1/. Jacob the grandson of Abraham had his name changed by God to Israel (Gen 32:28). It is from him the Israelites as a people group descended.

God’s aim was for Israel (the people, as descendants of Jacob) to be an example of how a nation could and should worship the true God, and when other nations saw the benefits, they too, would obey and worship Him too. The majority of the Bible is centered on His relationship with the Jews (Israeli’s), and His physical presence on earth through this race. We owe so much to them and although as a whole they have not embraced Jesus as Saviour, they are still instrumental in God’s economy and He has not rejected them to focus solely on the church as developed by the erroneous replacement theology.

See also: Jacob, Jews, replacement theology.

2/. The physical land of Israel, originally called Canaan or Palestine. It has a very long history.

After 430 years in Egypt (the majority as slaves – Gen 15:13; Ex 12:41), then 40 years in the desert the Jews entered the Promised Land in 1406 BC, under Joshua’s leadership.  Following this were periods of ongoing battles until Saul, David, and Solomon established the Israelite kingdom, which later split into two – The Northern Kingdom and Judah. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judah; the Northern Kingdom had fallen some 134 yrs previously to Assyria, and the Jews continued to remain under occupying authorities. The Romans took control in 63 BC and were the empire in power at the time of Christ. Consequently the Jews had no homeland but were allowed to remain there, although many were driven from the land in two dispersions – 70 AD and 135 AD.

Muslim Arabs conquered the region in 640 AD. In 1099, Palestine fell to the Crusaders, but in 1291 they in turn were routed. The area was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918, when British forces defeated the Turks at Megiddo. The Balfour Declaration encouraged Jewish immigration. After World War I, the British held a League of Nations mandate over the land west of the River Jordan (now once again called Palestine). Tension between Jews and the Arab majority led to an uprising in 1936. World War II and Nazi persecution brought many Jews to Palestine, and in 1947 Britain, unable to satisfy both Jewish and Arab aspirations, consigned the problem to the United Nations. The UN proposed a plan for separate Jewish and Arab states. This was rejected by the Arabs, and in 1948 (after the first of several Arab-Israeli Wars) most of ancient Palestine became part of the new state of Israel; the Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt and the West Bank of the River Jordan by Jordan. These two areas were subsequently occupied by Israel in 1967. From the 1960s, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led Palestinian opposition to Israeli rule, which included acts of terrorism in the occupied territories. In 1993, Israel reached an agreement with the PLO, and in 1994 the Palestine National Authority took over nominal administration of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Failure to find a peaceful settlement saw the resurgence of the rebellion in November 2000. The Bible says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps 122:6). This is yet to be fully achieved.

Historically Israel gained its independence and became a recognised state on May 14, 1948. Israel occupies an area 424 Km N to S, by between 15 and 114 Km across. Its territory is some 20,600 sq km with another 7,000 sq km of Israeli occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights (totalling 27,736 sq km) – considerably smaller than the area promised to Abraham (Gen 15:18-21; Num 34:1-12).  Over half of its land mass includes the semi-arid Negev (wilderness desert) in the S, while the N contains several fertile areas. This tiny state and its people are surrounded by hostile Arab nations that are opposed to their very existence: Lebanon to N, Syria to NE, Jordon to E, Egypt to SW, with the Mediterranean to the W. Around eight million people, reside in Israel with the majority being Jews although almost ¼ are Arabs.

Inland from the fertile coastal plains are the central mountains and the Great Rift Valley. The highest point in Israel is Mt Meron at 1208m, (Mt Hermon at 2814m is in the Golan Heights part of Israeli occupied Syria) with the Dead Sea, at 417m below sea level, being the lowest place in the world. The Great Rift Valley extends practically uninterrupted from Mt Hermon in the North to the Red Sea.

The term Palestine is derived from the word for Philistines, the enemies of Israel. There never has been a Palestinian state as is being strongly mooted at the present. The use of the word (Palestine) today generally refers to the geographical area that is ruled by Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The area of Palestine is considered a Holy Land by Jews, Christians and Muslims. There is no Palestinian language or religion – most speak Arabic and are Muslim.

See also: Dead Sea, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, Jews, Promised Land, West Bank.