Talking about the land promised to Abraham is like being nibbled to death by ducks. You quickly find yourselves surrounded by a flock of opinions as (mostly) well-meaning people trying to persuade you of their views. It becomes overwhelming and almost meaningless to try and dialogue since most of us have a position that we just want to validate and propagate. Me included.
So I’m not going to do that.
What I will do is underscore where some find a kind of divine mandate given to Abraham and his “numerous as stars” descendents. It comes in two places: Genesis 15:18: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates'”. And in Joshua 1:4: “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.”
Practically speaking some interpret this to mean that for all time the Jewish people should posses the land from the Nile River in Egypt to Lebanon and everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River.
This means all of the land modern Israel currently possesses, plus all of the land of the Palestinians (the West Bank and Gaza), plus some of Egypt and Syria, plus all of Jordan, plus some of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Starting to sweat yet? Here is an image that highlights what Abraham’s borders would look like:
You can see how these borders might be a geopolitical problem. You can also see how ardent zionists, or Biblical literalists derive a divine right to go up against any country that might stand in their way of achieving what God had promised their ancestors.
There are other ways of interpreting the text of course. Some Christians interpret Paul to say that the Church is the New Israel (Gal. 6:16, Eph. 2:11-12). If that’s the case, the old borders around the old nation-state of Israel are largely irrelevant. Others have determined that what Abraham was really being called to was not land at all. Land was just the stepping stone to the final destination and fulfillment of God’s promise: i.e. Jesus himself.
This is my personal view. I find support for this in that great section of Hebrews where Abraham goes out in faith to receive his inheritance. They thought it was land, but as Hebrews 11:16 states it, “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
Abraham was seeking God himself. The same thing I seek too.
But what about the continuing saga of the land? As the ducks continue to quack, there are some cultural shifts that are happening. The new generation is going to make some changes it seems. Check out Dale Hanson Burke’s recent post here:
So perhaps the next generation is going to sort this out differently. In the meantime, how about going to Israel and Palestine and seeing for yourself what this promise to Abraham looks like up close? Or ask those who have gone what they experienced in both sections of this promised land – both Israel and the Palestinian territories. And ask yourself: Is this what God had in mind when he took Abraham out and told him I’ll lead you to the land I will show you?