The Middle East: History
This is the seventh in a series of essays examining the Middle East situation from a Biblical perspective.
In the beginning the LORD God  created the Heavens and the Earth.
Therefore He owns the Heavens and the Earth and everything in them: The stars, seas and everything in them, mountains and lands and everything in them, all wild and domestic animals, and all cities and all people.
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. (Psa 50:10-11)
Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Eze 18:4)
As owner He has the right and the authority to do whatever He chooses to do with His possessions. As Creator He has the power to implement His will. Nothing and no one can stop Him from doing so.
The LORD God unilaterally selected the nation of Israel, the Hebrews, to be His specially chosen people.
He affirmed this decision with unconditional, irrevocable covenants. (Gen 15:4-5, Gen 15:18-21, Gen 17:19-21, Gen 26:2-6, Gen 35:9-12, Exo 6:2-8)
This special, chosen relationship, however, placed certain obligations on the Israelites. God summarized this special relationship as follows:
And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Lev 26:12)
Note the intimacy of this special relationship: God the Creator will walk among his people! How amazing is that? As part of this special relationship, the LORD God would “dwell”  among his people as long as His people honored Him.
In addition, the LORD God unilaterally elected to give the Promised Land to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac. (Gen 17:19) See Fig. 1 comparing the Promised Land (blue boundary) with Israel today (red boundary).  (Num 34:1-15)
The LORD God affirmed His action with conditional covenants. (Lev 26:6-39) In particular, He warned the Hebrews that they would be cast out of the Promised Land if they did not live up to their obligations to behave as the chosen people of God. 
As it turns out, the Israelites failed to live up to their obligations because they sinned as a nation many times.
Nevertheless God dealt with them patiently:
- They sinned.
- He disciplined them.
- They repented.
- He restored them and punished the enemies who oppressed them.
- Then once more Israel fell back into her sinful ways to start the cycle again.
This cycle repeated many times, as described in the books of Judges, Kings, and Chronicles. Nevertheless the Kingdom of Israel prospered and reached its zenith under David and Solomon. See Fig. 2 comparing Solomon’s kingdom (green and gray areas) with modern Israel (red boundary). 
After Solomon the cycle continued. With each cycle the nation of Israel fell deeper and deeper into sin, and departed further and further from her covenantal responsibilities; God finally cast the Israelites out of the Promised Land  for a short period of time (70 years). This occurred when the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom and then the Babylonians destroyed Judah, taking the Hebrews captive in both cases.
But The LORD God is also patient and forgiving. He made a set of unconditional promises to Israel through His prophets in those sorrowful days. Specifically, He promised:
- The LORD God will never annihilate the Israelites but would always retain a faithful remnant, forgive their sins , bring them back into the Promised Land, give them a new heart, provide them with a King (the Messiah) from the line of David, bless the land so that it would be fruitful and prosperous, and multiply the children of Israel. (Isa 62:1-4)
- The LORD God will destroy Israel’s enemies by executing righteous judgment on the oppressing nations, and protect the Israelites so they would live in peace and safety in the Promised Land forever. (Jer 30:18-22)
- Furthermore, God promised that all the people of world will be blessed through the Israelites, that He will make Jerusalem His earthly home and capital, that all the nations will come to Jerusalem, bow, and worship the Lord God; and that this arrangement will last forever. In short, he reaffirmed his promise that
“You shall be my people, and I will be your God forever.” (Jer 30:22)
Where are we today
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. The Southern Kingdom, Judah, was cast out of the Promised Land for the 70 year Babylonian exile because the nation did evil in the eyes of The Lord. The nation was subsequently restored, but then cast out of the Promised Land once again in 70 AD because the nation committed an even greater evil in the eyes of The Lord: The nation failed to recognize the physical, personal visitation of The LORD, the prophesied Messiah, Jesus. [Mat 23:34-39, Luk 19:41-44 ]
