Land That is More than Land: Why Do They Call It “Holy”?

In Genesis, God calls Abram to go to a specific land, and the world has never been the same since. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NIV) Abram went, and the evidence of his calling is still all over that land today. It is well-known that Abram is considered to be the father of the three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), all of whom trace their roots to his calling.

I visited the Holy Land, and I’d have to say that on the one hand, it is merely a geographical region composed of a Mediterranean coastline, some mountainous terrain, the Jordan Valley, and a fair amount of forbidding desert. In the ancient world, it did indeed sit strategically between Turkey, Mesopotamia and Egypt, and was thus situated directly in the path of every marauding force and conquering army that ever journeyed along that one and only route to success. Topography and the availability of water enhanced its unique position as the only way to travel through it to where people really wanted to go, so it had the dubious distinction of being the crossroads in the crosshairs of every conquering general in the ancient world. It was occupied at one time or another by the Egyptians, Medes, the Persians, and Assyrians; and Babylonians, the Greeks, then the Romans; the Turks, the Muslims, and the Crusaders; then the Muslims again. Archeology in the Holy Land displays the remnants of one culture after another, built on top of the one it just destroyed…

land destruction

Its population is a volatile mix of passionate people, most of whom feel they have been wronged or displaced not just in the recent past, but for centuries. Depending on your point of view, all of them have a case. The early Canaanites gave way to the Children of Israel who reached their zenith under David and Solomon. Israel was conquered by Assyria and Babylon and disappeared for centuries, but enjoyed a tremendous resurgence under Herod the Great, a Roman protégé who flourished for three decades under Roman protection (c. 38 to 4 BC). His heirs were not nearly as effective, and had to contend with a Jewish revolt against oppression. That was ended by the Romans when they destroyed Jerusalem and killed as many as 1,000,000 Jews in 70 AD. Constantine emerged from Asia Minor, and the Holy Roman Empire possessed the land for a while until the Muslims came along in the Seventh century CE and conquered it. The Crusaders came and attacked the Muslims, but only held it for a while. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Ottoman Empire rose up out of Turkey and possessed it.

On the surface, it is an unforgiving land filled with unforgiving people. There are conflicts and border disputes, there are places taken by force in the name of peace. There is a holy Temple where they won’t let Westerners even glimpse the inside, and attendants give you dirty looks if you get too close. Traditions are built on top of traditions, reflecting a centuries-old tug of war between religious people who all claim to worship a loving God. There are armed guards at places of prayer and extremists on all sides who believe the only path to peace is to eliminate all dissention. Those radicals belie the average people there, who love and raise families, and who do compromise and live together peaceably in a powder keg of politics and emotion.

land guards

So why do they call it “the Holy Land”? It is because of the REST of God’s promise to Abram, and the covenant He made with him: (Genesis 12:2)“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all Peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” It is not the topography that makes the land holy; it is not the passionate, zealous inhabits; it is not even the religions. It is holy because it is where God proclaimed His intention to bless ALL men, and to stay in relationship with us in spite of our rebellion and independence.

It’s difficult to pinpoint, and it’s hard to understand
That there’s a place in Israel they call the Holy Land.
The Holy Land’s not special just because it’s in that region;
It’s not because it offers us the birthplace of religion;
It isn’t ground made sacred by where holy men have trod,
But it’s made holy by the promise of a Holy God.
He promised that through Abram, every person would be blessed;
So concentrate on that, and you can leave out all the rest.
The blessing’s not attached to a religious or political boss,
But it resides in reconciliation on a cross.
History proves that men will only lead us to our doom:
God’s promise in the Holy Land is in an empty tomb.

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