3. The Possession of the Land
a. The Basis: The Abrahamic Covenant
The third facet of the final restoration of Israel is the possession of the Land, encompassing two aspects: its total boundaries and its productivity. The basis for this facet is the Abrahamic Covenant, as found in various passages of the Book of Genesis. There are too many to cite them all. Therefore, only those passages that deal with the Land aspect will be cited. The very beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant is in Genesis 12:1-3.
At the time that the covenant was initially made, Abram was simply told to leave for a land that God would show him. At this point, Abram is promised only to be shown a land and nothing more. When he arrived in the Land, God again revealed Himself to Abram in Genesis 12:7. In this verse, the promise is stated in such a way that it is Abram’s seed that is to possess the Land. So from this passage alone, it might be concluded that Abram himself was never to possess the Land.
But that is not the case, as another passage on the Abrahamic Covenant makes clear, in Genesis 13:14-17. Although for the time being the area of grazing was divided between Abram and Lot, ultimately all the land that Abram could see is to be possessed by him (vv. 14-15). The promise is clearly made that the Land is to be possessed by Abram personally as well as by Abram’s seed. Yet Abram died having never possessed any part of the Land, except for a few wells and a burial cave which he had to purchase with good money. In order for God to fulfill His promise to Abram, two things have to occur. Abram must be resurrected, and the Land must be restored to Israel. Since Abram’s seed is to possess the Land as well, the population of Israel will greatly increase at that time (v. 16). Abram was then directed to walk throughout the Land in order to get to know it very well, for some day he will possess it (v. 17).
In the above passage, Abram was told that all the land he could possibly see would be possessed by him, but no exact boundaries were given. Later, however, as God signed the covenant, the exact boundaries were given, in Genesis 15:12-21. At the time of the signing and the sealing of the Abrahamic Covenant, God spelled out the future history of Abram’s seed prior to their initial possession of the Land (vv. 12-16). Then God signed and sealed the covenant (v. 17) and declared what the boundaries of the Land will be (vv. 18-20). The borders are to extend from the Euphrates River in the north to the River of Egypt in the south. There is no problem with the identity of the Euphrates in the north, but there has been some confusion over the identity of the River of Egypt. Some have identified the River of Egypt as being the same as the Brook of Egypt mentioned in other passages. Both have at times been identified with the Nile River, making it the southern border. But none of these suppositions are correct. First of all, the Brook of Egypt and the River of Egypt are not the same. The latter refers to a continuous flowing river, while the former is a wadi, a dry river bed that only has water in it periodically during the rainy season. The words for river and brook are two different Hebrew words, also forcing one to keep the two distinct. The Brook of Egypt is the modern Wadi-el-Arish running south to north in the central Sinai Peninsula. Just as the River of Egypt is not the same as the Brook of Egypt, neither is it the Nile River. If that were the case, the Jews would have already been in the Promised Land before they ever left Egypt. Rather, it refers to one of the “fingers” of the Nile River. As the river flows from the south to the north before reaching the Mediterranean Sea, it enters an area known as the Nile Delta, where it breaks up into a number of fingers or branches. The most eastern branch or finger was the one known as the River of Egypt. Today, the River of Egypt is along the line of the modern Suez Canal. Hence, according to this passage, Israel’s southern boundary is to extend down to about where the Suez Canal is today. This raises some questions concerning consistency with other passages. In this passage, the southern boundary is given as the River of Egypt, while the passages in the Prophets, when dealing with the Jewish settlement of the Land in the final restoration, give the southern boundary as the Brook of Egypt. This is not really a contradiction. The difference is simply between the extent of possession and control as over against the extent of actual settlement. In the final restoration of the Land, Israel will possess all the way south to the River of Egypt and will control down to the area of the modern Suez Canal. But as far as where the Jews will be living, the actual boundary of this settlement will only extend as far south as the Brook of Egypt or the modern Wadi-el-Arish.
After Abraham, the covenant is reconfirmed through Isaac in Genesis 26:2-5. Isaac is commanded to stay in the Land and not to leave it (v. 2), for it is to Isaac and to Isaac’s seed that the Land will be given (v. 3). It should be noted that the promise is not merely to Isaac’s descendants, but to Isaac himself, requiring Isaac’s future resurrection and possession of the Land. As for Isaac’s seed, it will be greatly increased in population (v. 4). It is to Isaac and not Ishmael, or to the six sons of Keturah, that the Abrahamic Covenant is reconfirmed (v. 5).
After Isaac, the Abrahamic Covenant is reconfirmed to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15. It is to Jacob and not to Esau that the covenant is now reconfirmed (v. 13a). The promise is made that the Land will be given to both Jacob and to Jacob’s seed (v. 13b). So again the possession of the Land is not a promise to the seed only, but to the individual Jacob as well. For this reason Jacob must also be resurrected and possess the Land. As previously, the seed will be greatly multiplied at that time (v. 14). As for Jacob himself, who was now departing from the Land, God will bring him back in his own lifetime (v. 15).
