Whose Land Is It?
The man had a responsible position in the Jordanian government at the time Jordan controlled East Jerusalem. As a diplomat, he was accustomed to hiding his strongest emotions under a thick cloak of civility. When I, a Jewish believer, broached the subject of Zionism with him, it was as though I had lit a short fuse.
He snarled, The ceding of any land to the Israelis was an immoral act! They have no right to this land because we have lived on it for hundreds of years. No one, and especially no governing body outside of the Middle East (meaning the United Nations), has the right to carve up this land which belonged to us and give it to Israelis!!!”
He was not interested in what I thought on the matter, but an Orthodox Israeli Jew did broach the subject with me. He knew I was well acquainted with the New Testament and so he asked, “How do you interpret Luke 21:24?” This verse declares, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
My reply brought a surprised smile to his lips: “In the day when the Messiah returns,” I said, “all of Jerusalem will be in the hands of Jewish people. In fact, all that God promised to Abraham, declared in Genesis 15:18, will be in the hands of Jewish people.”
My Israeli friend made us both laugh when he exclaimed, “You have just out-Zioned all the Zionists!”
In discussing the validity of Zionism, modern media moguls and the common man alike often fail to consider the question which, when noted, cuts like a clear laser light through the smoke screen of polarized political rhetoric: Is modern Israel merely a political entity or is it rather a fulfillment of prophecy? If the former is true, then what politics created, politics may destroy. If the latter is true, then Israel has a right to the land because she has been given it by the original owner—God. Let us consider them each in turn. First, the political events leading up to the founding of the State. And second, the prophetic mandate for the Jewish people’s right to the land.
A Political Entity?
While many look at 1948 as the birth of the modern State of Israel, the process or gestation period began 100 years ago. Noted below are the significant movements, dates and circumstances in the modern sense:
As early as the 1840s, European Jewish writers began calling for a return of the Jewish people to the land of their fathers. As a result, with no real wide organizational backing, except for regional interest groups in Eastern Europe, these “lovers of Zion” started a trickle of Jewish immigration to the land of Israel. They took the name Bilu, which is an acrostic of Hebrew words that stand for: “House of Jacob, come ye and let us go.” This was the beginning of the first aliyah or immigration wave in modern times.
The next move of great importance was the lifework of Theodor Herzl. Working as a correspondent for a Viennese newspaper, he covered the Alfred Dreyfus trial in Paris in 1894. Dreyfus, a captain in the French army, was accused of selling state secrets to the German government. More central to the case was that Dreyfus was a Jew. Herzl was profoundly affected by the rise of virulent anti-Jewishness as evidenced in the trial proceedings. He came to the conclusion that there was no more future for the Jewish person in the West and turned his gaze to the ancient homeland. In 1896 he wrote The Jewish State. and the following year he held the first Zionist congress in Basel, Switzerland. This new movement encouraged emigration from Europe and a second wave of Jews landed on the ancient soil between 1904-914. This marked the birth of the kibbutzim movement—groups of communal farms operated by dedicated Jewish immigrants.
The Balfour Declaration was ratified in 1922. This was a promise from Great Britain that Palestine would be a homeland for Jewish people who wished to emigrate. And then, a mere ten years later, Hitler arose on the European scene. During the 1920s and until 1936, there were three emigration movements. By the mid-1930s. thousands of German-speaking Jews had fled Hitler’s Germany. After 1939, illegal immigration developed inasmuch as the British put restrictions on the number of Jews who could settle in Palestine. This was an unconscionable violation of the Balfour Declaration they had instituted seventeen years earlier.
At the end of World War II, the several hundred thousand Jewish survivors of Hitler’s terror wanted no more of Europe. One plot of ground, one focus of hope filled their longings—Israel. In 1948 the modern State of Israel became a reality, born in war and baptized in tears.
Even after the foundation of the State, the return continued unabated. Almost one million Jewish refugees streamed out of Arab countries between 1948 and the end of the 1950s. And. because of the 1967 Arab-lsraeli war, the conflict also became a catalyst for Soviet and North American Jewry. In the brief periiod between 1967 and 1973 alone, at least 150,000 Jewish people immigrated to Israel from these two sources.
What do the Scriptures Say?
Having briefly chronicled the birth and growth of the modern State, we must return to the more fundamental and crucial question: Was the conception of the State of Israel merely a matter of political liaison or was the State conceived in the mind of the Lord of history? Is there a prophetic mandate for the Jewish people’s right to the land?
