In the 1980s I did a one year study abroad program in Jerusalem, Israel and saw the Arab-Israeli conflict first hand. One of the issues between Arabs and Jews is ownership of the Holy Land: both Arabs and Jews claim ownership to the same piece of land and they are passionate about this issue. This ends up being a complicated topic for Christians because the Bible contains some clear statements about who owns the land. As Christians, we want to persuade both Jews and Palestinians to adopt Christianity, but if the Bible takes sides on who owns the Holy Land, how do we persuade the “losing” side to follow the God of the Bible?
This dilemma appears to be insurmountable, but I believe if we look at the issue properly, then it is not as insurmountable as it appears. Let’s look at what the Bible says about who owns the land, and then I will explain how we can deal with this issue.
Genesis 11 tells us there was a man named Terah who had a son named Abram and a grandson named Lot. Terah moved his family from Ur to Haran. While living in Haran, Abram was told by God to leave Haran. Read the following verses. Where did Abram go?
Gen. 12:4 ¶ So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Gen. 12:5 Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.
Gen. 12:6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.
Abram, Sarai, and Lot went to Shechem in the land of Canaan. (Today, Shechem is within an area of land called the West Bank and is under the authority of the Palestinian National Authority.) Next, God appeared to Abram and made a promise. What was the promise?
Gen. 12:7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.
Gen. 12:8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
Gen. 12:9 Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.
God promised that Shechem and the land of Canaan would be given to Abram’s descendants. Later in Genesis we read that ownership of the land was passed on to Jacob, Abram’s grandson. Read the following verses from Genesis 35. Who does the pronoun “you” refer to? Who are the “descendants” referred to in verse 12?
Gen. 35:9 ¶ Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him.
Gen. 35:10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel.
Gen. 35:11 God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you.
Gen. 35:12 “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”
The pronoun “you” refers to Jacob. His name was changed to Israel. The land we call the West Bank was given to Jacob’s descendants. Jacob’s descendants became the Israelites, known today as the Jews. Thus, the Bible makes it clear that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews.
In light of the fact that the West Bank was given to the Jews, how do we persuade Palestinians to become Christians? Today, the West Bank is under the authority of the Palestinian National Authority and most of its residents are Palestinian. There is a lot of hostility between the Palestinians and the Jews. How do we ask Palestinians to convert to Christianity when the Bible says their home belongs to their enemy?
Some Christians try to avoid this subject. When they talk to Palestinians about religious things, they simply don’t address this topic. Other Christians try to claim that the Bible doesn’t say what it says. They come up with ways to deny that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews. An alternative to these approaches is to be honest about the cost of following Christ. Read the following verses. What does Jesus say about the cost of following him?
Luke 14:25 ¶ Now large crowds were going along with Him (Jesus); and He turned and said to them,
Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
Luke 14:28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
Luke 14:29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,
Luke 14:30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
Luke 14:31 “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?
Luke 14:32 “Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
Luke 14:33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
Jesus was telling people to calculate the cost of following him. Some people around the world are disowned by family when they choose to follow Christ. Some people lose their job when they choose to follow Christ. Other people lose their life when they choose to follow Christ. For Palestinians, part of the cost of following Christ is submitting to the fact that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews and that their enemies (the Jews) are God’s chosen people.
When we are trying to persuade Palestinians to adopt Christianity, we should not avoid talking about the Holy Land nor try to deny what the Bible says about the land. Instead, we should communicate that everyone who follows Christ needs to make sacrifices and deny themselves. The cost of following Christ is different for different people, but there is a cost, and Palestinians need to accept the cost just like everyone else.
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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”