The Land of Israel
For the past three thousand years, the name “Israel”, alluding to the patriarch Jacob; “persevere with God,” has meant both the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish nation.
Origin of the People
The people of Israel (also called the “Jewish People”) trace their origin to Abraham, who established the belief that there is only one God, the creator of the universe (see Torah). Abraham, his son Yitshak (Isaac), and grandson Jacob (Israel), are referred to as the patriarchs of the Israelites. All three patriarchs lived in the Land of Canaan, that later came to be known as the Land of Israel. They and their wives are buried in the Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron.
Origin of Name
The name Israel derives from the name given to Jacob. His 12 sons were the kernels of 12 tribes that later developed into the Jewish nation. The name Jew derives from Yehuda (Judah) one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Yisachar, Zevulun, Yosef, Binyamin). So, the names Israel, Israeli or Jewish refer to people of the same origin. According to the Bible, Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God.
Origin of the Nation
The earliest archaeological artifact to mention “Israel” is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late 13th century BCE), which refers to a people of that name located in Canaan.
The descendants of Abraham crystallized into a nation at about 1300 BCE after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Soon after the Exodus, Moses transmitted to the people of this new emerging nation, the Torah, and the Ten Commandments. After 40 years in the Sinai desert, Moses led them to the Land of Israel, which is cited in The Bible as the land promised by God to the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The people of modern day Israel share the same language and culture shaped by the Jewish heritage and religion passed through generations starting with the founding father Abraham (ca.1800 BCE). Thus, Jews have had continuous presence in the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.
The rule of Israelites in the land of Israel starts with the conquests of Joshua (ca. 1250 BCE). The period from 1000-587 BCE is known as the “Period of the Kings”.
The most noteworthy kings were King David (1010-970 BCE), who made Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, and his son Solomon (970-931 BCE), who built the first Temple in Jerusalem as prescribed in the Tanach (Old Testament).
In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar’s army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern day Iraq).
The year 587 BCE marks a turning point in the history of the region. From this year onwards, the region was ruled or controlled by a succession of superpower empires of the time in the following order: Babylonian, Persian, Greek Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Empires, Islamic and Christian crusaders, Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire.
After the exile by the Romans, the Jewish people migrated to Europe and North Africa. In the Diaspora (scattered outside of the Land of Israel), they established rich cultural and economic lives, and contributed greatly to the societies where they lived. Yet, they continued their national attachments and prayed to return to Israel through centuries.
The Modern Nation
In the first half of the 20th century there were major waves of immigration of Jews back to Israel from Arab countries and from Europe. During the British rule in Palestine, the Jewish people were subject to great violence and massacres directed by Arab civilians or forces of the neighboring Arab states. During World War II, the Nazi regime in Germany decimated about 6 million Jews creating the great tragedy of The Holocaust.
In 1948, Jewish Community in Israel under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion reestablished sovereignty over their ancient homeland. Declaration of independence of the modern State of Israel was announced on the day that the last British forces left Israel (May 14, 1948).
The modern country was named Medinat Yisrael, or the State of Israel, after other proposed names, including Eretz Israel (“the Land of Israel”), Zion, and Judea, were rejected. The government chose the term “Israeli” to denote a citizen of Israel.
Israel today is a parliamentary republic in the Middle East located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area.
Today, Israel is the world’s only predominantly Jewish state, with a population estimated in 2010 to be 7,602,400 people, of whom 6,051,000 are Jews. Arab citizens of Israel form the country’s second-largest ethnic group, which includes Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Samaritans.
The modern State of Israel traces its historical and religious roots to the Biblical Land of Israel, also known as Zion, a concept central to Judaism since ancient times.
Political Zionism took shape in the late-19th century under Theodor Herzl, and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 formalized British policy preferring the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people. Following World War I, the League of Nations granted Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine, which included responsibility for securing “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
In November 1947, the United Nations voted in favor of the partition of Palestine, proposing the creation of a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a UN-administered Jerusalem. Partition was accepted by Zionist leaders but rejected by Arab leaders, leading to civil war. Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948 and neighboring Arab states attacked the next day. Since then, Israel has fought a series of wars with neighboring Arab states, and in consequence occupied territories, including the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, beyond those delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements.
Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but efforts by elements within both par ties to diplomatically solve the problem have so far only met with limited success and some of Israel’s international borders remain in dispute.
Israel is a developed country and a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel’s legislative body.
The economy, based on the nominal gross domestic product, was the 41st-largest in the world in 2008. Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the UN Human Development Index, and it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Jerusalem is the country’s capital, although it is not recognized internationally as such. Israel’s main financial center is Tel Aviv, and its main industrial center is Haifa.
The Lord told Moses to give this order to the people of Isra’el: “When you enter the land of Kena’an, it will become your land to pass on as an inheritance, the land of Kena’an as defined by these borders. “Your southern portion will extend from the Tzin Desert close to the border of Edom. The eastern terminus of your southern border is at the end of the Dead Sea. From there your border turns, goes south of the ‘Akrabbim Ascent and passes on to Tzin. From there it goes south of Kadesh-Barnea, on to Hatzar-Adar, and on to ‘Atzmon. Then the border turns and goes from ‘Atzmon to the Vadi of Egypt and along it to the Sea. 6“Your western border will be the Great Sea. “Your northern border will be as follows: from the Great Sea mark a line to Mount Hor, and from Mount Hor mark a line to the entrance of Hamat. The border goes out to Tz’dad. Then the bor- der goes to Zifron and finally to Hatzar-’Einan; this is your northern border. “For the eastern border mark your line from Hatzar-’Enan to Sh’fam. Then the border goes down from Sh’fam to Rivlah, on the east side of ‘Ayin, then down until it hits the slope east of Lake Kinneret. From there it goes down the Yarden River till it flows into the Dead Sea. These will be the borders of your land.” Moshe gave this order to the people of Isra’el: “This is the land in which you will receive inheritances by lot, which ADONAI has ordered to give to the nine tribes and the half-tribe. The tribe of the descendants of Re’uven have already received their land for inheritance according to their clans, and so have the descendants of Gad and the half-tribe of M’nasheh. These two-and-a-half tribes have received their inheritance on this side of the Yarden, across from Jericho and eastward, toward the sunrise.” -- Numbers 34: 1-15
So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. -- Joshua 21:43-44
The Jewish people have been known as God’s Chosen People. But the question is, “Chosen for what purpose?” We were chosen to be missionaries to the world, a light to the Gentiles. We had the promises of God, the Law, the Prophets, the scriptures, the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the Temple in Jerusalem, the sacrifices, the festivals and the land from God. And through the Jewish people would come the Redeemer of the world, the Messiah - Jesus.
We are still here as a testimony to the faithfulness of God to keep his promises. We are still here despite the efforts of Pharaoh, Haman, Herod, Crusaders, Pogroms, the Holocaust and the ranting of Ahmadinejad. We are here to continue as a remnant called to be a light to those who are lost.
Sadly, of the 13 million Jewish people alive to- day, 99% do not yet confess Jesus as Messiah and are facing a Christ-less eternity. Therefore the mission of the church is as urgent as ever to get the Gospel out before it is too late.
The Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for this is God’s power for salvation for all who will believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16
This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name: “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the LORD “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” This is what the LORD says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the LORD. -- Jeremiah 31:35-37