Why Is Palestine Referencing ‘From the River to the Sea’ in Psalm 72:8?

Britt Mooney

Contributing Writer
Published Nov 28, 2023
Why Is Palestine Referencing ‘From the River to the Sea’ in Psalm 72:8?

The phrase, “From the River to the Sea,” is repeated to support the removal of the Jewish state to establish a fully Palestinian state in what is now Israel. But why are Palestinian supporters using this phrase?

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On October 7, terrorists from the Hamas organization crossed into the nation of Israel and committed horrific attacks on innocent citizens, inhumanely slaughtering women, children, men, families, and babies. The terrorists still hold several hostages.

The nation of Israel has responded to these atrocities through missile attacks in retaliation and even ground assaults into the area called the Gaza Strip, where Hamas holds political power.

This new war still rages, and this violence has a longer context of history, religion, and even the Bible. Different people from separate political persuasions bring their perspectives, from supporting Israel to supporting and even justifying the terrorist organizations bringing violence against the modern-day nation of Israel.

Muslim/Arab extremists, Hamas, and pro-Palestinian organizations have been using a phrase in their rhetoric, bringing a Bible verse into the conversation to justify their actions.

The phrase, “From the River to the Sea,” is repeated to support the removal of the Jewish state to establish a fully Palestinian state in what is now Israel.

But why are Palestinian supporters using this phrase?

Where Can We Find ‘From the River to the Sea’ in the Bible?

The phrase “from the river to the sea” can be traced back to Psalm 72:8.

Psalm 72:8 reads: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”

“From the river to the sea” is derived from the latter part of this verse, specifically from “from the river unto the ends of the earth.” The river mentioned is the Euphrates River.

Through the prophets and other biblical narratives, the term the river as a proper noun most often refers to the Euphrates, or possibly the Nile, based on the context. The sea refers to the Mediterranean Sea.

The psalm itself is a prayer for justice, righteousness, and prosperity under the rule of a wise and benevolent king.

The language used in Psalm 72 is poetic and symbolic, expressing the hopes and desires of the community for a leader who would bring about peace and prosperity for all, even the poor.

What Is the Biblical Meaning of ‘From the River to the Sea’ in Psalm 72:8?

Psalm 72 begins with a plea for God’s justice and righteousness to be bestowed upon the king. As the psalm unfolds, it becomes evident that the king in question is not merely a political leader but a symbol of idealized kingship — one whose reign extends over a vast and flourishing territory.

In this ideal reign, the king takes care of the poor and the children of the needy. The king breaks the bonds of the oppressor.

This is done with the supernatural power and assistance of God, so the nations will recognize God and fear him. There will be a flourishing of righteousness and peace.

While the king will reign from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, even those in the wilderness will bow before him. All enemies will be defeated, and kings and nations will bring the king gifts and serve God.

The ideal king will listen to the poor and needy when they cry and deliver them. Because of his care of the needy, God will give an abundance of food and fruitfulness. The king’s name will endure forever.

Solomon surely wanted to be an ideal king and asked for such wisdom, but because of these statements regarding the king reigning forever, many scholars see this psalm as a revelation of the Messiah.

The psalm concludes with a praise to God. This is God’s work, and he does wondrous things.

In the context of Psalm 72, the territorial imagery of “from the river to the sea” serves a dual purpose. First and foremost, it reflects the geopolitical reality of the time, as the territory from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea represents a vast expanse.

However, the territory described is not merely about physical dominion but encompasses a vision of justice and prosperity reaching all corners of the king’s realm.

The use of “from the river to the sea” is a poetic way of expressing the psalmist's aspiration for the king’s rule to bring about comprehensive well-being — from one boundary to the other, and from the river to the distant ends of the earth.

In this context, the river and the sea serve as powerful symbols. The river, often associated with life and fertility in ancient cultures, represents the source of sustenance and abundance, and in the Bible, the Euphrates has a connection to the Garden of Eden.

The sea, with its vastness and potential for trade and communication, symbolizes prosperity and connectivity. Therefore, “From the river to the sea” encapsulates the hope for a reign marked by justice, abundance, and prosperity that extends to every corner of the kingdom.

What Do the Palestinians Mean When They Reference ‘From the River to the Sea’?

While the phrase “from the River to the Sea” is taken from Psalm 72, the Palestinians and Hamas supporters mean something the text doesn’t support.

First, they mean from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, the general modern boundaries of Israel, forcing this biblical phrase to fit their perspective and political/religious agenda.

The phrase is being used to lay claim to the territory given to Israel by the British and the UN after World War 2. That area of land has expanded over the years due to attacks brought upon Israel by neighboring Muslim nations.

