Ownership and Occupation
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.
Abraham cut a covenant with God, which started the process of the restoration of Israel. 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, 13:17, 15:17, 17:8, 26:3, 28:13, 35:12.
Since the Biblical position is so clear on this topic, Western humanism which denies divine covenant over the Holy Land, and Islamic fundamentalism which claims the land belongs to the followers of Muhammed, both stand in defiance of the Word of God.
Note: Islamic terrorist organizations know that Israel does not want war and would make peace if there were 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 a policy of terrorism. (Proverbs 29:12 - "When a ruler listens to a lie, all his servants become wicked.")
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, he and his sons make no great effort to conquer it.
- 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. The submission of the head of the government and army of Israel to this Divine Messenger is of enormous 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.Judges
Throughout the book of Judges, the divinely chosen judge would often submit to this Angel of YHVH before conquest and expansion of territory.
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 14:40ff).
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." Both the words, Palestinian and Philistine, come from the same root word in Hebrew, Polesh, meaning, "invade, attack, enter into 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.
Throughout the history of Judah and Israel, the prophets called the people to moral repentance. Their primary role was not to encourage nationalist religious 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.
Note: The Torah teaches that peace negotiations must be carried out before military actions (Deuteronomy 20:10). 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 that 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:
Millennial Kingdom and Restoration
Yeshua will come again. He came first as a suffering servant (Messiah Ben Yoseph, in rabbinic terminology) and will come again as a conquering king (Messiah Ben 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
Zechariah 1:14-15: I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great zeal. I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease; for I was a little angry, and they helped - but with evil intent.
According to this verse, God is angrier at the nations over their persecution of the Jews than He is over the reasons for the exile (the Babylonian Exile, at least). He is more zealous to restore Zion, than He was to punish her. However, anti-Semitism is not the only reason. If you are a Gentile and are reading this, it is the primary reason from your side of the sin. However, if you are a Jew, like me, then the primary reason for us is our own sin. Exile in scripture is always a punishment for sin.
When we deal with the root cause of the exile (our pride, unbelief, stubbornness, religiosity, and rejection of the Messiah), then we will be able to arrive at the full restoration from that exile. Then the kingdom will be restored to Israel; there will be peace on earth and even resurrection from the dead (Romans 11:15).
It is God's will to proceed as much as possible toward kingdom restoration (both spiritually and materially), even though we know that the full and perfect restoration will not take place until Yeshua returns. That is why we pray, "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" - Matthew 6:10.
This includes the land of Israel. It is God's will for as much as possible to be restored before Yeshua returns, even though we know it will not fully happen until he does return. In the dispensations of God's plan, we are not in the season of exile now, but in the time of restoration. (Scripturally, we are in a season more like Nehemiah's than Jeremiah's.) Ultimately all the national aspirations of the people of Israel will be fulfilled through Yeshua, their Messianic King.
Secular and Religious Errors
Note: Of course, when dealing with such sensitive and complex issues as Jewish history or the Holocaust, any sweeping conclusions are by necessity grotesque oversimplifications. Yet with fear of the Lord and recognizing the inherent impossibility of proving such statements, I would still like to state some observations and perceptions.
The Zionist movement started more than fifty years before the Holocaust. I believe this was a prophetic call from God for the Jewish people to leave Europe and go either to America or Israel. There was a tendency in secular Western Europe, because of comfort and complacency, to stay where they were and ignore the warnings. In Eastern Europe (where most of my family came from), the people were mostly religious. The tendency of the religious Jews was to reject the Zionist message because it did not fit their traditional view of the Messiah. As a result of either false humanism or religiosity, millions of Jews were left to be slaughtered.
The same pattern took place through the early years of the State of Israel. Many ultra-Orthodox religious Jews opposed the State of Israel, claiming that it was not religious enough or that they could not come back until the Messiah came; while humanistic Jews in Western countries tried to ignore or even oppose the struggles of the State of Israel to exist, not wanting to disturb their comfortable lifestyle.
Over the few decades since the recapture of Jerusalem in 1967, a transition took place in the secular and religious viewpoints within Israel. Many of the secular Jews moved to the Left, believing in an illusory peace agreement which would come through land concessions; while many of the religious have tended to move to the Right, combining zealotry with political ambition.
In the last few years, another change has taken place, in which a new centralist mainstream has emerged, with a more pragmatic approach, after having been disillusioned by the failures of both the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the "occupation" or "settlement" measures in the territories.
