The desert blossoming like a rose



Dr. John Hoole




Genesis 15:18 reads:


     On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land…’


My intention this morning is not so much to establish the fact that this land belongs to Israel, but rather to look at what God said about the physical land during the time the Jews were scattered, and what would happen to it when they returned.


First, let’s look at what God said about the land during the time when its people would be in exile.


Leviticus 26:32-33 NKJV


32    I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.

33    I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.


Leviticus 26:32 (NIV) puts verse 32 this way:


     32       I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled.


Notice a few things here.


1.   This is the work of God “I will lay waste the land” – “I will scatter you among the nations.”  God says that when He scatters the Jews, the land will become desolate and waste.


 2. The land will be inhabited by Israel’s enemies in their absence.  And those who live in it will be astonished – appalled – because they can’t grow anything.  God makes the land lay waste while the Israelites are not there.


Even up to the time of Flavius Josephus, a 1st century historian, the land was still very prosperous and fertile.  I quote him from Book 3 of The Jewish Wars.


 “For the whole area is excellent for crops and pasturage and rich in trees of every kind, so that by its fertility it invites even those least inclined to work on the land.  In fact, every inch of it has been cultivated by the inhabitants and not a parcel goes to waste.  It is thickly covered with towns, and thanks to the natural abundance of the soil, the many villages are so densely populated that the smallest of them has more than fifteen thousand inhabitants.”


After the Diaspora, that is, the scattering of the Jews, beginning in AD 70, the land became desolate, unable to grow much of anything.


During the two thousand years of Israel’s exile from its land, numerous empires have conquered the Land, and countless wars were fought for its possession. And yet, astonishingly, no conqueror ever succeeded in permanently settling the Land.  Neither have they been able to cause it to bloom.


Mark Twain visited Israel in 1867.  (His Book – Innocents Abroad).  I want to quote three observations he made about the land.


“We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse…  A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.  The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare. Repulsive and dreary the landscape became.”


In describing the  territory around the Sea of Galilee, he called it a “blistering, naked, treeless land.” He spoke of the villages as “ugly, cramped, squalid, uncomfortable and filthy.”  He adds,


“the villages are a “solitude to make one dreary….unpeopled deserts….rusty mounds of barrenness, that never, never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines…this stupid village of Tiberias, slumbering under its six funereal plumes of palms; yonder desolate declivity where the swine of the miracle ran down into the sea, and doubtless thought it was better to swallow a devil or two and get drowned in the bargain than have to live longer in such a place.”


Here is another quote of Mark Twain from the same book.  He looks at a barren Judean hills in Israel, and writes:


“Close to it was a stream and on its banks a great herd of curious looking Syrian sheep and the sheep were gratefully eating gravel.  I do not state this as a petrified fact – I only suppose they were eating gravel because there did not appear to be anything else for them to eat.”


What a barren and wasted land Palestine was only about 150 years ago.


Alfon de Lamartine said in 1845, in his book, “Recollections from the East”:


“Outside the walls of Jerusalem however we saw no living being, heard no living voice.  We encountered that desolation and that deadly silence which we would have expected to find at the ruined gates of Pompey….A total eternal dread spell envelopes the city, the highways and the villages...”


Professor Sir John William Dosson, in his book, “Modern Science in Bible Lands” (1888), said:


“Until today no people has succeeded in establishing national dominion in the land of Israel….No national unity or spirit of nationalism has acquired any hold there.  The mixed multitude of itinerant tribes that managed to settle there did so on lease, as temporary residents.  It seems that they await the return of the permanent residents of the land.”


Ezekiel 36:34 NKJV said this would happen.


34     The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by.


The land stayed that way until a dozen “Jewish pioneers” – ten men and 2 women - decided, in 1910, to attempt to farm a small area of land in norther Israel on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee where it flows into the Jordan River. They formed Israel’s first kibbutz – a farming community.  Today there are 270 kibbutzim, and the land of Israel has blossomed like a rose.


God said the land will stubbornly “refuse” to bear fruit, unless the Jews – its legitimate caretaker – lived on and cultivated it.  It will blossom, but only for its rightful owner.


For nearly two thousand years, much of the Land of Israel had become desert and swamps.  Then the Jews began to come – slowly at first – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


In 1905, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands observed: “The Jews have come in vain.  Only God can check the blight of the inrushing desert.”  How true his statement was for the miracle that has happened in Israel.


When the Jews began returning to the Land, only then did the Land blossom and give forth its produce.


      In 1948, there were several areas that were malaria-infested swamps.  One of those was the Huleh Valley, north of the Sea of Galilee.


