Title Deeds of the Land
Extract of chapter 2 of Jacob's Trouble
"In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land where people were gathered from many nations upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now dwell securely, all of them " (Ezek.38:8 R.S.V.).
The central feature of the prophecy is the land and its people, and a question immediately arises "Where is the land and who are the people?" The old time theology, inspired mainly by St. Augustine, declared that the whole passage is symbolic, that it depicts the final triumph of Christ and His Church over the forces of evil. Such explanation will not satisfy students of the Bible who understand and look for the coming of Christ's Kingdom upon earth. Quite clearly, this passage is directly related to the Divine destiny for the ideal Israel of the End Time and to the establishment of the Kingdom, and must therefore be understood in a dispensational sense and in an earthly setting. Putting it briefly, the time of the prophecy is at the end of this Age and the place of its fulfilment is upon this earth.
The Old Testament, from the Book of Genesis onward, maintains a consistent claim that God promised the patriarch Abraham that of his descendants there would be developed a nation which should possess to all perpetuity the land over which he wandered and in which he lived. In that land this nation is to become the Divine instrument, to be a light to the nations and declare God's salvation to the ends of the earth. The New Testament takes up the promise and shows that it will become reality at the end of the Age. In the meantime Abraham's descendants, whilst admittedly constituting a power for good in history, have never reached up to the standard demanded for this historic destiny, but when the time comes such a nation will be ready in the land thus promised; Ezekiel's prophecy refers to that fulfilment. It is to be taken as a basic principle, therefore, that the land promised to Abraham nearly four thousand years ago, the land in which he spent his life, the land in which his descendants Isaac and Jacob, and the nation of Israel which sprang from Jacob, played their respective parts on the stage of history, is the land of the promise and of the prophecy. There it is that a people will be gathered to fulfil in every respect the description given by Ezekiel. Although the contemporary modern political state of Israel is but a small country the size of Wales the ancient nation of Israel did in fact occupy a larger area; the promises to Abraham and his successors define an even greater expanse of territory destined to form the Holy Land of the Kingdom Age. It has to be accepted that not only modern Israel but a number of other recently created sovereign States in that part of the world will eventually be merged to form the stage upon which this last act in the drama of this "present evil world", to use St. Peter's description, is to be played.
It is noteworthy that God seems to have selected this part of the earth's surface as the scene of those events which mark definite steps or epochs in the development of His purposes. The travels of Abraham, from Ur of the Chaldees in the south‑east Euphrates valley, to Haran in the north, down through Canaan into Egypt in the south‑west, and back into Canaan, there to settle, mark out a great triangle which roughly defines the area promised to him and to his seed by Divine covenant. Within or immediately adjacent to this triangle practically the whole of the incidents in the Old Testament were enacted, with the three exceptions of the landing of the Ark in the far north‑east, Jonah's mission to Nineveh, and the story of Esther. If it should be, in the Messianic Age, that the sites of great events in the story of redemption are excluded from ordinary uses and reserved to the interested gaze of redeemed men visiting the Holy Land from all parts of the world, there is some reason to expect that all this territory will be under the direct care of the Holy Nation.
There is a very significant expression in verse 12 of chapter 38. The regathered nation is said to dwell "at the centre of the earth" (RSV). Now this is, geographically, literally true of the land of Israel and its surroundings. Of all the circles of latitude encircling the earth, that passing through the Middle East traverses the greatest length of land, nearly ten thousand miles. Israel is situated at the junction of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa. It is roughly midway in distance between the West Coast of Africa and the East Coast of China, between the southernmost limit of Africa and the northernmost of Siberia. If a point had to be selected which could be said to be the centre of the land masses of the earth then Israel would logically be that point, and can claim more than anywhere else to be called the "centre of the earth". As the administrative seat of the World Government which will be in operation during the Millennial Age no more suitable place could be chosen. It is tempting to think that God deliberately selected this particular part of the earth's surface for its historic mission because of its physical suitability.
Now the actual extent and boundaries of this future Holy Land are defined in the Scriptures with a certain degree of precision and in good legal form. The ancients of Abraham's day were quite accustomed to the drawing up of legal documents embodying the title to ownership of land—many such tablets exist today in the British Museum among other places—and the promises of God regarding the land He has set aside for the administration of the Kingdom are set out in precise style. There are four such "title deeds" incorporated in the Old Testament, each defining the land in a different manner, by their united testimony affording the student a very fair idea of the boundaries of the land that is to be.
The first definition was given to Abraham and recorded in Genesis 15:18‑21. The Lord had concluded a covenant with the patriarch under the terms of which his seed was to become the means of blessing all families of the earth. Later events showed that the line of descent to the "seed of blessing" was to be traced through Isaac, Jacob and eventually the twelve tribes of Israel. Said the Lord "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites". A significant element in this passage is the list of peoples then existing whose territory is to be included in the Holy Land.
