The land of Israel has gone through many names and forms over its history. In prehistory it was inhabited by various nomadic groups including Abram, Israel’s grandfather. When Abram was on his journey from Ur of the Chaldees (near the coast of the Persian Gulf) toward Egypt, he had a conversation with God while in the land of Canaan. There, God tells Abram that all that he can see will belong to his descendants forever. However, God gets more specific later. On 4 different occasions, God specifies the boundaries of this land. To Abram He says, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.” Five hundred years later, after Abraham’s descendants are enslaved in Egypt, as he was forewarned, God tells Moses, “I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River [Euphrates].” Forty years after this, when they were about to actually enter this “promised” land, God further clarifies these borders to Moses using over 20 specific geographic references. There is also a specification made to the prophet Ezekiel some 1000 years later about the return of the 12 tribes to these ancestral boundaries. There is no little debate about what this section of Ezekiel’s prophecy exactly describes. (For example, it also mentions a new river flowing out of the east gate of the temple and turning the Dead Sea into a freshwater lake.)
Despite all of these promises, Israel as a people never filled out the entire boundaries of the land, though they often thought they had covered it enough. The general story of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings is that the people, judges, and kings generally grew exasperated with conquering their neighbors because they found their neighbors’ practices quite appealing. The largest the nation ever became was under the reign of Solomon, son of David. His son’s foolishness caused a division in the kingdom that was never healed. The land has gone under many governments since that day, and what God promised about the future of this land fills volumes of debate.
There are two things that drive me as a teacher: making the complex simple and giving context to controversy. I realize this doesn’t answer much in the modern conversation, but I hope this provides some ancient context to our modern conversations.