But the LORD is gracious and forgave the Israelites (Jews) for their sins again just as He promised to do. Therefore exactly as Judah was brought back into the Promised Land after her 70 year Babylonian exile, modern Israel has been brought back into the Promised Land after 2000 years of exile (Roman Diaspora). Just as full repentance and restoration did not occur immediately after the Babylonian exile but occurred years later when the returning faithful remnant had finally led the people back to the LORD God in national repentance and revival, so full national and spiritual restoration have yet to occur in modern Israel today:
- Israel is fundamentally a secular nation 
- Israel as a nation still does not recognize Jesus as their Messiah 
- Israel as a nation is once again committing the same sins that contributed to the Babylonian exile 
Therefore Israel’s future will continue to appear tenuous until a faithful remnant leads the nation of Israel to repentance and revival, and the nation corporately calls upon the name of Jesus to come and save her from certain disaster. (Luk 19:44) Nevertheless Israel’s future existence is guaranteed by the Word of God through His prophet Jeremiah. (Jer 30:22)
The Middle East Problem – Guests and squatters
A fundamental premise of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that the LORD God, not man, owns everything. (Psa 50:10-11, Eze 18:4) As such, the LORD God is the owner of the Promised Land, the land of Israel. He granted the Jews a leasehold on the land in perpetuity, subject to certain terms and conditions. Gentile Christians or Muslims, however, can make no such Divine claims against the land; the LORD God granted them neither ownership nor leasehold on the land. They are dwelling there only as guests of the LORD God , or as residents without permission (squatters).
What happens to a piece of property when its owner leaves for an extended period of time?
It depends on the neighborhood. In a good neighborhood, the neighbors will watch out for the property to keep vandals and squatters off the property. In a bad neighborhood or far out in the country, the property is subject to vandalism and occupation by squatters, possibly even by the neighbors themselves. If the property remains vacant long enough, someone will eventually move in and occupy it without permission. In any case, the property inevitably deteriorates because the owner is not there to care for it, maintain it, and improve it. Temporary residents (guests and squatters), after all, have no vested interest to invest energy and resources into something that they are likely to lose some day.
When the owner returns, he has to evict the squatters to get the property back and occupy it. If the squatters refuse to leave, the owner must resort to forcible eviction. In the wild West, the owner would gather his friends, form a posse, and a gun fight (a range war) would ensue. Once the owner had driven off the squatters and regained the property, he would then fix it up and make it fruitful once more.
The exact same principles are at work in the Promised Land. The LORD God leased the land to the Israelites in perpetuity, but then temporarily revoked the lease and evicted the Israelites three times because they weren’t complying with the terms of the lease:
- The Assyrian conquest of the the Northern Kingdom (722 BC): The Assyrians enslaved and removed the Israelites (rightful leaseholders) and forcibly replaced them with foreigners. The property never returned to its original “fruitful” state.
- The Babylonian captivity (586 BC): The Babylonians enslaved and removed the Israelites, and the neighbors immediately moved in. When the LORD God reinstated the lease, the Israelites once again dwelt in the land, but the returning exiles initially met stiff resistance from the squatting neighbors. Ultimately the Israelites were successful, though many of the squatters who had moved in either continued to live in the land as guests or became Jewish. After a brief 200 year period of independence, Israel once again became the subject of various occupying regimes.
- The Roman Diaspora (70 AD): The Romans totally destroyed the property, cast out the Jewish inhabitants, and dispersed them worldwide. They even renamed the land to Palestina (a name related to the name of Isreal’s ancient arch-enemies the Philistines) in an attempt to eradicate any vestige of rightful Israeli leasehold to the land. Once again, various squatters moved in and settled in the land.
Finally, after 2000 years the LORD God reinstated the Israelites’ leasehold with the establishment of modern Israel. But the squatters who had settled on the land continue to violently oppose the rightful legal residents, the Jews. In fact, the squatters refuse entry, refuse to acknowledge the Jews’ rightful existence, and even claim to be the rightful recipients of the leasehold.
