To whom does the land of Israel belong to?
The answer is really very simple. God gave the land of Israel to Abraham (Genesis 17:8) and to his descendants through Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) and Jacob (Genesis 28:1-4,13-14).
That means the land belongs to the descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. In other words, the land belongs to the children of Israel, referred to in the New Testament as the Jews (Romans 1:16).
Some immediately protest this claim by arguing that the Abrahamic Covenant has been abrogated either by the Cross or by the disobedience of the Jews. But the Bible clearly teaches that the Abrahamic Covenant is an everlasting one that is still in effect (Genesis 17:7; 1 Chronicles 16:17-18; Psalm 105:8-11; and Romans 9:4).
As to the effect of the Jew's rejection of Jesus, Paul specifically addresses this question in Romans 3. He asks a rhetorical question: "What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?" For almost two thousand years the Church has answered this question with a resounding, Yes! But Paul answers it differently. He says, "May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar..." (Romans 3:1-4).
Further, Paul states in Romans 11 that the disobedience of the Jews has not nullified the promises of God to them, "for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). God's promises are going to be fulfilled to a believing remnant (Romans 9: 27). In fact, in Romans 9:4, Paul specifically states that God's promises to the Jews are still valid.
Two Land Covenants
What most people do not know is that there are two Old Testament covenants pertaining to the land of Israel. The Abrahamic Covenant gives the title of the land to the Jews in perpetuity. A later covenant, the Mosaic Land Covenant — or Canaan Covenant — of Deuteronomy 28-30 defines the conditions for possession and enjoyment of the land.
This latter covenant is often referred to as the "Palestinian Covenant," but that is a misnomer, for the land was never called Palestine until after the second Jewish revolt in 132-135 A.D. At that time the Romans dubbed it "Palestine" to erase the memory of its Jewish heritage and to insult the Jews, for Palestine is the Latin word for Philistine, the ancient enemy of Israel.
Let me illustrate the role and relationship of these two covenants with a modern day example. Let's say you buy a car for a child of yours and put the title in the child's name. But you explain to the child that there are conditions for using the car — such as no speeding. And you warn your child that a speeding ticket will result in the loss of the privilege of driving the car for a period of two weeks. If the child gets a ticket and you lock the car up in the garage for two weeks, the car still belongs to the child because the child's name is on the title. But the child has temporarily lost possession of the vehicle.
In like manner, the Abrahamic Covenant (about 2,000 B.C.) gave the title of the land to the Jews for eternity. The Canaan Covenant (about 1,250 B.C.) defined the terms for possession and use of the land. Title and possession are not the same thing. The Jews have lost possession of the land from time to time, but they have never lost their God-given title.
The Canaan Covenant
The Land Covenant promised that Israel would become the prime nation of the world if the Jews were obedient to God (Deuteronomy 28:1,13). But the covenant warned that many curses would befall the people if they were disobedient (Deuteronomy 28:15-37), including exile from the land (Deuteronomy 28:38-57). The covenant warned further that if temporary exile did not restore the Jews to obedience, they would suffer worldwide dispersion and persecution (Deuteronomy 28:58-68). But nowhere are they told that their disobedience would lead to a loss of their title to the land.
In fact, the Land Covenant ends in chapter 30 with a prophecy and a promise that a day will come — after the Jews have experienced the curses of the covenant — when the Lord will restore them to their land once again: "The Lord will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it" (Deuteronomy 30:3-5).
For almost 1,900 years the Jews wandered among the nations and suffered severe persecution, just as prophesied in Deuteronomy 28. During that time, their land became desolate as prophesied in Deuteronomy 29. But in this century, God has regathered them from the four corners of the earth, re-established them in their land, and transformed their land from wilderness to milk and honey — as prophesied in Deuteronomy 30.
The only prophecy left to be fulfilled in the Land Covenant is the spiritual salvation of the gathered remnant (Deuteronomy 30:6-8). That will occur soon when they repent and accept Yeshua as their Messiah.
The Abrahamic and Land Covenants make it clear that the Jewish people have both the right to the land of Israel and the right to be back in it today.
In the next part on this series on the land of Israel, we'll look at just where does this leave the Arabs.