The Promised Land (Hebrew: הארץ המובטחת, translit.: Ha'Aretz HaMuvtahat) is the land promised or given by God, according to the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), to the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob. The promise is first made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21) and then renewed to his son Isaac, and to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:13), Abraham's grandson. The promised land was described in terms of the territory from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates river (Exodus 23:31) and was given to their descendants after Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 1:8)
Today, both Jews and Palestinians believe they are the intended inheritors of this "divine promise" (q.v. Holy Land). The concept of the Promised Land is the central tenet of Zionism, whose discourse suggests that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees through which they inherit the right to re-establish their "national homeland".
The imagery of the "Promised Land" was invoked in Negro spirituals as heaven or paradise and as an escape from slavery, often which can only be reached by death. The imagery and term have also been used in more contemporary entertainment and in speeches, such as the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" (1968) speech by Martin Luther King, Jr:
- I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
- The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you."
and in Genesis 12:7:
- The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring [or seed] I will give this land."
Commentators have noted several problems with this promise and related ones:
- It is to Abram's descendants that the land will (in the future tense) be given, not to Abram directly nor there and then. However, in Genesis 15:7 it is said: He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it." However, how this verse relates to the promises is a matter of controversy.
- There is nothing in the promise to indicate God intended it be applied to Abraham’s physical descendants unconditionally, exclusively (to nobody but these descendants), exhaustively (to all of them) or in perpetuity.
- Some Christian commentators draw attention to the formulation of the promise, avoiding the term "seeds" in plural (meaning many people), choosing instead "seed," meaning one person, who, they understand to be Jesus (and those united with him): "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,”meaning one person, who is Christ." Galatians 3:16 Furthermore, they note that the expansion of the promise from singular to the plural is not based on genetic/physical association, but a spiritual/religious one: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:28-29
- Jewish commentators drawing on Rashi's comments to the first verse in the Bible, assert that no human collective ever has any a-priori claim to any piece of land on the planet, and that only God decides which group inhabits which land in any point in time. This interpretation has no contradictions since the idea that the Jewish people have a claim to ownership rights on the physical land is based on the idea of God deciding to give the land to the Jewish people and commanding them to occupy it as referred to in Biblical texts previously mentioned.
In Genesis 15:18-21 the boundary of the promised land is clarified in terms of the territory of various ancient peoples, as follows:
- On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites."
The verse is said to describe what are known as "borders of the Land" (Gevulot Ha-aretz). In Jewish tradition, these borders define the maximum extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob.
The promise was confirmed to Jacob at Genesis 28:13, though the borders are still vague and is in terms of "the land on which you are lying". Other geographical borders are given in Exodus 23:31 which describes borders as marked by the Red Sea, the "Sea of the Philistines" i.e. the Mediterranean, and the "River," (the Euphrates).
- See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.
It took a long time before the Israelites could subdue the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. The furthest extent of the Land of Israel was achieved during the time of the united Kingdom of Israel under David. The actual land controlled by the Israelites has fluctuated considerably over time and at times the land has been under the control of various empires. However, under Jewish tradition, even when it is not in Jewish occupation, the land has not lost its status as the Promised Land.
Descendants of Abraham
Traditional Jewish interpretation, and that of most Christian commentators, define Abraham's descendants as Abraham's seed only through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, to the exclusion of Ishmael and Esau.  This may however reflect an eisegesis or reconstruction of primary verses based on the later biblical emphasis of Jacob's descendants. The promises given to Abraham happened prior to the birth of Isaac and were given to all his offspring signified through the rite of circumcision. Johann Friedrich Karl Keil is less clear, as he states that the covenant is through Isaac, but notes that Ishmael's descendants have held much of that land through time.
Mainstream Jewish tradition regards the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having been given to all Jews, including proselytes and in turn their descendants, with the traditional view being that a convert becomes a child of Abraham, as in the term "ben Avraham".
- Sizer, Stephen (2007). Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.
- Kol Torah, vol. 13, no. 9, Torah Academy of Bergen County, Nov 8, 2003
- See 6th and 7th portion commentaries by Rashi
- Stuart, Douglas K., Exodus, B&H Publishing Group, 2006, p. 549
- Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Walter A. Elwell, Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001, p. 984
- Edersheim Bible History - Bk. 1, Ch. 10
- Edersheim Bible History - Bk. 1, Ch. 13
- Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible - Genesis 15
- Genesis - Chapter 15 - Verse 13 - The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible on StudyLight.org
- Parshah In-Depth - Lech-Lecha
- Reformed Answers: Ishmael and Esau
- The Promises to Isaac and Ishmael
- God Calls Abram Abraham
- Nigeriaworld Feature Article - The Abrahamic Covenant: Its scope and significance - A commentary on Dr. Malcolm Fabiyi’s essay
- Biblical commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1, Carl Friedrich Keil, Franz Delitzsch, p. 224