Some will confidently assert that one cannot definitely claim that Jewish people have a Scriptural right to their own land. There are even rabbis who say that any prophetic statements concerning the land are of “antiquarian significance only.” This means that the prophets spoke only to their day and cannot at all speak to a future in which Jewish people would have a right to their own land. There are also some Christians who declare that they have an allegiance only to God and to His Kingdom, and not to any earthly land. Rather, any so-called “promised land” is to be seen as other than literal land, e.g., a “state of mind!”
Professor Zvi Werblowski, speaking at the 1971 Jerusalem Prophecy Conference on “Prophecy, the Land and the People,” declared that, “Most of us do not regard prophecy as prediction. We do not believe that the significance of the Biblical message is in its capacity to foretell events.” This can be taken to mean that no prophet could foretell the future and point to the day when Jewish people would return. Rather, the prophets should be seen as “telling forth” to their day.
Yet most of the people of Israel, as well as many Jewish people in the Galut,1 echo Werblowski’s assertion that, “A Jew experiences and interprets the fate of his nation, its sufferings and triumphs, in…Biblical terms, the words of the prophets.” For example, Ezekiel talked in terms of the beginning of Israel: “When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, l said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!'”(Ezekiel 16:6).
On the basis of these words, a Jew today can express his feelings concerning the mass extermination in Europe, and immediately following it, the resurrection of Israel to independence (Werblowski, “Prophecy, the Land and the People,” Prophecy in the Making, Carl Henry, ed., Creation House, 1971, p. 346). Are the words of the prophets merely a culturally convenient vehicle in espousing the sentiments of modern man in ancient terms?
Without dealing extensively with Bible interpretation at this point, two established rules of interpretation are as follows: 1) “When Scripture makes common sense use no other sense;” 2) “Prophecy …must be interpreted literally …The reason a non-literal method of interpretation is adopted is, almost without exception, because of a desire to avoid the obvious interpretation of the passage. The desire to bring the teaching of Scripture into harmony with some predetermined system of doctrine instead of bringing doctrine into harmony with the Scriptures has kept this practice alive.”2 The point is that we have to let the prophetic Scriptures speak on their own without reading into them!
The Prophets Speak to Our Day and the Future
As already indicated at the beginning of this article, God had made a promise to Abraham that a piece of land would be given to the seed of Abraham that would include “this land, from the River of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). The promise is repeated to Isaac in Genesis 26:3 and reiterated to Jacob in Genesis 35:12.
To Joshua, the promise was also given: “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all the people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel” (Joshua 1:21. Israel lived in this land until the Babylonian invasion under Nebuchadnezzar when Jerusalem was sacked and the First Temple destroyed in 586 B.C.E.
But Jeremiah promised, “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been accomplished for Babylon, l will visit you and fulfill my good word to you, to bring you back to this place“‘ (the land promised in the beginning to Abraham, Jeremiah 29:10).
Jewish people continued to live in this land until 70 C.E. when Roman soldiers surrounded and brought havoc to Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. The second commonwealth had come to an end.
Does this mean, however, that land promises are not in effect after 70 C.E.? I hardly think so, if we carefully consider the full scope of what the prophets declare.
Four aspects of Israel’s prophesied return bear our sober consideration: 1) The fact of Israel’s return was predicted; 2) The finality of Israel’s return was foretold; 3) The manner of Israel’s return was prophesied; 4) The precedent for Israel’s return was provided.
1) The fact of Israel’s return was predicted. The prophets spoke extensively on this subject. Jeremiah and Isaiah, for example, speak of an extensive restoration of Israel:
For your waste and desolate places, and your destroyed land—
Surely now you will be too cramped for the inhabitants,
And those who swallowed you will be far away.
The children of whom you were bereaved will yet say in your ears,
“The place is too cramped for me;
Make room for me that I may live here.” (Isaiah 49: 19-20)
Behold, I am bringing them from the north country,
And I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth,
Among them the blind and the lame,
The woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together;
A great company, they shall return here. (Jeremiah 31:8)
Although some would contend that these and other prophecies of restoration were fulfilled in the 6th century B.C.E return from the Babylonian Captivity, the prophets explicitly indicate otherwise. Thus Ezekiel declares that they will be gathered up “from the lands of their enemies” (note the plural—hardly a reference to the Babylonian exile in one land), and that they will be gathered again “to their own land” (Ezekiel 39:25-28). And Isaiah, the prince of the prophets, explicitly excludes the Babylonian Captivity return from consideration when he says:
Then it will happen on that day that the Lord
Will again recover the second time with If is hand
The remnant of His people, who will remain,
From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath,
And from the islands of the sea.
