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Faith and the land promise

June 17, 2011

The Old Testament prophets foretold a return of Israel to the promised land, but little is said about it in the New Testament. Instead, the promises and prophecies about the land are reinterpreted.

The promised land is among the shadows and types of the Old Covenant. It represents the rest, and the truth, into which Jesus said the Spirit of Christ will guide the saints. [John 16:13]

Not recognizing that the land is a type having a spiritual significance, some have claimed that the land promises in the Old Testament about Israel possessing the land “forever” must be understood literally. They claim ethnic Jews have a right to land in Palestine, and justify the dispossessing of the Palestinian population of their farms and homes. There have even been some who have converted to Judaism, and a diet of Kosher food, and observing Jewish holy days and sabbaths!

Another group of Christians assumes that the land of Canaan has simply become obsolete. They believe that the land promises in the Old Testament were all fulfilled in the past. They can’t imagine how the land could again become significant. They discount the prophecies of a future restoration.

Paul taught that Jewish and Gentile believers have become one new man in Christ. [Ephesians 2:15] This implies that the land promises have to be viewed in a new way. If the land represents the truth, into which the Spirit guides the saints, prophecies about Israel’s restoration could apply to the restoration of spiritual knowledge and understanding, and other gifts of the Spirit, to the church. The gathering of scattered Israel from the nations, and settlement in their own land, may depict the saints in various denominations and sects overcoming their captivity to false beliefs, and flawed interpretations, and possessing the truth. Jesus alluded to this, I think, when he said, “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains.” [Mark 13:14]

Paul said that receiving the “oracles of God” was the chief benefit of being a Jew. “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” [Romans 3:1-2] He did not view possessing a portion of the land of Canaan as being very significant.

Possessing and believing the Word of God is something far greater than dwelling in, or possessing, the literal land of Canaan. If land ownership was important, then rich and powerful Jews would be held in esteem! But, that was not the view of James, who contrasted the rich of the world with those who were poor, but rich in faith. James wrote:

James 2:5-7
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

Paul identified the promise given to Abraham, that in his seed all nations will be blessed, with the gospel. [Galatians 3:8] And what could be greater than the promise of salvation? The promise about the ultimate scope of salvation, revealed in an embryonic form in the promise to Abraham, is such that it will be extended to all nations. Abraham’s seed will number as the sand of the sea, and as the stars of heaven. In the New Testament, the seed of Abraham are those who believe the gospel. What would possession of all the land in the world, for the limited human lifespan, be in comparison to salvation? Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” [Mark 8:36]

In Jacob’s blessing of Joseph, he said that the blessings and promises that he had inherited extend “unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills,” suggesting those promises are eternal, and that they have a lofty, or spiritual character. [Genesis 49:26] These blessings include the land promise, which was confirmed to Jacob at Bethel.

Hebrews 3:6-4:11 shows that the rest of God must be entered by faith. It was foreshadowed by the sabbath day, and by Israel’s possession of the land of Canaan. But a type does not represent itself. The children of Israel taking possession of the land under Joshua does not represent the Jews taking possession of the same land again, in the distant future. Therefore the land in the promises to Abraham represents something greater and more lasting. Hebrews 3:6-4:11 shows that the land foreshadows what must be believed: the promises of God. In contrast, no faith is required in order to enter the Jewish state in Palestine. Instead, one needs a passport, and a plane ticket.

Jesus inherited all the promises, Paul said. That includes the land promises. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” [2 Corinthians 1:20]

Jesus said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” What is the place that he is preparing? It must be the environment where we are today. The Bible has been translated and distributed by past generations of Christians. We have the benefit of scholarship in a way that is unprecedented. Throughout history, Christ has prepared the “place” where the church is today.

