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Interpretations of the promised land

February 18, 2012

In the table below, various opinions about the meaning of the promised land are listed.

Source Land promise interpretations
the literal land of Canaan
Philo of Alexandria “the knowledge and wisdom of God”
Eliezer Schweid “the national vision of Jews”
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg “The Sages teach us that what Shabbat, Sabbath, is to time, so Eretz Israel, the land of Israel, is to space.”
O. Palmer Robertson
Robert L. Reymond
R. T. France paradise
The book of Mormon the Americas
Martin Luther King, Jr. King used the metaphor of the promised land in a speech about civil rights for African-Americans: “I’ve been to the mountaintop. … I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.”
Sandra DeGidio, O.S.M. “the Roman Catholic Church”
John Piper the church will “inherit the world which includes the Land”
Anthony Buzzard
Barry E. Horner
the world, in the millennial kingdom
Tertullian in Adversus Iudaeos possessing eternal life: “In the course of the appointing of a successor to Moses, Oshea the son of Nun is certainly transferred from his pristine name, and begins to be called Jesus. Certainly, you say. This we first assert to have been a figure of the future. For, because Jesus Christ was to introduce the second people (which is composed of us nations, lingering deserted in the world aforetime) into the land of promise, ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (that is, into the possession of eternal life, than which nought is sweeter); and this had to come about, not through Moses (that is, not through the Law’s discipline), but through Joshua (that is, through the new law’s grace), after our circumcision with ‘a knife of rock’ (that is, with Christ’s precepts, for Christ is in many ways and figures predicted as a rock); therefore the man who was being prepared to act as images of this sacrament was inaugurated under the figure of the Lord’s name, even so as to be named Jesus.”
F. B. Meyer “the spiritual experience of oneness with the risen Saviour in his resurrection and exaltation which is the privilege of all the saints”
Bob Hayton “the new heaven and the new earth”
Ray Stedman “a picture of the Spirit-filled life”
W. D. Davies
Colin Chapman
Gary M. Burge
“Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant and all of its promises, including the Land.”
Patrick Fairbairn “the better inheritance of the saints”
Nathan Pitchford “… an eternal place of restored fellowship with God”
Peter Walker “… 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.’”
Paul G. Apple possessing the land represents “spiritual victory,” identifying Canaan with heaven, and a belief that “crossing the Jordan represents a transition from this life through death into the joys of heaven,” are traps to avoid: “But Canaan was a place of conflict and conquest! God’s people must take responsibility to be strong and courageous and fight the good fight of faith; Don’t settle for victory one day in heaven; God wants us to experience victory right now in the midst of our enemies; surrounded on every side by challenges; yet obeying Him and experiencing His grace in giving us the victory.”
Alan Redpath “the spiritual rest and victory which may be enjoyed here on earth by every believer”
Joseph Addison Alexander a “type or symbol of the highest future blessings” of the church
Stephen Sizer “By their very nature the Old Covenant provisions must be seen as shadowy forms rather than substantial realities. The same principle applies to the promises concerning the Land which also serve as revelational shadows, images, types, prophecies, anticipating God’s future purposes, not only for one small people, the Jews, but the whole world, revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ. Hebrews sums this up succinctly: ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe’ (Heb 1:1-2).”