“Save the Children!”
Recently, our City Council was forced to apologise to Sir Tim Rice after the name ‘Israel’ was removed from one of his songs in our annual children’s festival, Artsplash. The kids were to sing a selection from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat but the lyric sheets were found to have been doctored, changing the line ‘Children of Israel’ to ‘Children of Kindness’.
The festival’s coordinator Mary Prichard explained that they were trying to “keep life simple” for our kids but didn’t say how the song complicated anything. So… what was it the Artsplash organisers didn’t want our kids to hear in Joseph’s song?
Children of Israel are never alone
For I know I shall find
My own peace of mind
For I have been promised
A land of my own.
The Problem Is… ?
What’s so complicated about the children of Israel having a promised land? If genuinely worried, why not ask their teachers to explain the lyrics – tell the story of how Joseph and the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt but there was a happy ending! Joseph believed that one day they would all be freed and have a land of their own, as the Egyptians did.
If the organisers felt so strongly to breach copyright and politicise the event in today’s terms, why not make it a lesson where the kids could help solve the simplest of all the problems of the Middle East? “Children, the Arabs have twenty-one nations. Do you think the Jews should have one? Or do you think the Arabs should have it instead, as number twenty-two?”Think what the kids could have learned about sharing, let alone justice and Realpolitik? If they lacked resources, I’d have happily contributed a brief overview, A Matter of Simple Justice, which the kids could’ve taken home for their mums and dads too. With Israel’s existence finally validated by the kids, we could all then move onto the weightier issues of what to do about the Palestinians’ wanting more land and how to stop the other Arabs treating them so horrendously…
However, when the organisers were caught out, rather than reinstate ‘Israel’ in Sir Tim’s song, they tried to remove his songs altogether. Happily, the City Council over-ruled them, tweeting: “we’ve told the organizers that the original songs must go back in the program. This will happen!” Ms Prichard later issued an apology, saying on Facebook:
“You have my complete assurance that this was an unintentional and innocent error on the part of one of my team, and I apologise for it. The person concerned, and myself for that matter, are religious people and would never consider intentionally doing anything racist or anti any religion.
She should have added “…except when it comes to Israel” because that was obviously intentional, not once but twice.
Perhaps Ms Pritchard and her religious team-member had been at, or taught by someone who had been at, Laidlaw Bible College and Carey Baptist College? As detailed in A Colloquium and Its Book, theology students there have been carefully taught that although Israel used to have a Promised Land, all the land promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are no longer valid because they’ve been superseded/replaced/fulfilled in Jesus.
I’d be very glad to hear from anyone at Laidlaw and Carey if I’ve misunderstood their teaching but, as I understand it, the basis for it is usually a faulty exegesis of two verses. The first is Romans 4:13:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith…
From this, it is rightly argued that Abraham and one particular descendant, Jesus, are to ultimately inherit the whole world, to be shared by all Jews and Gentiles trusting in Jesus. As He said, ‘The meek will inherit the earth’. This is obviously a much better promise than the tiny, tiny piece of land called Israel1 but…
…Abraham and Jesus haven’t yet inherited the whole world to share with us, have they. What about in the meantime? Does this mean that Abraham’s other descendants get no land at all until Jesus returns? After all, Abraham’s Arab descendants have twenty-one lands today, and are arguing for Palestine to be No. 22, so what should happen to their lands? (See Who’s Colonising Whom?) Who should they give them to? But if they’re allowed to keep their lands, why can’t Abraham’s Jewish descendants have the one land promised them, according to Genesis 17:8, as ‘an everlasting possession’? (We’ll look at all the promises soon). Or has God broken this particular promise to today’s Jews, giving it instead to the Palestinian Arabs or, one day, to Jesus?
Bizarrely, these theology students have been taught from this faulty exegesis of Romans 4:13 that the vastly enlarged promise of the whole world is wonderfully fair and generous of God! One analogy used is, “Imagine your father promised you an old Toyota Corolla but instead gave you a brand-new Lamborghini! Would you complain that this wasn’t exactly what was promised?!” Well, of course you wouldn’t – but what if your father instead gave it to the next-door neighbour, leaving you with no car at all?
Their second text:
For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us (2 Cor 1:20)
It is easy to misread this as they do – “All the promises are fulfilled in Jesus so there are no other promises to be fulfilled so, tough luck, Israel! The Arabs can have Palestine, making it twenty-two lands for them, but none for you.”
