In the first article about who really owns Palestine, we reviewed the recent history of the conflict, including claims and counter-claims about who has a right to the land. Depending on which side is presenting the case, both groups present reasonable arguments for their cause.
The Palestinians are truly suffering, living in cramped conditions for literally decades while Israel, the Arab nations, the world's super powers and the United Nations have failed to resolve the land-claim issue to the Palestinians' satisfaction.
The Israelis are truly suffering, enduring casualties at the hands of homicide bombers that proportionally far exceed the number of Americans who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Both peoples point back to the early 20th century when Palestinians lived in the land now called Israel and when Jews began to flee to it to escape mounting persecution in Europe. Both Palestinians and Jews cite political promises made and broken in the first half of the 20th century as evidence of their right of ownership.
Today, almost every day, terrorist attacks and corresponding reprisals take the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. Along with the combatants, innocent people from both groups fall victim to the bombs and bullets. The mounting death toll and the accompanying fear and anger all tighten an already unyielding Gordian knot.
In the previous article, we also went back into ancient history to those who are believed to be the first peoples to occupy the land of Palestine—the Canaanites. We looked at biblical history and learned that the descendants of "Eber," whose name meant "the other side," came from the other side of the Euphrates into the land of Palestine where the Canaanites lived. Also known as "Hebrews," these peoples included a famous sheik named Abraham.
Abraham is significant still today in that his son Ishmael is a progenitor of the Arab peoples. Another son, Isaac, is the forefather of today's Jews. So, on top of all of the other aspects of this unique and complex conflict over the ownership of Palestine, the principals are distant relations.
Looking into the Bible, we saw from Genesis 12 that the God of Abraham declared that He owned the land and that He retained the right to give it to any people He chose. Further, He promised Abraham, "To your descendants I will give this land" (verse 7).
This puts the question of the ownership of Palestine in a different light. Rather than debate the question in terms of who was occupying the land, who is occupying the land as a prize of war or who has a claim by virtue of the promises of international power brokers, we have the greater issue of who can say, "God gave it to us"?
But, since both Arab and Jew are descendants of Abraham, can both claim the divinely ordained inheritance? The previous article cited God's choice that the descendants of Abraham's grandson Israel (Jacob) would have the land. To some, that settles the entire question, but there's more to it.
Three points of view
Before going into the rest of the story, I want to summarize three overall perspectives on the issue.
1. People from a traditional Christian background assume that the land belongs to the Jews because "they're God's chosen people." They regard the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948 as a fulfillment of prophecies that God would return Israel to this historic land.
2. Many Jews also believe that God gave them the land. A Jewish immigrant from the state of Ohio, who is now living in a Palestinian area with his family, was interviewed recently on a major U.S. television network. The reporter asked him why he believes that Israel should have control of territories where the Palestinians live. His clipped response was, "Because God gave it to us." This man is not "an observant Jew," meaning he does not practice the Jewish religion. Nonetheless, he embraces the idea that the land comes to the Jews by divine inheritance.
3. There is yet another angle, which has generated several comments from readers. God's promises to Abraham were made in the context of a covenant. Because God always keeps His promises, these readers say that the land of Palestine goes to his descendants through Jacob or Israel, regardless of their attitude or actions. There is some truth in each of these points of view, but some clarification is necessary with each of them.
More to the story
On point 1, most Christians are unaware of the fact that the Jews made up only a small percentage of the ancient nation of Israel. Jacob, or Israel, had 12 sons, each of whom became the father of a clan or tribe. Judah was one of the sons and is the forefather of today's Jews.
Still today, the Jews constitute only a small percentage of the descendants of all of Israel. It's true that God promised Israel that it would return to the land—but the promise is to Israel, that is, to all of the tribes, not just one. Read one of many promises to this effect: "'Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,' says the Lord, 'Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid'" (Jeremiah 30:10).
How could the establishment of the modern Jewish nation fulfill this prophecy? This is a question that we must answer.
Think of the question in terms of a modern analogy. A man who has a dozen children dies and leaves his wealthy estate to all of them. If one or a few of the children lay claim to the entire estate, imagine the legal battles that would occur!
I realize that the mind does a double take at the concept that the modern nation of Israel is not the same as the ancient nation of Israel, but that's the truth. If that confuses you, you are not alone. Even some of the brightest Bible students overlook this fact.
(Where are the descendants of all of the other tribes? Within the answer to that question is the key to understanding current and future world events. In the previous article, we recommended that our readers read our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy. Again, we recommend that you read this booklet to learn the fascinating answer to the above question. It's not without reason that the United States and Britain are among the foremost allies of the modern state of Israel.)
If point 2 reflects your thinking, you also need to be aware of the fact that God placed specific conditions upon Israel when He gave them the land. We will look at those conditions, for they are crucial to understanding the truth on this issue.
