Bible Question:

Please define the promised land. Does the Bible call it the land of Palestine? Did the Roman emperor Hadrian rename the area surrounding Jerusalem as Palestine?

Bible Answer:

The “Promised Land” is so named because it was territory that God had promised to Abram, who was later renamed as Abraham, for following Him.

Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. (NASB) Genesis 12:5-7

The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me (Abraham) and who swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I will give this land,” He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. (NASB) Genesis 24:7

The scriptures refer to the promised land in different ways. In Genesis 12:1-4 we are told that God visited Abram and promised him 1) that he would become a great nation and 2) have a land of his own. Abram believed God and left the Ur of the Chaldeans, the place of his birth (Gen. 11:31; 15:7). In verse 5 we are told that Abram and his wife Sarai arrived in the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised. Genesis 13:12 says that Abram settled in the land of Canaan.

In Genesis 15 God meets Abram again promising him the land of Canaan again and defining its boundaries. The land that he would inherit stretched from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (Gen. 15:18-21).

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.” Genesis 15:18–21 (NASB)

Exodus also describes the promised land as stretching from the boundary of the Red Sea to the Euphrates River (Exodus 23:28-31). Numbers 34:1-13 defines a smaller territory for the Israelites to occupy.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to its borders. Your southern sector shall extend from the wilderness of Zin along the side of Edom, and your southern border shall extend from the end of the [Dead Sea] eastward. Then your border shall turn direction from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim and continue to Zin, and its termination shall be to the south of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall reach Hazaraddar and continue to Azmon. The border shall turn direction from Azmon to the brook of Egypt, and its termination shall be at the sea. As for the western border, you shall have the [Mediterranean Sea], that is, its coastline; this shall be your west border. And this shall be your north border: you shall draw your border line from the Great Sea to Mount Hor. You shall draw a line from Mount Hor to the Lebo-hamath, and the termination of the border shall be at Zedad; and the border shall proceed to Ziphron, and its termination shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your north border. For your eastern border you shall also draw a line from Hazar-enan to Shepham, and the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain; and the border shall go down and reach to the slope on the east side of the Sea of Chinnereth. And the border shall go down to the Jordan and its termination shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land according to its borders all around.'” So Moses commanded the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you are to apportion by lot among you as a possession, which the LORD has commanded to give to the nine and a half tribes.” (NASB) Numbers 34:1-13

Promised Land Under Joshua

In Numbers 34:2 God explicitly states they were inheriting the land of Canaan. The western border of the Promised Land started with the coastline along the Sea of Galilee. The northern border is defined by a horizontal line that crossed through Mount Hor, Lebo-hamath, Zeded, Ziphon, and Hazarenan. The eastern border crossed through Hazarenan, Shepham, Riblah, Ain, the Sea of Chinnereth and down to the Dead Sea. The southern border started with the wilderness of Zin on the east side of Edom and extended to the west side of the Dead Sea.[1]

The territory was about 60,000 square miles, 144 miles in length from the north to the south, 40 miles across the southern border, and 20 miles along the northern border. Joshua 15:1-12 is another passage that gives the boundaries of the land that the Israelites occuppied under Joshua. It was the land of Canaan.

Canaan was a smaller portion of the much larger region that was originally promised to Abraham. It was the initial installment. In Genesis 50:24 Joseph calls the land that God promised to Abraham “the land which He promised on an oath to Abraham.” Yet, nowhere in scripture is that land called the “promised land.” That is a term that has been given by Christians to the land promised to Abram. The New Testament comes very close to using the expression “promised land” when the book of Hebrews says, “land of promise.”

By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise . . . Hebrews 11:9 (NASB)

Occupation of the promised land became a reality under King David and King Solomon when the Israelites possessed all of the land that God had promised Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, 18, and 22. However, it was temporary and did not last. At Israel’s height their land stretched from the border of Egypt to the River Euphrates:

So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth were seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart. They brought every man his gift, articles of silver and gold, garments, weapons, spices, horses and mules, so much year by year. Now Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots and 12,000 horsemen, and he stationed them in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. He was the ruler over all the kings from the Euphrates River even to the land of the Philistines, and as far as the border of Egypt.

The promised land included Judea, Samaria and Galilee in Jesus’ day. Consequently, it included the land of Canaan (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities I, 7, the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) and the Dead Sea. Palestine was a name already in existence and used by ancient writers before Jesus was born. Here is a quote from Herodotus (440 B.C.),

Between Persia and Phoenicia lies a broad and ample tract of country, after which the region I am describing skirts our sea, stretching from Phoenicia along the coast of Palestine-Syria till it comes to Egypt, where it terminates. This entire tract contains but three nations. The whole of Asia west of the country of the Persians is comprised in these two regions.[2] Aristole (350 B.C.) also refers to Palestine and mentions the Dead Sea by mentioning the “lake” that is “bitter” and “makes salt.”

Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it floats and does not sink, this would bear out what we have said. They say that this lake is so bitter and salt that no fish live in it and that if you soak clothes in it and shake them it cleans them. The following facts all of them support our theory that it is some earthy stuff in the water which makes it salt.[3] Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37 – A.D. 100 ) also refers to the land of Palestine in his Antiquities of the Jews Book XX, Section 11.

Therefore, it is speculative and wrong to conclude that the term Palestine referred exclusively to land possessed by the Philistines. It is clear from the ancient writers that Palestine referred to the entire land of Canaan, which was the land the Israelites possessed under Joshua and King David. Therefore, it is an error to state that the term or the name of Palestine has only one modern day meaning. Palestine has multiple meanings. The context of the written material must communicate the correct sense of the term. The older meaning of Palestine referred to the land occupied by the Israelites before Christ and during Christ’s time until the Romans defeated the nation in A.D. 70. Hadrian was not the first to name the region Palestine. The newer meaning of Palestine does not have that sense.


The Bible predicts that the Promised Land will be given to the Jewish people some time in the future when Jesus returns again and rules the entire world (Ezek. 47:13-20). During this time the promised land will be finally realized in its fullest extent as predicted by Daniel 9:24-27; 11:40-45, Micah 7:12 and Revelation 9:14 and 16:12.


1. Yohanan et al. The MacMillian Bible Atlas. MacMillian Publishing Co. 1968. maps 48, 50.

2. Herodotus. The History. Book IV. Melpomene.

3. Aristotle, Meteorology, Book 2, Section 3

Suggested Links:

The Promised Land offered rest. (Deuteronomy 12:8-11)
Why was it necessary for spies to go into Canaan since God had already promised to give them the land?