And He will lift up a standard for the nations,
And will assemble the banished ones of Israel,
And will gather the dispersed of Judah
From the four corners of the earth.
(Isaiah 11: 11, 12)
2) The finality of Israel’s return was foretold. Amos explicitly states that this return is not like any previous return. Once gathered up, Israel will be planted on their own land “never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:15). Certainly this could not be the return from the Babylonian Captivity which was followed by a further dispersion. In this connection, speaking specifically of Jerusalem, Jeremiah states, “The city will never again be uprooted or demolished” (Jeremiah 31:40). Could the language be more plain?
3) The manner of Israel’s return was prophesied. Astute students of prophecy have noted that the prophets foresaw the manner of Israel’s return. In 1883, years before the Zionist Congress organized by Herzl, a Gentile scholar who believed in Israel’s Messiah wrote the following startling words:
- In the prophecy of Ezekiel we have, in the vision of the valley of dry bones and its interpretation, a very full account of the final restoration of Israel.* According to the representations of that vision, the restoration is to take place in successive and perfectly distinct stages. Thus, the prophet saw that before the giving of life to the dry bones which symbolized the house of Israel, before even the clothing of them with flesh and sinews and skin, there was, first of all, “a noise and a shaking, and bone came to bone, each bone to his fellow.” That is, he saw, in the first place, a preliminary organization, the necessary antecedent of all that followed. If this feature of the vision mean anything, it would seem that it can mean nothing else than this: that a tendency to external organization in the scattered nation, was to be looked for, antecedent and preparatory to their actual reinstatement in their land, and their conversion to God by the power of the Spirit of life. Something of this kind, therefore. according to the prophet, was apparently to be expected as one of the initial stages of the restoration process. (*Ezekiel 37:7-17)
Let it be noted, first of all, that both the intimations of Scripture, and the analogy of past fulfillments of prophecy. make it highly probable that the restoration of Israel, at whatever time and in whatever manner it take place, will be a gradual process. The promised restoration from Babylon occupied nearly twenty years; the prediction of the subjugation of the whole nation to Gentile power, was fulfilled, not all at once, but in a long series of events, covering about a hundred and eighty years. The various events predicted in connection with the future restoration of the Jews, are so numerous, and of so complicated a character, that it is made the more probable that the restoration also, if it is indeed to take place, may follow this analogy, and, like the subjugation of the nation, occupy a very considerable length of time.3
4) The precedent for Israel’s return was provided.The precedent or pattern for Israel’s return may be seen in the events surrounding and preceding Israel’s exodus from Egypt under Moses. It is not only the miraculous event where Israel went through the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) as on dry ground, but rather we must also see that God was working in history for almost one hundred years to bring about the miraculous exodus. In the ancient days there were at least three significant factors which led to the Exodus. One was the population explosion prior to the Exodus which swelled the ranks of Israel (Exodus 2). Another factor was the military action of the pharaoh who subjugated the land of Israel under Egyptian might thereby reducing the Canaanite city states to vassal status under Egypt. This made it easier for Joshua to later conquer the land of Canaan. The third factor which led to the Exodus was the call of Moses in whose heart God had been working for 80 years, preparing him to assume leadership. God’s work in history in the ancient world can perhaps shed some significant light on the current situation, where God has also been working for 100 years to finally initiate a new day on behalf of Israel and the nations.
To whom does the land belong? Based upon God’s statement to Abraham (“Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Genesis 12:7), and corroborated by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, we can only declare that the land belongs to the people of Israel. Ultimately Israel will have all that was promised in its entirety to Abraham. For now, we need to heed the prophet’s words, to hear the Holy One of Israel’s call:
How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
They shout joyfully together;
For they will see with their own eyes
When the Lord restores Zion.
Break forth, shout joyfully together,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the Lord has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations;
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God.
1. people who live outside of the Land of Israel.
2. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, p. 60.
3. Samuel H. Kellogg, D.D., The Jews, or Prediction and Fulfillment: an Argument for the Times, Anson D.F. Randolph and Company, 1883,