For the week of August 12, 2006 / 18 Av 5766
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3


Basis of Possession

After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 9:4)

As we have been experiencing yet another crisis in the Middle East, there is no lack of news stories or editorial commentary. Yet I wonder how many people have a real grasp of the root issues that have both led to this current conflict and may also be the key to its resolution. Much of the Bible deals with these very issues. The people of Israel's relationship to the land is the backdrop of a large percentage of the Scriptures.

It would be quite reasonable for anyone who respects the Bible and who has a desire to see peace in the Middle East to turn to the Scriptures for insight. Many Christians, while claiming to adhere to the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), have wrongly spiritualized much of what it says and teaches regarding Israel. As a result they have robbed themselves of what can be learned from these passages, and crippled their ability to effectively address the current crisis.

There are others who are quick to apply biblical prophecy to current events. While there may be elements of what is happening today that was predicted long ago, we should be careful not to speculate over things that God has not fully revealed. As we stick to what he has made clear to us, we will have what we need to address the issues at hand.

One of these issues has to do with who has the right to the Land of Israel, which from the second century until 1948 was called Palestine, the name given to the region by the Romans. Even if we can establish who has the right of possession, it doesn't mean that right will be recognized. But as our leaders seek diplomatic solutions, and as we look at our own hearts, especially if we profess to believe the Scriptures and to love the God of the Scriptures, then it is essential for us to gain his perspective on this issue of the right of possession.

God promised to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the region in which the modern state of Israel is a part of today (see Shemot / Exodus 6:8). I believe this promise is still relevant today, since it is a promise without conditions.

One of the things that I have observed regarding how God works, is that when he gets involved in human affairs, he often deals with more than one thing at a time. This appears to be the case with his giving the Land to the people of Israel. When Moses foretold the conquest of the Land to the generation that would succeed him, he impressed upon them that they should not think that their own righteousness was the basis of possession, but rather it was due to the wickedness of the people who had been living there.

It was essential for the people to understand that they were not to think of themselves as superior to any other nation. It had nothing to do with their own righteousness. In this context they were also not encouraged to think of the promises to their ancestors. But rather that God himself was working out his own plan and that one nation (in this case Israel) would benefit because of his judgment of another nation.

Some might think being an instrument in the hand of God is something to be proud of, but that is certainly not Moses' message here. The response being called for is one of great humility. The gift of the Land of Israel is God's gift to the people of Israel. To abuse this gift has always been a very serious matter.

We therefore have no right of possession in the sense that some people mean. The people of Israel have returned to the Land of Israel because of God's continued grace to us. Until we come to grips with the nature of this gift, we will never possess it in the way we were destined to.

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