in what was then a backward region of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, called Palestine and described the land, thusly: "Nowhere in all the waste around was there a foot of shade." He called the land a "blistering, naked, treeless land." Of the Galilee, he said, "There is no dew, nor flowers, nor birds, nor trees. There is a plain and an unshaded lake, and beyond them some barren mountains." His summary of Palestine: "Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land." This description matches the Ezekiel's prophecy of the "barren mountains of Israel" in Ezekiel 36:1-7. However, Ezekiel goes on to say, "But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for My people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of men and animals upon you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then, you will know that I am the Lord. I will cause people, My people Israel, to walk upon you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children" (Ezekiel 36: 8-12). Truly, the return of the Jews from over 100 nations of the world is a modern-day miracle. Large waves of immigrants began to come in the 1880s. Since those early days, the deserts have been reforested, the rocky fields made fertile, the swamps drained and planted, the ancient terraces rebuilt, and the ruined cities of old re-established. Israel is now a nation of over six million people that is a food exporting nation that boasts high levels of literacy, health, education and welfare, high technology and agricultural development.


Key #12:


   The nations will be part of the return of the people and the restoration of the land. The prophet Isaiah of Israel said: "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your sons from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honor of the Lord your God. Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations. For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined" (Isaiah 60:1,9-12). In Romans 11:11-14, Paul teaches us Christians that we are grafted into the olive tree, which are the covenants, promises and hopes of Israel. We do not hold up the tree, but it holds us up, so we should not boast against His people, Israel. In verse 28, he tells us that they are beloved for the sake of the patriarchs. Without the faithfulness of the Jewish people in Israel, we would not have our example, our Bible, our Yeshua or our salvation. Therefore, he concludes that "by our mercy, they will receive [God's] mercy." (Romans 11:31).


   Paul teaches us Christians that we have a debt to pay to the Jewish people, by blessing them in tangible ways. Romans 15:27 clearly states: "For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings." How much more direct can God be regarding our Christian relationship to Israel and the Jewish people.

   What Does This Mean To Us? The day of Israel's full restoration is near. The Messiah will make it possible and we shall all live in peace. Until He comes, we, who believe the Bible to be God's Word and that every promise of God will come to pass, must stand and support Israel's right to its land. It is a Divine right. We are patient with those who do not believe the Bible, nor accept Israel's right to the land. Yet, with love for all, we must strongly support Israel's right. We cannot do otherwise and have clear consciences. We cannot say on the one hand that we believe there is a God Who has revealed His perfect will in His Holy Scriptures, and on the other hand, deny Israel its right to the land God promised to her.


    Our commitment to Israel was penned by the Psalmist so long ago in Psalm 102:13: "You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come." This is that day. Again the Psalmist exhorts us: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces. For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, 'May peace be within you.' For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good" (Psalm 122; 6-9).

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