Israel – Land and People

“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 sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:7-8

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 distain 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” 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 are not 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is; has the everlasting promise of God in the Abrahamic Covenant bequeathing the land of Canaan to the Jewish people been revoked?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 promise 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 said “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 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. The writer of the book of Hebrews insists that the wavering 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 reconstructed. 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 11 he argues that Jewish unbelief has not removed from them God’s calling and purpose. (Romans 11:11, 29)

Secondly, then the more popular reconstructionist theory, that the Abrahamic Covenant has been altered or adjusted, is also not possible. This is an argument from silence, but it must be made by those who see no significance in Israel’s modern day restoration. Given the New Testament evidence that is overwhelming, they inadvertently accuse God of lying! 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.

The Nature of Evidence

It has to be acknowledged by all in this debate that Jesus returns to Jerusalem. (Acts 1:11) Indeed, in a mysterious way, he links this return to Jewish acceptance of His Messianic credentials. (Matthew 23:39) As He Himself stated, in His Olivet Discourse, 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) (1) 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) (2)

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 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 Scripture, which in all 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. They will decide what Scripture means. This is totally unacceptable as a method of exegesis. The truth is we are not literalists or spiritualists (the allegorical method of interpretation) 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, 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 Convent.

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. 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 Convent 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). It is deeply troubling when Christians use Scripture as a weapon against each other. (3) 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 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

1. The theological gymnastics that some theologians perform in the quest to negate the plain meaning of this text are indeed nothing short of bizarre. When Scripture obviously and plainly challenges our ” water tight” positions our response should be to honour it, not attempt to negate it, but rather to readjust our thinking. Scripture does not contradict itself and when we imply that it does we are always wrong.

2. Mainstream Christian Zionists do not support the modern day restoration of Israel because of eschatological considerations but because of a promise made to Abraham 4,000 years ago. They are not thirsting for Armageddon, as some assert, but rather affirming the efficacy of a covenant that dominates all of Scripture.

3. A theologian that spends his life and ministry seeking to debunk the position of Christian Zionists recently stated, regarding Israel’s modern day restoration, that the “jury is still out” concerning whether this restoration has biblical significance or not. He should stay out of this area of ministry altogether because if the “jury comes in” and affirms the biblical significance of Israel’s modern day restoration he will be caught out resisting God Himself. This is a highly challenging theatre of ministry and we should all remember that we who have mounted this stage, as teachers, will incur a greater judgment. (James 3:1)

Rev. Malcolm Hedding

©Malcolm Hedding Ministries