Israeli tour guides sometimes say:
Israel may be three hundred miles long, thirty miles wide, but it’s three thousand years deep.
They are simply referring to the fact that over three millennia of Bible history is sown in the land of Israel. Others say:
Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago.
[Charles Krauthammer – The Weekly Standard, May 11, 1998]
The biblical history of Israel started with Abraham
The history of Israel started some 4,000 years ago when God told Abram (later called Abraham) to go from his home in Ur of the Chaldeans (probably in southern Iraq) and travel to a land that God would give to him and his descendants. It was from there that God would make a people for Himself, a people to be a witness of Himself to the nations. As part of the deal they were given the land of Canaan for perpetuity. God said to Abram (Abraham):
I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you … I will give to you and your descendants … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God
Fig.1: Settlement of the tribes of Israel
The “Promised Land”
Through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Judah, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan …) and they inhabited the land God gave them, Fig.1. Note that this includes the area currently known as Israel and embraces the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Furthermore, it is important to realise that God’s covenant was unconditional (Gen 15.18), meaning that, even today, the nation of Israel owns the land we now call Israel. Present-day Israel is not occupying ‘Palestinian land’. More at Israel’s Borders.
Israel: God’s Special People
Note that in Genesis 17 God said: ‘I will be their God’. Here, God was claiming Israel to be His own; ‘You are Mine’ (Isa 43.1). So here we have God identifying Himself with a particular people. Here we have the God of Israel – they are God’s very own people, forever (2 Sam 7.24). It follows of course that those who contend with Israel are actually contending with God! God will fight on Israel’s behalf, as demonstrated in the 1967 6-day war, link. Hamas beware!
Why did God do this? God made a people for Himself for a very real purpose. Besides blessing all nations through Christ, God made Israel to be His witness to the nations (Isa 43.10) and to be His servant (Isa 49.3). Israel is unique since it is the one nation on earth that God uses to make a name for Himself. As King David exclaimed:
Who is like Your people Israel, the one nation on the earth whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people, to make a name for Himself
(2 Sam 7.23).
The Scattering or Diaspora
The biblical history of Israel is dramatic. After the glorious Davidic Kingdom around 1,000 BC the tribes of Israel gradually fell away from their God and through their disobedience were uprooted from their land and scattered throughout the nations. Subsequently, in 70 AD the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed the Temple in Jerusalem and declared the land of Israel would be no more. To this end the Romans renamed the land of Israel, principally Judea, as ‘Palaestina‘ (modern Palestine) which some believe was an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel.
Recent biblical history of Israel: The Ingathering or Aliyah
The scattering of Israel was fulfillment of Bible prophecy, but recent history has also seen the fulfillment of Bible prophecy in the ingathering of Israel. FACT: despite the scattering, God did not destroy national Israel – He simply gave her a ‘writ of divorce’ (Jer 3.8), and there are many prophecies of the ingathering of national Israel and her ‘remarriage’ to her God. For instance, In the end-time context of the restoration of national Israel, God sets Israel as a ‘banner (or sign) to the nations’ and gathers Israel and Judah ‘from the four corners of the earth’ (Isa 11.12). The prophet Ezekiel saw this restoration of Israel in his vision of ‘the valley of dry bones’ (Ezek 37). Here, God says:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land (Ezek 37.21)
Today’s term for this ingathering or immigration of Jews to Israel is aliyah (Heb ‘ascent’). Clearly, there have been dramatic changes in Israel/Palestine in little over 100 years, and not least in Israel’s demographics. During these years the ingathering from the nations into Israel has been remarkable, as shown by Jewish population statistics: 1882: 0.025m; 1918: 0.06m; 1948: 0.72m; 1965: 2.3m; 1985: 3.5m; 2005: 5.3m; 2014: 6.1m; link. So in just 100 years the Jewish population of Israel increased by an amazing 7400%.