They say, “where there’s a will, there’s a family” and boy has there been a family dispute over the inheritance of Abraham. Millions and millions of the relatives of Ishmael and Isaac believe they are the rightful heirs. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the longest running dispute in the hands of the United Nations. In fact its over 4,000 years old. It is also the most dangerous military conflict in the world, without any international regulation of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons held by some of Abraham’s descendants.
And it is undoubtedly the most controversial media story in the world with accusations of holocaust denial, anti-semitism, racism, apartheid and Islamophobia. And, sadly, it is being perpetuated by some misguided Christians…
Abraham’s Inheritance was Promised
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates…” (Genesis 15:18-21)
The ‘wadi of Egypt’ is probably one of the tributaries of the Nile. The Euphrates begins in Turkey and flows through Syria and Iraq before entering the Persian Gulf. So parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and even Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are included. While most secular Israeli’s today would not identify with these ‘biblical’ borders, the founders of Zionism like Theodore Herzl, Vladimir Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion, certainly did.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948 but successive governments have yet to declare what they regard as their international borders. Why? Because they want as larger share of Abraham’s inheritance.
Abraham’s Inheritance was Misunderstood
Let me give you an example. The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) says:
“We simply believe the Bible. And that Bible, which we understand has not been revoked, makes it quite clear that God has given this land as an eternal inheritance to the Jewish people… as an everlasting possession by an eternal covenant. The Jewish People have the absolute right to possess and dwell in the Land, including Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan.”
They fund the colonisation of Palestine by assisting Jewish people from around the world to emigrate and live in the illegal Settlements.
The irony is, Abraham’s inheritance has been misunderstood since the days of Moses. In the opening verses of Deuteronomy God reiterates the promise,
“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.” (Deuteronomy 1:8)
But when the spies returned and described the inhabitants, the Israelites were afraid. Moses insisted,
“do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 1:29-30)
But they grumbled against God and thought that building a larger, more powerful army, would give them victory. Moses reminds them what happened next. They boasted,
“We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country. But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’ ”So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you…” (Deuteronomy 1:41-44)
The same arrogance prevailed in the days of Ezekiel.
“Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’ Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, … Should you then possess the land?’ “Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live … I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end…” (Ezekiel 33:23-28)
They had forgotten who owned the land and how they had come to reside there.
“I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.” (Jeremiah 2:7)
Abraham’s inheritance was promised but misunderstood because they forgot it was God’s land. It could not be conquered by a bigger army but only by God’s providence.
Abraham’s Inheritance was Conditional
There should not have been any ambiguity over title to the land because the Lord was crystal clear in Leviticus:
“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Leviticus 25:23)
God’s people were only permitted to reside in God’s land as foreigners and strangers.
The land was never their personal possession.
They pretended they had the title deeds to the land but it was only a tenancy agreement. They were leaseholders. They were never given the freehold. Continued residence in God’s land was always conditional. Genesis 17:8 does indeed describe the land as an ‘everlasting possession.’ But the very next verse adds a conditional clause.
“Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come’… Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:9, 14).
Moses similarly insisted,
“If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him…” (Deuteronomy 19:8-9)
And Joshua warned the same thing:
“If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” (Joshua 23:16)
Notice those little conditional words ‘if’ and ‘because’.
That is precisely why the Ten Northern tribes were eventually kicked out of the land and exiled to Assyria. Then the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin were also exiled to Babylon. Abraham’s inheritance was promised but misunderstood because they were only ever foreigners and tenants. Their continued residence was always conditional on faithful obedience.
Abraham’s Inheritance was Partially Experienced
Some claim the borders of Israel will extend from the Nile to the Euphrates because God’s word has not yet been fulfilled literally. But that is not what the Bible actually says:
“So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.” (Joshua 11:23)
Now if you read Joshua it is clear that the 12 tribes did not secure all the land allotted to them, so either Joshua was not an ultra-literalist in the modern sense or he was using different maps. The writer of 2nd Samuel also hints at the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham:
“… David defeated Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, when he went to restore his monument at the Euphrates River.” (2 Samuel 8:3)
If David went to restore his monument on the Euphrates, his kingdom must have extended that far, albeit briefly.
