Fig.1: The 1922 League of Nations sub-division (Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz)
Fig.1: The 1922 League of Nations sub-division (Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz)
Israel's Origin and Purpose
Israel is mentioned in almost every news bulletin. Why is this tiny little nation so newsworthy? Why is there continual conflict between Arab and Jew? Why do many world events now seem to relate back to the actions and even existence of Israel? How will it end? In order to answer these questions we need to look at God's plan for Israel.
Abram (later called Abraham) was called by God to go from his home in Ur of the Chaldeans and travel to a land that God would give to him and his descendants. That land was Canaan, the area we now call Israel. God told Abram that his descendants would become a great nation and that through this nation all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12.1-7). Later God confirmed this promise by a covenant:
'"I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you ... I will give to you and your descendants ... all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."' (Gen 17.7,8)
'"By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have ... not withheld your son ... I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens ... in your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed ..."' (Gen 22.16-18)
The covenant between God and Abraham was now unconditional; God had sworn it by Himself. It was certain that from Abraham would come a great nation and a great blessing to the nations, and Abraham's descendants would be given the so-called 'Promised Land' of Canaan (Israel) as an everlasting possession. Why? God's plan was to create a special nation (Israel) to be His witness to the nations:
'But now, says the Lord, ... He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear ... I have called you by name; you are Mine! ...You are My witnesses ... and My servant whom I have chosen ..."' (Isa 43.1,10)
Origin of Jewish & Arab Nations
Things went wrong when Abraham listened to his wife instead of believing in God's promise of a 'seed'! Abraham followed her suggestion (and custom of the day) and he took his female servant Hagar, an Egyptian, as wife (Gen 16.3). She bore him a son, Ishmael, but this was not God's plan for Abraham. When Abraham asked God to bless Ishmael as a servant of God, he was told "No"! God had other plans. In fact, Ishmael was prophesied to be a violent man 'with his hand against everyone' (Gen 16.12) This separation of the blessing is crucial to the understanding of the modern-day Arab-Israeli conflict. God said:
'"No, Sarah your wife will bear you a son (even though she was old), and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him ... as for Ishmael, I have heard you; ... I will bless him, and make him fruitful ... and I will make him a great nation ... but My covenant I will establish with Isaac."' (Gen 17.19-21))
Here we see the birth of two great peoples; Israel and the Arab nations. But the covenant promises of blessing and the land of Canaan went with Isaac, not Ishmael.
Abraham subsequently gave all that he had to Isaac, but to Ishmael and his other sons he gave gifts and sent them 'to the land of the east' (Gen 25.5,6). Having said that, God instructed Israel to care for the stranger in their land; they were not to expel them:
'"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you should do him no wrong ... (he) ... shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself ..."' (Lev 19.33,34)
So we have the concept of national Israel, a special nation in their God-given land, embracing all strangers who happen to live in the land. This again is a crucial factor in today's Arab-Israeli conflict. Strangers should be welcomed, but they must accept the existence and land-rights of national Israel.
Despite man's failings, God continued His covenant plan and we find a line of descent from Isaac, through Jacob, Judah, David and eventually to Christ. Paul takes the reference to Abraham's 'seed' as a reference to Christ (Gal 3.16), whose genealogy is traced back to Abraham in Matthew's gospel (Mat 1.1-17). This is the first reference to the gospel that would be proclaimed as good news to the gentile nations as well as to the Jews. Christ's offer of salvation for all through His death and resurrection was the promised blessing to all nations. Christ brings 'good news to the afflicted, binds up the brokenhearted, and gives liberty to captives' (Isa 61.1). Abraham's 'seed' also refers to the nation of Israel itself (see below).
In line with His promise to Abraham, God renamed Isaac's son Jacob 'Israel' and said:
'"The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you."' (Gen 35.12)
For a more in-depth discussion of this topic see the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel's Land Boundaries: a 2-State Solution?
The descendants of Jacob (Israel) are of course the 12 tribes of Israel, and so modern-day Israeli's claim the land of Israel to be theirs through God's covenant with Abraham. In Old Testament times this land was to extend from 'the river (brook) of Egypt to the river Euphrates' (Gen 15.18). For details of Israel's land boundaries as defined in the Bible see the in-depth study on The Millennial Reign of Christ. For a detailed study of Israel's legal boundaries today see Israel's Legal Borders. They are based upon the League of Nations 1922 boundaries shown in Fig.1.
Today there is much talk of a two-state solution. But those who attempt such a division of the land should note God's warning:
"I will enter into judgement with them ... on behalf of My people Israel ... they have divided up My land." (Joel 3.2)
The Historical Scattering of Israel
Abraham's failing with Hagar was not the only thing that didn't go according to God's plan! The 12 tribes were subsequently split into a southern kingdom (called 'The House of Judah', embracing Judea and Jerusalem) and a northern kingdom comprising 10 tribes (called 'The House of Israel', or simply 'Israel') - see Jer 11.10. The latter had a succession of godless kings and despite repeated warnings from the prophets, they rebelled against God. Eventually God's warnings gave way to judgement and He uprooted them from the Promised Land and scattered them throughout the nations, as pre-warned by Moses:
'And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples' (Deut 4.27)
From hereon The House of Israel ceased to be a kingdom, and the Babylonians and others settled in the cities of Samaria in their place (2 Kings 17.24). The scattering was complete around 722 BC. The House of Judah was also rebellious and eventually suffered the same judgement. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed around 597 BC and by 586 BC all of the southern kingdom had been deported to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. Apart from a remnant of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi which returned to rebuild Jerusalem, the whole of national Israel was now dispersed amongst the nations (James 1.1) and Jerusalem was occupied by Gentile nations.
Biblical End Times: Zionism & the Restoration of National Israel
The movement to restore Israel as a nation in her own land and to create a Jewish state is often referred to as 'Zionism'. Whilst this movement has both religious and secular roots, what we see today in Israel is actually an out-working of God's covenant to Abraham.
Consider a little history. Whilst the seed of Abraham was fulfilled in Christ, God's flagship nation and chief witness had lost its identity amongst the nations. It was scattered in disgrace and some maintain that the New Testament Church has now replaced Israel as God's witness (replacement theology). But since God gave Abraham an unconditional covenant, then national Israel must one day fulfil its role as God's witness and return to the Promised Land (this is also required by other key prophecies). Infact, God did not destroy national Israel - He simply gave her a 'writ of divorce' (see for example Jer 3.8) - and there are many prophecies of the re-gathering of national Israel and her 'remarriage' to her God. For example:
'"Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone ... and bring them into their own land ..."' (Ezek 37.21)
'I will say to the north,"Give them up! ... bring My sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth"' (Isa 43.6)
'And (the Lord) will lift up a standard for the nations, and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth' (Isa 11.12)
These prophecies have seen recent fulfilment as the concept of Zionism and the regathering and restoration of Israel started in the late 19th century. Consider a few facts concerning Israel (Palestine):
Note that 1917 saw Jerusalem liberated from Gentile control after some 2500 years, link. This was direct fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy:
'"Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles unitl the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled"' (Lk 21.24)
Jerusalem then came under the British Mandate for Palestine, and in 1967 all Jerusalem returned to the total control of national Israel.
Today, the goal of a State of Israel has been achieved and the Aliyah continues. For example, a tribe called the Bnei Menashe in India has maintained their Jewish roots and believe they belong to the lost 10 tribes. In 2014 some 7,000 returned to their ancient homeland. And the role of Zionist organisations like the Jewish Agency & WZO continue to oversee aliya, immigration, settlement and education.
The Rapid Growth of Israel
The population growth of Palestine/Israel is striking. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews but this increased to over 6 million Jews in 2013, link, corresponding to an amazing 7400% increase! In comparison, over the same period the UK population increased just 55%. We can see this as the amazing natural growth of a young nation, or as the fulfilment of the above prophecies in Ezekiel and Isaiah.
