Israel: The Holy Land

by David Padfield

Every year thousands of people travel to Israel. Why do they go there? What attraction does that land hold? Many wars have been fought over this narrow strip of land. Israel is only 300 miles long from the Lebanese border to the city of Eilat on the Red Sea, and only about seventy miles from east to west at its widest point.

God promised to give this land to Abraham and his descendants. Stephen, the first recorded martyr, told a Jewish audience that, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. 'And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.'" (Acts 7:2-7).

While the children of Israel were in Egyptian bondage, God appeared to Moses at Horeb, "the mountain of God," and said, "I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites" (Exodus 3:8).

Three months after leaving Egypt, God's people came to the Wilderness of Sinai and camped before the mountain of the Lord (Exodus 19:1-2). God came "down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people" (Exodus 19:11) and made a covenant with them.

After reaching the border of Canaan, twelve men were sent into the promised land to "spy out the land of Canaan" (Numbers 13:2). After spending forty days in the land, the spies returned to Moses in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh (Numbers 13:26). The spies reported Canaan was truly a land that "flows with milk and honey" (Numbers 13:27). Unfortunately, ten of the spies gave a bad report of the land by saying there was no way for the children of Israel to defeat the large, fortified cities of the land. The people believed the bad report and were punished by God for their lack of faith in His power (Numbers 14:26-35). God caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years because of their unbelief (Hebrews 3:16-19).

After forty years in the wilderness, at the age of 120, "Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar." (Deuteronomy 34:1-3). From this perch nearly 4,000 feet above the Dead Sea, Moses could see all the land God had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. However, because of his sin at the waters of Meribah, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 20:12-13).

After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, Joshua became the leader of God's people. After years of fighting, "the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass." (Joshua 21:43-45).

Before his death, Joshua reminded the people that retention of the promised land was conditional. God had kept His word by giving them the land, but if they chose to disobey Him they would be cast out of the promised land. Joshua said, "Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the Lord your God promised you, so the Lord will bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the Lord your God has given you. When you have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you." (Joshua 23:15-16). A similar warning was given by Moses prior to his death (Deuteronomy 28:1-68).

It is very easy for us to get so wrapped up studying the land that we forget God's real interest is in people! The land was just the means to an end.

While instructing the Israelites on how to treat the Canaanites and other inhabitants of the land, Moses said, "you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6). Before giving the Law at Sinai, God told Moses to instruct the people with these words: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:4-6).

God desires to bring "many sons to glory" through the sacrifice of His Son (Hebrews 2:10). Christ died "that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). Christians are to live soberly, righteously and godly, for we "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

When God's Son came to this earth, he was born in the city of Bethlehem of Judea. While the wise men were still seeking the birthplace of the Saviour, king Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah would be born. "So they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'" (Matthew 2:56).

"The Church of the Nativity, which marks the birthplace of the Savior, is one of the best authenticated sites in the Holy Land. The present structure, built over the cave area which served as a stable for the inn, goes back to the time of the Roman emperor Justinian (sixth century a.d.). This church replaces an earlier building, built in A.D. 330 by Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine." (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 152).

After His return from Egypt, Christ "dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'" (Matthew 2:23).

When John the baptist was put in prison, "Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). "Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan." (Matthew 4:23-25).

There are many reasons for wanting to visit the "Holy Land." While there are many marvelous sites to visit in Israel, you will not see the earthly remains of Christ, for as the angel told Mary Magdalene at His tomb, "He is not there—for He is risen" (Matthew 28:6).

For further study