Jesus and the land promise

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The Creation Concept


Abraham was promised a land

The land of promise in the OT

Israel's restoration-which Israel?

Can Zionism deliver?

Did Walvoord sell out the church?

A heavenly city, or literal land?

What does Jesus promise his saints?

What did God teach Jacob at Bethel?

Why was Jacob's name changed?

Is heaven open, or shut?

The ladder to heaven

Holy ground

In the wilderness

What are Israel's borders?

What do landforms represent?

A land of milk and honey

Connection with Eden

An inheritance unseen

New heaven and new earth

Israel's return to the land

How the land swallows up the serpent's flood

Did God abandon his promise of the land?

Is the promised land a symbol of paradise?

The knowledge of God, a better promised land

Isaiah 6:11, 'How long, Lord?'

Is the promised land a symbol of the earth?

Threshing the mountains

The mountains of Isaiah 40 & 41

Barry E. Horner and the land promise

Links related to the land promise

Abraham was promised a land

The promise that he would possess the land of Canaan was repeated to Abraham on several occasions. God also promised that in his seed, all nations would be blessed. The same promise was repeated to Isaac, and in a dream to Jacob, soon after he had deceived his father Isaac, in order to obtain the blessing intended for his older brother Esau. Jacob was fleeing, afraid for his life.

When the children of Israel entered the promised land under Joshua, and took possession of it, the land was distributed among the 12 tribes. The selection of the particular areas where each tribe would dwell was by lot.

When Caleb was given his portion, he claimed the area of Hebron. He said, "give me this mountain!" [Joshua 14:12] Having surveyed the entire land, as one of the 12 spies, perhaps he remembered this area. And similarly, each family received a certain territory. No one person inherited the entire land.

The promised land, which is a rather small country, not particularly rich in minerals or oil, much of it lacking trees, and having a chronic shortage of water, has tremendous historical and religious significance. It also has symbolic meaning in the gospel, as the type of the "rest," or the eternal inheritance, of those who believe in Christ.

Not only that, the land also represents the things promised to Christians in this life. For example, mountains represent the revelations of God, and promises, just as the mountain Caleb was given was the fulfilment of a promise made to him, because he gave a true report of the land. The rivers of living water, in Zechariah 14:8, and the river flowing from the temple in Ezekiel 47, are prophecies about the spirit of God that goes forth from the church, represented by Jerusalem, and the temple. Those are figurative rivers, and not literal, and they represent things that can't be seen with the eye.

In the NT, the land promise of the OT is fulfilled in Christ. Paul said "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us." [2 Corinthians 1:20] If this appears strange to some, Paul explained,

1 Corinthians 2:14
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

For a Christian, to dwell in the land of promise is a figure, or shadow, of the blessings of living by faith in Christ, in peace, and leaving the wilderness behind. The "wilderness" pictures the progressive journey of a believer to a mature faith. Thus, the land is compared to Eden, where the saints have access to the tree of life, and the promise of immortality. [Ezekiel 36:35; Joel 2:3]

The promise of land, and Israel's possession of it, and their exile, are very prominent topics in the OT. The promise made to Abraham, that in his seed all nations will be blessed, is called the gospel in the NT. [Galatians 3:8] The land promise is connected with the gospel, in some way, but obviously there is nothing in the NT that requires Christians go to Palestine.

Paul said of the law, it was a "schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ."[Galatians 3:24] It was under the Mosaic law, that the Israelites entered the promised land, and conquered, and eventually lost the land when they were taken into captivity.

The author of Hebrews said the law had "a shadow of good things to come," and this is true of the land promise; the land was a type of the "rest" which is the eternal inheritance of the saints.

Hebrews 10:1
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

The land that Joshua and the children of Israel took possession of was called a "rest," but it was only a type or a "shadow" of the true rest, which is offered by Christ.

Hebrews 4:8
For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

Some insist that the land promise has to be viewed literally. They say that Canaan should be possessed by ethnic Jews. That is also the message of Zionism. The theory ignores the significance of the land from the point of view of the gospel. It insists upon viewing the prophecies of the OT from a non-Christian perspective, in particular, that of unbelieving Jews.

Some even claim that the Jews in the IDF are justified in their brutal treatment of Palestinian Muslims and Christians whose ancestors have lived there for centuries. This is a distortion of what scripture says. These people usually omit to mention that all the OT prophecies of a return to the land connect it with reconciliation to God, and repentance, which is not evident in the modern nuclear armed Jewish state.

The American dispensationalist preachers and writers typically abuse the scriptures, to promote Zionism. Jeremiah's prophecy of Israel's return to the land says they will come with weeping, and receive the Spirit of God, and a new heart and a new spirit. This is the antithesis of Zionism.

Jeremiah 31:8-10
Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.

In the same chapter, Jeremiah also spoke of a new covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This prophecy is applied to the church, in Hebrews 8:8-10, and again in Hebrews 10:16-17.

When we consider the fact that all of the land of Canaan was promised to Abraham, a land that was far greater in extent, than he would actually need, and yet he received none of it in his lifetime, the promise must have some other meaning than a literal view allows. In fact, Abraham's not receiving the land that he was promised is seen as proving the promise of his resurrection from the grave. [Acts 7:5]

The author of Hebrews says that Abraham hoped for a "heavenly" country.

Hebrews 11:15-20
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. 20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

The 11th chapter of Hebrews lists many of the heroes of faith, concludes with the statement that all the OT saints died, not having received the promises.

Hebrews 11:39-40
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

The promise referred to here, that Abraham did not receive, was the land promise, and something far better than the land is what is promised to the Christian. The land was merely a type, or a shadow, of the true "rest" promised by Jesus.

Matthew 11:28
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Abraham hoped for a resurrection, and a heavenly country, not merely the literal, earthly territory of Canaan. The kingdom of Christ is what Canaan represented. It was something spiritual, which Christ inherited.

The promised land represents the revelations, or oracles of God, and in the NT, Jesus is called "the Word." Jacob, in his dream at Bethel, saw a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it, and in the same dream, he was promised possession of the land. The association of the promise of the land, and the ladder reaching to heaven, implies the land was to be a place where revelations of God to man would be given. The land represents all those revelations, recorded in scripture, and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus showed that he replaced the land, when he said to Nathanael, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." [John 1:51]

Paul said the main benefit of being Jewish was that they possessed the scriptures. But that is limited to the OT. The true Israel, the church, possesses both the OT and the NT.

Romans 3:1-2
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

Christ has received all truth, and he gives understanding to his saints. Ethnic Jews have received only a portion of God's revelations. Likewise, many Christians have received parts of it; but Christ possesses it all.

The land promise in the OT

Genesis records that after the flood, the people of the earth began to build tower, and a city, but God confounded their languages, and so they became scattered over the earth. [Genesis 11:6-9]

In the 12th chapter of Genesis, God called Abram out of his homeland, to another land. The promise of Genesis 12:3, "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" alludes to the gospel, as Paul indicates in Galatians 3:8.

The entire Old Testament is about the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the promises made to them, and Israel's possession of the land of promise, and their removal from it. There was a partial return, after a period of captivity in Babylon, but the prophets spoke of a yet future restoration of the people both to the land, and to God. 

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann stated:

Land is a defining theme in Old Testament tradition. The Old Testament is preoccupied with the concrete particularity of land, thereby assuring that Israel's faith is in touch with the public, material, sociopolitical- economic aspects of living in the world. For that reason, one cannot consider the faith of the Old Testament or the God of the Old Testament without at the same time being concerned with socioeconomic analysis, for land is not just a "good idea," but actual real estate that evokes and hosts profound hope, imaginative social policy deep moral conflict, savage acts of violence, and acute communal disappointment.... The story of the early part of the Bible thus is the movement from land anticipation to land governance and finally to land loss, culminating in the deportation and displacement from the land, signalled as "exile." Remarkably in this tradition preoccupied with land, the exile is the defining signature event of ancient Israel. The exile, moreover, became the matrix in which the ancient promises of land were reiterated afresh. Thus the great prophetic traditions of Isaiah 40--55, Jeremiah 30-31, and Ezekiel 33-48 all assure exilic Israel that God will once again give land to Israel as it was first given to the heirs of the ancestors (see Isa. 49:19-20; 51:2-3; Jer. 31:12-14, 38-40; Ezek. 37:13-14; 47:13-14). With these utterances the gift of land is again in prospect. Again YHWH guarantees, and again Israel is to trust the promise and receive the gift.

Reverberations of faith: a theological handbook of Old Testament themes, by Walter Brueggemann. [Westminster John Knox Press, 2002] p. 120-123

While the journey to the promised land, conquest, possession of it, and then loss of the land is the defining theme in the history of Israel in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, the OT promises concerning the land are reinterpreted; the children of Abraham become those who believe in Christ, rather than his literal flesh and blood descendants. Paul wrote, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel," [Romans 9:6] showing that the name "Israel" does not mean those who are literal descendants of Jacob, but it now applies to those having faith in Christ.

"Israel" was thus redefined, and included Gentile believers, who were brought nigh to the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants of promise, by faith. These include the hope of the resurrection from the dead, and immortality, that was demonstrated by the fact that Abraham received a promise that he would receive the land, but did not receive any of it in his lifetime. The promise of a resurrection exceeds any land promise, whatever its extent!

In Ephesians 2:4-11, Paul spoke of Gentile Christians having been "made nigh" to the commonweath of Israel by Christ's blood. He said the "middle wall of partition," a wall in the court of the Jewish temple that separated Jew from Gentile, was now gone, so now, both Jew and Gentile had access to God through Christ.

In view of this, the promise of possession of the land must be understood in a different way. Like the ritual sacrifices, it too was a type, and a figure of better and greater things that are promised to the saints.

O. Palmer Robertson wrote:

The possession of the land under the old covenant was not an end in itself, but fit instead among the shadows, types, and prophecies that were characteristic of the old covenant in its presentation of redemptive truth. Just as the tabernacle was never intended to be a settled item in the plan of redemption but was to point to Christ's tabernacling among his people (cf. John 1:14), and just as the sacrificial system could never atone for sins but could only foreshadow the offering of the Son of God (Heb. 9:23-26), so in a similar manner Abraham received the promise of the land but never experienced the blessing of its full possession. In this way, the patriarch learned to look forward to "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10).

[O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. P&R, 2000] p. 13.

The "land promise" made to Abraham, and his not receiving it, is a core doctrine in the New Testament, as it implies his resurrection for its fulfilment. The same promise of eternal life is what is promised to the saints. It is what the land promise pictures; our eternal inheritance. But the saints may have a foretaste of that promise now. The prophecies given around the time of the exile and return of the Jews from Babylon picture the church again possessing their land, under the figure of Israel being brought back from all the countries where they were scattered. These prophecies could not be referring to Jews returning to Palestine, as they speak of the people having a "new heart" and spirit, which are New Covenant promises, applied to the church in Hebrews 8 and 10.

The prophet Ezekiel spoke of the people of Israel as sheep, in Ezekiel 36:24-28. They are described as scattered over the face of the earth. God says, "For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God."

The Jews in Israel today don't fulfil this prophecy; they are not like sheep at all. Their armed forces are equipped with nuclear weapons. Their leaders persue a policy of aggressive expansion and encroachment upon the territory of their Palestinian neighbours. 

I suggest Ezekiel's prophecy applies instead to the church, those who Christ called his sheep, when it is restored to "the faith once delivered to the saints." [Jude 1:3]

Similarly, in Ezekiel 37:21-24, the Israelites being gathered from among the heathen and brought into their own land, where they are settled upon "the mountains of Israel," pictures the church restored to their promises; the mountains are symbolic of the promises, prophecies and revelations of God.

Ezekiel said "David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd." Jesus reigns on the throne of David [Luke 1:32]; he is the one with the "key of David." [Revelation 3:7] The prophet speaks of Jesus under the figure of David, as he is the promised Messiah of David's line. Jesus is the Shepherd of the sheep; even David said, "The Lord is my shepherd." [Psalm 32:1]

While the transcendent nature of the land promise, and the prophecies of the Old Testament, was recognized by the apostles, who invariably applied them to Christ, and to the church, their spiritual intent was also clearly evident in the Old Testament. The return to the land foretold by the prophets was always accompanied by repentance, and reconciliation to God, which are entirely missing in the modern secular Jewish state. In A Christian Approach To Old Testament Prophecy Concerning Israel, Chris Wright wrote:

Moreover, even in the Old Testament itself, there was an awareness that the fulfilment of prophecies that were made in terms of the concrete realities of Israel's life and faith would actually go beyond them. The familiar dimensions of Israel's national life are transcended in various ways. For example: the restoration of the exiles would be a reunification of ancient Judah and Israel into one renewed and repentant people, an event which never happened historically (Jer. 50:4f., 33; Ezek. 37:15ff.); the people of God would be restored to the full, perfect and eternal experience of their covenant relationship with Yahweh (Jer. 50:5, Ezek. 36, 39:25-39); the law would not only be perfectly obeyed by Israel, but also be sought out by all the nations of the earth (Jer. 31:33; 32:39-41; Isa. 2:3; 51:4f.); the new Davidic kingdom would be worldwide, and the new king would be perfect in all those respects where the historical kings had failed (Isa. 9:6f., 11:1-5, Jer. 23:1-6, Ezek. 34:1-24, 37:15-28); the new temple would be miraculously filled with the glory of God and the river of life (Ezek. 43:1-5, 47:1-12). In other words, there seems to be an awareness that although the future has to be described in concepts drawn from Israel's historical nationhood, it will in fact ultimately transcend them.

Thus to claim that Old Testament prophecy can have a deeper spiritual meaning than its literal form is not some kind of Christian 'trick'. The dispensationalist's accusation that those who interpret prophecy in terms of a spiritual rather than a literalistic fulfilment are not taking the Old Testament seriously is false. For the Old Testament itself sometimes sees beyond the literal forms of its own eschatology.

Israel's restoration-which Israel?

Joshua William Brooks (1790-1882), was an Anglican priest at St. Mary's Parish, Nottingham, England, and author of Elements of prophetical interpretation. He cited several prophetic scriptures which refer to another restoration of Israel, both in a spiritual sense, by a reconciliation to God, and also, by Israel's restoration to the land that God promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are Deut. 30:3-6, and Jeremiah 30, 31, & 32, and Ezekiel 11:17-20, and 36:24-28. Brooks wrote:

That the preceding extracts refer to the Christian covenant is evident from the circumstance, that some of them are brought forward by the apostle when arguing that the covenant of works is superseded. See Heb. viii. and x. This covenant, therefore, is not to be arbitrarily divided or limited by us; we are not at liberty to select those only of its particulars, which may commend themselves to our minds; but it must be received in that circumstantial fulness in which we find it to be understood and dilated upon by the prophets.

[Elements of prophetical interpretation, by Joshua William Brooks. Orrin Rogers, 1841. p. 30]

If this is true, it works in two ways. On the one hand, these prophecies describe a spiritual return to the true worship of God, which has not been accompanied the migration of Jews to Palestine in modern times. They all speak of things pertaining to the new covenant, that apply to Christians. On the other hand, they imply that the same Israel which becomes reconciled to God in a spiritual sense, possesses the promised land. Clearly, this Israel is the church rather than ethnic Jews. But the church is nowhere encouraged to go to the literal, earthly Jerusalem. Thus its "return to the promised land" must be understood spiritually. And in harmony with this view, the author of Hebrews says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hoped for a "heavenly country."

Hebrews 11:16
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

In Jacob's dream at Bethel, the ladder reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it, connected the land of promise with a heavenly purpose. [Genesis 28] Jesus identified himself as "the holy place" where angels ascend and descend, thus replacing the literal Bethel. [John 1:50-51]

The eternal inheritance of the saints was represented by the promised land; however it encompasses much more than possessing the limited area of Palestine, that Joshua took possession of; Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." [Matthew 5:5] Paul said the promise to Abraham's seed was that he would be "the heir of the world."

Romans 4:13
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

The Israelites in the wilderness under Moses hoped for a future "rest" in the land of promise, and similarly, the church is promised a spiritual "rest," which may only be entered by faith, and includes an understanding of the prophecies of scripture, many of which pertain to the land.

Possessing the land is associated with reconciliation to God; whereas, a physical return to Palestine by Jews has produced in them no spiritual benefit. It is a vain substitute for faith in Christ, and it is a delusion, to suppose it in any way fulfils Bible prophecies such as those cited by Rev. Brooks.

As Brooks noted, "This covenant, therefore, is not to be arbitrarily divided or limited by us; we are not at liberty to select those only of its particulars, which may commend themselves to our minds."

Dispensationalism, by insisting that Jews returning to Palestine are fulfilling the prophecies such as Deuteronomy 30:3-6; Jeremiah 30-32; Ezekiel 11:17-20; Ezekiel 36:24-28, arbitrarily ignores all of the spiritual things included in those scriptures, such as: "And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart ... And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God ... And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you ... And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." The partial, carnal meaning, that is obtained when these statements are removed, is used to justify the lusts of unbelieving Jews for material gain, and their shameful land grab, and killing and maiming of innocent people.

Can Zionism deliver?

According to the Christian Zionists, "The modern Ingathering of the Jewish People to Eretz Israel and the rebirth of the nation of Israel are in fulfilment of biblical prophecies, as written in both Old and New Testaments."

Christian Zionists trace the beginnings of their movement back to individuals who opined that Jews may some day return to their land, based on their interpretation of prophecy.

Thomas Newton (1704-1782), Bishop of Bristol, said: "The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most signal and illustrious acts of divine Providence... and what but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as none other nation upon earth hath been preserved. Nor is the providence of God less remarkable in the destruction of their enemies, than in their preservation..."

Charles Henry Churchill (1828-1877) was a British Diplomat and resident of Damascus, who advocated the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. Others were George Gawler (1796-1869), Edward Cazalet (1827-1883), British industrialist and merchant; Lawrence Oliphant (1829-1888), who was an active restorationist.

William E. Blackstone (1841- 1935), was an American evangelist and author of the Zionist Blackstone Memorial of 1891. "He focused on the Restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land as a prelude to their conversion to Christianity, out of a pious wish to hasten the coming of the Messiah; but he increasingly became concerned with the deadly, Russian, government-instigated pogroms and believed that it was necessary to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine."

In Blackstone's view, the entire world has already been evangelized. He cited Acts 2:5, 8:4, Mark 16:20 and Colossians 1:23.

William Henry Hechler (1845-1931), an Anglican priest, and Zionist, was born in Benares, India. He was on close terms with Kaiser Wilhelm the Second. He had a strong interest in the spiritual and mystical worlds. In 1884, he published his essay "The Return of the Jews to the Land of Israel in accordance with the Prophets," in which, drawing on ancient prophecies, he predicted that around 1897 the Jews would return to their homeland. He met Herzl while serving as chaplain at the British embassy in Vienna, and the two men developed a special friendship. He attended the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897.

Theodor Herzl wrote of him on March 10, 1896:

The Rev William H. Hechler, chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna, called on me. A likable, sensitive man with the long grey beard of a prophet, he waxed enthusiastic over my solution. He, too, regards my movement as a 'prophetic crisis' - one he foretold two years ago. For he had calculated in accordance with a prophecy dating from Omar's reign (637-638) that after 42 prophetical months, that is, 1,260 years, Palestine would be restored to the Jews. This would make it 1897-1898.

Tarek A. Ghanem commented: "This little excerpt sums the prophecy- possessed notion and, based on the calculations, proves the flaws in Christian Zionism since its dawn, for Zionist statehood did not come to the fore until 1948."

In modern times, many Christian Zionists became zealous for the movement after the dramatic Arab-Israel war of 1967. Many were influenced by Hal Lindsey's book, "The late great planet earth" [Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson, Zondervan, 1970].

L. Nelson Bell, editor of Christianity Today, described the Israeli capture of Jerusalem in 1967 as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Lindsey's books and Tim LaHaye's fictional Left Behind series have made the rapture doctrine of dispensationalism popular.

Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) was pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was a televangelist, and founder of Liberty University, and the Moral Majority political lobby prominent in the 1980's. He was supported by the Anti-Defamation League and its leader Abraham Foxman for his pro-Israel views.

John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, founder and National Chairman of the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel, incorporated on February 7, 2006.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The 700 Club TV show. Founder of CBN University. He sought the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1986-7.

On his website, Robertson says:

Yes, the survival of the Jewish people is a miracle of God. The return of the Jewish people to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a miracle of God. The remarkable victories of Jewish armies against overwhelming odds in successive battles in 1948, and 1967, and 1973 are clearly miracles of God. The technological marvels of Israeli industry, the military prowess, the bounty of Israeli agriculture, the fruits and flowers and abundance of the land are a testimony to God's watchful care over this new nation and the genius of this people. Yet what has happened was clearly foretold by the ancient prophet Ezekiel, who, writing at the time of the Babylonian captivity, declared this message for the Jewish people concerning latter days. "For I will take you out of the nation; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back to your own land... I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you... to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness." ... Ladies and Gentleman, evangelical Christians support Israel because we believe that the words of Moses and the ancient prophets of Israel were inspired by God. We believe that the emergence of a Jewish state in the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was ordained by God.
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Those political leaders who only understand the secular dimension of Israel's existence and who cavalierly dismiss the spiritual dimension will find that they receive the mess of pottage of Esau rather than the inheritance of Jacob.

Robertson's comment about those who "dismiss the spiritual dimension" of the prophecies is ironic. The "spiritual dimension" spoken of in those prophecies is entirely absent in the modern Jewish state in Palestine. To say that the Jewish state fulfils the prophecies is therefore a lie and a fraud!

Tom DeLay, US Republican Party (GOP) House Majority Leader from 2003-2005 has actively promoted Christian Zionism. According to a Wikipedia article, in 2002, DeLay promised to "use every tool at my disposal to ensure that the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives, continues to preserve and strengthen America's alliance with the State of Israel." DeLay was the "driving force behind the rejection of direct aid" to the Palestinian Authority in 2005, by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In the wake of the legislation, some Jewish leaders expressed concern "about the degree to which the Texas Republican, an evangelical Christian who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, will go to undercut American and Israeli attempts to achieve a two-state solution."

Speaking on the recent 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the prophet Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones has been fulfilled by the Jewish state in Palestine. Netanyahu said, "Armed with the Jewish spirit, the justice of man, and the vision of the prophets, we sprouted new branches and grew deep roots. Dry bones became covered with flesh, a spirit filled them, and they lived and stood on their own feet."

