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Land (of Israel)

Land (of Israel)

The Abrahamic Covenant and the Land. The Lord "cut" an unconditional covenant with Abraham in which he stated, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" ( Gen 15:18 ). The Lord periodically reconfirmed the aspect of the land to Abraham ( Gen 12:7 ; 13:14-17 ; 17:8 ; 24:7 ). The reason the Lord gave this land to the children of Israel was because he was faithful to his covenant to Abraham ( Deut 9:4-5 ), his love for Abraham ( Deut 4:37 ), and his love for Israel ( Deut 7:8 ).

The Mosaic Law and the Land. Just before the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, Moses reiterated the Law as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. He commanded the people to obey the Law "in the land" ( Deuteronomy 4:5 Deuteronomy 4:14 ; 5:31 ; 6:1 ; 11:31 ; 12:1 ; 17:14 ; 18:9 ; 19:1 ; 21:1 ; 26:1 ). A number of laws in the Book of Deuteronomy are rooted in the land: the year of release from debt ( 15:1-11 ), appointing just judges ( 16:18-20 ), selection of a king ( 17:14-20 ), abominations of the nations ( 18:9-14 ), the cities of refuge ( 19:1-13 ), removing landmarks ( 19:14 ), unknown murder ( 21:1-9 ), leaving a hanged man on a tree ( 21:22-23 ), divorce ( 24:1-4 ), and just weights and measurements ( 25:13-16 ).

The Borders of the Land. Abraham, by faith, left Ur of the Chaldees to go to the "land I [the Lord] will show you." When he arrived in Shechem, the Lord appeared to him and said, "To your offspring I will give this land" ( Gen 12:7 ). However, the borders of this land were not set. It was only after the Lord "cut the covenant" with Abraham that he gave a general delineation of the land. He said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" ( Gen 15:18 ).

A detailed description of the land's borders was given to the children of Israel as they were about to enter the land after four hundred years in Egypt. Numbers 34:1-5 sets forth the southern borders of the land of Canaan. The general line of the southern border is from the Dead Sea, through the Wilderness of Zin to Kadesh Barnea. It then turns north to the "Wadi of Egypt" and the Mediterranean Sea. Joshua gives a similar description (15:1-4). The identification of the "Wadi of Egypt" is the only point in question in this passage. Some have suggested it is the Nile River or one of its tributaries. Most Bible atlases place it at Wadi el-Arish. Recently, N. Na'aman of Tel Aviv UNIVersity suggested that the Brook of Egypt was the Nahal Basor, just south of Gaza. The territory south of the Wilderness of Zin (called the Central Negev Highlands today) belonged to Edom. The Aravah and the mountains to the east of the Aravah were also Edomite territory. Eilat, the seaport on the Red Sea, belonged to Edom ( 1 Kings 9:26 ).

The western border of the land of Israel is the "Great Sea, " the Mediterranean Sea ( Num 34:6 ).

The northern border goes from the "Great Sea" (the Mediterranean) to Mount Hor and continues on to the entrance to Hamath; then the border goes to Zedad, proceeds to Ziphron, and ends at Hazar Enan ( Num 34:7-9 ).

The eastern border is marked out from Hazan Enan to Shepham, and then goes down from Shapham to Riblah on the east side of Ain; it goes down and reaches to the eastern side of the Sea of Chinnereth; the border goes down along the Jordan, and ends at the Salt Sea ( Num 34:10-12 ; Deut 3:17 ).

Ezekiel gives a similar description of the borders of the Land of Israel as revised in terms of the geographical concepts of his day ( 47:15-20 ; Ezekiel 48:1 Ezekiel 48:28 ).

Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh settled on the east side of the Jordan River ( Num 32:1-5 ; 34:13-15 ). Moses and Joshua allowed them to settle there even though it was not part of the promised land ( Deuteronomy 3:12-17 Deuteronomy 3:20 ; Joshua 12:6 ; 13:8-33 ; Joshua 22:4 Joshua 22:19 Joshua 22:27 ). It is important to note that this land was given to them by Moses, not the Lord. The reason it was given to them was because it was uninhabited after the Israelites defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, at Heshbon and Og, king of Bashan ( Numbers 32:29 Numbers 32:33 ). The territory of Bashan (the Golan Heights today), however, was settled by part of the half tribe of Manasseh and it was part of the promised land.

Three cities of refugeKedesh in Galilee, Shechem, and Kirjath Arba (Hebron)were located "in the land" ( Deut 19:1-3 ), but provision was made for three more, two of which were outside the land when the territory was enlarged ( Joshua 20:1-9 ). Bezer and Ramoth Gilead were in Transjordan and Golan was in Bashan.

