Why do people call Israel “Palestine”?

Anyone studying biblical history or reading books about this topic, may have noticed that the common name to refer to the country of Israel in the academic literature is not “Israel”, nor “Judah”, but “Palestine”. Why is this name so commonly used? Where did it come from?

Paul Lawrence, in his “Atlas of Bible History” explains:

Before the Israelite conquest the name of the Promised Land west of the Jordan was Canaan. Its inhabitants were Canaanites.

To avoid confusing we use the term “Palestine” to designate that region after the conquest, but this should not be interpreted a modern, political sense.

“Israel” and “Judah” are used to denote the historic nation states that later emerged.

Lawrence Paul, The IVP Concise Atlas of Bible History (IVP Academic, 2013), 48

Even if we agree that the term “Palestine” does not have a political meaning, it surely has a theological meaning, as we shall explain below.

Palestine in c. 350 AD according to Eusebius and Jerome (map as reconstructed by George Adam Smith, 1915)

When was the term “Palestine” first used?

Although many biblical history scholars call the land “Palestine” in their articles and books, this term was never used in the Bible itself. The first to call the land of Israel “Palestine” were the Romans in the 2nd century AD, after they defeated the Bar-Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.

After the war against Judah ended, Hadrian, the Roman emperor, decided to officially change the name of the province “Judaea” to “Syria Palaestina”. Some scholars claim that this name was already known before Hadrian. But nevertheless, the change of the name of the province came only after the Judean nation was completely destroyed and exiled.

Another proof of the Roman intention to wipe out the name Judaea and the bond of the Judeans to the land is the fact that they also changed the name of Jerusalem. The Roman exiled the Jews from Jerusalem and renamed it Aelia Capitolina.

There is no doubt that the Romans, in the period they called “Pax Romana” – the Roman peace – wiped out Judah and made sure no remains are left of that nation. From this point in time, the name Judea was replaced in all maps by Syria-Palaestina, and all history books started to use the new name: Palaestina. Until this very day…

The origin of the name “Palaestina”

This name is derived from Philistia (Hebrew: פְּלֶשֶׁת), the name of the coastal area of Israel that was held in biblical times by the Philistines (Hebrew: פְּלִשְׁתִּים). Philistines were people that arrived to the land of Canaan around the same time the Israelite arrived. They were in their peak around the rein of the kings Saul and David, and then started to decline, until destroyed completely in 604 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

In this small land, there were Canaanite, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, Hellenists, Samaritans, and of course: Israelites and Judeans. How then, from all those nations, it is after the name of the Philistines that Hadrian chose to call the land?

After all, the Philistines held a very small part in the southern cost of the land, and they were gone more than 700 years before Hadrian time.

Political or Theological?

An act of political renaming of countries was used since ancient times. The name of the land affects how it is publicly known. Many countries changed their names after a change of regime to denote that they are different entity. (e.g., Russia to USSR and back to Russia, Burma to Myanmar, and many more examples).

So it makes a lot of sense that the Romans changed the name of Judaea. Did the name that they chose as the new name had any meaning for them? was it just the most logical name to choose?

But the bigger question is, how come this name, that was invented as a “replacement” name by Rome, is still the name used today by scholars to refer to the land in the time of the Bible, when this name was not used?

An answer to the above question may be attributed to the early church in the first centuries. The early theologians of the church had the idea that the Christian Church replaced Israel of the Bible. So, Israel is no more, and the Church is the “New Israel”. This replacement theology was the mainstream Christian perception of Israel and the Jews until the 20th century and until the new state of Israel was founded. The new state of Israel brought great questions to the Church, and even the Catholic church had to reconsider its approach to the Jews.

Then why this name, “Palestine”, is the name that the Arabs choose to identify with today? After all, this name has nothing to do with any Arab or Muslim legacy, and it is a memory of the Roman conquest and the Roman Catholic church.

Do the Arabs who call themselves “Palestinians” affiliate with the Roman conquest of Judah or with the early church?

What is Palestine?

If we look at the history of the use of this name – Philistines/Palaestina/Palestine, we can see a “crimson thread” throughout time.

  • The Philistines killed the first ‘anointed one of Israel’ – the first Messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ), king Saul. They also tried to kill David, the anointed one who was a man after God’s own heart, but without success.
  • The Romans used the name of the Philistines and renamed the land to “Palaestina”, hoping to eradicate the name of Israel and Judah forever.
  • The early church followed Rome by trying to abolish the memory of historical Israel believing that God abandoned His people.
  • And in our modern era, the name “Palestine” is attributed to an entity that aims to replace the state of Israel.

What is common to this name throughout history, is an attempt to destroy God’s plan of salvation through Israel and the Jews! Whenever this name is used, it comes to replace the role of Israel in God’s plan.

