HomeOpinion & AnalysisOf desolation of Israel and God’s promise

Of desolation of Israel and God’s promise

Hebrew Scriptures: with Benjamin Leon

For 2 000 years the land of Israel has been desolate and in many places devoid of human habitat. The land has changed hands numerous times and never once have the conquerors been able to cultivate or making it productive. All this is set out in the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Leviticus. When the Jews returned to the land which God swore unto their forefathers, the land became productive. Today Israel exports food.

We shall begin by examining an excerpt from the curses. In Leviticus 26, verses 31-43, the Torah describes the punishment of destruction and exile:

(31) I will make your cities waste, and your sanctuaries a desolation, and I will not smell the sweet savours of your offerings.

(32) And I will make the land desolate, and your enemies who dwell in it will be astonished.

(33) And I will scatter you among the nations, and will draw out a sword after you, and your land will be desolate, and your cities waste.

(34) Then the land will enjoy its Sabbaths, for all the days of its desolation while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.

(35) All the days of its desolation it shall rest, because it did not rest during your Sabbaths, when you dwelled in it….

In verses 36-39 the Torah goes on to describe the troubles that will befall the nation in exile. However, the introduction to this description, in verses 31-35, is particularly interesting.

Seemingly, the description of the exile should begin as in verse 33, “I shall scatter you among the nations,” followed by the list of trials and suffering that awaits there, as set out in verses 36-39, along with the obvious result of the exile of the nation: “Your land will be desolate.”

Hence, our impression is that the focus is not on the nation going off into exile, but rather on the land and its desolation. This perception comes across particularly starkly in verse 32: “I will make the land desolate, and your enemies who dwell in it will be astonished.” Not only will the land be desolate, since no one lives there and there is no-one to cultivate it; God will ensure that the land remains desolate, even when other nations come and try to cultivate it!

Once again we sense that there is significance to the desolation of the land, and not only the punishment of the nation in that it is exiled from the land.
What is the significance of the desolation of the land?

l Desolation of the land — Punishment for the nation
We can understand that the desolation of the land is part of the punishment for the nation. The punishment of exile is comprised of two elements:

l One – the dispersion of the nation in other lands, among enemies who persecute them;
l The other – their land remains desolate.

In what way is the desolation of the land a punishment for the nation? If the nation is not living in its land, why does it matter that the land is desolate?

In God’s words to Shelomo following the construction of the Temple, He warns the nation that if they sin, the Temple may be destroyed:

“Then I will cut Israel from the land which I have given to them, and this House, which I have sanctified for My Name, I will cast off from before Me, and Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all the nations.”

And this House will be held high: all who pass by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say: Why has God done this to this land and to this House?

And they will say: It is because they abandoned the Lord their God Who took their forefathers from the land of Egypt, and they took hold of other gods, and bowed to them and worshipped them. Therefore the Lord brought all of this evil upon them. (I Melakhim 9:7-9)

This warning makes another point clear: When the land lies desolate, the destruction is striking. People who pass through the land ask themselves why the land was destroyed, and they are reminded of the nation’s sins, which led to the destruction.

In other words, the great transformation of a beautiful and flourishing land into one that is destroyed and desolate, and remains desolate, is a perpetual reminder of the nation’s sins. This is the greatest shame for the nation.

No nation can settle on the land and make it its own, in place of the nation of Israel. Thus, the possibility of Israel returning to the land always remains open.

In Leviticus 26:42 God says: “Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. In verse 45: “But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God; I am the Lord.”

With the establishment of the modern state of Israel, God has kept His covenant with the Jews.

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