Forever Means Forever

March 14, 2024

God’s response to the split with Lot

These words were spoken by God to Abram in the wake of his split with his nephew Lot. The reason for God relaying this exact message at this time is straightforward. Because Lot was Abram’s nephew and had joined Abram and Sarah in their journey to the promised land, Abram may have thought that Lot was entitled to a portion of the land God had promised. Furthermore, a few verses earlier, at the time of the break between Lot and Abram, we read,

From the simple meaning of this passage, it appears that Abram was willing to cede a portion of the land God had promised him to his nephew Lot. Abram may have believed that as a result, Lot and his own descendants would have a legitimate claim to a portion of the promised land. So here in our verse, God stepped in and told Abram in no uncertain terms that this is not the case. “After Lot parted from him,” God reiterated to Abram that the entire land is to be the eternal possession of Abram’s offspring alone.

Three questions

A careful reading of our verses raises a number of questions. 

First, why did God say “Raise your eyes and look from the place where you are”? What exactly is the intent of this phrase? What does it add to God’s message to Abram? Where else would Abram be looking from, if not from the place where he was?

Second, God first told Abram to “look” and that “all the land that you see” will be given to Abram and his descendants forever. God then told Abram to “walk in the land to its length and breadth, as to you I will give it.” Is Abram’s possession of the land dependent upon walking the length and breadth? If not, what is the point of this instruction from God? 

Lastly, when God told Abram to look at the land He said, “For all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.” Then, when God told Abram to walk the length and breadth of the land He said, “as to you I will give it.” No mention of Abram’s descendants. And no mention of “forever.” Why?

Does “forever” mean “always”?

To begin answering these questions, let’s first raise another issue with what God said to Abram here. God told Abram that He will give the land to Abram and his descendants “forever.” Now, it is an obvious historical fact that there were many centuries during which the descendants of Abram were not in possession of the land. For most of Jewish history since Abraham, the land of Israel was not under the control and ownership of the people of Israel. At other times, such as the time we currently live in, the Jewish people do indeed have ownership and sovereignty over the land. 

I’d like to suggest that when God said that He gave the land to Abram and his descendants “forever,” He did not mean that they would always be in literal full possession and control of the land. Rather, God meant that the Jewish people have an eternal rightful claim of ownership to the land. He meant that the descendants of Abram would retain their identification with the land of Israel as their homeland forever. 

The eternal covenant of land

During the centuries of exile, when the Jewish people were not in active control and possession of the land, the covenant of the land remained, even though it was not actualized on the ground. The Jewish people continued to express their connection to the land through daily prayer. They continued to view themselves as being in exile, remembering always that their true homeland was the land of Israel. Every year, sitting at the Passover meal, telling the story of exile and redemption, Jews would continue to say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” The connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel was never lost. The land of Israel remained their land, even when in practice it wasn’t “theirs.”

In addition to this unbroken, eternal connection to the land of Israel, there would also be periods in history when the Jews would be in full possession of the land. Our verses describe both aspects of the relationship of the people of Israel to the land of Israel.

First God told Abram to “Raise your eyes and look from the place where you are.” God’s message to Abram was a message for all of Abram’s descendants, the Jewish people forever. God was saying, “Regardless of your location, from wherever you may be scattered across the globe. ‘Raise your eyes!’ Look beyond the current situation and see with higher, more spiritual eyes, that the land is yours forever.” 

This eternal connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, wherever they may be, “from the place where you are,” does not depend on actual sovereignty, physically occupying the land. It requires only that we “raise” our eyes and see.

But of course, this connection to the land of Israel is not the end goal. The fullest expression of the covenant of land is when the people of Israel “Arise” and “walk in the land to its length and to its breadth.” Only by physically conquering and taking possession of the land, only by governing the land with full Jewish sovereignty is the promise of the land fulfilled completely. 

For this second promise, God did not mention Abram’s “descendants forever.” This ownership of the land, must be actualized by each and every generation on its own. Only then is the covenant of land fully realized.

God’s promise of the land to Abram and his descendants is eternal. The Jewish people have never ceased to identify the Land of Israel as their homeland. Even in exile, they looked to the land and proclaimed this eternal bond.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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