Netanyahu referred to Ezekiel 37:1-10.

Other examples of prophecies about a return to the land by Israel are: Deuteronomy 30:3-6; Jeremiah 30-32; Ezekiel 11:17-20; Ezekiel 36:24-28.

A Wikipedia article on Christian Zionism says:

Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy. It overlaps with, but is distinct from, the nineteenth century movement for the Restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land, which had both religiously and politically motivated supporters. The term Christian Zionism was popularized in the mid-twentieth century. Prior to that time the common term was Restorationism.

Some Christian Zionists believe that the "ingathering" of Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This belief is primarily, though not exclusively, associated with Christian Dispensationalism. The idea that Christians should actively support a Jewish return to the Land of Israel, along with the parallel idea that the Jews ought to be encouraged to become Christian, as a means fulfilling a Biblical prophecy has been common in Protestant circles since the Reformation.
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Examples of Christian leaders combining political conservatism with Christian Zionism are Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, leading figures of the Christian Right in the 1980s and 1990s. Falwell said in 1981: "To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel."

Efforts by Christian Zionists to "help God fulfil prophecy" are similar to Abraham having sexual relations with Hagar, the bondmaid in the hope of having a son, in a misguided attempt to fulfil the divine promises given to him.

A recent summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in Jerusalem, was addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his welcome speech on Monday March 8, 2010, Netanyahu said:

Welcome to Jerusalem, the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Your presence here today represents a profound transformation in the relationship between Christians and Jews. This transformation has its roots in the 19th century when the early Christian Zionists came to the Land Israel and when they began exploring the land of the Bible, when they began to yearn for the Jewish restoration in this land, the restoration of our numbers, the restoration of our sovereignty. In fact, Christian Zionism preceded modern Jewish Zionism, and I think enabled it. But it received a tremendous impetus several decades ago when leading American clergymen, among them most notably, Pastor John Hagee, a dynamic pastor and leader from Texas, began to say to their congregations and to anyone who listened, it's time to take a stand with Israel. It was time to take a stand with the sole democracy in the Middle East. It was time to take a stand against the lies and the slander and the vilifications. It was time to defend the Jewish state's right to defend itself. Today, Christians by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions, by the tens of millions - today they have heard this call, and they stand with Israel. I salute you, the people of Israel salute you, the Jewish people salute you. Time after time, through thick and thin, you have stood shoulder to shoulder with our state, and I have come here tonight to thank you for your unwavering friendship. And today that friendship is more important than ever because Israel faces unprecedented challenges to its security and its legitimacy.

The migration of Jews to Palestine has not been associated with the spiritual change-of-heart that is associated with the restoration of Israel to the land in prophecies such as Deuteronomy 30:3-6; Jeremiah 30-32; Ezekiel 11:17-20; Ezekiel 36:24-28.

According to these prophecies a return to the land is coupled with a spiritual change. It is a return to a true relationship with God: "And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart ... And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God ... And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you ... And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them."

Ezekiel's prophecies especially speak of a return of Israel to their land. He says men will be multiplied on the mountains [Ezek. 36:10]; the entire house of Israel will dwell on the mountains of Israel [Ezek. 36:10]; wastes will be built [Ezek. 36:10]; it will be better than at the beginning [Ezek. 36:11]; the people of Israel will possess the mountains [Ezek. 36:12]; God will put them in their own land [Ezek. 37:14, 21]; they will be gathered from among the heathen [Ezek. 37:21]; they will become one nation [Ezek. 37:22]; they will dwell in the land forever [Ezek. 37:25]; they will dwell in the land God gave to their fathers [Ezek. 36:28]; God will gather them from the land of their enemies [Ezek. 39:27]; God will gather them to their own land [Ezek. 39:28].

Together with a restoration to the land, these prophecies show that God will make a new covenant with his people [Jer. 31:31]; God will write his laws on their hearts [Jer. 31:33]; God's people will get a new heart [Ezek. 36:26]; God will make an everlasting covenant with them [Ezek. 37:26]. They will get a new spirit [Ezek. 36:26]; God will put his spirit in his people [Ezek. 36:27; 37:14]; God will pour out his spirit on Israel [Ezek. 39:28]; God will pour upon the house of David... the spirit of grace and of supplications [Zech. 12:10].

Furthermore, the prophecies indicate David will be a prince among them [Ezek. 34:24]; they will know God as Lord [Ezek. 36:11]; God will sanctify his great name [Ezek. 36:23]; David will become king over them [Ezek. 37:24-25]; God will be jealous for his holy name [Ezek. 39:25]; the LORD shall be king over all the earth [Zech. 14:9]; His name will be one. [Zech. 14:9]

The duration of this restoration is forever. Ezekiel said the mountains won't bereave the people any more [Ezek. 36:14]; the shame of the heathen won't be heard any more [Ezek. 36:15]; Israel will dwell in the land forever [Ezek. 37:25]; God will make an everlasting covenant with them [Ezek. 37:26]; Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day and forward [Ezek. 39:22].

In the New Testament, the promise of the Spirit and a new covenant, and forgiveness of sins, are applied to the church, in Hebrews 8:8-13, and Hebrews 10:16-17. This indicates that, contrary to what the Christian Zionists say, these promises are primarily spiritual in nature, and they were not intended for ethnic Jews at all. The restoration to the land spoken of in prophey must therefore be understood as metaphorical. It refers to the Christian's submission to the reign of Christ in his life. Mountains mentioned in Ezekiel's prophecies are symbolic of the revelations of God, and the promises given to the saints. I suggest that if those prophecies are to be fulfilled, they will be fulfilled by Christians returning to the teachings of Christ and the apostles.

The spiritual renewal of unbelieving Jews anticipated by early Christian Zionists has not happened, in the 60 years since the formation of the Jewish state, and so the much touted establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 does not fulfil the biblical prophecies of Israel's "return to the land."

Did Walvoord sell out the church?

In an article on "The Promise Of The Land To Israel," dispensationalist John F. Walvoord discussed the land promises, and tried to show that they must apply to ethnic Jews. He presented five arguments to support this position, which are considered below.

Walvoord wrote, "The careful analysis of these many promises relative to Israel's possession of the land and their regathering from the ends of the earth makes clear certain important principles. First, as intimated in previous discussion, the land, though subject to delay and Israel's temporary dispossession, is promised unconditionally to the seed of Abraham. Its ultimate possession is therefore based on the grace principle rather than the law principle."

God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:7, "Unto thy seed will I give this land."

Genesis 12:7
And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

Who is the seed? Genesis shows that the line of descent, of the "seed" who would eventually inherit the promises was to be through Isaac, and then Jacob, who obtained the birthright by stealth. His older brother Esau missed out.

In the New Testament, Paul shows that the promises to Abraham focus upon a single person, Christ. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." [Galatians 3:16]

Paul says all the promises of God were fulfilled to Jesus Christ. "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us." [2 Corinthians 1:20]

Whether the "land" promises were conditional, or not, Jesus qualified to inherit them. He kept the law, and was found to be "without sin."

Hebrews 4:15
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

The apostle Peter said Jesus was offered up for us, as "a lamb without blemish and without spot."

1 Peter 1:18-19
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

Walvoord wrote, "Second, it should be evident that the promise of the land is not given to Gentiles, but to the physical seed of Abraham; to be sure, not all the seed, but nevertheless to be fulfilled literally by the future generation of Israelites on earth at the time of the second coming of Christ."

Actually, Christ already has obtained possession of it! Jesus said "all power" has been given to him. "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." [Matthew 28:18]

The entire earth belongs to Christ!

Psalm 24:1
The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Walvoord wrote, "Third, the title of the land is declared to be unending in its character. By this we should understand that the land belongs to Israel as long as the present earth endures."

To possess the land forever, one would have to live forever. Jesus is the only person who has obtained immortality. Referring to Jesus, Paul wrote:

1 Timothy 6:16
Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

Walvoord wrote, "Fourth, not only is the title to be given forever, but the land is actually to be possessed as long as the earth endures, once it is given to Israel at the beginning of the millennial kingdom."

The saints are promised an "inheritance incorruptible." It is far greater than that tiny strip of land in the Middle East!

1 Peter 1:3-5
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Jesus said the saints who overcome are promised "all things."

Revelation 21:7
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

Could that be what the universe was created for?

Walvoord wrote, "Fifth, it is clear that the promises are geographic and that the boundaries announced in Genesis 15 will have specific application when Israel is finally installed in their land in the millennial period. Only by indiscriminate spiritualization of all the terms and promises relating to the land can these prophecies be nullified. The fact that they are stated and restated so many times in so many different periods of Israel's history, even in times of apostasy and departure from God as in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and by so many of the minor prophets makes dear that God intended them to be taken at their face value."

The dimensions of the holy city that John describes in Revelation 21 suggest it would be too big to fit within the boundaries of the literal territory of the promised land.

Walvoord's claims about "indiscriminate spiritualization of all the terms and promises relating to the land" are invalid. How is it "spiritualizing" the promises, to say that Christ has qualified to receive them, and since God has "given all things into his hands" [John 13:3], has therefore gained the promised inheritance due to Him? And is it "spiritualizing" the promises, to say that because Christ has obtained eternal life, He possesses the land forever? And not only that, but He has power to give life to whomever He chooses?

Jesus has power over "all flesh." He has power to give eternal life to those who follow him. "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him." [John 17:1-2]

It would not make much sense to say Jesus has power to give eternal life to man, if humans already possessed immortality at birth.

Consider, what value is possession of "land," without "life"? This is the point Jesus made, when he said:

Mark 8:34
34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

The "land" promises to Abraham were about obtaining eternal life, which Jesus has power to give. Abraham did not inherit the land during his lifetime, but he died in hope of receiving them. That is what the gospel is about. It is not about Jews taking possession of a piece of land in the Middle East, and ruling over their neighbours! Those who think it is, have a seriously distorted view of the gospel.

Following Christ is the way to life! Jesus already possesses the land, and gives it to whom he will. "For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." [1 Corinthians 10:26]

Walvoord and other dispensationalists gained notoriety by trying to profit by the sale of books promoting their flawed interpretations of prophecy.

A heavenly city, or literal land?

In his article "The Promise Of The Land To Israel," John F. Walvoord wrote:

The New Testament comments on this expectation of Abraham in Hebrews 11:8, 9 where it is written: "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." So far, all must agree that a literal land is in view. Amillenarians are quick to point out, however, that verse 10 goes on to say: "For he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Also, in Hebrews 11:16 it adds: "But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city."

Do these allusions to a heavenly city nullify the idea of a literal land? A careful study of this passage will demonstrate that the subject is Abraham's faith. His faith first of all was in regard to the land, and his faith was indicated by his obedience and his sojourning in the land in tents. The same faith which he manifested in God's promise concerning the land is also manifested in Abraham's faith concerning the heavenly city. The land represented God's promise in relation to time, more specifically, the future kingdom of Christ on earth, while the heavenly city has to do with eternity, the New Jerusalem and the new earth. In the case of both, Abraham never possessed in life the fulfillment of the promises and like others he died in faith before the promises were fulfilled. The fact that Abraham believed both the temporal promises of God and the eternal promises of God does not lead to the conclusion that the earthly promise and the heavenly promise are one and the same. It is rather that they require the same attitude of faith. The major emphasis of Scripture, however, is on Abraham's belief in the temporal promises of God and to this the Scriptures constantly refer. The allusions to the eternal state and Abraham's expectation and faith are in fact rare, while the promises relating to possession of the land are one of the major themes of the Old Testament.

Does it make sense? In the resurrection, when Abraham is made immortal in the kingdom of God, as Jesus said, what would he need land for? To raise cattle? To grow grapes for making wine? Why would Abraham hope for a earthly country, and a heavenly one too?

There is nothing said in Genesis about a heavenly country, but the number of his seed was to be as the number of the stars. And Abraham believed God.

Genesis 15:5-6
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Why does Hebrews say Abraham sought a heavenly country? Perhaps, because Christ is in heaven!

In the NT, Christ is the place where the angels of God ascend and descend. [John 1:51]

Perhaps the reason the author of Hebrews said Abraham looked for a heavenly country, is because the land of promise is symbolic of life in Christ, and men reconciled God, as in the Garden of Eden. The saints are "in Christ," and Christ's spirit is in them. Their citizenship is in heaven. [Phil. 3:20] He is the "temple" of the holy city. [Rev. 21:22]

Christopher J. H. Wright wrote:

In one sense the land is almost completely absent from the New Testament. The physical territory of Palestine is nowhere referred to with any theological significance in the New Testament. The land as a holy place has ceased to have relevance. The vocabulary of blessing, holiness, promise, gift, inheritance and so on is never used of the territory inhabited by the Jewish people anywhere in the New Testament as it is so frequently in the Old. This is partly because the Christian churches rapidly spread beyond its borders to other lands throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. But much more importantly it is because the holiness of the land, and indeed all its other attributes in the Old Testament thinking, was transferred to Christ himself. The spiritual presence of the living Christ sanctifies any place where believers are present. This transference of the holiness of the land to Christ is well presented by W.D. Davies, who points out how Christianity reacted to all the concrete details of Judaism, including the land, 'in terms of Christ, to whom all places and all space, like all things else, are subordinated. In sum, for the holiness of place, Christianity has fundamentally... substituted the holiness of the Person: it has Christified holy space.' The promise of Jesus to be present wherever his people meet, effectively universalizes the Old Testament promise of God's presence among his people in their land, for now the people of Jesus are everywhere.

From: Old Testament ethics for the people of God by Christopher J. H. Wright [InterVarsity Press, 2004].  See chapter 6, The land and Christian ethics (pp. 182-211) p. 187.

Patrick Fairbairn said in 1852, that even a return of the Jews to Palestine would not help the literalists prove the superiority of a literalist approach to prophecy. He wrote: "Nay, the literal restoration of Israel to the holy land is to be no singular boon for them; the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Elamites, and others, not excepting even Sodom and the cities of the plain, are also to return from their captivity and resume their original position round Israel, (Jer. xlviii. 47, xlix, Ez. xvi.)"

[The typology of Scripture: Volume 1 by Patrick Fairbairn Daniels & Smith, 1852]

Even if the Jews returned to Palestine, the literalists still lack a literal Sodom, and Edom, and the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Elamites, the Amalekites, etc.

John F. Walvoord's article "The King Of The North" claimed the fact that towns in Palestine had no walls (he wrote this before the separation barrier) fulfilled Ezekiel 38:11, which described the invading armies of Gog and Magog coming against "a land of unwalled villages," and "dwelling without walls, having neither bars nor gates." Walvoord wrote:

Another important aspect of the prophecy is found in verse eleven where it states that the people of Israel will be dwelling "securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates." It was customary in ancient times, whenever a city prospered, to build a wall around it. One can go to ancient lands and see the ruins of walls around most important cities. They would, at least, have a fortress with a wall around it to which they could retire if the houses themselves were scattered and a wall about the houses was impracticable. In other words, it was customary to build walls about cities. In our modern day, this custom has been discontinued for the obvious reason that a wall is no protection against modern warfare.

If one goes to Israel today, though one can see many fabulous cities being built and marvelous developments taking place, one will not find a single new city with a wall built around it. They are cities without walls. How did Ezekiel know that at a future time the war situation would be such that cities would be built without walls? Of course, the answer is a simple one. He was guided by the inspiration of God, and it was not a matter of his own wisdom. But in this scene he is describing a modern situation, something that could not and would not be true back in the days of old, before Christ. This detail is very important because un-walled villages point to Israel's situation today.

In the decade since Walvoord wrote the above, construction began on the 700 km long Israel-West Bank Separation Barrier  consisting of concrete walls up to 8 m high in the towns and villages, with sniper towers similar to a prison, and barbed wire fences with roads and trenches in other areas. Construction of the wall has thwarted the interpretation of Ezekiel's prophecy proposed by Walvoord, and other dispensationalists. This of course is a great embarrassment for them.

No less an embarrassment is the inconsistency involved in saying that the prophecies speak of a literal Israel, but a symbolic Edom, or Amalek, etc. It seems that prophecy was written in such a way that those who take it literally reach absurd conclusions.

What does Jesus promise his saints?

In Genesis, Abraham was promised a land, and it was promised to his seed as well. The promise was repeated to Isaac, and later to Jacob. But as Stephen said in his speech to the council of the Jews, in Acts 7, Abraham did not posses or inherit the land promised to him in his lifetime. He looked for a future inheritance, a resurrection. This is also what Jesus promises his followers. In John 14, Jesus promises to "prepare a place" for his saints. He said,

John 14:1-4
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

Was Jesus talking about the eternal inheritance of the saints here? Is it somehow related to the promise of land that was made to Abraham? The "preparation" that Jesus has been doing, has to do with preparing the saints for their future inheritance. What happens in our lives, affects our future and our destiny. Jesus is the giver of life, and he gives eternal life to his "sheep;" it is not something everyone has automatically, as Plato thought.

John 10:27-29
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.

In the message to the church of Ephesus, Jesus promised the "tree of life" to those who overcome.

Revelation 2:7
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

The tree of life is identified with wisdom in Proverbs 3:13-18. It is given to those who obey God; Revelation 22:14 says, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."

The message of Jesus to the church in Smyrna contrasts the previous promise, by presenting the idea of a "second death" to which the saints are exempt.

Revelation 2:11
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

John identified the "lake of fire" with the second death.

Revelation 21:8
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Since the earth will be "full of the knowledge of the LORD," the truth of the gospel will be like a "fire" that destroys false doctrines; thus John combines the idea of "fire" and a universal "sea," or lake, to get the metaphor of a "lake of fire."

Isaiah 11:9
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

Jesus is the true manna, the bread from heaven, as he showed in his message to the church in Pergamos.

Revelation 2:17
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

Jesus explained this in more detail, in John 6:29-35.

Jesus has obtained power over the nations, as he said in his message to the church in Thyatira:

Revelation 2:26-27
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

Paul showed that this is included as the church's role in the future.

1 Corinthians 6:2
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

In his message to the church in Sardis, Jesus showed he decides who is included in the book of life.

Revelation 3:5
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

The saints are given white raiment, as also shown in Revelation 19:7-9 where the church is the "bride of the Lamb," and is "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints."

Jesus is the temple of God. In the message to the church in Philadelphia he promises saints who overcome that they will be "pillars" in the temple.

Revelation 3:12
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

Paul showed that the church is the temple of God, and the apostles and prophets are its foundation. [Ephesians 2:19-22]

Jesus reminded the church of the Laodiceans that he sits in the throne of God, and promises those who overcome that they will sit with him in his throne.

Revelation 3:21
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

Paul also says, in Ephesians 2:4-7, that God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

Perhaps the most profound promise of all is this one.

Revelation 21:7
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

What did God teach Jacob at Bethel?

Jacob had just deceived his father, in order to obtain the blessing in the place of his older brother Esau, and was fleeing from Esau's fierce wrath, when he dreamed of the ladder reaching to heaven, and God promised to give him the land. Clearly his being blessed was not because of his own merits; he was a fugative.  It was 20 years later, after he had become a victim of fraud himself, that he was given the name "Israel."

For Jesus, the chief virtue of being an Israelite was to be "without guile."

John 1:45-47
45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

For Paul, being a Jew meant one who served God from the heart.

Romans 2:29
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Peter said Jesus was a person who had no guile in his mouth.

1 Peter 2:22
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

John said, the 144,000 virgins on Mount Zion are without guile.

Revelation 14:5
And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

When Jesus met Nathanael, he made a promise to him:

John 1:48-51
48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Jesus alludes to the story of the dream of Jacob, in Genesis 28.

Genesis 28:10-19
10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night,
because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. 16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.

The promise to Jacob was that the land would be given to him, and not only that, but the land of promise would be the site of a "ladder to heaven," for angels to ascend and descend. This reveals the true significance of the promised land. It had to do with the revelations of God to man. Jesus said to Nathanael that he would see the angels ascending and descending on himself, perhaps implying that He replaces the land, or at least, fulfils the land promise.

W.D. Davies (1911-2001) wrote:

The point of John 1:51, in part at least, is that it is no longer the place, Bethel, that is important, but the Person of the Son of Man. It is in his Person that "the house of God and the gate of heaven" are now found. Where the Son of Man is the "heaven will be opened" and the angels will ascend and descend to connect that heaven with earth, that is, in 1:51 Jesus is not to be set over against Jacob or the ladder of his dream, but over against the sanctuary at Bethel itself, which had been a link between heaven and earth and the place of God's habitation on earth. This interpretation has the advantage over many others proposed of relying simply on the Biblical text at Gen. 28. Furthermore, it comports well with the idea of the humanity of Christ as the dwelling place of God with men and as the new temple with which we have already dealt, and especially with the concept of the Logos becoming flesh in 1:14.

The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine, by W. D. Davies. [U. of California Press 1974] p. 298.

Why was Jacob's name changed?

Jacob deceived his father Isaac, and cheated his brother, encouraged by his mother Rebekah, when he obtained a blessing in the place of Esau. He was fleeing from Esau's murderous threatenings, and wrath, when he dreamt about a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending, at Bethel. In his dream, God promised to give him the land, and that his seed would number as the dust of the earth, and that in his seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed. [Genesis 28:10-19] Clearly this blessing owed nothing to Jacob's own merits; he was a fugitive.

It was 20 years later, that Jacob was given the name "Israel." The meaning of the name "Jacob" was "he who supplants." Esau said of him, when he discovered his blessing had been taken away from him, "Is not he rightly named Jacob?"

Genesis 27:36
And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?

In the remainder of his life, Jacob became the victim of fraud himself. The first example of this occurred on the night of his wedding. He agreed to work for his uncle Laban for seven years, for the right to marry Rachel.

Genesis 29:18-20
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. 20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

The time came for the marriage, but after the wedding feast, Jacob awoke to a big surprise.

Genesis 29:21-25
21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.
22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.
24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.
25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?

While Jacob worked for his uncle Laban, God blessed him, he became wealthy. After he had been with Laban 20 years, Jacob said to his two wives, Rachel and Leah, that their father had "changed his wages 10 times."

Genesis 31:6-9
And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.
And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked. 9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

When Jacob described his 20 years of service to Laban, he said:

Genesis 31:38-41
38 This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
39 That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
40 Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. 41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.

