Home > Dispensationalism, New covenant, Promised land > Barry E. Horner and the land promise

Barry E. Horner and the land promise

February 12, 2012

Barry E. Horner is the author of “Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged.” [1] In his book, Horner discussed views about the land promise developed by scholars such as O. Palmer Robertson, Colin Chapman, N. T. Wright, Stephen Sizer, Peter Walker, and Steve Motyer, who have written books and articles on New Testament teaching about the Palestine conflict and the land promise. They each concluded that Jewish possession of Palestine is not something that Scripture teaches Christians to support, as the land of Canaan promised to Abraham belonged to the shadows and types of the Old Testament, and those promises are fulfilled by the spiritual realities of the Gospel. Their conclusions may have varied somewhat in detail, but they agreed that claims of so-called Christian Zionism are false.

Horner took it upon himself to oppose their views; he bemoaned what he called anti-Jewish opposition to his own beliefs. Referring to O. Palmer Robertson’s comments on Abraham as “the heir of the world,” in Romans 4:13, Horner wrote: [2]

To read Robertson’s The Israel of God is to quickly discover his intoxication with the representation of virtually the whole Old Testament in terms of “shadowy, temporal forms.” This is especially true with regard to the land’s alleged temporal significance in view of Abraham’s subsequent inheritance of the world in Romans 4:13. Though for some strange reason it is vital for Robertson that this universal prospect should absorb, rather than include the particularity of Israel, and thus eliminate national identity. The same emphasis on absorption, or supercession, is made by Wright, Chapman and Sizer. Whereas it seems perfectly clear that since “in you [Abraham] all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), that is the Gentile nations, this broad prospect does not at all eliminate the distinctive inclusion of national Israel dwelling in the promised land under Christ surrounded by these same saved Gentile nations who are also under Christ. So Barrett rightly relates Paul’s exposition of Romans 4:13, which “summarize[s] the content of the promise [to Abraham],” to Genesis 22:17-18. Thus the world includes the land of Israel “at the center of the world” (Ezek. 38:12). Yet for Robertson, even the explicit restorationist language of Ezekiel is merely a necessary geographic accommodation to the times of the prophet that calls for a more universal perspective. However to this Bonar responds that such a hermeneutic of accommodation, evidently unoriginal, was not at all necessary.

When referring to Robertson’s views, Horner used terms such as “strange,” and alluded to Robertson’s “intoxication,” as if the idea of the Old Testament having “shadows” was alien, and somehow suspect. But, in two places in the New Testament, the law of Moses is called a shadow of a more tangible reality that has been brought to light by Christ. Paul wrote: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” [Colossians 2:16-17] Also: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” [Hebrews 10:1]

The reference to the law as a shadow, or an image of a greater reality, is one of the great, profound truths of the gospel. And since Hebrews 8:6 says that Christ is the mediator of a better covenant, containing better promises, which Hebrews 11:16 says includes a better country, the same must be true of the land promise. There is nothing “alien” or strange about this, except for premillennialists, and dispensationalists, who evidently struggle to understand it, and unbelieving Jews who Paul described as blind. Horner wrote: [3]

From the foregoing it will be noticed that the anti-Judaic or supercessionist hermeneutic of Wright, Chapman, Sizer, Motyer and Robertson, etc., is declared to be founded upon a supremely Christocentric reinterpretation of the Old Testament, even as Ladd propounds. It is therefore implied that a Judeo-centric eschatology is not sufficiently Christocentric since it is impeded by a more literal understanding of Old Testament Judaism whereby its shadows are allowed to obscure the reality of Christ. Of course in response it simply needs to be pointed out that the risen, glorified Christ has never declared that His Jewishness would ever be abandoned. Though a supercessionist hermeneutic would tend to require this. Thus on the Emmaus road, the two Jewish disciples were enthralled when “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Here was no imposition of Himself on Scripture, no reinterpretation of Scripture, but rather Jesus’ fulfillment of Scripture at every hand which the disciples embraced, not as radically new, but rather as wonderfully fulfilling in terms of the promises of the Old Testament.

Horner overlooked another great spiritual principle; Paul identified the church as the spouse of Christ. [Ephesians 5:23-32] He said, “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” And so as Christ’s spouse, Christians are united with Christ, and a consequence of this is that they share in his Jewish heritage, just as a wife shares the family name and the nationality of her spouse. Thus, even Gentile saints are included in the “tabernacle of David” in Acts 15:16, and they are called a “royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9-10. And for the same reason, Paul wrote, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” [Philippians 3:3] These three statements plainly identify the saints of all nations with the true Israel.

Was Horner present with the disciples on the Emmaus road, when Jesus opened their eyes to the prophecies concerning himself? What proof does he have, that “no reinterpretation of Scripture” was shown to them? Unless he has received a special revelation, that is merely Horner’s unfounded assertion. It is quite likely that in fact, for those disciples, many Scriptures were indeed reinterpreted as they walked along together. Otherwise, they would have learned nothing new, and their eyes would not have been opened. Prophecy must always be interpreted, and if it has not been previously understood, understanding it involves reinterpreting it, and becoming enlightened concerning its mysteries. Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” [Genesis 40:8] Did not Peter reinterpret Psalm 110:1, when he applied it to Jesus Christ in Acts 2:34? Didn’t James reinterpret Amos 9:11, when he applied it to the church, in Acts 15:16? And in those days, the apostles were given power, and gifts of the Spirit, which confirmed the authority of their interpretations.

