What Does the Bible Really Say About the Land?
(Previously published as "Ownership and Occupation."
This article has been published as an expanded, updated booklet)
© March 2006 by Asher Intrater
PART ONE: COVENANT and CONQUEST
Many conflicts in the world today are connected to the question of ownership and occupation of the Land of Israel. Here is an effort to give a balanced summary of the basic Biblical issues on the subject from a Messianic Jewish perspective.
God cut a covenant with Abraham which started the plan of redemption. That plan included not only personal salvation through the sacrifice of the Messiah, but also the creation of the nation of Israel and ultimately the restoration of planet earth. God told him to go ("Lech L'cha") to a special place that He would show him (Genesis 12:1). Through this covenant God gives to Abraham unconditional ownership of the land of Canaan (Israel). God repeats this covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob seven times throughout the book of Genesis: Genesis 12:7, 13:18, 15:18, 17:8, 26:3, 28:13, 35:12.
The Biblical position is clear and unequivocal on this topic. Both Western humanism, which denies divine covenant over the Holy Land, and Islamic fundamentalism, which claims the land belongs to the followers of Muhammad, stand in direct defiance of the Word of God.
Note: Islamic terrorist organizations know that Israel does not want war and would make peace if there was only a cessation of the terrorist attacks. Why do they not stop? Because they believe that all the Land of Palestine/Israel must belong to Islam. Their incorrect beliefs concerning ownership of the Land have led them into thinking that their criminal acts of terrorism are justified. (Proverbs 29:12 - "When a ruler listens to a lie, all his servants become wicked.") From a Biblical viewpoint, the Israelis are not "occupying" Palestinian territory, but rather the Muslim world has demanded ownership and occupation of land that God gave by divine covenant to the people of Israel. There are 22 Islamic nations surrounding Israel in the Middle East. There is only one for Israel and the Jewish people.
The ownership of the Land to Abraham and his sons through Isaac is an absolute, irreversible covenant. This covenant is the first step of restoring possession of the planet to the human race, which was lost by Adam. Although Abraham is given the land by covenant, the possession of the Land is not immediate.
- When his men and Lot's have an argument, Abraham tells Lot to choose whichever part he desires (Genesis 13:9).
Note: Both Jacob and Joseph asked for their bones to be buried back in the land of Canaan. This prophetic act reflects their faith in the covenant promise that all the land would be restored to the people of Israel at the time of the resurrection and the Messianic kingdom.
Moses and Joshua
However, immediately after Moses came the time of the great conquest of the Land under Joshua ben Nun. Here we find that God's kingdom promises finally coincided with His prophetic timing. The occupation came together with the ownership; the conquest came together with the covenant.
One of the key factors that made a difference in this case was the submission of Joshua to the Angel of the LORD, the Commander of the Armies of Heaven. This Divine Messenger is the figure of the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) in His pre-incarnation form. (I refer to this as the meeting between big "J" and little "J.")
Notice the "non-partisan" response of the YHVH Angel - "No." The question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on His side. Once the submission of Joshua is affirmed, the YHVH Angel leads the armies of Israel to a military campaign that annihilates the sinful Canaanites and takes their land. (As far as we know, there are no descendants remaining of those six original Canaanite tribes.)
The submission of the head of the government and army of Israel to this Divine Messenger is of great significance as we try to understand God's plan for the ultimate possession of the Land. Full conquest is connected to the Messianic Kingdom, and the Messianic Kingdom is connected to the Messianic King.
This is the same Angel of the LORD that was promised by God through Moses to lead the children of Israel to conquer the Land of Canaan (Exodus 23:23). It is through Him that Israel will possess and dwell in the land. This same Angel will lead them to conquer in stages, little by little (Exodus 23:30). Realizing that the Angel of YHVH was a figure of the pre-incarnate Messiah allows us to see the connection between the preaching of the gospel and the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
When the leader and the people submitted to the Divine Messenger, they ended up conquering more land. When the people turned away in sin, God would reduce the territory occupied through military defeats. However, the increase or decrease of territory occupation never changed the covenant ownership of the Land. Ownership is absolute; occupation is relative.
It was God Himself who took responsibility for reducing the degree of conquest through the military defeats. He saw it as a punishment of sin. Compare for example the defeat of the children of Israel at Ai, because of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:10ff). As soon as the sin was taken care of, conquest resumed. The mandate for covenant and conquest were never even slightly questioned by God.
God did often use evil peoples (even idol or demon-worshiping pagans) as the enemies of Israel to bring about the reduction of conquest. However the use of pagans as instruments of punishment never constituted divine approval of those people. In the end they would be punished even MORE for their part in attacking Israel. Ownership is unconditional; occupation is conditional.