Biblical Models of Exile and Restoration
At the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and 135 AD, there was a strong faction of religious nationalist zealots who fought against the Romans and ultimately caused much more harm and damage. (This is the viewpoint of Josephus, the great Jewish historian, whose writings comprise the primary historical documents available of that period.) Yeshua warned His disciples not to take part in the rebellion against Rome, by saying, "Put your sword in its place, for those who take up the sword will perish by the sword" - Matthew 26:52.
The Romans crucified Yeshua because of their fear that He was leading a Jewish rebellion to overthrow Caesar (John 11:48, 19:12-13). However, His revolution was more spiritual than political. While ultimately demanding the submission of all the governments of this world to His kingly authority, the movement of His followers is not in the first place one of religious nationalism (see John 18:36). The Scriptures strongly affirm military service. All our children serve in the Israeli Army. However, they are aware that God's spiritual kingdom must take first priority.
As Ezekiel and Jeremiah taught of the exile, Ezra and Nehemiah taught of the return. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah give a biblical model for the restoration of the remnant of Israel. There we see a fledgling community, looking to national restoration. They held the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other (Nehemiah 4:17). They maintained a balance between the political issues and the spiritual ones.
I believe that the Messianic Jewish remnant within the nation of Israel is a key part of the spiritual renewal that will ultimately bring about the full restoration of our nation, and even impact the whole world. (If their failure... brought riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness! ... what will their restoration be, but life from the dead?" - Romans 11:12, 15).
Pluralism and Zionism
Note: The Sephardic "Shas" revolution of the late 1980's brought a major influence of religion into the political sector. Of course long before that, the charismatic Ashkenazi chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935) laid the spiritual and theological foundations of combining religious orthodoxy with the political Zionist state, which was unprecedented in his day.
Why was it, in the sovereign hand of God, to empower such secularists as Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion, to be the leaders of the modern restoration of Israel? I believe that their view of a modern state with pluralistic values, particularly freedom of religious expression, was an essential factor in God's "permission" to regather our people and restore our nation.
As we look back 2,000 years ago, there is no escaping the conclusion that there must be some connection between the crucifixion of Yeshua and the start of the exile. While tens of thousands of religious Jews did accept the message ("myriads" - Acts 21:20), the apostolic community was generally rejected and persecuted by the religious establishment. The rejection of the message of the early Messianic Jews from 33 to 70 AD is parallel to the rejection of the messages of Ezekiel and Jeremiah in the years leading up to 586 BC.
Theodore Herzl was a liberal humanist Jew in Western Europe. He encountered anti-Semitism in Paris in 1894 in the famous case of falsely accused Jewish French army captain, Alfred Dreyfus. His encounter with anti-Semitism caused him to see the need for a Jewish state. His liberal background caused him to envision that state as a modern pluralistic one. His history-changing book, The Jewish State (published in German in 1896), described that simple formula: a modern state, both pluralistic and Jewish.
The freedom of religious expression in the modern Zionist movement broke the curse of the rejection and persecution against the early Messianic Jews, and thus reversed the cause of the exile in the first place. This opened the door spiritually to start the process anew for the restoration of the nation of Israel.
It was not necessary for the government leaders to accept the gospel in order for God to start to restore the nation. It is the job of the community of faith to preach the gospel; it is the job of the government to provide a structured and just society that enables the gospel to be shared freely. (Notice the connection between I Timothy 2:2 and 2:4.)
The restoration of Israel is symbolic of God's restoration process in every nation of the world. The deeper issue is not just the Jews resettling the Land of Canaan, but the reconciliation between God and the human race. (The spiritual parallel between the union of the Jewish people with their Land and the cosmic union of God and the human race is also a common theme of rabbinic mystical writings.) Israel's role in the restoration of the nations is part of their calling as a kingdom of priests.
The reunion of God and Man was not accomplished by Theodore Herzl or David Ben Gurion, or by Father Abraham or King David. That is the job of the Messiah. At His first coming Yeshua repaired the separation that occurred between God and mankind at the first sin of Adam; at His second coming, He will repair the expulsion from the Garden of Eden caused by that first sin.
When God created the heavens and the earth, He gave earth to mankind (Psalms 115:16). Adam was the proprietor of planet earth. By sin he ruined the rental\ownership contract. Yeshua came in Adam's place to restore that contract. He came to give us a new covenant, both to restore our relationship with God and to restore human proprietorship over planet earth.
