The desert blossoming like a rose


Israel - The Center of the Earth



John Hoole - March 13, 2011




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Why does God in His Word speak so frequently, and with such emphasis, about the ownership of the relatively small piece of land called Israel?  First and foremost, because He is a covenant keeping God, and He wants the whole world to know it.


I also believe there is another principal involved, which is stated by Moses in Deuteronomy.


Deuteronomy 32:8 NKJV


8       When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.


This is an amazing Passage.  First, we are told that it is God that established the boundaries of all kingdoms.  But, what was God's starting point?  God, through Moses, tells us that He first calculates the land necessary for His covenant people, Israel.  The area allotted to Israel was based on the size of population that God intended them ultimately to attain.


Once the place for the Israelites has been establish - in this verse, "according to the number of the children of Israel, - God then allots the appropriate area for all nations.


God does not leave it to chance when it comes to where each nation will dwell.  He has an appointed dwelling place for each section of the human race - "the sons of Adam."  But His starting point is the land that would be necessary for His chosen people - Israel.


In the New Testament, this revelation is confirmed by another remarkable Passage of Scripture.  We find it in the words of the apostle Paul as he spoke to the men of Athens.


Acts 17:26 NIV


26     From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places [NKJV= boundaries] where they should live.


So, we see that God has determined not only where the nations will dwell, but also when they shall dwell there.  It is around God's dealings with Israel, however, and the inheritance He has appointed for them, that His dealings with all other nations revolve.  Israel is the starting point and center.


To bring out the implication of this, allow me to use a simple parable from daily life.  Suppose I am putting on a shirt with six buttons.  In buttoning up the shirt, I make a mistake so that the top button ends up in the second hole.  What will be the result?  There will be a problem all the way down - every button will be in the wrong hole.  And when I get to the bottom, there will be one button left without any hole for it. Now let's apply this simple illustration to the nations on earth.  Israel is the first button.  If Israel is not in the correct hole, then there will be something wrong with the situation of every other nation on earth.


This revelation of God's Word has a vital, practical application for people from all other nations.  When we consider God's plan for Israel, we cannot stand aside, as citizens of other lands, and say, "Israel's fate does not concern us."  The fact is, the well-being of every nation is at stake.  Until Israel enters into its full inheritance, the other nations can never enjoy the blessings that God has in store for them also.


The nation of Israel was always center stage, and the Bible mentions Gentile nations only insofar as they had contact with Israel.  The Scriptures present Egypt in relation to Moses and the Exodus.  The Canaanites were shown as the objects of conquest by the children of those who left Egypt.  Babylon is shown to the extent that it figured in the destruction of the Temple, as well as the Israelite captivity.  Persia is spoken about from the context of who allowed the restoration of Jerusalem.  And Rome is part of the picture only as it had an effect on New Testament Jewish life.  Through all these contacts with the Gentile nations, Israel remains the nation around which Scriptural history revolves.


Over the past several weeks, we have investigated the coming invasion of Israel. as it is described in Ezekiel 38 & 39.  There is one Scripture among that passage that relates to Israel's central role in biblical history.  It is found in the 38th chapter.


Ezekiel 38:12 NASU


12     to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.'


Do you see that last phrase?  This passage speaks of the Jews being gathered from all the nations to which they had be scattered, and were now resident at the center of the world.  Israel was established by God as the center of the earth.  All other countries were established by God only after His chosen land was established.


Some might question me, saying, "my New King James says, '...who dwell in the midst of the land.'"  Another could say, "my NIV reads, 'living at the center of the land.'"  But, if you think about it, each of these statements are saying what I just read from the NAS.  "Living at the center of the land" must be more than just the land of Israel.  The Jews do not live just at the center of Israel, but they inhabit all of Israel.  And they all live in the center of all the earth.


Here are how it reads in a few more Bible translations.


         RSV                 "who dwell in the center of the earth."


         Amplified          "who dwell at the center of the earth."


         TLB                  "the whole earth revolves around them."


         New Century    "who live at the center of the world."


