Question: "What is the land that God promised to Israel?"
Answer: There is probably no more disputed real estate on earth than the land of Israel. Even calling it “Israel” will raise objections from some quarters. The Jewish people lay claim to the land because they first held possession of it millennia ago and because God directly gave them the land, as recorded in the Bible.
In Genesis 12:7, God promises Abram, who had just arrived in Canaan, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Later, in Genesis 15:18, God expands on that unconditional promise: “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (NASB). Then, in Genesis 17:8, God reiterates the promise to Abraham, adding that the land gift is irrevocable: “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.” God later repeats the promise to Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:3–4) and Isaac’s son Jacob (Genesis 28:13), whose name God later changed to Israel.
In the Abrahamic Covenant, then, God laid out the extent of the land that would belong to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—a territory including all of Canaan and stretching from Egypt to modern-day Iraq. Several centuries later, when it came time for the Israelites actually take possession of the Promised Land, God again spoke of a vast area “from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites” (Joshua 1:4, NLT).
The promise of land belonging to the children of Israel is permanent. Even when Israel was expelled from their land, which has happened twice in history, God promised they would return: “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 30:4–5). This promise is part of what is today sometimes called the Palestinian Covenant or the Land Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1—30:10).
In foretelling the removal of Israel from their land, the Palestinian Covenant anticipated the Babylonian Captivity (586 BC) and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70). In both cases, the promise of the covenant held true: the Jews regained their land and their nation in 537 BC and again in AD 1948. Israel is still in their land, despite the fact that their conquerors, Babylon and Rome, are long gone. All of this reinforces the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that God would establish Israel in their land as His chosen people (Deuteronomy 29:13). The Land Covenant also contains some special promises to Israel that many believe will not be completely fulfilled until the millennial reign of Christ.
According to Genesis 15:18 and Joshua 1:4, the land God gave to Israel included everything from the Nile River in Egypt to Lebanon (south to north) and everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River (west to east). On today’s map, the land God has stated belongs to Israel includes everything modern-day Israel possesses, plus all of the territory occupied by the Palestinians (the West Bank and Gaza), plus some of Egypt and Syria, plus all of Jordan, plus some of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Thus, Israel currently possesses only a fraction of the land God has promised; the rest of their inheritance likely awaits the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God has given His word that the nation of Israel will never cease as long as the sun still shines by day and the moon and stars still shine by night (Jeremiah 31:35–37).