Since its rebirth as a nation in 1948, Israel has come under accelerated attack over its sovereign claim to the land it inhabits. The world watches the contest between Israel and the Palestinians, though in reality, the Palestinians are simply a tool or proxy of the greater Arab world. While many in government, the media, academia, and the church demonize Israel, they do so without basis. Historically and legally, Israel has a clear right to the land and to Jerusalem as its undivided Capital.
For many growing up in the evangelical church, unwavering support of Israel has been an integral part of the fabric of theology. God’s promises to the Jewish people and their corresponding right to the land are unmistakable; they are undeniable and unchangeable throughout Scripture. Though the people suffered the consequences of sin and rebellion, culminating in separation from the land of Israel and dispersion among the nations, God remembered his covenant with them, and promised to regather them to “their own land.” (Ez 36:24,28)
Though the weapons garnered against Israel (both economically and militarily) seem worldly in appearance, the motivation and tactics percolate in the spiritual. God’s redemptive plan for the world started in the Garden (Gen 3:15), advanced through a promise to Abraham, and persists to this day through his offspring, namely Jesus.
Even today, the spiritual nature of the conflict remains intact. There are prophecies, yet unfulfilled, regarding Jesus and the land of Israel. If the Jewish people no longer remain in the land, and if the land of historical Israel is not included in the nation of Israel, the prophecies fail.
Around 520 BC, the prophet Zechariah told of a future time when all the nations would be gathered to fight against Jerusalem.
“I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.” Zechariah 14:2-4 NIV
Zechariah writes that on a day yet to come, Jesus himself will rescue the Jerusalem from a confederation of all the nations of the world that will come against her. If no Israel exists, and if there is no Jewish Jerusalem, this prophecy cannot come true.
While Israel confronts existential threats from the likes of Iran and Hezbollah, other exclusionary and economic impedances have arisen too. Increasingly, liberal elements of the church demand that Israel give up its territorial claims and acquiesce to her adversaries in order to achieve peace.
At the forefront of these efforts is the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction). This initiative started in 2005 by 170 Palestinian NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) with the stated goals to end Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Activists within the church, academia, business, and government ardently work to delegitimize Israel and force her into an indefensible and untenable situation in a volatile region, surrounded by adversaries on all sides.
At the 2014 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, delegates voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel. And just last month, the General Assembly again passed a series of measures further supporting the BDS Movement and calling on Israel to leave the disputed territories.
The Presbyterian Church is neither alone nor an outlier among faith-based institutions in making this stand. The BDS faith community includes the United Church of Christ, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Mennonite Central Committee, the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the Alliance of Baptists.
Furthermore, the entire BDS movement springs from an agenda that denies Israel the land it is entitled to with no basis in fact or history. There is no true understanding of the complexities of the Middle East without having a thorough grasp of the origins of the state of Israel and its historical, legal claims to the land.
One can only assume the dominant media is either ignorant in reporting a slanted, biased narrative (i.e. Israel is an occupying force, denying basic rights to a group of refugees), or they are purposely advancing an agenda to defeat Israel militarily and economically. Neither proposition speaks well of a profession to which truth is supposedly paramount.
Understanding key moments in Israel’s history, and their significance, are essential in understanding present day realities. In 2000 BC God makes an everlasting covenant with Abraham. God promises the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants as an everlasting inheritance (Gen 12:3; 13:14-17; 15;18-21; 17:7-8).
Note: God tells Abraham that his descendants will possess the land, but only after 400 years have passed, “for the sin of the Amorites has not reached its full measure” Gen 15:16. The Amorites, a wholly wicked and immoral people, have 400 years to change from their evil ways, but God knows they won’t. Genesis 15 also details the land as that of “the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Gen 15:19-21)
1500 BC: The Israelites enter the land of Canaan (the Promised Land). They have spent the last 40 years in the desert. During this time of wandering, they are given the Mosaic Law and God declares them a “distinct people” and “holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6; Dt 14:2)
Note: After entering the land of Canaan, the Israelites make a treaty of peace with the Gibeonites. Upon hearing this, the five kings of the Amorites joined forces and attack Gibeon. Joshua and the army defeat the Amorites completely (Joshua 9-10). As God has promised, the Israelites now possess the land of the Amorites.
1000 BC: King David defeats the Jebusites and conquers Jerusalem, making it the Capital of Israel.
Note: even though Saul, Israel’s first King, reigned 42 years, Jerusalem was not captured nor was it the Capital until David captured it.
Israel controlled Jerusalem for the next couple of centuries until:
920 BC: After the death of King Solomon, the nation becomes a split Kingdom with 10 tribes in the north known as Israel and the two remaining tribes (Judah and Benjamin) known as Judah. Jerusalem remains the Capital of Judah while Samaria becomes the Capital of the 10 Northern Tribes (Israel). These two kingdoms remained separate for 200 years.
722 BC: Because of sin and rebellion, God allows the Assyrians to conquer the 10 northern tribes. Of note, When the Assyrians conquer a people, it is customary for them to remove them from the land and resettle Assyrian people in the new territory. The myth of the 10 lost tribes of Israel persists to this day. Though the population of Israel is around 450,000 at this time, archaeologists have uncovered annals that reveal Sargon only carried away 27,290 people and 50 chariots. Many of the remaining 10 tribes find a safe haven in Judah. There is much evidence to support a complete (12 tribes) nation of Israel in the New Testament. Jesus said he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6; 15:24); tribes other than Judah participated in the Passover during the time of King Hezekiah, more than 10 years after the Assyrian captivity; 90 years after that, during the reign of King Josiah, 7 of the 10 tribes are mentioned with the implication that all 10 were present; 200 years after the captivity, Ezekiel pens the Valley of Dry Bones prophecy where God says “these bones are the whole house of Israel”; finally in his appeal to King Agrippa, Paul refers to all 10 tribes and James writes his epistle to the “12 tribes scattered abroad.”
Throughout history and to this day, many groups claim that they are these 10 lost tribes. It is not true.
586 BC: King Nebuchadnezzar conquers Judah and destroys the Temple on the 9th of Av, and a final group of exiles is taken to Babylon. A 70 year exile prophesied by Jeremiah begins (Jer 29:10). A remnant of the people remains in the land.
Note: With sin as the catalyst for the Babylonian captivity, the length of the captivity spanned 70 years. The Israelites were in the land 490 years prior to the captivity, and contrary to the Mosaic Law, they did not let the land have a “rest” every seventh year. God condemns the people for this and declares the land will have the 70 years of rest it is owed.
Again, as with the Assyrian captivity of Israel, a remnant remains in the land of Judah.
516 BC: King Cyrus releases the Jews from Babylon and Jerusalem is rebuilt under Zerubbabel (head of the Tribe of Judah), Joshua (priest), Ezra, and Nehemiah. 200 years before Cyrus is born, Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus will release the Jews to return to the land (Is 44:28-45:13). This prophecy foreshadows the future. Nehemiah tells certain Arab men in the area that they have no claim or historic right to Jerusalem (Neh 2:20).
167 BC: Antiochus Epiphanes, King of the Seleucid Empire invades Israel and defiles the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. Mattathias Maccabees is a priest who serves in Solomon’s Temple. After the Seleucids invade, he returns to his village where an official of the Seleucid Greek government asks him to offer sacrifices to Greek gods. Mattathias not only refuses, but he kills the apostate priest who steps forward to offer the sacrifice. He then also kills the government official. He escapes with his sons into the desert and starts a revolt. This Jewish revolt (Maccabees) against the Greeks sets a precedent in human history: it becomes the world’s first religious war. No one in the ancient world dies for his or her gods; only the Jews thought that their religion, the only monotheistic religion at the time, is worth dying for.
63 BC: The last two Hasmonean rulers (from the line of the Maccabees) were two brothers: Hyrcanus and Aristobolus. Warring over who should be King, they both appeal to Rome for support. And thus, in 63 BC, Pompey was invited to move his armies into Israel. It is no small footnote in history that the Romans were invited into the land. General Pompey’s conquest of Jerusalem spelled the end of Jewish independence.
4 BC-30 AD: The earthly life of Jesus.
70 AD: The Jews rebel against Rome, and General Titus and the 10th Roman Legion destroy the city and burn the temple. This again was on the 9th of AV. The Romans take over the city in its entirety and throw 160,000 Jewish bodies over the wall. 99,700 are taken hostage. In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple.
