In Genesis 12, God appeared to Father Abraham (then Abram) and told him how he would bless him and his descendants. However, God required Abraham to journey from his father’s house and country to a land that he would show him. This destination was later described by his descendants as the promised land. Even though it took hundreds of years, the descendants of Abraham eventually arrived in the promised land. Today, this region is also referred to as the holy land. So, where is the Holy Land?
The term “Holy Land” typically refers to a region in the Middle East that holds religious significance for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Specifically, it includes parts of present-day Israel, the West Bank, and parts of Jordan. Jerusalem, in particular, is considered a holy city by these three major Abrahamic religions and is a focal point in discussions about the Holy Land.
The Bible and the Holy Land
The Bible identifies Israel and sections of Palestine as God’s chosen land (the promised land). It is in these territories where a majority of the Bible’s stories are told about God’s chosen people. It is also the place where Moses leads God’s people after escaping the tyranny of the Pharaoh in Egypt. The location of this place is mentioned in several verses of the Bible to identify these territories as the sacred location for Christians. Here is one such example from scripture:
The Lord will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Zechariah 2:12
In the scripture above, God says Judah, which is modern-day Israel, is the Holy Land. Jerusalem, which is contained within Judah, plays a central role as the capital city of this territory. It is clear that God places a lot of emphasis on Israel as an important portion of land among all other territories in the world. Ancient Israel revered this location, with God’s temple being built in Jerusalem to mark the importance of the city.
The Promised Land
When Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, their final destination was the Promised Land. Although it was to be a short journey that was to last less than two months, the journey ended up lasting 40 years. This was as a punishment for their rebellion even after God had saved them from slavery.
Because your men explored the land for forty days, you must wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day, suffering the consequences of your sins. Then you will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy. Numbers 14:34
We have already seen that God promised Abraham the promised land but the instruction that God gave to Moses is the best illustration of the location of the Holy Land. Check it out;
And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. Exodus 23:31
Evidently, God told Moses exactly where he would be leading the Israelites after leaving Egypt. Granted, Moses did not get to see the Promised Land but it is this location that becomes the Holy Land.
The story of how the Israelites got from Egypt to the land of promises is both fascinating and controversial. When they arrived in the land of promise, God told them to fight and dispossess the inhabitants of the land. And even though they did as God instructed, not all the inhabitants were flushed out. This gave birth to a conflict between the Israelites and their neighbors that has remained unresolved over the years.
Differences Between Israel and Palestine
For several years, Palestine was considered the location of the Holy Land. However, in 1948, the state of Israel was created, carving out territory from Palestine. The British Government, through the Balfour Declaration, oversaw the creation of Israel as a country for Jewish People. Because of their common origins, the Holy Land is closely associated with both Israel and Palestine. Lots of the holy sites that are mentioned in the Bible are located in both Israel and Palestine which further adds to the complexity of the Holy Land’s geography.
But the Abrahamic covenant adds another layer of complexity to the geography. Here is what God told Abraham about the promised land:
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18).
This general area is occupied by multiple countries in the modern world because the territory encompasses nations such as Lebanon and Jordan. However, today, the term holy land almost always refers to Jerusalem and its environs.
The Holy Land in the Future
The Israelites and Palestinians have been clashing for a long time about their rights to the land. One on hand, Israel argues that the entire region is their spiritual heritage which they inherited from their patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). On the other hand, the Palestinians argue that they have an ancestral claim to the land because they inhabited the land long before Israel came and dispossessed them. Unless the two regions find a peaceful resolution, which is highly unlikely, the conflict in the holy land is bound to continue over the years.
The scriptures of the Bible do not recognize discrepancies in modern-day Israel and Palestine. Instead, they place these two territories in the same region and demarcate it as God’s chosen land. Some scholars believe that Israel sits in the exact location of the Holy Land, but there are other important Holy Sites in Palestine as well.
In conclusion, the Holy Land, rooted in promises to Abraham, holds profound religious significance across Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Encompassing parts of present-day Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan, with Jerusalem as a focal point, its journey is intricately woven into biblical narratives. Despite debates on its precise location, scholars acknowledge the significance of holy sites in both Israel and Palestine. The establishment of Israel in 1948 intensified complexities, sparking enduring conflicts with Palestine. The ongoing discord revolves around competing claims to the land—Israel citing spiritual heritage, while Palestinians argue ancestral rights. Until a peaceful resolution emerges, the Holy Land’s conflicts will persist.