The Reclamation of the Land

Israel in Bible Prophecy

By Dr. David R. Reagan

Lamplighter Magazine

[read in Lamplighter (pdf)]

Before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, God spoke a series of stern warnings to them through Moses, their leader and prophet. The warnings are recorded in Deuteronomy 28 and 29.

These chapters constitute God’s Land Covenant with the Jewish people. In this covenant, God made it clear that although He had given the Jewish people an everlasting title to the land, their enjoyment of it would depend on their obedience to the laws He had given them in the Mosaic Covenant.

The Hope of Blessings

The Land Covenant begins with promises of blessings if they are obedient (Deuteronomy 28:1-2):

Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God…

Moses then proceeded to enumerate the blessing in detail. They included such things as agricultural abundance, defeat of enemies, financial prosperity and abundant rain (Deuteronomy 1:3-13).

The Warning of Curses

But then, Moses started issuing warnings about curses that would come upon them if they were disobedient to the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:15ff). The variety of these curses was breathtaking — cities in chaos, youth in rebellion, an epidemic of divorce, confusing governmental policies, defeats by their enemies, rampant disease, drought leading to crop failures, foreign domination and even exile to a foreign land.

Moses concluded the list with a detailed explanation of what would be the ultimate judgment of God should they become entrenched in rebellion and refuse to repent (Deuteronomy 28: 64-67):

Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, “Would that it were evening!” And at evening you shall say, “Would that it were morning!” because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see.

In summary, the ultimate punishment the Jewish people would receive for willful and unrepentant rebellion against God’s Word would be ejection from their land, their scattering worldwide and their persecution wherever they went.

The Curse on the Land

Nor would that be all. Moses further stated that God would put a curse on their land, and as a result of that curse, the land would become filled with diseases and plagues (Deuteronomy 29:22), and the land itself would become “a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass [growing] in it…” (Deuteronomy 29:23).

The curse would be so terrible that when foreigners came to visit the land, they would cry out, “Why has the LORD done this to the land? Why this great outburst of anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:24). And the answer will be: “Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers…[and] they went and served other gods and worshiped them…Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath…” (Deuteronomy 29:25-28).

The Promise of Hope

Fortunately for the Jewish people, Moses did not leave it there. He continued on to speak some words of hope. He assured them that if they were ever scattered all over the world, a day would come when God in His compassion would “restore them from captivity” by regathering them to their homeland (Deuteronomy 30:3). “If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back” (Deuteronomy 30:4 ).

The prophet Ezekiel picked it up from there, prophesying what would happen to the land when the Jewish people were regathered to it (Ezekiel 36:34-35):

The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, “This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.

Prophetic Fulfillment

What an incredible panorama of future events that have been fulfilled precisely in detail!

After the Jewish people occupied their Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, they immediately began to stray from God’s Word. They violated God’s command not to intermarry with the pagan peoples of the land. As they did so, they began to worship the false gods of these peoples.

God responded by sending prophets to call them to repentance. When they refused to repent, God began to afflict them with the very curses that Moses had outlined in his warnings. Finally, just as Moses had prophesied, they were taken into exile. After God allowed them to return, they persisted in their rebellion, consummating with the rejection fo the Messiah God sent to them.

It was at that point that God allowed the Romans to destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD, including the Jewish Temple. This began the process of their ejection from the land and their worldwide scattering, a process that was accelerated after the Second Jewish Revolt in 132-136 AD.

Over the next 1800 years the Jews were literally scattered to the four corners of the earth, in fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy. And in further fulfillment of prophecy, they were persecuted wherever they went, and their homeland became utterly desolate.

The Nature of the Promised Land

Keep in mind that their homeland was one of great abundance when the Jewish people entered it some 1400 years before the time of Jesus. Here’s how it was described by Moses (Deuteronomy 8:7-9):

…the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.

Moses further characterized the land as being very different from the arid land of Egypt because it “drinks from the rain of heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:10-11). Moses also described it as “a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Ezekiel affirmed this evaluation of the land many years later when he wrote that God swore to the Jewish people that He would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land “flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands” (Ezekiel 20:6-7,15).

The Desolation of the Land

Yet, just as prophesied, this glorious land became “a haunt of jackals” and “a heap of ruins” (Jeremiah 9:11).