So then, it is on the Abrahamic Covenant, which is reconfirmed through Isaac and Jacob and then to all of Jacob’s descendants (Gen. 49), that the third facet of Israel’s final restoration is based.
b. The Prophetic Development
This third facet of Israel’s final restoration, the possession of the Land, was further developed in both the Law and the Prophets. As far as the Law is concerned, it is found in Leviticus 26:40-45. Following the regeneration of Israel (vv. 40-41) God will fully carry out the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant concerning the Land (v. 42). On the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant He will restore to them the Land that has lain desolate for so long (vv. 43-45).
In another part of the Law, the possession of the Land is also part of the Land Covenant, in Deuteronomy 30:5.
The prophets of Israel developed this facet even further in both the Major and Minor Prophets. Among the Major Prophets, Isaiah 27:12 states that the first aspect (the borders of the Land) is brought out. The northern (Euphrates River) and southern (the Brook of Egypt) boundaries are possessed for the first time in all of Israel’s history. Israel will be able to settle in all of the Promised Land.
In another passage, Isaiah 30:23-26, the second aspect (increased productivity of the Land) of the third facet is stressed. The Land will be well watered and will produce abundant food both for men and animals (vv. 23-25). Furthermore, there will be a tremendous increase of light, with the moon shining as brightly as the sun, while the light of the sun will be increased seven times what it is today. It will be a time of total healing of all physical infirmities (v. 26).
As for the deserts of Israel, Isaiah 35:1-2 states:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of Jehovah, the excellency of our God.
Isaiah later brought out the productivity aspect again in 65:21-24. With the possession of the Land of Israel, not only will the Jews be able to build houses and plant vineyards and crops (v. 21), but they will also enjoy the work of their hands, for no enemy will take it from them (vv. 22-23). They will enjoy it until a ripe old age.
Another Major Prophet, Jeremiah, also stressed the greater productivity of the Land in the final restoration. In Jeremiah 31:1-6 he wrote that because of God’s everlasting love for His people (vv. 1-3), He intends to restore and build them again (v. 4). Once again for Israel there will be a time of plenty (v. 5), and the hills of Ephraim will echo with the call to come and worship God in Jerusalem (v. 6).
Later in the same passage, Jeremiah returned to the theme in 31:11-14. After the redemption of Israel (v. 11), they will be restored to the Land, which will produce an abundance (v. 12), giving joy to all the inhabitants of the Land (vv. 13-14).
After Jeremiah, the next Major Prophet, Ezekiel, picked up the motif of the possession of the Land and stated in Ezekiel 20:42-44. Israel is to be brought back into their land in accordance with the promises of God to the forefathers in the Abrahamic Covenant (v. 42). Israel will turn away from her sins of the past and will detest them (v. 43) and now serve God alone (v. 44).
Later, Ezekiel 28:25-26 adds that following its regeneration and regathering, Israel will then possess the Land in accordance with the Abrahamic Covenant (v. 25). The security in which Israel will live and enjoy the works of her hands is then emphasized (v. 26).
The security aspect along with the element of increased productivity is the theme of Ezekiel 34:25-31. Since there will no longer be any wild beasts in the Land, Israel will be able to enjoy the Land in total security (v. 25). The rains will come in their proper time and in proper amounts (v. 26), increasing the productivity (v. 27a). Not only is Israel to be secure from the wild beasts, but also from all her enemies of the past (vv. 27b-28). None will come to destroy the crops (v. 29). In every way Israel will be rightly related to God and will be His peculiar possession (vv. 30-31).
Nor is this the end of the subject, as the prophet continued in Ezekiel 36:8-15. In spite of years of desolation, the Land is to be tilled again (vv. 8-9) and populated for the inhabitants of the Land will be greatly increased (vv. 10-11). Israel will again possess the Land (v. 12), and the production of the Land will be tremendous (vv. 13-15).
Later in this passage, the prophet further elaborated in Ezekiel 36:28-38. Ezekiel declared that Israel will again possess the Land (v. 28) as a result of her regeneration (v. 29). The reproach of Israel will be removed (v. 30), and Israel will detest her past sins (v. 31). It is not for Israel’s glory (v. 32) that the regeneration (v. 33) and the tilling and rebuilding of the Land (vv. 34-35) will occur, but it is for God’s own glory among the nations (v. 36). As for Israel, the population will increase and the desolate places will be rebuilt (vv. 37-38).
The repossession of the Land is also promised in the Minor Prophets, such as in Joel 2:18-27. God will be jealous for His Land (v. 18), and this burning jealousy will bring about a great productivity in the Land (v. 19). The Land will be secure from any further invasions (v. 20), and it will produce abundantly (vv. 21-22). The rains will come at the proper seasons and in proper amounts (v. 23), causing a tremendous amount of surplus in their storages (v. 24) and recuperation from all previous losses due to pestilences (v. 25). Israel will never again be shamed (v. 26), but will have a special relationship to God (v. 27).
Later, in Joel 3:18, the prophet declared that there will be an abundance of water in the Land.
The increased productivity of the Land is again pointed out in Amos 9:13.
To summarize, for the first time in Israel’s history, she will possess all of the Promised Land while the Land itself will greatly increase in its productivity and be well watered, all on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant.