Not a day goes by without the TV, radio or printed media mentioning the conflict in the Middle East. The modern State of Israel suffers a regular battering in the news and Christians are left wondering what the truth is. There is no such thing as just reporting what is happening, it is all coloured by a perspective and agenda of some kind. We could say that there is no news only propaganda! This is particularly true when it come to the news about Israel. Only the Bible can make this confusion clear and give us as sense of God’s sovereignty in a world that seems out of control. When so called Christian ministers start calling Jesus a Palestinian, we know that something is wrong – Jesus’ very identity is under attack, not just the modern State of Israel.
It all goes back to Sarai & Hagar, the cursed relationship of their sons Isaac & Ishmael. (Genesis 16:12 “His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him”) Ishmael had twelve sons from whom the Arab nations originated.
From the root zealous “canani” which came to signify “trader”, the Canaanites were descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham the son of Noah.
Numbers 13:29 “The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” The land of Canaan was not inhabited solely by Canaanites, they were only by the sea and by the river Jordan. Canaanite was also used in a board sense to talk about non-Israelites in the Land. (Gen 12:6) They were called Phoenicians by the Greeks and Poeni by the Romans. God promised that He would drive them out (Exodus 23:23) of the Promised Land.
“Philishtini” Philistine =” immigrants”. He was an inhabitant of Philistia; descendants of Mizraim who immigrated from Caphtor (Crete?) (Amos 9:7, Jer 47:4) to the western seacoast of Canaan. They were a tribe allied to the Phoenicians: Genesis 10:14 “Pathrusim, and Casluhim (from whom came the Philistines and Caphtorim).” In the time of Abraham they inhabited the south-west of Judea, Abimelech of Gerar being their king. (Gen 21:32,34 26:1) There was almost perpetual war between them and the Israelites. These hostilities did not cease till the time of Hezekiah (2Kings 18:8) when they were entirely subdued. Their name was used by the Romans to rename Israel to wipe out memory of a Jewish state after AD70.
History of a Land
Canaan had been a collection of city-states, paying tribute to the Pharaoh. The break-up of the Egyptian empire beginning about 1500 BC made possible the invasion of the Hebrews. These were cities-states in Canaan about 1200 BCE.
Abraham, by faith, left Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land:-
“and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:6-7
However, the borders of this land were not set. It was only after the Lord “cut the covenant” with Abraham that he gave a general delineation of the land. He said, On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates–the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:18-21
A detailed description of the land’s borders was given to the children of Israel as they were about to enter the land after four hundred years in Egypt.
Numbers 34:1-5 sets forth the Southern borders of the land of Canaan. The general line of the southern border is from the Dead Sea, through the Wilderness of Zin to Kadesh Barnea. It then turns north to the “Wadi of Egypt” and the Mediterranean Sea. Joshua gives a similar description (15:1-4). The identification of the “Wadi of Egypt” is the only point in question in this passage. Some have suggested it is the Nile River or one of its tributaries. Most Bible atlases place it at Wadi el-Arish. The territory south of the Wilderness of Zin (called the Central Negev Highlands today) belonged to Edom. The Aravah and the mountains to the east of the Aravah were also Edomite territory. Eilat, the seaport on the Red Sea, belonged to Edom (Exodus 23:31, Ezekiel 47:19, Genesis 15:18)
The Western border was the coastline of the Mediterranean — called, in those days, the Great Sea (Numbers 34:6, Ezekiel 47:20):
“As for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea for a border; this shall be your western border.” Numbers 34:6
Northern Border: Through Lebanon, and today’s Syria, to the Euphrates River. (Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 11:24, Ezekiel 47:17)
The northern border goes from the “Great Sea” (the Mediterranean) to Mount Hor and continues on to the entrance to Hamath; then the border goes to Zedad, proceeds to Ziphron, and ends at Hazar Enan:
“And this shall be your northern border: From the Great Sea you shall mark out your border line to Mount Hor;`from Mount Hor you shall mark out your border to the entrance of Hamath; then the direction of the border shall be toward Zedad;`the border shall proceed to Ziphron, and it shall end at Hazar Enan. This shall be your northern border.” Numbers 34:7-9
The Eastern border: Parts of Syria to the north, and along the slopes on the eastern side of the Sea of Kinnereth, what we know as the Golan Heights today. The Kinnereth is also called the Eastern Sea in Scripture, and is what we know as the Sea of Galilee.
The Jordan River rises in the high mountains of Lebanon and runs south to the Sea of Galilee. At the southern end of this Sea it flows out and along the Jordan Valley to enter the north point of the Dead Sea. The eastern side of the Jordan River, south of the Golan Heights, represents the boundary of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:11-12, Ezekiel 47:18)
The eastern border is marked out:
“You shall mark out your eastern border from Hazar Enan to Shepham; `the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain; the border shall go down and reach to the eastern side of the Sea of Chinnereth; `the border shall go down along the Jordan, and it shall end at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land with its surrounding boundaries.'” Numbers 34:10-12
Ezekiel gives a similar description of the borders of the Land of Israel as revised in terms of the geographical concepts of his day: Ezekiel 47:15-20; 48:1,28
Some of the geographical reference points mentioned in Scripture are difficult for us to identify accurately, God certainly knows the full area into which He promised to Israel. Israel has yet to inhabit all that God promised.