Rainfall diminished, trees were cut down, top soil eroded and excessive sedimentation in the valleys resulted in water-logging and the creation of swamps. With swamps came an outbreak of malaria which weakened the population and led to the abandonment of villages and formerly cultivated land.1

Jerusalem in 1938

The land became repugnant, and during the 1800 years the Jews were away exiled from it, no one really desired it. It became a deserted wasteland, and Jerusalem became an incubator of disease. By the beginning of the 19th Century, it was a place people avoided, except for the most fanatical Christian pilgrims — like the Russians who would walk all the way to the Holy Land and die there.

In my library I have a number of books written in the 19th Century by Western explorers who wrote graphic descriptions of the land. Following are some examples.

1855

In 1855 an American named medical doctor, Jonathan Miesse, traveled to the Holy Land and published his recollections in 1859 in a book titled A Journey to Egypt and Palestine.2 (Israel had been renamed Palestine by the Romans and was still called by that name in the 19th Century).3

…at present, nearly three thousand years after David, the country is a prey to the wild beasts, and to the wilder Bedouins; and of the inhabitants, each plants just enough to satisfy his greatest bodily wants, all surplus the Bedouin will take, and what he leaves behind, the ruling Turk will confiscate.

His reference to the Turks pointed to another curse on the land. The Ottoman Empire of the Turks had taken control of the land in 1516, and they quickly establish a reputation for administrative incompetence and corruption.

1867

Twelve years later, an American journalist named Mark Twain made a trip to Palestine. He published his impressions in 1869 in a book titled The Innocents Abroad.4 It was the book that made Twain famous. He described Palestine as a “blistering, naked, treeless land.”5

Mark Twain in 1867

Regarding the Sea of Galilee area, in particular, Twain wrote, “There is not a solitary village… There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings.” Then, referring to Bible prophecy, he wrote, “To this region, the prophecies apply: ‘I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it'” (Leviticus 26:32).6

A reference to fulfilled prophecy in this passage is remarkable since Mark Twain was not a believer. Even more so when you consider that he added this statement: “No man can stand here [in this deserted area] and say the prophecy has not been fulfilled.”7

Concerning the Valley of Jezreel (or the Valley of Armageddon, as Christians call it), Twain observed, “A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.”8 He described the central highlands of Samaria by stating, “There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”9 Continuing with his description of Samaria, he wrote: “No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem.”10

Twain’s summary description of the land was a dismal one: “…it truly is monotonous and uninviting… It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.”11

Twain concluded his observations about Palestine in the mid-19th Century with these poignant words: “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes… and why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?”12

1884

Another American tourist, Henry M. Field, published a book about his trip to Palestine in 1884. He wrote about the treeless, desolate landscape as follows:13

The country seemed deserted of human habitations… Its appearance was made still more desolate by being without trees. While riding among the hills, I did not see a single tree. Whether this be owing to the government tax on trees, or the wastefulness of the people in cutting for fuel every young tree almost as soon as it shows its head above the ground, I know not; I only state the fact, that the landscape was absolutely treeless.

1912

As the 20th Century began and the Jews started to return to their homeland, the condition of the land had not improved. In 1912 a British traveler by the name of Sir Frederick Treves, published a book appropriately titled, The Land That Is Desolate.14

Plowing in 1890

Describing the approach to Jerusalem, Treves wrote:15

[The area] is practically treeless. Such hedges as exist are mostly of prickly cactus… The villages passed are secretive-looking clumps of flat-topped huts made, it would seem, of a chocolate-coloured mud and decorated with litter and refuse.

Speaking of the area surrounding Jerusalem, Treves observed that “the hills are bare save for some hectic grass and starveling scrub.”16 As for Jerusalem, he wrote:17

…the city itself is as the shadow of a rock in a weary land. With the exception of a few pallid olive trees, a patch here and there of indefinite green, and a melancholy cypress, the environs of Jerusalem are a dusty, ungenial limestone waste.

