What does Bible say about the Golan Heights?

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“From the family of the half-tribe of Menashe the sons of Gershon were given Golan in Bashan with its common-lands.” — I Chronicles 6:71

JERUSALEM — It is interesting that this week’s Torah Portion (Numbers 19:1-22:1) ends on the Golan Heights with God instructing Moses, regarding the ruling power there, “Do not fear him, for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land.” (Numbers 21:34)

Waterfall in the Golan Heights. This area was taken by Moses and later granted as part of the inheritance of Menashe (Manasseh). (Credit: M. Sarvis)

Bashan was the name in Biblical times of a high land rising east and north-east of the Sea of Galilee, before ascending more steeply still in the north along the rocky slopes of Mt. Hermon.

Og was the name of the king who reigned there. He was gigantic, the last of an ancient breed of giants known as Rephaim (Deuteronomy 3:8-14; the name also refers to spirits of the dead). He was, in fact, the last giant to be overcome before entering Canaan by the children of Israel before entering Canaan, the land their parents had refused to enter 40 years earlier for fear of giants there.

Bashan was then as now a rugged place (Psalm 68:15) used for grazing cattle (Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 39:18; Micah 7:14). Psalm 22:12 uses “strong bulls of Bashan” as a metaphor for the powers of darkness pressing in upon Yeshua as he hung on the cross. The land eventually became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Menashe (Deut. 3:13-14). Golan is mentioned several times in Scripture as the location of a “city of refuge” in Bashan, and that is the name by which the region is known today, the Golan Heights.

With the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the area came under French oversight until 1944 when it became part of the newly established nation of modern Syria.

In 1967, after years of serving as a staging-ground for conflict with the newly awakened Israel, the Heights were wrested from Syria in the Six Day War.

After a failed attempt by Syria to retake them in 1973, a disengagement agreement was reached between the two countries in May 1974, which included establishment of a demilitarized buffer zone between the two nations to be patrolled by a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

In December 1981, without ever specifically using the word “annexation” the Israeli Knesset voted to apply “Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration” to the Golan Heights — an administration which has never been recognized by the international community, who view the Israelis living there as “settlers.” Although at least three prime ministers have actively explored the possibility of “giving the Heights back to Syria” in exchange for a peace agreement, this has never been allowed to succeed.

Syria remains in a technical “state of war” with Israel. Yet, for almost 40 years now, a relative peace has reigned on the Heights, which have flourished and where over 20,000 Israelis presently make their homes.

That “peace” may be soon coming to an end, as waves of the tumult enveloping Syria lap closer to the borders.

Intelligence reports released this week revealed that over the last few months operatives affiliated with al-Qaeda and global jihad have been infiltrating the Syrian-held portion of the Heights, laying groundwork for occupation by the rebel forces fighting the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Those forces invaded the UN buffer zone, briefly taking over the border-crossing town of Quneitra before being driven back by government forces who brought tanks and armored personnel carriers into the zone.

“Bulls of Bashan” grazing in the modern-day Golan Heights. (Credit: M. Sarvis)

The Syrian tanks presence within the demilitarized zone (DMZ) are in blatant violation of the 40-year-old ceasefire. Israel complained to the UN and also reportedly warned Syria that if the tanks remained, they might come under fire from Israeli forces. Syria said the armor was only there to drive back the rebels.

Yet earlier, in a strongly-worded speech, President Assad had warned that Syria itself was considering opening a new front in the Israeli Golan. So the situation remains extremely volatile.

Israel has restated its position of not becoming involved in the Syrian struggle unless fired upon, but already shells from both sides have fallen across our borders. Aware of what the conflicts might burgeon into, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently instructed the release of $350 million to ensure

that each of Israel’s residents is equipped with a gas mask.

Peacekeepers from the outside?

Meanwhile, dismayed at the fighting between the Syrian army and the rebel factions, Austria decided to evacuate its 377-soldier contribution to the nearly 1000-member UNDOF force presently assigned to the DMZ. At present UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is scrambling to find peacekeepers to take the Austrian soldiers’ places, realizing that credibility of the UN’s use of such forces in the future is at stake. As one diplomatic official put it to the Jerusalem Post, “If at a time when a few bullets are fired, these forces run away from where they are needed to keep the peace, then what is it worth?”

Seeing UN “peacekeeping” forces evaporate when conflict arises isn’t particularly new for Israel. It occurred in the Sinai in 1967 when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was preparing to “drive the Jews into the Sea”; nor has their continued presence in southern Lebanon since Israel’s pullout in 2000 kept war from breaking out in the summer of 2006, nor Hezbollah from obtaining tens of thousands of new missiles during the seven years since.

This all comes at a bad time for US Secretary of State John Kerry who is scheduled to return to the Middle East this week for the fifth time since being sworn in on February 1. One of his most recent proposals includes placement of a UN “peacekeeping force” along the Jordan border to keep terrorists from crossing, so that the Palestinians could build an airport near Jericho and take control of the north-south road currently controlled by Israel.

Is it any wonder that Prime Minister Netanyahu declared, at his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday-morning, that the disintegration of the forces in the north illustrates why Israel cannot rely on international forces for its security? What he failed to mention was how she can neither depend totally upon her own strength and prowess (Psalm 44:3-5).

How to pray

  • That God will set angels at Israel’s borders in the Golan Heights, to protect the inheritance of Jacob there. Pray that this territory will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
  • For wisdom and discretion to govern the leaders of Israel’s government and military, that we will not be drawn into a conflict which is a trap from the enemy.
  • For believers in the Golan Heights (there are quite a few, including at least two ‘houses of prayer’) and throughout Israel to be guided strategically in their prayers for this situation.
  • For a young generation of Israelis to rise who have the courage and spirit of Joshua and Caleb to battle fearlessly in God’s power against the giants which have arisen among us.
  • Please pray for conviction of sin through the Holy Spirit among Israelis, that we would realize that returning to God rather than relying upon and trying to become like the nations is our only hope to avoid war and the breaching of our borders.
  • The following verses have bearing upon Israel’s borders and the Israel presence in the Golan Heights. May the LORD grant illumination as we pray His will on earth in this part of Israel: Ezekiel 11:8-10, 12; Micah 5:4-6; Isaiah 26:12-13, 15; Psalm 147: 12-13.
  • Please pray clarity in the Holy Spirit regarding “Who is” the Prince of Peace who protects our borders and brings lasting peace within them.

“Arise, shine; for your Light has come! And the glory of YHVH is risen upon you. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” — Isaiah 60:1, 18

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