The group of Arab Muslims we now call Palestinians claim the land now controlled by the Jews belongs to them. 

This includes not only the West Bank and Gaza Strip but also the territory that constitutes the State of Israel.

The use of this expression implies a desire for a unified, sovereign Palestinian state. And the dissolution of Israel.

The Palestinians have been offered several treaties of a two-state solution, and every solution has been rejected. The Palestinians will only accept a one-state solution.

Yet, this one-state solution has been expressed with extreme hate toward Jews, not only in Israel but around the world, calling Jews colonizers and oppressors and other negative words.

These terms justify extreme violence against Jews, at least in the minds of Palestinians and those who support them. The language and clear goal of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders is to literally kill every Jew.

The phrase “from the river to the sea” by Palestinian leaders references the genocide of all Jews all over the world. This isn’t implied in their language but clearly stated as a goal, in their speeches and charters.

How Should Christians View ‘From the River to the Sea’ in This Context?

First, we should begin with some facts to give context to the whole discussion. Yes, there is a complex and complicated history here, but all the facts must be considered for us as Christians who want the Gospel of Truth to save all people, Jews and Gentiles, alike.

The terms Palestine and Palestinian came from Rome more than a thousand years ago, and the words reflect the Philistines, one of the major enemies of the Jewish people, and the Romans used the term specifically to upset the Jews.

The Romans were the oppressive colonizers of the area at the time, so the term Palestine itself comes from colonizers. To use the name Palestinians is to participate with colonizers.

Palestine was used to describe the area, not a people. Even Jews were considered Palestinians because of lines drawn on a map by Rome and subsequent empires that controlled the area.

It’s only been recently people have used the term Palestinian to refer to Arab Muslims in the area to divide from the Jews.

There never was an actual Palestinian state, meaning only other empires and colonizers politically controlled the area. No Palestinian state ever existed, so there isn’t one to return to.

In contrast, the area was built and controlled by Jews for centuries and taken away by other empires and, to use modern language, oppressors, whether Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Ottomans, or the British. There is a clear history of Israel and legitimate, indigenous control of the area to return to by the Jews.

Israel has always been attacked first and without provocation. The resulting wars, including the recent one, have been started by Arab and Muslim countries.

Israel has given much of the land back they conquered but has retained control of what they see as their historic land. Israel has never been the aggressor.

Not only has Israel never been the aggressor, but there is a clear history of compassion of Israel toward peoples of all faiths and backgrounds.

Christians, Muslims, and others can be citizens of Israel and hold political positions and do. Women have equal rights. This isn’t true of the countries who have attacked Israel.

Further, Israel does all it can to give and support Gaza and work with other Arab nations around them. They warned Palestinian citizens to move from the Gaza Strip in preparation for the Jewish attempt to remove Hamas from power after the horrific attack. Hamas, in contrast, has held their citizenry hostage and killed those trying to escape.

This isn’t to say Israel is perfect. As Christians, we aren’t called to blindly support the actions of any state, even Israel. As a nation, they have made mistakes, but overall, they have had a reputation and history of compassion and inclusion for all people.

Regarding Psalm 72, Israel has been more in line with what is expressed in that Scripture referenced with “from the river to the sea” than the Palestinians have.

For Christians, we must start by affirming the meaning of Psalm 72 in its historical context and how to view the principles today. We must resist bad doctrine and reading of Scripture for violent and terrorist attacks.

Psalm 72 expresses peace for all. Christians should not participate in lies calling the Jewish state colonizers or asserting Israel brings an apartheid against the Palestinians. There’s no evidence of this and is historically and patently false.

Next, people who believe the Bible must recognize the prophetic and historical value of the Jewish people, expressed in both the Old and New Testaments.

Despite various interpretations of the exact role of the Jewish people in God’s story of redemption, God promises blessings on the people of Israel. Jesus is also clear about the troubles and conflicts over what we call the Promised Land, modern-day Israel.

Followers of Jesus should be heartbroken by any war with its death and violence to people God loves and died for.

The gospel is for everyone, Jew, Gentile, Palestinian, even those of Hamas. We must stand against evil and violence against the innocent. We must pray for peace from both sides of the conflict.

At the same time, we should pray for God to bring all people involved to the saving knowledge of Christ through the Gospel.

Only Jesus is the righteous King to bring peace and abundance to all people, and we must love everyone in the situation enough to pray they know him as King. He is the ideal King of Psalm 72, and he will bring abundance and prosperity when we submit to him.


For further reading:

5 Powerful Prayers for Israel

What Is the Importance of Israel?

Why Christians Should Be Concerned about Israel

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Liorpt

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

This article originally appeared on Christianity.com. For more faith-building resources, visit Christianity.com. Christianity.com