Does God Still Owe Israel Some Land?
Does Israel have a God-Given Right to what is commonly called ‘The Holy Land’ today?
First, please notice what we are not asking. We are NOT asking: ‘did' (past tense) Israel have a God given right to the land.
We also are not asking: Is it okay for Israel to be in that land today as a result of winning battles/wars.
We are asking this: Today, currently… in the present, does Israel as a people have a claim on that certain land, as a fulfillment of a promise God had made but has not been kept?
There is no doubt that God had made a promise concerning the land. In different places and to different people God promised the land.
We will look at 2 areas in this study to find out the answer to this question.
- Did God keep His promise (concerning the land) completely?
- What was the nature of the promise? (Conditional or Unconditional)
Did God Keep His Promise?
First, Did God keep his promise completely? The answer is Yes! Absolutely!
And the Lord said unto Abram, look out now with thine eyes, and so, he looked from the place where he was standing, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: and God said to Abram, all the land which you see will I give it to you, and to thy seed for ever. (Gen. 13:14-15)
This is just one place in which we see the promise given. The question then is, was God completely faithful in fulfilling the promise. Is this a promise that has already been kept? Or is it one that has yet to be fulfilled? Some today believe that God has only fulfilled a part of this promise and has not given Israel all the land, but that later He will complete this promise.
So, has the promise been fulfilled? Was God completely faithful in answering this promise?
In the days of the Old Testament there were cities known as cities of refuge. God was going to give Israel cities of refuge that would be for them to enter into in case they had accidentally killed some person not intentionally but just by accident. Perhaps one accidentally ended up killing someone. Cities of refuge would be set up so that the people who accidentally killed someone could go there and as long as they were in the city they would be safe from any harm coming to them.
In Deuteronomy 19:7-9 we have God's instruction to Israel concerning the cities of refuge.
7Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee. 8And if the LORD thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers; 9If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:
Take careful notice! He says you shall separate three cities at the start. Then he says, I’ll give you all of the land, if you will keep all the commandments, if you will do the things that I tell you to do (vs9). He then says if you will do these things, then I will give you three cities besides these. He says, you're going to come into this land, and when you do, I will give you three cities of refuge to start with. And, if you will continue to obey, if you continue to do what I say, I will give you all of the land; that's what it says in verse 8. If you want to know if you have received all of the land, here's how you will know; there will be three more cities given, for a total of six cities of refuge.
Are we clear? Again so, he states, there will be no doubt when you come into the land. I'm going to give you three cities of refuge to start with, and if you continue to obey me then, I’ll give you all of the land. Perhaps some Jew asks; “Now, how will we know that you will have given us all of the land? God says; Because I will add to you three more cities of refuge. So are we clear on that? There's going to be a total of six cities of refuge.
When the complete promise will have been fulfilled, there will be a total of six cities of refuge. This will be upon the receiving all of the land!
Joshua brings them over, they live in the land, and let us count the number of cities of refuge listed in the Bible. In chapter 20 the cities of refuge are detailed quite plainly:
And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in Mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountains of Judah. And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Beazer in the wilderness upon the plane out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh. (Joshua 20:7-8)
And so we counted all six, here they are again – 1. Kedesh, 2.Shechem, 3. Kirjatharba – those were the first three. Then, you have added - 4.Beazer, 5. Ramoth, and 6. Golan.
Just so there's no doubt about it, he says, if you want to know when you have received all of the land that I swear unto your fathers I will give you six cities of refuge. He gave them six cities of refuge. Therefore they possessed all of the land.
- If God gave Israel six cities of refuge, then Israel had received all of the land that was promised to them.
- God gave Israel six cities of refuge.
- Therefore, Israel had received all the land that was promised to them.
Notice the words of the Bible:
And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. (Joshua 21:43)
God could not have made it any clearer. Did God give them all the land that he had promised to give them? The Bible is absolutely clear! Yes, He did!
The promise then had been fulfilled. God had kept the promise.
- The Lord gave to Israel ALL the land which he swore to give to their fathers.
- They possessed it.
- And they dwelt in it.
A Fulfilled Promise is no assurance of continued future blessings.
If a promise is already fulfilled the one who promises is not bound to make another of the same promise.
If a father says to his son, “When you turn 16 your mother and I will buy you a Porsche.” So, the boy turns 16, and the mother and father buy him the Porsche. The promise has been kept! A year later, he wrecks his car, totals it out, and is left with nothing to drive.
Should he then, say to his parents, “But you promised me a Porsche, and I don’t have a Porsche, so now you have to keep your promise to me and provide me a Porsche!?” Of course not, the parents kept their promise, the problem was, that he didn’t take care of the blessings that his good folks gave him, and now he has forfeited the blessing, But, be that as it may, the promise had been kept.
In similar fashion, God kept His promise to Israel. They did not take care of the blessings of God, and they gave up their 'right' to the land.
A Conditional Promise
God gave them the land. He also gave them a warning. He told them that if they turned to following after the beliefs of the pagans who were in the land, that God would allow the nations to drive them out of the land.
Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God. 12 Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you: 13 Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you.14 And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.
A couple of points about this passage.
First, he says “not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.”
God had kept every ‘good thing’ that He had told them He would do. The “Land Promise” was among the good things that God had promised. So, God even acknowledges that He had given them all the land, in keeping His promise to them.
But another thing about this passage, which will bring us into our second point is this, the continuation part of the promise was a conditional promise.
He gave them the land. Period. Full stop!
But he told them that if they stopped following Him there would be consequences. Notice:
Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you.
If they stopped following, then they would forfeit the land that they had been given. This was not a surprise to them. They had heard it before. Moses stood before them and said the exact same thing.
In Deuteronomy 8:18-20 we read:
18But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. 19And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. 20As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.
He says in verse 19 if you forget the Lord thy God then you shall surely perish- if they turned against God, the punishment was to be meted out upon them and so this land promise was conditional. Their staying in the land, them keeping all the land, was conditioned upon their faithfulness to God. (Cf.Deut. 19:9)
God never said "this land will be yours forever regardless of what you do or how you live." There were conditions, if they lived by God's laws, they could stay in the land. But, if they turned from Him, then God would kick them out of that land.
In fact Moses would even warn and predict what was going to happen to this very group of people.
17But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. (Deuteronomy 30:17-18)
Notice the statement: if your heart turns away so that you will not hear God, and you begin worshipping other gods, you will not be able to prolong your days on the land.
In Deuteronomy 4:25-31 it is predicted, that the Israelites would not keep the commands of God, and would in fact be driven off of the land.
So what have we determined?
- God did indeed keep his promise to Israel. They received all the land as was promised.
- God conditioned the continuance upon the land based upon their faithfulness to Him.
- They would indeed turn from God and God would allow the Assyrians and the Babylonians to take the Israelites off of the land.
So, let us answer the question. Does Israel TODAY have a “GOD GIVEN” right to the land commonly known as “The Holy Land.” The answer is no!
Am I glad that Israel is in that land? Yes, politically it is great that they are there. However, religiously speaking, there is (presently) no such thing as “The Holy Land.” and God is no longer ‘duty-bound’ to set any people into any specific physical land territory.
Today, God’s people are His church and the ‘land’ that is Holy are the souls of those who are His children. (Isa. 62:12; Gal. 3:29)