David and Saul
Note: Any efforts to conquer the Land must be submitted to the rightly ordained governing authority under the rightly appointed governing ruler and executed at the rightly discerned timing. At Hormah, the people rebelled against Moses first by saying they would not fight against the Amalekites when he told them to; then they rebelled again by deciding to go up and fight when Moses told them not to (Numbers 14:40).
Not discerning the right governing authority, lagging behind the right governing authority, or running ahead of the right governing authority, are all forms of latent rebellion. This lack of submission to government can cause great problems when dealing with the ownership and occupation of the Holy Land. (Of course the same spiritual principles apply in our personal lives as well.)
David, after Joshua, is the second example of the full conquest of the land. As David is an image of the Messiah, his conquest also represents the hope of the fulfillment of all the land promises in the coming Millennial kingdom or Messianic age. David and Solomon's kingdom is an example of the future reign of Yeshua on earth. Yeshua will restore David's kingdom, and much more, at His Second Coming.
Note: The root word for the Land of Canaan, K'na'ah in Hebrew, means "submission, humbling, yielding." The word Palestinian is a modern transliteration of the Biblical word Philistine or Pelishtim. There is a play on words in the Hebrew root, Polesh, meaning "invade, attack, intrude some one else's territory."
The Divided Kingdom
The division of the Land was decreed by God (I Kings 11:11) and confirmed through the prophecies of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam (I Kings 11:31) and of Shemaiah to Rehoboam. Contrary to all nationalist expectations, the later prophecy said that the division of the Land in two was of God, "This thing is from Me." - I Kings 12:24. This division was worse than economic and military problems, but better than full exile.
Later the division was worsened, when the Assyrians invaded Israel. Then control of the northern kingdom of Israel was lost completely to a foreign power. Although God used foreign nations as a tool of punishment to Israel for her sin, God punished those nations afterwards for having attacked His Land and His people. For example, God used Assyria to punish Israel; then He punished Assyria (Isaiah 10). Throughout the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the pattern was the same: more godly government, more land conquered; less godly government, less land conquered.
Conquering more land for Israel from its neighbors was always seen as a blessing from God. Sometimes the prophets urged Israel strongly to conquer more land - as in the case of Elijah becoming angry with the king of Israel that he was only willing to strike the ground with his arrows three times (attack the Syrians three times) instead of five or six times (which would have destroyed the Syrians in battle) - II Kings 13:17-19.
On the other hand, when Israel was not righteous before God, He ordained for the borders to be trimmed back, as in the case of the reign of Jehu: "In those days the LORD began to cut back parts of Israel; and Hazael conquered them in all the territory of Israel" - II Kings 10:32. In either case the foreign nation was not considered more righteous, and the fact that they took part of Israel's land was an even greater sin than the sin of Israel that caused them to lose it.
The fact that Israel is more or less righteous during its history, NEVER justifies another nation coming in to take their land. Woe to the nation that touches the "apple of His eye" - Zechariah 2:8!
Throughout the history of Judah and Israel, the prophets called the people to moral repentance. Their primary role was not to encourage nationalist zeal, but to deal with the spiritual roots of the problem. As Yeshua said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added unto you." - Matthew 6:33. The conquest of the land was seen as the natural outcome of being in right spiritual order with God. (That's why we believe that prayer, repentance and the gospel [along with serving in the army] will ultimately help Israel fulfill her kingdom destiny from God.)
Judean King Jehoshaphat once considered going to war in allegiance with sinful Israelite King Ahab. All the prophets, except one, promised a national military victory. Micaiah, however, said that although he personally desired for the armies to conquer (I Kings 22:15), God had not given His approval. This same Jehoshaphat, on another occasion, received a prophecy from Jahaziel ben Zechariah, which did promise military victory, by the supernatural intervention of the Lord (II Chronicles 20:14).
Prophecy, Gospel and the Kingdom
Today the gospel is the continuance of the message of the prophets (Revelation 19:10). The prophetic message of the gospel leads to military victory (Revelation 19:11). Yeshua's disciples approached Him and asked if He would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). They had in mind the national restoration of David and Solomon's kingdom (Micah 4:8), and all its military victories along with it. Yeshua told them that first they had to be filled with the Holy Spirit and share the gospel around the world (Acts 1:8). When that gospel mandate nears completion, the full restoration of Israel will also be close at hand.