Evidently Jacob had become a different man. When he returned with his family, and his cattle, he sought to be reconciled to his brother. He viewed himself as unworthy of all the mercy, and truth, God had shown him. Here is what he said in his prayer:

Genesis 32:9-12
9
And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

Jacob sent many gifts to his brother, in small bands, as Esau was coming against him with 400 men to exact revenge. Obviously, Jacob wanted to make amends for the grief he had caused Esau. He gave away much of his wealth to make peace.

Then, there is a strange account, in which Jacob wrestled all night alone, with a mysterious being, who is called a man, and God, in the story, but who many suppose may have been an angel.

Genesis 32:24-30
24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

Why did Jacob want to be blessed again? He had already received many promises and blessings. But evidently, he did not believe he had received God's blessing yet. And in any event, was it a material blessing he was looking for? I suggest that this time, Jacob was seeking a spiritual blessing; he wanted to be forgiven, and at peace with his brother. His perspective was changed, and this was when he was given a new name, Israel.

I think this story indicates that the name "Israel" has to do with a spiritual reconciliation, rather than possession of material things.

Genesis 33:3-4
1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.
3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

Jacob insisted that Esau accept the gift of cattle, and flocks of sheep, that Jacob offered him.

Genesis 33:9-11
And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.
And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.
Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.

Subsequently, Jacob was deceived by his own sons, who pretended they had found Joseph's coat of many colours, that Jacob had made, and they stained it with blood, to make it appear as if a wild animal had caught his favourite son. In reality, they had sold Joseph as a slave to a band of Midianites, who took him to Egypt. In his old age, Jacob described his life as one characterized by evil; "few and evil have the days of the years of my life been," he said to Pharaoh.

Genesis 47:9
And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.

When Jesus referred to Nathaniel, who he chose as one of his disciples, as "an Israelite indeed," he showed a true Israelite meant a person "in whom is no guile." [John 1:47] That is the lesson Jacob learned. His name was changed from Jacob to "Israel" because his nature was changed.

In Revelation 14, the 144,000 saints on mount Sion are the ones identified with the 12 tribes of Israel in chapter 7. They represent the saints, not ethnic Jews. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They fit the description Jesus gave of a true Israelite, as there is "no guile" in their mouth.

Revelation 14:5
And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

Is heaven open, or shut?

When Jesus met Nathanael, he said, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." [John 1:51]

What is meant by heaven being opened?

Jesus referred to Jacob's dream at Bethel, in which he saw a ladder set up on the earth, that reached up to heaven, and God above it. Angels were ascending and descending on it. God promised to give him the land. [Genesis 28:12-14]

In Psalm 78, the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness was associated with the doors of heaven being opened.

Psalm 78:22-25
23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
25 Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.

Jesus referred to himself as "living bread." He said to the Jews,

John 6:49-51
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Paul said the Israelites ate "spiritual meat." The manna was symbolic of Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1-4]

Ezekiel said heaven was opened, when he saw a vision of God.

Ezekiel 1:1
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.

Malachi spoke of the windows of heaven being opened, as a figure of an abundant harvest and blessing. [Malachi 3:10]

When Jesus was baptized, he saw heaven opened.

Mark 1:9-11
9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Steven, before he was killed by the Jews for his testimony, saw heaven opened.

Acts 7:55-58
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

The apostle Peter, when he was fasting, had a vision, and saw heaven opened; "he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:" [Acts 10:11]

In Revelation, John saw heaven opened. He described Jesus on a white horse, prepared to wage war against his enemies.

Revelation 19:11
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

These are all examples of heaven being opened. In scripture there are also examples of heaven being shut. Jesus said heaven was shut, in the days of Elijah.

Luke 4:24-26
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.

In John's prophecy of the two witnesses, they have power to "shut heaven," so that there would be no "rain." Rain and snow are symbolic of the word of God in Isaiah 55:10-11.

Revelation 11:6
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.

The two witnesses can be identified from scripture as symbols representing the scriptures, and the spirit of God, which are referred to as two things that "testify" of Jesus in the gospel of John. One who testifies is a witness. Like the rain that ceased for three years and a half in the days of Elijah, many of the spiritual gifts the early church had, seem to have ceased; no scripture has been written, for example, since the days of the apostles.

But when heaven is opened, in Revelation 19:11, Jesus is about to wage war with his enemies, which certainly includes the false prophets. The Pharisees, for example, were people who "shut up the kingdom of heaven" to others. Jesus said:

Matthew 23:13
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

John said about the two witnesses:

Revelation 11:6
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.

Their power to shut heaven is evidently one of the reasons for the great diversity of opinion that exists about the interpretation of prophecy.

Jesus said, in the message to the angel of the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3, that he is the one who shuts, and no man opens, and he opens, and no man shuts. What is this referring to? Does is refer to the heavens being shut? The two witnesses have power to that. As shown in my earlier post, the heavens being opened was associated with wonderful revelations of God, and abundance of rain, and on the other hand the heavens being shut represents the rain being held back, and the period in which revelations apparently ceased, that spanned the whole history of the church since the time of the apostles.

Revelation 3:7-8
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

This alludes to a prophecy in Isaiah, apparently about a governor of Judah, but applied to Christ in Revelation.

Isaiah 22:22
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

When heaven is shut, and the prophecies are obscure, no man can figure it out, as illustrated by the great confusion about the interpretation of prophecy. This is probably one of the reasons for the development of tens of thousands of sects and denominations, where the saints are scattered.

When heaven is opened by Jesus, and the meaning of prophecy becomes known, no man can reverse it. Just as the breaking of dawn dispels the darkness of night, there is no way to stop it!

The ladder to heaven

Just as, in the Old Testament, the mountains and hills of Palestine were places where the revelations of God were given to the prophets, the prophecies themselves convey information for the benefit of the saints, which is understood only when those prophecies are properly interpreted.

In his dream at Bethel, Jacob saw a ladder on the earth, reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it. [Genesis 28:10-19] Why would angels be going up and down a ladder? Perhaps, to convey revelations of God to men; and to convey the prayers of men to God. And in his dream, God promised to give the land to Jacob, and to his seed. God said to him, "...the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." [Genesis 28:13-14] The promise of the land was associated with the ladder reaching to heaven, which connected the land with a spiritual and heavenly purpose.

Subsequent history showed how this was accomplished; over several centuries, the land was the subject of many prophecies, and in it, further revelations about the gospel were given. These revelations are represented by mountains, hills, valleys, and rivers, features included in the promised land.

In Ezekiel 36, the mountains and other geographical features are pictured as possessed by an enemy, and they have become desolate, and are "are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people." [Ezekiel 36:3] They are "a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about." [Ezekiel 36:4]

I suggest the prophecy may be applied in our time, to the many flawed interpretations of prophecy, for example some of the gloomy interpretations proposed by dispensationalists, and their failed predictions, including predictions of a rapture, and their habit of setting dates for the end of the world. They also often make sensational claims about wars in the Middle East, even nuclear war, and an invasion of Israel by a Russian led coalition including Iran. This is based on a misinterpretation of Ezekiel 38-39.

Ezekiel wrote:

Ezekiel 36:6-12
6 Prophesy therefore concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the shame of the heathen:
7 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame.
8 But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come. 9 For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown:
10 And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded:
11 And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
12 Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men.

The mountains are to shoot forth branches, and bring forth fruit. This suggests, if the mountains represent prophecies, that those prophecies had been misinterpreted, but that now, things that were previously obscure will be understood, and take on new meaning for the church.

This may also be pictured in several prophecies by Isaiah, under different figures.

Isaiah 35:1-3
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.

The author of Hebrews quotes the phrase "feeble knees" in Hebrews 12:12, where it is referring to prayer. This prophecy was clearly meant for the church. Isaiah continues:

Isaiah 35:4-6
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.

The eyes of the blind being opened is clearly a metaphor, referring to spiritual blindness. In the NT, many of the people who saw the miracles of Jesus were described as blind.

John 12:37-41
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.

The blossoming of the desert is a metaphor; in my view, this is not referring to the wilderness areas of Palestine becoming more fertile, but the scriptures, that have been previously meaningless, becoming clear, and making sense.

Isaiah 43:19
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

The landscape, pictured as a desert and a wilderness, will blossom. What else could this mean, but that obscure scriptures will be understood?

Ezekiel 36:22-27
22 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went.
23 And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.
24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

I suggest, dwelling in the promised land is not about returning to Palestine, but understanding the scriptures, which agrees with the new covenant idea suggested by the promise of "a new heart and a new spirit." Jesus said, in his conversation with the woman of Samaria, that neither the mountain of the Samaritans nor Jerusalem were preferred places for worshipping God, but "they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." [John 4:19-26]

A literal approach to Ezekiel's prophecy misses its spiritual meaning; it may even appear in a superficial way to support Zionism, and the settlement of Palestine by Jews. But there is little evidence that Ezekiel 36:22-29 is being fulfilled in the Jewish state, but the contrary, yes. Jesus said "by their fruits you shall know them." To dwell in the land, requires faith in Christ, not a ticket to Tel Aviv.

Ezekiel 36:28-29
28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you.

The prophet Amos foretold a famine of "hearing the words of the LORD."

Amos 8:11
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:

I suggest, this is the kind of famine that Ezekiel refers to in Ezekiel 36:29. When he says that God will "lay no famine upon you," it implies the words of the Lord will be available to men.

Holy ground

When God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, the land where Moses stood was said to be "holy ground." Moses was told to remove his shoes. [Exodus 3:1-6]

And when God gave the ten commandments to Moses, the mountain was declared to be holy. The people were told not to even touch it. [Exodus 19:10-13]

The places where God's revelations were given were thus considered holy. The tablets from Sinai containing the commandments were contained in the ark, and when David sought to bring the ark to Jerusalem, they made a new cart for it, that was drawn by oxen. But on the way, the ark shook, and Uzzah, one of the men who was conducing the move, reached over to steady the ark, and was struck dead. [2 Samuel 6:6-10]

This demonstrates that the land, and even the tablets of stone on which the revelations of God were written, was holy. The promised land, where the Israelites dwelt, was where many of these revelations occurred.

Like Israel was removed from their land, Christians have been taken captive too, in all sorts of flawed interpretations, sects, and cults. Even when not removed from their homes, and settled in other countries, the effect of strange doctrines is often similar to being removed to another land. Many families have been divided by religion, and scattered.

In history, emigration to different lands was often driven by religious differences. Many of the Huguenots of France fled to England in the late 17th century. The Puritans too, were prominent among the early settlers in the American colonies, where they sought freedom to worship according to their beliefs.

After the Mormon sect was founded by Joseph Smith, many Americans followed their Mormon teachers to Utah. They were joined by Mormons from England, where the sect was being persecuted.

In the history of ancient Israel, the northern ten tribes were removed by the Assyrians; the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were taken captive in Babylon. And in Revelation 17:1-6, Babylon the Great is symbolic of all kinds of false religion, including the 38,000 sects and denominations of Christendom, where many saints are captive to false beliefs. John says of Babylon:

Revelation 18:4
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

Dispensationalists see the prophecies about a future return of the Israelites to their land as being fulfilled by the modern Jewish state in Palestine. Those prophecies, however, seem to speak of a spiritual rather than a literal restoration. Below are some of the prophecies that mention a return of Israel to their land. I suggest these are really about the church's restoration to a proper understanding of the prophecies of scripture.

Jeremiah 50:4-5
In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.

Are Jews emigrating to Palestine seeking to "join themselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant"?

Ezekiel 20:42
And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers.

How can they "know that I am the LORD," when they trust in their air force, their army, and in their nuclear weapons, as well as their alliances with the US and other nations.

Ezekiel 34:13
And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

How are they being "fed" by God? The true bread from heaven is Jesus, who gave his life for the world, as explained in John 6. Jesus said:

John 6:49-51
Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

In Ezekiel 36, the prophet speaks of giving the people a new heart, and a new spirit, which are new covenant promises that apply to Christians.

Ezekiel 36:24-28
For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

To dwell in the land does not mean going to Tel Aviv. It is a metaphor, and represents possessing the promises given to the saints, such as, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." [John 8:32]

Ezekiel 37:12
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

Ezekiel spoke of the Israelites being restored, and having one king, who is identified with David. This was understood by the church as referring to Christ, who has inherited the throne of David. [Luke 1:32]

Ezekiel 37:21-24
And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.

I suggest the saints are the ones who are to be restored to their own land, which means a proper understanding of the prophecies of scripture. The "land" is symbolic of the revelations in scripture; understanding will be given to the saints.

Ezekiel 39:28
Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

This promise shows every believer will be "gathered." It does not mean to be physically transported to Palestine, but Christ will "draw all men" to himself. It is accomplished by the spirit.

John 12:32
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

In the wilderness

John the Baptist preached his message of repentance in the wilderness, which had a certain symbolism associated with it, as it pictured a rejection of the existing Jewish social system, including the temple.

People who heard John had go to the wilderness. They were taught what true worship meant. The Pharisees were rebuked. Jesus went to Jordan and was baptized by John. After that, he went to the wilderness, where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights, and was tempted.

Matthew 4:1-4
1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

In response to this temptation, Jesus referred to a scripture that is found in Deuteronomy 8, where the reason for the 40 year sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness is stated. It was to prove or test them, whether they would keep God's commandments or not, the same reason Jesus went into the wilderness where he was tempted.

Deuteronomy 8:1-3
1 All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.
2 And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

The significance of the wilderness is that it represents a trial or period of testing. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul showed that the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness was an example for the church. This implies that the church too is in some sense, in the wilderness, and the saints look forward to entering a promised "rest."

The inheritance of the saints is called a "rest" in Hebrews 4, where it is pictured by both the promised land of the Israelites, and by the sabbath day.

Paul wrote,

1 Corinthians 10:1-5
1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

Paul showed that Christians experience a period of trial, similar to that which the Israelites experienced in their 40 year sojourn in the wilderness.

1 Corinthians 10:11-14
11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

A temptation that Paul specifically warns about is idolatry.

In Revelation 12, the church is pictured by a woman, who flees to the wilderness, not for 40 days, or 40 years, but for 1,260 days.

Revelation 12:6
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

The period of 1,260 days is symbolic of the entire age of the church, as the present age is a period of trial, that prepares the saints for their eternal inheritance, and their promised "rest."

In verse 14, the woman's escape to the wilderness is described again:

Revelation 12:14
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

The period of her sojourn in the wilderness is expressed as "a time, and times, and half," which alludes to the prophecies of Daniel 7:25 and 12:7. This period is the Bible's symbol of the entire age of the church, and it corresponds to the last half-week of the 70th week.

The wings of an eagle that are given to the woman are associated with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Exodus 19:4
Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.

The eagles' wings picture God leading and guiding the church, like the Israelites were taught to worship God, when they were in the wilderness.

Deuteronomy 32:10-12
10 He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:
12 So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.

The church is warned against idolatry, and she is pictured as being in the wilderness, where she is nourished and fed. The wilderness clearly represents separation from the world. The source of her nourishment is the scriptures, as Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

Paul taught that Christians need to be separate from the world.

2 Corinthians 6:16-18
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

James taught that friendship with the world means to be an enemy of God.

James 4:4
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

In the light of these statements by Paul, and James, what can be said of the recent summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in Jerusalem, that was addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? In his welcome speech on Monday March 8, 2010, Netanyahu said:

Welcome to Jerusalem, the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

Your presence here today represents a profound transformation in the relationship between Christians and Jews. This transformation has its roots in the 19th century when the early Christian Zionists came to the Land Israel and when they began exploring the land of the Bible, when they began to yearn for the Jewish restoration in this land, the restoration of our numbers, the restoration of our sovereignty. In fact, Christian Zionism preceded modern Jewish Zionism, and I think enabled it. But it received a tremendous impetus several decades ago when leading American clergymen, among them most notably, Pastor John Hagee, a dynamic pastor and leader from Texas, began to say to their congregations and to anyone who listened, it's time to take a stand with Israel. It was time to take a stand with the sole democracy in the Middle East. It was time to take a stand against the lies and the slander and the vilifications. It was time to defend the Jewish state's right to defend itself.

Today, Christians by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions, by the tens of millions - today they have heard this call, and they stand with Israel. I salute you, the people of Israel salute you, the Jewish people salute you. Time after time, through thick and thin, you have stood shoulder to shoulder with our state, and I have come here tonight to thank you for your unwavering friendship. And today that friendship is more important than ever because Israel faces unprecedented challenges to its security and its legitimacy.

From the point of view of Paul, and James, pastor John Hagee and other so-called Christian Zionists have led their followers into what scripture describes as "adultery," or spiritual fornication, with the worldly Zionist movement. Clearly, the nuclear-armed Jewish state is of "this world."

John the Baptist showed God's rejection of the Jewish society of his day, by going into the wilderness to preach. Jesus rejected the efforts of Jews to make him a leader and king. He said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." [John 18:36]

The New Testament identifies those who would be "a friend of the world" as enemies of God. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

In Revelation, John shows that the church, pictured by the woman in Revelation 12, flees to the wilderness, which is mentioned in verse 6, and again in verse 14. The 1,260 days of verse 6, and the "time, times and a half" of verse 14 are symbolic of the entire age of the church, the last half-week of the 70th week in Daniel's prophecy. It is the week in which Christ confirms his covenant with his saints, the church. Most Christians, however, have not needed flee to a literal wilderness. Paul showed what it means, in 1 Corinthians 10, where he draws comparisons between the Israelites in the wilderness, and the Christian life and calling. "Now these things were our examples," he wrote, "to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." [1 Cor. 10:6]

Paul said, "Neither be ye idolaters... Neither let us commit fornication... Neither let us tempt Christ... Neither murmur ye... "

1 Corinthians 10:12
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

And so, it is the different behaviour of the Christian, that separates them from the world. Their departure from iniquity is pictured by the wilderness. It is not a literal wilderness! And in the same way, the "land" promises of the Old Testament are a "shadow" of the reality of life in Christ, who is the fulfilment of the promises.

It makes no sense for Christians to reject the Mosaic food laws, but not the idea of a literal, earthly territory for ethnic Jews.

It makes no sense to reject the requirement of circumcision of the flesh, but not the idea of a literal, earthly territory for ethnic Jews.

It makes no sense to reject the requirement of keeping the literal 7th day sabbath (Saturday, not Sunday) and not the idea of a literal, earthly territory for ethnic Jews.

It makes no sense to reject the requirement of keeping the annual holy days in the Mosaic law, but not the idea of a literal, earthly territory for ethnic Jews.

It makes no sense to reject the requirement of observing the sabbatical seven year cycles, when the whole land is allowed to rest, but not the idea of a literal, earthly territory for ethnic Jews.

Both the sabbath day, and Israel's possession of the promised land, were types or "shadows" of the reality of the "rest" we have in Christ by faith.

Hebrews 4:1-11 [NIV]
1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
"So I declared on oath in my anger,
'They shall never enter my rest.' " And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." 5 And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest."
6 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7 Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts." 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

The scripture quoted above explains what the promise of the land pictures; like the sabbath, it is a shadow or type. It is not a literal, earthly territory for ethnic Jews. Those who believe in Christ don't need to support Zionism!

The quotation below is from the article An Alternative Theology of the Holy Land: A Critique of Christian Zionism by Rev. Stephen Sizer, that clearly explains how the teaching of Christian Zionism is flawed.

Christian Zionism errs most profoundly because it fails to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the ways in which the latter completes, fulfils and annuls the former. It is fundamental that Christians read the Scriptures with Christian eyes, and that they interpret the Old Covenant in the light of the New Covenant, not the other way round. In Colossians, for example, Paul uses a typological hermeneutic to interpret the Old Covenant: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col 2:16-17)

Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews stresses:

The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.' But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. (Heb 8:1-6)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Heb 10:1)

Under the Old Covenant, revelation from God came often in shadow, image, form and prophecy. In the New Covenant that revelation finds its consummation in reality, substance and fulfilment. The question is not whether the promises of the covenant are to be understood literally or spiritually as Dispensationalists like to stress. It is instead a question of whether they should be understood in terms of Old Covenant shadow or in terms of New Covenant reality. This is the most basic hermeneutical assumption which Christian Zionists consistently fail to acknowledge.

So, for example, in the Old Covenant animals and food are sacrificed anticipating the offering of the body of Christ. A portable tabernacle foreshadows the permanent presence of the Spirit of God indwelling his people. God provides Israel in the desert with manna from heaven, water from a rock and a serpent on a pole. All these images find their fulfilment not in more manna, or water or indeed in a higher pole but in the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ of which the Old Covenant forms were but a shadow. By their very nature the Old Covenant provisions must be seen as shadowy forms rather than substantial realities. The same principle applies to the promises concerning the Land which also serve as revelational shadows, images, types, prophecies, anticipating God's future purposes, not only for one small people, the Jews, but the whole world, revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ. Hebrews sums this up succinctly: 'In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe' (Heb 1:1-2).

What are Israel's borders?

In the land promise, there is a great metaphor, which must be recognized in order to understand many prophecies. In some prophecies, the land of Israel represents the saints, and the area outside it, beyond the boundaries, represents the world. Ezekiel's prophecy of the invasion of Gog and Magog and their armies is an example. They come against the "mountains of Israel." [Ezekiel 38:8]

Another example is the antichrist figure in Daniel chapter 11, who establishes himself "between the seas" in the holy mountain. This alludes to the eastern and western boundaries of Israel, as they were defined in Numbers 34:6,12, and Ezekiel 47:18,20.

Daniel 11:45
And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.

Similarly, the city of Jerusalem is a metaphor representing the saints, in Zechariah's prophecy.

Zechariah 12:2-3
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.

Here, Jerusalem is not the earthly city, but the heavenly one. The saints are scattered in all nations, and they are represented by heavenly Jerusalem.

Zechariah 8:3
Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain.

The church of Christ is the "city of truth," not the earthly Jerusalem. In the first epistle to Timothy Paul called the church the house of God, or the temple, and "the pillar and ground of the truth." He probably had Zechariah 8:3 in mind.

1 Timothy 3:15
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Truth can't be constrained to a literal city, or to literal borders! Thus the land is a metaphor, that is fulfilled in Christ.

Israel's southern border, which was the land of Edom, is called a "border of wickedness" in Malachi 1:4. Edom is metaphorical, no doubt representing those who oppress and try to dominate the saints, and oppose the gospel. Malachi called them "The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever." In history, the Edomites became Jews. The Herodian dynasty in New Testament times was Edomite.