What happens? Wars ensue and continue until the resisting squatters are evicted and the leasehold is properly established. Note that not all squatters have to be evicted because the LORD God, the property’s owner, is generous and has made provisions for them in the leasehold.  The squatters who wish to remain as “guests” according to the terms of the leasehold may do so, on condition that they willingly accept the LORD God as their god. All other squatters will be evicted by the property owner, the LORD God.
It is interesting to note that in Biblical days whenever one of Israel’s enemies won a victory in war over the Israelites, they understood that victory as a victory by their god, Molech, Chemosh, Ashteroth, Baal, etc. over YHWH, the LORD God. Today, whenever the Muslims win a battle or war against Jews or Christians, they understand that victory as a victory by Allah over the LORD God. Clearly the Middle East conflict didn’t start in 1948 with the founding of Israel; it has been going on since the Garden of Eden because The Promised Land is Battlefield of the gods.
Imagine yourself an American pioneer heading westward with your family. You have been slogging through impenetrable woods, marshes, scaling mountains and descending into ravines. You were trying to head west all the time, but there were many obstacles in your way and often you had to change direction. After a while you begin to feel lost and unsure of your route. From a clearing you notice a mountain to your right. You decide to climb it to look around, get your bearings again, and get the lay of the land ahead to avoid further obstacles.
You can see far and wide from the top of the mountain you just climbed. From the lay of the land you can see a clear path you’ve totally missed not far off to your south, beautiful plains ahead of you in the distance to the Southwest, and nothing but more mountains, forests, ravines, and marshes straight ahead to the west. If only you had known about the path and followed it, you could have missed all those impenetrable woods, marshes, and difficulties! If you hadn’t scaled the mountain to get your bearings, you would have missed the plains and stayed in the mountainous jungle forever!
History is like the situation faced by the American pioneer heading westward. We need to understand the lay of the land (history and its trends) and our destination (God’s plan); then we can adjust our actions accordingly and avoid much unnecessary hardship. The purpose of the following section is to provide that grand view of the Promised Land from God’s historical mountaintop. We will carefully avoid the forests, swamps, and treacherous ravines in our journey.
The destination is simple: The LORD God promised the Israelites a piece of property, and He will make good on that promise. See Fig. 3 for Ezekiel’s vision of the land promised to Israel under the Messiah (red boundary) compared to Israel today (blue boundary). (Eze 47:13 -48:29) One can either fight the LORD God – a losing proposition – or join the winning team.
But we must be extremely careful because it’s not our job to force the situation prematurely and mess things up like Abraham, Sarah, and Haggar did with Ishmael. (Gen 16) Their foolishness continues to echo in the Middle East conflict to this day. Neither do we want to cause events to be delayed and thereby cause unnecessary hardship and strife. Timing is everything, and God’s timing is always perfect. We need to follow His lead, but to do so we must understand His character and plan.
Furthermore, as Creator and landlord, the LORD God will allocate the Promised Land according to His will, and He will righteously provide for those Arabs and Gentiles living in the land today who faithfully worship the LORD God.  Therefore let us not usurp the LORD God’s authority and get bogged down in man-made definitions of who is a Jew “qualified” to live in the Promised Land and who isn’t. The LORD God will decide in righteousness and truth through His Messiah, Christ Jesus; the best we could do is merely guess. Let us instead simply accept the LORD God’s promise at face value and proceed from there.
Promised Land History
The recorded history of the Promised Land reaches back to the time of Abraham, around 2100 BC. This is when the LORD God made the irrevocable Abrahamic covenant to give the land to Abraham’s descendants. Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land around 1400 BC. The following chart examines history from Joshua to today, and considers three critical aspects:
The Israelites had the means to worship the LORD God according to the Law of Moses from 1400 BC through the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. There were periods when worship was restricted by the political authorities; there were periods when worship could have been practiced but was not; and there was one brief period during the Babylonian exile when the Temple was destroyed. But for the most part throughout these 1400 years, the physical means were available to worship the LORD God according to His instructions. After the Roman destruction, the Temple was never rebuilt and worship according to Mosaic laws ceased.
Political Control (and spiritual warfare)
The Promised Land is a land of blood and war. Over its recorded 3400 year history, there have been 26 major wars of conquest or attempted conquest. Some wars lasted decades and included many battles.
Political control shifted between major religious groups. In Fig 4 Judeo-Christian dominance is depicted by blue lines (representing the LORD God); dominance by all other competing world-views and gods is depicted by the green line. One can virtually see an on-going spiritual battle in action in the following table (Text is color coded to match Figure 4; numbers in parentheses refer to specific wars of Figure 4.):
The LORD God
All other gods
|The Israelis enter and gain control of the Promised Land (1)|
|The enemy counters with a series of pagan thrusts (3 – 8)|
|The Maccabees (9-10) finally recapture control briefly|
|The enemy counters with Roman pagans conquering and subjugating Israel (11-13)|
|Jesus Christ changes everything, and the Romans abandon their pagan religions and embrace Christianity, continuing Judeo-Christian control of the area. Interestingly, this is the only non-violent transition in the entire history of the land.|
|The enemy counters with Islam in the name of a new god, Allah, and violently conquers all Christian holdings in the area (15).|
|Christians attempt to forcibly regain control of the Promised Land with the Crusades (16-17) but meet with limited success|
|Islam regroups and recaptures control of the land (18, 19)|
|The LORD God prepares to bring His people, the Jews back to the land through the secular British Mandate (20)|
|Modern Israel is established and the LORD God brings His people back as promised, but Islamic wars of opposition continue (21-26).|
Jewish Exile (Israel’s status in the land)
As discussed previously in the section “Where we are today”, the Jews were cast out of the Promised Land three times:
- Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom permanently (Assyrian diaspora)
- Babylonian exile for 70 years (Babylonian exile)
- Roman destruction of Jerusalem and exile for 2000 years (Roman diaspora).
These periods of exile are included in the chart as reference. As long as there was a significant Jewish or Christian presence in the land, the land was fruitful. During the periods of exile and occupation, particularly when all vestiges of Judeo-Christian heritage were expunged under the Muslims, the Promised Land became barren, desolate, and abandoned. This phenomenon was predicted in the Bible along with the blooming of the desert when the Jews return to the land.  (Lev 26:32-35)
A Traditional View
The following table presents the same history in a more traditional tabular format. Events and periods particularly favorable to the Jews are highlighted in blue; events particularly devastating are red; gray indicates long term exile and desolation in the land. The first column provides references to the corresponding war symbol in Fig. 4. Various occupying rulers are identified in the rightmost column. The preponderance of occupation by neighboring states (Babylon, Damascus, and Egypt) is striking. A more detailed timeline history is available at http://contenderministries.org/middleeast/timeline.php
|Abrahamic covenant of the Promised Land||~2100 BC|
|Joshua’s entry into the Promised Land||~1400BC|
|United Monarchy of Israel (Saul, David, and Solomon)||1st Temple dedicated||1050 BC – 931 BC|
|Divided Kingdoms||1st Temple||931BC – 722 BC|
|Assyrian conquest of Israel (Northern Kingdom)||1st Temple||722 BC|
|Babylonian conquest of Judah (Southern Kingdom)||1st Temple destroyed||586 BC||Start of Babylonian rule|
|Babylonian exile||No temple||Babylonian rule|
|Return of first group of exiles from Babylonian captivity||No temple||538 BC||Start of Persian rule|
|Temple rebuilt||2nd Temple||516 BC||Note 70 years after Babylonian conquest|
|National repentance and rededication of Second Temple under Nehemiah||2nd Temple rededicated||445 BC||Note 70 year span from temple rebuilding|
|Temple worship allowed||2nd Temple||333 BC – 323 BC||Alexander the Great rule (Greek)|
|Temple worship allowed||2nd Temple||320 BC – 198 BC||Ptolemaic (Egyptian) rule|
|Temple worship allowed||2nd Temple||198 BC – 164 BC||Seleucid (Syrian) rule|
|Maccabean period||2nd Temple||164 BC – 63 BC|
|Temple worship allowed||2nd Temple||63 BC – 313 AD||Roman rule|
|Jerusalem and Temple destroyed; beginning of diaspora||2nd Temple destroyed||70 AD|
|Roman exile||313 AD – 636 AD||Byzantine (Christian) rule|
|Roman exile||614 AD||Failed invasion by Persia (Islamic)|
|Roman exile||636 AD – 1099 AD||Various Arab (Islamic) rulers|
|Roman exile||691 AD||Dome of the Rock Mosque built on Temple Mount|
|Roman exile||1099 AD – 1291 AD||Crusader wars (Christian)|
|Roman exile||1291 AD – 1516 AD||Mamluk (Damascus Islamic) rule|
|Roman exile||1517 AD – 1917 AD||Ottoman (Turkish Islamic) rule|
|1918 AD – 1948 AD||British rule|
|Modern State of Israel||1948 AD – Present||1948 War of Independence vs. Arab confederation|
|Modern State of Israel||1948 AD – Present||1956 Sinai Campaign vs. Egypt|
|Modern State of Israel||1948 AD – Present||1967 Six Day War vs. Egypt|
|Modern State of Israel||1948 AD – Present||1968-70 War of Attrition vs. Egypt|
|Modern State of Israel||1948 AD – Present||1973 Yom Kippur War vs. Syria and Egypt|
|Modern State of Israel||1948 AD – Present||1982 Lebanon War (Operation Peace for Galilee) vs. Syria and Lebanon|
Winners Keepers, Losers Weepers
Careful examination of the history of the Promised Land shows that the land’s ownership has been contested for millennia. During this period claims on the land have been made in the names of many gods. The LORD God alone has remained steadfast throughout the ages; all gods who have opposed the LORD God have been vanquished. They have all disappeared with the exception of a new god Allah who appeared suddenly around 620 AD. Today competing claims are being made on the Promised Land in the name of Allah and the LORD God. We shall examine those claims in a separate essay.
The principle in effect over the centuries throughout the globe has always been, “Winners keepers, losers weepers.” Whoever won the war, got the land and made the rules. This is the “Submit or else” principle Islam has embraced wholeheartedly throughout its entire existence.
The principle remains in force to this day and has been in force in the Middle East since the dawn of history. The Islamic residents of the Promised Land prior to establishment of the modern state of Israel gained ownership through military conquest in 1517. The British won the land from them militarily in 1918 and the Jews in 1948.
If one were to ignore the “Winners keepers, losers weepers” principle and disinherit the Jews from Israel in favor of Muslims by “rolling back the clock” to some prior victory such as the Muslim conquest of Christian lands in 1517, one would have to skip the British conquest. What is the justification? By the same logic one could skip all Muslim conquests and go back even further in time to the original days of old when Jews controlled the land? …or perhaps even to the time of the Canaanites before them? …or even earlier?
Obviously any such argument is without justification, for there is always someone with a prior claim on the land. Thus the only possible way to determine rightful ownership based purely on history must be through the “Winners keepers, losers weepers” principle. Under this principle Jews who won the last five wars own the land – until another winner comes along.
There are only two basic assumptions available for understanding the current state of affairs in the Middle East:
- Earthly view: The Promised Land, Israel, is the rightful property of whoever won the last war. Whatever land was gained during that war belongs to the victor as booty. This is the earthly view, often stated as “Winners keepers, losers weepers.” In this case, Israel is the rightful owner, having won the last five wars.
- Divine view: The Promised Land, Israel, is the rightful property of the people whose name is on the deed,  which includes much of the contested land plus much more land. This is the Divine view. In this case also, Israel is the rightful owner.
