This post is a little different from what we typically share on this site. Rather than an in-depth study, it’s adapted from a presentation we gave recently at my parents’ congregation. My dad and I spent a week in Israel and Jordan this spring, and we wanted to share some of our travels in the Holy Land, focusing on where they show up in the bible and some of the history or prophecy tied to them.
Similar to how we started the live presentation, we’re starting here by talking through a few maps, just to ground the overall discussion. That way once we dive into individual sites you can refer back here if necessary. It’s also helpful to have some context on the modern state of Israel and some of the dynamics and politics of that area, so we’ll provide a (super topline) bit on that at the end of this post. Once you’ve read through this post, here are the next ones:
- Post #1: Northern Israel: Caesarea, Sea of Galilee area, Akko
- Post #2: Tel Aviv & Old Jaffa, Be’er Sheva, & the Negev Desert
- Post #3: Bedouin Culture & History in Wadi Rum and Petra, Jordan
- Post #4: Jerusalem, Masada, En Gedi, & the Dead Sea
What do we mean by the Holy Land?
Roughly speaking, the Holy Land encompasses the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (and including the eastern bank of the Jordan). The ruins of the world’s oldest civilizations lie within this region, and most (though not quite all) of the bible takes place within its borders.
For this particular trip, we spent time in the country of Israel as well as southern Jordan. The map below shows the modern state of Israel and some of the key cities and sites. While not marked on the map, we also visited Wadi Rum and the lost city of Petra in Jordan, which are both in the south—to the east of Eilat (Wadi Rum; Eilat is at the very tip of Israel, if the map is fuzzy) and southeast of Mitzpe Ramon (Petra); both are about halfway over in Jordan on the part pictured by this map.
Putting the modern state of Israel into perspective
Something that many people don’t really realize is how small today’s Israel is. The whole country is about the size of New Jersey. Unless you’re from the Northeast, that probably doesn’t mean much, so I overlaid it on my home state of Kansas for comparison—this fun website allows you to set a point of comparison and it will overlay Israel on it. By our U.S. standards that is so tiny!
The map below really puts it into context with the rest of the region. They are a very small nation surrounded by massive, hostile neighbors. Their citizens can’t really travel freely over any of their borders. In learning a lot about modern Israel, their history and military, as well as entrepreneurial and tech economy, I was really fascinated by the country and people. This feeling of being hemmed in and the constant threat of war really has shaped them, and I’ve been learning a lot more about the country since returning to the U.S. (I’ve included a recommendation at the bottom of the post for a book I’ve been reading that is awesome).
One other thing you can see with the map below is a better picture of what God’s promised land to the Israelites really was. There are differing opinions of exactly how much land it encompassed, and we don’t have any way of truly knowing. In the bible, God promises Abraham an heir (Isaac) and that He will give his descendants the land “from the river of Egypt [the Nile] to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18). It’s honestly hard to tell the north/south piece of that. Even conservatively it’s a huge area, much bigger than modern Israel today. It would encompass parts of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and more.
Finally, this map just gives you a little sense of how the tribes of Israel settled after the Exodus and 40 years’ wanderings. You can see some of the primary settlements and cities, as well as how they were flanked by the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, and Edom. We’ll talk a lot more about all of those as we visit certain areas, so I found this a really helpful visual.
The path of modern Israel
As most people are aware, the modern state of Israel was founded in 1948 and was immediately recognized as a sovereign state by both superpowers of the time, the U.S. and Soviets. There is a LOT of political background, promises, genocide, broken promises, and more that came before it, but that would be several posts in and of itself. I’d encourage you to research it yourself, as it’s really interesting. Several Arab states, including Egypt, Transjordan, and Iraq, did not recognize the country’s legitimacy, and instead they attacked the fledgling country immediately, starting the first Arab-Israeli war.
Though almost no one would have predicted it, the new state won, and after Israel’s victory the country continued to be settled by Jewish immigrants, many of whom were WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors. They began settling in cities but also beginning (at the urging of their first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion) to settle and care for the desert, plant millions of trees, and problem-solve things like irrigation. Today the country leads the world in technology and innovation, entrepreneurship, and venture capital investment.
There have been several other wars, but the 1967 Six-Day War is probably the most famous (and most fascinating). Part of Israel’s victory was gaining control of Jerusalem’s Old City, and the story of how they preemptively took out Egypt’s air force and then battled the Jordanian military for the city is pretty interesting. I have a book on my wishlist that covers this war as well, and can’t wait to learn more about it.
One of the things that strikes me when learning about some of the military successes is just how unlikely they were, and to me God’s hand in the outcomes is clear. Quite frankly, the continued existence of the state is nothing short of a miracle and, I believe, 100% God’s intention.
As I mentioned above, I’ve been reading “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Senor & Saul Singer. It comes at the modern history from an economic and entrepreneurship standpoint but it’s still incredibly effective and super interesting. I’m still looking for a great book that focuses solely on the history and military aspect, so if you have recommendations I’d love them! Note: that is an affiliate link so I may make a small commission through Amazon if you purchase it, but at no additional cost to you. If that bothers you, just search for it on Amazon yourself!
Hopefully this helps set the stage for exploring areas of modern Israel and Jordan…next we’ll dive into the north of Israel, where Jesus spent most of his life and earthly ministry!
If you have questions, we’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below or send us a message!