Was the land promise given to Abraham really meant to be understood as a spiritual promise? Being a spiritual promise, does not rule out a literal fulfilment, in Israel's history, that served as a type or shadow of its true intent.

This promise was to result in a blessing for all nations. "In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed." [Genesis 22:18, 26:4] But, in the fulfilment of the promise, as things worked out, the nations residing in the land of Canaan were not "blessed" by their contact with Abraham's descendants. For example, the sons of Jacob slew the men of Shechem, after they had agreed to become circumcised, and were unable to defend themselves. And when the Israelites invaded the territory that was promised them, under Joshua, many of the nations occupying the land were wiped out, in the series of bloody events described in the book of Joshua. Eventually, the land was settled, but periods of peace for the Israelites were relatively few, until the northern 10 tribes of Israel were removed from the land by the Assyrians, and the Jews were removed by the Babylonians.

The coming of the Israelites was no blessing to the nations in Palestine in the time of Joshua. But, the promise to Abraham said that in his seed all nations will be blessed. The prophet Balaam was appointed to curse Israel, but his prophecy instead blessed them. [Numbers 22-23]

How has the land promise to Abraham been a blessing to all nations? During the history of ancient Israel, the holy scriptures were revealed to the prophets, and the Old Testament was the chief result.

Paul considered possession of the scriptures to be chief among the benefits of being Jewish.

Romans 3:1-2
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

According to Paul, this surpasses even the land promise, no doubt because the land promise is included in "the oracles of God."

Was the land promise intended to be taken literally? The two different sets of boundaries that are revealed as the extent of the promised land, suggest that it is really a spiritual promise, having a literal fulfilment, that is symbolic having spiritual meaning for the church.

In the promise to Abraham, the river Euphrates was mentioned as one of the borders, and the "river of Egypt" as another.

Genesis 15:18
In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

The land was to extend from the "river of Egypt" in the west to Euphrates in the east. According to some scholars the river of Egypt refers to the Nile River. Easton's Bible Dictionary says:

River of Egypt: Heb. nahar mitsraim, denotes in Gen 15:18 the Nile, or its eastern branch (2Chr 9:26).

In Num 34:5 (R.V., "brook of Egypt") the Hebrew word is nahal, denoting a stream flowing rapidly in winter, or in the rainy season. This is a desert stream on the borders of Egypt. It is now called the Wady el-'Arish. The present boundary between Egypt and Palestine is about midway between this wady and Gaza.

Most of the references to "river of Egypt" refer to Wadi el Arish, a dry valley that occasionally receives flash floods from the northen and central Sinai Peninsula.

In Deuteronomy, the Israelites were promised the entire area, from the Euphrates in the east, to the Mediterranean sea in the west.

Deuteronomy 11:22-24
For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him;
Then will the LORD drive out all these nations from before you, and ye shall possess greater nations and mightier than yourselves.
Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be.

These borders are again stated in the first chapter of Joshua.

Joshua 1:4
From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

The conquests of David extended his dominion to the river Euphrates. [1 Chronicles 18:3] He also reigned over the Philistines, Moabites, and Syrians. [1 Chronicles 18:1, 2, 6]

In the book of Numbers, and in Ezekiel 47, the northern boundary of Israel's territory was located at the southern part of the mountains of Lebanon, in regions now in Lebanon and Syria.

Numbers 34:7-9 maps the northern border from the great sea, through mount Hor, the entrance of Hamath, Zedad, Ziphron, and Hazarenan.

The eastern border is given in Numbers 34:10-12; it extends from Hazarenan to Shepham, "And the coast shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward: And the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea: this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about."

The sea of Chinnereth was Galilee. The eastern border was through the Jordan Valley and coast of the Dead Sea.

The southern border was the border of the land of Edom, south of the Dead Sea, east to the Mediterranean to "the river of Egypt" or Wadi el Arish.

In Numbers 34 and Ezekiel 47, there is no mention of Euphrates as a border of Israel.

The promised land being assigned two incompatible sets of boundaries suggests there is a spiritual meaning to the promise, as these apparently contradictory scriptures thwart attempts at literal interpretation.

This parallels the prophecy of the 70 weeks. The duration of the last half-week, the final half of the 70th week, is represented by two different numbers: 1,290 days, and 1,335 days, in Daniel 12:11-12, which shows that it was not intended to be understood as a literal three and a half years, but a symbolic period. In the NT it is assigned yet another number, 1,260 days, and it represents the entire age of the church.

No literal three and a half years can have two or three different number of days, but a symbolic period can! And similarly, a land that is symbolic, can have different boundaries.

Ezekiel also assigns different areas within the promised territory to the various tribes. Zebulun, for example, is assigned an area located between the sea of Galilee and Mount Carmel, in Joshua 19:10-16; in Ezekiel 48:27, Zebulun is assigned an area far to the south. The areas assigned to each of the tribes are quite different in Ezekiel's prophecy.

In the New Testament, Zebulun was still located in the area of Galilee. [Matthew 4:13]

Clearly the land promise was meant to be understood as spiritual and symbolic, and it is fulfilled in Christ, who has gained authority over the entire earth. David wrote:

Psalm 103:19
The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.

The apostle Peter said:

Acts 2:36
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Paul said,

2 Corinthians 1:20
For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

What do landforms represent?

In the land promises made to Abraham, there is a strong connection with the gospel, and the promise that in his seed, all nations will be blessed. Paul showed that the "seed" refers to Christ. [Galatians 3:16]

Paul also said, the chief benefit of being Jewish, was not that they possessed a land, but that they received the oracles of God. [Romans 3:2]

Jesus said, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" [Mark 8:36]

Alexander the Great conquered much of what was then the civilized world, but died when he was only 33 years old.

What benefit is there, then, in possessing the land that was promised to Israel? It was there that Jesus conducted his ministry. Its history is recorded in the OT. Many of the prophecies were written there, and others are written about it. But was the land in those promises literal? Or does the land stand as a figure representing the eternal "rest" that the saints inherit? To those who overcome, Jesus promised that they will inherit "all things."

Revelation 21:7
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

Maybe this includes other places in the universe. The land would seem to be only a very small part of it.

In the prophecies, there are references to mountains, and hills, and valleys, and rivers, and cities. In prophecy, a mountain seems to represent a revelation, or a promise, or a covenant. The Olivet Discourse of Jesus, for example, is likely represented by the mount of Olives, in the prophecy of Zechariah 14. And Paul refers to Sinai as symbolic of the Mosaic legislation, in Galatians 4:24-25. The Sermon on the Mount is pictured by the mountain where it was given, which is unnamed, but is included among the "mountains of Israel."

This explains the symbolic meaning of mountains in prophecy. The kingdom of God is represented by the mountain that grows to fill the earth, since it is a revelation, and a promise, and a prophecy. And the "mountain of the Lord's house" in Isaiah 2:2 is established in the highest place, since it is administered from heaven, where Jesus is seated in the Father's throne.

Hills can be viewed as representing the less prominent revelations, that are included in scripture, as well as the insights that every Christian receives.

Rivers such as the "rivers of living waters" flowing from Jerusalem in Zechariah's prophecy are explained by Jesus [John 7:38]; he spoke of "living waters" as symbolic of the spirit of God.

Zechariah 14:8
And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.

The "Jerusalem" in Zechariah's prophecy must represent the heavenly one, as the spirit is given to the church. Summer and winter are also symbolic; the "summer" is the period before the "harvest" of the saints; the "winter" is the time that follows. Jesus said:

Matthew 24:32-33
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

It is best to be ready for the great gathering of the elect that he refers to in the preceding verse.

The seas, in Zechariah's prophecy, were boundaries of the promised land, and in prophecy, the sea may represent the nations, and peoples of the world. [Isaiah 57:20; Revelation 17:15]

In view of the explanations for "mountains," and "hills" and "rivers" and "seas" offered above, what can be discovered about the meaning of valleys in prophecy? Perhaps, just as a "mountain" in prophecy pictures a prominent revelation, and because valleys are areas from where the earth has been eroded away, and removed, valleys may represent missing parts of the story of God's work in the earth. They could be symbolic of things unknown. There are obviously many things missing in the revelations contained in scripture; for example, the prophecies are given, in most cases, without interpretations. That is the missing part. Prophecies of the OT are often explained as fulfilled in the NT, when additional details are provided.

John the Baptist used the prophecy of Isaiah 40:4, "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain" when announcing the ministry of Jesus.

It was Jesus who "filled valleys," by revealing missing information about the plan of God. Many prophecies are fulfilled by his ministry, and by the revelations in the NT.

Mountains that were "made low" in the ministry of Jesus and in the course of the founding of the New Testament church include the old Mosaic administration, the literal temple, and the unique status of ethnic Jews. Now, those who were in Christ were "the circumcision" which was no longer in the letter and in the flesh, but in the spirit. [Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3]

Possession of the land is a great metaphor; while the land in the OT was literal, there is a spiritual meaning to the land promises; the possession of the land has to do with the church's role as "the pillar and ground of the truth." [1 Timothy 3:15]

How is faith connected with land? It was because he did not receive the land, that Abraham understood he would be raised from the dead. He believed and hoped that he would be raised again. This is the same hope we have, and it has to do with the fact that Abraham did not receive or possess the promised land in his lifetime.

Abraham purchased the piece of land where he buried his wife, [Genesis 23:1-20] and where he was buried, and where later, the remains of Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob his wife Leah were buried. [Genesis 49:29-32] The bones of Joseph were carried out from Egypt, to be buried in the promised land, at Shechem. [Joshua 24:32] So for them, the promised land was a burial place. They died, still hoping to receive the promises given to them.

The promised land is a type of a spiritual land. It represents the promises of God; it is upon those promises that the heavenly Jerusalem is built. Abraham sought not just an earthly inheritance, but a heavenly one, and immortality.

Hebrews 11:16
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

Jerusalem was built upon mountains, and surrounded by mountains. [Psalm 125:2] Likewise, the heavenly Jerusalem is built upon invisible, metaphorical mountains, which are the promises of God in the scriptures. Our hope is to be included in the holy city, that comes down from heaven, and so our inheritance is built on the promises of God that are given to us. These are represented by the "mountains" and hills of Israel, in several prophecies.

Ezekiel said the "mountains of Israel," previously "taken up in the lips of talkers," and "an infamy of the people" [Ezekiel 36:3] are to "shoot forth branches," and "yield fruit to my people of Israel." [vs. 8] They are to "increase and bring fruit." [vs. 11] "I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen." [vs. 30]

I suggest, this prophecy is not referring to the hills of Palestine becoming fertile, but the prophecies of the scripture being understood, and becoming fruitful, and coming to pass! The words of God are represented by the hills and mountains of Israel, in Ezekiel's prophecy.

The saying of Jesus, "it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem," [Luke 13:33] is also true of the promised land. No prophet perished outside the promised land, as Jerusalem is located in the promised land. Jerusalem and the land are both metaphorical. Jerusalem refers to the holy city of the saints of all ages, and the promised land represents the promises made to them.

As the earthly Jerusalem is built on the mountains of Israel, those in the heavenly Jerusalem build upon the promises of God, and the word of God. The foundation of the holy city is the hope of the gospel, that in Abraham's seed, all nations will be blessed.

A land of milk and honey

Milk is excellent as a food for babies, but it spoils rapidly, and if spilled milk is not properly cleaned up, it may produce an awful stench! This contrasts with honey, which can be kept without spoiling for a long time.

The promised land was called "a land that floweth with milk and honey." When the symbolic meaning of the land in the gospel and in prophecy is understood, a reason is suggested why the promised land is associated with milk and honey. Both milk, and honey, are foods; how does the promised land resemble food?

The promised land is a type, or figure, of the revelations of God. The oracles of God in scripture are connected with the promise of the land. These relate to the children of Israel possessing the land, their possession of it for a few centuries, and then their losing possession of it, when they were taken captive and went into exile. While some of them returned, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel foretold a future return to the land, a glorious restitution, which involved not only Israel possessing the land, and the return of all those included in Israel, but also, their reconciliation to God. Ezekiel said it would be "better than at the beginning." [Ezekiel 36:11] This is not fulfilled by the modern Zionist Jewish state.

In the NT, the land promises are considered fulfilled in Christ. Paul said, "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us." [2 Corinthians 1:20] Since the land promise was one of the most prominent of the OT promises, and is a prominent theme throughout the OT, this promise must be included; no doubt it is one of the promises, that are "in him are yea, and in him Amen."

Jesus compared himself to food, when he said man needs to "eat his flesh." [John 6:53-58] Perhaps David alluded to this, in the Psalms.

Psalm 34:8
O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

So, both the promised land, and Jesus, are compared to food. This makes sense, as both are aspects of the revelations of God to man. The land is symbolic of God's word, and Jesus represents God's word too. [John 1:1] To believe and understand God's word, is compared to eating food. Isaiah said:

Isaiah 28:9-13
9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. 13 But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

Isaiah said those who are taught of God have been "weaned from the milk." There is "milk" in the scriptures, as well as "meat," or solid food. Isaiah said, those weaned from milk are the ones who will be taught the knowledge of God. They are the ones who experience the "rest." To Isaiah, this "rest" means understanding God's word. "Weaned from the milk" was not intended as a disparaging comment by Isaiah about his contemporaries, as some commentators have thought; rather, it refers to a mature attitude to God's word.

Many things in the Bible resemble milk, such as the stories in Genesis, and the parables of Jesus. But while these stories are "milk," unless they are interpreted, and understood in the light of the gospel, they may appear to be mere stories. Jesus spoke to the people in parables, but he explained their meaning to his disciples. And the meaning of some of the events in Genesis, in the life of Abraham, is explained by Paul in the NT. For example, he gave an explanation of the story of Sarah giving Abraham her handmaid Hagar, to have offspring by her, in Galatians 4:22-31.

In Galatians 4, Paul identified those who believe in Christ with Sarah, the freewoman, and those who are Jews after the flesh, who reject Christ, he identified with Hagar the Egyptian who was Sarah's handmaid. He contrasted the earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly one.

Paul identified the earthly Jerusalem with Hagar. She and her son represent Abraham's seed after the flesh, or the Jews. She and her son were cast out of Abraham's house, and her children may not be heirs with the children of promise. In fact, Paul said her children persecute the children of promise, which remains true even today.

OTOH, Sarah, the freewoman, who was Abraham's legitimate wife, represents the saints. They include people of every race, both Jew and Gentile, and they are called the "heavenly Jerusalem" and the "bride of the Lamb."

Christian Zionists who say that the land promises in the OT can only mean the literal land, which therefore belongs to ethnic Jews, who they say inherit the promises, rather than the church, are misguided, as their doctrine corresponds to Sarah offering her handmaid Hagar to Abraham, to have offspring by her.

Eventually, just as Hagar and her son were cast out, those promoting Zionism will be cast out too. Hagar and Abraham's son Ishmael were expelled, after the birth of Isaac. The story shows Sarah was a tough mistress to Hagar, who was twice sent out to the wilderness. When she was eventually cast out of Abraham's house, she left Ishmael under a tree, and laid down to die, but God was merciful to them.

When reading scripture, the literal view is like "milk," while the hidden, spiritual meaning is more like "honey." Literalism obscures the deeper spiritual meaning, also referred to as the "spirit" in contrast to the "letter." Like milk gone sour, literalism also tends to produce a bad odour over time.

Paul said, "our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." [2 Corinthians 3:6]

The promised land was called a "rest" for the children of Israel when they possessed it after wandering 40 years in the wilderness. But Hebrews 4:8 says that Joshua did not give them rest, although they possessed all the territory that was promised.

Hebrews 4:8 (NIV)
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.

Isaiah 28:12, quoted above, alludes to the true significance of the promised "rest." It has to do with understanding the word of the Lord, which was given by "stammering lips and another tongue," perhaps meaning it was given in the language of metaphors and parables. This "rest" is the word of God, but Isaiah showed that it was hidden from the people.

The promised land is called a "land of milk and honey," in Exodus 3:8; 3:17; 13:5; 33:3; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 13:27; 14:8; 16:13, 14; Deuteronomy 6:3; 11:9; 26:9; 26:15; 27:3; 31:20; Joshua 5:6; Jeremiah 11:5; 32:22; and Ezekiel 20:6.

The "milk" of God's word refers to things that are literally understood, which require no interpretation, and it is the nourishment intended for babes. The apostle Peter said:

1 Peter 2:2
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:

Just as human babies become weaned, and begin to use solid food in place of milk, the saints must be "weaned from the milk" of the word, to learn mature doctrine. The author of Hebrews refers to this.

Hebrews 5:12-13
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

Taking the scriptures literally, is viewing them as if they consist only of "milk," which can be swallowed without any chewing, and so is suitable for infants lacking teeth. The scriptures can be read in a literal fashion, but they have a deeper spiritual significance, that requires some thoughtful interpretation, analogous to "chewing" solid food.

The "land" promised to Israel is not only a land of "milk," but also of "honey." The Psalmist wrote:

Psalm 119:103
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

An in Proverbs, we read:

Proverbs 16:24
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

The true meaning of the land of Canaan that was promised to Abraham is that it represents the revelations of God intended for the saints. Possessing the promises requires faith. But it requires no displacement of Palestinians from their homes, or flesh and blood warfare. Paul said, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." [Ephesians 6:12]

The spiritual wickedness that Paul refers to above applies to some leaders in the church, who give heed to seducing spirits, and command people to "abstain from meats," or solid food. [1 Timothy 4:1-3] To abstain from "meats" or solid food implies they are limited to "milk," or literalism, and they reject the spiritual interpretation of the scriptures, and prophecy, such the apostles applied. For example, they reject Paul's teaching in Galatians 4:25, that identifies the earthly Jerusalem with Hagar, the bondwoman, and insist that the land promises must be fulfilled to ethnic Jews!

Paul said those who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are "the children of promise." [Galatians 4:28] The Zionists disagree with Paul, when he said, "the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." [Galatians 4:30] They want to make Hagar the bondwoman and her spiritual seed inherit the literal land. Their misguided interpretations produce a stench, reminding us of the smell of milk that was spilled, and not cleaned up.

"Milk" represents a literal, straightforward reading of scripture, and those who use it are called "babes," or infants, while honey is not recommended for them. Experience, and medical science, show that honey should not be fed to infants, because they have not developed an immunity to C. botulinum. These quotes explain:

Honey may contain spores of Clostridium Botulinum, a form of botulism. In older children and adults, the amounts are so microscopic and are generally harmless. For babies though, infant botulism caused by eating honey may cause lasting damage.

Botulism is an illness caused by the botulin toxin. The toxin blocks nerve function, eventually leading to skeletal and respiratory paralysis. Botulin is also incredibly powerful; as little as one microgram can kill a human. Fortunately, botulism is extremely rare. One of the main uses for the toxin is for botox injections.

http://www.brighthub.com/health/diet-nutrition/articles/31446.aspx

Many doctors and other medical and nutrition experts recommend not giving babies honey until they are a year old. Honey can contain Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause severe illness in infants.

Botulism attacks the nervous system and causes double vision, droopy eyelids, and difficulty in swallowing and breathing. It also can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Symptoms of infant botulism include lethargy, weakness, loss of head control, and a wail or altered cry. Symptoms typically develop within 18 to 36 hours and can last weeks to months. The severity can range from mild illness to severe paralysis and sudden death, if not treated. Even with treatment, it can cause nerve damage.

http://www.uabhealth.org/17746/

The "milk" of the word represents basic information, that is excellent as nourishment for "babes." The mature teaching of the scriptures is called "meat," meaning "solid food," in Hebrews 5:12-13. The manna God gave to the Israelites in the wilderness tasted like honey.

Exodus 16:31
And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

Jesus identified himself with manna, and said he was the true bread from heaven.

John 6:30-35
30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? 31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

He explained further:

John 6:47-51
47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
48 I am that bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The true bread from heaven, pictured by the manna in the wilderness, is Jesus, whose name is called the Word of God. [Revelation 19:13]

Clearly, the words of God in scripture are represented by the "land that floweth with milk and honey."

In Revelation 10, John describes an angel from heaven, who stood on the sea and on the earth, and who held in his hand a little book, and which John was told to eat. This parallels a similar event which occurred soon after Israel entered the land of promise. Joshua similarly met with an angel, who had a sword drawn in his hand, who identified himself as the Captain of the Lord's host. He had come to give instructions to Joshua about Israel's assault upon Jerico. [Joshua 5:13-15]

In John's account, the drawn sword in the hand of the angel is replaced by a little book, which was open. Thus, the little book very likely represents the scriptures, especially the scriptures of the OT, which tell primarily about the land promise, and Israel's taking possession of the land, and their ultimate loss of it, and exile.

Revelation 10:1-2
And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:
And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth.

Then seven mysterious thunders sound, and attention is focused upon the little book.

Revelation 10:8-11
8 And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.
9 And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
10 And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

The location of the angel, standing upon the sea and upon the earth, seems to be a key here. John was instructed to eat the little book. The eating is a metaphor, similar to the words of Jesus in John 6, where he spoke of men eating his flesh. In both cases, the meaning attached to eating is that we should believe and understand the scriptures, and the words of God. The little book had a sweet taste like honey, which it shared with the manna in the wilderness. Its honey sweet taste refers to the sweetness of the knowledge of God and the gospel to the mind, as nourishment for the spirit, while the bitterness that it produced in his belly probably depicts the flesh, which naturally reacts against the words of God, implying that the meaning of prophecy is primarily of a spiritual nature. Paul said,

Romans 8:6-8
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The little book, the "land flowing with milk and honey," and the scriptures, all point to Jesus.

When the Israelites entered the promised land, the words of the law were written on great stones, that were an integral part of the land.

Deuteronomy 27:2-3
And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee.

These stones were set up in mount Ebal. Thus God's word was physically written upon the land.

The kind of teaching represented by "milk" sees the land promise as meaning the literal land of Canaan only, while understanding the promised land as a type and figure of God's word, is like "honey."

Connection with Eden

The land promise given to Abraham, and his not possessing the land in his lifetime, is cited in the NT as a proof of the resurrection, the hope of the Christian, and great promise of the gospel. [Acts 7:5; Hebrews 11:13]

The prelude to the land promise, and its foundation, is the history in the early chapters of Genesis, and the story of the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden, where they had access to the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Throughout the Bible, the land promise, the covenant God made with Abraham, has a profound spiritual significance. It is connected with true religion, and reconciliation to God, and with the paradise man enjoyed in Eden.

