What Is the Promised Land?

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Image by Aviv Ben Or. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Last edited on 23/Jan/2021

The Bible’s Answer

The Promised Land—also known as a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:16–17)—is the land of Canaan, which is present-day Palestine/Israel, the land which God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants as part of his covenant relationship with them (i.e. a formal pact or agreement):

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18–21)

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7–8

Boundaries of Israel

In Numbers 34:1–12, the Bible lists the exact boundaries of the land on the northern, southern, eastern, and western borders (Numbers 34:1–12). The Bible says it is as an exceedingly good land that God cares for:

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:10–12

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:7–10

But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, 12 a land that the LORD your God cares for. The eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:11–12)

Moses and Joshua Lead the Hebrews

God led the Hebrews (Abraham’s descendants) to the Promised Land through his appointed leader, Moses (Exodus 3:1–10), after bringing them out of the land of Egypt, where they were enslaved (Exodus 3:16–17). God also commanded the Israelites to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan:

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. 53 And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. 54 You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. 55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. 56 And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” (Numbers 33:50–56)

This was because of the wickedness of the inhabitants (Deuteronomy 9:4–5). Shortly before Moses’ death, the Lord appointed Joshua the son of Nun to lead the conquest of the Land of Canaan, which lasted seven years (Joshua 1:1–6). At the end of the conquest, the Lord commanded Joshua to allot the land that they had dispossessed to all the tribes of Israel for an inheritance, so that they dwelt in the land that the Lord promised them. However more land was yet to be taken, but God himself would drive out the inhabitants, so long as the Israelites loved him and followed his commandments (Joshua 23:1–13):

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. 2 This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites 3 (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northwards to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, 4 in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, 5 and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, towards the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, 6 all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. 7 Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.” (Joshua 13:1–7)

God’s Promises Fulfilled

Joshua chapters 13–21 record the land that each tribe inherited. Because the Israelites inherited this land and had rest, this fulfilled the Lord’s promise that he gave to Abraham and his subsequent offspring:

Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43–45)

“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. (Joshua 23:14

You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous. (Nehemiah 9:7–8)

The Judges of Israel

However, as the Lord said before, while the Israelites did occupy and have rest in the Promised Land, the entire land had not yet been occupied, and the enemies still lived within those areas. This was because the Lord God wanted to test the Israelites to see if they would continue to love him or not:

Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. 3 These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4 They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. 5 So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6 And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. (Judges 3:1–6)

Because the Israelites disobeyed God’s commandments in completely driving out the inhabitants and rejected him to serve and worship the so-called gods of the inhabitants that stayed with them, the Lord let Israel be defeated and oppressed by its enemies, and did not give it full occupation of the whole land of Canaan (Judges 2:1–5, 11–15). However, whenever the Israelites cried out to the Lord in their affliction, he had compassion on them, and raised up judges for them, who were military leaders that acted as saviours, to deliver them from their enemies, for the Lord was with the judges (Judges 2:16–18, see also Judges chapters 3-16).

The Kings of Israel

Later, the Israelites asked for a king to lead them, so God appointed them kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon, but the Lord was not pleased with this, because by doing this they had rejected him as their king (1 Samuel 8:1–9) (See 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings). The prophet Samuel appointed Saul as their first king (1 Samuel 10:17–24). Some of the kings did what was overall good in the sight of the Lord, having a positive influence on the Israelites, while others did evil and enticed them into sinning.

David is seen as the greatest king of Israel because of how he faithfully followed God all his life (2 Samuel 22:21–251 Kings 15:4–5), while his son, Solomon, is seen as the wisest king of Israel, because he was humble to God in his prayers (1 Kings 4:29–341 Kings 10:1–5). Despite this, they both had some major shortcomings.

The Decades of Captivity

In 2 Kings 17:1–21, the Lord allowed king Shalmaneser of Assyria to defeat Israel, tear it from the house of David, and put it into exile, because the Israelites rejected God by worshipping false gods, making metal images of calves, practised child sacrifice, divination, and omens (at this time the Promised Land was divided into two kingdoms: the northern half was Israel, while the southern was Judah). In 2 Kings 25:1–21, the Lord allowed king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to take over Judah, send it into captivity, burn his holy temple in Jerusalem, and exile most of the Israelites out of the land. This was as punishment for the evil that King Manasseh of Israel committed (2 Kings 21:10–18), whose sins were worse than the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and because the Israelites followed after his ways (2 Kings 21:1–9).

Israel Restored and the Temple Rebuilt

Babylon kept Judah in captivity for 70 years. However, the Lord promised that he would punish Babylon for its iniquity after the 70 years are complete, and bring the children of Israel back into the Promised Land of Judah, restore control to them, and have his temple rebuilt:

“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10–14)

This was fulfilled in Ezra 1, when God sent Cyrus, king of Persia, to Jerusalem to restore it—and the kingdom of Judah—back to the children of Israel, and in Ezra 6, when the temple was rebuilt.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1–4)

The Old Testament chronology ends when Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah were restored to the children of Israel, as the Lord promised (Ezra was written in approximately 440 BC). In 70 AD the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and drove out the Jews from the land, taking control. In 1948 Israel was again established as a nation, and remains as such to this day.


Canaan (The Promised Land), Bible Tutor, accessed on 5 August 2017, <http://www.bibletutor.com/level1/program/start/places/canaan.htm>

Ellis, B R, 1991, Conquest of Canaan, Study Light, accessed on 6 August, <https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/c/conquest-of-canaan.html>

Has Israel’s territory ever encompassed the promise in Joshua 1:4?, GotQuestions?.org, accessed on 5 August 2017, <https://www.gotquestions.org/Israel-territory.html>

FROM JOSHUA TO THE EXILE: THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN THE PROMISED LAND, American Bible Society, accessed on 6 August 2017, <http://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/from-joshua-to-the-exile-the-people-of-israel-in-the-promised-land>

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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