For thousands of years, from King Saul up to our day, trying without success, to abolish the plan of God that cannot be changed.

The death of King Saul by Gustave Dore

Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”

Psalms 2:1-6 [NIV]

So next time you use the name “Palestine”, be sure you understand what you are saying.

“The Word” (Λόγος) and the “Wilderness”

The word “wilderness” or “Desert” – “Midbar” (מִדְבָּר) in Hebrew – appears 272 times in the Bible (Old testament).

The meaning of “midbar” in modern Hebrew is an arid area. A place where crops cannot grow.

But in the Bible, it has two different meanings:

  1. Desert or desolate place.
  2. A place where the shepherds take the flock to graze.

An example of the “Midbar” as a wilderness or desert:

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;

Isaiah 35:1

But in other places, the “midbar” is referred to lands that are not dry but rather quite fertile:

And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness (midbar), and do not lay a hand on him”

Genesis 37:22

Although the word “midbar” was translated here to “wilderness” in English, we know that this story took place in the valley of Dothan, which is a fertile valley.

Why is this ambiguity?

In order to understand the meaning of the word Midbar (מִדְבָּר), we need to look for its root. In Hebrew, all words have roots and from the roots different branches can be created. But the original meaning is found in the root.

The word “midbar” מִדְבָּר comes from the root D.B.R.

Other meaning branching out of this root is: “To speak”

  • Diber (v.) דִבֵּר – Spoke
  • Davar דָבָר (n.) – Spoken word
  • Diber (n.) דִבֵּר – Commandment

How are “wilderness”and “speaking” related?

The good shepherd

Let’s check the original meaning of the root D.B.R.

In the ancient Hebrew and in other Semitic languages, it means “to lead”

A shepherd leads his sheep. He makes then lie in green pastures. He saves them from the lion and the bear. If one of hundred sheep is lost, he will leave the 99 to find the one.

This is what it means to be a leader.

And for this reason, all the faithful leaders in the Bible were shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David.

The more common use of the root D.B.R is in the verb “speak” – דִבֵּר and the noun “spoken word” – דָבָר. In Greek: Λόγος.

This is clear: the one who speaks is the leader, and he leads through spoken word. The shepherd also leads with his voice:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

The “spoken word” then generated a more profound meaning in Hebrew: “The important thing” which is another meaning in Hebrew of “davar” דָבָר.

“In the beginning was the Word (Greek: Λόγος, Hebrew: דָבָר) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

Where “the Word” and “Desert” meet

in the history of the sons of Israel, the spoken Word “Davar” דָבָר, Λόγος is spoken in the desert.

And this makes a lot of sense: God is the leader of the people. He led them in the desert (“midbar”) and spoke (“diber”) to them and gave them His commandments (“dibrot”).

All branches of the root D.B.R meet in the story of Exodus.

Interestingly, the names of the last two books of the Pentateuch – the Torah, are of the same root D.B.R:

  • Numbers – in Hebrew: “Bamidbar” בְּמִדְבַּר – “In the desert”
  • Deuteronomy – in Hebrew: “Devarim” דְּבָרִים – “The spoken Words”
Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law, Gustave Doré

So how can we tell which is the correct meaning of “midbar” in the Bible?

When you encounter the word “wilderness” or “desert” in the Bible, it might be one of two meanings: Dry wilderness, or a place where the sheep are led to graze.

How can we tell which is which?

So probably, the original meaning was – a place where shepherds took the flock out.

Later on, a secondary meaning evolved from the original. The shepherds took the sheep to feed them in an area that was not cultivated. In Israel, in many cases, that was the frontier of the desert.

So the word “midbar” got a new meaning, which was: a wilderness where very little rain falls. A desert.

In the Bible itself, you can distinguish between the two quite easily:

In most of the cases, when the word “midbar”, translated to wilderness or desert, appears by its own or is used to refer to a certain name of a desert – you know it is “a desert”.

So “Wilderness of Sinai“, or “Wilderness of Judah” point to the desert of Sinai and the desert of Judah.

But when “midbar” appears before a name of a town, then we know that this is the area where the shepherds of that town took the flocks to feed them.

Therefore, Wilderness of Ziph and Wilderness of Maon are those lands out of the cultivated fields, where the people of Ziph and Maon feed their flocks.

Many types of “desert”

In the Biblical Hebrew, we have other words that are used for a desert. They represent different level of aridity.

“midbar” is probably the mildest desert. because there is enough vegetation for the goats and sheep to be fed.

Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon

1 Samuel 23:24 (NIV)

In this short verse there are three different words for desert:

  1. Desert of Maon (“midbar”) מִדְבָּר – this is the area close to the town of Maon, where there is enough food for the sheep
  2. Araba עֲרָבָה – plains in the desert. Here we read that David was in a part of the “midbar” of Maon that was a flatland.
  3. Jeshimon יְשִׁימוֹן – a more arid area of very little rain.

the LORD, Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness (“midbar”), Through a land of deserts (“arabah”) and pits, Through a land of drought (“tsiya”) and the shadow of death (“tsalmaveth”), Through a land that no one crossed And where no one dwelt

Jeremiah 2:6 (NKJV)

Here, four different words for desert in one verse:

  1. Midbar מִדְבָּר
  2. Arabah עֲרָבָה
  3. Zia צִיָּה – extreme arid desert.
  4. shadow of death צַלְמָוֶת – a land where death rules.
Negev desert in southern Israel

False Prophets Today?

In the Bible we read about false prophets that unlike true prophets, do not hear from God, but rather from their own mind.

They pretend to be hearing from God. Many people, even kings, approach them to hear what God put in their mouth. But all in vain. All they have to say is the opposite of God’s word.

Why are they opposing God? Because false prophets tell people what they want to hear!

And how do false prophets know what the people who come to them want to hear?

Let’s check the Bible.

King Ahab needs a good advice

in 1 Kings chapter 22 we read a story of Ahab, king of Israel, that wanted to start a war against Aram.

Before he went to the war, he had asked his prophets: “Shall I go to battle or shall I refrain”?

And the 400 prophets answered in one voice: “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” (1 Kings 22:6)

But his friend, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, urged him to also ask a prophet of the Lord. Unwillingly, Ahab asked for Micaiah son of Imlah, a prophet of the Lord of Israel.

Micaiah did not want to tell Ahab the true vision he had. And told him a lie, just like the rest of the false prophets. But after Ahab commanded him to tell the truth, he said to him:

“I saw all Israel Scattered on the mountains, Like sheep which have no shepherd.

And the Lord said, ‘These have no master. Let each of them return to his house in peace.’”

1 Kings 22:17

And then Micaiah explained.

This is very important, because it tells us what is the source of false prophecies:

I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 20 The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ 23 Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”

1 Kings 22:19-23

Deceiving Spirit. This is what it is.

False prophets make it their profession to prophesize, even though they do not hear from God. They tell the people what the people want to hear. Jeremiah said about them:

“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Everyone is greedy for gain,
And from the prophet even to the priest
Everyone deals falsely.
14 “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

Jeremiah 6:13-14
Jeremiah by Michelangelo

False prophets today

So who are the false prophet of our days?

Who are the people that are against God and tell the people what they want to hear? Moreover, they have some kind of supernatural authority that comes from their wisdom and knowledge. Don’t we all know them?

The undisputed leader of today’s false prophet is a Jew, of course. He was born in Israel. He wrote books that became best-sellers.

Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Bill Gates recommended his books.

His name is Yuval Noah Harari.

And here is a prophecy quoted from his book “Homo Deus”, (Harvill Secker, 2015)

Having reduced mortality from starvation, disease and violence, we will now aim to overcome old age and even death itself. Having saved people from abject misery, we will now aim to make them positively happy. And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

Tell people what they want to hear. An extreme enemy of God. Tell them that they are God now!

Anyone said this before???

your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God

Genesis 3:5

Animal Parables in the Bible (III): Jeremiah was not PC

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.

Jeremiah 13:23

Jeremiah wanted to tell us, that even if we believe we cannot change our ways – we can!

We are accustomed to do evil. It does not mean we were born evil.

The people in his time had this saying: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” which ment: you are born in a certain way and there is nothing you can do about it.

And he told them: No! doing evil is not what you were born to do!

Like he used to do in other places, Jeremiah liked to use parables.

In this case, two parables: one of the Ethiopian, and one of a leopard.

I want to go a little deeper to understand why he used those two examples:

Cheetah in Kruger NP South Africa, Photo by Amir Silberman

Can a leopard change its spots?

Leopards lived in Israel until the beginning of the 21st century in the Negev and Judean desert. In the last decade there were no leopards reported.

But we know that in the time of Jeremiah, there were leopards, lions and cheetahs in Israel. All of them are extinct now.

The word Namer (נָמֵר) can refer probably to both leopard or cheetah, as both have spots.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin?

Today, many educated people who call themselves “progressive” boycott the Bible. They say that the stories are not good for children, and lead to violence and discrimination.

Certainly, Jeremiah was not afraid from being considered “Not politically correct”

The word Ethiopian that is used here in almost all English translation is not accurate.

The right word is Cushite – a man of the land of Cush.

The land of Cush is mentioned in the Bible in several places, and also the word cushite – a person that comes from Cush.

