Over one hundred and fifty years ago, Mark Twain described Israel as desolate and unlovely. Today the land of Israel is thriving and beautiful. Why is that? What can account for a shift that drastic?
A Desolate Land
Before Israel once again became a nation, the land and what people said about it were vastly different than today. At that time, only tiny portions of the land were fertile, cities were crumbling, and permanent residents were few and far between. All in all, there was not much to see… unless God directed your gaze.
“Palestine [Israel] is desolate and unlovely.”—Mark Twain
Many people gave written accounts of the sad state of the Promised Land between the time when the Israelites were exiled from the land to their post-WWII return. Yet, of all those who recorded what they saw, Mark Twain was one of the most prolific. He was, after all, being paid to write about his travels… though the pay apparently did nothing to alter his opinions.
“Palestine [Israel] sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.”
Mark Twain had virtually nothing positive to say about the land of Israel to his publishers nor to those he told of his journey. In fact, as far as the letters and journals he kept during his trip to Israel go, even the rare positives he allowed were tinged with a strong measure of lackluster impression.
This negative view is so strong that despite other accepted accounts agreeing with Mark Twain’s view of the land, it might be easy to believe that he was taking extreme liberties in his descriptions. If merely to tantalize the readers of the 51 contracted short stories.
However, his accounts were—despite moments of ill humor and a possible desire to discredit God—largely, if not entirely, true. Barring a few descriptions given by those who saw the land through a biblical lens, Israel was a wasteland. And since Twain was hardly a man given to belief in God, let alone viewing the world around him through the eyes of Heaven, he spared no unkind word. Not even for the sake of his believing mother, though he is told to have bought her an olive wood covered Bible he had specially made for her…
Perhaps Mark Twain’s mother inspired some of his kindest words about the land: “Its banks, and those of the brook are respectably adorned with blooming oleanders, but the unutterable beauty of the spot will not throw a well-balanced man into convulsions, as the Syrian books of travel would lead one to suppose.” [Mark Twain writing about the river Dan soon after passing into Israel.]
However, Mark Twain was more apt to write, “The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
Mark Twain could be quoted for hours about Israel’s defects, providing Israel the equivalent of a one-star review with his only positives, including a little section of the Dan and the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.
Yet, pictures taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s confirm this poor view of the land, visually depicting a barren landscape with rough, rocky, dirt roads, a few Bedouin tents, and no real plant life to speak of. Mark Twain was not lying.
In fact, over 600 years before Mark Twain or photographers would document the land, one Jewish man, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman—also known as Nachmanides—gave Israel a less than glowing review…
“Many are Israel’s forsaken places, and great is the desecration. The more sacred the place, the greater the devastation it has suffered. Jerusalem is the most desolate place of all.”—Nachmanides
Nachmanides’ view of the Holy Land may sound dire, but to him, it was a blessing. A blessing of God’s Word being true; of Leviticus (likely chapter 26) being brought to life!
Nachmanides wrote that the desolation, “constitutes a good tiding, proclaiming that during all our exiles, our land will not accept our enemies… Since the time that we left it, [the land] has not accepted any nation or people, and they all try to settle it… This is a great proof and assurance to us.”
Israel a Land of Life
If Mark Twain had known that his negative review confirmed not only God, but also the covenant-keeping nature of Him, would he have allowed softer words to flow from his hand? Unlikely. However, it is certain he would be surprised at the meaning his words hold for Believers. Of the beauty from ashes, God firmly set in place…
On May 14, 1948 the nation known as Israel was restored. In the natural it was a poor prize, but despite the Children of Israel receiving something desolate, it did not take long before the land quickly became unrecognizable. In fact, had Mark Twain seen the 1867 version placed next to Israel even in 1967, he would have been dumbfounded. Even with the six-day war of 1967 and the struggles those early years involved, the land was already flourishing in ways it had not since biblical times!
Today, even if we were to compare to the Israel of the year 2000, we would find drastic shifts in:
- Conservation and the creation of clean water [Examples: cutting edge desalinization processes; drip irrigation advances; high water levels in Galilee]
- Advances in speed and anti-pollution measures [Examples: trains shortening travel times and road congestion; electronic bus systems]
- Leaders in medical innovation and healing practices [Examples: Israel was the first to successfully perform bone implants; first to utilize artificial cornea; created new, early tests for Parkinson’s disease]
- Consistently at the forefront of technological advancements [Examples: AI traffic management created in Israel now used in Phoenix, AZ; technology to help nations in need achieve clean water; laser system to destroy explosive kites and balloons]
- Within and beyond the nation of Israel [Examples: predicting and fighting fires around the world; utilizing technology to create a reduced need for chemicals; planting olive trees]
On and on we could look at the shifts in Israel, but it is only through the Word that we discover why there is such a blessing on modern-day Israel.
Covenant between God and Israel rests at the heart of these blessings. Covenant promises which speak of blessings on top of blessings for the land, the people, the animals… Covenant blessing to the Children of Israel…
Prophecies from Ezekiel 36, Amos 9, Isaiah 35, AND Isaiah 49 are coming to pass! Some of these prophecies speak of the Children of Israel returning from all the ends of the earth… which continues to occur! Through Aliyah—where Jews are helped by the State of Israel to return—through the support of Gentile Believers, and through God’s divine assistance!
Other prophecies speak of how the land will return to a place of beauty, the cities will be built up, and wealth and favor will come. Today, from one end of Israel to the other, there is indeed beauty, cities are being restored and built up, and wealth and favor pour in!
While still other prophecies speak of the Gentiles assisting the rebuilding of the land of Israel; from the cities to the country. And this is where Curt Landry Ministries, through the support of Believers like YOU, has been blessed to be a part of prophecy fulfillment…
Through your generous support, we have planted trees and other life-giving plants. We have given to Holocaust Survivors, victims of human trafficking, lone soldiers, young men and women in safe houses, and many others in need.
It is an honor to be a part of God’s Word in such a physical way, and yet, God also promises blessings to those who bless Israel, from peace to prosperity! It is a gift that keeps on giving, not only to those who receive our help but also to you, your family, your children!
Curt Landry Ministries is honored and humbled to play a part in helping and blessing Israel and her people, and we pray that you, too, will be blessed by it. And to all those who have donated or are one of our Covenant Partners, we say “Toda Raba” (thank you very much)!
Your support matters!