The Lord gave Abraham and his descendants, Isaac and Jacob, the title deed to the land of Israel. He declared that it would be their possession perpetually. In Genesis, God spoke: “The same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:18-21).
In secular terms, this would be called a royal land grant. This type of grant, common in antiquity, was perpetual and unconditional. The king, or sovereign, possessed all the land and granted parcels of it to loyal subjects as rewards for faithful service. In biblical terms, God is sovereign over all the earth. He created it, and there are no greater rights of ownership than that. So the land is certainly His to bequeath as He wishes.
Years after He made his original covenant with Abraham, God confirmed it. Abraham accepted the terms of the covenant by the right of circumcision:
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:4-10).
This covenant with Abraham is an eternal one with no preconditions or expiration date. It was given as an everlasting possession to Abraham and his descendants. Only Mankind is capable of impeding the fulfillment of the contract through disobedience, but the pact can never be rescinded. Moses declared: “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).
Of what value is this ancient covenant between God and Abraham today? God is still sovereign over the land He bestowed upon Abraham and his offspring. He has never vacated the title deed, nor as some believe, has He rescinded His covenant declaration. The land still belongs to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants—as numerous as the sands of the sea.
The Jewish people have a God-given, inalienable right to possess the land of Israel and to the entire city of Jerusalem. Many have the mistaken idea that an inalienable right is one which cannot be taken from you. In reality, it means just the opposite. It is one that cannot be given away, sold, surrendered, or legally transferred to another. Giving away any of the land violates the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and places the nation of Israel outside God’s covenant blessings. Likewise, the nations that are coercing Israel into giving up the land come under the curse of God.
When standing on the Mount of Olives, the sweeping panorama of Jerusalem is breathtaking. The multi-towered landscape is a splendid drama written in stone, one that has received rave reviews from countless pilgrims to the Holy Land.
Seen from atop the mount are landmarks such as the ancient ruins of the City of David, the gilded cupola on the Dome of the Rock, and the Kidron Valley, where tombstones dot the hillside beneath the crenellated walls of the ancient city. These massive stone walls, with their battlements intact, have proudly surveyed the sieges of invading armies. The parapets of these walls once sheltered archers; today, soldiers patrol them with automatic rifles.
The Olivet view entices pilgrims to descend into Jerusalem, a city of stones, and to visit the Old City with its Jewish Quarter. As the traveler wanders through the tangled labyrinth of narrow alleyways, one can almost touch the stone walls on either side. There are stone arches above and paving stones beneath. From the ancient ruins to the medieval ramparts, these streets and walls that have baked in the warmth of a million sunrises each have a story to tell.
Those most beloved by the people of Israel are the stones that rise to form the Western Wall, the holiest Shrine of the Jewish faith. The 50-foot-high wall is all that remains of the Temple Mount as it existed in the first century. The stones stacked one upon another to build this wall are so massive that it’s hard to imagine how they were chiseled out and transported up the hills of Jerusalem.
To grasp the perspective, it is helpful to look backward across the centuries and then to follow the course of events that has led to today’s impasse in the City of David. Consider the view from the Temple when the stones were newly hewn and the city of Jerusalem shone like alabaster in the morning sun. Herod the Great began rebuilding Solomon’s Temple before the birth of Christ; the project occupied the rest of his administration. While the 15-story-high Temple was constructed during Herod’s reign, the outer courts and walls were not fully completed until 64 A.D., after his death. And they would not stand for long.
One day, after Jesus had been teaching in the Temple precincts, he called his disciples’ attention to the buildings: “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).
The words of Jesus were precisely fulfilled in 70 AD when Roman armies swept through Jerusalem and reduced Herod’s magnificent Temple to a pile of blackened rubble. The stones of the Temple are buried in antiquity, somewhere deep beneath the Old City. The only remnant that remains today is the Kotel—the “Western Wall” that was not part of the Temple itself but rather a retaining wall built to expand the hillside so the great Temple Herod envisioned could be built.
The remaining stones of the Western Wall have become a symbol of the enduring hope of the Jewish people. Even non-religious Jews venerate the Wall as a national monument. The plaza in front of the Western Wall can accommodate 100,000 congregants. It is the gathering place of the people of Israel, the scene of both joyous celebration and solemn memorial. For a city that has been completely destroyed twice, occupied by enemies 23 times, surrounded 52 times, and liberated 44 times, the Wall remains a testimony of God’s all-encompassing providence.
In 1992, the government of Norway offered to act as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in an effort to bring lasting peace to the region. They were hoping to follow up on the Madrid Conference from the previous year, which had not produced any concrete results. A series of increasingly high-level secret meetings were held both in Oslo and in London. At the conclusion of those meetings, a Declaration of Principles was prepared, which came to be known as the Oslo Accords.
In September of 1993, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in Washington. At a ceremony hosted by President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat officially signed the agreements. Clinton held a celebration on the White House lawn for what he called “a brave gamble for peace,” where he forced—actually standing with his thumb pressed into the prime minister’s back—Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat over a blank sheet of paper that represented the Declaration of Principles, or Oslo Accords. The paper lay on the same table over which President Jimmy Carter had presided, as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed the earlier peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979.
President Clinton later described it as one of “the highest moments” of his presidency as the two “shook hands for the first time in front of a billion people on television, it was an unbelievable day.” One of Clinton’s greatest hopes was to go down in history as the man who finally resolved the Arab–Israeli conflict in the Middle East. In order to do this, he used his tremendous aptitude at image transformation to turn the terrorist and murderer Yasser Arafat into a diplomat. Arafat became the most-welcomed foreign leader to the White House during the Clinton years. It also seems likely that Arafat received some coaching from Clinton and his advisers on what to say, how to speak, and what to do to help in this metamorphosis.
The Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Rabin, Arafat, and Israel’s foreign minister (later prime minister and president) Shimon Peres. But the hope of peace again proved to be empty. The late Jewish actor and spokesman Theodore Bikel said: “Arafat turned out to be no partner for peace…he had never intended to be such a partner in the first place. Oslo and the handshake gave him the cachet of peacemaker; it also gave him half of a Nobel Peace Prize, which, if he had had any sense of shame, he would have returned. In truth, for him Oslo was nothing more than an opportunity to obfuscate and spin wheels.”
For all of the concessions Israel made, the PLO and Yasser Arafat took no steps toward peace. Instead, they continued to incite attacks against Israel and to pay terrorists (or their families) an annual salary for killing innocent Jewish people. Israel lost far more than it gained from the Oslo Accords.
The importance and role of the Holy City in Jewish life and worship unfold in the pages of Jerusalem’s history. The city seems always to have been exceptional—almost an oddity. Back in Joshua’s time, when the Israelites were battling to take the land of Canaan from its previous inhabitants and conquered Jerusalem, its name was omitted from the review of Joshua’s conquests. We see later in Joshua 15:63 that the tribe of Judah was unable to rid the village of the Jebusites who controlled it.
It remained that way until roughly 400 years later. After King Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa, David ceased to be a fugitive running for his life. When he became king, something important happened: God instructed him to establish his headquarters in Hebron in the midst of his own tribe. This is where the people of Judah anointed David king. Abner ruled over the northern tribes after Saul’s death, but after his murder, the elders of Israel made a pact with David and anointed him their king. The Prophet Samuel’s words had come to pass, and the nation of Israel was reunited under David’s leadership.
Now David needed a city from which to rule a united Israel. Jerusalem was ideally located. It stood on the border between the northern tribes and Judah, and more importantly, it had never been associated with any specific tribe of Israel. It would be the capital of all the tribes and a center for the worship of Yahweh, to whom David was deeply devoted. Determining this would be the seat of government, David and his men marched to Jerusalem. The Jebusites refused to take David’s challenge seriously. They had successfully held the Israelites at bay from their high perch before, why should things be different this time?
David, however, succeeded where others had failed. He used a water channel to get inside the Jebusite fortifications surrounding Jerusalem. In short order, he took the city and began to consolidate his people from the new capital. Hiram, King of Tyre, sent men and material to assist David in building a palace. David saw it all as God’s favor and understood that his rule as king was blessed for the sake of His people Israel. David’s success would go unchallenged, until the entry of the Philistines. They viewed David as just a renegade shepherd, who had been lucky in killing the giant Goliath, and set out to punish this upstart!
David soundly defeated them in two separate battles and sent them back to their fortresses along the southern coast. Afterward, David mustered his troops to escort the Ark of the Covenant to the fledgling capital. This was of vital importance to him. It was Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had brought David through his years of shepherding, Samuel’s anointing and prophecy, battling Goliath, Saul’s attempts to kill him, and his years of exile. Never had God forsaken him. Once David had settled in Jerusalem, it became the center for worship of the God of the Hebrews.
King David desired to build a Temple for the Lord he loved and revered, but the prophet Nathan told David that his warlike ways had made it inappropriate for him to carry out such a task. During his reign, although the Ark of the Covenant continued to dwell in a tent, it in no way hampered David’s enthusiasm in promoting the worship of Yahweh. Animals were sacrificed morning and evening, and the Sabbath was rigorously observed. Even today, David’s intimate relationship with his God and the worship that relationship evoked is preserved in the book of Psalms. Both Christians and Jews are deeply affected by the beauty and sense of awe of Almighty God that flows through its pages. Jerusalem is what it is: a center of worship and God’s city on earth. No other reason can be offered for its importance.
From my first encounter with God as a child of eleven, I began to learn that God did, indeed, speak to me, and everything He said, no matter the delivery method, was of great importance. It was up to me to stay tuned to His wavelength. It was up to me, as it is with you, to turn off the television, the radio, the iPad, or any other device and listen! The appropriate response when God speaks—however that may be manifest—is, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
To hear God, you and I must listen with our entire being: mind, soul, and body. It is difficult to hear His voice over the cacophony that constantly surrounds us—traffic noise, television blaring, electronic devices beeping. Parents sleep with one ear tuned to the nursery, waiting for a babe’s cry in the night. As Believers, we must walk with our ears totally tuned to the Father so that we can hear that still, small voice that calls to us above the frenzied crowds. What, then, do you think God might wish to say to us once He has our attention? Perhaps, as He did me, He would call you “son” or “daughter.” He might tell you that He had been waiting for you as the earthly father did for the prodigal son or searching for you as the good shepherd searched for the lost sheep. Our Lord might possibly warn you that there is danger ahead and you need to change direction.
John, the Beloved, wrote in his Gospel chapter 3, verses 16–17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Our loving heavenly Father desires that you and I know that we can be overcomers through Him; that if we follow in His footsteps, He will lead us in the way we are to go. Then He will whisper, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
The great orator and preacher Charles Spurgeon said: “Having once discerned the voice of God, obey without question. If you have to stand alone and nobody will befriend you, stand alone.” God calls the humble and obedient to fulfill His mission. His power is made perfect in our weakness. Only with the realization that you can do nothing without Jehovah are you then ready to be used by Him. Only then will you be able to fulfill the Good Father’s wonderful plan for your future.