Israel and the Promised Land

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou swarest by Thine own self, and saidst unto them, I [Jehovah] will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.” —Exodus 32:13

OUR TEXT IS a prayer by Moses for the preservation of the children of Israel, and the fulfillment of God’s promise to their fathers to give them the land of Canaan. There is a revealing background to this prayer. While Moses was upon Mount Sinai receiving the Law from God, the Israelites, under the temporary leadership of Aaron, had set up a golden calf to worship, and were indulging in other gross sins.

Then “the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” To this the Lord added, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation.”—Exod. 32:7,9,10

Moses’ prayer was, in effect, a request for the Lord to reconsider his decision to destroy the Israelites as a people, reminding him of his promise to the fathers concerning the land. The Lord respected the wishes of Moses, and the Israelites were not destroyed. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness they did enter into the Promised Land, although, because of their disobedience, they later lost possession of it.

Moses foretold this loss of the land. We quote, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.”—Deut. 4:26,27

Continuing this prophecy, Moses said to the Israelites, “When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (for the Lord thy God is a merciful God,) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers, which he sware unto them.”—vss. 30,31

Here is a prophecy embracing more than three thousand years of time, which, in the light of history, is seen to be remarkably accurate. The Israelites were uprooted from their land for seventy years during the Babylonian captivity, and again when the nation was destroyed by Titus, and the people scattered. This was a scattering among many nations, and as Moses indicated in his prophecy, it was to continue until the ‘latter days’. Moses projects the prophetic picture slightly beyond the present, to a time when the Lord’s full blessing will be showered upon the Israelites in response to their turning to him, and seeking him with all their heart and all their soul. The Lord’s returning favor upon his people will be based upon his mercy, Moses explains, and because he will not forget the covenant which he made with their fathers.

Moses’ prophecy pertains, not to the faithful remnant of Israelites in each generation of that typical people, but to the many who failed to qualify for the special rewards which faithfulness and obedience would bring to those who received the testimony that they pleased God. The climax of unfaithfulness on the part of Israel as a whole came at the time of Jesus’ First Advent. It was their rejection of him as their Messiah that led to their scattering among the nations.


In the 11th chapter of Romans, Paul makes some enlightening observations as to just what happened at that time, and what God proposes to do about it. First he asks the question, “Hath God cast away his people?” Answering this, Paul says, “God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. … What then? Israel [as a nation] hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election [that is, the elect remnant of faithful ones within the nation] hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded [Margin, ‘hardened’].”—Rom. 11:1-7

Paul explains that all those not of the ‘election’, or elect class, were, as branches, broken off from an olive tree, and that believing Gentiles were being grafted into the tree to take the places of the unbelieving Israelites. Later in the chapter Paul explains that these cast-off branches, or unbelieving Israelites, will have mercy shown toward them, and that “all Israel” shall be saved.—vs. 26

Actually the whole nation of Israel were an elect people, specially chosen of the Lord. Moses said to those of his generation, “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”—Deut. 7:6-8

It is this general ‘election’, or choosing of the people of Israel, that Paul referred to when he wrote, “As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. 11:28,29) Yes, ‘for the fathers’ sakes’—through whom all Israel became God’s chosen people—he has made provision to bless even the unbelieving among them—not, however, in their unbelief, but when their sin of unbelief is removed.

And God has made a wonderful provision for taking away the sin of his unbelieving people. It is the provision of the New Covenant foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Jesus will be the Mediator of this New Covenant, and associated with him will be the elect spiritual Israelites called during the Gospel Age. Together these are referred to as the “Deliverer,” and Paul wrote, “There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel]: for this is my covenant unto them [the New Covenant], when I shall take away their sins.”—Rom. 11:26,27

A glance at the promise of the New Covenant reveals how far-reaching it will be in removing the sins of those who are brought into relationship with the Lord under its terms. The Lord said, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jer. 31:33,34