Isaiah said that God will comfort Zion, and her "waste places," and her wilderness will become like Eden. The "Zion" of the prophecy is not ethnic Jews, and the "wilderness" is not the territory of Palestine, but viewed from a Christian perspective, this prophecy applies to the church, as in Hebrews 12:22-23, Mount Zion is identified with the church.

Isaiah 51:3
For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.

"Comfort" alludes to the holy Spirit, called the "Comforter" by Jesus in the NT. Isaiah's prophecy implies the saints inhabit a land which is called a "wilderness," but that this territory will flourish, and become like Eden.

The "waste places," and the "wilderness" are not literal desert areas, as the saints are spread amongst all nations. But Paul showed in 1 Cor. 10, that the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness after they came out of Egypt was typical of the Christian life.

1 Corinthians 10:11
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

I suggest the "waste places" are symbolic of the barren and unfruitful interpretations of scripture, that many Christians have followed. Two examples are the theories of preterism and dispensationalism, which are both seriously flawed, as they deny that prophecy applies to the church today.

Ezekiel also described a desolate land becoming "like the garden of Eden."

Ezekiel 36:35
And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.

I suggest that the confusion that abounds about the Bible, and the gospel, is one of the ways this prophecy is fulfilled. The low state of the church, and the fact that Christians are scattered in tens of thousands of sects and denominations, are examples of "desolation." But according to Ezekiel, things will change for the better. To believers, the Bible will become their Garden of Eden, instead of a wilderness. It is the scriptures they will find the tree of life revealed.

The prophet Joel also mentioned the garden of Eden, in his description of the locusts. This was the figure under which he pictured Christianity. The metaphor of a plague of locusts seems to originate in an expression used in the report of the spies who brought back a report on the land of Canaan; they viewed themselves as "grasshoppers" in comparison to the men of the land. [Numbers 13:33] And similarly, Christians in an intermediate state, who dwell in a spiritual wilderness, are represented by locusts. But before them is the prospect of entering a Garden of Eden, a paradise, which is represented also by the promised land. These are figures of the "rest" that is obtained by faith in Christ.

In Revelation 12:6 and 14, the woman representing the church is pictured fleeing to a wilderness. It is not a literal wilderness, as it is a place where she is "fed" and "nourished." It is a metaphor, representing the scriptures.

In both the OT and the NT, there are prophecies that allude to the two trees that were in the Garden of Eden: Zechariah 4:3, and Revelation 11:4. They are identified as olive trees. In John 5:39 and 15:26, the scriptures, and the Spirit of God, are two things that testify of Jesus, and one who testifies is a "witness." This interprets the symbolism of the two trees.

Other scriptures speak of mystical rivers, like the ones described in Genesis, that went forth from Eden. In Ezekiel 47:1-12 and in Joel 3:18 the river flows from the temple. The spring at the base of the temple, called Gihon, which is the name of one of the rivers in Eden.

Isaiah 33:21 said there would be no "galley with oars" or "gallant ship" on the rivers at Jerusalem, indicating these rivers are figurative. They connect the promised land with Eden and man's spiritual reconciliation to God. Zechariah said the waters flowing from Jerusalem are "living waters."

Zechariah 14:8
And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.

The "living water" of prophecy was identified with the holy Spirit by John.

John 7:37-39
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

The last chapter of the Bible describes the spiritual river, called "a pure river of water of life," which alludes to the river in the Garden of Eden. 

Revelation 22:1
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

The curse, introduced in the story of the Garden of Eden, is removed. 

Revelation 22:3
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him.

An inheritance unseen

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

If Abraham hoped that he would some day possess the land of Canaan, he must have realized, as he aged, that for him to not obtain possession of the land of Canaan during his life might be far better, than if he received it, because by not receiving it, he was assured of being raised up again, in order that God's promise would be fulfilled to him.

Suppose Abraham had received all the land he was promised, say, a few months before his life ended. In that case, what evidence would have, that he would be raised to life again, after his death? Abraham had no Bible. There was no history of a revelation of law, and no temple. As far as we know, there was no centuries-long tradition of prophets revealing God's plan for mankind. He was alone in his belief, that God would do what he promised. 

If Abraham had obtained possession of all the territory he was promised before his death, that would have been something like what happened to Alexander the Great. Alexander risked his life, as he led his army across several countries, in his attempt to conquer the world. He managed to gain power over most of the civilized world, but at the age of 33, he died, so what benefit were his conquests to him? Really, he did not live long enough to enjoy his wealth, or his power, or his fame, or to finish whatever it was he intended to accomplish. His life was a brief flash in the night, like a meteorite that glows bright as it burns out, and then disappears. 

Jesus said, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" [Mark 8:36]

The gospel promises life to those who follow Christ. The apostle Peter said,

Acts 13:32-33
32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers,
33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.
35 Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:
37 But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.
38 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:
39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Peter said God had fulfilled the promises made to the fathers, by the resurrection of Jesus, who justifies those who believe on him, and forgives their sins.

Belief in Jesus Christ is a lot different to superstition. The idea that maybe man is born with an immortal soul is superstition. It is a mere rumour, promoted by Plato, in his tales about Socrates. There is no truth in it.

The New Testament shows that the promise to Christians is something better that what was promised Abraham. It is called "some better thing."

Hebrews 11:13, 39-40
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. ...
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

Paul said, no one really knows exactly what it will be like, to receive our promised inheritance.

1 Corinthians 2:9
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Are things said about the promised land in prophecy intended to reveal more about some of these things?

Isaiah wrote,

Isaiah 59:19b-21
When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.

Part of this prophecy of Isaiah was quoted by the apostle Paul, in Romans 11:26, where he uses it as support for his statement "all Israel shall be saved."

Paul wrote:

Romans 15:8
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

Obviously, one of those promises made to the fathers was about inheriting a land, the territory called the land of Canaan, the promised land. In another epistle, Paul clearly showed who he meant by "the circumcision," to whom Christ came to minister.

Philippians 3:3
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Jesus is the minister of those who "worship God in the spirit," and confirms the promises made unto the fathers to them. Paul did not mean Christ was the minister of those who do not believe, but who reject him as their saviour, and who seek by threats, stealth, and the force of arms, even nuclear arms, to acquire the territory promised to Abraham. Paul included Gentiles who believe in Christ among those who inherit the promises made to Abraham.

Experienced educators understand that when a new concept is introduced, it cannot be explicitly understood until it is linked in a meaningful way to pre-existing concepts. Israel's possession of the land was a type, that illustrates the more mature concept of the saints inheriting spiritual things.

The history of Israel coming out of bondage in Egypt, and their experience in the wilderness, hoping to eventually enter the promised land, is a type of the Christian life, and delivery from bondage to sin. The manna they ate pictures the spiritual nourishment provided by Christ, in the scriptures.

The promises of God are not merely for Jews, but for all those who believe in Christ. The Spirit of God is one of the promises. Paul said,

Galatians 3:14
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The Spirit is promised in Ezekiel's prophecies:

Ezekiel 39:29
Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

Also, it was promised in a prophecy of Joel:

Joel 2:29
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

Zechariah also foretold the Spirit being poured out on the house of David. Note that in Acts 15:16, the tabernacle of David is identified with the church.

Zechariah 12:10
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

Paul said Gentiles who believe in Christ have become "Abraham's seed" and heirs of the promises.

Galatians 3:29
And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Paul spoke of Gentiles who believe in Christ, as having been at one time "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel," but now they are "made nigh by the blood of Christ," and so inherit the promises made to Abraham.

Ephesians 2:11-13
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

In the book of Hebrews, the hope of Abraham is said to be a city made by God.

Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

It is clear that this city is called Jerusalem, and "the heavenly Jerusalem." [Hebrews 12:22] John calls it the "bride," and the wife of the Lamb. [Revelation 21:9] James identified the inheritance promised to the saints as the kingdom of God.

James 2:5
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

This is the true significance of the land promise. The physical land of Canaan was a type of the kingdom of God, and the city where Christ reigns as king on the throne of David. This city is the "mother of us all." [Galatians 4:26]

The attempt by some to promote the settlement of Jews in Palestine, and claims by Christian Zionists that Christians should support the Jewish state are misguided. They speak evil of those who understand the land promise as a type of greater, spiritual things. They misinterpret the profound typical nature of the history of Israel. Their experience, Paul said, was intended for "our examples."

1 Corinthians 10:6, 11
Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. ... Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

Israel's possession of the land was a type of the "rest" that is promised to the saints, as Hebrews 4 explains.

The land was identified with the law, which was even written upon great stones on Mount Ebal, when the Israelites entered the land. Much of the Old Testament is about Israel's possession of the land, and their exile, and a partial return

And so, it is evidently symbolic of an understanding of the scriptures.

Paul identified the earthly Jerusalem with Hagar the Egyptian bondmaid. She was "cast out" of Abraham's house.

Galatians 4:22-28
22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

IMO, promoters of Christian Zionism mislead gullible Christians, who miss out on the spiritual inheritance and blessings represented by the land of promise. They say those promises apply only to ethnic Jews. Jesus said, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets." [Luke 6:26]

James said,

James 4:4
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

John wrote:

1 John 2:15
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

New heaven and new earth

Jesus told the disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them.

John 14:1-3
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

The "place" Jesus is preparing corresponds to the eternal inheritance of the saints. We are not told much about the "place" that Jesus is preparing, but it likely has to do with preparing the saints for their role in the kingdom of God in the course of their lives in the present world. This "place" also corresponds to the things promised to Abraham; the land where he was a stranger.

Peter said, in the day of the Lord, the heavens will pass away, with great noise. But there is no air in space, so there can't be any noise up there either. Clearly then, this must be figurative, and "heaven" and the "noise" must be interpreted. What heavens did he mean?

2 Peter 3:10-12
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

In one sense, the heavens have passed away already. The old cosmology of Peter's time has been replaced; the theories once widely accepted about the universe have been discarded. The idea of a rigid sky, revolving around the earth once a day, has gone. All the planetary spheres of the Ptolemaic system have gone. Since the scientific revolution, the diurnal rotation is attributed to the earth, not the sky. The demise of the rigid heaven was accompanied by a great commotion, or "noise," because as a result of the new discoveries, the Bible was discredited, and the church too, in the minds of many, as the church had supported the geocentric view, and persecuted Galileo and others who defended the Heliocentric view. It was the age of the "enlightenment" and the rise of scepticism.

While the heavens of the ancient world may be said to have passed away, and have been replaced with the modern scientific view, there still remains the question of the meaning of "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

Peter also indicated that these events were a reason for the saints to live holy lives. Evidently there would be many whose works would be exposed as flawed. But, how was the scientific revolution related to conduct? Perhaps there is another sense in which the heavens will pass away.

2 Peter 3:11-12
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

Peter encouraged the saints to look for a new heavens, and a new earth, "according to his promise." Since it is what was promised, this must refer to some previous promise. I suggest it means the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth.

2 Peter 3:13-14
Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

What is on fire? Is it a fire of judgment? Could "heaven" be a metaphor? Perhaps "heaven" refers to the church. If so, there is plenty of "noise" involved in the controversies that affect the church.

1 Peter 4:17
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

There is a judgment going on in the house of God.

Revelation 12:7-8
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

The war is conducted in heaven; it is spiritual warfare, involving ideas, and interpretations, not flesh and blood.

Revelation 12:12-13
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.

Who are those that dwell in heaven? Here, the saints are contrasted with the world, those who dwell in the earth and the sea. Paul wrote:

Ephesians 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

According to Paul, those who dwell in heaven are "us," that is, the saints. Our blessings are not on this earth, but in heavenly places. And Jesus also taught that we ought to lay up treasure in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-21
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Paul said believers "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." [Ephesians 2:4-7] So in this sense, the saints are the ones who dwell in heaven.

The woman in Revelation 12:1, clothed with the sun, represents the church. She is pictured as in heaven, although the church remains on earth physically. In this prophecy, stars are symbols of the saints.

Perhaps, the apostle Paul's reference to "principalities and powers in heavenly places" in Ephesians 3:10 includes those who have been given authority in the church.

Paul also spoke of principalities, and powers, and "spiritual wickedness in high places," in Ephesians 6:12. Could they be those in authority in the church? If rulers in the church are meant, there is to be a judgment, and it would be a "fiery" one for all those who do evil, as works that are defective would be burned up in such a judgment.

Isaiah 65:16-18
That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes.
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.

Evidently the new heavens and new earth means the glorified church, the heavenly Jerusalem, which will become a "rejoicing."

Revelation 21:1
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

The "sea" is a metaphor that stands for the wicked, as the sea was a border of Israel on the east and west; Israel being symbolic of the people of God.

Isaiah 57:20
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

Israel's return to the land

The apostle Paul said, in Galatians 4:22-31,

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

The bondwoman in the Genesis story was Hagar, the freewoman was Sarah. The children involved were Ishmael and Isaac, who were both sons of Abraham. Hagar, and her son Ishmael, were cast out of Abraham's house, after Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac.

The implication of Paul's interpretation of the story is missed by dispensationalists. Paul said the bondwoman, Hagar, and not Sarah, represents "Jerusalem which now is." He identified Jews who reject Christ with Hagar, and with Ishmael her son, who were cast out, while those who believe in Christ, Jew and Gentile, are identified with Sarah and Isaac, and the children of the promise. This is what Paul's discussion in Galatians 4 means.

According to Paul, those who practise Judaism, and the Mosaic law, and reject Christ, are not the children of the promise. But, evidently, dispensationalists disagree with Paul. John N. Darby, and defenders of Zionism disagree with Paul, because they apply the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to those who are Jews after the flesh.

In Genesis 32:28, God gave the name "Israel" to Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, and so that name really belongs to "the children of the promise," not "the Jerusalem which now is." In other words, the label "Israel" applies to the church, those who are "in Christ," and its use by the Jewish state is invalid; in Paul's view, the use of it made today would probably be considered a lie, and a fraud. All the promises, Paul said, are "yea" and "Amen" in Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:19-20
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

Dispensationalist writers, following John N. Darby, unwittingly and ignorantly apply the promises of God to those who are identified spiritually with Hagar, the bondwoman. They deny that those promises apply to Christ, and to those who belong to Christ.

IMO, dispensationalism, and dozens of other "isms" fulfil the prophecy of Ezekiel 38. This prophecy describes an invading army coming from various directions, from the northeast, northwest, and the southeast, and the southwest, against the "mountains of Israel," symbolic of the promises and revelations of God, that belong to the saints. And they come against "a land that is brought back from the sword." Ezekiel wrote:

Ezekiel 38:7-9
Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them. After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee.

The different directions from which the invaders come, probably represent opposing and contradictory points of view, such as those represented by tens of thousands of sects, cults, and denominations. The prophecy depicts many false teachers coming against the church, having widely differing doctrines.

Why did Ezekiel write that the invading armies of Gog and Magog come against "the land that is brought back from the sword"? What sword is it? A sword was set up to guard the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve were expelled from it:

Genesis 3:23-24
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

The garden of Eden contained the tree of life, which is also present in the paradise John describes in Revelation 22. The land "brought back from the sword," then, alludes to the garden of Eden; access to it was obtained for us by Christ. The sword is symbolic of God's word. [Ephesians 6:17]

This land represents the inheritance of the saints, their promised "rest," and invisible, spiritual things. The author of Hebrews said, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." [Heb. 11:1]

Just as in Eden, man enjoyed innocence, and fellowship with God, the promised land also represents a land where an entire nation could dwell, in fellowship with God. But, just as Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, eventually, the children of Israel were also expelled from their land.

In the NT, the promises of God were all fulfilled to Christ, and so now, he replaces the land as the place where man may come, to worship God, and have access to the tree of life.

The promises and revelations of God, intended for the saints, are the things that the armies of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel's prophecy come against. In Revelation 20:8-9, John says the hordes of Gog and Magog include people from all parts of the earth, deceived by Satan. They come against "the camp of the saints," and "the beloved city," which is the church.

The prophet Joel mentioned the garden of Eden, in his description of the locust horde. This was the figure under which he pictured the church, in their sojourn in the world, before entering the promised land. The idea of locusts seems to have its origin in the expression of the spies who brought back a report on the land of Canaan; they viewed themselves as "grasshoppers" in comparison to the men of the land. And similarly, Christians in an intermediate state, in the wilderness, picturing confusion, and scarcity of nourishment, are represented by locusts. But before them is the prospect of entering a Garden of Eden, a paradise of plenty, which is also represented by the promised land. These are figures of the "rest" a Christian may find by faith in Christ.

Like Joel, Ezekiel compared the land of promise to the garden of Eden. He wrote:

Ezekiel 36:35
And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.

In Ezekiel 38, the armies of Gog and Magog ride upon horses; they are armed with swords, and bows and arrows, and spears, and wooden shields and bucklers. Viewed literally, such an invasion does not fit today's world. And there is another reason why the literal interpretation won't work. Ezekiel's prophecy says the armies of Gog and Magog come against "a land of unwalled villages," and in Palestine, the Jews have built an infamous wall, to divide and separate Israeli settlers from Palestinians. It is a major feature of the landscape! But Ezekiel said Gog and Magog would come against a land of unwalled villagers. Much to the chagrin of popular dispensationalist "prophets," the separation wall built over the past decade thwarts their interpretation of Ezekiel's prophecy, as an invasion of Israel by the armies of modern nations such as Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Syria etc. Since the wall has been built, how can that land be called a "land of unwalled villages"? [Ezekiel 38:11]

The wall consists of fenced sections are in rural areas, and an up to 8 m high concrete wall where it runs through the towns and villages. See photos here

Most of the wall is built on confiscated West Bank land. It is over 700 km long, with concrete guard or sniper towers. The fence sections include coils of razor wire and electronic sensors, with trenches and roads for patrol vehicles. It has involved a massive construction project. A wall of any sort through towns and villages creates a huge inconvenience, and makes many communities feel like living in a prison. The wall separates Palestinians from schools, markets and jobs, and from relatives.

Some towns that were once thriving are almost completely enclosed. The Israel-West bank border is unique in the modern world for having such a prominent wall. It utterly thwarts the interpretations that Zionist dispensationalists have proposed for Ezekiel's prophecy, but they are stuck defending their demonstrably flawed interpretation.

Horses that the hordes of Gog and Magog ride upon can be identified from scripture as people who have no understanding.

Psalm 32:9
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.

The false prophets who come against the saints deceive gullible people with their flawed interpretations, which "ride" them like a rider on a horse!

Isaiah said, the wilderness will become fruitful, for Zion, which is identified with the church in Hebrews 12:22-23. He will "make her wilderness like Eden." In the NT, the church's status is described as like that of the Israelites in the "wilderness," in 1 Cor. 10:1-12, Rev. 12:6, and 14.

Isaiah 51:3
For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.

The land "brought back from the sword" that the false teachers come against is the spiritual inheritance that is promised to the church.

How the land swallows up the serpent's flood

The literal approach to Old Testament prophecies about the land, and Israel's restoration, views the promised land as a territory on the earth to be fought for and possessed, and defended. But many aspects of the geographic changes in the territory of Canaan described by the prophets are difficult to understand, unless interpreted, and viewed as figurative.

Isaiah said mountains would be made low, and valleys filled; this was the message preached by John the Baptist too. But mountains were not literally made low, nor were valleys literally filled up, in the first century. Isaiah said the wilderness would flourish and blossom, and trees would grow there; rivers would flow in the desert; he said Jerusalem would be raised up, and rivers would flow from it, and when the river reached the Dead Sea, the salt water would become fresh.

Zechariah said the Mount of Olives would be cleaved in the midst, and half of it would move towards the north, and half towards the south.

Joel said the sun would be turned into darkness, and the moon to blood.

Besides these remarkable changes in the environment, Isaiah said the natures of the animals, and even their diets, would be altered.

Isaiah 11:6-9
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65:25
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.

Clearly the geographical changes in the promised land that the prophets described are metaphors, and not literal. And similarly, changes in the natures and diets of various animals, in Isaiah's prophecies, are no doubt metaphors, perhaps depicting men turning from violence, and nations becoming peaceful, under the influence of the kingdom of God. [Isaiah 11:7; 65:25]

The symbolic meaning of the land is evident in the earliest parts of the Bible. It is implicit in the story of the Garden of Eden, where man was in fellowship with God. The promised land, also, was a place where men could live in fellowship with God, and from which they were removed, in the exile, just like Adam and Eve were banished from Eden.

When Moses noticed a burning bush, that was not consumed by the flames, he turned aside to investigate. A voice told him to take off his shoes, "for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

Exodus 3:1-5
1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

This incident illustrates what "holy land" meant, and how land could become holy. It was where some revelation of God occurred. The promised land was associated with many revelations of God, which made it special. When God revealed himself, the place where that revelation occurred became holy.

This was the case in the account of the dream of Jacob at Bethel. The place where that revelation occurred is given special prominence. Jacob said, "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not." In this dream, God promised Jacob that he would possess the land of Canaan: "...the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed."

Genesis 28:16-17
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

The land promise is a great spiritual metaphor; the land where the revelations were given, the entire land of Canaan, represents the revelations and promises of God contained in the scriptures. But the literal text of many scriptures is like a barren desert, or a wilderness.

In Revelation 12:6, the church is pictured as a woman who flees to the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, and she is nourished there for 1,260 days.

Revelation 12:6
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

In Revelation 12:14, the woman flies to the wilderness again, equipped with two wings of an eagle. Again she is nourished, but having two wings of an eagle, she would have a more lofty perspective. The nourishment she receives is spiritual.

Revelation 12:14
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

These two accounts of the woman in the wilderness occur in the same chapter, they involve the same woman, it is the same wilderness, in each case her place was prepared by God, and she remains there for the same period of time; and in both verses, the purpose is the same, as she is fed both times; but there are two different perspectives; one is higher, as it is from above.

I suggest, these two accounts of the woman in the wilderness describe two different perspectives upon things in scripture. One is literal, and that is the earthy, lower view; the other is from above, and heavenly. Notice that these two accounts of the woman in the wilderness are placed between an account of a great spiritual war in heaven. It is spiritual because the participants are angels. The woman's wings are a result of the warfare, which probably involves the controversy among Christians about literal vs. spiritual or figurative interpretations of prophecy.