Moses took a wife that was a Cushite and his brother and sister did not like this. (again, translated to Ethiopians in most English translations)

The true meaning of “Cush” is probably “Africa” and a “Cushite” is a man or woman with a dark skin. The point of this parable is that a man cannot change the color of his skin from dark to pale.

Some may say that speaking like this is not PC, but the Bible never claimed to be PC!

Animal Parables in the Bible (II): Partridge and Cuckoo

“As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid,

So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly;

In the midst of his days it will forsake him,

And in the end he will be a fool.”

Jeremiah 17:11 (NASB)
 Great Spotted Cuckoo chick with “mother” Hooded Crow. Photo by Amir Silberman

Few years ago, in the month of April, my son heard strong bird screaming outside our house. Looking up to the top of our pecan tree, he saw those two birds: a large cuckoo chick and a crow that fed the chick with pieces of meat.

The crows couple that were nursing this big chick were very zealous to feed him whenever he called. Their instincts led them to take care of a parasite that someone else laid in their nests, killing their offsprings.

Many types of cuckoos are “brood parasites”. They lay their eggs in other birds nests and fly away to enjoy life without the hassle of raising their kids.

Making fortune unjustly

Jeremiah, uses the parable of birds to explain the fate of anyone who makes fortune while being unjust to other people.

Even if that rich man thinks he has made it and he he can enjoy all that money – “In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.”

And Jeremiah continues with his preaching:

A glorious throne on high from the beginning

Is the place of our sanctuary.

13 O Lord, the hope of Israel,

All who forsake You will be put to shame.

Those who turn away on earth will be written down,

Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:12-13 (NASB)

Jeremiah tells us that being unjust to other people means to “turn away from the Lord“. And the consequences, eventually, will be of great shame.

Partridge. Photo: Amir Silberman

Parable double meaning

When reading the parable about the partridge, there are two different ways to understand it:

The first way, and this is how the NASB translation interpreted (quote above), is of a bird that sat on eggs that she have not laid.

ESV interprets it the same way:

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch

Jeremiah 17:11 (ESV)

and NIV:

Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay

Jeremiah 17:11 (NIV)

But there is a different way to understand this verse.

The King James version, has a different interpretation:

As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not;

Jeremiah 17:11 (KJV)

The older translation of King James suggests that the bird was sitting on eggs that did not hatch at all.

Reading the Hebrew, we can understand the confusion.

Literally, the sentence says: “A partridge sat on eggs and it did not give birth”

The key word is the last word in the sentence: יָלָ֔ד (Yalad), which means “gave birth”

Reading this literally leads us to conclude that NASB, ESV and NIV were right.

But there is a problem.

The word יָלָד (Yalad – gave birth) and the word נוֹלַד (Nolad – was born) are from the same Hebrew root: י.ל.ד (Y.L.D), and they are just two forms of the same verb: one active (gave birth) and one passive (was born).

Therefore, it makes a lot of sense, that Jeremiah meant:

“A partridge sat on eggs and it was not born”

In that case, it was King James that got it right.

Which interpretation is correct?

From the meaning of the parable, I tend to think that King James was right this time. Jeremiah talks about people that get their money in an unjust way, and therefore their fruit will become their shame.

The parable to explain that is of a bird that lay eggs and sits on them, but there are no chicks in those eggs.

Lapwing nest with chick and two eggs. Photo: Amir Silberman

Which interpretation do you think is right?

Animal Parables in the Bible (I): Bird Migration

April 2020. All people in the world are locked in their homes. But nature does not cease. This is the season of vast bird migration over Israel.

“Even the stork in the heavens

Knows her appointed times;

And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow

Observe the time of their coming.

But My people do not know the judgment of the Lord.”

Jeremiah 8:7

Jeremiah the prophet lived in the time of the last kings of Judah. Like everyone in his time, he was connected to the nature surrounding him.

In his prophecies, animals are used to make a point.

He used bird migration, as a manifestation of the law of nature created by God. And inasmuch as we can trust that every spring we will see the birds coming, we know we cannot trust people.

The mystery of birds migration

Storks migration over Galilee mountains, Israel. Photo: Amir Silberman

One great phenomenon that have always amazed humanity, is the migration of birds. Many types of birds migrate very long distances in very dangerous paths.

Until today, scientist do not really understand, how come those birds know, always, in the exact same time of year, to navigate their way to the the exact same places. And more than that: How do they know that they need to start migrating, and why not just stay where they are?

Certainly, Jeremiah was fascinated by this. He made this comparison between birds that have known the times, and the people of Israel and Judah, who could not see the judgment and its consequences that would befall on them.

Four types of birds

What are the four birds in Jeremiah 8:7?

First one is a Stork, This is a sure identification.