132 AD: Bar Kokhba Revolt. Having just destroyed Jerusalem some 60 years earlier, the Jews were again rebelling. Hadrian was furious at the Jews; he ordered the total destruction of Jerusalem and extermination or expulsion of the Jews.
Hadrian slaughtered 1,900,000 Jews and the rest went into exile. The remnant (old and infirm) remained in complete isolation; one Jew could not speak to another Jew under penalty of death to both. In Hadrian’s quest to completely destroy the Jews, the land was salted so that it could not produce crops. It became rocky and arid. The climate became hotter, more desert-like. It was no longer a land flowing with milk and honey; it was no longer productive or prolific. Later, under Turkish authority, taxes liability was based on the number of trees one owned. To cut their taxes, many Jews cut their trees down, further denuding the land.
Hadrian changed “Jerusalem” to “Capital of Hadrian” Aelia Capitolina to erase the historical ties of the Jewish people to the land. To speak the name Jerusalem was to invoke the death penalty. To further insult the Jews, he renamed the land Palestine, in honor of the Jews historical enemies, the Philistines. The Philistines, an extinct maritime people of European descent, most likely immigrated from Greece/Crete to 5 cities in Gaza.
1517 – 1917: Turkish domination.
1917: In the waning days of World War 1, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which called for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. The British capture Jerusalem the following month and divide the area, creating the countries that are there today.
Note: Chemist Chaim Wiseman (who become the first President of Israel) creates the process which produced Acetone (a propellant used in cordite explosives), helping Britain defeat the Germans. Lord Balfour (British Foreign Minister and devout Christian who knew and believed the prophecies regarding the return of the Jews) wanted to thank Wiseman. Wiseman requests that a Jewish homeland be created.
1920 British Mandate: The San Remo Peace Conference gave Great Britain the mandate for the Land of Israel and Transjordan (the land east of the Jordan River).
Note: The British Mandate of 1920 designated all the land of Palestine as the Jewish homeland.
1922: The Arab nations (now numbered at 21) exert pressure on the British. The Arab nations protest the size of the Jewish homeland and Israel’s portion is reduced. Britain (with the approval of the League of Nations) takes 80% of the land (east of the Jordan River) and creates the nation of Jordan. Both Jews and Arabs agree to this new land division and sign a treaty agreeing to the new boundaries.
1923: This treaty, with the approval of the League of Nations, is the last signed treaty between Jews and Arabs. This left Israel 1/6 of 1% of the size of Arab nations. The Jews, in an effort to appease their Arab neighbors and gain support of the oil-hungry West, willingly give up a majority of the land they were promised.
1947: Partition Plan, November 29th. Right before the War of Independence, the Arabs again protest Israel’s territory. Britain informs Israel that their territory would again be reduced. This Partition Plan will take away vast chunks of land from what remained in the 1923 agreement. 75% of what the Jews are allotted is desert. But now the Arab mindset is to eliminate the Jews entirely. Israel and the Palestinian population accepted. Arabs nations did not.
Note: the 1947 Partition Plan divides Israel into an indefensible position. In spite of this, desperate for finality and wanting peace, the Jews accept this plan. The Arabs, having successfully whittled down the Jewish homeland from all of Palestine to a patchwork of territory, refused.
1948: May 14, 6 pm EST, The British Mandate expires and foreign control of the land ceases. The State of Israel is established by the Israeli Declaration of Independence, creating a sovereign Jewish nation for the first time in 2900 years. At 6:11 pm EST, The United States recognizes Israel’s sovereignty. The Arab nations, opposed to any Jewish State, take military action against the new state. This Arab-Israeli War of 1948 was the first of many armed conflicts between Jews and Arabs.
“Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.” Isaiah 66:8
Summary: from 1500 BC until today, over 3,500 years, a Jewish presence remains in the land. None of the prior people groups that inhabited the land exist, nor have they for millennia. The last agreement between Jews and Arabs recognized the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea as a homeland for the Jews. Clearly, Israel has a historic and legal right to the land.
But the struggle for the land isn’t finished…
Whose Land Is It? (Part 2) is an exhaustive look at the scriptures describing two distinctly different separations from the land, each followed by a regathering, culminating in the rebirth of the nation on May 14th, 1948.
Whose Land Is It? (Part 3) is a historical, cultural look at the Abrahamic Covenant.