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ISRAEL – LAND AND PEOPLE – Week 8 / February 18th
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
The debate that rages over Israel’s modern day restoration is undoubtedly a heated one and there are good, honest Christians on both sides of “the divide”. It is crucial and important for us to make this observation because it is highly dangerous to treat each other with disdain and disrespect because we do not agree on this issue. Our salvation is not regulated by issues like this, but by our personal repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, all based on His finished work on the cross.
The Heart of the Matter
Some Christians see no biblical significance in the modern day restoration of Israel. For them the State of Israel is just like any other. The national destiny of the Jewish people in the “Promised Land” has been lost since the time of Christ because of their rejection of His Messianic credentials. They believe this even though the Scriptures affirm that the promise to them in this regard is an everlasting one! Consequently the church is exclusively the “New Israel of God” (The new Promised Land) and the only hope for all men, be they Jew of Gentile, is the acceptance of the Gospel.
From a certain perspective I must say that the latter statement is true. There is indeed “no other name give among men, under heaven, by which we can be saved”. We cannot and should not be dual covenant by belief! (Acts 4:12)
But is this the whole truth? I think not. The heart of the matter or the real issue is; has the everlasting promises of God in the Abrahamic Covenant bequeathing the land of Canaan to the Jewish people been revoked? And if so, what evidence of this “revoking” is in the Bible? In other words, the debate is about what one thinks of the Abrahamic Covenant. This alone is the heart of the matter!
The Nature of the Covenant
First mentioned in Genesis 12:1-3 and reinforced time and time again throughout all of Scripture mostly, in fact, in the New Covenant Scriptures, the Abrahamic Covenant sets aside a people and a land for the blessing of the nations. “In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed…” For the Apostle Paul this was one of the earliest proclamations of the Gospel. (Galatians 3:8) Thus, the Abrahamic Covenant is that great covenant of the Bible that promises salvation to a world lost in sin. It is made with Abraham and his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:7) It is, therefore, “the covenant of decision” and all the other great covenants of the Bible flow out of it. So, John the Baptist and even Jesus come into the world because of the promises made to Abraham in this covenant. (Luke 1:54-55; 72-75) The Jewish people, as Abraham’s descendants, are chosen as the servants of the covenant. In other words, the nation of Israel is not brought into existence as an end itself, but as a means to an end – the salvation of the world. They are the means by which God delivers His redemptive initiative to the world.
Jesus said “salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22) Paul wrote that “they are the custodians of the oracles of God” and from them come the prophets, the giving of the law, the covenants and the Messiah who is God blessed forever.” (Romans 3:1-2; Romans 9:1-5)
It is truly hard to believe that the covenant has been replaced in the light of all this, because if it has, then the decision to bless the whole world with salvation has also been replaced!!
The Nature of the Debate
The debate over Israel’s modern day restoration is over the continuing power and existence of the Abrahamic Covenant. In other words, has this covenant been abolished or reconstructed and if so, what biblical evidence is there for it?
Firstly, the “abolitionist theory”, (the total removal of the covenant) is not possible because of the New Covenant. For instance, in Galatians 3 we are told that “if we are Christ’s, then we are Abraham’s children according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29) Moreover, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law “so that the blessing of Abraham” might come upon us by faith. (Galatians3:14) The writer of the book of Hebrews insists that the wavering messianic believers can trust God and His promises in the New Covenant because he is faithful, completely, to His promises made in the Abrahamic Covenant. (Hebrews 6:13-20) Hence, there is absolutely no hint whatsoever that this covenant has been in any way disempowered, replaced, or abolished. On the contrary, it is affirmed and established, and this after Israel’s rejection of Jesus’ Messianic credentials! Indeed, in Galatians 3 Paul argues that it cannot be annulled, (Galatians 3:17) and in Romans 3:3-4 Paul clearly states that Israel’s rejection of Jesus has not in any way altered the faithfulness of God to them and, finally, in Romans 11 he argues that Jewish unbelief has not removed from them God’s calling and purpose. (Romans 11:11, 29)
Secondly, then there is the more popular “reconstructionist theory”, otherwise known as Replacement theology, that claims that the Abrahamic Covenant has been altered or adjusted because of Jewish unbelief. This is an argument from silence, but it must be made by those who see no significance in Israel’s modern day restoration to what was called Palestine. Given the New Testament evidence, that is overwhelming, they inadvertently accuse God of lying! (Romans 3:4) A covenant that promises the world salvation and promises everlasting possession of the land of Canaan to the Jewish people is not trustworthy! This is truly amazing when one considers that John the Baptist and Jesus came into the world because of this covenant and that our embracing of the Lord Jesus as Lord and Saviour places us in the promises made in it. The God we serve does not lie! (Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:9) Actually, according to Romans 15:8, Jesus came to confirm the promises made to the fathers and not to reconstruct or replace them. For the reconstructionists the words of Paul in Galatians three, attesting to the promise of God in Abraham, as applying to the “seed” (Christ) and not to the “seeds” (many) is taken to support their reconstructionist thesis. They are wrong because the Abrahamic Covenant makes a promise to both; the seed (Genesis 22:18) and the seeds! (Genesis 17:7-8) Paul’s point is that God’s ultimate plan of salvation brought to the world by the people of Israel is appropriated by faith in Jesus and not by the works of the law. (Galatians 3:15-18)