The river Euphrates rises in the mountains of modern Turkey and after traversing northern Syria flows through Iraq into the Persian Gulf. The empires of Sumeria, Assyria, Mari and Babylon rose and fell on its banks. Abraham's migration from Ur to Haran followed the course of the river for a great part of its length. David and Solomon extended the commercial influence of the Kingdom of Israel to the Euphrates where it now flows through Syria. According to this title deed the eastern frontier of the Holy Land is marked by the Euphrates.
The "river of Egypt" is the Nile. The same expression is used some half dozen times in the Old Testament to describe the *Wady‑el‑Arish, (alternative spelling Wadi el-Arish) a seasonal stream running down from the middle of the Sinai peninsula into the Mediterranean sea at El‑Arish. In these cases the word for river is "nachal" meaning a torrent bed dry in summer and flooded in winter—the Arabic "wady". When the Nile is intended, as in Gen.15:18, the word is "nahar" meaning a permanent running stream. The Nile delta or its vicinity would therefore appear to be the western frontier of the Holy Land. David's Kingdom reached as far as the Wady‑el‑Arish.
All the ten nations mentioned as occupying this territory in Abraham's day have long since disappeared from history, although in most cases a good deal is known about them. The Kenites occupied southern Sinai—Moses during his forty years exile from Egypt lived with a Kenite tribe—on the eastern side of the Gulf of Akaba. The Kenizzites occupied the Negeb and what afterwards became Edom, the land of Esau. Of the Kadmonites not much is known but it is believed that this was a general term for tribes living to the far east of the Jordan and towards the Euphrates. The Hittites were a very numerous people who established a notable civilisation in Asia Minor; the Hittites of Genesis, however, were a separate and isolated branch of this people occupying sites throughout the country west of Jordan and in Syria. The Perizzites held the mountainous districts of Galilee and eastward across Jordan. The Rephaim were originally from east of Jordan and only at the time of the Exodus were they found in Israel proper. They were men of gigantic stature. The Amorites were the most important of all the peoples named—they inhabited not only Canaan proper but extended northwards into Syria and eastwards to Euphrates. Canaan and Syria were known to the Assyrians and Babylonians as the "Amorite land". Several times in history the Amorites descended the Euphrates in force to attack Babylon, and from time to time the Babylonians were ruled by Amorite kings. The Canaanites were well distributed over the entire land of Canaan; the Girgashites east of the Sea of Galilee, and the Jebusites a powerful tribe in the very centre of Canaan with Salem (Jerusalem) as their capital in Abraham's time. This catalogue of tribal territories covers most of the country between the Nile and the Euphrates from Sinai in the south to Syria in the north.
The Land as Defined by the Four Title Deeds
The second title deed was the gift of God to the emerging nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus. "I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river" (Exod.23:31). This statement defines the north‑south and east‑west limits of the land. The expression "sea of the Philistines" is in itself an interesting internal proof of the early date of the Book of Genesis. The Philistines were immigrants from Crete (Caphtor in the O.T., Egyptian Keftu—see Jer.47:4 and Amos 9:7) and were settled on the coast of Canaan primarily for the purpose of growing corn for their homeland. Crete was the dominant sea power in the Mediterranean in the days of Abraham and that sea was then known as the "sea of the Philistines". Less than a century after the Exodus the supremacy of Crete was broken and her sea power passed to the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon. From then the sea was known to the Hebrews and in the Old Testament as the "Great Sea".
From the Red Sea to the Mediterranean; from the desert to the river! "Desert" here is "midbar" which defined the desert of Sinai and north‑western Arabia, in the former of which Israel was at that moment encamped. "The river" when not otherwise qualified, always denotes the Euphrates in the Old Testament. The Red Sea, the Arabian desert, the Euphrates and the Mediterranean coast are declared to be the ultimate boundaries of the land, agreeably to the definition given to Abraham in Gen.15:18 four centuries earlier.
The third title deed was awarded a few months later, when Israel was about to leave Sinai. "Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them" (Deut.1:7‑8). The Mount of the Amorites was the elevated region extending for many miles east of the Jordan; the "plain" (arabah) the deep valley in which the Jordan flows from Galilee to the Dead Sea; the "hills" (har‑high peaks) the hill country of Judea and Samaria; the "vale" (ha‑shephelah) the low plain extending from Joppa southward; the south (negeb) the territory toward Sinai and the Gulf of Akaba, the sea‑coast in the west, Lebanon in the north, sweeping across to Euphrates in the east. This vast terrain was only partially won, even in the days of David; the full accomplishment of the Divine mandate lies still in the future.