Second bird is the dove. In Song of Solomon, the voice of the turtledove is a sign for the spring:

“The flowers appear on the earth; The time of singing has come, And the voice of the turtledove Is heard in our land.”

Song of Solomon 2:12
Collared Dove, Central Israel. Photo: Amir Silberman

And indeed, even today, when spring comes, you can hear the voice of the turtledove everywhere in Israel.

The identification of the next two birds is disputable.

The third one is translated to “swift” – a bird that does not stop flying for a second. It can be seen during spring in the Western wall where they nest in the gaps between the stones.

Last one is pronounced “Agur”. In modern Hebrew we use this name for “Crane” another migrant bird in Israel

Demoiselle crane, Hula Valley, Israel. Photo: Amir Silberman

With the Deer in quarantine

March 2020: the whole world is in quarantine. What the pandemic of Coronavirus did was to isolate us. Some of us, especially the elderly, are alone just by themselves.

People of faith that get encouragement from company of other believer, cannot meet, cannot talk, cannot hug.

In Psalms 42, this situation is described very will:

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”

When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

O my God, my soul is cast down within me”

Psalms 42:1-6

The psalmist yearns to take part in a pilgrimage with the multitudes to the House of the Lord in Jerusalem.

But he cannot. And he is distressed and in despair.


May be he was cast out from Jerusalem? Or maybe sent to exile by enemy?

We do not know what happened to him. But we can certainly identify with him in this situation, when we are alone and yearning to worship together with fellow believers.

And then he saw a deer. A beautiful animal that came to the water to drink. He did not see the beauty of the animal. He saw its thirst. he saw its weakness. He saw its neediness.

Where is Psalm 42 located?

The psalmist told us where he wrote psalm 42:

“Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan

And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;

All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.”

Psalms 42:6-7

If you’ve been to Israel. You know where this is. In the Hula valley, where the springs that come from Mount Hermon forming the Jordan river with cold water and waterfalls. This area is considered by many the most beautiful area in the land of Israel.

Waterfall in Banias river. Origin of Jordan river. By תמר מרום Pikiwiki Israel

And being here, surrounding by all this beauty, the man does not enjoy any of it. His heart is empty. All the beauty of this world cannot fill your heart when you are away from God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God

The extinction of deers from Israel

Can we see deers today coming to drink water of the Jordan river?

The answer is NO.

Deers appear several times in the Bible. They were very common in ancient times.

“He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He causes me to stand on the heights.”

Psalms 18:33

As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love.”

Proverbs 5:19

“Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert”

Isaiah 35:6

In the 20th century, deers were completely extinct from Israel. Mostly because of hunting. The last deer was hunted in Mount Carmel in 1912.

In the last 40 years there is an initiative to reintroduce deers back to the nature. This project is quite successful. But they are still very rare and are only in a few small reserves.

Deers in Carmel mountain. Photo by Israel Parks and Nature Authority

What is behind a pandemic plague

Coronavirus pandemic is spreading all over the world unlike any other disease that was known before.

In ancient times, people did not know about bacteria or viruses. They looked at epidemic diseases as judgement from their gods. Even the Israelites understood that diseases come as judgement from the God of Israel.

Today we understand the biology of viruses, we know how to prepare vaccines against most diseases. We have antibiotics against many bacteria.

But once in a while we get a surprising reminder that we are not in control.

What is new about the epidemic of Coronavirus is that it is ubiquitous: It is everywhere. This is something that was never seen in the past (even the Black Death in the 14th century was limited to Europe and the Middle East). But in fact, this was foreseen in prophecies, and I will get to this later on.

In the Bible, there are many stories of plagues, and they are generally appear as a result to disobedience.

I want to focus here on two examples. One is a story that happened in the past, and one is a prophecy of a plague still to come.

What was Davis’s sin?

King David Playing the Harp by Gerard van Honthorst

In the last chapter of 2 Samuel, chapter 24, we read a story about David, that was “incited” to count the people of Israel. The same story is repeated in 1 Chronicles chapter 21.

In 1 Samuel, it was the “anger of the Lord” that incited David, while in 1 Chronicles it is said that it was ‘Satan’ who stood up against Israel.

(Those two different versions may lead us to ask a question and to answer it: Where does Satan gets his power from?)

The story is simple, but the moral is not so clear:

David counted the people of Israel, and as a result of this sin, he had to be punished. Now the punishment is not on David himself, but on all the nation on behalf of David. And David got the freedom to choose which punishment to take.

Gad the prophet was the messenger:

13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

2 Samuel 24:13

What was the sin that David committed? This sin is not mentioned in the Torah (the law) or anywhere else in the Bible. Isn’t the king allowed to count his people?

In fact, there are so many places in the Bible where people are counted . And one place where the Lord Himself ordered to take a census:

The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. ….  45 All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. 46 The total number was 603,550.

