Whose land is it then?
I stood in a slow-moving line yesterday and struck up a conversation with the woman behind me while we waited. Near the end of our discourse, we got to talking about the Bible and the land of Israel and how she believed that history shows the pagans were the first to own the land that Israel and the Palestinians are still fighting for and therefore arguing about ownership based on history doesn't hold up, in her opinion. Then she informed me that she was a pagan. Our conversation ended when it became my turn at the counter, so we parted ways, but I found myself pondering her comments on the drive home. I had tried to tell her that God actually owned the land and that He gave it to Israel because the pagans were evil - according to Old Testament history. God had given the pagans (Canaanites) years to repent, but they would not do so. She started to question what evil really is, but that's when our conversation was cut short - unfortunately. Or perhaps it ended where it should have, as I got the impression she really didn't want to listen to opposing views, she just seemed interested in telling me her studied opinion. I should have liked to hear more.
But both of her points were worth considering and started some thinking on my part. I have studied the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia, the place God called Abram to leave. I have also done some research into the land of Canaan where Abraham lived as a guest among foreign nations, but a land that God promised would one day belong to his descendants. Sodom and Gomorrah were two of those cities of that Canaanite country and were the most notorious among the pagans. But they certainly were not the only ones who violated God's standards.
We have all violated God's standards.
If you look at biblical history starting in early Genesis, and if you accept the idea of God as Creator of the universe, then the truth is, God owns what He's created. He made us. He made the world. And the one who makes a thing gets to give what was made to whomever He pleases.
Initially God gave the earth to Adam and Eve (again, according to the biblical account). And eventually their children inherited the place. But in Noah's day (a descendant of Adam), the people of earth had strayed so far from the original standard, and their thoughts "were only evil continually" that God destroyed most of His creation and started over again with Noah's family. (For the record, most ancient cultures have some account of a flood in their history.)
Abram was descended from Noah's son Shem. And after God scattered the people to the ends of the earth, Abram was born in Ur of the Chaldees. God called him to leave his home, his family, and his country to go to a place God would show him. Abram believed God, and did as He said, and eventually God gave to Abraham's descendants the land that once belonged to the Canaanites (pagans).
So how did the Canaanites end up owning the land in the first place? Typically, if land is empty, people will settle there. If the land was occupied, people fought wars to obtain what someone else had claimed. I have not researched in depth ancient Canaan's occupation from people like the Jebusites, Hittites, Canaanites, Perizzites, and other tribes mentioned in Scripture, but I do know that many wars are recorded there of one people conquering another and claiming their land. The land once promised to Abraham, and fulfilled finally in the days of Solomon, has had many squatters or occupants. But none can truly lay claim to something owned by God. Is there any place on earth that we can say is truly "mine?"
As for the people of Israel - Scripture is clear that God promised them a land. He mapped it out for Abraham and both Abraham and David purchased portions of it. The rest was conquered through war. And much was lost through war over the centuries.
Does God love all of the people groups living on His land in the Middle East today? Yes. Is there a place there for all of them to claim as their own? That is a question the greatest minds have pondered for generations seeking peace between the various people groups living there. But God tells us that peace will not truly reign until Messiah Yeshua, the Son of David rules that land. And that day is not yet.
As for this woman's question of what is truly evil - in response to my comment that the pagans lost the land because of their evil ways - that seems like an odd question to me. There was a time when that question was a no-brainer. Sacrificing children to idols (as those nations did), is evil. Prostituting themselves in the name of "worship" of their gods is also evil as it breaks the first commandment to have "no other gods before me." It also breaks the commandment concerning adultery.
Sodom (the city I mentioned above) was destroyed because "She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." (Ezekiel 16:48-50)
If that's not evil, what is?
In the meantime, there will be arguments and peace accords trying to decide whose land it is and who should have the right to live where. Amazing how attached we grow to select places on earth. But God has put His stamp on the Middle East, and Jerusalem is a city where He once put His Name.
All who seek the Lord on His terms will one day call that city home. And they will live in peace in that land. The pagan woman I met yesterday was wrong in thinking the pagans own the land. Only the One who created it can lay true claim to it.