Description of the Land. The Bible describes the land of Israel at least nineteen times as "a land flowing with milk and honey" ( Lev 26:3-12 ; Numbers 13:23 Numbers 13:28 ; 14:7 ; 24:3 ; Deut 6:3 ; 11:9 ; Deuteronomy 26:9 Deuteronomy 26:15 ; 27:3 ; Deuteronomy 28:2-7 Deuteronomy 28:11-12 ; 31:20 ). The image can denote a lush green land that produces an abundant and fruitful harvest. But this word picture may not be an accurate representation of the term. Isaiah used the phrase "milk and honey" to describe the devastation of the land after the Assyrians conquered it ( Isa 7:21-25 ). This seeming paradox is resolved by considering the perspective of the audience being addressed.

The idea of plenty and abundance is partially true. When God described the land of Canaan to Moses, he used the term "milk and honey" to imply the bountifulness of the land ( Exodus 3:8 Exodus 3:17 ; 13:5 ; 33:3 ; Lev 20:24 ). When the twelve spies returned from the land of Canaan, they recounted their adventures and characterized the land as "flowing with milk and honey" ( Num 13:27 ; 14:8 ). The spies observed that cattle and goats produced more milk in areas abundant with forage. Thus, an area abundant with vegetation would be considered a land "flowing with milk." Honey, in the biblical period, was not a cultivated product. It was associated with nonagricultural areas that were covered with wild vegetation. This is demonstrated by the account of Saul swearing his men to an oath when they fought the Philistines ( 1 Sam 14:25-26 ).

When Israel entered the land of Canaan, the hill country was uninhabited and covered with natural forests and thickets. Joshua commanded the tribe of Joseph to go up to the forest country and clear a place. When they took the wooded area, cut it down, terraced it, and planted trees on the terracing, the Israelites passed from a pastoral society to an agricultural/farming society.

The entire land was not uninhabited and forested. The Canaanites lived in the valleys and cultivated them ( Joshua 17:16 ). The twelve spies returning from their trip into the land of Canaan carried the bounty of the summer harvestgrapes, pomegranates, and figsfrom the cultivated Valley of Eshkol ( Num 13:23 ).

The Purpose of the Land. Why is this land called the promised land? After all, life was easier in Egypt (barring the oppression of Pharaoh, of course). Every year the Nile River overflowed its banks with rich alluvial soil. The farmers also had a constant supply of water with which to irrigate their fields. Just before the children of Israel entered the land, Moses contrasted the land of Canaan with Egypt. He said, "The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing over to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks water rain from heaven" ( Deut 11:10-11 ). The Israelite farmer, living in the land of Israel, had to plow the soil after the early rains loosened the hard soil in the fall and had to depend on the rains throughout the winter months. If it did not rain, drought and famine resulted.

Monson observes that the purpose of the land was to serve as God's testing ground of faith! The Lord wanted to see if his people, redeemed by his matchless grace and mighty power out of slavery in Egypt, and brought through the wilderness and into the promised land, would worship him and him alone. The tenor of the Hebrew Scriptures seems to indicate that the people of Israel were to be an agrarian society, living in dependence upon the Lord. They were not to be an international mercantile society like the Phoenicians.

After contrasting Egypt with the land of Israel, Moses continued to describe the land as a land for which the Lord cared. Nonetheless, the people were reminded to diligently obey God's commandments and to love the Lord ( Deut 11:12-15 ). The expression of faith for the Israelite believer living in the land of Israel was to be obedient to the Law. Moses also warned the people to be careful not to be deceived to serve other gods and to worship them.

The borders of the land of Israel demonstrate an important principle in the life of faith. Israel was supposed to live within the borders God gave them, and not engage in foreign trade or adopt expansionist policies beyond its borders. The southern border of Israel went only as far as the wilderness of Zin, not down to Eilat. In the course of Israel's history, three kings expanded their kingdom to Eilat and the Red Sea; Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah. Their purpose was to engage in the lucrative trade in spices and the gold of Ophir that went through this port. This would enhance their wealth, and in so doing, violate a commandment the Lord had laid down for the king: "Nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself" ( Deut 17:17 ). The life of Uzziah, recounted in 2 Chronicles 26, illustrates this principle. Gordon Franz

See also Israel

Bibliography. Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible; W. Brueggeman, The Land; N. Hareuveni, Nature in Our Biblical Heritage; P. Miller, Int23 (1964): 451-65; J. Monson, Geographical Basics in the Land of the Bible; N. Na'aman, Tel Aviv6/1-2 (1979): 68-90; 7/1-2 (1970): 95-109; H. Orlinsky, Eretz Israel 18: 43-55; A. Rainey, Tel Aviv9/2 (1982): 130-36; G. von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Land (of Israel)'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.