Numbers 1:1-3, 45-46

As there is no such sin mentioned in the Torah that prevents from counting people, it is even more intriguing to see what Joab answered David after hearing the command to count the people:

And Joab said to the king, “Now may the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?” 

2 Samuel 24:3

Joab gave us a hint on what was the problem here: Don’t you trust the Lord to add more people to the nation? Why count? do you want to show off with how many men you have in your army?

There is some more explanation in the Bible itself about this.

In 2 Chronicles 23-27, after citing all the numbers of the different divisions in Israel: Levites and priests, musicians and gatekeepers, treasuries, military divisions and leaders of the tribes,

We read this:

23 But David did not take the number of those twenty years old and under, because the Lord had said He would multiply Israel like the stars of the heavens. 24 Joab the son of Zeruiah began a census, but he did not finish, for wrath came upon Israel because of this census; nor was the number recorded in the account of the chronicles of King David.

What is the problem with a king counting his people?

The Lord said to Abraham:

blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 

Genesis 22:17

When David counted the people, His sin was unfaithfulness to the Lord who promised that Israel will be countless!

The judgement (that turned into blessing)

Jerusalem by David Roberts

Gad the prophet told David to choose one punishment from three options. Not every day we can choose our judgement from God. The options were:

  • Three years of famine
  • Three months of fleeing from the enemies
  • Three days of plague

David chose the last one, because, as he said: “let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.

How did the plague end? After David built an altar and offered sacrifice to the Lord. David submitted himself obediently to the Lord and made atonement. “And the plague was withdrawn from Israel”

And not only that: David bought the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place that later became the place of the Temple.

How amazing is our God the turns even our sins into blessing!

Plague in prophecy

We read in Zechariah 14:

And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem:

Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet,
Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets,
And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths.

13 It shall come to pass in that day
That a great panic from the Lord will be among them.
Everyone will seize the hand of his neighbor,
And raise his hand against his neighbor’s hand;
14 Judah also will fight at Jerusalem.
And the wealth of all the surrounding nations
Shall be gathered together:
Gold, silver, and apparel in great abundance.

15 Such also shall be the plague
On the horse and the mule,
On the camel and the donkey,
And on all the cattle that will be in those camps.
So shall this plague be.

Zechariah 14:12-15

And what comes after that?

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 

Zechariah 14:16

The plague in this prophecy is about to strike all the nations who fight against Jerusalem. Who are those nations? It is easier to ask – who are NOT those nations.

So, after the disaster, comes a great blessing. and feast of Tabernacles is the time of celebration.

Why Feast of Tabernacles?

We will leave this question for another time

Zechariah by Michelangelo

And they shall call you The City of the Lord

Also the sons of those who afflicted you
Shall come bowing to you,
And all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet;
And they shall call you The City of the Lord,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 60:14

Israeli journalist Amit Segal quoted this verse after the event that took place in Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.

49 world leaders gathered in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, to honor the memory of the Jewish Holocaust and to proclaim fighting against Antisemitism.

When we see world leaders, from nations that persecuted and murdered Jews for centuries, gather in Jerusalem – how can we not remember the words of Isaiah?

Prophecies about the nations

In the Bible, there are many prophecies about the restoration of Israel and about the nations that will come to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel.

Those prophecies are weaved with End Times prophecies that describe horrible turmoils and turbulence, but also great peace.

Through history, people have tried to relate actual events to Biblical prophecies, and to interpret the prophecies according to own perception.

Maybe, the most quoted End Times prophecy is the one from Isaiah 2:4. This verse is used mostly to illustrate the hope of a world peace that humanity yearns to so much.

This is “Isaiah wall” in Ralph Bunche Park in the UN headquarters in New York:



Did you notice something strange about this quote? It was taken completely out of context!

Only the last half verse of the full prophecy appears on the wall. The part the talks about world peace. But look at the full prophecy to see what was NOT included:

It shall come to pass in the latter days

    that the mountain of the house of the Lord

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

    and shall be lifted up above the hills;

and all the nations shall flow to it,

    and many peoples shall come, and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

    to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may teach us his ways

    and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

    and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

    neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2:2-4

On Isaiah Wall, those subjects were skipped:

  • The Lord,
  • Jacob and Israel
  • House of the Lord,
  • Mountain of the Lord
  • Zion and Jerusalem
  • He may teach us His ways
  • He shall judge between the nations

What do you think is the reason that all those essential topics were omitted?

Very clearly, God, Israel and Zion are not welcome among the nations.

How can the nations bring peace without God? The Bible tells us what happened when they tried that: Genesis 4:11 “let us make for ourselves a name” (tower of Babel)

Don’t quote the Bible partially and don’t take it out of context!

