As we continued to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its Biblical history, we next looked into the book of Ezekiel. The Israelites have been in exile as a result of the Babylonians conquering them and taking their leaders into Babylon, dispersing the Israelites outside of Israel. Now Ezekiel prophesies that the Israelites will return to their land:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
I’ve only quoted one verse here, but there is quite a bit more here to read, so if you are studying, I would suggest reading through verses 16 through 38 in Ezekiel 36. There is a sense in which Ezekiel is talking about the physical return to the land, and that is the relevant part for this study. But there is an event greater sense in which Ezekiel is talking about how God will cleanse the Israelites from their sins, a sign of which will be a return back from exile, the punishment that they had received for their sinfulness.
So, through Ezekiel, God tells the nation of Israel that he will return them back to their land, the promised land that they have been sent out from. And this is an event that finally comes about in 1948. Want to know how this happened? Watch a retelling of the modern history below, starting just before World War 1.
Now, the Israelites have moved into the land of Canaan and have been battling the people there, following the plan that God had set out for them. As each of the tribes settle into their land, God remains the King over all of them with a series of “judges”, who are more like leaders to help rescue them militarily from their enemies.
However, there comes a point at which the people go to the prophet Samuel and say that they want a king over them. They want to be like the other nations, the other groups of people that live around them, and have a king to rule them.
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”
1 Samuel 8
I see a couple of relevant points here. First, the Israelite people have already been in the process of walking away from God. They would leave him and sin as a nation, be punished by God, cry out to him for mercy, and then one of the Judges would lead the people against the enemies that are attacking them in their punishment.
Now, by asking for a king, the Israelites are formalizing their rejection of God as their King. This will continue the downward slide that they have already been on and formally marks the movement of the people away from being a people led by God and instead a people led by humans.
The second part is similar in that, by rejecting God as their king, the Israelites usher in, instead, the political state of Israel, leaving behind the spiritual state of a kingdom that is ruled by God. They want a political solution to their problems when, what they need, is to leave behind their sinful past and move forward under God.
Unfortunately, this is not what happens, and now, instead, the Israelites begin the long slide away from God.
Through a series of kings, starting with Saul, David, and Solomon, and continuing on through a breakup of the kingdom of Israel, we arrive at a point at which God brings more punishment upon the Israelites through the nation of Babylon as a result of the sin of the people. God uses Babylon to come and lay siege to Jerusalem, ultimately destroying the city, toppling the king, and ultimately sending the people into exile.
So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured.
He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem.
2 Kings 25:1-10
So now the Israelites are taken out of the Promised Land and this begins a scattering of the people of Israel. This means, of course, that the people are no longer living as a nation in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, but instead are sent into Babylon and then through successive kingdoms and rulers into other parts of the world as well.
For a little further study, the Bible Project has a great video on the concept of Exile in general, including touching on this exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Check it out here:
This morning, we continued reading with our kids on the Biblical history behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had them scan through their memory and understanding of history from Isaac to Moses until we arrived at the point that God approaches Moses from the burning bush:
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey —the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
As God commissions Moses to go and bring his people out of Egypt, he tells him that he will send his people into Canaan, the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
Of course, this means that war is coming. These other people won’t just move out of the land willingly because one people say that God said told them that this was now their land. Nonetheless, this is the plan that God puts before Moses, which is, of course, a continuation of the plan that he had told to Abraham and Isaac which we saw in the previous readings.
Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan River
Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and God takes them through the desert, right up to the point where they need to cross the Jordan River and enter into the land. Moses sends spies into the land, most of whom come back reporting that the people there seem like giants to them while they seem like grasshoppers from their perspective. Hmmm… What to do?
Out of fear that they will be destroyed, Moses flinches and doesn’t trust God to enter into the Promised Land, and as a result, God sends he and the rest of the Israelites wandering through the desert for the next 40 years. Moses is not allowed to enter into the Promised Land.
But Joshua is next in line to take leadership of the people and he has learned the lesson to not fear but instead to move forward. As a result, as we go into the first chapter of the book of Joshua, we see that God commands Joshua to take the people across the Jordan River and Joshua starts preparing immediately:
After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them —to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates —all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.’”
But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you after he said, ‘The LORD your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the LORD your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous! ”
God explains *again* to Joshua that he will take them into the same land that we saw he had promised previously to Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. He again explains the borders of the land.
As I mention above, war is coming, and Joshua knows it. He goes to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who had previously requested to have their land to the east of the Jordan River and he says that they must cross over the river with them even though they are already on the east side of the river where their land will be and would just need to move north. Why? They will fight against the people that are in the land alongside of the rest of the Israelite tribes until the other tribes are settled, just as they had promised Moses that they would do when their land was assigned to them.
Want to go in greater depth on the subject of the Israelites entering and taking the land of Canaan? Go read this article over at the Bible Project:
Why is this relevant?
So how is this relevant to the Palestinian-Israelite struggle happening today? Two reasons:
God gives the land of Canaan to the line of Isaac, not to the people that are in the land, nor to the line of Ishmael.
The Israelites will have to take it by force, forming the foundation of the struggle for this land that we see playing out even today.
Last Sunday, we took a walk into the center of Catania where we encountered a protest on behalf of the Palestinians in the most recent flare-up between the Israelis and Palestinians. As far as protests go, there weren’t a lot of people there, but one interesting thing that I noticed was the mix between the different groups of people in attendance, including the Palestinian supporters, a group of LGBTQ activists, and communists. Here is a brief video that I took of the protest:
My kids, spurred on by our oldest who is very interested in political discussions, asked if we could talk about the Palestinian conflict and why this has been such a significant conflict over the years, so I think that we’re going to start that discussion now, walking through the Bible and its history between the Jewish people and the Palestinians to understand how we have arrived where we are today.
God’s promise to Abraham
To begin, we have to go back to the story of Abraham and God’s promise to Abraham, to give him the land of Canaan, the land that is basically today the nation of Israel:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. ”
So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land. ” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Ishmael and Isaac
From there, we see that Abraham has two sons. The first son is Ishmael, born to Hagar the servant-slave of Sarai, Abraham’s wife. Sarai brings Hagar to Abraham in order to sleep with her and have an heir in an effort to fulfill the promise that God had given to Abraham to have an heir. Abraham is very old to have children, and Sarai is even quite a bit older, so they thought that it was not possible to have children naturally through Sarai.
God tells Abraham that he will bless Ishmael, but he says that his promise is that children will come through Sarai, now Sarah, and that his descendants of the covenant will come through this child, not through the children of Ishmael.
God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.
God confirms his covenant with Isaac
So now, to take this one step further, we see that God also later speaks with Isaac. He confirms the covenant that he gave to his father Abraham, and also confirms that God will give Isaac’s descendants the land of Canaan.
Now there was a famine in the land —besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions. ”
However, we also see that there are people already there in the land. In this case, we see the Philistines, a group of people that the Israelites will be at war with for many years to come. But there are others as well, and from a physical territorial perspective, the dispute over whose is this land is at the heart of the dispute between the Israelites and the Palestinians even today.
My hope is to continue to walk through this story with my kids to help them see the Biblical background and then connect it to more recent history related to the nation of Israel so that they can begin to connect the dots between what they see in the Bible and what they see happening even today. More to come!