What we can safely say is that the Promised Land stretches from the Red Sea in the south, to the Mediterranean at a point below Gaza on the west, extending up the coastline at least as far as Sidon in Lebanon, then to the Euphrates River in the north, and on the east down a line of the Jordan River.
This area certainly encompasses the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians, and some international bodies, may be looking for the establishment of a state separate from Israel, but God’s Word makes a different judgement. God says that this is the land that He promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the Jewish people.
• Twelve Tribes
Twelve tribes entered Canaan from Egypt and conquered it.
Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh settled on the east side of the Jordan River. Numbers 32:1-5:
“Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of livestock; and when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that indeed the region was a place for livestock, the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Shebam, Nebo, and Beon, “the country which the LORD defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” Therefore they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.”
The territory of Bashan (the Golan Heights today), however, was settled by part of the half tribe of Manasseh and it was part of the promised land.
In the time of Joshua and the Judges both sides of the River Jordan were inhabited by the 12 tribes. There was no such country as Jordan on the east bank of the river Jordan. Three of the six Israelite Cities of Refuge were on the east side of the river Jordan: Golan, Ramoth Gilead and Bezer (Joshua 20:1-9)
• King David
Bible Atlases have maps showing the borders of the kingdom of David (about 1000 B.C.) and other nations. The maps are approximations based on Biblical narrative and supporting archaeology. Damascus taken and taxed (2 Samuel 8:5-8). King Hadadezer the Aramean is defeated, his states as far as the Euphrates becomes David’s (2 Samuel 10:15-19). David needs a new capital, and moves from Hebron to takes Jerusalem, not from the Philistines or Arabs or Muslims, but from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-10). Amnon taken in 2 Samuel 12:26-31. Philistine power crushed in 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1. Moab becomes subject to David in 2 Samuel 8:2 and Edom is defeated and taxed in Samuel 8:13-14.
• King Solomon
Bible Atlas maps shows Israel 3000 years ago, at the time of King Solomon. This was about 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness. Israel, under King Solomon, occupied the largest extent of their inheritance, almost fulfilling the promised boundaries. Gaza was not incorporated into Israel proper in Solomon’s day even though it was part of the Promised Land. The land of the Canaanites, promised to Abraham, included the coastal strip all the way to Sidon — the city of Canaan’s first-born son (1Chronicles 1:13)
On the other hand, areas of Moab, Ammon and Edom, east of the Dead Sea, were occupied by King Solomon, but were not part of the Promised Land. This is the area occupied by Jordan today.
• Israel in Jesus’ Day
After Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms. Eventually, both the kingdom of Israel, and later that of Judea, with its temple in Jerusalem, were overrun by invaders. The Persians restored the Judean kingdom and allowed the Jews to rebuild their temple. This kingdom fell to Greek and later Hellenic-Syrian domination when Alexander the Great conquered Persia.
In 164 BCE the Hasmonean Kingdom of Judea revolted and became semi-independent of Syria. It was protected by a treaty of friendship with Rome. However in 61 Pompeii conquered Jerusalem, and from then on Israel was subordinate to Rome. Parts of it were nominally independent under the rule of local kings of the line of Herod the Idumean.
Judea (Iudaea) was the Roman name for the Land of Israel during the heyday of the Roman Empire. This meant not only the area called Judea in Israel today; it included the whole area ruled and/or chiefly inhabited by Jews. We can see this usage in various writers in Latin and Greek of that period. Consider Pliny, Suetonius, and Tacitus in Latin, and Plutarch as well as the geographers Strabo and Ptolemy in Greek. Judea stretched along both sides of the Jordan and included, besides Judea proper, most of the coastal plain, Samaria, most of the Galilee, the Golan Heights of today and considerable land to the east of there (areas called in Latin Gaulanitis [=Golan], Batanaea [=Bashan], Auranitis [=Hawran], and Trachonitis). The Romans called this land as a whole Iudaea (from the Greek Ioudaia). The land was mainly inhabited by Jews and was ruled by Jews.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, large numbers of Jews were exiled. Jerusalem was eventually rebuilt as Aelia Capitolina. After the failure of the revolt of Bar-Kochba in 133, there were more exiles and ruined towns. On the ruins of Israelite and Canaanite towns, the Romans built new ones, populated partly by inhabitants of neighbouring lands. The land was divided into several districts, of which Palestine was only one. The Negev, generally excluded from these divisions was inhabited by the Nabateans, a trader nation that made a notable desert civilisation in cities such as Avdat (in modern Israel) and Petra (in modern Jordan). The whole area between the desert and the sea was known, later in the Roman Empire, as the Christian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, though this was not a Roman administrative division.