Who is the one that always takes Bible verses and twists their meaning?

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Matthew 4:5-6

The same United Nation that quote the Jewish Prophet, is the same organization that accuse the state of Israel again and again of commiting crimes against humanity. Why? Because of misinterpreting verses and taking the whole point out of them.

“…the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains” – This comes as a contradiction to the tower of Babel: Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name (Genesis 11:4) –

What is the difference here? When we humans try to replace God with our own name, the consequence will always be complete failure. But God himself, promised that he will free us and save us when we rely completely on Him.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. 21 The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” 22 So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.’ 23 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’

Zechariah 8:20-23


In my opinion, the most touching speech in the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, was that of Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, president of the Germany.

He opened his speech in a prayer in Hebrew – “Shehecheyanu”:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion

Watch the full speech of President Steinmeier:

Steinmeier at Yad Vashem: ‘I bow in deepest sorrow for German acts’ 

Legal basis of the State of Israel according to International Law

Today the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that:

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate… the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” 

I want to draw here a brief history of the borders and legal aspects, that AFFIRM the words of the US Secretary of State.

History of the borders

  • In 1916, during WWI, in a secret agreement between England and France, called Sykes-Pikot agreement, they agreed how they are going to split the Middle East between the powers.
  • in 1917, the British army defeated the Ottomans and conquered the land of Israel and the Arab lands to the east and to the south.
  • In November 2nd 1917 Earl Arthur Balfour wrote a letter that is known as the Balfour Declaration. It reads:

“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

  • in 1922, the “League of Nations” gave a mandate to the British government over Palestine. The preamble of the mandate document declared:

“Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

  • in 1922, immediately after accepting the Mandate of Palestine, Britain separated Transjordan – the land east of the Jordan river to be an Arab state and not to be settled by Jews.
  • In 1937, after a long time of Arab riots, Britain sent a committee known as Peel Committee, that recommended a partition of the land into an Arab state linked to Transjordan, a small Jewish state, and a mandatory zone around Jerusalem. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arab rejected
  • As riots and tension increased, In 1947 Britain brought the issue of Palestine to the UN to decide. On November 29th, 1947 the UN accepted the UN Partition Plan. According to this plan, the land would split into Arab and Jewish states, and Special International Regime in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. 
  • The next day, November 30th 1947, the Arab started a civil war against Jews, where their goal is to block roads and separate the Jewish state. Separating Jerusalem was the main focus. During this civil war, around 700,000 Arabs left their houses.
  • On May 14th, David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel. The date was set to be one the day after the British forces were planned to leave the country.
  • On May 15th 1948, six months after the war has started, the armies of five Arab countries invaded the land in order to destroy the Jewish state: Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 
  • Only in March 1949 the war ended, and armistice lines were set between the Israeli and Arab generals. 
  • The result of the war:
    • An Israeli state of the part that was supposed to be the Jewish state, and a little more
    • Annexation of Judea and Samaria to the Kingdom of Jordan. The Arabs that fled from Israel became citizens of the Kingdom of Jordan.
    • Gaza Strip under Egyptian military rule.
    • Jerusalem divided between Israel and Jordan.
    • 700,000 Arabs lost their homes in Israel. Some of them became citizens in Jordan, many of them remained without citizenship in the other Arab countries, until today.
  • On June 5th, 1967 during six-days war, Israel took all of Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, Golan Heights and Sinai, including the Gaza strip.
  • According to peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Israel has withdrawn from Sinai in 1982
  • In 2005, Israel evacuated all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip during the disengagement plan.

Jewish Settlement International status

Judea and Samaria

  • The international community condemns Israel for settling Jews in Judea and Samaria, because the 4th Geneva convention of 1949 prohibits countries from moving population into territories occupied in a war.
  • Israel claims that we are consistent with the law as Judea and Samaria were captured as a result of self defence and not offencive occupation. Moreover, the whole of the land, including Judea and Samaria was designated to the Jewish state according to the League of Nations resolution from 1922, and that the Jordanian occupation in 1948 was, in fact, illegal.
  • The international community, sees the Jewish settlements as obstacle to peace that will be in the future between Israel and the Arabs. 
  • Israel claims that there are many Arabs living in Israel, therefore it cannot be that Jews living in an Arab land are obstacle to peace. 
  • A peace process started between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in 1993 during the Oslo Accord. According to the agreements, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in charge of different areas called A, B and C. This was planned to evolve into a final peace agreement with defined borders.
  • Since 2000 and the second Intifada, the Oslo Accord got stuck and there are no more progress in the peace process. Many international leaders talk about going back to the negotiation table, but it just does not happen.

