Most people have heard of the “Promised Land” but few are aware of either the boundaries of that land or the conditions of the promise, or even what difference it makes some 4000 years later. Yet this particular portion of the Earth is continually in the spotlight, demanding the attention of the watching world. Why is it so important? Let’s look carefully at where it all started:
The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
And he believed the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him… And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
That day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates. (Genesis 15:1-18)
What was the significance of this peculiar animal sacrifice? How did it answer Abram’s question, “How shall I know that I will inherit it?” The shocking solution to this puzzle is found in a passage far away in the prophecy of Jeremiah:
And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it — the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf — I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth. (Jeremiah 34:18-20)
This passage shows the terms of a very serious kind of covenant, something that was understood by the ancient Hebrews. The initiator of this kind of covenant would pass between the halves of an animal split in two, saying by that action, “May it happen to me just as to this animal if I do not keep my promise.” Division equals death.
In other words, God answered Abram’s question by saying, “If I do not give your descendants this land, may the fate of these animals come upon Me.” God Himself would be torn asunder! It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of the universe is at stake in what happens to this land.
So considering what is at stake, why hasn’t God already fulfilled His promise? Some might say, “What’s the big deal? The Jews are already back on their land!” Well, for one thing, take a closer look at the boundaries. The Jews are occupying only a portion of that promised land, and it seems rather unlikely that they are going to gain Lebanon and parts of Syria and Jordan any time soon. But even if they or their allies conquered the entire Arab world and seized their land, still it would not be the blessing of God, for God, who does not change, has made it very clear what is required of Abraham and his descendants:
For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him. (Genesis 18:19)
The Bible records very clearly that Abraham’s descendants after Jacob did not do this. Because of their disobedience, God could never deliver the entire land into their hands, and even had to drive them out of the portion they once possessed, swearing that He would not bring them back to the land until...1
…you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul… (Deuteronomy 30:2)
No one who knows anything about how the Jews got back to Palestine, and what their moral and spiritual life is like there, can be under any illusion as to what force is sustaining them. It is certainly not God’s blessing on account of their national righteousness!
What then? Is there any hope of winning back the hearts of “God’s Chosen People” so that God can righteously give them the enemy-free land He promised them? It can only happen if there is a people who will embrace Paul’s “heresy” and become the “foolish nation” that will move Abraham’s descendants to jealousy. Otherwise God Himself will be split in two.