What’s the connection between Kerala in India, Yorkshire in the UK and the USA in general? They have all been variously described as God’s Own Country. Trouble is that these Indians, Yorkshiremen and Americans are all totally mistaken. There is only one country that God calls His own; Israel. The conflict over who owns the land is not a two way fight between Jew and Arab; there are three ‘corners’ in this ring and there can only be one winner – God Himself. You may accuse me of repetition, but it is now good to remind ourselves of the tableau of history as it has unfurled.
The four thousand year history of the Promised Land, from Canaan to Israel, by way of Judea/Samaria and Palestine, can be summarised in one word – covenant. Simply put, this is a contract or agreement between two parties. One of these parties was God and, for the covenant in question, the other party was Abram, renamed Abraham after the covenant was cut, in Genesis 17:7-8. ‘I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.’ With regards to the land in question, history between then and now is simply the outworking of this everlasting, unconditional covenant.
The first point to remind ourselves (yet again – it’s important!) is that the Land belongs to God and God only. He confirms this in Leviticus 25:23, ‘… because the land is Mine and you are but aliens and My tenants’. Jews were, and still are, God’s tenants, albeit on a very long lease. Everyone else, according to the Bible, has no rights at all to the land, except the very transitory rights of conquest, claimed by a whole swathe of Gentile invaders and occupiers, including Canaanites, Philistines, Greeks, Romans, Turks and British.
In an ideal world, Abraham and his descendants would have dug in their heels and continuously occupied the land as legal tenants from then to now. But this is not an ideal world and other factors came into play, not least the actions of these tenants. These actions, whether idolatry, faithlessness or corruption, would never cause God to tear up the tenant’s agreement, because the small print contained no conditions that the tenants should abide by. But their actions could result in the loss of blessings through expulsions from the land for varying periods.
God laid this out clearly through the writings of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy, in the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. He summarises the situation in Chapter 30, verses 19-20, ‘This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.“
All they had to do was choose life, which simply meant following the Lord and obeying His commands. Blessings for obedience are laid out in Chapter 28 – healthy children, good crops, defeat of enemies, rain and prosperity. Yet curses are also laid out for disobedience – hunger, disease, destruction by enemies and, ultimately, expulsion. God in His wisdom forsees all these things, knowing in advance that His people would turn against Him and reap the consequences. Having said that, He also looks ahead, in Chapter 30 to a regathering from exile. The words used are ‘gather you again from the nations‘ and ‘bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers‘ and hope is therefore offered to His people with a reminder that He has never forgotten their tenancy of the Land, even in their years of exile.
The first exile from the land was at the hands of the Assyrians and the seeds were sown during the reign of King Solomon. Hints of strife to come were first given to David after his adultery with Bathsheba, but it was Solomon who really messed things up. In 1 Kings 11:9 we read, ‘The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel’. Solomon, despite all of the blessings that God had given to him earlier in his reign, finally succumbed to the seductive whispers of his hundreds of foreign wives and concubines and ‘followed other gods‘. The penalty was significant. The Kingdom would be torn in two, Judah and Israel, and it was going to happen in the following generation.
Things got worse for the northern kingdom of Israel in that next generation. The ruler, Jereboam, was even more of an idolator than his predecessor. 1 Kings 14:15 outlines the punishment for his crime. ‘… He will uproot Israel from this good land that he gave to their forefathers and scatter them …’ The fate of the northern kingdom was sealed and it disappeared from history in the 8th century BC.
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Who are the tenants of the Land of Israel?