The Story goes like this:
The Creator began to author an epic Story in which He was the Main Character. Because it pleased Him, He began to speak existence into being: light, dark, land, water, fruits, vegetables, dogs, the rest of the animal kingdom, then cats…
Then, the Creator did something He had never done before: He entered into the created order. Genesis 2 offers a picture of Him on His hands and knees, playing in the dirt. As He played, He lovingly fashioned the form of a human being and then breathed His breath into him.
The human being woke up to the face of the Creator and, in that moment, knew that everything that he was, would ever become, and ever needed would come from the One who had just exhaled into him. While He woke up to the face of the Creator, he also woke up to a Story that was already in process…a Story that was not about him. He knew that he was a participant in this Story.
The Creator put the human being back to sleep and woke him up a second time, this time to the face of the pinnacle of God’s creative work: the woman! Together, they danced in the rhythms of the Creator…it was the way it was supposed to be…and it was very good.
Before long, however, the rhythms of the Creator didn’t work for the human beings. You see, they began formulating a fantasy that was different than the Way of the Creator. Eventually, convinces themselves that their fantasy was a trade up, they chased their fantasy and found themselves hiding, isolated, blaming, fabricating tragic stories about God, themselves, and each other, and, for the first time in the history of the world, fueled by fear.
In Genesis 3, we find the Creator walking in the coolness of the Garden asking a question: “Where are you?”
The Creator didn’t really get an answer until, finally, years later, a man named Abram said, “Here am I!”
And the Creator said, “Yeah. There you are. I see you. I love you. I choose you as the next primary participant in my unfolding Story. Here’s what this is going to entail: Leave your identity reinforced by your people, your pagan practices, and your place. Along the way, you will discover a new, better, more whole identity. I will bless you. I will multiply you. I will give you a new place. And your massive family will bless the world.”
So Abram said, “Okay. I’m up for that. I’ll participate in your Story. There’s just one glaring problem: my wife and I can’t have kids!”
God smiled on Abram, renamed in Abraham, and give him not one, not two, but eight sons, the first of which were Ishmael and Isaac.
Ishmael came as the result of Abraham and Sarah taking matters into their own hands. God had made a promise…they were going to see to it that the promise was fulfilled. So, Abraham impregnated Sarah’s servant Haggar. A son was born and Ishmael became the recipient of Abraham’s affection.
Shortly thereafter, Issac appeared as a result of the faithfulness of an extraordinary God. God had made a promise and He was good to see it fulfilled. So, the ancient Sarah became pregnant and a second son was born: as he was obviously the son of the promise, Isaac usurped Abraham’s affection.
Within moments, Ishmael became the first of two sons that Abraham was willing to sacrifice: he kicked Haggar and Ishmael to the wilderness. Outside of the intervention of God, Haggar and Ishmael were sure to die. But God saw and heard the cries of the oppressed, entered into their suffering, tangibly loved them, and blessed their future. Like his daddy, Ishmael would become the father of many nations and would have a place to call home.
Isaac became the second of two sons that Abraham was willing to sacrifice. Outside of the intervention of God, Isaac was sure to die. But God saw and heard. He was pleased by the faithfulness of Abraham so He tangibly loved them, and blessed their future. Like His daddy, Isaac would become the father of many nations and would have a place to call home.
Isaac eventually had two sons of his own, “Hairy Red Man” (Esau) and “Deceiver” Jacob. God loved and blessed them both, but because it pleased God, He chose the Deceiver as the next primary participant in His unfolding Story.
God and Jacob had a bizarre, love-hate relationship: they continually wrestled with each other, so much so that God eventually renamed “Deceiver” Israel or “Wrestles with God.”
Israel inhabited the land that God had promised Abraham…and it was very good…until a famine hit the land. From that point forward, Israel has been on an extraordinary forever-journey into and out from the land.
Why this extraordinary forever-journey into and out from the land?
Consider the conditional voice of God through the prophet Jeremiah (7:5-7):
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”
It seems as though the journey has been forever in and out of the land because the condition, arguably given clearest voice in Micah 6:8, has not been met:
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The people of God’s sins of commission have consistently been idolatry and injustice, both of which have continually disqualified the people of God from the land.
What was the plot of land that God promised to Abraham?
Consider Genesis 15:18
“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…”
It appears as though the land would technically include Egypt, Gaza, Israel, West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and two-thirds of Iraq. A contemporary consensus would expose that approximately 15% of the land’s inhabitants are Jewish and 85% are Arab.
To whom did God promise this plot of land?
With another look at Genesis 15:18, it appears as though this plot of land was to be inhabited by the “offspring” of Abraham. While it pleased God to invite Isaac’s line rather than Ishmael’s as the next primary participant in His unfolding Story, God did not forget Ishmael, nor did He cut Ishmael’s line from Abraham’s family. Ishmael and his line descended from Abraham, was made numerous and powerful (Genesis 16-17), was given land, and is yet considered Abraham’s offspring.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Even if we were to cut Ishmael’s branch from Abraham’s tree, we’d still have to deal with the birthright-selling Esau who, despite his appetite-driven, short-sightedness, was still a descendant of Abraham and was blessed with a right to the land. This is the same Esau who married two Hittite women: Esau married into Ishmael’s line. What does this mean other than Isaac’s line includes Arabs?
Thus, if we’re considering the plot of land from the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 15, then we could say with confidence that Abraham’s offspring do, in fact, inhabit the land that is theirs and that each nation, Israel and Palestine included, should be given the right of place.
What was the significance of the land then?
Let’s go back to Genesis 12.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed….When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At the time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring, I will give this land.'”
Historically speaking, this particular plot of land was where the known world collided; the roads of the nations crossed here. God’s specificity of this plot of land seems to highlight the land as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. That is, there seems to be something far more significant in the Abrahamic Covenant than land: blessing. The whole point was that the entire world would be blessed as they came into contact with Abraham’s offspring.
What might be the significance of the land today?
Israel is still to be a blessing to the nations. However, in order for them to be a blessing to the nations, they must assume a posture of powerlessness and practice justice on behalf of the Palestinian. Practicing justice must involve the cessation of land stealing, the granting of a fair portion of land, and the crumbling of the Apartheid Separation Wall.
As American’s we have a role to play in Israel becoming pro-justice and pro-Palestinian. We must encourage the Israel to see the Palestinian as a human being with rights.