What is a Promised Land?

One of many beautiful landscapes of Switzerland
Published: April 1, 2024 | Maoz Israel Reports

Several years ago our family traveled for the first time to Switzerland. The mountains were magnificent and the view, a testimony to the grandeur of its Creator. In less than a thirty-minute ride straight up on a cable car, we went from bright grass and sunshine to the top of Titlis Mountain, where we walked through a permanent ice cave and the wind and snow nearly blew our daughter off the edge.

Between that and a later trip to Brazil, that boasts shades of green we didn’t know existed in nature and more beach islands than we could ever visit, we were in awe of the world outside our homeland of Israel.

On the plane ride back our kids looked excitedly out the window as we crossed our coastline and descended towards the Tel Aviv airport. At one point as we flew over some towns and the Judean desert, the smiles turned to questioning frowns and one of our kids looked back at us and asked, “Why is everything here so brown? Our country just has all these different shades of brown…”

The Ferguson family at the top of Titlis Mountain in Switzerland on a typical late spring day

It was a funny question. My kids had officially been spoiled by the wonders of the world and I was having a revelation. For most of my life, everyone I knew had equated the meaning of “Promised Land” with “Best Land.” After all, we were God’s chosen and therefore, surely God would pick the most amazing place on earth for us to dwell. On our end, we had always prided ourselves in having such a small swatch of land that included deserts, forests, coastlands, mountains and even a ski resort. But now it seemed we were just choosing to be content with our lot in life.

Setting aside that in Switzerland what we call mountains in Israel, wouldn’t even qualify as proper speedbumps, nothing natural in Israel comes easy. Grass and other greeneries are not an accident in Israel; they exist only for those willing to work hard for it. When it is hot and dry, it is very hot and dry. And when the rains finally come to soothe the cracked land, they come in perilous flash floods.

n just a matter of hours you can drive from one tip of Israel to the other. The amazing thing is how many different landscapes you will cover during that short time.

Apparently, when God promised the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a land for them and their future generations, that’s all He meant—that He promised them that land.

Had anyone involved me while the heavens planned out the location of this predestined homeland for the chosen people, I would’ve picked a tropical island. A land of plenty where everyone would leave us alone to live in peace and the closest potential enemy would be oceans away.

But what would be the fun in that? That would’ve made the Bible an incredibly dull (and potentially shorter) book as we wouldn’t have needed to be rescued so many times. We also, however, wouldn’t have been able to fulfill our calling. The reality is, if God chooses a people to represent Him to the world, He would need them to be in the middle of everything and everyone’s business.

Israel’s location is in fact just that—at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. The Promised Land was always a section of land that could not be easily ignored, but it also could not be surrounded entirely by enemies because of the Mediterranean Sea it sits on. Even in the olden days, in terms of trade, the region would be in high demand. It’s a different kind of ideal—but for a people called to be ever present in the story of God and humankind, it’s perfect.

That perfect part of God’s plan—is, of course, one of the main reasons the enemy would like the children of Israel not to live there. That is why we grow up as Jews always understanding that a life in the Land of Promise will always be full of battles and challenges. But, those very battles and rescues of our God are precisely what the Lord wants everyone to be watching.

Israel in the Bible was made up of 12 different tribes with unique sets of skills and characters. While tribes are no longer traceable, Israel today is a fascinating blend of cultures and nuances brought here by Jews returning from all over the world.

When it comes to the word “chosen,” people also misunderstand and think, like “promised,” that “chosen” means “best” or at the very least “ideal.” However, the term “chosen” is just a word identifying a specific people we should watch throughout history—for better or worse. As for those “chosen,” the term is a notification that they carry a responsibility to play a role. That role will affect others.

The Bible even explains that the children of Israel weren’t chosen because they were incredible to begin with, but rather because they weren’t. It is God’s ability to make tiny, rowdy Israel into something beautiful, that is the point of His story.

Israel is mostly desert land, but when He gave the land to Abraham, He also blessed this land of milk and honey.

The unique thing about being Jewish and being part of a story whose highlights have already been written —is that we know we will be here the day after. We go into every war knowing that while we may lose precious members among our people, we as a nation will always win. That is a confidence no other people group carries into battle. It is not arrogance or the belief that we are somehow better or stronger. In fact, we are often outgunned and outnumbered. It is just a confidence in our identity as people chosen by the God of the universe. The best part about this mentality is that when Christians—who understand the importance of watching Israel—see our confidence in our God’s ability to keep His promise, they will be able to hold firmly the same confidence in God’s promises for their lives.