by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
Even in the vocabulary of unchurched people the expression "Promised Land" is synonymous with the land of Israel. Where did this expression come from?
Before God confused the languages and scattered the people at the tower of Babel, the world's human population was concentrated in the plain of Shinar near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. After that, when the nations were scattered about to the four corners of the globe, those who spoke Hebrew still resided close to Shinar. But a small family group began to migrate southward. "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Cannan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there." (Genesis 11:31)
Ur is the same town where, on April 15, 2003, representatives of various Iraqi exile groups met under the auspices of the victorious United States military to begin talks aimed at forming a new government for Iraq. Haran is now called Harran, a city in modern-day Turkey.
Abraham was in his seventies and still living there when God spoke to him and told him to leave the land of his relatives and to go to a new land that he would give him: "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee." (Genesis 12:1 KJV)
So, together with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and several dozen servants, Abram set out toward the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
God led Abraham to the land of Canaan, land that today is covered by the nations of Israel and Jordan. (Canaan was named after the forefather of its inhabitants, a grandson of Noah. "And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth...And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan." (Gen 9:18; 10:6 KJV)
The land was sparsely populated, so even the Canaanites felt that there was plenty of room for nomadic Abram and his nephew Lot. They had no way of knowing that God planned to transfer ownership of the land to Abram's offspring. "And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him." (Gen 12:6-7 KJV)
After a while, the two patriarchs found it difficult to share pasture land, because their shepherds kept getting into arguments with each other. Abram and Lot discussed the situation and decided to separate. Abram told Lot to choose which pastures he wanted: the land to the north or the land to the south. Lot chose the land of 'the District,' the area around Sodom and Gomorrah. ("The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly." -- Genesis 13:13 KJV) So, Abram headed in the opposite direction.
God appeared to Abram again and repeated the promise: "And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thous seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever." (Genesis 13:14-15 KJV)
Abraham's son Isaac and his grandson Jacob were born there, and God later appeared to Isaac and to Jacob and repeated to them the same promise regarding the land: "God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.' So he named him Israel. And God said to him, 'I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.'" (Gen 35:10-12 NIV)
Jacob raised twelve sons there but did not own the land. He merely dwelt in it as a visitor, an alien. When his older sons became jealous of the second-youngest son Joseph, they sold him into slavery to a caravan of travelers who, in turn, took him to Egypt and sold him there. In Egypt Joseph ended up in prison, but, through God's miraculous intervention, he came to be a servant of Paraoh, the king of Egypt. It's a long story (worth reading in the Bible), but Pharaoh eventually put Joseph in charge of all his possessions so that Joseph was, in effect, the prime minister of Egypt.
Several years later there was a food shortage in the land where Jacob dwelt with his remaining sons, so he sent them to Egypt looking for food, and there they became re-united with Joseph. Joseph invited his father Jacob and his brothers to move to Egypt to will so that they would have food during the famine.
The offspring of Jacob, now named Israel, grew in great numbers in Egypt. They were so fertile and multiplied so fast that the Egyptians became afraid of them and enslaved them to keep them under control. Finally God sent Moses to lead the Israelites up out of Egypt.
After sending in a dozen spies to report on what they found in the promised land of Canaan, most of the people lacked faith that God would give them victory over the Canaanites. They did not want to proceed. So, God had Moses lead them on a long, ciruitous route through the wilderness for forty years, until that unfaithful generation had died off.
At the end of the forty years Moses was a hundred and twenty years old. God had him lead the Jews to the edge of the promised land, and then took him up to the top of a high mountain and showed him the land. "Then the LORD said to him, 'This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said,"I will give it to your descendants." I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.'" (Genesis 34:4 NIV) Moses died there, but only after appointing his deputy Joshua to lead the people in the conquest of Canaan.
"After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD , the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them." (Joshua 1:1-6 NIV)
The land they were to conquer was a fruitful and productive land, but it was filled with inhabitants. The Canaanites were numerous and powerful. But they were a corrupt people wo practiced child sacrifice and gross sexual immorality. God had passed judgement on them and had decided to execute them. And he appointed the people of Israel as his executioners.
Through Moses, God had told the Jews, "you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices." Then he described those practices as including "sexual relations with your mother...sexual relations with your sister," and even "sexual relations with an animal." He warned them against child sacrifice and the practice of homosexuality: "'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed. ...Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." And then God explained that this was the way the people of Canaan had been living: " 'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants." God would apply the same standard to the Jews; if they took up living like the Canaanites, they would meet the Canaanites' fate: "And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you." (Leviticus 18:3-28 NIV)
So he instructed Joshua to enter the land of Canaan and lay siege to its cities, and to completely exterminate the people of the land. He was not to leave anyone alive. All were to be killed: men, women and children.
