Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eschatology shapes politics here in America and in the Middle East.   In this article we will address the issue of eschatology and Israel's relationship to the “Promised Land” in the Middle East. But first where does the belief spring up from that Israel today own the land?  It depends on who you ask. Evangelical Christians believe that the Jews are God’s chosen people, and the land belongs to them forever.

Many evangelicals have a eschatology, or the understanding that the Bible teaches that God literally gave Jews the land of Israel forever.   The land is obviously a major theme in the Old Testament.  If this is true, this would mean that the Jewish people would retain their divine title deed to Palestine, regardless of whether or not they kept the covenant with God

Let's look at some of the passages most commonly used with regard to the land of Israel.  The land at the center of the dispute can be called Israel, the Holy Land, or Palestine, depending on your perspective.  Has The Land Promise Been Fulfilled?

If the word of God can be believed, while having to totally reject the modern doctrines of men, this question can easily and quickly be answered. To answer the question poses no difficulty to any Bible student.   Here is the original promise that God made. While Abram "dwelled in the land of Canaan" the Lord said unto him, "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Genesis 13:12, 14-15).

Furthermore, Jehovah said, "And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers . . . And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord" (Exodus 6:4, 8)

Most dispensational premillennialists believe the promise is yet to be fulfilled.   However God Kept His Word and Israel received and lived in the land as promised.  Not a word failed...all came to pass."  Joshua, the aged leader of God's people, preparing to die, intensely told the Israelites, " So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands.  Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled." (Joshua 21:43-45)

Others say it was fulfilled, but that the land was to be Israel's:  "forever" - Gen 13:15. The Modern-day prophetic theory is based on the false premise that God still owes ethnic Jews the fulfillment of unfulfilled covenant promises.  However what does the Old Testament really say? The answer may surprise you.  There is an implicit acknowledgment in the Old Testament that the land did not belong to God's chosen people because of their race, but as a result from their covenant relationship with Yahweh. 

In other words the promise to retain the land was conditional based on their obedience to God. Joshua 23:15-16  But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” 

The promise to receive the land was unconditional. Deuteronomy 9:5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

However to retain the land was conditional based on their obedience to God.  Behind the blessing of the land there is the grave warning that without righteousness "the land will vomit  them out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before them." (Leviticus. 18:28).

Deuteronomy 28 is the famous chapter of the blessings and curses. If Israel obeyed God, she would be blessed. If she disobeyed, she would be cursed. Such blessings and curses also applied to "the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you" (vs. 11). If Israel followed God, she would be blessed in that land, but if she disobeyed God said, "you shall be plucked from off the land … until you are destroyed" (verses 61,63). Thus Israel's right to the land has always been conditional upon her relationship with God.
God strongly reiterated the conditional nature of His promises to Israel. Notice carefully.  Under Joshua's leadership many had faith and entered the land. Yet as time went on, the majority departed from faith and obedience to God's Law. Again the Lord warned, "I will cast you out of this land" (Jeremiah 16:12,13) unless things changed.  

The Land Promise Was Conditional Joshua's farewell address to Israel made clear that God would remove Israel from the land he gave them if they disobeyed him, a refrain repeated from the curses delivered by Moses, (Deuteronomy 28:21) Clearly in the Old Testament, when Israel disobeyed God, she lost her right to that land.  Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the Land.

There is another important part about the land that may surprise you.  Notice carefully what else God said about the land.  Leviticus 25:23  And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for THE LAND IS MINE: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.  To whom does the land belong? God says a good many times in scripture that land is His. He calls it specifically "My Land."  Later on, God extends the same language with David.  The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1)

God alone has the right to determine to whom the land belongs and His determination remains unchanged by all the fluctuating events of history. This is clearly established in scripture.

At the time the New Testament opens, Israel is back in the land but under Roman rule. This is were the “Higher Land Promises” of God are Unveiled to Abraham while Israelites are look for a king to remove the Roman yoke, Christ would have no part of it.   Rather, he came to fulfill the "higher land” promise of Abraham and his seed.  This is where the world in general makes the wrong turn in understanding God's dealings with the Abrahamic promise. 

In order to understand the Abrahamic promise we have to go back to were the promise was first given.  Genesis 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.   Notice carefully what God said here. Unto (thy seed) have I given this land. 

Now we will focus on the explanation by the New Testament writers of the spiritual and eternal aspects of God’s implementation of his promise to Abraham of a seed. The apostle Paul, in explaining to the churches of Galatia the change from the old covenant administration to that of the new covenant, wrote them concerning the promises to Abraham:  Galatians 3 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.       

Here is clear testimony that God’s promise was to Abraham and to Christ, Abraham’s seed. “And to thy seed”, in verse 16 above, refers to, “and to thy seed” at Genesis 13:15 hereinbefore cited. (see also, Genesis 17:7 where the promise is expressed “and to thy seed”). The singular SEED to this promise was CHRIST.  The physical nation of Israel was the temporal people of God, and they were the possessors of a physical and temporal land on the earth.

And further, that the “forever” aspect of God’s promise to Abraham of a great nation and of a land would be realized in a people, inclusive of Jew and Gentile, who are by grace through faith related to God in the Person of Christ. So, while Christ is the “seed to whom the promise was made”, there is a seed, in the collective sense who, through faith, share in the promises to Abraham and Christ. This collective seed is referred to as in Christ.

The apostle Paul continues in his explanation of Abraham’s seed, in this collective sense, by saying, Galatians 3:29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Abraham looked for a country, but as long as he and the patriarchs were in Canaan (Palestine) they viewed themselves as sojourners and strangers. They never claimed it as their home. (Hebrews 11:9,10). They died in faith, as strangers and pilgrims in the land, looking for the land which God promised them, 11:13-16.
For the ancient patriarchs the literal Promised Land is not considered the ultimate “geographical” destiny of Israel. That land was the "heavenly city" called the new Jerusalem which equates with the church/kingdom of the living God. (Hebrews 11:16; 12:22-24)

Second, the early Christians hope was not tied to the literal land but simply for a new, heavenly Jerusalem, it was for a new Creation.   There is not one word in all the New Testament that mentioned the hope for Israel returning to the land forever.

The physical promised land was once the specific place were God did a redemptive work, in that  Israel "died" in slavery in Egypt, and came out on the other side of the Red Sea to a new life when God planted them in their own Land of milk and honey (Ezekiel 37:12).   But now that arena of redemption has moved from its shadows and types to reality. In Christ’s redemption is the ultimate  reality of the land promises.  According to Christ, it is no longer ethnic Jews who will inherit the Promised Land, but the “meek” who will inherit the entire earth. (Matthew. 5:5)

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