More often than not, the claim to Palestine as a Jewish homeland has been based upon historical and national rights. All this changed when Menachem Begin became Prime Minister of Israel. Historical and national claims were not discarded, but took secondary place to the Biblical claims which were now being set forth. Begin quoted heavily from God’s promises to Abraham, Moses and the prophets. The West Bank was now called by its old Biblical names of Judea and Samaria. Secularized Jews have not been comfortable with this claim to the land, though orthodoxy has been ecstatic with it. Some went so far as to state that the Biblical right to the land is the only really valid claim.
Is there any validity to making the Scriptures the source for the modern Jewish claim to the land? The answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, this is the only area where Jewish claims become unique. While both historical and national claims are important, the Arabs have made their own claim to the land based upon those two elements as well. At that point, it becomes a matter of choice of whose historical and national claims one will accept. However, in the area of the Biblical right to the land, the Arabs cannot make any claim to it, while the Jews can. Hence, the Arabs do not and cannot claim to have any Biblical authority for their right to the land. Their literature tries to ignore it. Or, when they do address the matter, it is through rebuttals from ministers who do not hold to a literal view of Scripture. However, the Jewish Biblical claims have no rival.
The Claim of Abraham
What are these claims? The claims to the land are first of all, rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant. This covenant is found in several passages of the book of Genesis, and each passage builds on the previous. one. The first such passage is Genesis 12:1-3:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
What is most relevant in this passage is the promise that Abraham would be shown a land. Nothing more than that is promised.
Having arrived in the land that he was shown, God discloses more:
But the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
The promise here is that the descendants of Abraham will eventually possess the land that he was shown. The fact that Abraham’s descendants will possess this land is reaffirmed in Genesis 13: 14-17; but then, in addition, there is a further promise made that Abraham himself will also possess this land.
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So Abraham is now commanded to make what amounts to the first Holy Land tour of Israel, for all the land that he sees in its length and breadth will be his.
However, the exact boundaries are not given until we come to Genesis 15:12-18:
As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—”
At the time of the signing and sealing of the Abrahamic Covenant, God spelled out the future history of Abraham’s seed prior to their initial entry into the land. Then God states what the northern and southern boundaries will be: from the Euphrates in the north to the river of Egypt in the south. The latter border refers to the most eastern branch of the Nile Delta, which now goes along the line of the modern-day Suez Canal.
The Covenant Confirmed
This covenant is later reconfirmed to Isaac in Genesis 26:2-5 and then to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15. In these passages, both Isaac and Jacob are promised that they themselves will possess the land as will their descendants.
What is promised by God in the Abrahamic Covenant is expanded and expounded upon by Moses and the prophets. In Leviticus 26:40-45, Moses points out that after a worldwide dispersion of the Jewish people, they will eventually be regathered into the land. The basis of this reclamation of the land is the Abrahamic Covenant (verse 42).
Israel’s regathering to the land after worldwide dispersion is also found in the prophets.’ The common element that is repeated over and over again by the prophets is that the worldwide regathering and possession of the land is based upon God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Especially revealing is the statement found in Isaiah 27:12:
In that day the Lord will thresh from the flowing Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you, O Israelites, will be gathered up one by one.
Isaiah reaffirms not only a regathering and possession of the land, but he further reaffirms the very boundaries of the land that were promised to Abraham in its northern and southern boundaries.
So, then, according to the Scriptures, three promises are made with regard to the land: first, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all promised the possession of the land; second, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were promised the possession of the land; and third, the boundaries of the promised land extended from the Euphrates River in the north to the River of Egypt in the south.
The Future Promise
However, in light of all the above passages and promises by a God who cannot lie, two other things should be noted: first, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all died, and the most they ever possessed of the promised land was one burial cave and several wells, and second, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, although they had possessed portions of the promised land, have never possessed all of the land in keeping with the boundaries given in the Scriptures. At no point in Jewish history have the Jews ever possessed all of the land from the Euphrates in the north to the River of Egypt in the south.
Since God cannot lie, these things must yet come to pass. Somehow or other, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must possess all the land, and second, the descendants of Abraham must settle in all of the promised land.
Foolishness vs. Fulfillment
How will God’s promises be fulfilled? During the period of the second temple, Judaism was divided into several segments, but the two primary ones were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The two groups differed on several points of theology, one of which was the belief in a physical resurrection from the dead. The Pharisees affirmed it, while the Sadducees denied it. The Sadducees enjoyed asking tricky questions of the Pharisees in light of their belief in a resurrection in order to make the Pharisees look foolish. One such question had to do with a point of the Mosaic Law and how it could be placed in conformity with the concept of a physical resurrection from the dead. According to the Mosaic Law, if a man dies leaving a wife but no children, the brother of the deceased has the responsibility of marrying the widow and producing seed in the name of the deceased. The tricky question went something like this.
There were seven brothers, one of whom married a certain woman and then died, leaving no children. In accordance with the Mosaic Law, his brother then married the widow, but he, too, died childless. He was followed by a third brother and the same thing happened until all seven brothers were married to the one woman, all of them leaving the woman childless. Finally, she also died. So if there is a physical resurrection from the dead, whose wife would she be, since all had been married to her?
The Sadducees enjoyed asking this question since the Pharisees were unable to explain how this particular law of Moses would be put into effect in the world to come. But one day the Sadducees tried this question with Jesus and got an answer they did not expect. It is recorded in Luke 20:34-40:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Evidence for the Resurrection
To begin with, Jesus answered that the Sadducees were guilty of lacking knowledge of the Scriptures and not understanding the power of God or the nature of the resurrection body. The purpose of marriage on earth is to sustain the race since humanity sustains itself by natural generation. But in heaven, man does not reproduce, so there is no need for marriage. The resurrection body is not merely a restoration of natural life, but it is a transformation of the body itself. This transformed body cannot be reproduced.
But then Jesus turned to the Scriptures for evidence of the resurrection by quoting Exodus 3:6 where God said to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” That particular expression in the Old Testament became a formula for the Abrahamic Covenant. That covenant, as has been shown earlier, stated that the land was not only to be possessed by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also by their descendants. The Patriarchs, however, all died without possessing the land, and their descendants have never possessed all of the promised land. So how will God keep His promises in accordance with the Abrahamic Covenant? Only by doing two things: first, there must be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and therein lies the evidence for a physical resurrection. The point Jesus made to the Sadducees was that for God to keep His promises and to prove Himself not to be a liar requires a physical resurrection. But second, there would have to be a restoration of the land in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can all live, and a Jewish state must be formed where they and their descendants can dwell. Restoration of the land—when? There will be a time when the Jewish people will possess all of the promised land, however the Bible makes it clear that this will be fulfilled only during the Messianic times, that is, after the Messiah returns and sets up His kingdom.
However, the resurrection and enjoyment of the land in the Messianic Kingdom are not going to be automatic to every Jew just because he was born a Jew. The element of faith is necessary as Messiah Jesus said in John 5:25-29:
“I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
Again, in John 6:38-40:
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
We invite you to be a recipient of God’s promise through His Son, Jesus.
Scripture References: Isaiah 30:23-26; 35:1-2; 65:21-24; Jeremiah 31:1-6, 11-14 Ezekiel 20:42-44; 28:25-26; 34:25-31; 36:8-15, 28-38; Joel 2:18-27; 3:18; and Amos 9:13