All God’s instructions to His people are based in and around the land He promised us. So it’s very hard to understand the Bible without some knowledge of Israel itself. In these turbulent times, it may now be more important than ever to get to know the promised land, which, now it’s back in the hands of its people, is flourishing again.
Israel’s landmass is between 25 and 27 thousand square kilometres, and is mostly made up of desert. Israel has never had an abundance of natural resources. While it has recently discovered large deposits of natural gas, which hopefully will become a major export, it boasts no wealth in minerals or oil.
But the country has been beset by invaders throughout history because of its strategic location. At the crossroads between Europe to the north, Asia to the east and Africa to the south, it was a key part of the safest and most popular trade root of the time, and foreign kings were eager to control it.
Since the day of Israel’s re-establishment, it has been surrounded, once again, by hostility. Though it has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, all its other neighbours are its enemies, along with much of the wider Middle East. Despite this it has won many victories since its rebirth. It is perhaps more beset by tribulation than any other country in the world, but it is now home to 6.1 million Jews, more than were killed in the holocaust.
Living in Israel has always required a special trust in God, that He will keep His people safe. The celebration of Shabbat, commemorating God’s day of rest after His six days of work, is a weekly reminder of God’s eternal covenant with His people.
In the evening ritual, a blessing is recited over a glass of wine. “Blessed art Thou, Lord God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” Two loaves of bread will then be broken and dipped in salt, with the words “blessed art thou, Lord God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” The bread and wine will be shared among the family.
The crops of wheat and grapes were practically invaluable to the Israelites in Biblical times, so they’re often used as metaphors in the Bible. For example, they once used a device called a tribulum, a board with stones embedded in it which was dragged over the top of harvested wheat, separating the kernel from the chaff. The crushed wheat was then tossed in the air, where the wind would blow away the chaff, leaving only the kernels that could be ground and made into bread. God uses the tribulum to explain the time of tribulation that will befall those believers who aren’t ready for His return.
Israel’s central mountain range, Judea and Samaria, is the ancient heartland of the Jewish people. When they left Egypt, a fertile country with the waters of the Nile always close at hand, it must have taken tremendous faith for them to accept that they should live in this harsh, dry place.
Water was so scarce there that it was often kept in cisterns throughout the nine dry months of the year. Wine was used as a purifying agent, essential for keeping it safe and healthy. Water and wine was a common drink amongst young and old alike, and was never abused.
Traditionally, grapes used in wine are crushed with bare feet, scrubbed clean. This is because the seeds of the grapes, if crushed by shoes or a stone, would give the wine a bitter taste. Bare feet leave the seeds intact, thus preserving the wine’s sweet flavour. It’s suspected that Yeshua himself worked at a wine press in Nazareth village, where He began His life.
Despite its importance to the Jews, wine was forbidden during Israel’s Muslim occupation. In fact very little grew during the time of diaspora. But since the return of its people, the land that had become baron has been revived.
Now, once again, there are vineyards in Israel, in fulfilment of the prophecy from Amos 9:13-15. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”