There should be no doubt in the mind of serious Bible students that the land known as Palestine was providentially prepared by God for the coming of his Son and the redemptive plan Jesus would implement. The prophet Isaiah described that territory as “your land, O Immanuel” (Isa. 8:8; cf. 7:14).
The territory possessed by the Israelites is depicted in various ways in the Scriptures.
Canaan was the name of the region occupied by several pagan tribes. They were reputed to have descended of Noah’s grandson (cf. Gen. 9:18) who dominated the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their territory consisted of are region about 150 miles north to south and 50 miles west to east.
Palestine embraced the areas on both sides of the Jordan River. The sections encompassing both east and west of the river were approximately 150 miles north to south, and 80 miles from west to east.
The country was surrounded by natural features that provided a measure of protection. The mountains of Lebanon lay to the north. The Mediterranean Sea was a barrier to the west. The rather barren Negeb territory to the south and the tableland to the east that faded into the Arabian Desert were also protective regions.
The most significant threats to Israel were the heathen tribes resident in the land that should have been eliminated, as commanded by God. The Israelites never completed this assignment.
Natural Divisions of Palestine
The Mediterranean Sea borders on the west of Canaan. It is the largest inland body of water in the world, 2,300 miles east to west and 1,200 miles north to south.
The land itself can be divided into four topographical regions, beginning in the west and proceeding to the east.
The strip of Canaan bordering the sea is called the Maritime Plain. It extends the length of the land, punctuated by Mount Carmel on the northern coast and bordered by pagan Phoenicia a bit farther north.
Proceeding to the east is a mountainous region, from Hermon in the north (9,232 feet) down to Mount Hebron (3,366 feet) in the south.
To the east of the western mountains is the rugged valley coursed by the Jordan River. The river begins in the north some 1,700 feet above sea level and plummets southward, where it finally empties into the Dead Sea almost 1,300 feet below sea level. This is the lowest body of water on earth and is forty-eight miles long.
Somewhere in this area were the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, famous for their sexual perversion. This is the origin of the term “sodomy.”
To the east of the Jordan Valley is an elevated tableland. The mountains of this area are higher and steeper than those that are west of the Jordan. From their summits, a plain stretches eastward toward the Syrian Desert. The land is fertile and suited for pasturage (see Hurlbut’s excellent work, 14).
The northern section of this eastern region is Bashan, the central is Gilead, and in the south lies Moab.
Important Mountains in Palestine
It is interesting to identify some of the important events of Scripture with the geographical places at which they occurred.
Mount Carmel is located at that promontory point on the Mediterranean coast just below Phoenicia. It rises 1,750 feet above the sea and is the notable place where the prophet Elijah contested with certain false prophets. Here, God’s prophet slew 450 of Baal’s devotees (1 Kgs. 18:22, 40).
Mount Kurn Hattin is not specifically mentioned by name in the New Testament, but it lies just west of the northern region adjacent to the Sea of Galilee, rising some 1,200 feet above the area. It is identified with the place where Christ preached what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt. 5:1).
Farther south in the western highlands was Mount Gerizim. It lay about thirty miles north of Jerusalem. It rose above the surrounding terrain some 3,084 feet. Nearby was Jacob’s well, where Christ had the conversation with the Samaritan woman, leading eventually to the conversion of numerous Samaritans (Jn. 4:1-42).
Mount Moriah was one of the three mountains associated with Jerusalem. It stood 2,450 feet above sea level and was the site of the Hebrew temple (2 Chron. 3:1). It was the place where Isaac was offered in the days of Abraham (Gen. 22).
The Mount of Olives was eastward across the Kidron ravine, 2,665 feet tall, looming over Jerusalem. It was a place where Jesus commonly came for prayer (Jn. 18:1ff). It was the location where he foretold the coming destruction of Jerusalem, followed by a discussion of the final judgment (Mt. 24).
Mount Nebo is located just east of the northern end of the Dead Sea. This is where Moses died and was buried by God (Dt. 34:5-6).
Important Cities in Palestine
Gaza was a Philistine stronghold along the southern Mediterranean coast. It was the place of Samson’s death (Judg. 16). The Ethiopian eunuch was headed in this direction when intersected by Philip, who taught him the gospel and baptized him into Christ (Acts 8:26ff).
North of Gaza, some forty-five miles up the coast, was Joppa. Peter was residing here with Simon, a tanner. It is at this location that Peter was summoned to travel up the coast to Caesarea. There, the centurion Cornelius was waiting to hear about Christ. The first Gentiles entered the church through obedience to the gospel plan of redemption in Caesarea (Acts 10:47-48).
Jerusalem was twenty miles west of the northern end of the Dead Sea. It was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah and was the location of the Hebrew temple. Christ was crucified just outside the city (Heb. 13:12). Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, fulfilling the Lord’s prophecy in Matthew 24.
Jericho was in the Jordan Valley, sixteen miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was the first city destroyed when the Hebrews entered Canaan (Josh. 6). It figured prominently in the Lord’s parable of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37).
Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem, was the birthplace of Jesus. This event fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 regarding the location of the Messiah’s birth. The inspired Matthew confirms this fulfillment (cf. 2:5-6).
Nazareth was the home of the young Jesus until he sought out John the Baptizer (Mt. 3) and began his public ministry at the age of thirty (Lk. 3:23). Nazareth was located about eighteen miles west of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. The community had a sordid reputation that somewhat fell upon the Lord, thus fulfilling certain enigmatic prophecies of the Old Testament (Mt. 2:23).
Capernaum was situated along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. This city was frequently associated with the ministry of the Lord. Jesus resided here, and Capernaum was known as “his own city,” where he was “at home” (Mt. 9:1; Mk. 2:1, ESV). It was here that he called his disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John (Mk. 1:16-21, 29), as well as Matthew, the tax collector (Mk. 2:13-17). He performed notable miracles here, such as healing a centurion’s servant of palsy (cf. Mt. 8:6ff), instantly relieving Peter’s mother-in-law of a severe fever (v. 14), and numerous other signs.
The Destruction of Jerusalem
Aside from Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, one of the most notable events in Palestine’s history was the Roman army’s devastation of the city in A.D. 70. Jesus had prophetically spoken of this awesome event, as recorded in Matthew 24:3-34 (cf. Lk. 21:5-24).
The Roman general, Titus, son of Vespasian, besieged Jerusalem for some five months. The city was overrun and the Jewish temple was destroyed. The city walls were burned and entirely demolished. Men, women, and children (especially the infirm) were slaughtered by the multiplied thousands. Many others were sold into foreign slavery.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, described the horrific scenes in graphic detail (cf. Wars of the Jews 6.8-9). Not a solitary Jew was left in the city.
For many years after the destruction of Jerusalem, no Jew was allowed in the city or its vicinity. Only on one day in the year—the day of remembrance of the destruction of the temple—were the Jews permitted to mourn over the city from neighboring hilltops (Geldenhuys, 141).
The little country of Palestine served a valuable role in Heaven’s redemptive plan. When Christianity was subsequently launched and millions of precious souls ultimately won to the Savior, the redemptive role of Israel was fulfilled.
The “holy land” is no longer a special land in the great plan of Almighty God. There will be no return of Christ to Jerusalem to establish an earthly rule of a thousand years, as millennialists erroneously allege.
The church that Jesus established following his ascension is the only “elect race,” “royal priesthood,” and “holy nation” for God’s possession (1 Pet. 2:9).
For further study, see: Examining Premillennialism.