Both assumptions inescapably lead to the conclusion that Israel is the rightful resident of the property. It is logically inconsistent and morally dishonest to claim otherwise. There is no cogent argument or rationale for doing so. Thus the only rational solution can be that
Israel is the rightful owner of the land.
All who claim otherwise are deceivers, because
All is not as it looks – especially in the Middle East!
 Note that God is omnipresent and is not confined to one specific location. His “dwelling place” is any location He designates to make Himself evident to His people and to interact with them. The LORD God himself says in Exo 29:45:
“I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.”
Prior to Christ Jesus, the LORD God designated first the Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple – both man-made structures – as His dwelling place. For example, the LORD God’s presence –the Glory of the LORD – was physically manifested in the midst of His people as a cloud by day and column of fire by night throughout the Israelites’ wandering in the desert during the Exodus from Egypt. (Exo 13:21-22)
Today God in the person of Jesus dwells within each of us, in structures He Himself created, our hearts, not in any structures built by man. (Act 7:48-49, 1Co 3:16-17, 2Co 6:16, Eph 2:19-22, 3:14-19)
 Source of information: ESV Study Bible, Crossway Publishers. The blue boundary line represents a best approximation of the total land allotted by Joshua (Num 34:1-15). Note that it encompasses all of Israel today, including Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, as well as significant parts of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
 Note that they would not cease to be the chosen people of God when they were cast out, since they had actually been chosen by God for a particular mission– an irrevocable act. (Once chosen, it is impossible to “unchoose” that which has been chosen.) However, the LORD God also uses another term, “My people” to designate those individuals through whom He is working His eternal plan at any moment in time. That term is revocable and transferable depending on the dictates of the plan. The term “my people” was transferred from the Jews to the Church (not necessarily to “Christians”) by Christ Jesus for a limited time, but will once again revert to the Jews according to God’s perfect timing. (Eze 43:7, Heb 8:10)
 Source of information: ESV Study Bible, Crossway Publishers (modified)
 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and were cast out of the Promised Land, just as Adam and Eve did evil in the eyes of the LORD and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. The LORD is consistent, true, and just – always and forever.
 If the LORD God is willing to forgive the Israelites for their sins, who are we to judge them and not forgive them for their mistakes? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone! (Joh 8:7) Anti-Semitism is disobedience and rebellion against the LORD God!
 Although the Jewish Messianic movement in Israel is growing rapidly, it still represents only about 1% of the Jewish population of the nation. http://www.prophecynewswatch.com/2010/August20/2024.html
 Israel is not depending on God alone, but rather trusting in its own strength and the strength of its allies. Israel relied on Egypt at the time of Babylon; today Israel relies on America. Repentance today requires Jesus to be at the center of everything, and for Israel to depend on Him alone. (Joh 14:6)
 Actually, the LORD God is generous and made specific provisions in the Jews’ leasehold to accommodate non-Jews in the land, but only as guests (certain conditions apply).
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jer 7:5-7)
The LORD God gives an even more astounding instruction regarding distribution of the land of Israel under the future Messiah’s reign (certain conditions apply):
“So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the Lord GOD. (Eze 47:21-23)
 The LORD God promised to bless Ishmael and His descendants out of respect for Abraham (Gen 17:20). Therefore, as the Creator and only God, He will allot homelands to them outside the Promised Land. (Gen 25:16-18) But there may be some Arabs who have deep multi-generational roots in the Promised Land and do not desire to move. There may be some Gentile Christians with similar roots. The LORD God, the God of all peoples, will accommodate these special cases righteously and allow continued residence in the Promised Land. (See footnote 11)
 The modern state of Israel is among the most productive countries when measured in number of people fed per farmer and is a large exporter of agricultural and horticultural products. LINK http://www.moag.gov.il/agri/files/agriculture/index.html http://library.thinkquest.org/26823/agriculture.htm