The horrific Hamas attack in Gaza on Israeli civilians, including women and children, brings some things into sharp focus. After all, the area from Lebanon to Egypt has long been called The Holy Land, and yet so much of what we see in the news doesn’t seem to have any connection to holiness at all. The attack raises all sorts of questions. Why slaughter civilians and rape women? Why take hostages and threaten to murder them? What is it about Islam (a religion that ostensibly calls for peace) that fosters such hatred? How is Israel’s violent revenge an act of holiness?
The Hamas attack on Israel has certainly brought the Holy Land to the forefront of the news. But then, they’ve been significant in world events for a long time. 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. Religious scholars agree 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, and their origin to this specific place..
I visited the Holy Land, and it was amazing. 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. Because of that, it was thus situated directly in the path of every marauding force and conquering army that ever journeyed along that one and only route to riches and success.
A Brief History
Topography and the availability of water enhanced its unique position. Since it was the only way to travel to and from Egypt from Babylon and Persia, it had the dubious distinction of being the crossroads in the cross-hairs 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. Perhaps they should dispense with “Holy” and call it the “Layers of Destruction” Land… Archaeology in the Holy Land displays the remnants of one culture after another, built on top of the one it just destroyed…
Its population is a volatile mix of passionate people, pretty much all 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).
Herod’s heirs were not nearly as effective, and had to contend with a Jewish revolt against their high taxes and Roman oppression. That was ended by the Romans when they destroyed Jerusalem and killed as many as 1,000,000 Jews in 70 AD. Within a couple of hundred years, Constantine emerged from Asia Minor, and the Holy Roman Empire possessed the land for a while. Then, the Muslims (of the three major religions, they are the youngest and least original) came along in the Seventh century CE and conquered Judea. 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. Much of what you see in Judea today is actually evidence of Turkish occupancy, built on top of the rubble of former civilizations.
Dig a Little Deeper
On the surface, it is an unforgiving land filled with unforgiving people. It is full of conflicts and border disputes. There are places taken by force in the name of peace. There is a holy Mosque where they won’t let Westerners even glimpse the inside! In fact, we discovered that the attendants give you dirty looks if you get too close. (They also send out a guard with a gun to ask you to move along… )
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. As we have seen, that powder keg is poised to create an explosion that could affect all of us. If you believe Bible prophecy (and I do), you realize that the explosion WILL happen, and that conflict in Israel will usher in the end times.
So, with all the hatred and violence in and around Judea, why do people call it “the Holy Land”? That answer is found in the REST of God’s promise to Abram, and the covenant He made with him: (Genesis 12:2) “[God speaking to Abram] 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. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all Peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
The topography doesn’t make the land holy; it is not the passionate, zealous inhabits; it is not even the religions. The Holy Land 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.
What’s So Holy About it?
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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