Abraham’s inheritance was promised but misunderstood because residence was always conditional and only ever experienced partially in Canaan.
Abraham’s Inheritance was to be Shared
When the exiles returned to the Promised Land, as a sign of their repentance, God insisted they share the land with those of other nations residing among them.
“You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe foreigners reside, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign Lord. (Ezekiel 47:21-23)
When God commands something in Scripture it is to be obeyed. When God repeats a command twice in two sentences it must be important. So why would God command something three times in three sentences? Because God knew his people were stubborn and selfish and did not want to share the land. So God insists three times, “give the foreigners residing among you their inheritance.”
Share the land! Why? Because God had always intended his people to be inclusive. His people were defined by faith not race. David rejoices in this truth in Psalm 87:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ ”
Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” (Psalm 87:4-6)
Oh, and did you notice, once again, God insists three times in three sentences “this one was born in Zion”. Which one? Well, he specifically mentions the Egyptians, the Iraqis, the Palestinians, Lebanese and the Africans. People of other nations were given citizenship in Israel by God because of their faith not their race. God even anticipated that some would not be pleased to extend citizenship to other nations.
So through the prophet Isaiah he insists:
“Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”… And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants… and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer… for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:3, 6-7)
Now why would foreigners think “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people?” Because some of God’s people were doing the excluding!
This week 30,000 Africans have been protesting in Tel Aviv because the Israeli government refuses to give them refugee status.
Their presence will allegedly threaten the Jewish character of Israel. Abraham’s inheritance was promised but misunderstood because residence was always conditional and was only ever experienced temporarily because the land was to be shared on the basis of faith not race.
Abraham’s Inheritance is only through Jesus Christ
Jesus once told a parable about a landowner and his tenants. He portrays God as the landowner and himself as the heir.
“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ (Mark 12:6-7)
Jesus is the true heir to Abraham’s inheritance. This is certainly how the writer to Hebrews portrays Jesus.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Jesus is the “Heir of all things”. The Apostle Paul elaborates:
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
So the inheritance God promised Abraham would be fulfilled not through his physical descendants but through Abraham’s true heir – the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus does a remarkable thing in redefining the borders of Abraham’s inheritance. Jesus takes a promise made concerning the Land in Psalm 37, and applies it to his own followers living anywhere in the world;
Psalm 37:11 – “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”
Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Soon after the Day of Pentecost, The Apostle Peter explains how the promises made to Abraham were fulfilled through Jesus. By his death, resurrection and ascension he has inaugurated an expanded kingdom embracing people of all nations who trust in Him.
“Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, … have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.”(Acts 3:24-25)
Similarly, the Apostle Paul assures the Ephesians that they too were now beneficiaries of Abraham’s inheritance.
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians. 3:4-6)
The Kingdom of God is internal not territorial. It is universal not tribal. Abraham’s inheritance was promised but misunderstood. It was always conditional, only ever experienced partially in Canaan and was to be shared. Jesus and his Apostles insist it can only be experienced through faith in Him. You see, Abraham’s inheritance was never intended to be located in Canaan at all. The ‘Promised Land’ which Abraham longed for was not even in the Middle East.
Abraham’s Inheritance is in Heaven
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God… All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that … they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:8-16)
God had never intended Abraham’s inheritance to be a piece of real estate between Egypt and Iraq. It may indeed have been a land flowing with milk and honey, but it was nothing compared to what God had planned for them, and us.
The inheritance of Abraham was never intended to be the ‘everlasting’ possession of Palestine but an eternal home in heaven. The writer to the Hebrews insists:
“… none of them received what had been promised.”
“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)
God’s purposes have always been that the true descendants of Abraham, the Old Testament church and the New Testament church, his Hebrew children and his Gentile children, united together as the one people of God, should dwell forever in God’s presence in heaven. The Arab-Israeli conflict could be resolved today if the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael understood the terms of Abraham’s inheritance. Until they do, there will never be peace in the family of the Middle East. That is why the role of the Christians in Israel-Palestine is so vital.
Stephen Sizer (source)