Plowing in 1900

Treves described Bethlehem as “a drab city of drab houses on a drab ridge, as monotonous in colour and as cheerless looking as a pile of dry bones.”18 Likewise, he wrote about the Nazareth area as being “a sorry country, for the land is bare, harsh, and treeless… Here is assuredly to be seen the poverty of the earth.”19 Regarding the Galilee area, he described it as “abandoned.”20 Concerning the “wholly dirty town of Tiberias,” he stated that it was “a wretched and stinking place” with “sturdy vermin.”21

1924

Even as late as the mid-1920s, Palestine was still being described as “a barren, rocky and forbidding land” by Oliver C. Dalby in his booklet, Rambles in Scriptural Lands.22 He characterized Jerusalem as a place where the streets were “narrow and dirty,” and where “the buildings are austere and unattractive.23

A Strange Miracle

In a book published in 2007, an American Orthodox Jewish Rabbi named Menachem Kohen, asserted that the greatest miracle performed by God during the past 1800 years was one that occurred daily in the land of Palestine — namely, little or no rain.24 He refers to it as a “reoccurring miracle.”25 And he asserts that this miracle of drought was for the purpose of fulfilling prophecies in Deuteronomy 28 which read: “The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust…” (Deuteronomy 28:24). He also points to other prophecies:

You shall bring out much seed to the field but you will gather in little, for the locust will consume it (Deuteronomy 28:38).

The locust shall possess all your trees and the produce of your ground (Deuteronomy 28:42).

Additionally, Rabbi Kohen contends that this reoccurring miracle of God was for the purpose of protecting the Jewish homeland from occupation by foreign Gentiles. In other words, God purposefully made the land desolate so that it could be preserved for the Jews when He would regather them in the end times — at which time the land would be reclaimed.26

The Return of the Jews

So, when the Jews started returning to their homeland in the 1890s, they did not find a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Instead, they were faced with trying to eke out a living in a desolate wasteland plagued with malaria-infested swamps. They paid exorbitant prices for the land, and the Muslims who lived there (people who considered themselves to be either Syrians or Turks) laughed all the way to the bank.

Kibbutz Workers

The Jews organized themselves into fortress-like communities called either a kibbutz or a moshav.27 These were collective farms that provided mutual help to their members and protection from Arab attacks.

Reclaiming the Land

The pioneers went to work immediately, attempting to drain the swamps and get rid of the malaria infested mosquitos. Eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia and planted around the perimeters of the swamps.28 They were selected because of their reputation for absorbing large amounts of water. When these proved insufficient, canals were dug to drain the swamps to the sea.29

Draining Swamps

At the same time, the pioneers began replanting the forests of Israel. This was a very serious need. From the Sea of Galilee to the south, all the trees had been cut down. In the Galilee area in the north, there were only 15,000 trees left.30 They had been cut for firewood and military use, and some forests had been burned for hunting purposes.31 The last sizeable remnants of forests had been cut down in modern times to fire Turkish railway engines.32 I think it is also interesting to note that the Turks taxed trees, so there was an incentive to cut down trees to alleviate the tax burden!33

As the trees were being planted and the land cleared of rocks so that it could be recultivated, the rainfall began to increase miraculously. During the 20th Century, it increased 10 percent every decade, for a total increase of over 100 percent!34

The JNF

The key to the reclamation of the land of Israel proved to be an amazing organization called The Jewish National Fund.35 It was established at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1901. Its sole purpose was to acquire and develop land for Jewish occupation.

In addition to relying on wealthy donors, the JNF raised money in down-to-earth way by distributing collection boxes to Jewish homes. These came to be know as “The Blue Boxes.” During the period between the two world wars, about one million of these tin collection boxes were distributed to Jewish homes throughout the world.36 From 1902 to the late 1940s, the JNF also sold colorful stamps to raise money.37

The JNF bought its first parcel of land in 1903. It consisted of 50 acres in Hadera, located on the Mediterranean coast, about 30 miles north of Tel Aviv.38 The organization played a central role in the establishment of the first modern Jewish city — Tel Aviv in 1909.39 By 1927, the JNF had purchased a total of over 50,000 acres of land on which 50 communities stood.40 By the eve of statehood in May 1948, the JNF had acquired 231,290 acres of land.41

The record of accomplishments of the JNF by the beginning of the 21st Century was truly remarkable. The organization owned 13 percent of the total land in Israel, and it had planted over 250 million trees. It had also built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 25,000 acres of land and established more than 1,000 parks.42

