Judea, the Land Promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Canaan, land of Abraham , Palestine, Judaea or Judea – all refer to the same place today known as Israel. Judea’s 2000-year history preceding the era of Jesus of Nazareth began with Abram who was ironically born in the land of Babylon in present day Iran, a mortal enemy of Israel.
Young Abram married Sarai in Ur of the Chaldees. His father, Terah, then moved his family to Haran in the land of Canaan. One day God appeared to Abram telling him to move his own family to another place that God would show him. He also promised Abram, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”
Abram and Sarai, along with nephew Lot and his family, eventually resettled near Salem. One day, an enemy raiding party captured Lot, his family and their possessions whereupon Abram took up arms and set out on a rescue mission.
Victorious in battle having rescued Lot’s family and possessions, Abram returned home to a hero’s welcome greeted by Melchizedek, priest and King of Salem. He blessed Abram in the name of the most high God, creator of the heavens and earth. Soon thereafter, God reaffirmed His promise giving Abram’s descendants the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River.
Thirteen years later at the age of 99, God blessed Abram changing his name to Abraham; his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah; promised them a son to be named Isaac; and reaffirmed His promise that Canaan would be a permanent possession: 
Gen. 7:18-19 “I will give the whole land of Canaan – the land where you are now residing to you and your descendants after you as a permanent possession. I will be their God. (NET)
Gen. 17:19 “…Sarah your wife is going to bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as a perpetual covenant for his descendants after him.” (NET)
Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah, was blessed by God changing his name to Israel and promised that his descendants would produce an assembly of nations and kings. The sons of Israel became the fathers of the tribes of Israel. Just before Jacob died, he blessed each son and to Judah, he specifically passed on the blessing of his grandfather Abraham foretelling Judah would become the father of the tribe of royalty.
Events took a major detour that lasted some 400 years before God’s promise to Abraham was to be fulfilled. Jacob had a favorite son, Joseph, causing jealousy among his brothers. They ambushed Joseph and sold him as a slave to a passing caravan bound for Egypt, then lied to their father saying the boy had been killed by a wild animal.
Many years later during a famine in Canaan, Jacob resorted to seeking food from Egypt and eventually discovered that not only was Joseph alive, he was second in power only to Pharaoh himself! Under the protection of Joseph, all the sons of Israel left the land of Abraham and moved to Egypt where, over the next 400 years, they became slaves of the ruling Pharaohs.
Along came Moses who led the Hebrews on the Exodus out of Egypt. Just weeks later atop Mt. Sinai, God gave the Law to Moses which included five big promises, all tied to God’s plans for the place in the land promised to Abraham:
EX 23:20, 23 “I am going to send an angel before you to protect you as you journey and to bring you into the place that I have prepared…For my angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will destroy them completely.”(NET)
EX 33:1-2 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’” (NASB, NKJV)
Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob spanned from the southern tip of the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert to the Mediterranean Sea in the South; the Mediterranean Sea on the West; the Jordan River on the East; and as far North as the mouth of the Jordan River. Inhabitants were certainly not willing for give up their land to the fledgling Hebrew nation – it had to be taken by force.
Poised to return to the land of Abraham, the waters of the Jordan River were miraculously parted allowing the Israelites to cross on dry ground. First in the promised land to be conquered was Jericho followed by many battles over several generations.
Continuing their conquests of Canaan, eventually the new Hebrew King David battled the inhabitants of Jebus, formerly known as Salem. Once David established his throne in the City of David that encompassed Mt. Moriah where the Temple would eventually be built, the city became known as Jerusalem.
Over the next several centuries, David’s kingdom of Israel degraded when successive kings and the Hebrews did not abide by their agreement with God’s covenant presented by Moses at Mt. Sinai. It had a penalty clause eventually enacted by God. Split into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, and Judah was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar and taken away captive to Babylon.
Persia vanquished Babylon while the Hebrews were still in captivity providing the opportunity for the Hebrew wise man, Daniel, to serve kings in both Empires. Under decrees by Persian Kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, the Hebrews were allowed to return to the land of Judah and rebuild Jerusalem.
Conquests of Alexander the Great building the Greek Empire included the land now called “Palestine.” In 333 BC, Alexander’s army was met outside of Jerusalem by the Jewish High Priest Shimon HaTzaddik in a successful attempt to prevent the army’s destruction of the Jewish Temple.
Jerusalem was spared and the Jews viewed Alexander as their liberators, in part, because Hellenism under the new Greek Empire allowed them religious freedom. In fact, Greek eventually became the common language in Palestine.
On the stage of history, the Greek Empire was replaced by the Roman Empire and Palestine picked up a new name, Judea. Caesar Augustus and the senate allowed Judea, with Jerusalem as its capital, to be ruled by a new ruthless king named Herod.
Jesus of Nazareth of the lineage of Abraham, Judah and King David, was born in Bethlehem during the reign of King Herod. He traveled throughout Judea and Samaria teaching and healing until one day during the Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus was captured, tried and crucified.
Was it merely a coincidence that over the course of 2000 years, the geographic land promised by God to Abraham remained essentially unchanged and the same city, known as Salem, Jebus then Jerusalem, remained at the center of this land until Jesus of Nazareth arrived on the scene?
Updated December 20, 2021.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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