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The Promised Land

Abraham lived with his family in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern day Iraq). Abraham's journey begins circa 2000 BC. Abraham, born in Ur Kasdim in today's Iraq, was instructed to go to Canaan, the Promised Land. God promised to the Patriarch Abraham the following: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates." (Genesis 15:18-21) "And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your temporary residence, all the land of Canaan as an eternal possession and I will be a God to them." (Genesis 17:8) Abraham's descendants include not just the Jews through Isaac, but also their "cousins," the Arabs through Ishmael. This prophecy has been fulfilled in so far as Ishmael's descendants do indeed extend throughout the Middle East.

In Genesis 15:18, the limits are said to extend from the Nile to the Euphrates. These two streams are here used as representative of the two great world-powers between which Israel should dwell. It is thus a prediction that the descendants of Abram should have an independent existence by the side of these two great empires, and that no nation should have any permanent sway between them and these two empires. So that their dominion may be said to reach from the Euphrates to the Nile. These two rivers are, moreover, constantly referred to in the later Scriptures as the extreme boundaries of Israel. - Gosman. These boundaries included a larger territory than the Hebrews ever possessed, except for a short time during the reigns of David and Solomon. The breadth, from Lebanon on the north to the desert on the south, is 140 miles; the length, from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, is about 400 miles; making an area 56,000 square miles, equal to the States of New York and Vermont. But Canaan proper, or Palestine, was only 140 miles by 40, an area smaller than the state of New Jersey.

Jacob, the grandson of Abraham the Patriarch, was renamed Israel when God appeared to him when he was leaving Padn-Aram and blessed him. Jacob produced twelve sons, each of whom became the father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Issachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.

Akenaten was a Pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII (1375-1358 BC). The psychologist Sigmund Freud argued (in Moses and Monotheism) that Moses was an Egyptian who got his beliefs from Akenaten. In The Bible Came from Arabia, Islamic scholar Kamal suggests that "Moses" (i.e. mosis, which means rightful child or heir in Egyptian) of the Exodus (about 1360 BC) was a follower of Akenaten's monotheism, which had attracted some followers among Hebrews living in Goshen (northeastern Egypt).

Others date the Exodus to the time of a later Pharaoh. The indecisive outcome of the battle of Kadesh and the retreat of the Egyptian forces caused a rash of rebellions in Canaan, supported by the Hittites. In the eighth year of his reign (1296 BC), Ramses II retook the towns of Galilee one by one.

Moses delivered his people from the Egyptian Captivity. Moses announces to the Jews in Deuteronomy 11:24, that "Every place where you set the soles of your feet shall be yours. Your borders shall run from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea." Later, "Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And The Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And The Lord said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there." (Deuteronomy 34:1-4 RSV).

Jehovah commanded his servants again and again not to leave alive anything that breathes. "So Joshua massacred the population of the whole region-the hill country, the Nageb, the Shephelah, the watersheds-and all their kings. He left no survivor, destroying everything that drew breath as the Lord God of Israel had commanded."

As specified in Joshua chapters 13 to 22, the Israelites were allocated their lands from far south of Jerusalem, to far north of the Sea of Galilee (the Levites were distributed among the lands of the other tribes). In this covenant, the Promised Land is much smaller than "from the Nile to the Euphrates". The area covered by this traditional Holy Land, from "Dan to Beersheba [Beer-sheva]" measures only 50 miles wide and 150 miles long. The phrase "from Dan to Beer Sheva" is a stereotyped expression that fixes the boundaries of Israel (Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20). Dan was the northern and Beersheba the southern limit -- hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba." With regard to the eastern and western borders, i.e. the Mediterranean Sea (34:6) and the Jordan River (34:11-12), there can be no question whatsoever as to their identity. A minimalist approach identifies the northern border in the area of today's Southern Lebanon, i.e. along the Litani river, while the southern border runs along the Beer Sheva-Gaza line in the northern Negev. The 'maximalist' opinion finds the northern border somewhere up in Turkey and Northern Syria, while the southern border is somewhere deep in the Sinai desert.

Reuven, Gad, and Menashe (the 2 &1/2 tribes) settled in their nachala [inheritance] on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Even though they lived outside of Biblical borders of Eretz Canaan, they still belonged to the same nation.

Until the days of David and Solomon, "from Dan to Beersheba" was the customary designation for the entire area of the Land of Israel, Beersheva being regarded as the extreme southern point of the country.

King David reigned for forty years. After his death in 970 BC his son Solomon, who was the heir to the throne, began to rule. He also reigned for forty years, and died in 930 BC. The Genesis 15:18 land promise was fullfilled by King Solomon. In 1 Kings 4:21 the inspired narrative declares: "And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought tribute, and served Solomon all the days of his life."

The Torah (the Pentateuch) and the "historical" books are a compilation of oral traditions, set in writing by the scribes of Solomon in the 9th century BC. Most exegetes consider the promise of the patriarchs in its classic form (eg, Genesis 13/14-17 or Genesis 15/18-21) as a post-hoc legitimization of the conquests under David and Solomon. That is, the promise was retroactively inserted in the patriarchal tales to turn that "ancestral epic" into a prelude to the golden age of David and Solomon.

Following the death of Solomon, the kingdom split into two weaker states: Israel, conquered by Assyria in 722 BC; and Judah, conquered by Babylon in 586 BC. In Judah nineteen kings and one queen, all descendants of King David, reigned for the duration of four hundred years.

In the year 722 BC the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser V initiated and carried off the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom into the Assyrian Captivity, leaving only Judah and Benjamin in the south. "Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone. . . The LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight.... For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day" (2 Kings 17:18-23).

As Josiah came to the throne of Judah in about 640 BC, Assyria was on the decline. He incorporated the former Northern Kingdom into his realm, restoring the classical borders of Israel to "from Dan to Beersheba."

Some hold that if the promises regarding the land were fulfilled in Joshua's time or in Solomon's, the Scriptures which were written later would not appeal to the hope of future possession of the land. Practically every one of the Major and Minor Prophets mention in some form the hope of future possession of the land. All of them were written after Solomon's day. The original promises of the land involved (1) possession of the land, (2) occupying the land, and (3) permanent possession. Even in Solomon's day at the height of his kingdom the land was not all possessed. At best it was placed under tribute (1 Kings 4:21). At no time was all the land actually occupied by Israel. Certainly all must agree that possession was not permanent. the Abrahamic Covenant promised Israel that she would possess the land forever (Gen. 17:8).

After a series of foreign rulers, Jews again experienced approximately a century of self-rule under the Maccabees between 166 BC and 63 BC. Although the bounds of this kingdom extended into what is now western Jordan, they did not encompass parts of the Negev and Galilee that are now Israeli territory.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:38:33 ZULU