If point 3 reflects your thinking, you're closest to the truth. But there's still more to the story, which we will explain here.
Think about the details of God's proposal
What caused God to determine that Abraham would be the recipient of the special blessings? Without any question, it was Abraham's obedience: "And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:4-5). God spoke these words to Isaac, recounting what He had said to Isaac's father years before. God's reference to Abraham's behavior and His respect for it was clearly reinforcement of God's desire for the same from Isaac and his family.
What would happen to the Israelites if they failed to meet the obligations God imposed upon them? They would lose the land. As noted in the first article on this subject, God did not just make promises to Israel; He entered into a covenant with them. There are two essential aspects to this type of agreement: promises from God and obligations He imposes on His subjects. The following words spell out the essential terms under which God would allow Israel to continue in the land—even before the nation took possession of the Promised Land the first time.
"See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land... I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you...that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them" (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
If God took the land from them, were there any circumstances under which they could return and reclaim their divine inheritance? Yes, the two conditions are repentance and a return to obedience, as this same covenant stipulates: "When...you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you... Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it" (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
Conditions for claiming divine inheritance never met
Over the course of history, 10 of the tribes seceded from the nation of Israel and formed their own nation. The tribes that retained control of Jerusalem were Judah, Benjamin and Levi. The tribes that seceded retained the national name of Israel. Eventually, both of these nations were conquered and taken captive by surrounding nations, because they failed to keep their part of the agreement—just as God had told them.
A small number of Jews returned to the area of Palestine after their captivity. Over the course of several decades, they reestablished a colony under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah worked with them. Theirs were some of the last voices to speak before the New Testament time.
In Jesus' day, we read of a small Jewish nation occupied by the Romans. At that time, the 10 breakaway tribes of Israel remained scattered in areas away from Palestine. (James began his letter to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," James 1:1.) Within a few decades after Christ's death, the Jewish nation was broken up, not to be reestablished until 1948.
Clearly, the Jews of Jesus' day were not living up to God's expectations. The evidence of that is overwhelming, but read one of the most obvious testaments to that fact: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:6-8).
God's hand nonetheless involved
Did the present-day nation of Israel come into existence because of a profound spiritual repentance? No, political power brokering and war gave birth to the nation.
Does that mean that God didn't have a hand in the fact that Jews were able to carve out a nation? Not at all, for God's intervention has ensured the survival of the Jewish nation throughout its difficult history.
Why would He do that, when He plainly said that repentance was required before He would give Israel the land again? And why would He do that, when He plainly said that the land would belong to all of Israel—not to only a portion of the many tribes? For the fulfillment of prophecy, it seems that it's necessary that some Israelites live in Palestine at the end of this present evil age.
Space prohibits going into detail on this subject here, but specific prophecies show that the descendants of Israel will reinstitute the practice of animal sacrifices before the return of Christ. And they will do so in Jerusalem (read our booklet You Can Understand Bible Prophecy). Yet the Jews cannot legitimately claim the divine inheritance of the land. It is only by the grace of God that they are able to live there, just as it is only by God's grace that Americans are able to possess their land and the British, theirs.
There is a time coming when all of the modern descendants of ancient Israel (far more than just Jews) will recognize that they have failed to honor the obligations God imposed upon them. They will realize that they have to make some profound and fundamental changes in the way they live. It's not a matter of being "good people." It's a matter of doing what God expects us to do—there's often a big difference between the two.
In the meantime, some of the descendants of Abraham (Arabs and Jews) will continue to fight each other. The rhetoric will continue to resonate and explosions will continue to detonate and the blood will continue to flow.
Time coming when Israel will lose its battles
For now, the modern nation of Israel is still winning its wars. But the time will come when it will lose. That would not happen if the modern state of Israel was the fulfillment of the prophecies about God returning Israel to the land, because God promises to guarantee its protection then (Ezekiel 36:28, 33-36).
Just as the nations surrounding the ancient nation of Israel occupied it, so also the nations will occupy the lands of the modern descendants of Israel—the Jewish state included—for a time. Non-Israelites will control the city of Jerusalem for a period of three and a half years immediately prior to the return of Christ (see Revelation 11:2).
After that brief time, Jesus Christ will return to the earth to liberate the descendants of Abraham (all of them, not just the Jews) and bring them to spiritual repentance. Only then will the Israelites legitimately be able to claim the right of divine inheritance of the land of Palestine.
Palestine/Israel—whose land is it, really? It's God's land to give to whomever He wishes. But the prize isn't for the "winners," leaving the "losers" to suffer humiliation. When the people who have divine right to Palestine receive the land from God, He will require them to be a model nation and a benefactor to all other nations. Nations will neither terrorize nor conquer each other any more. That's the way the world will be under the firm but loving hand of the King of Kings.