The story of the Israelites taking possession of the promised land teaches the saints how to take possession of their spiritual inheritance. The enemies who previously possessed the land, which the Israelites had to overcome, represent spiritual enemies, including flawed interpretations, and false doctrines, the delusions and imaginations of men, that are opposed to God, which Christians need to overcome, and eliminate, like the Israelites overcame the nations of men which dwelt in Cannan, when they took possession of it under Joshua.

Paul said,

Ephesians 6:12
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

In Revelation 12:15, a flood from the mouth of the serpent is directed at the woman in the wilderness, who represents the saints.

The wilderness to which the woman flees alludes to the sojourn of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and their journey to the promised land. Paul showed, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, these things occurred for the instruction of the church.

Revelation 12:15-16
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

The flood from the serpent's mouth clearly depicts a flood or river of false teachings. It is swallowed up by the earth.

How does the earth or land swallow up the serpent's flood? A flood of literalist folly has carried away many. Flawed interpretations of prophecy are often founded upon misunderstandings about the land promises given to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, so the true understanding of the meaning of the land promise, and the saints taking possession of their spiritual inheritance, that those promises represent, swallows up the flood!

Did God abandon his promise of the land?

Christian Zionists and dispensationalists view the formation of the Jewish state as the fulfilment of ancient biblical prophecies that seem to predict a return of the Jews to the promised land. But those ancient prophecies link the promised restoration to a spiritual return to God, which has not occurred among the Jews in Palestine. Evidence of it is also sadly lacking in the policies of the Lukid party, or the present government in the Jewish state.

One of the prophecies describing the restoration is found in Jeremiah 31:7-9. Verse 9 says, "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel..."

Other Christian writers have concluded that the land promises in the OT have become obsolete; they say the land promises were mostly ignored by Jesus, and are seldom referred to in the writings of the apostles. Dispensationalists, they say, are misguided. Colin Chapman, in his article A Biblical Perspective on Israel/Palestine, wrote:

Jesus had little or nothing to say about the land; the only clear reference is Matt 5:5 (cf Psalm 37:11). The reason for this silence is not that Jesus took traditional Jewish hopes for granted and affirmed them, but that the fulfilment of all these hopes is now to be understood in the context of the coming of the kingdom of God in and through Jesus (Mark 1:15). Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple; but instead of speaking about its restoration, spoke about the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21:5-36).

Restorationists and Dispensationalists argue that if Jesus said little about the land, it's because he didn't need to say anything about it and could take traditional Jewish teaching or granted. The other possible explanation, which I find much more convincing, is that Jesus could not affirm all the nationalistic expectations of the Jewish people. In his teaching about the kingdom of God there was no place for traditional Jewish ideas that the kingly rule of God revolved around the Jewish people and the Promised Land. In Mark's summary of the message of Jesus (Mark 1:15), he says in effect, 'The time that the prophets looked forward to - when they said "In that day ..." - has at last come! The kingly rule of God is just about to come and God is about to establish his kingly rule on the earth.'

Chapman cited W.D. Davies' book, The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine [U. of California Press 1974]. He wrote,

This is how Davies summarises the way Jesus transformed traditional Jewish ideas about the land:

'In the last resort this study drives us to one point: the person of a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord only to die accursed on a cross and so pollute the land, and by that act and its consequences to shatter the geographic dimension of the religion of his fathers. Like everything else, the land also in the New Testament drives us to ponder the mystery of Jesus, the Christ, who by his cross and resurrection broke not only the bonds of death for early Christians but also the bonds of the land.'

Chapman's comments on the Olivet Discourse of Jesus seem to support preterism, in the following paragraph:

Recent studies of the eschatological discourses suggest that the main thrust in what Jesus says in these passages concerns the immediate future and the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and that it is only in the last section of the discourses, when he speaks about 'that day', that he is speaking about the end of the world. This interpretation helps to resolve a major difficulty in the traditional interpretations which has frequently been recognised, namely that Jesus seems to be jumping from the immediate future to the end of the world and then back again to the immediate context. In Daniel's vision the coming of the Son of Man is not a coming to earth but a coming into the presence of God to receive kingship and kingly authority. In this interpretation, therefore, the whole sequence of events including the death and resurrection of the Jesus, the ascension, the giving of the Spirit and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD are to be taken together as a series of events in which Jesus is seen to be entering into his kingly rule. Sayings about the coming of the Son of Man can still be related to the Second Coming; but their primary reference in the context of these discourses is to the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. This interpretation then helps us to make sense of Jesus' saying that 'there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power' (Mark 9:1).

In his book, Whose Promised Land?: The Continuing Crisis over Israel and Palestine (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2002, pp. 161-62.), Chapman states:

Is there anything to suggest that after the ascension of Jesus his disciples continued to look forward to a restored Jewish state in the Land? Given the political situation in first-century Palestine, the writers of the New Testament had every reason to hope for a national restoration for the Jewish people. But did they in fact do so? There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that they held onto these hopes.

Gary M. Burge has also discounted the land promises to Israel. Preterist author Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., in a review of a recent book by him, [Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology by Gary M. Burge. (Baker Academic, 2010)] wrote:

[Burge] points out that despite the longing and perspective of many (not all!) first-century Jews, Jesus downplays the Land -- as well as two other "holy places" for Israel: Jerusalem and the Temple. In a later chapter Burge captures this point well: "the lens of the incarnation had now refocused things completely. Christian theology had no room for 'holy places' outside of the Holy One who is Christ." ...
Burge shows that "early Christian preaching is utterly uninterested in a Jewish eschatology devoted to the restoration of the land." ... Acts shows that "the Land of Promise was the source of Christianity's legacy but no longer its goal." ... Thus, "the striking thing is that Paul here can refer to the promise of Abraham and not refer to the Land of Promise. ... Paul is consistent with all the speeches in the book of Acts. Paul as well as Peter can consistently ignore the central elements in Abraham's life according to Jewish teaching: land and progeny."

Other Christian authors have said similar things; they tend to minimize the land promises, which dispensationalists see as paramount.

In Leviticus 26, God said he will "remember the land."

Leviticus 26:42
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.

Some scriptures describing the land promise that God made to Abraham, recorded in Genesis are:

Genesis 12:2-3
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Genesis 13:15
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

Genesis 15:18-21
18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

Genesis 22:18
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Many Christian writers see the promise of the "seed" fulfilled in Christ, yet they neglect the land promise, that is so prominent in those same promises to Abraham.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. wrote in The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View [Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981) 302-312],

For Paul, no one of the previous promises has changed -- not even the promise of the land. Since the Old Testament has an authority equal to that of the New Testament, the permanency and directness of the promise of the land to Israel cannot be contravened by anything allegedly taught in the New Testament. Tal is wide of the mark when he summarizes the view that the Old Testament can be set aside now that the New Testament era has dawned. He holds that all geopolitical rights promised in the old covenant have been cancelled and that the best that Israel can hope for now is to be part of the new people of God, the church, but without nationality, land, or statehood. But such a view does not square with either the Old covenant or the New covenant.

[The work cited above was: Uriel Tal, Jewish Self-Understanding and the Land in the State of Israel, Union Seminars Quarterly Review 26 (1970):353-54.]

There are also scriptures that describe a future restoration of Israel to the land. Some of these are couched in very figurative language; the land is possessed by enemies; invaders from many nations come against the mountains of Israel. [Ezekiel 38:8] Locust invaders leap on the tops of mountains. [Joel 2:5] The mountains of Israel are possessed by heathen, and made desolate, and "are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people." [Ezekiel 36:3] Edom, the long-time enemy of Israel, claims to possess the mountains of Israel. [Ezekiel 36:5]

The mountains of Israel, representing the promises of God, will be possessed by Israel, which is the church. [Ezekiel 36:12] The mountains will become fruitful. [Ezekiel 36:8] The mountains will sing. [Isaiah 44:23; 49:13; 55:12] The mountains will be soaked, or melted, with the blood of the armies of the nations. [Isaiah 34:3]

Ezekiel wrote about a river, flowing out of the temple, with an abundance of fish. The river heals the country it flows through. Isaiah wrote of trees growing in the desert, the wilderness becoming fruitful, beasts becoming docile, lions eating straw, venomous snakes becoming harmless, trees clapping their hands, and mountains and the hills breaking forth into singing. Joel and Amos wrote about mountains dropping wine. Joel said all the hills will flow with milk.

When the nations come against the church, and against the mountains of Israel (which represent the promises given to the church), fire from heaven falls upon them. [Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 20:9] They all fall by the sword. [Ezekiel 39:23] Their flesh is eaten by birds and beasts, in a sacrifice to God. [Ezekiel 39:17-19, Revelation 19:21]

Consider how the land promise is viewed in the New Testament: Jesus said the meek shall "inherit the earth." [Matthew 5:5] Other scriptures show many things given to Israel were fulfilled to the church in a spiritual way. Chris Wright wrote:

Hebrews' affirmation of what "we have" are surprisingly comprehensive. We have the land, described as the rest into which we have entered through Christ, in a way which even Joshua did not achieve for Israel (3:12-4:11); we have a High Priest (4:14, 8:1, 10:21) and an Altar (13:10); we have a hope which in this context refers to the reality of the covenant made with Abraham (6:13-20). We enter into the Holy Place, so we have the reality of the tabernacle and the temple (10:9). We have come to Mount Zion (12:22) and we are receiving a kingdom, in line with Haggai 2:6 (12:28). Indeed according to Hebrews (13:14), the only thing we do not have is an earthly, territorial city. 'For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.' (Hebrews 13:14)

[A Christian approach to Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel, by Chris Wright, in P.W.L. Walker (ed.), Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God (revd. ed., Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker, 1994. pp. 18-19.)]

One of the New Testament passages generally overlooked in the context of the land promise is Matthew 24, and specifically, the words of Jesus, "let those in Judea flee to the mountains."

Matthew 24:15-21
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Is this related to the land promise? I suggest that indeed, it is, but most people, reading the words, forget what Jesus also said about seeking to preserve ones' own life. When he said "flee to the mountains," Jesus did not mean flee for self-preservation! Jesus said,

Luke 17:31-33
In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
Remember Lot's wife.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

Seeking our own self-preservation is not what Jesus meant! This is plain because Jesus said anyone who seeks to save his own life will lose it. Consider what "housetop" means here. What does a housetop represent?

Matthew 10:27
What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.

It represents some means of open communication. It has to do with proclaiming the gospel!

Luke 12:3
Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

So, Jesus warned those who preach the gospel, don't go down into your house -- why? Because if Jesus gives us new understanding, we should listen, and not reject it, and return to old, worn-out interpretations!

Jesus promises to confirm the covenant to the saints. Paul said,

Romans 15:8
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

He is to "confirm us unto the end," Paul said.

1 Corinthians 1:6-8
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus teaches us something from his word, he warns us not to return to our old opinions. Paul speaks of being clothed with truth and righteousness. "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;" [Ephesians 6:14]

The "clothes" Jesus refers to in the Olivet Prophecy are symbolic, and they picture the truth, and brand new understanding, that Jesus gives to his saints.

The church is the woman "clothed with the sun" in Revelation 12:1. The sun which clothes her represents the gospel.

What "sabbath day" means: The sabbath day Matthew 24:20 represents God's rest, that the saints labour to enter, in Hebrews 4:3-11. Be prepared, so you are ready, and don't have to flee in the time when the saints enter their promised rest!

What "winter" means: In the context of the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus refers to summer and winter, the "summer" and "winter" are contrasting seasons. What comes between is the fall, the time of harvest. There are many references to the resurrection of the saints as a "harvest." For example in the parable of the tares and the wheat, Jesus said, "The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world." [Matthew 13:38-40]

What comes after the harvest is the winter, so Jesus said "pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:" [Matthew 24:20] Winter is a figure of the judgement. The judgement is called a time of "great tribulation," in Revelation 7:14.

Who are those who "give suck"? Jesus said, "And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!" [Matthew 24:19] What does this mean?

Paul wrote to the Christian converts in Galatia, in Galatians 4:19-20: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you." So Paul pictured these believers as unborn foetuses! And he referred to himself as their spiritual mother! And similarly, those teaching the gospel are the spiritual parents of their followers.

The apostle Peter refers to believers as "babes", and the word of God as "milk." He wrote, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." [1 Peter 2:2]

Perhaps Jesus means those who teach the word of God to others, when he refers to "them that give suck." He was clearly not referring to mothers and pregnant girls being in special peril. Why would Jesus pronounce woe to the preachers and teachers of the word, who "give suck"? Maybe this is a warning to those who embrace literalism! The "milk" is food for babes. It does not need chewing. So a literal approach to the prophecies of scripture is represented by "milk." The spirit of Christ exposes all the flawed interpretations, and teachings that have caused the desolation of the Church!

What are the mountains? The promised land is a type, or figure, of the revelations of God. The oracles of God in scripture are connected with the promise of the land. In prophecy, a mountain seems to represent a revelation, or a promise, or a covenant. The Olivet Discourse of Jesus, for example, is likely represented by the mount of Olives, in the prophecy of Zechariah 14. And Paul refers to Sinai as symbolic of the Mosaic legislation, in Galatians 4:24-25. The Sermon on the Mount is pictured by the unnamed mountain where it was given (or mountains). It is included among the "mountains of Israel."

This explains the symbolic meaning of mountains in prophecy. The kingdom of God is represented by the mountain that grows to fill the earth, since it is a revelation, and a promise, and a prophecy. And the "mountain of the Lord's house" in Isaiah 2:2 is established in the highest place, since it is administered from heaven, where Jesus is seated in the Father's throne. So to "flee to the mountains" is a warning for us to seek the kingdom of God, and his promises!

Joel said mountains will drop down new wine, and the rivers of Judah will flow with waters. But the literal territory of Judah includes a large area of desert. The promises of God in scripture are to figuratively "drop down new wine"! This suggests they will provide new insight and understanding!

Joel 3:18
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.

Is the promised land a symbol of paradise?

In his book “The Christ of the Covenants,” O. Palmer Robertson argues that the land promise to Abraham was meant to typify the traditional Christian hope of entering paradise. But the manner of Israel’s entry into the land of promise under the leadership of Joshua, and the conquest of the seven nations of the Canaanites dwelling there seems to discredit that interpretation. Similarly the return of the Jews after the exile in Babylon, to a province of the Persian kings, seems to have little in common with a future paradise. Robertson wrote: [1]

Prophecies concerning restoration to the land of promise received a “mini-realization” at the point of return after exile. Israel did return to the land after 70 years of prophesied captivity had transpired. Yet this small-scale restoration, significant though it may have been, hardly could be understood as fulfilling the magnificent expectations described by Israel’s prophets.

Robertson pointed out that the 70 years of Israel’s exile in Babylon was connected with the sabbatical years, which were not observed under the monarchy. He wrote: [2]

The Sabbath also relates to the linear dimension of history. In the Sabbath may be seen the pattern of progress in God’s dealings with his people through the entire extent of human history.

The “rest” of Israel’s conquest under Joshua accords with this Sabbath principle. Israel moves from captivity in Egypt through wandering in the wilderness toward “rest” in Canaan. Moses anticipates the “rest” which God was to give Israel from all its enemies (Deut. 12:9, 10). The psalmist subsequently refers to God’s denial of the “rest” for Israel because of their sin in the wilderness (Ps. 95:11). The New Testament interprets this history explicitly in terms of the Sabbath principle. Because Joshua could not give Israel “rest,” a “Sabbath” yet remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:8, 9). The “Sabbath” thereby provides a significant key to the understanding of the history of God’s people. Not only in Israel’s repetitive patterns of weekly worship, but also in God’s ordering of history, the Sabbath plays a prominent role in determining Israel’s history.

Israel’s 70 years of captivity also are interpreted by Scrripture in terms of the Sabbath principle. Because of their sin, the land of Israel had to observe an enforced accumulation of Sabbaths during the people’s exile (Lev. 26:33-35). The years of captivity had to compensate for Israel’s neglect of the sabbatical principle.

Exile from the land of promise clearly signified that the nation had been cut off from the favor of God, and the blessings that were promised to Abraham. Robertson said that Israel’s expulsion from the land of promise reversed the blessings promised in God’s covenant with Abraham. He wrote: [3]

The expulsion of the people of God from the land of promise at the time of exile dramatizes their massive failure under the old covenant. This manifestation of a fatal deficiency in covenantal administration does not relate simply to the Mosaic covenant of law. For the end of the Davidic monarchy and the devastation of Jerusalem fulfilled the covenantal curse associated with the Davidic covenant as well. Still further, expulsion from the land of promise may be understood only as a reversal of the beneficence expressed in the covenant with Abraham. Though circumcised formally, Abraham’s descendants now were treated as the uncircumcised, and so were cast out of the land. This enactment of covenantal curse in redemptive history vivifies the necessity for some new form of covenantal administration having a more lasting effectiveness than the form by which the covenant was administered through Abraham, Moses, and David.

If dwelling in the land represents going to heaven upon one’s death, then would not exile, and life in the diaspora, symbolize another kind of fate? Is that really what the Bible shows?

Robertson said that the land promise could not be entirely spiritualized, and in regards to the land promise, he advocated an “impure” mix of literal interpretation with figurative. He wrote: [4]

The new covenant lays a significant stress on internal transformation. A new heart in perfect communion with God epitomizes its blessings. Yet the context of the prophetical message concerning the new covenant resists a pure “spiritualization” of the blessings of this covenant. The language of the prophets contains far too much in terms of materially defined benedictions. The return of Israel to the land, the rebuilding of the devastated cities, the reconstitution of the nation–even resurrection from the dead–play a vital role in the prophetical formulation of new covenant expectations.

The 70 years that Jeremiah foretold was one of the things mentioned in Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks.

Robertson understood that the meaning of the land promise to Israel was connected with the exile in Babylon, and that the inferior condition of the people after their return was not a real reversal of the exile, but that during the 2nd temple period Israel still awaited the fulfillment of the promised restoration. He wrote: [5]

Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy includes as an integral aspect of its fulfillment the return of Israel to the land of promise after the Babylonian captivity. But still further, Jeremiah spicifically indicates that the return of Israel to the land of promise was to occur within 70 years (Jer 25:12; 29:10). The consequent “mini-realization” of the new covenant promise inherently indicates that some typological factor must be involved in the fulfillment of new covenant prophecy. Obviously the return of Israel to Palestine in 537 B.C. at the decree of King Cyrus of Persia did not meet all the requirements laid down in prophecy concerning the new covenant. Yet it symbolically represented the reestablishment of the people of God in accordance with the provisions of the new covenant.

But is a future in heaven after this present life ends really what the land promise represents? Is the promised land even a reasonable symbol for it? Robertson seems a bit uncertain, in his concluding paragraph: [6]

Some might insist that “literal” fulfillment of new covenant prophecy requires the return of ethnic Israel to a geographically located Palestine. Yet the replacement of the typological with the actual as a principle of biblical interpretation points to another kind of “literal” fulfillment.

The historical return to a “land of promise” by a small remnant 70 years after Jeremiah’s prophecy encourages hope in the final return to paradise lost by the newly constituted “Israel of God.” As men from all nations had been dispossessed and alienated from the original creation, so now they may hope for restoration and peace, even to the extent of anticipating a “land of promise” sure to appear in the new creation, and sure to be enjoyed by a resurrected people.

If Palestine is a symbol of the Christian paradise, that message seems to be rather obscure in the Bible.

If that interpretation were true, what significance was there in Israel having to fight against the Canaanites for seven years? Robertson’s interpretation in “The Christ of the Covenants” does not seem to fit the historical events.

In the prophecy of the 70 weeks, Daniel identified three periods: seven weeks, sixty two weeks, and one week, which are also periods of “seven times.” Together with the period of exile in Babylon, they amount to four periods of seven times, and these four periods correspond to the four periods of seven times described in Leviticus 26. In the last of these, the people would become reconciled to God, and God would be reconciled to them, and he would remember his covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he would remember the land. In Daniel 9:11, the curse that was poured out upon Israel during the exile may be identified with the first of the four periods of seven times in Leviticus 26.

The first two sections of the seventy weeks point to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.  In the final week Jesus confirms his covenant with many. This refers to the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, and the Gospel; in Jesus, the promised seed of Abraham, all nations will be blessed. The first half week was the ministry of Jesus and the final half week is symbolic, and spans the whole age of the church.

The land, too, is part of the promise to Abraham. I suggest that the promise of the land of Canaan is fulfilled to those who are Abraham’s children by faith. Their return to “the faith once delivered” is represented by the prophets as Israels restoration to the promised land. As part of fulfilling the covenant, Christ will lead his saints out of all the places where they have been scattered. Prophecies of Israel possessing the promised land represent the saints receiving spiritual blessings such as understanding the prophecies, and the Gospel.

References

1. O. Palmer Robertson. The Christ of the Covenants. P & R Publishing. 1981. p. 42-43.

2. Ibid., p. 71.

3. Ibid., p. 271.

4. Ibid., p. 297.

5. Ibid.,  p. 298.

6. Ibid. p. 300.

The knowledge of God, a better promised land

God promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their seed. [Genesis 12:1; 13:45-15; 26:3; 28:13] Each of them was a stranger and a sojourner in it; [1 Chronicles 29:15] they dug wells in the land, [Genesis 21:30; 26:18, 22; John 4:6] but none of them possessed any of it in their lifetimes. [Acts 7:5] It would be a land where revelations were given from God, and where angels ascended and descended from heaven. [Genesis 28:12] The land was promised to the seed of Jacob as an everlasting possession. [Genesis 48:4]

In the New Testament, a better land replaces the land of Canaan of the Old Testament; the literal land has become merely a type and a shadow of a spiritual reality.

Hebrews 11:16
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

What exactly is this better country? It is not the same as the heavenly city, but it is the land on which that city is built. Some claim the promised land is symbolic of heaven, and is entered only after this life ends at death. But things said about the promised land in the Scriptures suggest that it has another meaning. Consider, when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rise up in the resurrection, why would they need to possess the rather small territory of Canaan? Unless it represents something more, possessing that land forever seems to make little sense. In the resurrection, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will probably not need to herd cattle, or plant crops, so the land that they were promised must have another, spiritual significance. And besides, they would need to share it with all their progeny, who are to number as the stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea shore. With that many people, how much room would there be in it for each person?