Golan Heights

  • in 1916, Britain and France set the border between British Influence and French Influence according to the secret Sykes-Picot agreement. The line was drawn on a map and not in the land itself.
  • in April 1920, The League of Nations met in San Remo, Italy, and decided about the actual borders of the British and French Mandates. The british got an improvement of the border line to include the “Finger” of the Galilee together with Golan Heights in order to have water sources for the Jewish state to come.
  • In 1923, the Paulet-Newcombe Agreement set the final borders between Britain and France with all practical details. In this agreement, Golan Heights were handed from Britain to French in return to Mosul that was given from the French to Britain because the English found oil there.
  • In 1948, Syria tried to invade the state of Israel with the Arab coalition. In the end of the war the armistice line was  set to the 1923 border between France and England, so that the Golan was part of Syria.
  • In 1967 Israel conquered Golan Heights during six-days war. All Muslims and Arabs fled from Golan Heights to Syria. Only 4 Druze villages remained.
  • In 1981, Israel ratified the Golan Heights Law, which claims the Israeli law over the Golan Heights. The law was not recognized by UN and was determined null and void by the UN security council.
  • on March 25, 2019, The United States recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel through a presidential proclamation signed by U.S. President Donald Trump 

Why do people think that the settlements are not legal?

Having said all the above, the question still remains: according to international law, are the settlements in Judea & Samaria and Golan Heights legal?

It is important to understand that there is no simple answer to this question. There is no international court that is accepted by all nation to deal with all international conflicts. For example, the state of Israel is not accepted by many Muslim countries as a legal state, although it is a member in the United Nations and the countries that negate Israel, are also members in the same UN. So how can this be? This is because the UN is not an international court. There is no one agreement that all nations apply to and accept.

The International Court of Justice in Hague is a court accepted by many nations, but not all. This is an example how difficult it is for the nations to agree about any legal subject.

When dealing with countries in conflict, or worse: authorities that are not countries (Palestinian Authority) – there is no easy way to sort legal disagreements.

UN Security Council Resolution 446 from 22 March 1979, opposed the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Israel did not accept this resolution (like many other UN anti-Israel resolutions), stating that its interpretation of the fourth Geneva Convention is incorrect. As there is no supreme court to decide about such issues, and as there is no Executive Authority of International law issues – there is no solution that is agreed and can be applied.

There are some other examples of how conflicts between countries were not resolved by the international community, but rather by power: China taking over Tibet; Russia taking Crimean peninsula from Ukraine or England that took Falkland Islands from Argentina. In the end of the day, almost all conflict have been only resolved by armies.

Epilog: What is ‘Palestine’?

People wonder, sometimes, what is the origin of the word Palestine and why is it considered as the real name of the land of Israel.

Here is a brief history of this name:

  • In the 7th century 604 B.C, The Babylonians destroyed and exiled the Philistine people from the land. The term Philistia is read in the Bible:   “This is the burden which came in the year that King Ahaz died. “Do not rejoice, all you of Philistia,
    Because the rod that struck you is broken; “ (Isaiah 14:28-29 after the death of Tiglath Pileser 727 BC)
  • The southern coast of Israel was named “land of Philistines“ many years after they were not in the land anymore.
  • In the 2nd century A.D., Hadrian the Roman emperor defeated the Jews very badly. He wanted to wipe out the names “Judea” and “Jerusalem” from history. So he renamed “Jerusalem” – “Aelia Capitolina”, and renamed “Provinciae Judea” – “Provinciae Palestina”. He chose the name “Palestina” as a name that was known for the area, and had nothing to do with Jews and Judea.
  • Since then, in the Roman chronicles, Judea was no more, and Palestina was the new name. In Europe, this last throughout the Roman period, the Middle Ages until modern time.
  • In 1917, during WWI, the British army defeated the Ottomans and took the land of Israel and the Arab lands to the east and to the south.
  • in 1922, the “League of Nations” gave a mandate to the British government over Palestine. The goal was to establish a national homeland for Jews in Palestine. The name Palestine was used as this was the common European name to the land.
  • In 1948, while a war is going on with the Arab countries, the state of Israel was founded.
  • in 1964, While Judea and Samaria were under Jordanian occupation, Palestinian National Council wrote the Palestinian Charter. Quoting some articles from the charter:
    • Article 1: Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland.
    • Article 2: Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.
    • Article 9: Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase.
    • Article 10: Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war. This requires its escalation, comprehensiveness, and the mobilization of all the Palestinian popular and educational efforts and their organization and involvement in the armed Palestinian revolution.
  • Although in English the name of the country is Palestine, the Arabs do not have the letter ‘P’ in Arabic, so instead they pronounce it “Falastin”. The name they chose is not a word in Arabic but it is a name taken  from the European Latin world, or to be more accurate, from the Jewish Bible (Philistine).