In Revelation 12:6 & 14, the woman who represents the church flees to a wilderness. But the church is not in a literal wilderness. It is in a wilderness of partially understood doctrine, and flawed interpretations of prophecy, and of widespread confusion about the gospel. In this wilderness, there are many serpents, as there were in the time of Jesus. He called the scribes and Pharisees serpents. It is a label for false teachers. Today there are tens of thousands of sects and denominations. They are like invaders in the land of promise. Their weapons are “bitter words.” [Psalm 64:3] These are the weapons that fuel a great fire. [Ezekiel 39:9]

Isaiah said, “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” [Isaiah 35:1]  Trees will spring up, [Isaiah 41:19] and rivers will flow there. [Isaiah 43:19-20] It is to become like Eden. [Isaiah 51:3] These prophecies picture the time when obscure scriptures will be understood; a time of understanding, and truth, where before there was spiritual blindness.

Today, Christian scholarship is available for free on the internet. There are abundant resources, that were not available to most Christians in the past. The opportunity has come for a spiritual feast. This may be what Isaiah described, when he said “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”

Ezekiel said that a river will flow from the temple, and heal the lands it flowed through. There will be abundant fish in it. When it reaches the sea, the waters will become fresh. [Ezekiel 47:10] Obviously it is not a literal river, but pictures the spirit and the gospel going forth from the church to the world. Similarly, Isaiah said God would be like broad rivers and streams at Jerusalem, where no gallant ship would go, and no “galley of oars.” [Isaiah 33:21]

Land swallows up the serpent’s flood in Revelation 12. What else could swallow up a flood of false teaching, but the truth? Just as the work of Isaac Newton “swallowed up” the flawed cosmological ideas of previous centuries during the eighteenth century, a true interpretation of prophecy will swallow up and destroy all the false teachings, and wrong interpretations. Similarly, after Elijah’s sacrifice on mount Carmel, and the great rain, the prophets of Baal were caught and slain. John the Baptist said, “every mountain will be made low, every valley will be exulted.” This indicates all prophecies will be explained and understood. Jesus said,”Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.  Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” [Matthew 15:13-14] See: The river of water from the mouth of the serpent.

Hebrews 11:16 says the patriarchs looked for a heavenly country; this indicates it is something spiritual and eternal.

Hebrews 12:22 says: “Ye are come to mount Sion.” Mount Zion is part of the promised land, but it is associated with the heavenly Jerusalem. In the New Covenant there is no need for Christians to go to the earthly Jerusalem to worship. Isaiah 2:1-3 says “the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” In the New Testament, Jerusalem is located in heaven, which fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy. See: Ye are come unto mount Sion.

In Leviticus 26:42, in the fourth of four periods of 7 times, God “remembers the land.” This prophecy is not fulfilled by Jews migrating to Palestine, in unbelief. The context shows this restoration is about repentance, and reconciliation to God. It is conditional; “… if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” [Leviticus 26:41-42]

Isaiah said the mountains will be threshed; they represent the promises to the saints. The saints are the threshing sledge. See: Isaiah’s threshing sledge. The land promise is one of these metaphorical “mountains;” it is a “husk” that shields many of the promises of the gospel.

Gehenna, Jehoshaphat, and Meddigo represent judgments of God, but they are valleys within the promised land. Jeremiah said the valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, will be included in Jerusalem. See: Jeremiah’s extension of Jerusalem.

The promise of the land is not limited to the literal territory of Canaan, because no rebels will enter into the land of Israel, but they will be purged out; [Ezekiel 20:38] and because all Israel is to be gathered into the land. None will be left among the heathen. [Ezekiel 39:28] And because Jesus said true worship has to be done in spirit and in truth. [John 4:24] He abolished the connection between worship and  the earthly Jerusalem.

Restoration to the land, Jeremiah said, will be perpetual. God’s saints will not be “plucked up” again. [Jeremiah 24:6] And Ezekiel wrote:

Ezekiel 37:25
And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.

Here, David stands for Christ. Prophecies such as this, describing Israel’s restoration to the land, are fulfilled by the restoration of the saints to their promised spiritual inheritance, that they enter by faith. This is an eternal inheritance. Ezekiel’s prophecy is not about the migration of Jews who reject Christ as their king, to Palestine.

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