This is God’s provision for unbelieving Israelites. It is a provision of his mercy extended through Jesus their Redeemer from sin, and the Redeemer of all mankind. Paul further wrote concerning the Israelites, “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Rom. 11:32) No wonder Paul observed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”—vs. 33

Nor is God’s provision for the Israelite’s, who failed to obtain a good report through faith, limited to those of any one generation. This provision of mercy is on behalf of the wayward and unbelieving of every generation. Paul explains how. He said “What shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:15) Again we are reminded of the importance of the resurrection in the outworking of the divine plan for Israel and for the world. For the Israelites it means that God’s mercy will be operative on behalf of those who killed the prophets, and stoned them that were sent to them. (Matt. 23:37) In the resurrection; God’s mercy will also be extended toward those who rejected Jesus, and later persecuted his apostles and others in the Early Church. “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.”—Rom. 11:32


In Moses’ prophecy already quoted, we learn that the turning point in Israel’s relationship to the Lord was due to take place in the “latter days.” (Deut. 4:30,31) But to obtain his blessings it will be necessary for them to ‘turn to the Lord’, and ‘be obedient unto his voice’. It will be in response to this turning to the Lord in repentance, faith, and obedience’ that his mercy will be extended to them. “The Lord thy God is a merciful God,” wrote Moses, and “he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers, which he sware unto them.” Paul might well have had this prophecy in mind when he explained that “all Israel shall be saved,” and that God will extend his mercy to this people for “the fathers’ sakes.”—Rom. 11:26-28

But with the approach of the ‘latter days’ in the divine plan, the people of Israel, to whom these wonderful promises have been made, were still scattered among the nations, and the first step in preparation for extending divine mercy to them was their restoration to the Promised Land. There are many prophecies which forecast this outstanding development in the plan of God. One of these is recorded in chapters 36-39 of the Book of Ezekiel, beginning particularly with verse 24 of the 36th chapter. This verse contains the basic promise: “I will take you from among the heathen [Gentiles], and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.”

In order to ‘rightly divide the Word of truth’, it is important to note that the Israelites here addressed are not those who obtained a good report through faith, but the measurably unfaithful of the nation. The context reveals this. Turning back in the chapter to find the identity of those to whom the promise is made, we read: “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings: their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman. Wherefore I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for ‘their idols wherewith they had polluted it: and I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through[out] the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them.”—vss. 16-19

Nor was the conduct of this people any more praiseworthy after they had been driven out of their own land. Concerning this the Lord explained, “When they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of his land. But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went.”—vss. 20,21

Then follows the Lord’s explanation of his motive in restoring his people to their own land. We quote, “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their [Margin, ‘your’] eyes.”—vss. 22,23

The Lord then promised to restore his people to their own land, and added, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”—vss. 25-28


The remainder of chapter 36 is largely a reemphasis of what the Lord had already commissioned Ezekiel to say to the house of Israel, and a further assurance that he would restore them to their own land, and that this land would become “like the Garden of Eden.” (vs. 35) Then, in chapter 37, Ezekiel records what he saw in a marvelous vision which the Lord gave to him. This was the vision in which the prophet saw a valley of dry bones, with the explanation that “these bones are the whole house of Israel.”—vs. 11

Ezekiel hears the whole house of Israel say, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off from our parts.” Then Ezekiel was authorized to say to the house of Israel: “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live; and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.”—vss. 12-14

This is not a promise of the resurrection of the dead, but an assurance that the Israelites were to be gathered from the lands wherein they were scattered, and that God’s spirit would be poured out upon them. Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel describes the progressive steps in this work of restoration, as he saw it portrayed in the vision. The bones come together, flesh appears on the bones, and finally the breath is given. (vss. 1-8) The Lord said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy unto the wind [Margin, ‘breath’], prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”—vs. 9


Many prophecies reveal that we are now living in the beginning of the ‘latter days’ foretold by Moses when the Israelites would be restored to the Promised Land. Undoubtedly this is the true significance of what we have seen taking place in Israel during this generation. There have been various progressive steps in the occupation of the land by the Israelites, and these continue; most notable, of course, the formation of the country of Israel in 1948. However, the symbolic ‘four winds’ have not yet blown upon them, so, they have not yet been given the Lord’s Spirit, and from the Lord’s standpoint, do not yet have life.