The fourth title deed given forty years later as Israel was at long last about to pass over Jordan into the land, is confirmatory of the third. Said Moses "Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be" (Deut.11:24). "Wilderness" here is midbar, rendered "desert" in the second title deed, Exodus 23:31, so that the boundaries here defined also extend from the Arabian desert in the south to Lebanon in the north, from the Euphrates in the east to the Mediterranean ("uttermost sea" is acharon, the "hinder sea" a Hebrew term for that sea) in the west.
So the four declarations, separated from each other, first to last, from the time of Abraham to that of Joshua, agree together on the boundaries of the land as it is finally to be constituted when the Divine purposes come to fruition and the Kingdom of God upon earth is at hand. The fact that Israel of old never possessed more than a part of this great area is immaterial; Israel's failure to measure up to the conditions of her calling accounts for this as well as many other deficiencies in her attainments in history. This is the land as it will be when the ideal Israel, the Holy Nation of the End Time, takes its stand for God in face of world opposition.
The territory thus defined includes not only contemporary Israel but the whole of the State of Jordan and parts of Egypt, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. There must obviously be a considerable political adjustment of frontiers to be effected before the Holy Land assumes the shape foreseen in the Pentateuch, and nothing in the prophetic Scriptures gives ground for thinking this is to be attained by physical force or by aggressive warfare. Any territorial changes achieved by conflicts between the present State of Israel and her Arab neighbours have to do with the fortunes of the kingdoms of this world rather than those of the next. And in any case, the Israel of today is very far removed from that God‑believing "Holy Nation" of the future which is going to survive the great attack because it has put its trust in God instead of in armed force. It must be expected therefore that the future holds in prospect a much more peaceful settlement of Arab‑Israel problems than at the present time seems possible. It has to be remembered that in the past these two peoples have not always been at variance, that their present antagonism is largely inspired by the conflicting commercial interests of other nations. Most important of all, the same series of Divine promises which set the sons of Isaac apart for a specific destiny also provided specially for the sons of Ishmael. The Arab race originated from a number of sources but for the most part are of Semitic stock, in the main from the thirteen sons of Joktan (Gen.10:26‑30) and the twelve sons of Ishmael, many of their names surviving as main Arabic divisions to this day. Concerning Ishmael God declared that he would make of him a great nation and multiply him exceedingly, so that he could not be numbered for multitude. Four times in Genesis is this promise reiterated. "I am with the lad" said the Most High "I have blessed him; I will make him a great nation" (Gen.16:10‑12; 17:20; 21:13; 21:18). These words are not meaningless and the very significant fact that not one of the Semitic Arab nations appears in Ezekiel's list of those who join the forces of Gog in the attack provokes the question as to their whereabouts and their attitude at that time. The land of Arabia proper, one‑third the size of Europe and something like four times the size of the Holy Land of the End Time, if restored to the fertility it enjoyed in early ages, could support many times the present populations of the Arab nations of the Middle East. Calling to mind the progress now being made in restoring the present land of Israel from its past desolation it is not too fanciful to surmise that something of the same kind might be achieved in Arabia. God said of Ishmael that he was to dwell to the east of his brethren, i.e. of Isaac (Gen.16:12). The geographical definitions of the land originally settled by the sons of Joktan (Gen.10:30) covers the whole of Arabia to the Indian Ocean. History concurs in pointing to that land as the natural home of the Arab peoples just as Israel is that of the Israelis. It might well be, therefore, that the outlines of the promised Holy Land will begin to take shape in proportion as a hitherto unlooked for settlement of the differences between these two peoples looms on the political horizon.
This is the land, therefore, which is to become the centre of the closing events of this Age and the opening events of the next. It will be literally true that "Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isa.2:3). Not for nothing has the Holy City preserved its existence and its name for so many centuries. It was already there when history began—the earliest records we have speak of Urusalim, the City of the God of Peace, a place sacred to the worship of the Most High God. To the three great religions of the world—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—it is still a sacred city. Besieged, overthrown and destroyed at least seventeen times, levelled with the ground and ploughed up more than once, stripped and despoiled of its treasures time after time, always has the city risen again, still it stands, a symbol of the eternal things that can never pass away. Where else in all the world could God find so fitting a land and city to be the centre of administration for the new earth which is to be? "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion,...the city of the great King" Psa.48:2). There is much in all the Scriptures which speak of the day when God sets His hand to recover to this land a people which will build up the desolate wastes and raise a standard of righteousness in the eyes of all nations. Here, where Europe, Asia and Africa meet, it is the Divine intention to create a gathering place for that nation which shall enter the most fiery trial that has ever confronted a people—and, in the power of God, emerge victorious.