Bible Questions and Answers – Israel’s “Right” to Palestine

“Dear brother Clem: I am confused about all of the problems of Israel and the Palestinians. I have friends who tell  me that the Bible gives Israel the right to all of Palestine. Is this true?

– B.G., OH”

God made several promises to Abraham, of which the main three deal with the nation of Israel, the promised land (Canaan) and the Christ (who was to be “the seed” of Abraham). Let’s look at the promise regarding the land. “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. And I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). Moses later spoke of this promise to the nation of Israel, as Abraham’s descendants: “All this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever” (Exodus 32:13). But still later, Moses showed that the “forever” part of this promise was conditional.

God showed Israel that, if they did not do as He directed, the land would be taken away from them: “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil … But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days in the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to posses it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed” (Deuteronomy 30:15-19). Notice that God’s promise that the land would belong to Israel was valid only as long as they served God. If they turned their backs on Him, He would allow other people to drive them from that land. And when they did turn from God, they were driven out.

After the death of Moses, God selected Joshua to be the leader of Israel. It was under his leadership that the Israelites were brought into the land of Canaan (what it now called “Palestine”). Near the close of his life, Joshua declared: “So Jehovah gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And Jehovah gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers; and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; Jehovah delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not aught of any good thing which Jehovah had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:43-45) Notice that last part again: “There failed not aught … All came to pass.

Later, Joshua told Israel, “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which Jehovah your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, not one thing hath failed thereof” (Joshua 23:14). Lest some should say, either then or now, that God owed the land to Israel, Joshua forcefully points out that God had kept every one of His promises. He didn’t say simply that God would keep the promises. He said He HAD kept them. All of God’s promises regarding the land of Canaan (Palestine) were fulfilled in Joshua’s lifetime. There remains no more such promises to be fulfilled today.

Some claim that Israel has a “right” to the land of Palestine today because of God’s promises. Now, I am willing to leave the politics of that situation to the politicians. But to claim “right of ownership” based on God’s promises is manifestly absurd. Israel is no longer a “special people” to God. He deals with all nations on the exact same basis, and with the same promises: “In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). And note Romans 10:12, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek.” All of God’s blessings for mankind today are bestowed through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-7), and the land of Canaan is not included.

So far as God’s promises are concerned, Israel has no more right to the land of Canaan than I do. They forfeited their right to the land by turning away from God. The only “special people of God” today are those that are “in Christ” (Galatians 3:24-29). As the apostle Paul shows (in Romans 9, 10 and 11), if the people of Israel will come to Christ, they will “in Christ” again become the people of God. If there is a political settlement possible for that troubled are of the world, I sincerely hope it is found, and soon. But let’s not allow God’s word to suffer perversion for the sake of politics. – Clem Thurman

Excerpted from Volume 53, Number 33 of Gospel Minutes. Gospel Minutes is a publication originating from Forth Worth, Texas; Clem Thurman, Editor, David Thurman, Associate Editor.


  1. The land belongs to Israel, not because Israel is Israel, but because God is God. God made a covenant with Abraham and with his “seed.” (Remember Paul made a big deal about this in Galatians 3:16). The covenant was for the land: Genesis 13:14-16, and it was unconditional and solely dependent upon God, and having nothing to do with Abraham (Genesis 15:7-12, 17-18). Furthermore, Israel has never had full possession of the land promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18) — not even in Israel’s zenith under Solomon’s reign. If what you are saying is true, then God has been unfaithful to His promise. May that never be! Full possession of the land is waiting for the “Seed” of Abraham. God will keep His promise without fail.

    1. Israel never had full possession of the land promised to Abraham???

      True or False – Joshua 21:43 says that God “…gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.”

      Ernie, for you to say that Israel never had full possession of the land is to say something that does not agree with what the Bible says. God was not unfaithful in His promise (read Joshua 23:14 again my friend). God kept His word; it was Israel who became unfaithful in their promise to stay dedicated to God when they refused to listen to His Son.

      If a person does not have the Son then that person does not have the Father whether or not they are a descendant (seed) of Abraham (John 5:23; 1 John 2:23). That was something that both John the baptizer and Jesus warned their fellow brethren about. The axe has been laid to those roots and now one must be saved through the gospel regardless of whether they are a Jew or gentile (Romans 1:16-17). One would do well to be more concerned with the promise of eternal life in Jesus instead a promise that Israel defaulted on with God (1 John 2:24-25).

      1. I agree with you about Joshua 21:43 — it was all their land to possess, but they never possessed it all according to what God promised Abraham. Look again at Genesis 15:18. Israel’s boundaries have never stretched from the “river of Egypt unto the great river Euphrates.” In Galatians 3:16, Paul makes an issue of the number of the noun “seed” in the covenant that God made with Abraham. He says: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” That “seed” is Christ according to Paul, not Israel. So the fulfillment of that promise can only be in Christ during His millennial reign.

      2. Morning, Ernie. You said:

        …but they never possessed it all according to what God promised Abraham…

        That’s just not true, Ernie. Listen again to what’s being said:

        1) “So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.” (Joshua 21:43)

        2) “Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.” (Joshua 21:45)

        The promises concerning the land made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were fulfilled/kept by God during the generations of Joshua. All of the nations referenced in Genesis 15 were destroyed. This is not to mention that 1 Kings 4:21 says that Solomon did just what you said he didn’t. God fulfilled – Israel defaulted. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Premillennialism makes the same mistake that the Jews made when Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God – they looked for a physical kingdom and missed God’s spiritual kingdom because of it.

