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Is Israel's Land Prophetically Significant?

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While answering questions about the “rapture” on Stu Epperson’s radio show out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, one caller claimed that the land promises made to Israel have not been fulfilled. For the dispensationalist, there remains a reanimation of covenant promises that, according to the Bible, already have been fulfilled. The caller continued to insist that the land promises had not been fulfilled, so I quoted the following verse to him. He would not acknowledge the clear reading of the text, even after I read it to him four times:

So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:43–45).

All the elements necessary for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant as related to the land are present in these verses: God gave the Israelites the land He had promised to give; they possessed and lived in the land; they had rest; their enemies did not stand before them; not one of the promises God made to the house of Israel failed. If these verses do not teach what they seem to teach, then how else could God have put it, said it, or written it if He had wanted to inform the Israelites that they had in fact possessed the land as promised? Even after being confronted with these crystal clear words from Joshua, futurists continue to insist that they do not teach what they say. Consider the commentary by Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.:

Oftentimes students of the Bible point to three passages that appear to suggest that the promise of land to Israel has indeed been fulfilled: Joshua 21:43–45; 23:14–15; Nehemiah 9:8. These texts assert that “not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (Josh. 21:45; cf. 23:14).

However, the boundaries mentioned in Numbers 34:2–12 are not the ones reached in the accounts of Joshua and Judges. For example, Joshua 13:1–7 and Judges 3:1–4 agree in maintaining that there was much land that remained to be taken.[1]

So much for a literal interpretation of Bible prophecy. Since Numbers 34:2–12 and Joshua 13:1–7 precede Joshua 21:43–45, it seems obvious that by the time we get to the end of the book of Joshua the land was in Israel’s possession even though there were nations dwelling in Israel’s midst (Josh. 23:4–7). Just because other nations resided in the land does not mean that Israel did not have full possession of the land. The nations are said to be “an inheritance for your tribes” (23:4). Notice the conditions of remaining in the land: “Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left” (23:6). Failure to follow this specific condition will mean that these nations “shall be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you” (23:13).

What about Judges 3:1–4? While the land was possessed and was in the hands of the Israelites before Joshua died, some nations were left “to test Israel . . . to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD” (Judges 3:1, 4). It was Israel’s disobedience that put the land back into the hands of her enemies. God delivers Israel through Othniel, and then we read, “Then the land had rest forty years” (3:11): Not part of the land, but the land—the land occupied by Israel—had rest.

One of the most ingenious efforts to make a text say something it does not say comes from Elliott E. Johnson. Quoting Joshua 21:43-45, he claims that “Joshua introduces the inaugural or partial fulfillment of the covenant as given to Abraham.” The text says no such thing. Johnson continues by claiming that “it is inaugural or partial because of the limited scope. That limitation is indicated in a second summary statement (Josh. 13:1-7).”[2] In Joshua 13 the Israelites had not possessed the land, but by the time we get to Joshua 21, we’re told that “they possessed it and lived in it” (21:43). This makes perfect chronological sense. In order to make his view work, Johnson must place the events of Joshua 13 after Joshua 21.

The New Testament says nothing about the need to fulfill the land promises. The physical land of Israel has no role to play in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant since the coming of Christ. It’s not surprising therefore that the Jewish Christians saw nothing covenantally askew with selling their land:

For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need (Acts 4:34–35).

Notice that the Bible does not say that they sold their possessions or “their goods,” as the dispensational oriented Bible Knowledge Commentary states it. They sold their land and houses. Jesus had told them earlier that the temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem judged within a generation (Matt. 24:1–34). Jesus is the focal point of history not dirt (land), stone (temple) (John 2:19; 3:20–24; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:4–8), or Jewish blood (John 1:13). Nothing in the New Testament is said about a return to the land or a rebuilding of the temple. The New Testament only describes the destruction of the temple (Matt. 23:38; 24:2) and indifference to the land (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 8:1).

Endnotes:

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 111.
[2] Elliott E. Johnson, “Covenants in Traditional Dispensationalism,” Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, 137.

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