Monday, July 25, 2011

Did God Lie to Israel About Promising Them a Homeland? Part 2

Does it matter whether or not God keeps His promise to give Israel a homeland?  Yes. But why?

First, the trustworthiness of the Lord is at stake.  Can God's word be trusted?  Since God went into such detail in the Jewish Scriptures concerning the geography of the land He promised Israel, to discover these promises are no longer applicable would change the way we perceive God's veracity.

Second,  in explaining the claims of Jesus to Jewish people, the Jewish individual would be surprised that the promise of the land of Israel is no longer on the table, but has now been reinterpreted or no longer applicable.

Finally, any view of prophecy must take into account the centrality of Israel to the prophetic timeline as described in the Holy Scriptures.

I have found replacement theologians who believe the Church or Christ has replaced Israel in the New Testament era, are not amenable to be called "replacement theologians."  Some of them like evangelical  Professor Gary Burge of Wheaton College prefers to be tagged as a Reformed theologians. Burge's aversion to being called a "replacement theologian" is a decoy meant to distract his readers from the fact no matter what he say, he still fits the description of a replacement theologian.

In a 2010 radio conversation on Moody Radio, Dr. Burge and Michael Rydelnik, head of the Jewish Studies program at Moody Bible College both theologians shared their views on what they believe the Bible teaches about the land promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Old Testament.

Burge is adamant that in the New Testament God changed His focus from a geographical or territorial framework to His spiritual promises to the whole world.  God is no longer concerned with the boundaries of Israel but rather His concern is that the gospel message reaches beyond the boundaries of the Jewish homeland to all the earth. The territory of Israel is no longer significant to God.

To get a better grasp of the scriptures used by Burge and other replacement theologians, we go back to the original promise made to Abraham found in Genesis 12:1-3:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; 
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; 
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Notice that God commanded Abraham to go to a specific place . . . a  land.  Then the Lord promised Abraham that He would cause His offspring to increase into a great nation. Most important is the final promise:  all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.  Through Abraham and his offspring, the world will experience blessing.

Once more in Genesis 13:14-17 the Lord is more specific about the land promises to Abraham and his descendants:
The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
Nowhere in the text does it say that the universal blessing provided by Abraham's seed replaces the land promises as Burge claims. The Wheaton professor quotes from Hebrews 11:9-12, 16 to make his point:
By faith he [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
  And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Instead, they were longing 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.
According to Burge in Hebrews 11, the New Testament switches the focus from Abraham seeking territory on earth to seeking a heavenly home.  Notice some of the problems this interpretation creates:

First,  the other promises God made to Abraham about having descendants as numerous as the stars still holds true in Hebrews 11.  In fact, the writer of Hebrews makes it clear the descendants are not Abraham's spiritual seed but his physical seed since the author mentions the descendants came from Abraham and Sarah through the miraculous childbirth of Isaac.

Second, it is no surprise that Abraham was looking forward to "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God," and that his descendants were also looking beyond the land as the ultimate destination of the human soul but to a heavenly homeland. Yet that does not cancel out the promises made to Abraham and his seed about the land.  Why can't Israel be promised an earthly homeland with the greater hope that in the afterlife they will enter into an eternal homeland into the presence of the God of Israel?  Why does one have to cancel out the other?

Replacement theologians must grapple with several other New Testament passages in Romans that reiterate God's commitment to fulfill His covenants with Israel which include the promise of land:

  What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.
Romans 9:3-4  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
Romans 11:28-31 they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.  Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now[a] receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
In all three passages from Romans, Paul makes it clear God has not taken away His promises and covenants He has made with Israel.  God is faithful to His promises. Yes, the nation of Israel will find their fullest blessing of eternal life through acceptance of their Messiah Jesus. In the meantime, Paul warns gentile Christians like replacement theologians in Romans 11:20-21, "But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either."  

Gentile Christians are to beware of becoming conceited not only in their attitude towards Jewish people but also in their theology that replaces God's promises He made to Israel and transferring them to the Church.  Replacement or Reformed theology is arrogant in their attempt to ignore God's commitment to Israel despite their present and temporary rejection of their Messiah. God is not finished with Israel yet.  Romans 9:4 is stated in the present tense which means the covenants and promises belong to Israel now and they have not been relinquished.

Another passage referred to by Burge in the Moody Radio conversation is Matthew 23: 37-39 where Jesus weeps over Israel due to their rejection of Him as their long awaited Messiah:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple and by inference the third major diaspora of the Jewish nation. Because He did not mention the land, says Burge, it is no longer important. A "holy geography" is no important to God, but the salvation of Jewish souls.  Yes, Burge is correct. Again, the focus on Israel's salvation  as a nation or as individuals does not cancel out His land promises.

Instead of focusing on the land promises,  says Burge, God now "sees the whole world as holy territory," as stated in Romans 4:13, "It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith."

n Romans 4;!3  Paul is broadening and clarifying the promises given to Abraham that his seed would bless the whole world.  He is not changing the Old Testament text. Rydelnik states that according to Daniel 7 the Messiah will rule over the world when He comes to earth and will sit on His throne located in Jerusalem. Just as the Abrahamic Covenant is concerned with the whole world (Genesis 12:3), Yeshua will rule over the earth with His immediate rule over Israel and through the Jewish nation will rule the nations.

The seed through which this blessing comes is the Messiah Jesus (Galatians 3:19). The blessing given to the world is the offer of salvation through Jesus which comes to people through the declaring of the good news of salvation through Yeshua (Acts 1:8).  God now focuses on the whole world not just one territory, Israel.

Didn't the Lord tell the disciples to take the gospel beyond the borders of Israel into the whole world? (Acts 1:8).  Burge fails to make the distinction between the declaration of the gospel message to the whole world and the declaration of specific territory to one nation.  One does not rule out the other except in the mind of the Wheaton professor dead set to deny Israel its promises. There is no evidence that God chucked the land promises to Israel for the mission of bringing the gospel to the whole world.  Both are true.

Let it not be missed throughout the Jewish Scriptures, the God of Israel described the whole world will acknowledge Him as seen in Psalm 9:11, "Sing the praises of the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done."

God is other-nation conscious throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 18:49; 22;27). Right now, the Church is given the mission of declaring the Word of God among the nations but the time will come when Israel will step back into its God-given role as seen in Revelation 7 when144,000 Jewish people declare the New Testament message to the gentile nations prior to Jesus' return to earth.

In the Book of Revelation, which is concerned with end time events prior to the return of the Messiah, the focus of the book is centered in Israel.  When confronted by Rydelnik about Israel's presence in John's revelation, Burge gave the standard line when a scholar can't answer a question or is cornered, "Well, there is a lot of debate over the interpretation of the Book of Revelation."

In another blog I will address this issue in greater detail. However, do not miss the fact when Israel is clearly described back in the land and in the center of God's program, the replacement and Reformed theologian will always fall back on the fact "this matter is up to debate" instead of dealing with the actual texts where Israel is mentioned.

Burge's ploy of not dealing with the obvious placement of Israel in the Jewish homeland prior to Jesus' return is a dead giveaway. Though he claims to love the Jewish people, like many replacement theologians, he exposes the truth that he has little regard for God's covenant promises to Israel except to deny them.


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