From the River to the Sea
Why it’s impossible to separate the Jewish people from the land of Israel
Throughout history, hatred of the Jewish people has surged and subsided but never disappeared. In the late 1800s, Theodor Herzl saw it surge again in Europe. Deciding his people needed a country of their own, he began the movement called Zionism to reestablish them in the land of their forefathers—what is today the State of Israel.
What many people don’t know is that in 1903, in a measure to protect them from antisemitic violence, Herzl proposed using British East Africa as a temporary safe haven until the dream of returning to the Jewish homeland could be fulfilled.1 That plan, however, was destined to fail. Why? Because British East Africa (today, Kenya) wasn’t the land God gave His Chosen People, and it isn’t the land to which He vowed they will return.
After God called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and go to Canaan, He declared, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7). Then the Lord built on His declaration regarding Abraham’s real estate holdings:
Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you (13:14–15, 17).
Along with the land, He promised Abraham descendants and blessing (12:1–3). This promise went from Abraham to Isaac (17:19–21) to Jacob and Jacob’s progeny—the Jewish people (28:13–14). Later, God turned the promise into a covenant dependent on Himself alone. It was completely unconditional, and neither Abraham nor his descendants could maintain it or void it.
God certainly has such power. As owner and Creator of everything, He does as He wishes; and no one can stop Him (Isa. 43:13). Unfortunately, people often fail to understand the Abrahamic Covenant was a package deal. God promised land, descendants, and blessing. You cannot sever the land from the bundle and claim it belongs to someone else.
Today many, including Christians, acknowledge God made good on part of the promise by creating the Jewish people (descendants) and giving us Jesus the Savior through them (blessing). But what about the land? That, they say, belongs to someone else, like the Palestinians. Not so. A package deal is a package deal.
Boundaries and Blessing
The Lord was extremely specific concerning His bequest. He even provided physical boundaries, promising Abraham, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18).
Later, He became more specific (Ezek. 47:15–20). The Jewish homeland appears to extend from the Mediterranean Sea through Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, much of Iraq and Syria, and possibly even touches as far north as southern Turkey. Israel will possess all this territory when Jesus returns, reestablishes the Davidic Kingdom, and rules the earth for 1,000 years.
God only gives good gifts, which is why He gave the Israelites “a good and large land . . . a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8):
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing. . . .When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you (Dt. 8:7–10).
Due to their disobedience and idolatry, the Lord scattered the Jewish people from their land (Jer. 13:24; 18:17; 30:11) and made the land desolate—just as He promised (18:16; Ezek. 5:14; 33:28–29). Yet He also promises over and over again to bring them back (Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:13–15, 27).
Many theologians today heartily accept the scattering but refuse to accept God’s promises of restoration despite the multitude of Scriptures that speak of it. But a package deal is a package deal. In God’s eyes, the land and the nation go together because they are part of the same covenant.
Blooming Like a Rose
Interestingly, this highly contested piece of Middle Eastern real estate only yields its goodness when the Jewish people work it.
The country became hideously barren under the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, and countless others who exploited and mismanaged it for centuries. They denuded it of vegetation and allowed it to degenerate into putrid, malaria-infested swamps.
In 1901, the Jewish National Fund was established to make a way for Jewish people around the world to buy back their land piecemeal from the Ottoman Empire. And this they did, slowly and at exorbitant prices. As they toiled to make it habitable, God blessed their blood, sweat, and tears and allowed the land to blossom again.
Israel yields its fruit best for the descendants of Jacob, to whom He gave it and who have a deep love for it. As the prophet Isaiah declared, “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” (Isa. 35:1).
The reality is that you cannot separate the Jewish people from their land. Countless plans, measures, edicts, and even a Holocaust have tried. Kings, presidents, ambassadors, and the many nations of the earth have passed resolutions, condemned the Jewish people, and tried to rewrite history to deny Israel’s ownership of its ancient homeland. But their works will never stand. God has declared, “I will . . . bring you into the land of Israel. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (Ezek. 37:12, 14).
Theodor Herzl must have understood this reality. There never will be a Jewish homeland in Africa, Poland, Germany, or even the United States. God already has given the children of Jacob a home in the Middle East, and it is a country called Israel.
- Alona Ferber, “This Day in Jewish History: 1903: Herzl Proposes Kenya (Not Uganda) as a Safe Haven for the Jews,” Haaretz.com, April 10, 2018 (tinyurl.com/Herzl-Uganda).