Before the children of Israel came into their promised Land, the Lord warned them on the mountains of Ebal and Gezarim that if they obeyed His voice and followed His commands, His blessings would overtake them and they and their land would flourish. On the other hand, if they forsook the Lord to follow after other gods and worshiped idols, the curses He warned them of would overtake them and they would be removed from their land like Adam from the garden of Eden. (See Deuteronomy 28 & 29).
When the children of Israel disobeyed the Lord and turned their hearts towards idolatry, they were dispersed throughout the nations and the land of Israel became desolate. It was as if it mourned their removal. When famous American writer, Mark Twain visited what was then known as “Palestine” in 1867, he described the land as such: “A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
During the time of the diaspora, the Land of Israel consisted of either deserts or swamps. It was largely uninhabited. But God, who is rich in mercy, promised that a time would come when He would restore the people of Israel to their own Land, not because of their righteousness, but for His Holy namesake!
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.”- Ezekiel 36:22-23
The children of Israel did not deserve their restoration to their land. But God, who is faithful to His covenant and keeps His promises, said He would do something with all His heart and with all His soul- He would restore them to their promised Land so that the world might know that He alone is God.
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.”- Jeremiah 32:40-41.
“It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married”; For the LORD delights in you, and to Him your land will be married.”- Isaiah 62:4
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the Lord, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”- Isaiah 55:11-13
When the Jewish people started returning to Israel in 1948, they began planting what are now millions of trees. The desert blooms with date palms. Forests of cedar trees fill the hillsides. The mountains and the hills are green once again just as the Lord had promised.
“I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert together with the box tree and the cypress…”- Isaiah 41:19.
In an article written by Jim Garrish, he states, “The Jewish National Fund has estimated that close to 250 million trees of various types have now been planted in Israel. These have not only been planted by the Israelis, but by Jews the world over, and also by multitudes of Christian pilgrims. Today where the bleak hills once stood in Mark Twain’s era, lovely forests now stand.”- Tu’Bishvat, the New Year of Trees
This week, as we celebrate the festival of Tu’Bishvat, in which the people of Israel will plant more trees in the soil of their homeland, we can stand back and say, “Look what the Lord has done!” He has fulfilled and is fulfilling His promise to bring back His people to their own land that the world might know He is God.
“So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”- Isaiah 61:3