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BIBLE BRIEFING

Biblical background to the events shaping contemporary history in the Middle East
"So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city." (Genesis 23: 17-18)
TO THOSE WHO REVERE THE BIBLE AS THE SACRED WORD OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL, NOTHING BETWEEN ITS COVERS IS THERE BY CHANCE, EVERYTHING IT CONTAINS SERVES A PURPOSE; ALL IT CONTAINS IS TRUE.

At this time, when many Bible believers may be struggling about the stand they should take regarding the international effort to wrest Hebron from the Jews, it is important to note that the Bible devotes the entire 23rd chapter of Genesis to the negotiations between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite* concerning the acquisition of a field and cave in Hebron.

* As a matter of interest, especially to those holding the argument that Hebron belonged to the Arabs' forefathers before the Israelites took it, the Oxford Dictionary defines a Hittite as "a member of a powerful and widespread ancient (non-Semitic) people".
If one considers that a single Bible chapter describes the creation of the entire universe, then the space given to the painstaking description of Abraham's buying of the land cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.

Emphasised is Abraham's determination to pay for the field, and to pay its full value, despite Ephron's apparent willingness to let him have the land free (verse 9). And repeatedly stressed is the fact that the transaction took place in front of numerous witnesses (verses 10, 12, 13, 16, 17 and 18).

It is as if the Writer knew all those years ago (as indeed we believe He did know), that controversy would one day rage over the ownership rights to this land-a controversy that could impact the region, even the world.

How amazing, then, that this small and remote town today commands almost daily global attention, and that on it is hinged the future of the entire "peace" process into which the world has poured so much energy, money and time.

In this chapter, and in many subsequent ones, the Bible indeed leaves no doubt that it was the father of the people of Israel who bought and owned land in Hebron, and his sons and their descendants who populated and developed the town.

Biblical and contemporary history record for all who want to see that continuously, from the time Hebron was a center of Israelite existence, and through the last 3000 years, Abraham's descendants, the Jewish people, have lived in Hebron, and have held the city in their hearts.

ABRAHAM: ALSO FATHER TO THE ARABS? Those demanding Israel surrender Herbron often speak about Abraham as "the father of two great nations, the Arabs and the Jews".

Thus President Bill Clinton told the Knesset in October 1994:

"Despite all the dangers ... you are far closer to the day when all the children of Abraham, the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael, will live side by side in peace".
Jews trace their lineage back through Jacob to Isaac to Abraham. Arabs trace theirs back to Esau or Ishmael, among others, (the Canaanites, Philistines etc) and therefore, they say, also to Abraham.
(While some historians refute the Arab claim to be "sons of Ishmael", it is almost universally accepted that they are.)

Well, God says that Esau has no inheritance in this land:

"Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness." [Malachi 1:2-3]
And regarding Ishmael, the Bible records that he was born to Abram, not Abraham. Ishmael was born before Isaac, and yet, after the second boy's birth, God instructed Abraham to:
"Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah...." [Genesis 22: 2]
It seems clear that God calls Isaac Abraham's only son because Ishmael was born to Abram (Exalted Father). God changed his name and destiny to Abraham, Father of many nations, between the births of Ishmael and Isaac.

It is immediately after this renaming that the LORD reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham.

"And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
"Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlastingpossession; and I will be their God." [Genesis 17:7-8]
God went on to declare that His covenant would be established with Isaac and Isaac's descendants, not with Ishmael and his. This despite Abraham's pleading with God for Ishmael to be the one:
And Abraham said to God, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!"
Then God said:
"No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.

"And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

"But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year." [Genesis 17:18-21]

ABRAHAM DID NOT GRAB THE LAND Despite God's promise to give the "length and breadth" of the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants [Genesis 13:17], the Patriarch did not simply assume ownership of the land, but recognised that he was "a foreigner and a sojourner" among its residents. [Genesis 23:4].

NOTE: Abraham did not act in presumption and just take the land by force, something he may well have been able to do. (Genesis 14 records that his servants were mighty warriors who, under his leadership, defeated four kings and their men in battle.) Instead, he waited, believing that God would keep His covenant to a future generation of his descendants, as God had told him earlier, just after he had routed the kings. Then He said to Abram:

"Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.

"And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

"Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.

"But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." [Genesis 15:13-16]

It was Abraham's unshakeable faith in God's commitment to keeping His promises, the faith he demonstrated so powerfully in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, that was to win him his reward.

"And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" [Genesis 15:6]
NOTE: It would have been wrong, therefore, for Abraham to wage war against the inhabitants of the land to take it, not because war was wrong, but because the time was not yet right.

The Bible tells us that when the time came for his descendants to conquer the land, that taking it by force was right.

In fact, it says that even though they took most of it in war, it was God, not them who did so:

For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favoured them. (Psalm 44:3)

WILL HEBRON GO, AND WILL HEBRON'S JEWS BE REMOVED? It looks almost certain, as we write this, that Israel's government will cede control of 80 per cent of Hebron to Yasser Arafat. The reason not all of Hebron is scheduled to go is because of the 500 Jews living in the heart of the town.

But surrendering any amount of Hebron is viewed as a terrible sin by those who believe that God gave the city back to Israel in 1967.

On November 13, Hebron resident Rabbi Gary Cooperberg wrote:

"The G-d of Israel has given us the ability to return to all the Land of Israel and to rebuild a truly Jewish state here. It is only our fear and blindness which prevents us from bringing instant redemption."
It will certainly be a tragedy which, as in the case of the surrender of Gaza, Jericho, Shechem, Bethlehem, Ram'Allah and the other towns, could well lead to the shedding of more blood.

Actually, Rabbi Cooperberg is one of the still-trusting few who do not believe the Hebron agreement will be reached, no matter how clear the signs that it will.

Israel's enemies have made it unequivocally clear that their end goal is the eradication of all Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which means the removal of all the Jews from Hebron.

But on October 31, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: "There will be no uprooting of the Jewish community in Hebron-not now, not tomorrow, and not ever, in any shape or form."

As we watch and hear these things let us, like Abraham, remember God's promises.

"Then say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel..." [Ezekiel 37:21-22]

"For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up." [Jeremiah 24:6]

"I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God." [Amos 9:15]

TAKE NOTE: Despite all the accords and agreements, the enormous political pressure, the internationally acclaimed signing ceremonies in Washington DC and on the Israeli-Jordanian border, the IDF redeployment from town after town in Gaza, Judea and Samaria; despite all the violence and hatred and threats, despite all of this, not ONE Jewish settlement inside the Biblical borders of the Land of Israel has been uprooted.*
*The settlement of Yamit, together with other Israeli settlements and towns established in the Sinai after 1967 and demolished or handed over to Egypt in 1982, lies on the other side of the River of Egypt, and so falls outside the boundaries of the Promised Land as delineated in Genesis 15:18.
The Bible's consistency regarding the ownership of the entire land of Israel, starting at Hebron, and how Israel got it, is unchallengeable. And God's promise to restore the Jews to the Mountains of Israel, (called by the world's press and politicians "the West Bank" and "occupied land") and to keep them there, stands.

Stan Goodenough

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