Note: When Messianic Jews or Christian Zionists neglect sharing the gospel, they sometimes place an overemphasis on the nationalist political agenda. Believers are certainly allowed to hold views against the government in good conscience, but when the politics (either left wing or right wing) overrides the gospel message, then priorities and discernment become imbalanced.
Note: The Torah teaches that peace negotiations must be carried out before military actions - Deuteronomy 20:10. (However, it should also be noted that the command of the Torah to offer peace before war takes place in the context of the divine mandate for the people of Israel to conquer militarily all the land of Canaan.) Interestingly, in the history of modern Israel, sometimes when the left wing group is in power, the peace attempts fail, war breaks out and the borders are increased ('48, '67, '73). And sometimes when the right wing is in power, the strong security stance allows for peace negotiations and/or land withdrawal (Begin with the Sinai, Netanyahu with Hebron, and Sharon with Gaza).
Jeremiah and the Exile
Although Jeremiah prophesied about the exile, he also emphasized that the covenant ownership of the Land was unbreakable, and that it would one day be restored (Jeremiah 31:36-40; 32:37-44; 33:10-18). That is why God told Jeremiah to buy property in the Land, even while the Babylonians were conquering Israel (Jeremiah 32:14-15). Jeremiah's buying land during the Babylonian exile was an act of covenant faith like Abraham buying the cave at Machpelah.
Had the people repented, God would have cancelled the punishment of the exile. The people needed only to agree to have:
The prophets of Israel, and the apostles of Yeshua alike, demanded a balance between loyalty to the calling of Israel and recognizing the destiny of the Gentile nations as well. This explains why Jonah fled from God. Jonah was a "conquest-nationalist" type prophet. (See his prophecy in II Kings 14:25 to expand the borders of Israel.)
Then God gave him a word for Nineveh, capital of Assyria (i.e. for Gentiles). Jonah understood that if God gave him a mission to the Gentiles, then God was planning to bless them and bring them into their kingdom destiny and dominion. However, Jonah was only interested in his calling to Israel. He didn't want a mission to the Gentiles.
Ultimately, Jonah did preach the gospel to Assyria. They did repent. And God did give them kingdom dominion. Over the two to three generations after Jonah's revival, Assyria conquered the entire known world (including Israel).
In the time of Jeremiah, the religious nationalist zealots opposed God's will. They murdered Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:2) the appointed Governor and put Jeremiah in jail (Jeremiah 37:13).
In the generation of the exile, God gave King Nebuchadnezzar dominion over the whole known world. He was an image of King Messiah, in the sense that he represented God's governing authority (Jeremiah 27:6 - "I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant.")
The same was true of King Cyrus of Persia in the generation of the return from the exile, who is even directly referred to as a Messiah. (Isaiah 45:1 - "Thus says the Lord to His anointed [Messiah], to Cyrus to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings.") Spiritual renewal, national redemption, and kingdom restoration are dependent on submitting to God's appointed and anointed authority in each generation.
Ladder of Exile and Redemption
In our generation God is restoring the nation of Israel. In so doing, He reverses the process of the exile. Restoration (or national redemption) is the opposite of exile. (Note: The Hebrew word for exile is galut and for redemption is geulah, parallel concepts which sound similar in Hebrew.)
Therefore the process of restoration has the same four stages in reverse:
Here is how that restoration ladder has been partially fulfilled in the last century:
In this context we would expect increasing land, military, political, and economic expansion for Israel in our generation.
Millennial Kingdom and Restoration
It is important to see the connection between the Second Coming of Yeshua and the ultimate restoration of the nation of Israel. If not, the Christian side will miss the importance of the restoration of Israel in our day, and the Jewish side will miss the Messianic part of the coming of the kingdom.
Yeshua will come again. He came first as a suffering servant (Messiah son of Joseph, in rabbinic terminology) and will come again as a conquering king (Messiah son of David, in rabbinic terminology). Yeshua did not fulfill all the prophecies about the Messiah. He fulfilled half of them. He fulfilled the prophetic and priestly functions at His first coming, and will fulfill the kingly functions at His second coming.
Note: This is also a key factor in evangelism, particularly to Jewish people. They do not understand why Yeshua had to be crucified. "If you are Messiah come down off the cross (conquer the Romans, bring world peace), and then we will believe in you."- Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:37.
God's covenant promises to Abraham concerning the land, to Moses concerning the priesthood, to David concerning the Israelite kingdom, and to the prophets concerning world peace - will all be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom immediately after the Second Coming. God desires to see as much of the restoration of the kingdom as possible in this age, but the final and total fulfillment only occurs after Yeshua returns.
PART TWO: EXILE and REDEMPTION
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