Pollards Hill Baptist Church has recently held a sermon series ‘Children of Israel’ where we had a privilege to welcome speakers from two organisations: Ebenezer Operation Exodus (EOE) and Chosen People Ministries (CPM). CPM is a Messianic Jewish ministry that reaches out to the Jews with the gospel of Yeshua/Jesus. Fiona Sorbala, who has visited us before, gave a powerful teaching about the Jewish feasts in the Bible and their relevance to Christians.
EOE is a Christian Charity that has a calling to assist the Jewish people to return to Israel – make Aliyah. John Fleetcroft taught us about the history of the Jewish Exodus and the regathering to the Land that is happening right now. Alison Eastwood looked into the future and gave a scriptural proof of the importance of Israel in God’s end time plans culminating with Jesus returning to Jerusalem.
The following is an endeavour to expand on this theme by giving an overview of the importance of the Land Covenant that the God of Israel made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Some of us like to follow the news, some of us are not so bothered. However, regardless of our level of interest in politics, we all have come across the following phrases: West Bank, Occupied Territories, Two-State solution, Oslo Accords, Peace Process. All of these terms relate to the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people on a tiny piece of land on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Why so much attention? Why so much controversy? There is enough suffering and turmoil in the world, but for some reason attention is again and again turned to this area, that is no bigger than the size of Wales. And, in the main, the news we hear tends to cast a negative light on the State of Israel. Does Israel even have the right to exist? – This question may arise as we often go along with what the news channels say.
It is my firm belief that nothing that takes place in modern Israel can be properly understood without going back to the Bible, exploring the beginnings and the history of the Jewish people. Indeed, it is our duty as Christians – those who take the Bible seriously – to do so, thereby laying a solid foundation to our faith. We know and believe that our God is a covenant-keeping God who does not go back on His promises. We have a New Covenant through our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Messiah who paid with His blood for this covenant. In the same way, God has made a Land Covenant with Abraham and his descendants. When God called Abraham from the land of Ur to the land of Canaan, He said:
“The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8).
God also specified who Abraham’s descendants were:
“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.” (Deuteronomy 1:8).
God determined the boundaries of this land:
“I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you.” (Exodus 23:31)
Based on the above scriptures and several others, we can safely say that God made the Land Covenant with the descendants of Abraham – the Jewish people, by giving them the Land as an everlasting possession with boundaries that are far wider than those of modern-day Israel.
It is true that the Jewish people, except for a remnant, have not always been on the Land – in fact according to Deuteronomy 28, expulsion from the Land was a curse put upon the people by God for their disobedience. We can clearly see this in history when the Syrians invaded, taking the Northern Kingdom (Israel) into captivity in 721 BC. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) fell to the Babylonians in 597-605 BC. Had God broken the Land Covenant at this point, the Jewish nation would no longer exist. No promise of Messiah would have been fulfilled. However, we know that our God is a merciful God who does not break His covenants and therefore, after 70 years, the Jews returned from Babylon to the Land and rebuilt the Temple. Moreover, the Messiah who, according to prophecy, came from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) was miraculously born to the Virgin Mary at the appointed time in history in Bethlehem of Judea.
Another great expulsion from the Land happened to the Jewish people in 70 AD after the Romans invaded the Land, destroyed the Temple and took the Jews captive. From then on, until about a hundred years ago, Jews have been scattered among the nations just as Deuteronomy 28 predicted.
But again, this is not the end of the story – God’s Land Covenant still stands, bringing us up to modern history regarding the Land.
The main thing we hear in the news about Israel is that they ‘occupy Palestinian land’. Is this really true? We know what God said about the Land in the Bible. God, however, does not work outside of history – everything that happens here on the earth is either ordained or allowed by Him. As we read the Old Testament prophets, we find that almost all of them have something to say about the final end-time regathering of the Jewish people to the Land (Isaiah 11:10-12; 43:5-7; 54:7-8; Jeremiah 31, 32; Ezekiel 36, 37, 39; Micah 2; Amos 9:11-15; Hosea 2:16-23 – to name a few of these scriptures).
Several historic events took place in the 19th century Jewish diaspora which paved the way for the Land Covenant to be renewed. The 20th century saw the acceleration of these events, two of which are extremely important from the aspect of granting the Jewish people legal rights to dwell in the Land – the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the San Remo Conference in 1920.
Palestine, as it was called then – the name does not appear in the Bible but was given to the area by its Roman conquerors in 135 AD, mainly as a mockery of the Jewish people and to remove any Jewish links to the Land – had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century. After the Great War, a mandate system was introduced with Great Britain receiving the Mandate for Palestine. On 2nd November 2017, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Arthur James Balfour, issued a declaration – known as the Balfour Declaration – where he acknowledged with favour the Jewish connection to the Land and made a commitment to help them to repatriate. On 24th April 1920, the declaration was incorporated into international law at the San Remo Conference, where the Principal Allied Powers (Britain, France, Italy and Japan with US as an observer) met to decide the future of the Middle East, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
At first, all of the Mandate land was designated for Jewish settlement, but later, under pressure from the Arab countries, Britain decided that the area east of the Jordan river would be an Arab area, which still later became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Jewish national home was then to be in the area west of the Jordan river. This included the ‘West Bank’ which, in biblical terms, is the land of Judea and Samaria – the heartland of Israel. So, we can firmly say that the San Remo Conference, the centenary of which we recently celebrated, created a legal basis for the Jewish national homeland to be re-established.
A tumultuous time followed, with riots from the Arabs, which resulted in Britain terminating the Mandate in November 1947 and notifying the United Nations accordingly. The UN proposed a Partition Plan for Palestine, recommending the setting up of another Arab state, a Jewish state and an international zone to include Jerusalem. This resolution was not legally binding. It was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Arabs. The State of Israel was proclaimed on 14th May 1948 thus fulfilling the biblical prophecy in Isaiah 66:8:
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 labour
than she gives birth to her children.
What followed was a time of hardship for the Jewish nation, as on the next day five Arab countries declared war on the new-born nation. By the time the fighting ceased, Israel had lost some of its territory to the attackers – the Golan Heights to Syria, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) with the eastern part of Jerusalem to Jordan, and the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Amazingly, Israel re-captured all these territories in the Six Day War in June 1967. The fact that Israel has been victorious in the wars she has had to fight (none of which have been started by her) and has regained territory, can only be attributed to the God of Israel having favour on His people and fighting for His chosen nation by allowing them to re-conquer the Land originally given to her. It is also interesting to note that during the almost 74 years of statehood, despite all the opposition, the Land of Israel has been converted from being mainly a barren wasteland to a beautiful, cultivated oasis (Isaiah 35; Amos 9:13-15).
Today, in fulfilment of Bible prophecy, 6.7 million Jewish people live in the Land of Israel, and many thousands more arrive each year! The total population is 9.1 million of which 2.4 million are Arabs (Palestinians) and other minorities. Israel is a modern, technologically advanced country and the only democracy in the Middle East, where all the people groups have equal rights as citizens of the Land, freedom to vote and practise their own religion. Israel is not the ‘evil occupier’ as we have seen both from the Word of God and from the historical documents.
We need to realize that not everybody sees the issue of the Land in the same way, and this is overwhelmingly reflected in the coverage by the news media. As Christians, we also understand the fierce spiritual battle taking place over God’s plans and purposes, and it is our task as believers to make sure we stand on God’s side – we are, as the Word teaches, serving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the ‘Holy One of Israel’.
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