If a leader today were to conceive such a plan, it would be called genocide. But, as the Creator of mankind, God is the rightful judge. As the giver of life, he has the divine prerogative to set the limits of life and death, both for individuals and for whole nations. He is both just and justified in such actions. So, when the armies of Israel marched into land of Canaan and laid waste to its cities, this was not genocide. It was a judgement from God.
Besides exterminating the people, they were also to wipe out the artifacts of Canaanite worship, because it was a perverted form of false religion glorifying sexuality and perversion. Sacred poles were huge phallic symbols. Idols displayed grossly enlarged sex organs. "Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces," God commanded. (Deuteronomy 23:24 NIV)
Thus, God gave Israel the promised land, but keeping it was conditional on their obedience.
However, biblical history reveals that Israel failed to carry out God's instructions. They compromised and allowed some of the Canaanites to remain alive, and they failed to exterminate their perverted religion. This failure to follow divine instructions completely would come back to haunt future generations. Men and women of Israel would be led astray to worship the Canaanite gods. Idolatry would keep rearing its head among the Israelites.
Israel to would lose the promised land for failure to keep God's covenant. He had told them through Moses that this is what would happen if they failed to keep their ageement with him. They would be removed from the land and be scattered throughout the earth. "But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God...the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth." (Deuteronomy 28:15, 64 NASB) And this is what eventually happened.
But, that did not mean they would lose the land permanently. God promised them that he would much later return them to the promised land: "...then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee ...from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it." (Deuteronomy 30:3-5) "...the LORD will...assemble the dipersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:11-12 The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society of America)
So the land of Israel was promised to the offspring of Jacob not just once, but also it was promised that the land would return to their possession at 'the time of the end.' And this is the promised that began to be fulfilled when the state of Israel was re-established in 1948. But this was only the beginning of prophetic fulfillment regarding the promised land, because God promised that this land would belong to those people and their descendants forever under the rule of his Messiah, Jesus Christ.
But instead of being received as evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible and its reliability in foretelling future events, the modern-day state of Israel often serves as an obstacle to accepting the Bible.
The problem is the misconception that Bible prophecies regarding the Promised Land imply endorsement of all the policies of the government of Israel.
Israeli political leaders have brought worldwide criticism upon themselves for some of their military actions and some of their political action and some of their social actions in regard to the Palestinian people. Does Bible prophecy about the Promised Land mean that God endorses all of those actions?
The best answer is to consider the history of Israel in the Bible. There were many, many times in Bible history when God speaking through his profits expressed his condemnation of the behavior of the nation of Israel.
Most of the kings of Israel and Judah failed miserably. Many of them were corrupt and allowed all sorts of evil things to take place in the land during their reigns. Some of them were especially perverse and even promoted idolatry. Some of them had people killed unjustly. Some of the oppressed the people.
Among the worst was King Ahab who, together with Queen Jezebel, official revived Canaanite worship of phallic images and idols of the god Baal: "Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD , the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him." (1 Kings 16:30-33 NIV)
The Hebrew prophets were often sent by God to denounce the behavior of the Jewish ruling powers. And they documented their misbehavior and their sins in the Hebrew prophetic writings.
So, the Israeli government of modern times is not very far out of step from the pattern of these ancient rulers. Modern Israeli society is fractured, with hostile factions representing every hue of the Jewish religious spectrum from cultic fanaticism to anti-religious secular humanism.
The key is to realize that the Bible's prophecies regarding the Promised Land are not there to reward Jewish behavior. Nor are they there to endorse the policies of the Israeli government. Rather, it is all about Christ. Besides being a people assigned to preserve a written record of human history going back to the creation, and besides being a people kept separate to preserve the true worship of the true God, the Jews were also chosen to preserve the line of descent leading to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
And their presence as a functioning Jewish state in the Promised Land at 'the time of the end' is essential for the fulfillment of the remaining prophecies concerning Christ's return. The Bible foretells that the Messiah will rule from Jerusalem. So, Israel has to be there, and an Israeli-controlled Jerusalem has to be there. The individuals involved may vary from faithful men like Abraham to corrupt leaders like Jezebel, but the God who predicted these events has the power to make sure that they will be fulfilled exactly as he said they would be.