If you were to look at an old map of Israel, you would see a small lake, 15 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  This is lake Huleh.


Many maps today do not show that lake  In 1951, Israel drained the swamp, ridding all of the malaria.  The Huleh Valley has become a very rich land growing multitudes of crops.  Let me show you some pictures of the area today.


Isaiah 51:3 NKJV


3    For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.


When one considers how that during most of the last 2,000 years, the land of Israel lay in total desolation and utter deforestation throughout the land, it is remarkable that the Bible prophesies that the land would be abundantly fertile again in the last days.

      The Roman Legion stripped the land of its trees and burned its orchards.  The Turkish absentee landlords displayed no genuine concern for the land.


Again, in Mark Twain’s book, The Innocents Abroad, he comments about his 1867 tour of the Holy Land.


“There is 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.”


That was all well and truthful until the Jews returned to their ancient land.  They have transformed the Promised Land into the most agriculturally efficient land on earth.  The value of the agricultural crops produces annually exceeds $2 billion dollars. Today, Israel supplies over 90% of the citrus fruit consumed by Europeans.


Isaiah 27:6 NKJV speaks about those returning to Israel.


6    Those who come He shall cause to take root in Jacob; Israel shall blossom and bud, And fill the face of the world with fruit.


This is echoed by the prophet Ezekiel.


Ezekiel 36:8-9 NKJV


8    But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are about to come.

9    For indeed I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown.


The astonishing fertility of Israel in the last days is verified by these yields:


•  Peak yields of tomatoes reach 202 tons per acre.


•  1.2 million roses are grown in greenhouses per acre per season.


•  Vineyards are being planted in Samaria and are winning international awards.


•  In the Negev Desert, peak yields of citrus reach 32 tons per acre.


•  Over 150,000 tons of peppers are harvested each year in the Arava.


•  24% of Israel’s workforce hold university degrees.  That ranks third in the industrialized world, after the United States and Holland.


•  Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce.  That is, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U.S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany.


They are using a remarkable new drip-irrigation technique that ensures every drop of water is delivered directly to the plant’s roots.


      They utilize fertilizer from the minerals in the Dead Sea.  This has allowed Israel’s farmers to turn the deserts into lush gardens growing bananas, mangos, watermelon and grapes.


This was all prophesied by the Old Testament prophets.


Isaiah 35:1,2,7 NKJV


1   The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;

2    It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God.


7    The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; In the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.


Think of it.  All nature will finally do what it was created to do.  It will exist in harmony and perfect balance.

Since the Jews returned to this land, things have changed dramatically.  One author in the 1800’s counted the trees in Palestine and reported there were less than a thousand.


      Today there are more than 300 million fully grown, mature trees.  There was a conscious and concerted effort by the Jews to plant trees.  Today, half of their trees are forest trees – half are fruit trees.  Currently, Israel exports about 80% of its fruit harvest.


We have watched, in our lifetime, the unfolding of Bible prophecy in the land of Israel.  It has happened just exactly the way the Bible said it would.


We live in exciting times.  As good as it is in the land today, during the Millennium it will be increased dramatically.  The Jews are back in the Promised Land, and we are seeing signs pointing to the return of Christ.


Isaiah 41:18-20  (NIV) speaks specifically of the land of Israel.


18     I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.

19     I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together,

20     so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.


The pictures I am now showing you are taken in the Negev Desert, where much of the land has been reclaimed and made irrigable. On this trip we ate some of the best tasting watermelon I have ever tasted.


There are hundreds – possibly thousands – of these covered areas in the desert, where crops are growing and bearing great fruit.




To this point, we have examined carefully a series of prophetic Scriptures that unfold God's purposes for the Jewish people and for the state of Israel.


Out of these Scriptures, four main conclusions have emerged.


First, as this age draws to a close, God has been at work regathering His people Israel from all nations of the world.  He has brought, and continues to bring, He continues to bring them back to their own land.  He has again made them one united nation.


Second, The geographical and political regathering is a prelude to their spiritual renewal yet to come.


Third, This regathering and restoration began about the turn of the 20th century, and has been continuing steadily ever since.


Fourth, the welfare of all nations is bound up with the fulfillment of God's plan for Israel.


Let me close with verses from Jeremiah 31, which exhorts us on how to respond to Israel's future.


Jeremiah 31:7-8 NIV


7    This is what the Lord says: "Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, 'O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.'

8    See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return."


Jeremiah 31:10 NIV


10     "Hear the word of the Lord, O nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: 'He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'