Reforestation

One of the major projects of the JNF throughout its history has been reforestation. The Bible itself has often served as the guide. For example, one of Israel’s foremost authorities on reforestation remembered that Abraham planted tamarisk trees in Beersheba, located in the southern Negev Desert area. Following Abraham’s lead, over 2 million of the trees were planted in the same area, and the discovery was made that the tamarisk thrives in areas of scanty rainfall.43

Tree Planting 1960

As pointed out before, over 250 million trees were planted in Israel during the 20th Century (and I personally planted at least 100 of them!). Israel was the only nation in the world to enter the 21st Century with a net gain of trees.44

Water Conservation

The conservation and distribution of water has also played a key role in Israel’s reclamation of its land. The major need was to devise a method to transfer water from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the major cities in the south and to the Negev Desert in the extreme south.

In 1953 construction began on a water carrier that would transport water from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev Desert in a complex system of giant pipes, open canals, tunnels, reservoirs and mammoth pumping stations. The National Water Carrier was inaugurated in 1964, with 80 percent of its water being allocated to agriculture and 20 percent for drinking water.45

Another key element was the development of drip irrigation whereby flexible water pipes were spread out on the ground with holes in them to distribute the precious water at the base of each plant. This innovation stopped the waste of water that occurred through evaporation when irrigation was done by spraying water into the air.46

Desalination Plant

As immigrants have continued to flood into Israel over the years, the demand for water has greatly increased. The latest innovation to meet those needs is the desalination of sea water. Desalination plants are being constructed all along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Desalination already provides 300 million cubic meters of water per year — almost 40 percent of the nation’s water needs.47 A new plant near Tel Aviv that will open this summer will produce 7 million gallons of potable water every hour.48

Agriculture

The result of all these reclamation efforts has been phenomenal. The land that was desolate at the beginning of the 20th Century is now the bread basket of the Middle East. The nation is now more than self-sufficient. It exports agricultural products to both the Arab countries of the Middle East and to the nations of Europe.

When people think of Jews, they normally think of people who have excelled in the area of finance. But modern Jews in Israel have made their mark in agricultural production, military prowess and, in more recent years, high-tech innovations.

Due to the diversity of the land and climate across the country, and all the efforts at reclamation, Israel is able to grow a wide range of crops. Field crops include wheat, sorghum, corn and cotton. Fruit and vegetables grown include citrus, avocados, kiwi fruit, guavas, mangoes and grapes. Additionally, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, zucchini and melons are commonly grown throughout the country. Subtropical areas produce bananas and dates, while in the northern hills, apples, pears and cherries are grown.49

Tree Planting Today

The dairies of Israel produce the highest amounts of milk per animal in the world.50 Israel is one of the world’s leading fresh citrus producers and exporters, including oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.51 The Israelis have developed the world’s first long shelf-life commercial tomato varieties.52 Israel grows vast quantities of flowers for export.53 And Israel is the world’s leader in agricultural research and development.54

Today, Israel is focusing on the greening of the Negev Desert which constitutes 55 percent of the nation’s land. They have devised water conservation techniques to save the one inch of rainfall per year in the Negev. They have also genetically engineered plants to grow on the brackish water reservoirs that exist below the surface of the desert.

As a result of these efforts, half a million Jews now live in the desert, in 250 thriving agricultural settlements.55 The American Society for Horticultural Sciences recently stated that Israel’s desert agricultural technology is “one of the most significant advances in food production in the past 1000 years.”56 Today, over 10,000 Israeli brackish water specialists are training agronomists and villages in 54 countries around the world.57

Perhaps the most amazing thing that can be said about the reclamation of the land and the agriculture it has produced is that the United Nations, which normally specializes in condemning Israel, has declared that Israel is “the most agriculturally efficient land on earth.”58

Prophecy Fulfilled

Can there be any doubt that Ezekiel’s astounding prophecy about the reclamation of the land of Israel in the end times has been fulfilled? Read it again (Ezekiel 36:34-35):

The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, “This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.”

Or consider this prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 51:3):

Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion;
He will comfort all her waste places.
And her wilderness He will make like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
Thanksgiving and sound of a melody.

In like manner, can there be any doubt that the fulfillment of these prophecies indicates that we are living in the season of the Lord’s return? Maranatha!

Notes

1) Scientific American, “50 Years Ago: The Reclamation of a Man-Made Desert,” April 1960, www.scientificamerican.com.