The NT uses the name “the Land of Israel” twice (Matthew. 2:20-21) never using the name “Palestine,” nor the adjectival form “Palestinian.”
• Crusader Period
Christian “Palestine” fell first to the Persians, in 614. It was reconquered briefly in 629 by Heraclius. However, with the rise of Islam, the Middle East, and with it Israel was conquered by Arabs. Jerusalem fell in 640. The Jewish populous were willing allies of the Arabs, as they had been of the Persians. The Land was divided into a Southern Jund of Filastin with a capital in Al-Lud (later in Ramleh), and a northern Jund of Al Urdunn with its capital in Tabariyeh (Tiberius).
Beginning in 1095, the crusaders conquered “Palestine” and the surrounding areas. Initially savage toward Muslims and Jews, crusader rule eventually seems to have brought a measure of good administration before it was eventually eliminated by Saledin.
• Turkish Rule
“Palestine” changed hands several times among Moslem conquerors, the last of whom were the Turks. The land was divided into three administrative areas. The Turks lost Jerusalem to British General Allenby, who took the city without a shot fired.
• British Mandate
Lord Robert Cecil, acting British foreign secretary use the name Judea for the whole land in his famous remark: “Our wish is that Arabian countries shall be for the Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians, and Judea for the Jews” (December 2, 1917).
Neither Palestine nor Syria is an indigenous name for the country either is nowadays supposed to represent. They were names given by foreigner sailors & merchants from the West who loosely defined the regions along the Eastern Med coast. Syria was a more inclusive term of the two : it was used by Greeks and Romans, it included the notion of Palestine, as we see from Herodotos, who wrote of “Palestinian Syria” (using the word as an adjective, not a noun). For him it was merely a section of Syria.
Britain promised the whole of today’s Jordan and today’s Israel as a land mass for a Jewish state.
Britain promised Gaza as part of the Jewish state. It was British wheeling and dealing with France for Middle East Empire building that has caused much of today’s political problems. From 1948-1967 when Gaza was in Egyptian hands Arab refugees were not given a Palestinian state, nor were the refugees repatriated to the many Arab countires they had come from to find work in the British Mandate area.
• West Bank
Britain promised the West Bank, known as Judea & Samaria, as part of the Jewish state. From 1948-1967 this was in Jordanian hands – Jordan was a non-existent state until the British created a state for the Arabic Hashemite tribe. There was no Palestinian state created in this area and Jerusalem was not made capital of anything. The refugees here, as in Gaza were told to flee their homes to free up the Arab armies so they may kill all and not worry if they were Arab brethren! These refugees were not repatriated to the various Arab countries they came from and were turned into refugees by their Arab brethren. Israel inherited a massive refugee problem, they did not create it.
• Post ’67
Israel more than doubled after the war, but gave the Sinai to Egypt in a peace agreement. Israel was only left with a slither of land that was promised by the British after Jordan was created in the early 1900’s. The main problems have Syria at the root.
Syria became a charter member of the United Nations in 1945. It is a new State created on the lands of ancient empires from the Biblical Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Hittites, Chaldeans, Persians then Alexander the Great, Selucids then the Roman province, the Byzantine. 636 taken by the Arabs and incorporated into the Islamic empire. 1099 taken by the Crusaders, taken back by Saladin. 1290 laid waste by Mongol invasion. 1516 part of the Ottoman Turk empire. Turks fought against allies side in WW1, British promised Arabs land for their support in war against Turks. After war the area become a French mandate. 1938 there was substantial independence.
In 1944 a “Greater Syria” movement had been initiated to found a Syrian Arab state that would include Lebanon, Syria, and present-day Jordan and Israel. Many Syrian opponents of the movement feared the absorption of Syria into a larger Arab state and the consequent loss of Syrian national identity. The movement nevertheless gave impetus to Syrian adherence to the Arab League, which was formed primarily to prevent the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
In 1981 Israel officially annexed the Golan Heights, which Syria had taken in 1923. Much of the Palestinian problems and continuing Hizbollah attacks from Lebanon are agitated by Syria. Syria still occupies much of Lebanon and wants a “Greater Syria”. Jordan made a pact with Israel to defend itself from Syrian expansionism.
The root of the problem is beyond the mere claiming of real estate. It is about whether Islam is the final revelation of God or not. It must occupy all lands that it once hand in history to prove itself right.
As Christians our agenda for life is determined by God’s Word, The Bible, not by the press or the political opinion of the masses. A glance at history shows us that Satan has sought to destroy the Jewish people to prove God wrong, Satan also is trying to destroy the Jewish nation so there is no one for the Messiah to return to to cause them to say Baruch ha ba b’shem Adonai (Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord). So there will be no one to weep over Jesus when He returns and as they see the one who was pierced.
This is not just the politics of “the world” at work here, it is a spiritual battle for truth in which God will justify Himself and bring His purposes to pass when all Israel will be saved. Maranatha – we yearn for that day to come.
© Richard Gibson, Leeds Messianic Fellowship 2002