        Your “Seed” reference in Galatians 3 has nothing to do with land promises. It’s about God’s promise to bless all of the nations through Abraham’s descendant (not descendants – singular seed as in Jesus).

        Galatians 3:7-9 says, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

        The “inheritance/heritage” of Galatians 3:18 is talking about God keeping His promise to bless of all the nations through the gospel by faith and not through the Law. It’s not talking about land, it’s talking about salvation.

        Galatians 3:26-29 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

        The promise is about being blessed (all of the nations being blessed) through Abraham’s Seed, which is Jesus (Galatians 3:16). The blessings found through Jesus will be realized in the land of the spiritual Canaan (Heaven) and not in the physical land of Palestine. Jesus is reigning now on David’s throne in Heaven (Acts 2:29-33), and when Jesus returns the kingdom will not be delivered to Him, He will deliver the kingdom up to God (1 Corinthians 15:23-25).

    2. The Joshua passage indicates that what God had promised to Israael was satisfied. Yet specific land promised to Abraham/Abraham’s “seed” included a lot more land than the nation Israel ever possessed under Joshua’s leadership. Is this a contradiction with Joshua 21:43, (which is limited to “their fathers”), logically? No. God made more than one promise about land, with at least one huge promise applying to Abraham’s “seed” (whcih Galatians 3:16 clarifies is Christ Himself, not Israel), and at least one lesser promise applying to Israel (in the days of Joshua), which promise was made to those Israelites’ “fathers”. Israel has never possesed all of the land that was promised to Abraham’s “seed” (i.e., to Jesus). The key to reconciling Joshua 24:13 with Genesis 15:18 (as clarified by Galatians 3:16) is taht territories were promised by God, before the Conquest of Canaan, to the Israelites’ “fathers” (this connects with Joshua 21:43), which is different from the land promised to Abraham’s “seed” (in Genesis 15:16) which applies to CHRIST, not to the Israelites’ “fathers”.

  2. I understand what you are saying, and I agree on many points. However, one only needs to look at the map to see that all of the land promised to Abraham has never been possessed by Israel – “from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates.” That is just fact regardless of Jewish perception.

    You and I also seem to differ our views on the millennium, which is at the core of our disagreement. I am glad that this is not a point over which divide fellowship. I truly do enjoy reading and learning from your writings. You are my brother! :)

    1. You’re right that premillennialism would be the core of our disagreement. That’s why I placed the emphasis upon the spiritual Canaan and not the physical. The New Testament speaks of the promise made to Abraham concerning salvation in Jesus and it leaves the promise concerning land alone due to the fact that nationalities do not matter in God’s present kingdom. God kept His word, the Jewish people did not; and again, I would point out that the Jews missed their Messiah because they were looking for a physical kingdom and many of them unfortunately completely missed the intended (the one from the very beginning – Ephesians 3:6-11) inheritance that was to be given and realized through the promise made to Abraham – that being salvation and not land deeds (Galatians 3:8-9).

      I’m sure that you believe all scripture is given by inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16), and that loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength is necessary (Mark 12:30). I would hope that you could have the same assurance with the word “all” in Joshua 21:43. I see no reason to believe that Joshua meant anything other than all when the word all was used.

      It’s a “rehash” of what we’ve already discussed but I would encourage you to read this very short article concerning the land promise.

      I can honestly say that I have appreciated you reading, making comments and giving encouragement; and hopefully it will continue but I believe we may not agree on this particular topic so we can either continue our discussion through email or pick it back later in the future – which very well may happen. Either way, God bless in your studies, Ernie; and I hope you have a great day.

  3. It is a joy to see two smart men discussing the fulfillment of prophetic Scripture. Both of you role-model reverence for His Word, and you both are willing to disagree (respectfully) because you treasure God’s truth (and your sincere perceptions of what it is saying). When I was in law school there was an Asian immigrant librarian who attended my church. Years before she bceame thirtsy for truth but noticed that Buddhists (her family religion) did nto argue about truth because they had such a wimpy view of truth. The Christians, she then noticed, cared so much about truth that they were willing to split churches over their understanding of what the Bibel taught! So she began attending different Protestant churches to see whcih one appeared to stick cloest to what the Bible taught, becasue she figured that the real truth must be in the BIble (SMART LADY!). Of course she trusted Christ as her Savior soon enough!

    1. Sometimes the line between contending for the faith (Jude 3) and being contentious gets blurred, but as the Bible teaches, and as you point out, there is a personal responsibility that lies within the study of God’s word if one wishes to have a proper understanding of God’s word and will (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17).

      God’s truth is in His word, and it can be found, understood and followed, contrary to the teachings of some today (John 8:32; 1 Peter 1:22). God is no respecter of persons, and His gospel requires all to come to Him through His Son (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 5:9).

      Most people do not realize that God does not enjoy division within His church at all (1 Corinthians 1:10), but sadly divisions happen because individuals do not always rightly divide the word of truth and also because it makes the truth of God’s word more evident to those who are willing to see it (2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:19).

      Regardless of the situation, in the face of multiple doctrines (which can’t all be correct) we are reminded to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:14-15).

      Thank you for commenting.

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