The Nature of Evidence
It has to be acknowledged by all in this debate that Jesus returns visibly and physically to Jerusalem; (Acts 1:11; Zechariah 14:4) that is, in terms of the context of scripture, to the Old City of Jerusalem. Indeed, in a mysterious way, He links this return to Jewish acceptance of His Messianic credentials. (Matthew 23:39) He also Himself stated, in His Olivet Discourse, that one of the signs of His return is the return of the Jews to East Jerusalem. (Luke 21:24) When we add to this the interesting conversation that He had with His disciples on the Mt. of Olives concerning the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, (Acts 1:6) the picture becomes clear. That is, a latter day return of the Jews after 70 A.D. to Jerusalem is expected! On what grounds? Clearly as the New Testament everywhere affirms, on the grounds of an everlasting promise made to them in Abraham (Hebrews 6:13-20)
Those embracing the “reconstructionist”, or replacement, view of the Abrahamic Covenant not only have to grapple with the weight of evidence in the New Treatment, but also with the weight of evidence in the Old Treatment. Exile and correction are always followed up with a promise of restoration. (Amos 9:9-15) On what grounds? The answer is the promises of God given in the Abrahamic Covenant. (Haggai 3:14-15; Psalms 105:7-15; Deuteronomy 30:1-10)
It is precisely here that the “reconstructionists” misuse Scripture. That is, in contradiction of the context of Old Testament Scriptures, which in most cases, in this regard, is literal they affirm that the passages, in this regard , have to be read allegorically! In short they wrest from scripture its own authority and they assume to themselves this authority and therefore they will decide what Scripture means. As a consequence they debunk any literal interpretation of scripture pointing to a physical restoration of the Jews to the land of Canaan and instead assert that the Church is now the new Promised Land or Canaan. This assertion is totally unacceptable as a method of exegesis. The truth is; we are not literalists or spiritualists (the allegorical method of interpreting) but “contextualists.” The context of Scripture will alone decide our exegesis of it. If we follow this erroneous method of exegesis to its logical end we can equally assume that Jesus’ death on the cross was not literal! In fact an early church heresy did precisely this. There is nothing new.
The Nature of the Divide
While the Abrahamic Covenant promises salvation to the world (Galatians 3:8) and land to Israel as an everlasting possession, the Mosaic Covenant (Moral Law), that flows out of it, demands from Israel that:
1. She live out the light and blessing of God that she gives to the world (Exodus 19:1-6)
2. She live out the heavenly demands of justice and righteousness (Micah 6:5-8; Exodus 23:11; Isaiah 5:7)
Failure in these two areas would lead to correction, judgment and exile, but not loss of possession, only loss of domicile! In all honesty, Christian Zionists fail in these areas. That is, they stress the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant but ignore the commands of the Mosaic Covenant or Moral Law. They thus stray into political Zionism! Israel’s spiritual condition matters to God and determines her borders.
How sad it is that the church can never find balance. We always think that “the other side” is wrong when in reality we are both wrong and both right. Scripture is therefore clear that Israel’s possession of the land of Canaan is unconditional and everlasting (Exodus 32:13) but her domicile (privilege of living on the land of Canaan) is conditional. That is, conditional upon her righteous behaviour. This includes treating the stranger with respect and justice. (Two devastating exiles in her history have proved this point well.) In this regard the Church and the Christian Zionist world should find its “voice.” For Arabs, Palestinians, Christians and other minorities living in the Holy Land this is the issue. The failure of Christian Zionists to address these issues has prevented these minority groups from hearing their message. But equally, the failure of Christians who champion these issues to address the consequences of the Abrahamic Covenant adequately has diminished their voice in the Jewish world. The truth is; we all need to “grow up” and be more balanced.
In the End
In the end Scripture affirms that Israel will exist forever as a nation before God and He will not cut her off because of all that she has done. (Jeremiah 31:35-37). Scripture clearly implies that her long historical journey will be characterised by two exiles and two returns. (Isaiah11:11) She will finally return a second time in unbelief (Ezekiel 36:24-28) and, through a process of affliction and correction, be spiritually recovered (Hosea 5:14-15; 6:1-3) Paul saw Israel’s “interlude of unbelief “as a time of the salvation of the nations to be followed by Israel’s spiritual recovery. The Deliverer will “come out of Zion.” (Romans 11:25-27) It is surely no co-incidence that we have now witnessed the second return of the Jewish people from exile. We are all “caught” in this unique transition point in history trying to make sense of it all. This is much like the early Church trying to make sense of gentile inclusion in the Church. It is a challenging process requiring grace and much love from those who tackle it. It is deeply troubling when Christians use Scripture as a weapon against each other. I do not write in this vain. I believe that in the end we must all acknowledge that there are great Christians on both sides of this debate. I have set forth my position in this devotional paper. A position I believe to be true. More true than all of this however, is faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.
©Malcolm Hedding Ministries