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).
The return of the Jews to the land of Israel is a major pillar in dispensational theology. A great deal was made of Israel returning to the land in 1948. Hal Lindsey made his prophetic career with The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) on the claim that the rapture would take place forty years after 1948. It’s now 2005, and Israel is having additional land problems, giving up the Gaza Strip. Does this mean that the timetable starts all over again? Do we look for the “rapture” any earlier than 2045? This can’t be since Israel has to regain all the land of Israel for the land promises to count. What’s a dispensationalist to do?
There is a simple biblical solution to this dilemma: 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 the verses that introduce this article 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 seem to teach. 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” (Josh. 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). “Has given,” not “will someday in the future give.”
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.
The New Testament says nothing about there being a need to fulfill the land promises. There is no discussion about a future return to the land. 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 Jewish Christians of the first-century 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 dispensational oriented Bible Knowledge Commentary has 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 blood (race of people) (John 1:12–13; 1 Pet. 2:9–10). 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).
A paradigm shift is taking place in eschatology. Millions of Christians are questioning the dispensationalism that they grew up with and followed blindly. Like the reformers of the sixteenth century, they are turning back to the Bible and rejecting prophetic systems for a true biblical methodology; not merely associating missle strikes from Syria into the Golan Heights2 as a sign of the “rapture” to come.
- Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 111. Paul N. Benware references Joshua 23:4–7 to support his contention that “The statement in Joshua reflects an Old Testament concept of fulfillment wherein the promise of God was being fulfilled and that generation was getting their share. But it was not the final or ultimate fulfillment of the promise” (Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach [Chicago: Moody Press, 1995], 55). What is “the final or ultimate fulfillment of the promise”? Is it in the physical land of Israel, or does the NT direct us to consider a more permanent possession of which the physical land of Israel was a mere type and shadow similar to the tabernacle, temple, circumcision, priesthood, and animal blood sacrifices? (John 4:21; Rom. 4:13; Gal. 4:25–26; Heb. 11:15–16; 12:22–23). “After depicting the role of the servant in this restoration (52:13–53:12), Isaiah pictured the great expansion Zion will experience (54:1–3). This expansion is expressed in territorial terminology. It says, ‘Your descendants [seed] will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities’ (54:3). This is reminiscent of the territorial connotations noted earlier in Genesis 22:17, where it says Abraham’s offspring will possess the gates of their enemies” (Thomas Edward McComiskey, The Covenants of Promise: A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985], 54). Paul makes use of Isaiah 54 by showing how the fulfillment is not in the “children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:31). And who are the children of the free woman? Those who reside in “the Jerusalem above” which “is free” (4:26).(↩)
- Israel Joins Syrian Conflict http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/11/15086947-israel-joins-syria-conflict-fires-missile-across-border?lite.(↩)