With the background of article #2 in mind, and how Jesus was indicating in the strongest of ways, that there was a tremendous “loss of identity” that Israel should have always seen coming, I want now to turn to briefly examine some of the other “markers” that served to set Israel apart from the nations. I want to show how the NT writers “re-defined” those key identifiers in such a way as to indicated that a world shattering (for ethnic Israel at least) loss of identity that was taking place. However, that loss of identity should have been recognized and accepted by Israel, because as Jesus, Paul and the other writers pointed out, it had been foretold in Israel’s own Scriptures, from the very beginning.
Israel, the Land, The City, The Temple and Loss of Identity
It is common for Dispensationalists to claim that Israel never possessed all of the land promised to Abraham, and therefore, this demands a yet future fulfillment of those promises. It is insisted that to deny Israel the land, is to deny her election, her identity as God’s people. Ken Gurley argues: “At no time in Jewish history has Israel ever occupied all this land (see Deuteronomy 1:7; 11:24), and so, the nation of Israel will receive this promise in the future.” (Ken Gurley, Upholding Our Future Hope, (HazelWood, MO; World Aflame Press, 2005), 198+).
The truth of the matter is that Israel did receive the land, all of the land. In fact, even more than was originally promised. (See my, Israel 1948: Countdown to No Where, for a full discussion of Israel and the land. In that book, I demonstrate that there can be no legitimate claim that Israel never received all of the land. But, let’s take a look at the issue of the “land” and Israel’s loss of identity.
Israel believed that the land was given to them by Divine Right. It was YHVH’s land, but, He had bestowed that land to them, as part of the Abrahamic promise. It is difficult to imagine how crucial the land promises were to Israel.
Holland points us in that direction: “Without the temple and land, her people were disinherited. In ancient understanding, it was unthinkable for a people to be without their land and their god. Even in modern thinking, nationhood is often though to be inseparable from homeland.” ” (Tom Holland, The Divine Marriage, Commentary on Romans, (Eugene, Ore.; Pickwick, 2011), 333). Davies likewise suggests to us how important the land was in the Jewish world view: “There is kind of an umbilical cord between Israel and the land” (W. D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land, (Berkley; University of California Press, 1974), 15).
One thing that must be recognized is what we have developed above, and that is that the land of Israel was only a type / shadow of the greater and better things of Christ. It was never the determinative goal of God’s scheme of redemption, and not even of His purpose for Israel! Walker expresses it well, as he discusses the hope of the great Worthies of faith in Hebrews 11: “They ‘saw through’ the promise of the Land, looking beyond it to a deeper, spiritual reality. The promise concerning the Land, whilst real and valid on its own terms, pointed typologically to something greater. Any subsequent focus on the Land would then be misplaced; for the faith commended by the author was one which looked beyond such things.” (P. W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, (Grand Rapids; Eerdman, 1996), 212).
Another critical fact to consider, especially in light of modern claims that the land belonged to Israel unconditionally, is that the land never – never – belonged to Israel as a “divine right” but, as a divine “gift.” Israel was always, from the beginning, considered to be “strangers and foreigners” in the land, resident there strictly dependent on their obedience to Torah for the “right” to dwell there:
“The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). As strangers and foreigners on the land– guest tenants– Israel had no divine right, apart from the divine conditions, to “own the land.”
Howerda offers some excellent comment on this: “The real issue is not whether God ‘gives’ or ‘assigns’ the land to Israel, but rather on what basis the gift of the assignment is made. What is at stake is the fundamental understanding of the covenant, a debate as old as the apostle Paul and that involved how we understand the book of Deuteronomy.” ….” The land is first of all and always the Lord’s, not Israel’s. Amazingly, the people Israel are called ‘aliens and tenants’ in the Lords land since they have no permanent title to it and possess it with no absolute legal right to it (Leviticus 25:23). Thus, the land never ceases to being a gift, even when Israel possesses it.” …. “The possession of the land requires that the possessors possess God’s image and that the stewards of the land be like their Master.”…” Without holiness the gift of the land cannot be possessed and prosperity, peace, and rest cannot be secured, because that land and the whole earth is the Lord’s.” (David Holwerda, Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or Two, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1995), 92-93).
Unbelievably, many, if not most, Dispensational writers realize that this is hugely problematic for their claim that Israel was restored in 1948. So, a new doctrine has been created that claims that God actually promised to restore Israel to the land in a state of total unbelief and rebellion! I completely refute that doctrine in my Israel 1948 book. The fact is, as I fully show, that every passage that Millennialists adduce to prove their case, actually says the exact opposite of what they claim!
In light of this indisputable fact, one has the right to ask, if Israel’s possession of the land was totally dependent on faithfulness to Torah, the Law of Moses, then, what are the implications if the Law of Moses were to be removed – by YHVH Himself?
Davies makes some related points: “Two factors could not but unceasingly stamp the land upon the consciousness of Israel. The first is that the Law itself, by which the Jews lived, was so tied to the land that it could not but recall the land itself.” …. (1974, 57) “The Law itself, therefore, to use current terminology, might be regarded as an effective symbol of the land: it served as a perpetual call to the land.” (1974. 58). He adds, “Life in the land was the seal of divine favor.” (1974, 99).
So, if possession of the Land was dependent on faithful observance of Torah, and if Torah were to be removed, this would be tantamount to a total loss of identity, a loss of any “right to the land.” This brings up two major issues. We will discuss those in the next installment.
For even further study of the issue of Israel and the Land, be sure to get a copy of my newest book, Misplaced Minds: Colossians 3:1-2 and Dispensationalism. This is a stunning falsification of modern Dispensational emphasis on the land!