This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and as the Jewish state celebrates, the Arab world condemns Israel for its very existence. The reaction from the Arab nations to the Balfour celebrations was denouncement, demonstrations and the news media favored the Palestinian’s claim that they must have an equivalent Balfour declaration for a Palestinian state. But whose land is it? And why is Israel’s existence as a nation so important anyway?
It is obvious that the land of Israel is God’s land as He alone is able, as Creator, to give the land to whomever He chooses. And He chose to give that land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the Jews. While God promised the land to the twelve tribes of Israel as an everlasting possession (cf. Isa 60:21) He also promised that their peace in the land depended upon their obedience. They disobeyed God and were dispersed. Not once, not twice, but three times. On the first occasion, they left the land for Egypt because of extreme drought in the land. They should have returned to their promised land, but found Egypt to be a favorable place. So they stayed. Eventually, a new Egyptian Pharaoh enslaved them for 400 year.
After the 400 years, the Lord released them by His own hand. Not a slave raised a hand to fight for their freedom. The Lord secured their release and provided a bounty for their return to the land. However, during their journey back they would receive the Law as a new way of life. They sinned against the Lord and were forced to stay in the wilderness wandering for 40 years. But after the 40 years, the Lord moved them into the land and they possessed the land again.
Yet because of their sin, they were removed from their land. This time the northern kingdom was totally destroyed by the Assyrians, and the people taken as plunder. Few survived the devastating Assyrian military campaign. About 100 years later, the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians. The Jews experienced three deportations to Babylon. After 70 years of captivity, the Lord again moved in the Jewish capturers to return them to their land. When they returned they did so with their temple treasures and resources to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the wall.
From that point on, Israel was never again in full control of the land. While they returned to the land, they did so as vessels. They returned to the land but only had short periods of sovereign control. By the time of Jesus Christ the Jewish state was split between those the supported the Roman rule and those that wanted sovereign Jewish control. After Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, the nation experienced more problems with her Roman overlord and in 70 AD the temple was destroyed. But the worst was yet to come. By 135 AD the Jews were expelled from the land, their land and property taken, the land renamed by Emperor Hadrian after the second Jewish revolt from Judea to Palestine in order to remove any trace of Jewishness from the land.
For 2,000 years the Jews were dispersed throughout the nations. During these years, they experienced great persecution after persecution. They endured the Muslim persecution – convert, pay a tax, or die. They endured the Christian persecution – convert or be expelled. They endured the European persecution - round them up and put them in ghettos. Take their property and evict them. The brutality of the pogroms (Russian, meaning “to wreak havoc”), the violent riots aimed specifically at the Jews of existed long before the Russians or Nazis. The slaughter, expulsion, and persecution against the Jews has occurred since God created ethnic Jews when He called Abraham out of the land of Ur and promised him a seed, a land, and to be a blessing to the world. Yet the world that is against God and His people has worked to destroy that promise. And as the Jews were dispersed throughout the world, that hatred has exhibited itself in the most horrific history of a people group. But God’s promise to the Jew is eternal, and the world will never exterminate them.
In the late 1700s, God moved in the world again to move the Jews back to the land. This time God moved not in a single nation, but the whole world. The Jew found favor from the British whose power was such that a new Jewish state was possible because of British power and control. The Jews were gaining favor elsewhere. In France, Napoleon Bonaparte intended to issue a proclamation on April 20, 1799 offering “Palestine” to the Jews as a national homeland! (Randall Price, Jerusalem in Prophecy, p. 104)
One hundred years later, in 1897 evangelical Christians joined with Jewish leaders in gaining support for a Jewish homeland. Among them were Lord Shaftesbury and Lord Alfred James Balfour. In the United States, American Jewish lawyer M.M Noah became burdened for the Jewish cause and shared his views with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams. He wrote in 1825, “I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation.” (Randall Price)
In 1897, the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel Switzerland. It was attended by 208 delegates for the purpose of establishing a plan for purchasing land in Palestine for Jews. One of the most important outcomes of the congress was to establish a bank, the Jewish Colonial Trust, that funded the purchase of land. Steve Herzig writes, “At that time Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary, ‘At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.” (Israel My Glory, Nov/Dec 2017, p. 10)
As it happened, the Ottoman empire was fading ,World War I was progressing toward its conclusion and Europe was planning for and distributing the land of the Middle East. It was during this period that the British foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour penned a letter to Lord Rothschild proclaiming the determination of the British to establish a Jewish state. What resulted was the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. The statement was simple and short:
“I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Three years after the Balfour declaration, the League of Nations approved the boundaries of the new Jewish nation. Simultaneously, independent Arab statehood was also being granted in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. “The land originally given [to Israel] was considerably bigger than today’s Jewish state, even including the territories captured in June 1967” (Hal Lindsey, The Everlasting Hatred: The roots of Jihad, p. 194). As it happened, God in His sovereignty moved to make the British government in charge of dividing up the Middle East from the Mediterranean to the borders of India. It would take 30 years and another world war before the UN officially adopted a partition plan for the state of Israel on November 29, 1947. Israel was declared an independent state in May 11, 1948. By this time, the British had divided up the original land allocation for Israel and given it to the Arabs that helped in the war effort. Israel would receive only 25% of the original land allocation.
Again, God established a national homeland for His people in Israel and the Jews did not have to fight for its establishment. However, the result of the UN resolution was an all-out rejection by the Arab nations and subsequent attack on the infant nation. Israel’s continued survival however, has continued through the great wars of 1948-49, 1956, 1967, and 1973. Israel has fought to exist and is constantly under attack on all sides through a new kind of war, a terrorist war.
The final boundaries of the nation of Israel will be established by God when He returns to judge the nations for their sin and treatment of Israel. Scripture says, He will return a gather His people:
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, And gather you from the west; 6 I will say to the north, `Give them up!' And to the south, `Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth - 7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him." (Isaiah 43:5-7)
We are seeing Israel regathered back to the land today, but they are being regathered in unbelief. Yet prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes. Notice what Daniel 9 says:
Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. 25 Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate." (Dan 9:24-27)
According to Daniel 9, Israel must be established as a political state first in order to make a covenant with the prince that shall come. This prophecy of statehood was fulfilled in 1948 as Israel once again, after some 2,000 years, was again established as an independent nation. In the future, however, the covenant of Daniel 9 will result in three and a half years of peace and prosperity for Israel. Then suddenly the covenant will be broken, the people persecuted in a time called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). Then the Lord will return in His glory and fury to restore the kingdom of Israel in the Messianic Kingdom. Israel will at that time finally possess the land of promise – all of it.
The basis for Israel’s possession of the land is God’s promise of Genesis 12, and formalized in a legal covenant. What is called the Land Covenant is found in Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20. The promise includes an eternal people, a land, and a blessing will come to pass not because of anything Israel will do, but because God does not lie. His promise to Israel will come true someday as He promises them:
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, 2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. 5 Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut. 30:1-6)
We are seeing prophecy being fulfilled today in the regathering of Israel back to the land in unbelief. In the final regathering, God will regather Israel in belief. The final regathering will be by the angels of Matthew 24:
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:30-31)
What is the Balfour effect? It is God working in the world. If is the author of history moving in history to accomplish His will. When He makes a promise, He will keep it. The promise to the Jews of a seed, a land, and a blessing, should further confirm our confidence that the Gentiles that believe in the Messiah of Israel will partake in the blessing of eternal life because His people, the Jews, exist, are flourishing, are a blessing to the world, and are back in the land.