         New English     "who live at the center of the earth."


         ESV                 "who dwell at the center of the earth."


         ASV                "that dwell in the middle of the earth."


         World English Bible      "who dwell in the middle of the earth."


         Holman Christian Standard Bible       "who live at the center of the world."



We read a similar phrase in another verse earlier in Ezekiel's prophecy.  We find it in chapter 5.


Ezekiel 5:5 NIV


5       "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.


God has set Jerusalem at the center of the nations.  All nations have been placed around with this city as the center of them all.  The Hebrew word translated as either 'center" or 'middle' of the earth in each passage, is a word that literally means "navel."  In this context, we see Jerusalem and Israel as being at the geographical navel of the earth.


Israel is known by a number of names.  It has been called Canaan, Eretz Yisrael, Zion, or simply ha-eretz, meaning “the land.”  Ha-eretz is a sign of its belovedness and significance to the Jew.  It is the Holy Land, par excellence.


For the Jew, Judaism encompasses three core ideas: God (Yahweh), the Torah, and Eretz (the Land).  The Land of Israel is a very special place.  To the Jew it is the only place on earth where they can achieve their mission.


Deuteronomy 11:10-12  (NKJV) says:


For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but…. It is a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it (eyes on the land), from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.


We are told here that there is a definite difference between this land and the land they came from.  The Promised Land is called a “good land” some sixteen times in the Old Testament.  It is further describes as a “land flowing with milk and honey” another 23 times.  Indeed, there is something very special about this land.  But it isn’t so special without the legitimate inhabitants.


Israel and its chief city Jerusalem was created by God and placed at the center of the earth so that she could be a light to the nations as the Lord desired.  God desired to use her to spread His message across the globe.  The Jewish Rabbi Fisch notes, "Jerusalem intended to be the radiating center of the knowledge of God for all peoples."  He goes on to say that it is only in such a context that Ezekiel 38:12, which we read a moment ago, which finds Israel the center of the earth.


The Jews were only given the land because of their mission which was given to them by God.  If they abandon the mission, they lose the land.  Living outside of Israel is viewed as an unnatural state for a Jew.  For the Jewish person, the world outside of Israel is referred to by the Hebrew word, GALUT or its root GALAH (Gaw-law’).  It is meant to be a disgraceful term, referring to their EXILE or CAPTIVITY.  Today we usually use the term Diaspora, meaning “dispersion.”


The Old Testament is largely a story of the people’s relationship with the land.  At the core is “the Promised Land.”  And the action of the story largely concerns either a moving towards or away from this land.  The people are either wandering aliens longing for this land, or possessors of the land scheming to maintain possession of it.


Biblical history is the history of Israel.  It is different from all other histories. Secular scholars consider the movements of nations and armies to be the core of world history.  Church historians, on the other hand, see its history through great ecclesiastical conferences, as well as the great outpourings of the Holy Spirit or the "Great Awakenings."


It is remarkable, but the Bible alone views history from the vantage point of Israel.  The prophet Isaiah, for instance, also envisioned Israel as occupying "the center of the earth."  Isaiah 19:24 reads: "In that day shall Israel be.....a blessing in the midst of the earth."


One thing that makes the Land of Israel and the Jew different from all other places is this.  Virtually every nation in the world bases its claim to its land on conquest.  "Might makes right” is the historical claim of almost all nations in history.  To the victor goes the spoils, including the land.


However, the Jewish people base their claim on God’s promise.  God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit the land of Israel as an eternal possession.


In the words of the Bible, 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, 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 is was a stream and on its banks a great heard 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.”


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.”


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.  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 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

Huleh Valley IsraelHuleh Valley Israel 

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.


The Bible tells us of a future time where the curse meted out to Adam, Eve, Satan and the earth in Genesis 3 will be reversed.  We can, even today, begin to see the beginnings of this happen before our eyes.


 Isaiah 35:1-7 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 1.2 billion 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.  As good as it is in the land today, during the Millennium it will be increased dramatically.


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.'