Sod, seed, and salvation — it’s how I like to describe the Abrahamic Covenant. There were three promises in the covenant. The first was a land promise, where the Lord gave Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. The second was the promise of a great and numerous posterity. And the third was the blessing of the everlasting Gospel: the priesthood and the promise of exaltation, to come to the world through Abraham’s lineage. (see Genesis 17) But just look at how often the covenant was renewed!
- Several times with Abraham in Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Genesis 17
- With Isaac in Genesis 26
- With Jacob in Genesis 28
- With Joseph in Genesis 49
Not only that, but you may be surprised to learn that this covenant consisting of a land promise, a posterity promise, and a gospel of salvation promise was also given to
and, though we call it the Abrahamic Covenant, the same covenant was made even earlier, with
But when speaking of the Abrahamic Covenant, we might well consider the claim of Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael, his alleged descendants, and the ongoing conflict over the land of Canaan. I think it is interesting that the claims of both Palestinians and Israelis can be distilled into sod, seed, and salvation claims. Before you jump to a conclusion about how the argument over Palestine/Israel should be solved, let’s look at these with an open mind.
Sod: The Land Claim
Jewish claims to the land of Israel are based on the fact that this was the historical site and native site of the Jewish kingdom of Israel. There were always large communities of Jews in Israel, and the Jewish people have maintained ties to their historic homeland for more than 3,700 years. Palestinian Arabs’ claims to the land are also based on continuous residence in the country for hundreds of years. The land was originally “Arab” land taken from its native inhabitants by invading Jews, they say. Who’s right? Let’s see:
§ It was the British who exercised sovereign authority in Palestine under a League of Nations mandate for thirty years prior to Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.
§ But the territory was Turkish land, a province of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years until the British wrested it from them during the Great War in 1917.
§ If you look back earlier in history than the Ottoman Turks, who took over Palestine over in 1517, you find it under the sovereignty of the yet another empire not indigenous to Palestine: the Mamluks, who were Turkish and Circassian slave-soldiers headquartered in Egypt. In 1250 they took Palestine over from:
§ The Ayyubi dynasty, the descendants of Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim leader who in 1187 took Jerusalem and most of Palestine from:
§ The European Christian Crusaders, who in 1099 conquered Palestine from:
§ The Seljuk Turks, who ruled Palestine in the name of:
§ The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, which in 750 took over the sovereignty of the entire Near East from:
§ The Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus, which in 661 inherited control of the Islamic lands from
§ The Arabs of Arabia, who in the first flush of Islamic expansion conquered Palestine in 638 from:
§ The Byzantines, who (nice people—perhaps it should go to them?) didn’t conquer the Levant, but, upon the division of the Roman Empire in 395, inherited Palestine from:
§ The Romans, who in 63 B.C. took it over from:
§ The last Jewish kingdom, which during the Maccabean rebellion from 168 to 140 B.C. won control of the land from:
§ The Hellenistic Greeks, who under Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. conquered the Near East from:
§ The Persian empire, which under Cyrus the Great in 639 B.C. freed Jerusalem and Judah from:
§ The Babylonian empire, which under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. took Jerusalem and Judah from:
§ The Jews, meaning the people of the Kingdom of Judah, who, in their earlier incarnation as the Israelites, seized the land in the 12th and 13th centuries B.C. from:
§ The Canaanites, who had inhabited the land for thousands of years before they were dispossessed by the Israelites. (from Lawrence Auster)
This brings us to our second point. The Hebrew Torah clearly shows that the Jews seized the land from the Canaanites. Can we go back into history and discover who the descendants of these ancient native peoples are?
Seed: The Descent Claim
Ibrahim Alloush describes the descent claim of the Palestinians as follows:
“The Arab identity of Palestine emanates not from the Islamic conquest, but with the Canaanites who came into Palestine from the shores of the Arabian Peninsula around 2500 BC, and who had sovereignty over the land until about 1000 BC. Hence Palestine was called the Land of Canaanites, until the Philistines came from the island of Crete and intermarried with the Canaanites to melt peacefully into them leaving only the name behind: Palestine. The ancient Hebrews were indeed part of the peoples of the region but they came into Palestine (the Land of the Canaanites) as invaders.”
Those making this claim point out that descendants of the Canaanites/Philistines (ancient Arabs) have maintained a continuous presence in the land throughout history. Others say that the archaeological evidence disproves this. There is no record of the Canaanites surviving their destruction in ancient times. Prior to 1964 there was no “Palestinian” people and no “Palestinian” claim to Palestine; prior to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the name “Palestinian” referred to the Jews of Palestine.
Meanwhile, the Jews have their own problems proving literal descent. For example, Shlomo Sand insists that Diaspora Jews descend from converts and have no ethnic link to ancient Israel. In addition, human rights groups make the point that no other indigenous or aboriginal peoples on the planet are granted the same consideration as the Jews. But there is one other consideration being used to make a claim for the land.
Salvation: The Religious Claim
According to the Torah, Eretz Yisrael was promised to the Abraham and his descendants. Muslims believe that since Abraham’s son Ishmael is the forefather of the Arabs, then God’s promise of the land to the children of Abraham includes Arabs as well. The prophet Muhammed passed through Jerusalem on his first journey to heaven, and all of the land of Israel is designated as Islamic “Waqf” which implies it must be governed by Muslims.
Israelis insist that the covenant was renewed with Abraham’s son Isaac and the inheritance was passed through his line to the Jews. They made Jerusalem a holy city over three thousand years ago have remained steadfast to it. They pray in its direction, mention its name constantly in prayers, close the Passover service with the wistful statement “Next year in Jerusalem,” and recall the city in the blessing at the end of each meal. The destruction of the Temple is still an event commemorated by a special day of mourning, houses left partially unfinished, a woman’s makeup or jewelry left incomplete, a glass smashed during the wedding ceremony. Christians identify with the Jews’ love of Israel in many ways. The plaintive sound of Psalm 137 is reinforced in many of our hymns: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” This sympathy has been apparent in modern reactions to the conflict over Israel.
In attempting to keep this post from being unwieldy, I am afraid that I have greatly simplified the issues. Please feel free to make additional points about these claims in the comments. However, what I am most interested in discussing is the great support the Christian world has given to the Jews’ political return to Israel in modern times. (Zionism was actually opposed by Orthodox Jews at first — they regarded Zionism as a violation of God’s will.) But the international community granted political sovereignty in Palestine to the Jewish people in 1947. Do you think there is a solution to this conflict? Who has the better claim? Should a world-wide coalition define boundaries, or should we let the two nations duke it out on their own?
Does your religious worldview and your Christian understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant affect your position on the issue?