The current events in Israel have left many Christian Zionists puzzled and confused. Often we hear the question: Why does God not intervene? The Israeli Knesset decided to disengage from Gaza within this year, territory that according to the Bible belongs to Israel’s Promised Land. A few years ago Christian supporters of Israel were confronted with the same question when Israel withdrew its troops from Jericho and later on from large parts of Judea and Samaria.
Israel’s withdrawal from the biblical land and a possible Palestinian state on what the Bible calls “Eretz Israel” is a reality which does not correspond to the biblical understanding of many Christian Zionists.
In the following, we will address two key aspects of biblical doctrine relating to the “land question” which can help us to understand the current events in Israel.
An Unshakable Promise
Israel’s right to possess the land of Canaan is founded upon divine promises. Not just once, but time and time again God assured Abraham that he would give him and his descendants a land of promise.
He said to lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land, which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. (Genesis 13:14)
The same divine promises are given to the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob. They were confirmed to Moses, repeated in the Psalms and can be found throughout the prophetic writings. They are biblical promises, which cannot be surpassed in strength and commitment.
In Genesis 15 we find that God defined the borders of the Promised Land and corroborates this promise by making a covenant with Abraham.
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. (Genesis 15:18)
It was customary in biblical times, that the establishment of a covenant was accompanied by the slaughtering of an animal. It was divided in two halves with each half placed opposite each other. Both covenant partners would together pass through the halves, confirming their intention of commitment (see also Jeremiah 34:18).
However it is important to note that when God made this covenant with Abraham, He alone in the form of a fiery furnace and a burning torch passed through the animals while Abraham was sleeping (Genesis 15:12). The covenant God made was thus a one-sided covenant through which God expressed: “No matter what you and your descendants will do, today I make a covenant with you Abraham, to give you and your descendants this land as inheritance.”
It is this divine covenant and a multitude of promises on which biblical Zionism is founded. It is the faith in a covenant keeping God, which is the bedrock of our support of the Jewish people and the land of Israel. “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.” (Psalm 89:34)
An Unshakable Condition
The Bible, however, not only teaches about the right to possess but also about the right to inhabit the land. The book Deuteronomy, which records the last message of Moses before Israel conquered Canaan, stipulates more than any other book that there are firm conditions to living in the land of Canaan. Like a red thread these conditions are found through the whole book of Deuteronomy.
Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants. (Deuteronomy 11:8)
If Israel wants to enter the Land and dwell there for an extended period of time, they need to live there as a holy people. That means: the right of possession is clearly anchored in the word and promise of God. The land is forever hers. But the right of domicile is based on the spiritual condition of the Jewish people.
Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of “blessings and curses” sums this up in a rather dramatic way: If Israel walks in the ways of their God “He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (V.8) but if she consistently refuses to walk according to his word and follows other gods, the ultimate consequence will be: “You shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.” (V.63)
In the book of Joshua we find this powerfully illustrated: When Joshua was about to conquer Jericho he went out into the desert to seek the face of God before this first and decisive battle. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Joshua asked what at first seemed to be a purely rhetorical question: “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” Of course God must have been with Israel! But the answer of God’s messenger must have been rather sobering for Joshua. “Neither, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come. […] Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” In other words: I am not necessarily with you. But if you want me to be on your side, take your shoes of, because this is Holy Ground. God in his sovereignty chose this piece of land between Jordan and the Mediterranean for his redemptive purposes. For that reason he expects the people living on it to be holy and obedient to his kingship.
If Israel wants to live on this land today, she needs to take her shoes off.
Rev. Malcolm Hedding
Former Executive Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
Dr. Jürgen Bühler
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem