Israel – Key to World Peace (Part III)

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Whose Land Is It ?

Rival Claims

Palestinians maintain that the land is theirs because they have occupied it for 2000 years and that gives them absolute title. They say they have been ousted from their land by force.

The Israelis point out that they were there first — from about 1400 B .C. until they were displaced in 70 and 132 A.D. And they claim to have purchased large tracts of the land from previous occupiers. They say they didn’t just take it.

The position has been further complicated by several wars that have been fought over the last 50 years between Jew and Arab forces, so that some of the land now occupied is considered to be ‘the spoils of war’. The United Nations, who voted in 1947 to partition the land between Jew and Arab, have tried to resolve this latter dispute and have ruled that Israel should withdraw to its former boundaries.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 was passed unanimously in November 1967, following the Six Day War, and sought to establish a just and lasting peace through the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories and by the acknowledgement of the sovereignty and political independence of every State in the area, including their right to live in peace.

The Israelis have not fully withdrawn and the Palestinians have been slow to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a nation, whilst both sides have been involved in threats and acts of force against one another. Despite the prospect of peace talks and the possibility of a reducing level of violence, the position still seems as complicated and as dangerous as ever.

Many-Sided Issue

Nobody can be sure how things will work out and what will happen next. Nor can anyone be entirely clear about the precise details of the past — the rights and wrongs of the various claims. And the right to occupy Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their new state, is a continuing difficulty, for it is a sacred place to three religions — Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Many people have strong views about the question of land ownership and occupation, not just the Israelis and Palestinians who are in the front line. Nor are all Israelis or all Palestinians persuaded about the best course of action. Some are happy to coexist; some claim absolute rights and would deny others even the right to exist. Some Israelis want to withdraw from ‘occupied territory’; others want to build further settlements in the occupied West Bank. A minority government has to tread carefully to remain in power.

Meanwhile the new Palestinian government has to keep the more militant elements on-side, whilst making political progress if it can.

Whose Land?

In any political settlement that might be reached one consideration is likely to be overlooked. All land belongs to God: He formed it and He alone owns it. As the Psalmist observed:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

And, as the apostle Paul once said, God has given the nations a right of occupation, but not forever. All occupation is subject to God’s will and determination:

“God, who made the world and everything in it… has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord” (Acts 17:24-27).

There is a time coming – and the indications are that it will come quite soon – when God will call all nations to account for the way they have misused the earth. We are told that God will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18), when He sends His King to reign here. Then the kingdoms of this world will become “the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!” (11:15).

The allocation and occupation of land thereafter will be by divine decree and we know that the territory now being disputed between Israelis and Palestinians will be specifically given to the LORD, his appointed Prince and the “twelve tribes of Israel” (see Ezekiel 45:1,7 and 47:13-48:9).

Conditional Occupation

We have seen already that the things that happened in Israel were designed to be helpful and educational for all nations – which is why God chose land for His nation to occupy right in the centre of the earth. The laws God gave them clearly spelled out that theirs was a conditional right of possession, not an absolute one. They were not given the title deed of the land of Canaan as theirs to occupy for ever – as absolute owners.

Their right of possession was dependent upon their behaviour, just as it is true that our prospects for long-term survival in God’s Kingdom on earth are dependent upon our behaviour before God. The “meek will inherit the earth” when it pleases God to confer that inheritance. The proud and haughty will have nothing.

Contractual Agreement

Israel’s right of possession, and later their rights to other privileges, depended upon obedience. It was as though they had entered into a contract or treaty with God to the effect that they would do what He had asked and He, in return, would let them continue in occupation. As it turned out, God was a very tolerant and longsuffering landlord and He accepted many of His tenants’ failures and breaches of covenant. But at any time He was able to refer them to the terms they I had accepted when:

‘All the people answered with one voice and said, All the words which the LORD has said we will do’ (Exodus 24:3).

Blessing or Cursing?

In a solemn ceremony, right at the end of Moses’ life, Israel entered into a formal agreement with God — the sort that nations made with other nations, perhaps when a war had ended and peace terms were being agreed. Obedience would mean abundant blessing in every aspect of their national life:

“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds…” (Deuteronomy 28:3-6).

Disobedience would bring disaster upon them. God did not punish them for minor acts of disobedience — He is much too long-suffering for that. But when they persistently disregarded Him, despite His prophets showing them the extreme folly of their ways, at last God exercised His undoubted right to expel the nation from His land. That had been one of the provisions in the agreement:

“It shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all his commandments and his statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you … you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of all things … And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go topossess” (Deuteronomy 28:15,48,52,62-63).

Overtaken by Judgements

Even when the situation seemed hopeless — when one Bible writer said there was “no remedy” for their spiritual sickness and sinfulness — God tried again and again to bring His people to their senses. They were deported — Northern Israel to Assyria ; Southern Judah to Babylon for seventy years. When the next generation returned, God sent them more prophets and gave them great support in their attempts to re-establish a relationship with Him.

Four hundred years later there was an even greater chance to find a better way forward. In Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, God’s Son was born to the virgin Mary. It was the greatest opportunity ever given for Israel to come back to God. Jesus explained that he had come from God to bring them back to his Father.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

It was Israel ‘s best ever opportunity to come back to God by accepting Jesus as their Messiah. But they did not take it. Jesus was sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel ” but they did not recognise that they were lost. Instead they killed the shepherd, who gave his life to save those sheep that wanted to be in his safe-keeping (John 10:14-18).

As the time drew near when he was to be arrested and tried, Jesus made it clear that the Jewish occupation of the land was drawing to a close. In a parable that he told during the last week of his Ministry, he spoke about some tenants in a vineyard who had repeatedly failed to pay what was due to the landlord. Jesus said that a new tenancy was now to be given:

“He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them … I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it …Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking of them” (Matthew 21:41-45).

Ejected and Dispersed

Thus it came about, exactly as Jesus foretold (see Luke 19:43, 44), that some thirty years after his execution the Jewish people were overrun by the Romans — first the inhabitants of Galilee , then the rebel army in Jerusalem . The nation that had rejected God’s final appeal to them was now to learn from nearly two thousand years of deportation and dispersion.

Their exile scattered the Jews all over the world in search of refuge and recognition. More often than not they became the targets of jealousy and outright hatred. They were persecuted in more places than they were helped and their history is littered with place names where Jewish settlers were plundered and persecuted, and where many hundreds of them perished.

Eventually that trail of persecution led to concentration camps and death chambers where six million people perished, just because they were Jewish. It was the grimmest imaginable outworking of the ancient curse:

“Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known — wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see” (Deuteronomy 28:64-67).

Still Jews

Yet this hopeless people somehow managed to retain their Jewish identity despite being dispersed all round the world. They had abandoned their ancient language and lost their ancient homeland. Humanly speaking, there was no way they could recover lost ground.

Yet today we see them back in that land in almost daily contention with its previous occupants, and the eyes of the world are still upon them. What is it that has happened to give them a further period of occupancy in God’s Land? And what will be the final act in this remarkable drama of Jewish history?

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