Today, Israel has highly developed banking, health, and University systems and her industries include textiles, food processing, mining, agriculture and forestry. Israel is particularly advanced in the hi-tech industry such as computer science, electronics, genetics, medicine, optics, solar energy and electric cars. Those who choose to boycott Israeli goods will loose a lot of benefits of the modern world! The following video highlights how Israel's technological innovations are making the world a better place:
"Israel shall blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit." (Isa 27.6)
In 2010 a huge natural-gas discovery was confirmed in the Eastern Mediterranean inside Israel's territorial waters. Analysts believe this Levant Basin gas field could provide Israel with 50 to 200 years of gas, at current levels of use. Israel also has one of the world's largest deposits of shale oil - 250 billion barrels in Israel's Shfela basin. Although expensive to extract, Israel is now pioneering shale oil technology. See also Israel's oil wealth. Some think Israel may well become an energy exporter over the next decade. In fact, in line with God's future blessing of Israel, the Bible seems to imply that God has already given the land of Israel abundant mineral wealth:
"For they shall partake of the abundance of the seas (gas?) and of the treasures hidden in the sand (shale oil?)." (Deut 33.19)
Aggression against Israel and the Jews
Israel has been in continuous conflict with the surrounding Arab nations since the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, and the so-called Palestinian problem is continually in the media. Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) does not recognize Israel's right to exist and has the goal of destroying the State of Israel through Jihad:
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."
[ Hamas Charter, 1988 ]
To date, no Hamas representative has ever renounced the charter and their objective remains to replace the Jewish state with an Islamic caliphate, link. A key target is Jerusalem. Following the change of leadership in Egypt, a radical Muslim preacher said:
"We can see how the dream of the Islamic caliphate is being realised ... the capital of the United States of Arabs will be Jerusalem ..."
But according to Bible prophecy they will not succeed. We note that God's covenant with Abraham included the phrase:
'"... and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies"' (Gen 22.17)
Here 'seed' clearly refers to the nation of Israel, and the implication is that God has given Abraham's descendants the ability to conquer their enemies. The concept of 'divine protection' also appears elsewhere. For example, in relation to Israel God says:
'"Whoever assails you will fall because of you ... no weapon that is formed against you will prosper"' (Isa 54.15,17)
'"I will be a wall of fire around her ... he who touches you, touches the apple of (the Lord's) eye"' (Zech 2.5,8)
Do we see this protection today in Israel's Iron Dome, which proves very effective against Hamas rockets?
Certainly, the evidence to date is that each time Arab nations attack Israel, their end-state seems worse than their first - as in the 6-day war! At the end of the age all nations will gather against Israel in an attempt to destroy her - but God intervenes.
It is prophesied that all nations will eventually abandon support for Israel; in fact, all nations will eventually be gathered against her. This international bias was well summarised in a speech by historian Andrew Roberts to the British House of Commons. Essentially he argued for Israel's right to self-defence and legitimacy.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) supports the numerous UN Resolutions against Israel's so-called 'land occupation'. The WCC advocates peaceful protest, such as a goods boycott. But are they right? You might like to consider the implications of boycotting Israel:
Of course, aggression is not just against the Israeli State, but also against the people themselves. Anti-Semitism (prejudice, discrimination, and hatred of Jews) is growing in the Muslim world, the UN, the USA, Europe, the university campus and even in the church. Anti-semitism is particularly high in Hungary (63% of the population), in Spain (53%) and in Poland (48%) [ADL poll, 2012].
An interpretation of Bible prophecy that aligns well with today's world is the futuristic view of Daniel's 70th-week (Dan 9.24). This prophecy refers to the Jews (Daniel's people) and to Jerusalem, and the last 7 years of the prophecy are of particular importance to modern-day Israel (formerly called Jacob). Taking the futuristic view, at the start of this period, Israel makes the wrong choice and signs a peace treaty with the coming world dictator. In effect, due to their spiritual blindness, they make a 'covenant with Hell' (Isa 28.15), and mid-way through the 7 years the world dictator breaks the covenant and invades Israel (Dan 9.27). The resulting intense persecution of the Jews lasts three and a half (OT) years or 360 days (Dan 12.7), and is described as follows:
"Alas, for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob's distress ..." (Jer 30.7)
"And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation ..."(Dan 12.1)
As throughout Israel's history, God preserves a remnant and here one third of the population survive (Zech 13.8). Prophecy indicates that at the start of the persecution, when the world dictator takes his seat in the Jewish temple (Mat 24.15,16), some believing Jews flee to a safe place in the wilderness (Rev 12.14). It seems that only right at the end of this 7-year period, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ, is there a widespread turning to Jesus, Israel's true Messiah:
"... they (Israel) will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him ... (Zech 12.10)
For essays, analyses and commentaries on current events in Israel, and particularly the threat of Islam, see Think Israel.
For an in-depth study of Israel, her future, and her relationship to the Church, see The Last Years of this Age.
Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible