Does Israel Have a Future? – Part 6

Norbert Lieth and Johannes Pflaum

Under Replacement Theology, an important covenant is misclassified and robbed of its earthly promises for the people and land of Israel: the Abrahamic Covenant. Unlike the Old (Mosaic) Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant is a one-sided covenant which God made unconditionally with Abraham.

The Torah and the Question of the Land

Although Paul makes it unmistakably clear that God hasn’t permanently rejected the people of Israel, he doesn’t even mention the Old Testament land promises made to them. It wasn’t necessary, since the New Covenant hadn’t rescinded them.

It’s important that we distinguish between the different covenants in the Bible. Some are unconditional, unilateral covenants, and others are conditional. Replacement theologians (rightly) point out that the Old Covenant (also called the Mosaic Covenant or the Sinai Covenant) has been replaced and superseded by the New Covenant. But is Israel’s promise of the land actually governed by the Old Covenant?

The Old Covenant was conditional. Deuteronomy 28 makes it clear that obedience to the covenant will result in blessing for Israel, while disobedience will result in a curse. According to replacement theologians, Israel squandered its election and any yet-to-be-fulfilled promises by disobeying the Old Covenant. However, this conclusion is mistaken.

We know this to be the case because, fully independent of this claim, Deuteronomy 28 tells us of two instances of Israel being scattered in connection to their disobedience. But this chapter also speaks of Israel being gathered together again in the future. Deuteronomy 28:36 first deals with the Israelites being removed from the land (the Northern Kingdom of Israel, consisting of 10 tribes, by the Assyrians in 722 BC; the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BC):

“The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone.”

This passage speaks of Israel’s deportation to a foreign land and is directly related to a king. Both conditions were fulfilled when the Northern and Southern Kingdoms were taken away: the Northern Kingdom was led away to Assyria under its last king, and the Southern Kingdom was led away to Babylon under King Zedekiah. By contrast, Deuteronomy 28:64 speaks of a diaspora among all people without mentioning a king at all:

“And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.”

To some degree, Israel’s second dispersal is connected to the first, since some of those who were taken away were also scattered among the peoples in Assyria and Babylon. But its true fulfillment came with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, when the Jews were scattered among all the peoples of the Roman Empire. It was sealed when the Romans put down the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 AD, which resulted in the repeated dispersal of a large portion of the remnant of Jews who still remained in Israel.

What can we learn from these two dispersals? On one hand, if God didn’t end His people’s story after the first scattering despite their disobedience, then it stands to reason that He wouldn’t after the second scattering either. On the other hand, Deuteronomy 30’s promise of a future gathering together of Israel (vv. 1-6) couldn’t have been fulfilled with the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile, so it must be referring to a future gathering after the second dispersal. This is clear from verse 3: it speaks of Israel being gathered from all the peoples among which they had been scattered, and not just one (cf. Deut 28:36). So, such a gathering could only be fulfilled after Israel’s second dispersal. Additionally, verse 6 says that the Lord will circumcise the hearts of His people, and then they will love and serve Him unconditionally. Despite the revival movement among those who returned from Babylon, this hasn’t yet been fulfilled. The prophet Malachi makes it clear that superficiality and apostasy quickly returned to the land after the revival under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

To summarize, regardless of how you interpret the transfer of promises from the Old to the New Covenant, Deuteronomy 28 makes it impossible to conclude that Israel lost its promises through disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant. The chapter makes it clear that Israel will be dispersed twice, and the promise of the future gathering together (Deuteronomy 30) can’t possibly be referring to the return from Babylonian captivity, but only from being scattered among all peoples. This happened after Christ’s death and resurrection and Jerusalem’s destruction.

Under Replacement Theology, an important covenant is misclassified and robbed of its earthly promises for the people and land of Israel: the Abrahamic Covenant. Unlike the Old (Mosaic) Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant is a one-sided covenant which God made unconditionally with Abraham. It clearly says so in Genesis 15:7-21. The Lord instructed Abraham to bring him a heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abraham did so, cutting the animals in half and laying the halves opposite each other. When a covenant was made in those days, both parties involved would walk between the halves of the animal. But in verse 17, only one party (God’s flaming torch) passed between the halves. Thus, the Abrahamic Covenant (in contrast to the Old Covenant) is one-sided, based solely on God’s promise and not linked to any conditions. The future promises of land, which begin in verse 18, are explicitly related to this covenant.

Thus far, these land promises haven’t been fulfilled. Even at its largest (as it was under David and Solomon), Israel never possessed borders from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates. Because the Abrahamic Covenant is one-sided, this promise must be fulfilled in the future.

As we’ve seen, Paul deals with the Church’s relationship to Israel in Romans 9—11. Chapter 11, verses 26-27 speak of Israel’s future salvation, with the Apostle’s reasoning in verse 28:

“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.”

The passage references Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And in the next verse, Paul justifies his statement using the one-sided Abrahamic Covenant: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance [irrevocable].”

Even before the Mosaic Covenant was instituted, it’s clear from the Old Testament that God’s salvation of His people is based on the Abrahamic Covenant. As we read in Exodus 2:24 (in connection with the people’s slavery in Egypt), “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 6:3, 10 and 7:8 also justify Israel’s salvation and the promised conquest of the land using the Abrahamic Covenant. Psalm 105:7-11 justifies promises for Israel (both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled) using the Abrahamic Covenant.

In contrast to the doctrines espoused by replacement theologians, the biblical promise of Israel’s future salvation isn’t contingent on adherence to the Mosaic Covenant, which was conditional, but on the Abrahamic Covenant. This covenant is a unilateral one, whose promises—including those in regard to the land of Israel—are based solely on God’s pledge.

News from Israel - 12/2022

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