2) Dr. Jonathan Miesse, A Journey to Egypt and Palestine in the Year 1855 (Chillicothe, Ohio: Scioto Gazette Office, 1859).

3) Miesse, page 157.

4) Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (Hartford, Connecticut: The American Publishing Co., 1860).

5) Twain, page 482.

6) Ibid., page 485.

7) Ibid.

8) Ibid., page 520.

9) Ibid., page 555.

10) Ibid.

11) Ibid., page 606.

12) Ibid., pages 607-608.

13) Dr. Henry M. Field, Among the Holy Hills (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), page 179.

14) Sir Frederick Treves, The Land That Is Desolate: An Account of a Tour in Palestine (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1912).

15) Treves, page 21.

16) Ibid., page 33.

17) Ibid., page 40.

18) Ibid., page 120.

19) Ibid., page 177.

20) Ibid., page 193.

21) Ibid., pages 193, 196, 197.

22) Oliver C. Dalby, Rambles in Scriptural Lands (Self-published in 1924).

23) Dalby, page 91.

24) Rabbi Menachem Kohen, Prophecies for the Era of Muslim Terror: A Torah Perspective on World Events (Brooklyn, NY: Lambda Publishers, 2007).

25) Ibid., page 21.

26) Ibid., pages 28-33.

27) Jewish Virtual Library, “The Kibbutz,” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/kibbutz.html.

28) Jewish Federation of Jacksonville, “History of Hadera-Eiron Region.” http://jewishjacksonville.org/page.aspx?id=212161.

29) M. G. Wolman and F. G. A. Fournier, editors, Land Transformation in Agriculture (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 1987), chapter 8 by D. H. K. Amiran, “Land Transformation in Israel,” page 295.

30) Roy Allan Anderson and Jay Milton Hoffman, All Eyes on Israel (Ft. Worth, TX: Harvest Press, Inc., 1975. Revised edition in 1977), page 37.

31) Wolman and Fournier, Land Transformation in Agriculture, page 292.

32) Ibid., page 6.

33) Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives of the Sixty-Seventh Congress of the United States, “Establishment of a National Home in Palestine,” 1922, page 8.

34) Grant Jeffrey, “Revelation in our Generation?” http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/hardtruth/revelation_our_generation.htm. (An excerpt from Jeffrey’s book, The Signature of God published by Thomas Nelson in 1998.).

35) Jewish National Fund, “Our History,” www.jnf.org/about-jnf/history.

36) Wikipedia, “Jewish National Fund,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_National_Fund, page 2.

37) Ibid.

38) Jewish National Fund, “Our History,” page 1.

39) Ibid.

40) Ibid.

41) Wikipedia, “Jewish National Fund,” page 2.

42) Jewish National Fund, “Our History,” page 4.

43) Anderson and Hoffman, All Eyes on Israel, page 35.

44) Jewish National Fund, “Caring for the Land and Our People,” www.jnf.ca/history-nav.html, page 1.

45) Wikipedia, “National Water Carrier of Israel,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Water_Carrier_of_Israel, page 2.

46) Jon Fedler, “Israeli Agriculture: Coping with Growth,” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/agriculture/aggrowth.html, page 3.

47) Ben Sales, “Water surplus in Israel? With desalination, once unthinkable is possible,” www.jta.org, page 2.

48) Sales, page 1.

49) Wikipedia, “Agriculture in Israel,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_Israel, page 3. See also: Jon Fedler, “Israeli Agriculture: Coping with Growth,” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, pages 7-8.

50) Wikipedia, “Agriculture in Israel,” pages 3-4, and Fedler, “Israeli Agriculture…” page 8.

51) Wikipedia, “Agriculture in Israel,” page 4.

52) Ibid.

53) Ibid., page 5. See also: Fedler, “Israeli Agriculture…” page 11.

54) Jon Fedler, “Israeli Agriculture…” pages 2-3, 6-7. See also: Wikipedia, “Agriculture in Israel,” page 5.

55) Jonathan D. Auerback, “Turning sand into land: Desert farms in Israel grow lush crops from sand and salty water,” The Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1987, page 1.

56) Auerback, “Turning sand into land…” page 3.

57) Ibid.

58) Grant Jeffrey, “Revelation in our Generation?” (See #34 above).

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