Indeed, as yet, the Israelites possess only part of the Promised Land. We do not yet see the prophecies of their restoration to the land completely fulfilled, but we do see the beginning of their fulfillment. This means that we are living in a momentous period of the divine plan. It is a time when, before our eyes, we see the beginning events which are leading into the establishment of the kingdom of Christ.

While the 37th chapter of Ezekiel does not directly prophesy the resurrection of the dead, it is true, nevertheless, that the receiving of Israel into divine favor calls for the resurrection, for so many generations of Israelites have fallen asleep in death. Following the death of Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms known as Israel and Judah. Verse 22 assures us that this division will be healed, implying that those who lived in that ancient time are to be awakened from death to participate in the blessings of that new kingdom to be ruled over by the antitypical David, even Jesus. (vs. 24) How far-reaching is the mercy and love of God!


Chapters 38 and 39 present prophecies of certain events related to Israel which must intervene prior to the establishment of the kingdom, and prior to the time when their sins will be removed and they receive the Spirit of the Lord, and hearts of flesh are given unto them. Briefly, chapter 38 depicts an attack which will be mounted against Israel by forces out of the “north,” under the leadership of one named “Gog,” from the land of “Magog.” This, then, is definitely a development of the future, and it is not wise to speculate as to the details.

However, the final result of this aggressive attack against the Israelites is clearly indicated. Ezekiel points out that it will be then that the Lord will manifest his hand in protecting and delivering his people by the destruction of their enemies. The Lord says, “I will plead against him [Gog] with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am the Lord.”—vss. 22,23

It is evident, we think, that when the eyes of the nations are opened to realize that the great God of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, has intervened on behalf of Israel, and against themselves, they will realize the futility of continuing their opposition. It would seem that from this point onward, Christ will be directing the affairs of the world, through the various kingdom personnel previously proved worthy of this high position of trust. There will be his own footstep followers who, together with him, will be the invisible rulers; and these will function through their human representatives, the ancient faithful ones, who will be “princes in all the earth.” (Ps. 45:16) The bringing forth of these in the “better resurrection” will, in itself, be a marvelous demonstration of divine power.—Heb. 11:35,39,40

The Israelites themselves will then understand the meaning of their restoration to the Promised Land. The Lord says, “So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.” (Ezek. 39:7) This thought is set forth in greater detail in the closing verses of the chapter.

We quote: “Thus saith the Lord God, Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy name; after that they have borne their shame; and all their trespasses, whereby they have trespassed against me, when they dwelt safely in their land, and none made them afraid. When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, which caused them [Margin, ‘by my causing of them’] to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God.”—vss. 25-29

In his various messages to the Israelites, the Lord has been very frank in his indictment of them because of their transgressions. He makes it plain that they had brought dishonor upon his name among the Gentiles. But, as we have seen, this is not always to be the case; and, through the Prophet Zechariah, the Lord explains what will cause a change in the situation. Again we quote:

“It shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong. For thus saith the Lord of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the Lord of hosts, and I repented not: so again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah: fear ye not. These are the things that ye shall do [in order to be a blessing], Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.”—Zech. 8:13-17

Truly, all those who are filled by the Spirit of the Lord, and are guided by divine principles of truth and righteousness, will, of necessity, be a blessing to those with whom they come in contact. The restored Israelites, cleansed of their defilements, will be a powerful influence for good. And so will those of other nations who, as the kingdom authority spreads under the direction of its ruling agencies, likewise become enlightened, and bring their conduct into line with the laws of God then in force throughout the earth.

How wise, and how all-comprehensive is the divine plan of salvation for all the families of the earth!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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