Ownership of land was very important in biblical times. Heck, it still is! Who doesn’t think that they’ve “made it” when they finally purchase their first home? To own property is to reach a degree of prosperity that makes you a “someone.” Recall that, in the Old Testament, the Jewish people find themselves in slavery in the land of Egypt. They have no land to call their own, and therefore, they have no identity. So, when God sends Moses to free the Jewish people from slavery and lead them into freedom, he promises them land – something that will identify them as a people and as a nation. This wasn’t some last minute after thought, however, that God threw in to sweeten the pot. It was part of God’s plan from the beginning.
When God called Abram and established his Covenant with him, he promised to make him the father of a great nation and he promised him land: “Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” (Gn 12:7) The promised land originally refers to a region that extends from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates river (see Ex. 23:21) This promise is finally fulfilled at the end of the 40 year journey through the desert following the Exodus (see Dt 1:8). In order to occupy the land, however, the Jewish people first needed to conquer the Canaanites who were dwelling there. Now, if you don’t think that land is very important to people, take note of the fact that the dispute over this land continues today and is at the heart of many of the problems in the Middle East that we hear about on the news on a regular basis. To Jews and Christians, this land is considered the Promised Land and the rightful property of the state of Israel. At the same time, however, non-Jews in the region claim rightful ownership of this land because their ancestors were there first. And so, the conflict continues.