But what if it’s actually saying that all the promises will be fulfilled through Jesus? In other words, He is the guarantee that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled, including those made to Israel “according to the flesh”, as Paul puts it,2 i.e. those physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, i.e. today’s Jews.
If Laidlaw and Carey staff and students have any other proof-texts, I’d be happy to hear a better case but, in the meantime, let’s consider exactly what was promised. I’ll include the Biblical references so you can check for yourself, in case I’ve misread anything
The Promised Land
Four thousand years ago, Abraham was promised a land and that through him, “all the families of the earth” would be blessed (Gen 12:1 & 3). The first part was land for his descendants ‘according to the flesh’ but the second was predicting the whole earth’s redemption through one particular descendant, Jesus.3
Accordingly, Abraham left his homeland, today’s Iraq, and when he arrived in ‘the land of Canaan’ (Gen 12:5), the Lord said to him, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen 12:7). So, ‘Abram settled in the land of Canaan’ (Gen 13:12) and the Lord said to him, “all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever” (Gen 13:14).
Some years later, when the Lord appeared to him in a vision, Abraham asked Him, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess [this land]?” (Gen 15:8). In response, God made the Abrahamic Covenant, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (v. 18).
Some twenty years later again, the Lord reaffirmed His promise:
“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…” (Gen 17:8)
However, He included two conditions:
(i) it was only for those who kept His covenant (Gen 17:14)
(ii) it would be fulfilled through Isaac; Ishmael received other promises (Gen 17:19-21, 21:12-13).
When Isaac and Rebekah had twin boys, Esau and Jacob, God added a third condition:
(iii) His covenant would be fulfilled through Jacob and all of his descendants; Esau was promised another land (Gen 25:23), which became Edom or today’s Jordan.
Accordingly, the land of Canaan was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all of their descendants who kept the covenant.
What About the Canaanites?
The Canaanites were one of ten people groups living in the land of Canaan. The other nine were the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites (Gen 15:19-21). We know something of their values and behaviour from God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, but they were to become worse yet. Leviticus 18 lists some of their gross sexual immorality [see Answering Brian Tamaki] as including fertility rites with sacral prostitutes and bestiality so venereal diseases may have been rampant.
Accordingly, God placed a fourth condition on His covenant – Abraham’s descendants would have a long wait until these ten nations had degenerated beyond redemption:
“Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs [i.e. Egypt], where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years… for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Gen 15:13 & 16, emphasis added)
Abraham’s great-grandson, and hero of our Artsplash children’s festival, Joseph, clearly knew of the Promised Land, telling his brothers in Egypt about 1800 BC:
“I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “…you shall carry my bones up from here” (Gen 50:24-25, emphasis added)
The Mosaic Covenant
When the time finally arrived, in 1446 BC, God reaffirmed to Moses His promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants:
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry… So I have come down to deliver them… and bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite” (Ex 3:6-8)
He again made a covenant but this time with the whole nation:
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6, emphasis added)
This covenant also promised the land and spelled out the conditions for living in it:
“But if you do not obey Me and… break My covenant…, I will scatter you among the nations… as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbaths… while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest…” (Lev 26:14-15, 33-34)
They would remain in exile until they had “made amends for their iniquity” (Lev 26:41b) but the land would always be “an everlasting possession” (Gen 17:8), as He promised Abraham. Knowing they would go wrong, God reassured Moses:
“Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God” (Lev 26:44)
This is why, one and a half thousand years later, Paul was so confident that even after Israel “according to the flesh” had rejected Jesus, God was still not rejecting them:
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! …God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew …I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! (Rom 11:1-2, 11)
His expression ‘May it never be!’ (Grk, me genoito) means ‘Absolutely not!’ Paul uses this, the strongest negative Greek expression, fourteen times in his letters, always after rhetorical questions, to pronounce the thought absurd, outrageous, abhorrent. God will never reject Israel as a nation – as individuals who reject Him, yes (Matt 7:21-23, 2 Tim 2:12-13), but as a nation, absolutely not. He explains further:
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom 11:28-29)
This is very plain, isn’t it – even though the Jews of his day are ‘enemies of the gospel’, not only unbelievers but actively attacking the message, they are still ‘beloved for the sake’ of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and because of the promises made to the whole nation at Sinai. The ‘gifts’, which include the land, and ‘the calling of God’ to trust in Messiah are ‘irrevocable’, i.e. will never be withdrawn.