This new covenant not only forgives sin, it restores the meaning of the physical creation. Without the new covenant, there would be no legal basis for preserving physical creation. Since the Messiah was to be born of the Jewish people, there would also by necessity be a connection between the preservation of the Jewish people and the physical creation through the new covenant.
No Jewish people, No Messiah. No Messiah, No new covenant. No new covenant, no physical creation. Therefore: No Jewish people, No physical creation.
Jeremiah describes two articles of this new covenant:
If that were the case, one would think that every Christian would be committed to protecting the Jewish people from extinction, sharing the gospel with them and getting them back to Israel.
If that were the case, one would think that all of the forces of evil would be aimed at exterminating the Jewish people, keeping them away from the gospel, and trying to attack the nation of Israel.
Yeshua and Resettlement
God also made a covenant with Abraham for the ownership of the land of Israel. That's why Yeshua had to be born of a son of Abraham, as a native-born Israeli (Sabra). The very purpose for the existence of the State of Israel is connected to Yeshua. No Yeshua, no Israel.
According to the scriptures, the Messiah lives inside His disciples through the Holy Spirit. When the religious establishment of the first century excommunicated the Messianic Jews, they in essence exiled Yeshua from the Land of Israel. When Yeshua was "exiled," the owner was exiled. Thus in fact we excommunicated ourselves from our own land. (Luke 13:34-35; Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 23:37-39).
Thank God the opposite is also true. If Messianic Jews are allowed back into Israel, then Yeshua is let back in. If Yeshua is let back in, then all the Jewish people can be let back in. It is like three concentric circles. The inner one is Yeshua. The second circle is the Messianic Jews. The third circle is the rest of the nation. To put it another way: the first circle is the Messiah; the second is the Messianic Remnant; the third is the Nation of Israel.
This could sound megalomaniac, as if everything was dependent on us Messianic Jews. But that's not the point. Nothing depends on us. Everything, including the occupation and ownership of Israel, is dependent on Yeshua the Messiah. He is the deciding factor.
As long as that new spiritual wine is in the cluster, we Messianic Jews are preserved and the rest of our people as well.
Note: As long as Messianic Jews have a right to live in the land of Israel, no weapon on heaven or earth could uproot the nation from its land. The only three places where the Israel government agreed to pull back from the settlements (Gaza, isolated northern Samaria settlements, and part of the Hebron neighborhood) were areas totally controlled by religious communities that were not tolerant of a Messianic presence. And by the same token, the major settlements in the "disputed" areas where Messianics can live (like Maaleh Adumim and Ariel), the Israeli government has resisted all worldwide pressure to withdraw.
There was much dispute as to whether the disengagement was right or wrong. However, a mainstream consensus is emerging in Israel, which agrees that the disengagement from Gaza was necessary, and from a few more isolated settlements in northern Samaria as well; but also stands against major future settlement withdrawals being made in the rest of the disengagement process.
The Land and Armageddon
At that point Yeshua will have covenant right to return to Jerusalem to rule on the throne of David. As that happens, there will be no choice for the forces of evil other than to launch a full-scale, all-out, nuclear attack on Israel. That's what causes the battle of Armageddon. Yeshua will be compelled to return, as the commander in chief of the armies of the God of Israel, in order to defend the nation. At the same time that the armies of the world attack Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2ff), Yeshua returns leading the armies of heaven (Revelation 19:11ff).
Sometime before that apocalyptic battle, there will be a successful period of peace and prosperity in the Middle East. During that peace, Israel will begin to disarm. (This peaceful period and its disarmament are repeated in the end-times prophecy in Ezekiel 38:11 and in Jeremiah 49:31). The prosperity is cause for envy among the nations. Envy is the motive. The disarmament provides the opportunity.
The battle of Armageddon will be precipitated by the ongoing argument over the Land. Throughout history, the efforts to attack the Jewish people and block the restoration of the land have been cause for God's anger. At Armageddon He brings judgment against those who have rebelled against His authority in the Messiah (Psalm 2:2) and have disputed His ownership of the Land. ("I will gather all nations... and I will enter into judgment with them on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land." - Joel 3:2.)
May God give us grace to share His word correctly concerning the current conflicts in the Middle East and the apocalyptic events of the end times.