The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: L

Previous Index Next

"Land" or "earth"?

The Heb word "eretz" may signify either "earth" (ie the globe as a whole) or "land" (ie a country or territory, in a more restricted sense). ["The second major use of eretz is to designate a particular territory" (Laird, Archer, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p 74).] This second meaning is most familiar, perhaps, in the phrase "Eretz Israel" (the Land of Israel). In the Greek, "ge" reproduces the same ambiguity found in "eretz" [see Footnote, at end of article].

The meaning attached to these two quite common words may have profound implications for the interpretation of prophecy, particularly in those books that deal most especially with the Last Days: Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New.

"Eretz" in Daniel

In Daniel, the word "eretz" is used about 40 times. [This total includes the Aramaic word "ara", which is used in the Aramaic portions of Daniel (Dan 2-7), is cognate with the Hebrew "eretz", and is considered by the authorities to be equivalent to "eretz".] Does "eretz"/"ara" mean the whole world? Or does it mean some specific Land?

Obviously, a number of occurrences of "eretz" or "ara" in Daniel are, by themselves, ambiguous on this point -- else, this would not be a matter for investigation! But some passages do give fairly clear direction as to how "eretz" should be read in Daniel:

So, in Daniel, the "eretz" (or "ara") is not the whole globe, but a particular part of it, occupied successively by the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Greek Empires of antiquity. Notice also the "Land ('eretz') promised to Abraham's seed", as defined in Gen 15:18: from the "river of Egypt" to the Euphrates; such a "land" was roughly equivalent to the "lands" of these empires.

Now see how this precise delineation of the "eretz"/"ara" of Daniel's prophecy has significant effect on the interpretations of this Book:

(1) "The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom which will appear on the 'ara'... It will devour the whole ara, trampling down and crushing it" (Dan 7:23). The fourth kingdom (Rome) was to be no more of a truly "world empire" than were the first three (Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece). Nor would it "trample down and crush" even the whole of its own domains; rather, the Romans most often brought law and order and peace to barbarian rabble.

But these words were especially true of Rome's relations with the little province of Judea -- the land ("eretz") promised, Biblically, to Abraham and his seed (Gen 13:15-18), and thus to Christ and his brethren (Gal 3:16,27-29). Unable to tame the recalcitrant Jews who lived there, the Romans finally trampled down Jerusalem and its temple, plowed the rubble under, sold into slavery all survivors of the nation, and forbade their return to the land of their forefathers -- all in fulfillment of Christ's prophecy (Mat 23:36-38; 24:1,2; Mar 13:2; Luk 21:6,20-24).

(2) "He [the King of the North] will invade the 'eretz' ['many' is not in the original] and sweep through... like a flood. He will invade the beautiful 'eretz'. Many ['countries' is not in the original here] will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. He will extend his power over the 'eretz'; Egypt will not escape... He will pitch his royal tents between the seas [Mediterranean Sea and Dead Sea] at the beautiful holy mountain [the Temple Mount, at Jerusalem]. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him" (Dan 11:40-45). What is plain here, by the context, is that the "King of the North" is particularly attracted to the "eretz" of Israel, and that this special Land encompasses also Edom, Moab, and Ammon (modern Jordan) as well as Egypt. This Land ("eretz"/"ara") -- controlled successively by the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome -- is the "theater" in which God generally operates.

Also, "at that time" of Dan 12:1 links Dan 12 irrevocably with Dan 11. This indicates that "the time, times and half a time" (Dan 12:7), the 1,290 days (Dan 12:11), and the 1,335 days (Dan 12:12) -- each a period of roughly 3 1/2 years -- give the duration of the Last Days "trampling down" of the beautiful land (Israel) and the beautiful holy mountain (at Jerusalem). This period ends with the resurrection and judgment (Dan 12:1-4), and the "end of the days" (Dan 12:13). So the time period of 3 1/2 years, which also figures prominently in the Book of Revelation, obviously has to do with the "eretz" of Israel in the Last Days -- not with Europe during the Middle Ages. The right definition of "eretz" in Daniel helps to determine the proper setting for such prophecies.

"Ge" in Revelation

In Revelation, does the word "ge" (used about 80 times) mean the whole world? Or does it mean some specific Land? [" 'Ge' may denote a country or territory" (WE Vine, Expository Dictionary of NT Words 2:13).] While the Apocalypse surely speaks of events that ultimately have a great effect on the whole world, there is good reason to believe that much of the action (like that of other Bible prophecies) takes place in the more restricted arena of the Middle East.

Once again, a number of occurrences of "ge" in Revelation are ambiguous on this point, or offer no evidence in the immediate context by which may be determined the extent of the territory involved. But some passages do give us fairly clear direction as to how "ge" should be read in Revelation:

Kings of the "Ge"

Another set of passages in Revelation links "ge" with certain kings. Who are these "kings of the ge"? Are they kings (and rulers) of all nations in the world? Or are they some subset thereof? If we can use Scripture to determine their identity, then we will have a good idea as to the limits (if any) of the particular "ge" in which the events of Revelation are played out:

The thirty of so passages in the above surveys help, by their OT contexts, to define and limit the "ge" intended in the Apocalypse. They strongly suggest that the other 50 or so occurrences of "ge" might profitably be read and interpreted along the same lines.

Of these remaining passages using "ge":

So this is strong evidence that the seals, trumpets, and vials all have to do with a specific Land -- a Land bounded on all four corners by the key nations listed in Ezekiel 38; 39... a Land occupied by Israel and ten antagonistic kings... the Land described in Genesis 15:18.

This particular Land is also the arena, or "theater", in which the witnesses and the Dragon and the Beast operate.



Alfred Edersheim, the noted Hebrew scholar, has this to say about the Biblical use of "the land":

"Palestine was to the Rabbis simply 'the land', all other countries being summed up under the designation of 'outside the land.' In the Talmud, even the expression 'Holy Land,' so common among later Jews and Christians, does not once occur. It needed not that addition, which might have suggested a comparison with other countries; for to the Rabbinist Palestine was not only holy, but the only holy ground, to the utter exclusion of all other countries, although they marked within its boundaries an ascending scale of ten degrees of sanctity, rising from the bare soil of Palestine to the most holy place in the Temple...

"But 'outside the land' everything was darkness and death. The very dust of a heathen country was unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it must at once be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of 'the land,' but remained to the end what it had been -- unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered...

"It was to the extreme boundary tracts of 'the land,' that Jesus had withdrawn from the Pharisees, when they were offended at his opposition to their 'blind' traditionalism; and there he healed by the word of his power the daughter of the 'woman of Canaan,' the intensity of whose faith drew from his lips words of precious commendation (Mat 15:28; Mar 7:29).

"It was chiefly a heathen district where the Saviour spoke the word of healing, and where the woman would not let the Messiah of Israel go without an answer. She herself was a Gentile. Indeed, not only that district, but all around, and farther on, the territory of Philip, was almost entirely heathen. More than that, strange as it may sound, all around the districts inhabited by the Jews the country was, so to speak, fringed by foreign nationalities and by heathen worship, rites, and customs" ("Sketches of Jewish Social Life").

Previous Index Next