Perishing in the Wilderness
This distinction between individuals and the nation is demonstrated in how Israel initially missed out on the Promised Land. The ‘entire generation’ of those who had come out of Egypt broke the covenant and forfeited all rights to enter their inheritance but their children didn’t. Accordingly, Israel as a nation had to wait forty years:
So the LORD’S anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the LORD was destroyed.4
It was only after they’d died out, the next generation and the few who had been faithful, like Joshua and Caleb, entered to possess the Promised Land.
Assyrian and Babylonian Exiles
Seven hundred years later, when Jeroboam and the northern kingdom of Israel were worshipping the golden calves, God allowed the Assyrians to scatter the ten tribes throughout the Assyrian Empire. He preserved Hezekiah and the southern kingdom of Judah until they too broke the covenant and, a hundred and fifty years later, were exiled to Babylon.
Many thought it was all over for Israel but Jeremiah reminded them:
Thus says the LORD,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The LORD of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the LORD,
“then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the LORD,
“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the LORD (Jer 31:35-37)
They’d lost the Promised Land, Jeremiah’s generation was dying out in Babylon, but God was not rejecting Israel as a nation, regardless of all that they had done – He never will, as long as the “fixed order” of sun, moon, stars, and sea exists. Looking out my window – they are still there.
After seventy years in Babylon, Israel had made “amends for their iniquity”, and the land had enjoyed its ten Sabbath years.5 Accordingly, the next generation were restored to the land to be given their opportunity.
In the 1st Century, forty years after Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the Romans sent them into exile again, just as He had predicted:
“…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near… for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations… (Luke 21:20 & 23)
Was this loss of the Promised Land to be permanent or temporary? Our friends at Laidlaw and Carey have been teaching it’s permanent: the Jews have no divine right to the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob today. However, it can only have been temporary, though almost 2,000 years long, because:
(i) Jesus went on to say, “… and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The Roman exile into “all the nations” was to last until Israel regained Jerusalem, which they did in 1967.
(ii) No exile was ever to be permanent. As a nation, Israel were always to suffer the due penalty until they had made “amends for their iniquity”.6 Having served their time as a nation, they were to be restored in another generation.
(iii) God promised them that “when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them… I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt”.7 Paul explicitly confirms this in Rom 11:1 & 11.
(iv) Jesus said of this covenant, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”8 Jesus fulfilled it all typologically but heaven and earth are still here; the Mosaic Covenant’s promise has not been abolished.
(v) Jeremiah likewise linked the existence of the “fixed order” of sun, moon, stars, and sea to God’s promises to Israel – have any of these ceased? Then Israel has not yet ceased from being a nation before God, regardless of all that they have done.9 Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding Israel is particularly relevant to all who love the New Covenant because he predicted immediately beforehand,10 showing that the New Covenant was not to negate Israel’s existence as a nation.
Does this mean the Jewish people have become right with God without any atonement? After all, they have no means of atonement according to the Mosaic Covenant and the vast majority are not trusting in Jesus and the New Covenant. No, but it does mean that as a nation, they’ve served their time in a long and terrible exile of 2,000 years and now this generation is being given their opportunity in the Promised Land.
If they want to be right with God, however, they have to call on Jesus, as the prophet Joel said we all do:
whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered.11
To understand why, they can learn from the Law and Prophets’ many testimonies that Messiah had to die and be raised on the third day to atone for us all (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47. See also The Red Heifer’s Ashes).
What Should We Take From This?
(i) We should recognise, in our almost daily news’ headlines about Israel, the astonishing reliability and faithfulness of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants throughout the last four thousand years.
(ii) Those who deny Israel’s regaining of the Promised Land are missing wonderful opportunities to speak of the miraculous work of God in our day in the heart of the Islamic Empire.
For a fuller explanation of many of the issues raised here, such as the Law being still in force for the Jews but not for Christians, see my book Silencing the Witnesses
In Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, I detail Israel’s miraculous survival over the millennia and why it’s been restored today.
God promised Abraham, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen 15:18). This could sound as if Israel is entitled to the whole Sinai Peninsula up to the Nile but ‘the river of Egypt’ here is Wadi el-Arish, situated about 50 km west of the Gaza Strip. This means, though, that the Egyptians have a slice of the Promised Land. Likewise on Israel’s northern border, where the area from the Golan Heights to the Euphrates is Syrian territory. Perhaps we’re getting close to a time predicted by Isaiah:
In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isa 1:24-25)
Moses and the Covenant: By Philippe de Champaigne – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15883479
Arch of Titus: By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32817772
Sea of Galilee: By Zachi Evenor and User:MathKnight – Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachievenor/12325753455/, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31001863