The Palestinian Covenant
A brief look at world conditions clearly indicates that many international disputes concern land ownership, particularly in the Middle East. The so-called occupied territories—the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights—are familiar to anyone who reads newspapers or watches the international news on television. The nations of the world look at the situations developing in and around the little nation of Israel and wonder what will happen next.
Terrorism, once limited to the nations of the Middle East, has spread alarmingly into other countries. It has even begun to hit the shores of the United States and could soon become widespread. Much of this terrorism is a result of religious and political fanaticism and is often due to disagreements over various portions of land in the Middle East.
Middle East terrorism has also resulted in many wars. Israel has had to fight several wars over the “occupied territories,” in addition to wars for independence and continued existence as a nation. The recent Gulf War was a direct result of disagreements over land rights. In fact, much of the chaos in the world today is due to land ownership controversies in the Middle East.
This article examines these situations in the light of the Word of God, which is not silent concerning ownership of the promised land.
Will Varner’s article examines the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the basis of all prophetic truth. It foretold a promised land, offspring, and blessings. The second of the unconditional covenants given to Moses by God was the Palestinian Covenant, which grew out of the Abrahamic Covenant and deals directly with promises of land in the Middle East.
Disobedience Led to Dispersion
Moses had led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and through the wilderness for nearly 40 years. Just before his death, he wrote several sermons, all recorded in Deuteronomy 28:1–30:1.
In preparation for what was about to follow, Moses promised the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28 that God would bless them if they remained faithful to Him. He then told them in Deuteronomy 29 that God’s judgment would fall on them if they failed to obey Him and went their own way. Calamity after calamity was prophesied, one of which was expulsion from the land of promise. Moses told the Israelites of God’s promises of blessings and curses before they ever entered the land of Canaan: “And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, to which the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God hath driven thee” (Dt. 30:1).
The Palestinian Covenant began negatively with a thundering prediction of doom. Before the Israelites had set foot on the soil of the land flowing with milk and honey, the Lord told them that they would lose the land. Because of their future disobedience to Him, He would cast them to the ends of the earth and scatter them among the nations of the world. It is apparent that this prophecy was not talking about the Assyrian or Babylonian captivities, because on each of those occasions, the Israelites fell to only one enemy; but in Deuteronomy 30:1 the Jewish people were told that they would be dispersed among all the nations of the earth, referring to the great diaspora that followed the Roman invasion of AD 70. At that time, the Jews were cast out of their land to the four corners of the earth, where they would recognize the promises God had made through the great prophet Moses. God also told the Israelites that it was He who would bring this judgment to pass. Although He would use the mighty Roman Empire as the tool, the dispersion would come from Him, because the people would turn away from Him.
We are all aware that the Jewish people have been scattered abroad “among all the nations” for nearly 2,000 years. During this time, they have suffered continually and more severely than any other people. Yet, through all this persecution, the Jews have maintained their identity, which in itself is a miracle. Scattered, persecuted, and trodden down for 20 centuries, the Jewish people are still clearly identifiable today.
The Word of God also prophesied a yet-future day when the Jewish people will remember the blessings and curses promised, although they will still be scattered among the nations. The Lord will use those blessings and curses to eventually bring His ancient people Israel back to Himself and, finally, to the land: “And shalt return unto the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that then the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee” (Dt. 30:2–3a).
Remembering the promises of Deuteronomy 28 and 29, the Jewish people as a nation one day will turn to the Lord. While still dispersed among the nations, there will be a national repentance for Israel. The entire nation will turn to Jesus, the Messiah, the one they have rejected for so long. The repentant nation will then weep as no one has ever wept before. They will realize the terrible mistake they made so long ago, which has been perpetuated for so many centuries. This national repentance is confirmed by many other passages of Scripture, among them Zechariah 12: 10 and Romans 11:26.
The Return of the Messiah
The Scripture further states, “and [God] will return and gather thee from all the nations where the Lord thy God hath scattered thee” (Dt. 30:3b). Approximately 3,400 years ago, Moses recorded a promise of the Lord’s return. He will bring about Israel’s national repentance when He returns. The Jewish people finally will become what God always has intended them to be.
Jesus will return to the earth to build His Millennial Kingdom, and redeemed Israel will be involved in a major way. In fact, Israel will be the very center of that kingdom, both geographically and spiritually.
The Return to the Land
When the Jewish nation turns to the Lord, He will bring them back home. This is evident from the text of the Palestinian Covenant recorded in Deuteronomy 30:3b–5: “and [God] will return and gather thee from all the nations where the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from there will the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God gather thee, and from there will he fetch thee. And the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.”
Isaiah 5:26, Jeremiah 23:3–8, and Zechariah 10:8 also state that the Lord will return (at the end of the Tribulation period), at which time there will be a national repentance for the Jews, and they will all come back to the land of Israel.
But what about the Jewish people who are returning to the land now—the half million or more Russian Jews who have recently made aliyah, the Ethiopian and Yemenite Jews who have returned, the Jews from across Europe, North Africa, and North America who have gone back to the land of Israel? The population of Israel has grown from a meager 600,000 when independence was declared in 1948 to over four and a half million today. Is this a return? Does the Bible speak about a return to the land before the prophesied national repentance of the Jews? Let’s take a look.
First, what is a return in the biblical sense? Do nearly four million Jewish people leaving their homes and going to Israel constitute a return? The Book of Ezra answers that question: “The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand, three hundred and threescore, Besides their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven” (Ezra 2:64–65).
The Prophet Ezekiel also spoke about a return to the land: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:24–26). Ezekiel went on to say that the Jewish people will return to dwell in the land of their fathers.
In the next chapter, the prophet was taken by the Lord (through a vision) into a valley full of dry bones and told to prophesy over them. When he did so, the bones came together, but there was no life or breath in them (Ezek. 37:1–8). But, the prophet recorded, the breath of life eventually came into the lifeless bodies, which represented “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek. 37:9–11).
Apparently there is to be a return of Jewish people to the land prior to their national repentance. Jews are now coming back to the land, but in unbelief. The conclusion, then, is very simple: There will be a return to the land in unbelief before the Lord’s Second Coming, and that return is occurring today. There will also be another return at His Second Coming, which is the return spoken of in the Palestinian Covenant.
The Judgment of Israel’s Oppressors
When the Lord returns and Israel is finally restored to the land, the curses will be removed from them and placed upon their enemies—the ones who have hated and persecuted the Jews through the centuries (Dt. 30:7). The nations that turned their backs against Israel will suffer greatly. Isaiah 14 and Joel 3:1–8 give more details about this great event, such as the destruction of Babylon and the judgment of Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia.
The Prosperity of Israel
The Palestinian Covenant also contains a promise of prosperity for Israel: “And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers” (Dt. 30:9).
Not only will Israel return from dispersion and repent at the return of the Messiah, but their enemies will be oppressed while they experience God’s marvelous hand of blessing. The tables will be turned for the first time in several millennia.
The Palestinian Covenant deals with the land promises given to the Jews—unconditional ownership of the land of Israel forever. True, the Lord said that they would be out of the land and lose His blessings for a time, but one day they will return to Him and receive all that He has promised them.
Christians can learn from the experiences of the Israelites. God has granted us marvelous eternal blessings and has guaranteed that we cannot lose them. However, when we drift away from Him in our daily living, we, like the Israelites, can lose God’s blessings for a time. We must guard our daily walk with the Lord so that we will experience His constant blessings.