On the pages ahead, I’d like to take you on a “devotional tour” of the Holy Land. In each lesson, I’ll be asking (and answering) a question about Israel and some of the major events that have taken place there. My goal is to give you both a history lesson and a faith lesson: a history lesson about this land that is so precious to God, and a faith lesson that you can apply to your own life today.
I’d like to start with a foundational question: “Where did Israel get its name?”
To check your answer, keep reading on, or take a look at the short video clip at the link below that I recorded on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, at the western edge of Israel.
So where did Israel get its name? Israel was named after Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, whom God later renamed “Israel.”
Jacob got this new name after an all-night wrestling match with an opponent whom Jacob comes to believe is God Himself. At the end of the struggle, Jacob’s opponent declares, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28). “Israel” means struggles, or strives, with God.
So the land of Israel was named after the man who lived there. His twelve sons and their families became the twelve “tribes” of Israel and spread out to live throughout the land. The Bible says that the borders of Israel at that time extended from the desert in the south to Lebanon in the north, and from the Euphrates River on the east to the western sea, or Mediterranean, on the west (see Deuteronomy 11:24 and Joshua 3:1-4).
The land of Israel was actually promised to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, years earlier, which is why the land of Israel is often referred to as the “promised land.”
What I love about reading these passages in the Bible is that they are continual reminders to me that God keeps His promises, whether they are to all of humanity, as in the case of God’s promise to Noah that God would never again destroy the earth with a flood, or to a particular nation, as in this case of God’s promise to the Israelites that He would bring them into this land, and then bring them back again if they were ever taken away. When God makes a promise, He keeps it!
Here’s the original promise that God made to Abraham way back in the twelfth chapter of the Bible, about 4,000 years ago. God said to Abraham:
“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).
So Abraham obeyed and went. And when Abraham got there, God gave him this promise:
“Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:14-17).
God also forewarned Abraham that his descendants one day would be strangers in another country and enslaved for four hundred years, but afterward they would return to the promised land. This took place when a famine came upon Israel, and Israel’s sons moved to Egypt to get food. As the sons’ families grew in number, they were enslaved by the Egyptians for fear that they would become too powerful.
Four hundred years later, God sent Moses to set the Israelites free and return them to their homeland. God reminded the Israelites of His promise,saying to them as they approached the promised land:
“Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea” (Deuteronomy 11:24, and again in Joshua 1:3-4).
Almost a thousand years later, the Israelites were taken captive again, this time to Babylon. But again, God promised that one day they would return to their land. God told the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field in Israel, even though they were about to be taken away, to let the people know that one day they would return again and that,
“Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” (Jeremiah 32:15).
They did return about seventy years later. Another five hundred or so years later, Jesus was born in Israel. Except for a few years when Jesus was young, when his parents took Him to Egypt to protect Him from King Herod, Jesus spent His entire life and ministry in the land of Israel.
And when Jesus comes back again, He’ll return to the land of His birth, to Israel.
God keeps His promises!
From Genesis to Revelation, God talks about His promises regarding both the land and the people of Israel. It is a land that is truly precious to God. The Bible says,
“It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deuteronomy 11:12).
And it’s a land that reminds us that God keeps His promises, whether they’re made to all of humanity, or to particular nations, or to individual people like you and like me.
God loves you, He cares about your life, and He wants to see you accomplish all that He has prepared in advance for you to do. If God has made you a promise, hold onto it! God keeps His promises.
Father, thank You for the promises that You have made throughout history, and the promises that You have made to us in our lifetime. Lord, help us to remember Your promises, and to hold onto them tightly, knowing that You will always keep them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.