Who owns the Holy Land?

Fredy Winkler

When it comes to the question of who owns the Holy Land, we always hear the somewhat oversimplified answer, “Of course it belongs to the people of Israel, because God promised it to them.” However, the matter is not as simple as it seems, especially since it’s well-known that the country was out of Israel’s hands for almost 2,000 years.

In Genesis 15:18, God speaks to Abraham as if possession of the land is an already fulfilled fact. But just five verses prior, God tells him that his descendants will be foreigners in a land that doesn’t belong to them for another 400 years. And so it happened with Isaac, Jacob and the twelve patriarchs in the land of Canaan, and later with their descendants in Egypt.

After a long time, when they finally arrived at the borders of the Promised Land as a great people, God ordained an additional covenant before entering the Promised Land (in Deuteronomy chapters 29—32). Little to nothing is said about this additional covenant before entering the Promised Land. And yet, what is said in these chapters is crucial and far-reaching.

This additional covenant of blessings and curses should be affirmed by all the people in the center of the land at Mount Ebal and Gerizim. It was already said in Deuteronomy 10 and in the continuation in 11:29 that this is to happen at Mount Gerizim and Ebal.

Joshua 8:30-35 then states that Joshua did everything according to the decree of Moses, and that he read everything to the people as Moses had written it.

Of course, the important chapter of Leviticus 26 also belongs to this fateful theme. In this chapter, the wonderful and unique blessings of obedience are praised. But then, almost unbelievably, there is a description of the consequences of disobedience and the resulting curse that would culminate in expulsion from the land. We see the same thing in Deuteronomy 27 and 28.

From this we can see that possession of the land wasn’t automatically guaranteed to the Israelites, but was tied to the terms of the covenant God had made with them when they entered it.

Of course, these conditions are also valid for the present time. Nevertheless, Israel’s present repatriation is not happening because she has fulfilled the conditions, but because the time is fulfilled in which God redeems His Word. The time when God will fulfill the promise of the land completely cannot be controlled by human decision, but is subject to the omnipotence of God.

God repeatedly spoke through the prophets that He will make a new covenant with His people in the future. This promised covenant, according to Jeremiah 32:37, is linked to the repatriation of Israel to their land. According to verse 40, this future new covenant will include, among other things, that the people of Israel will no longer be divorced from God.

All of the promises to Abraham and his descendants regarding the land, have always been presented by God in His covenants as a fixed fact. From God’s side, the covenants were guaranteed, because God keeps His promises. Responsibility for the failure of the promises always lay with the people. But God in the end would always keep His promises pledged by oath, even if man disobeys. Most impressively, we can see this principle of God in the people of Israel. The repatriation of the people of Israel is one of the most visible evidences that God keeps and redeems His pledges and promises. However, with the return of the people of Israel to their ancestral lands, God has not yet attained His true goal. The ultimate goal will be for Israel to enter into a position of unchanging obedience to God, and thus to reach God’s actual purpose: to be a blessing to all peoples.

God has something similar in mind for the rest of the nations. They are to be brought to an attitude of obedience to God, so that God may fulfill His intention of blessing, which He had at the beginning of creation, in full measure.

Looking forward to the future eternal bond of peace that God will complete.

News from Israel - 08/2018

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