Horner wrote: [4]

With the preceding thoughts in mind, we now move to consider the most common objection to the idea of national Israel having title to the land promised to Abraham, whether in the present or future. This concerns several New Testament references that are all set forth as evidence that the earthly ha´aretz is indeed a former earthly hope that has been superceded by a more universal and heavenly hope. This cluster of references is Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22, along with Galatians 4:25-26, whereby it is proposed that while Israel’s inheritance of the land according to the Old Testament economy was decidedly earthy, materialistic, and shadowy, the Christian’s future, although rooted in the promise God made to Abraham, is yet a more transcendently spiritual and heavenly hope. As an example of this popular understanding, especially where the repudiation of national Israel is concerned, consider O Palmer Robertson’s explanation.

Horner quoted O. Palmer Robertson: [5]

Just as the tabernacle was never intended to be a settled item in the plan of redemption but was to point to Christ’s tabernacling among his people (cf. John 1:14), and just as the sacrificial system could never atone for sins but could only foreshadow the offering of the Son of God (Heb. 9:23-26), so in a similar manner Abraham received the promise of the land but never experienced the blessing of its full possession. In this way, the patriarch learned to look forward to “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). . . . [I]f the promised land of the old covenant becomes the blessed object to be achieved, then its tremendous fulfillment in the new covenant could be missed. To claim “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), Abraham had to look beyond the shadowy form of the promise, which he never possessed, to the realities that could be perceived only by faith.

There are implications to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not receiving the land that was promised to them in their lifetimes. In the resurrection, what need would they have for the literal land? Will they then herd cattle and sheep? The unfolding of events in the lives of the patriarchs would have taught them that the land which they were promised represents something other than the limited territory of Canaan.

Horner quoted Peter Walker: [6]

[In Hebrews 11] positive descriptions of the physical land, however, are then immediately eclipsed by his [the author’s] insistence that the real focus of the promise to which Abraham “looked forward” was the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v. 10). This eschatological focus is then repeated in verse 16: “Instead, they were looking for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” So the patriarchs were looking forward, not so much for the day when their descendants would inherit the physical land, but rather to the day when they would inherit the heavenly country (or city) which the physical land signified. In a sense they “saw through the promise of the land, looking beyond it to a deeper, spiritual reality.”

The Scriptures tell us that Abraham looked for something other than the literal land. But there was certainly some meaning attached to the land, which was connected with godly living. Hebrews 3:18-19 indicates that entering the land requires faith, but no faith is required to go to Tel Aviv; just buy a plane ticket!

Horner wrote: [7]

To begin with, consider Abraham, called of God and converted from paganism in Ur of the Chaldees, having entered Canaan via Haran, is confronted with more paganism in the land of promise. He explores this inheritance from north to south, as an unsettled nomadic tent dweller, and continues to be appalled at its pervasive unholiness that only the future leadership of Joshua could begin to cleanse. Yes, he was looking for “a better country, that is a heavenly one,” but the vital matter here concerns not how a Gentile world view perceives this expression, but the Hebrew perspective of the author. Franz Delitzsch makes a significant comment on Hebrews 11:16 at this point.

He quoted Delitzsch: [8]

It must be confessed that we nowhere read of the patriarchs, that they expressed a conscious desire for a home in heaven. The nearest approach to anything of the kind is in Jacob’s vision of the angel-ladder, and his wondering exclamation, “this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17), but even there no desire is expressed for an entrance into the heavenly land, but the promise renewed of future possession of the earthly Canaan; “The land whereon thou sleepest will I give to thee.”

Horner quoted a comment by Delitzsch on Hebrews 11:10: “… the heavenly Jerusalem is not contrasted with the earthly city, but with the frail and moveable dwellings of the patriarchs in their nomad life.”

The interpretation Jacob put on the promises he received was expressed in metaphorical, prophetic terms, when he blessed Joseph, and said: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” [Genesis 49:26] The blessings he inherited, and the promises he was given, were high, and lofty, as they were spiritual in nature, and they were durable, or eternal, like the hills. Thus, Jacob associated them with mountains. In the promised land, there were many mountains, and they are symbolic of the revelations of God. The Old Testament is a record of God’s promise of the land working out in the history of Israel. The promise was fulfilled, but they eventually lost the land. The prophets foretold a restoration, but the return to the land would be spiritual, and involves reconciliation to God, which is not evident in the modern Jewish settlement of Palestine.

Delitzsch missed the significance of Jacob’s description of the nature of his blessings, which imply they were indeed spiritual, and Horner, following Delitzsch, missed its import too, although H. A. C. Hävernick had previously suggested a similar explanation. [9] Horner commented: [10]

Thus Abraham’s hope was eschatological, but certainly not in the sense of the superiority of heaven above compared with earth below, of the superiority of the spiritual over the material. Rather his hope was of the future messianic age, the millennial kingdom in which heaven would be manifest on earth and residence there would be gloriously holy, permanent.

Nowhere does Scripture support Horner’s idea that Abraham hoped for a future millennial kingdom! But God had said to Abram, in a vision, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” [Genesis 15:1] This is what Abraham hoped for; and perhaps this underlies the statement in Hebrews 11:16, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

Since the New Testament shows Jerusalem is raised up to heaven, above the hills, [Isaiah 2:2] does it make any sense to say that the promised land remains an earthly territory? It is a land that we enter only by faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]

References

1. Barry E. Horner. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007.

2. Ibid., p. 228.

3. Ibid., p. 229.

4. Ibid., p. 291.

5. Ibid. Quote is from O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, pp. 13, 31.

6. Ibid., p.292. Quote is from Peter Walker, “The Land in the Apostles’ Writings,” The Land of Promise,
eds. Philip Johnston and Peter Walker, p. 90.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid. Quote is from Franz Delitzsch, Hebrews, II, p. 246.

9. H. A. C. Hävernick on the mountains of Israel

10. Barry E. Horner, Op. Cit., p. 293.

 

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