The promised land belongs to God; [Leviticus 25:23] his eyes are always on it, [Deuteronomy 11:12] and they also “run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” [2 Chronicles 16:9]

Ezekiel said it is the glory of all lands. [Ezekiel 20:6, 15]

The Israelites who aspired to enter the promised land had to be strong, and very courageous; [Joshua 1:7] the nations dwelling in the land were bread for them. [Numbers 14:9]

The land of promise contrasts with Egypt, the wilderness, and with all other lands.

The land is a place for rest; [Joshua 1:13; 14:15; Judges 3:11] it is set in the midst of the nations of the world; [Ezekiel 5:5] the words of the law were written upon it; [Deuteronomy 27:3 Joshua 8:32] entering the land required belief. [Hebrews 3:19; 4:11-12]

The promised land is a land that flows with milk and honey; [Exodus 3:8; 13:5; 33:3; Leviticus 20:24] manna tasted like wafers and honey; [Exodus 16:31] the apostle Peter used milk to represent God’s word. [1 Peter 2:2]

The land is watered from heaven, [Deuteronomy 11:11] and it produces grapes, pomegranates, and figs. [Numbers 13:23]

The land includes mountains, hills, rivers, cities, and valleys; [Deuteronomy 11:11] the valleys of Meddigo, Jehoshaphat, and Gehenna are there.

Israel wandered in the wilderness no more, when they possessed the land; they lost their land when they did not worship God. The land was invaded by other nations; after the northern tribes of Israel were carried away into captivity, the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon and other cities in Mesopotamia, to settle in Samaria; [2 Kings 17:24] and when Judah also was taken captive, Edom was confederate with them that cast lots upon Jerusalem. [Obadiah 1:11-14]

Isaiah said Mount Zion would be established in the tops of the mountains. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” [Isaiah 2:2-3] The prophet Zechariah said Jerusalem would be raised up, and the country around about will become a plain. “All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up.” [Zechariah 14:10]

In the New Testament, Jerusalem is raised up to heaven. [Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22]

In Revelation 20, deceived people from all parts of the earth come against the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.

Revelation 20:7-9
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.

The prophecy alludes to Ezekiel’s prophecy about the invading hordes of Gog and Magog. Ezekiel said that they would “be like a cloud to cover the land.” [Ezekiel 38:9] They “go up to the land of unwalled villages” and “take a spoil, and a prey.” They plunder the “desolate places that are now inhabited,” and “the people that are gathered out of the nations.” [Ezekiel 38:12] Like the prophet Isaiah, Ezekiel described the land as desolate.

Ezekiel’s prophecy reveals the spiritual meaning of the land; he said the invaders come against “the prophets of Israel.”

Ezekiel 38:17
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them?

The attack by the hordes of Gog and Magog in Revelation is an attack upon the church, which is the “beloved city.” Here, in verse 17, they come against the prophets; this can only mean that they misinterpret the prophecies. They do not understand them. The “land that is brought back from the sword” in Ezekiel 38:8 seems to allude to Eden, which was guarded by a flaming sword. “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” [Genesis 3:24]

The word of God, in Hebrews 4:12, is compared to a sword. It is a sword that goes foth from the mouth of Christ. [Revelation 19:15, 21] The land that the hordes of Gog and Magog come against is related to Eden, and to the promised land. It is not the literal land, as it is called a “land of unwalled villages,” and a land where the people are “at rest,” and where they are “dwelling without walls.” This does not fit the modern Jewish state, or the West Bank, where a prominent wall up to 8 m high and over 700 km long separates the Palestinian population from the Jewish population.

Through Ezekiel, God said: “I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” [Ezekiel 38:20] Their weapons are burned as fuel for seven years. [Ezekiel 39:9-10] In the psalms, weapons such as spears and swords represent the bitter words of the wicked. “Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words.” [Psalm 64:3]

The rain, hail, fire, and brimstone in verse 20 are symbolic of God’s word, and his judgments. [Isaiah 55:10-12; Jeremiah 5:14] Paul spoke of God’s fiery judgments coming upon them that do not know God:

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

The land of promise, which is the “better country” of Hebrews 11:16, represents the knowledge of God, and the people of God are to be restored to it; this is what the prophet Jeremiah foretold when he said Israel will be brought back to their land with weeping; [Jeremiah 50:4] they will ask the way to Zion. [Jeremiah 50:5] Isaiah said they will possess the land forever; [Isaiah 60:21] and all nations will flow to Zion. [Isaiah 2:2] Then, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” [Isaiah 11:9]

Isaiah 6:11, “How long, Lord?”

In each of the four gospels, in Acts, and in Romans, Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted. The most complete example is in Acts, and occurs right at the end of the book. [Acts 28:25-31]

The account of Paul’s ministry ends rather abruptly, and many think that the original conclusion of the book of Acts is missing. Other references to Isaiah 6:9-10 are Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, and Romans 11:8.

In the following I focus on the next verse, in which the prophet Isaiah asked for how long the real meaning of prophecy will be hidden, and the answer he was given. On Isaiah 6:11 and 12, Princeton professor Joseph Addison Alexander commented: [1]

11. And I said, How long, Lord? And he said, Until that cities are desolate for want of an inhabitant, and houses for want of men, and the land shall be desolated, a waste, or utterly desolate. The spiritual death of the people should be followed by external desolation. The common explanation is no doubt the true one, that the Prophet asks how long the blindness of the people shall continue, and is told until it ruins them and drives them from their country. As the foregoing description is repeatedly applied in the New Testament to the Jews who were contemporary with our Saviour, the threatening must be equally extensive, and equivalent to saying that the land should be completely wasted, not at one time but repeatedly.

12. This verse continues the answer to the Prophet’s question in the verse preceding. And (until) Jehovah shall have put far off (removed to a distance) the men (or people of the country) and great (much or abundant) shall be that which is left (of unoccupied forsaken ground) in the midst of the land. This is little more than a repetition, in other words, of the declaration in the verse preceding. The terms of this verse may be applied to all the successive desolations of the country, not excepting that most extreme and remarkable of all which exists at the present moment.

Since Alexander’s time, a Jewish state has been established in Palestine. Many Jews have migrated there. But there has been no fulfillment of Isaiah 6:11-12. If the land was previously desolate, and without inhabitant, and is now inhabited by God’s people, wouldn’t Isaiah’s prophecy imply that the time when the meaning of his prophecies would be known had come?

Evidently, Isaiah must have referred to another land. The prophecy could refer to the land of promise in its spiritual sense. It can’t be the literal land, in the sense Alexander supposed above. The Jewish people now living in the modern Jewish state are no more enlightened about the Gospel, than the Jews of Rome were when Paul was there, and when the last verses of the book of Acts were written.

Alexander interpreted the land in a spiritual sense, in his comments on Isaiah 57:13, where he explained “he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land” as having “a wider explanation, in which the possession of the land is an appointed symbol of the highest blessings which are in reserve for true believers here and hereafter.” [2] This is the spiritual meaning of the land; the land of Canaan was a type and shadow of the spiritual blessing promised to believers.

Ebenezer Henderson (1784-1858) understood the healing mentioned in Isaiah 6:10 as referring to spiritual conversion, and the forgiveness of sins. He wrote, “The healing referred to is the entire moral recovery which sinners experience on their conversion to God; and, as pardon is essential to such recovery, healing and forgiveness of sins came to be regarded by the Hebrews as synonymous.” [3] Henderson commented on the Hebrew terms used in verse 11: [4]

11. עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁר֩ אִם This accumulation is designed to give intensity to the statement, and thereby to intimate, in such connexion, the great length of time during which the obstinacy of the Jews should be evinced. Comp. Gen. xxviii. 15; Numb, xxxii. 17. תִּשָּׁאֶ֥ה שְׁמָמָֽה lit. be laid waste, a desolation, for "be utterly wasted."

Like many scholars, Otto Kaiser thought that the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-11 referred to the Babylonian captivity, but the references in the New Testament show that the enlightenment that was promised when the land was utterly desolate had not come. He wrote: [5]

As the answer shows, the prophet’s question, ‘How long, O Lord?’ in v. 11a, which has its parallel in the lament, relates not so much to the duration of his activity, which is to advance the hardening of people’s hearts, as to the duration of that hardening. Here it is again clear that the narrator is looking beyond the lifetime of Isaiah to the catastrophe of 587. Because the so-called memorial introduced by ch. 6 ends in a word of hope (cf. 8:17), God’s answer envisages the end of the hardening and the possibility given with it of a new beginning to his history.

Johann Peter Lange thought that Isaiah’s prophecy meant there would be a complete desolation of the land. He wrote: [6]

5. Then said I —

Vers. 11-13. The announcement of the judgment of hardening in vers. 9, 10 sounds quite absolute. Yet the Prophet hears underneath all that it is not so intended. It is impossible that the Lord should quite and forever reject His people, and abrogate the promises given to the fathers. He asks, therefore, “How long, Lord?” (соmр. Ps. vi. 4; xc. 13; Hab. ii. 6). He would say: What are to be quantitively and qualitatively the limits of that judgment of hardening? The answer is: First there must be an entire desolation and depopulating of the land; and when at last still a tenth of the inhabitants is in the land, that tenth part also must be decimated till nothing is left but the stump of a root or stem. That shall then be the seed of a holy future. The meaning of the words is perfectly clear.

The construction is as follows: and still there is in it (the land) a tenth part, and this is again decimated—after the manner of or in resemblance to the terebinth and oak, in which, when felled, a stump remains, its stump (of the tenth) is holy seed. Therefore a stump always remains, and that suffices to guarantee a new life and a new glorious future. This has been steadily verified in the people Israel, both in a corporeal and spiritual respect. After every overthrow, yea, after the most fearful visitations, that aimed at the very extinction of the people, a stump or stem was still always left in the ground. This people is even not to be destroyed. There is nothing tougher than the life of this everlasting Jew. And in spiritual respects it is just the same. Though every knee seems to bow to the old or the new Baal, yet the Lord has preserved always a fragment (7,000 it is called, 1 Kings xix. 18) in faithfulness.

George Wöosung Wade (1858-1941) focused on the “perversity” of the Israelites that in his view was to result in their “extermination by death or exile.” He wrote: [7]

11. Until, etc. i.e. the nation’s perversity will be brought to an end by nothing short of its extermination by death or exile: cf. xxii. 14.
become utterly waste. Better (with the LXX. and Vulg.), be left waste …
12. removed men, etc. i.e. caused them to be deported by a foreign enemy: cf v. 13.

Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown supposed the prophecy was fulfilled by the Babylonian captivity or by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But if that were so, the Jews would not longer be blinded to the Gospel. They stated: [8]

11. how long–will this wretched condition of the nation being hardened to its destruction continue?
until– (Isa 5:9) –fulfilled primarily at the Babylonish captivity, and more fully at the dispersion under the Roman Titus.
12. (2Ki 25:21).
forsaking–abandonment of dwellings by their inhabitants (Jer 4:29).

The comments above demonstrate that blindness and hardness of heart that Isaiah’s prophecy described affects Gentiles, as well as the Jews. Two world wars in the 20th century, in which Christians fought and killed other Christians, illustrate that this is true. The people are estranged from the spiritual land of promise, that the literal land represents. Thus, they do not understand the message of Isaiah.

Only when the people recognize that they have been long removed from that land, the spiritual promised land that Canaan represents, which has remained desolate and without inhabitant, can Isaiah’s prophecies be fully understood.

References

1. Joseph Addison Alexander. Isaiah translated and explained. 1851. pp. 91-92.

2. J. A. Alexander, Isaiah translated and explained. Volume 2. John Wiley, NY. 1851. pp. 331-332.

3. Ebenezer Henderson. The book of the prophet Isaiah. London: Hamilton, Adams. 1857. p. 54.

4. Ibid.

5. Otto Kaiser. Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. 1983. p. 132.

6. Johann Peter Lange. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: critical, doctrinal, and homiletical, Volume 11 . Scribner, 1878. p. 110.

7. George Wöosung Wade. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah: with introduction and notes. London: Methuen. 1911. p. 42.

8. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. 1871.

Is the promised land a symbol of the earth?

Is the land promise to Abraham symbolic of the earth? In some commentaries, the land promise to Abraham is supposed to mean that he will inherit the whole earth. This idea is based on Paul’s statement in Romans 4:13: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

Wilhelm Julius Schröder declared that the land of promise is “a prophetic symbol of the earth.” Is this true? In his commentary on Ezekiel 36, Schröder wrote: [1]

The combating of the allegorizing method of explanation—for example, by J. A. Crusius, from whom Rosenmüller quotes when commenting on our chapter—is unquestionably in the right against the arbitrary extravagances and exaggerations of Cocceius and his followers; but where the Bible language in general is symbolical, with the prophets, above all, a symbolical way of speaking will be conceded. A natural or historical substratum on which the symbolical is based is supposed with the symbolical itself. Consequently, all that is here said in Ezekiel has a fulfilment in the time after the exile. On the other hand, modern apocalypticism, by its converting the letter of prophecy into future revelations of any and every kind, sets itself against the apocalyptic mode of expression, the characteristic of which, is certainly not literality. The national physiognomy of Israel, as Genesis traces it back to Adam, the father of all men, indicates a reference to humanity as a whole. This reference prevails in Noah’s prophetic discourse, Gen. ix., when Japhet is destined to dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan, the son of Ham, to be a servant in the house. The Holy Land fits in with Abraham to this symbolism of the nation, and Abraham is to be a blessing (as is said in Gen. xii.: “to all the families of the earth, Adamah“), through his seed, which is Christ, as the apostle says in Gal. iii. Hence humanity in Christ will also be the theological point of view in the case of the land of Israel. So long as He who is τέλος νόμου (Rom. x. 4) was not born in the land of promise, the land remained, in respect to the realization of the blessing of Abraham to the race of Adam, a prophetic symbol of the earth, just as the nation was symbolico-prophetic for the nations of mankind.

Both these interpretations seem incorrect, unless qualified; the nation of Israel, the seed of Abraham, represents those who believe in Christ, who are called out of the world; the promised land is a prophetic symbol of the spiritual inheritance of the saints. Schröder continued: [2]

The land of Israel … like the legal nationality of Israel, has its final fulfilment in Christ. As His beatitudes (Matt. v.) assign to His people the kingdom of heaven, so also do they the inheritance of the land. Hitherto out of Israel shines humanity, and representatively for it the Son of man, the true Israel. The Christian interpretation of the people of Israel as the Church, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, embraces now also the Holy Land in the signification of the land of glory, paradise, and Eden. From the standpoint of the fulfilling of Israel as to its universal human signification by Christ, the Old Testament outward expression of the letter, that is, what is said predeutically and pædagogically in accordance with the economy of the Old Covenant, in the style of the people and the land, may remain in its full force; but what is given with the idea of Israel, namely, that the promises in question are to be fulfilled in a very different sense from the outward literal sense, that they are to be fulfilled “in spirit and in truth,”—this even the literal expression itself demands from its unmistakable depth of meaning, which often makes plainly ridiculous a merely literal interpretation, whether looking to the time after the exile, or to the very last time. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John, the baptizer of Christ (Matt, xi. 13; Luke xvi. 16). And what Christ said (John iv.) of worshipping at Jerusalem: “the hour Cometh, and now is, bears witness to the Messianic (Christological) and in general the spiritual sense of the Old Testament letter; as the setting of it free from every temporary limitation as to place or nation bears witness to its sense for eternity, and to the spiritual interpretation as that which is at the same time interpretation “in truth,” the true understanding, so that the Christian truth of the prophecies is also to be regarded as their true and full reality. The Jewish Christianity of individual expositors (e.g. of Baumgarten) is not the Old Testament Christianity of the prophets.

Schröder also said that the fulfilment of the land promise is “in the world above with Christ, as the apostle Paul says in Phil. i. 23.” But this seems to contradict the idea that the land represents the earth as he asserted in a previous paragraph. Schröder wrote: [3]

On ch. iii. 17 the characteristic individualization was noted as a mark of the time; but that which is peculiar to the Christological utterances of our prophet (Introd. § 9), his putting of the Christological thought, as ch. xl. sq., in the form of Palestinian worship, and so generally in the manner of the people and land of Israel, is always to be adhered to. Fundamentally, the latter form was only that of the law as early as Ex. xx. 12. But when the Son of man, of the seed of David according to the flesh, realized the kingdom of Israel as eternal—when, by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, His gift of prophecy became the common property of mankind, then, as with the worshipping in spirit and in truth, the peculiar localization of the sanctuary and the priestly service, always accomplished for the time, ceased; Israel also could, in whatever part of the earth, consider themselves as in their own land, and so much the more as their true King had (John xviii.) witnessed the good confession of the supramundane nature of His kingdom before the representative of the Roman earthly world-power. For the Israel of fulfilment Canaan lay, in the first instance, in the world above with Christ, as the apostle Paul says in Phil. i. 23, where also paradise is (Luke xxiii. 43; 2 Cor. xii. 4); and in this world only, in the renewal of heaven and earth according to the Christian hope. So, likewise, the true, the fulfilled nationality of Israel is to be sought for in the Christian world, in humanity, according to the Spirit of Christ; now in measure, in fulness only hereafter, Rev. xxi. 3.

This is closer to the truth, I think. The land of promise is symbolic of all the promises of God, which are primarily of a spiritual nature. The literal land of Canaan was a type and shadow of the spiritual inheritance of the saints. It was tiny, compared with other lands. Schröder noted that ancient orators, particularly Cicero, spoke of it scornfully, and ridiculed its size. [4]

The comparison of our chapter with ch. vi. indicates that, in considering the “mountains of Israel,” especially when they are by the best interpreter, the “enemy,” sneeringly termed the “everlasting heights,” we are not to direct our attention to the mountainous character of the Holy Land. Palestine is a hilly country, which leans upon the towering heights of Lebanon and Hermon: but this conformation did not so much qualify it for its significance in the Old World, so that we might at once recur to that, as its position on the boundaries of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and again its peculiar isolation, while occupying such a position in the centre of the Old World. In considering this position of the land, its littleness, ridiculed as is well known by Cicero, and from which the Roman statesman would infer the little god of the Jews, has as little, or rather as much, to say as the grain of mustard sited in the parable, Matt. xiii.

However, in the ancient world the eastern Mediterranean had an immense population. Schröder stated: [5]

It belongs to the local colour of the land, that, when it is spoken of distinctively, its fruitfulness also is spoken of. Comp. for climate and nature of the soil, the well-known passages of Scripture. Writers in the first century still bear witness to what heathens and Jews of former times celebrated with one accord, the immense population of the land, corresponding to its great fertility. At present, indeed, Jerusalem, the largest city of Palestine, has scarcely more inhabitants than the smaller towns of Galilee had in the time of Josephus.

Many things said of the promised land in Scripture reveal that it was always connected to a spiritual meaning, and taking the land as strictly literal, and as referring to the land of Canaan, leads to disappointment, and confusion. This is illustrated in several ways. For example, Psalm 48:8 says Zion is established forever, and Psalm 78:68 and 87:2 both say that God loves Zion; to a Jew in the first century, taking this literally, these Scriptures could have implied that Jerusalem would be a safe place, and surely, God would prevent its destruction, but those who believed this would be disappointed. Historical events in 70 AD and the years that followed appeared to discredit those prophecies. One reason was that as foretold in Isaiah 2:2-4, mount Zion, and Jerusalem, symbolic of the kingdom of Christ, had been raised up; now they were located “above the hills,” in heaven. [Hebrews 12:22-24]

Again, Isaiah 24:1 says that the land will be turned upside down, apparently like a vessel when it is emptied. If applied to the literal land of Canaan, this seems ridiculous; how can the literal land be turned upside down? J. A. Alexander translated: “Jehovah (is) pouring out the land and emptying it and he will turn down its face.” He says, “the figure is that of a bottle or other vessel drained of its contents by being turned upside down.”The land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled.” vs. 3.

If the land is understood in a spiritual sense, the figure of the land being empty and desolate represents the removal of the church from the “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Where are her spiritual gifts? Where is her unity? Where are her gifts of healing, and of prophecy? In a world where Christians are scattered among tens of thousands of sects and denominations, it is difficult for many people to even find the church that Jesus established, which he said would remain to the end of the world, and that it would be “the light of the world.”

Also, things said in the Scripture about landforms, such as mountains, and rivers, are contrary to nature. Psalm 114:4 says,”The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs;” but natural mountains don’t leap. However, the truths that mountains represent might leap, and skip, when their symbolic nature is realized.

Isaiah 55:12 says mountains and hills sing, but natural mountains and hills do not sing. The mountains represent the promises of God, and there are many songs about the Gospel, which is the greatest of all promises.

In Ezekiel 6 and 36, and Micah 6:1, mountains are addressed in prophecies, but natural mountains do not have ears, and cannot hear.

In Ezekiel 47, a river flowing from the temple gradually increases in depth towards the east, but natural rivers do not increase in size within such a short distance. Also the gradient described is incompatible with existing topography, and the problem for a literal view is compounded if Jerusalem is raised up relative to the surrounding country, as Isaiah said.

In Daniel 2:35, a mountain is generated from a stone, but in nature, stones are generated from mountains. The prophecy refers to the kingdom of God, which is represented by a mountain that fills the earth.  Compare with Isaiah 2:2, where the mountain is extended vertically; in Daniel 2, the same mountain is extended laterally, and encompasses all men.

In Joel 3:18, hills flow with milk, and mountains drop wine. This does not happen in nature. The mountains of prophecy are metaphors, representing the promises of God. Wine and milk are used as symbols of God’s word in the New Testament. [Luke 5:37; Hebrews 5:13; 1 Peter 2:2]

The prophet Isaiah said, “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” [Isaiah 35:1] The desert in this prophecy must allude to the present desolate, barren condition of the spiritual reality that is represented by the land of promise.

References

1. Wilhelm Julius Schröder. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ezekiel, Daniel. Tr. by Patrick Fairbairn & William Findlay. C. Scribner & co., 1876. p. 342.

2. Ibid. p. 343.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid. p. 342.

5. Ibid. p. 343.

Threshing the mountains

Isaiah 41:15-16 says that Israel will become a threshing sledge, which will thresh mountains and hills, and beat them small. The prophecy is similar to Isaiah 40:4 and no doubt the interpretations of each prophecy are connected. Three questions are presented to the expositor; (1) what Israel is in view? (2) what are the mountains? (3) how is the threshing done?

Many commentators stumble on the first question; they suppose that ethnic Jews are the subject, and consequently they try to discover ways in which Jews might become so wonderfully powerful, they will thresh mountains and hills; this approach was proposed by Rabbi David Kimchi (1160–1235) in his comments on Isaiah 41:15. As noted by Adam Clarke in his Commentary, Kimchi wrote: “Mountains and hills are here used metaphorically for the kings and princes of the Gentiles.”

Joseph Addison Alexander was one of a few who resisted Kimchi’s opinion, which had become the traditional view; instead, Alexander suggested they represent unspecified obstacles. In Isaiah translated and explained, Vol 2 he wrote:

15. Behold I have placed thee for (i.e. appointed thee to be, or changed thee into) a threshing-sledge, sharp, new, possessed of teeth (or edges); thou shalt thresh mountains and beat (them) small, and hills like the chaff shalt them place (or make). The erroneous idea that he simply promises to furnish Israel with the means of threshing mountains, has arisen from the equivocal language of the English Version, I will make thee, which may either mean, I will make for thee, or will make thee to become, whereas the last sense only can by any possibility be put upon the Hebrew, as literally translated above. The oriental threshing machine is sometimes a sledge of thick planks armed with iron or sharp stones, sometimes a system of rough rollers joined together like a sledge or dray. Both kinds are dragged over the grain by oxen. (See Robinson’s Palestine, vol. III p. 143.) The word translated teeth strictly denotes mouths; but like the primitive noun from which it is derived, it is sometimes applied to the edge of a sharp instrument, perhaps in allusion to the figure of devouring. Here it signifies the edges, blades, or teeth, with which the threshing-wain is armed. The image presented is the strange but strong one of a down-trodden worm reducing hills to powder, the essential idea being that of a weak and helpless object overcoming the most disproportionate obstacles, by strength derived from another.

Albert Barnes expressed some doubt about the views of Kimchi and others in Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible:

The words ‘mountains’ and ‘hills’ in this verse seem designed to denote the kingdoms greater and smaller that should be opposed to the Jews, and that should become subject to them (Rosenmüller). Grotius supposes that the prophet refers particularly to the Medes and Babylonians. But perhaps the words are used to denote simply difficulties or obstacles in their way, and the expression may mean that they would be able to overcome all those obstacles, and to subdue all that opposed them, as if in a march they should crush all the mountains, and dissipate all the hills by an exertion of power.

Walter Brueggemann seems to have applied an interpretation tailored for the prophecy in Isaiah 40:4 to Isaiah 41:15. For him, the mountains were not objects that could be “threshed.” He wrote [Walter Brueggemann. Isaiah: 40-66. Westminster John Knox Press 1998, p. 35]:

The metaphor is of a farm implement with sharp teeth (threshing sledge) that is dragged over the land to smooth the soil, forcibly crushing and breaking and refining what is not yet amenable to planting. This is exceedingly vigorous language whereby Israel is imagined to become a force and an agent who can “rough up” even Babylon. Thus the speech imagines a complete role reversal between powerful Babylon and pitiful, wormlike Israel, whereby Israel becomes threshing sledge and Babylon is left to be leveled, abused soil.

J. B. Coffman assumed that the mountains which are threshed are nations, but they are threshed not by ethnic Jews, but through the influence of Christianity. In Coffman’s Commentary he wrote:

In these verses (including also the text through Isa. 41:20) Israel is assured (1) of the faithfulness of God, Isa. 41:8,9; (2) that they will receive strength from God, Isa. 41:10, (3) that weakness will afflict their enemies, Isa. 41:11,12; (4) that God will raise up aid for them, Isa. 41:13,14; (5) that their enemies shall be scattered, Isa. 41:15,16; (6) and that they shall receive spiritual refreshment during their worst experiences, Isa. 41:17-19. … The metaphor here of Israel’s threshing the mountains and hills, i.e., all nations great and small, large as it is, does not exaggerate the influence of Judaic-born Christianity over all the nations of mankind.

Franz Delitzsch and S. R. Driver supposed that mountains and hills were “plainly a figure of lofty, powerful foes, just as wind and storm are a figure of God’s irresistible help.” [Franz Delitzsch and Samuel Rolles Driver. Biblical commentary on the prophecies of Isaiah (1890). p. 157.] They wrote:

The comforting word “Fear not” is once more taken up, in order to add to the promise, that Israel shall not succumb to its foes, the positive promise that it shall acquire power over them, vers. 14–16: “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, thou petty people Israel! I help thee, saith Jehovah; and thy Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I have made thee a threshing-roller, a sharp one, new, with double edge. Thou shall thresh mountains and crush them, and thou shall make hills like chaff. Thou shalt winnow them, and the wind carries them off, and the storm scatters them; and thou shall exult in Jehovah, and boast thyself in the Holy One of Israel,” Israel, now helplessly oppressed, is sympathetically called worm of Jacob (gen. appos.), i.e. Jacob like a worm, perhaps not without allusion to Ps. xxii. 6; for the picture of the Messiah is enriched in these discourses, Israel itself being regarded in a Messianic light, so that the second David does not stand beside Israel, but is Israel’s own true, inmost nature. Then the nation is addressed as “people of Israel” in allusion to the phrase … i.e. countable, few people, Gen. xxxiv. 3; Deut. iv. 27 (LXX, … ; Luther: ye poor crowd of Israel); they now no longer form the compact mass of a nation, the bond of the commonwealth is broken, they are resolved into individuals scattered here and there. But it shall not remain so: “I help thee ” (perfect of certainty) is Jehovah’s solemn utterance, and the Redeemer (redemtor. Lev. XXV. 48 i.) of His now enslaved people is the Holy One of Israel, whose love again and again triumphs over wrath. But not merely will He set it free. He will endow it with power over its oppressors; … is perfect of assurance (Gesen. § 106. 3); … , or according to another reading … , means a threshing-roller (Arab, naureg, noreg), which here has … (xxviii. 2 7) along with … as a by-name, and is described as furnished (… , cf. Eccles. x. 20, and on the same xii. 11) on the under part of the axles, which are joined by two sledge-frames, not only with sharp, but two-edged iron (… , reduplication, like … , xxvii. 8). Like such a threshing-machine, Israel henceforth threshes and crushes mountains and hills; here plainly a figure of lofty, powerful foes, just as wind and storm are a figure of God’s irresistible help. The enemies’ might is broken to its last remnant, whereas Israel can rejoice and boast in its God, who is absolute being and absolute light.

Jan L. Koole mentioned several interpretations that have been proposed for the mountains and hills of Isaiah’s prophecy, including: literal mountains; Babylonian temple towers; Babylonian idols; powers that oppose God’s plan of salvation; hostile nations, especially Babylon; spiritual or eschatological obstacles; all religious obstacles that thwart Israel. [Jan L. Koole. Isaiah: Historical commentary on the Old Testament. Part 3, Volume 1. Peeters Publishers, 1997. p. 171.]

Paul E. Kretzmann supposed that the mountains were “mighty enemies” of Israel. In The Popular Commentary he wrote:

V. 15 Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth, the sledge used in the Orient to cut up the straw for fodder and to separate the grain from the hull, sometimes used to put captives to death; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff, the very world-powers being compelled to yield to the army of the Lord. V. 16 Thou shalt fan them, as the husbandman winnows his grain, and the wind shall carry them away, like useless chaff, and the whirlwind, the strong tempest, shall scatter them and thou, seeing this marvelous victory over the mighty enemies, shalt rejoice in the Lord and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel, properly giving all honor to Him who is the zealous Deliverer of His people. Not only will the enemies be overthrown, however, but the Church of God will find divine refreshment in the midst of the tribulation of this world.

Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown also said the mountains represent enemies of Israel. They wrote in their Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:

15. God will make Israel to destroy their enemies as the Eastern corn-drag (Isa 28:27, 28) bruises out the grain with its teeth, and gives the chaff to the winds to scatter.
teeth–serrated, so as to cut up the straw for fodder and separate the grain from the chaff.
mountains . . . hills–kingdoms more or less powerful that were hostile to Israel (Isa 2:14).

Carl Wilhelm Eduard Nägelsbach, in his Isaiah commentary on Isaiah 41:14-16, emphasized the contrast between verse 14 and the following two verses. He thought that threshing the mountains was related to the church’s spiritual victories. He wrote [Carl Wilhelm Eduard Nägelsbach. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Isaiah. Johann Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Eds. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. 1878. p. 440.]:

The expressions ”little worm,” “little people” are evidently intended to paint the wretchedness and weakness of Israel. The former recalls Ps. xxii. 6 “I am a worm, and no man,” and also the description of the suffering servant of God, Isa. liii. 2 sqq. Comp. too, Job xxv. 6. Yet one cannot but see in this ”worm Jacob” the transition of the servant of God to the “form of a servant,” and thus recognize an intimation that the suffering people of God is also a type of the suffering Saviour.

Yet what a contrast! The Lord makes this worm Jacob a mighty instrument of judgment against the nations. … , that occurs x. 22 in a figurative sense, and xxviii. 27 as designation of the threshing roller itself, signifies here a quality of the latter, viz.: the being sharp. Sharp, new, and double-edged ( … only here in Isaiah, comp. Ps. cxlix. 6) shall the roller be. As such a roller lacerates the bundles of grain, and as the similarly formed harrow crushes the clods, so shall Israel rend and crush mountains and make hills like chaff, etc. This prophecy has not been fulfilled by the fleshly Israel, or at least only in a meager way, the best example being the Maccabees. But by the spiritual Israel it has had glorious fulfilment in spiritual victories.

Nägelsbach applied the metaphor of threshing to the influence of the church upon the Roman Empire, and upon the Germanic nations, which he said, “will in turn be threshed in pieces that the church may become the free.” Was it a premonition of events to come in the 20th century? He wrote: [Ibid., p. 447.]

On ver. 14 sqq. What a contrast! A poor little worm, and a new threshing instrument with double-edged points that rends mountains to pieces! When was the church of either the Old or New Testament ever such a threshing instrument? First of all, the Babylonian Empire was threshed to pieces that Israel might be free. Afterwards many kingdoms and nations were threshed in pieces and made subject to the Roman Empire that the church of the New Testament might grow and spread abroad. Afterwards the Roman Empire itself was threshed in pieces to gain for the church a new, fresh, healthy soil in the Germanic nations. But finally the Germanic nations will in turn be threshed in pieces that the church may become the free, pure kingdom of Christ ruling over all. So the church, the poor little worm Jacob, rends in pieces one form of the world-power after another, until it issues from the last as the glorious bride of the Lord.

Matthew Poole wrote in his commentary on Isaiah:

The mountains; the great and lofty potentates of the world, which set themselves against thee; such persons being frequently expressed in Scripture under the notion of hills and mountains.

The Pulpit Commentary states:

Ver. 15.–I will make thee a new sharp threshing-instrument. Israel is to be more than sustained. Strength is to be given her to take the aggressive, and to subdue her enemies under her. She is to “thresh them” and “beat them small,” as with a threshing-instrument (comp. 2 Kings 13:7; Amos 1:3; Micah 4:13). In the literal sense, no earlier accomplishment of this prophecy can be pointed out than the time of the Maccabean war. Metaphorically, it may be said that Israel began to conquer the world when her literature became known to the Greeks through the expedition of Alexander the Great, and completed her conquest when the Roman empire succumbed to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Having teeth. Threshing-instruments of the kind described are still in use in Syria (Thomson, ‘The Land and the Book,’ p. 539) and Asia Minor (Fellows, ‘Asia Minor,’ p. 70). The corn is spread out on the ground, and the machine, which is sometimes armed with sharp stones, sometimes with saws, is dragged over it. The Arabic name is still noreg, a modification of the Hebrew moreg. Thou shalt thresh the mountains … the hills; i.e. “thou shalt subdue proud and mighty foes” (Delitzsch).

John Wesley said in Wesley’s Explanatory Notes: “The mountains – The great and lofty potentates of the world.”

Edward J. Young thought that the mountains of Isaiah 41:15 represent enemies of Israel, but he identified Israel with the church, as did J. A. Alexander. He wrote [Edward J. Young. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1972. p. 89.]:

Not only will the Holy One redeem Israel but He will also cause her to prevail over her enemies and all obstacles. This is a new and important element of their salvation, and to call attention to its dignity Isaiah uses the word Behold! By this means he arouses the attention to face the comfort and consolation of which he proceeds to speak. God has placed (appointed, set) Israel as a threshing sledge. This was a flat plank or board, with rollers underneath studded with iron or basalt spikes. This instrument is sharp, and new, so it is effective in its working (cf. 28:27). Furthermore it is possessed of mouths (edges?) so that it will cut sharply.

In the second line the prophet addresses Israel, and tells her that she will be such an instrument as will thresh even mountains and pulverize them. The language is figurative to show that no peoples, be they ever so great or powerful, even as mighty as the kingdom of man that was then overshadowing the world, could stand in the way of Israel. Not that Israel in herself had the strength to withstand and destroy her enemies, but as the redeemed people of God she would in the strength of her God do valiantly. The parallel thought lends strength to the idea, Israel will render the hills like chaff. Israel, weak and downtrodden, a worm, will overcome obstacles far greater than herself, and that with the help of God.

Claus Westermann correctly connected the mountains in Isaiah 41:15 with those of Isaiah 40:4, but he incorrectly (in my opinion) interpreted these prophectic mountains as representing obstacles to Israel’s return from Babylon. [Claus Westermann. Isaiah 40-66. Westminster John Knox Press 2001, p. 77] If that were the case, John the Baptist would hardly have chosen Isaiah's prophecy that every mountain will be made low and every valley will be exalted as a theme for his ministry.

There may be several ways in which the mountains were made low because of the advent of Christ, and the Gospel, the mountains being symbolic of the revelations and promises made to Israel. Whereas before, Jews were confident that they possessed an élite status, now Christ had come, that had passed away, but circumcision of the heart was necessary. The Mosaic system of worship became obsolete; the temple was destroyed; Jerusalem had become a heavenly city, while the earthly Jerusalem was identified with Hagar, an Egyptian bondwoman. Lowering of the mountains also refers to the mysteries connected with the interpretation of prophecies being solved, as Isaiah connected it with revealing the Glory of God. Westermann wrote:

The metaphor of threshing in v. 15a fits in with the grain and chaff of v. 16a, but not with the object ‘mountains and hills’ in 15b. On the other hand, the metaphor of the verbs in vv. 15b and 16a, ‘threshing … crushing … making into chaff … winnowing’ is uniformly carried through. Obviously then, in introducing the odd and incongruous object ‘mountains and hills’ into the old and common metaphor for the destruction of a foe, Deutero-Isaiah had something particular in mind to emphasize. There can be no doubt that the phrase alludes to these same words in the prologue (40:4 ‘every mountain and hill shall be made low’). There they represent the obstacles blocking Israel’s return. It is prophesied that they are to be levelled to make a smooth road on which the nation can make its journey home. However, in the prologue it is not Israel herself who removes these obstacles. We have to take it that by inserting ‘mountains and hills’ into the traditional metaphor for the destruction of foes–threshing and crushing corn–Deutero-Isaiah’s real intention was to say, in a deliberately cryptic way, that God is proclaiming to Israel, ‘Behold, I make of you an instrument capable of overcoming the obstacles set up by your foes, which separate you from your home-land.’ The way in which this is to come about is not specified here, but at all events there is no idea of God’s raising Israel afresh to power in the realm of politics that will enable her to destroy her foes with her own arms. The prophet’s cryptic way of speaking, using traditional forms and metaphors to express a meaning different from their original one, is characteristic of him. But it has given rise to much false exegesis.

The mountains of Isaiah’s prophecy may be taken to be the mountains of Israel, but they are  symbolic, not of nations or rulers, as so many commentators suppose, but of God’s promises, and revelations, including prophecies, as explained in Mountains as promises. The Israel which is to become a threshing sledge is the church. The centuries-long struggle to interpret prophecy and extract from it the truths of the Gospel, is the threshing process. The chaff that is blown away by the wind represents all the flawed interpretations. The kernels of grain which remain are spiritual nourishment for the saints.

The New Testament supports this approach, as when Paul was teaching that those who labor in the word are worthy of support and honor from those who benefit from their labors, he referred to a Mosaic precept regarding threshing:

1 Corinthians 9:9-10
For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

And similarly, he wrote in the first epistle to Timothy,

1 Timothy 5:17-18
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

The commentators have labored, and if they did not discover the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy about threshing the mountains, at least they helped to fulfill it.

The mountains of Isaiah 40 & 41

Isaiah said, “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain.” [Isaiah 40:9] In the same chapter he says, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” [Isaiah 40:4-5]

The mountain in Isaiah’s exhortation, “get thee up into the high mountain,” must be similar in nature and kind, to those which were to be made low. And in the following chapter, where he says, “Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff; Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel,” these mountains and hills must be of the same kind too. [Isaiah 41:15-16]

They are not literal mountains, as the prophet also says, “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” [Isaiah 41:18] The high places remained intact; the mountains that are made low, and which are threshed and beaten small, to which Zion is encouraged to go, are still there, but now, there are rivers flowing on them.

These mountains are not “enemies of Israel,” as some commentators suppose. Why would the prophet say to Zion, “get thee up to your enemies“? Neither do they represent nations. What kind of rivers will be created in the nations of the world?

According to Isaiah, the mountains are to be made low; Zion is encouraged to go to up into them; they will be threshed, and beaten small by Israel, and hills will become chaff blown by the wind; and rivers will flow upon them. All these prophecies qualify the nature of the mountains in chapters 40 and 41.

Isaiah 2:2 says the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established in the tops of the mountains, and raised up above the hills. This should help us to identify the nature of the mountains in his prophecies. The Lord’s house is God’s kingdom, and his family; those who believe in Christ are God’s sons, and they are saints, together with the prophets and saints of all ages. This is the Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem of prophecy. The church is the Zion to whom Isaiah says, “get thee up into the high mountain.” What does it mean?

The mountains of Isaiah’s prophecies are symbolic, and they are not literal ones. In Genesis 49:26, the blessings Jacob received are compared to high mountains and hills. Jacob said, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” These blessings were the blessings he inherited, the promises given to Abraham and Isaac, as well as promises he received directly from God, for example in his dream at Bethel where God promised to give him the land of Canaan. Jacob realized that these blessings were spiritual in nature, or high and lofty, like high mountains, and also durable, and eternal, and so he associated them with “the everlasting hills.” The mountains and hills of the promised land are thus symbolic of God’s promises.

When the prophet Isaiah refers to mountains in chapters 40 and 41, he speaks of them in parables; they are metaphors or symbols of God’s promises. The land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has a spiritual significance, a hidden, and a spiritual meaning far higher and greater than the literal, limited territory of Canaan.

The promises of God, and prophecies relating to them, are the mountains which are made low; the literal land of Canaan was “made low,” because in the Gospel, it was revealed that the land of Canaan was only a shadow and a type of a better county, a heavenly one. [Hebrews 11:16] The earthly Jerusalem was made low, as when Jesus ascended to heaven, the city of the great king, and the light of the world, were raised up, and became a heavenly city. Those who believe the Gospel are also raised up, in a spiritual sense, and “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:6]

Similarly, the mountains which are threshed, and beaten small, are the promises, and revelations, and prophecies that reveal God’s righteousness. Scholarly studies of the Scriptures accomplish this. The psalmist said, “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.” [Psalm 36:6a] Also, “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.” [Psalm 72:3]

How is God’s righteousness like mountains? The mountains are prominent parts of the promised land, a symbol of spiritual promises to the saints. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” [Romans 1:16-17] The gospel reveals God’s righteousness; the mountains are compared to God’s righteousness; the gospel is also contained in God’s promise to Abraham. Paul said, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” [Galatians 3:8]

The promise, “in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 28:14] was connected with high mountains by Jacob, when he blessed Joseph. The promised land was a token, or an earnest, of spiritual blessings promised to those who believe in Christ. Understanding the scriptures is one of these. [John 8:32] The mountains, as the most prominent, and highest parts of the land, represent the high and lofty revelations of God, the truths hidden in prophecies, that need to be threshed, for us to discover their true meaning. The saints are encouraged to go up to the high mountain, which represents these spiritual blessings, and God’s righteousness. When the saints understand and believe these things, God’s glory will be revealed, as Isaiah said. Thus, when Jesus said, in Matthew 24:16, “let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains,” he meant we should flee to the promises of God, and the high mountains, that represent God’s righteousness.

Barry E. Horner and the land promise

Barry E. Horner is the author of “Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged.” [1] In his book, Horner discussed views about the land promise developed by scholars such as O. Palmer Robertson, Colin Chapman, N. T. Wright, Stephen Sizer, Peter Walker, and Steve Motyer, who have written books and articles on New Testament teaching about the Palestine conflict and the land promise. They each concluded that Jewish possession of Palestine is not something that Scripture teaches Christians to support, as the land of Canaan promised to Abraham belonged to the shadows and types of the Old Testament, and those promises are fulfilled by the spiritual realities of the Gospel. Their conclusions may have varied somewhat in detail, but they agreed that claims of so-called Christian Zionism are false.

Horner took it upon himself to oppose their views; he bemoaned what he called anti-Jewish opposition to his own beliefs. Referring to O. Palmer Robertson’s comments on Abraham as “the heir of the world,” in Romans 4:13, Horner wrote: [2]

To read Robertson’s The Israel of God is to quickly discover his intoxication with the representation of virtually the whole Old Testament in terms of “shadowy, temporal forms.” This is especially true with regard to the land’s alleged temporal significance in view of Abraham’s subsequent inheritance of the world in Romans 4:13. Though for some strange reason it is vital for Robertson that this universal prospect should absorb, rather than include the particularity of Israel, and thus eliminate national identity. The same emphasis on absorption, or supercession, is made by Wright, Chapman and Sizer. Whereas it seems perfectly clear that since “in you [Abraham] all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), that is the Gentile nations, this broad prospect does not at all eliminate the distinctive inclusion of national Israel dwelling in the promised land under Christ surrounded by these same saved Gentile nations who are also under Christ. So Barrett rightly relates Paul’s exposition of Romans 4:13, which “summarize[s] the content of the promise [to Abraham],” to Genesis 22:17-18. Thus the world includes the land of Israel “at the center of the world” (Ezek. 38:12). Yet for Robertson, even the explicit restorationist language of Ezekiel is merely a necessary geographic accommodation to the times of the prophet that calls for a more universal perspective. However to this Bonar responds that such a hermeneutic of accommodation, evidently unoriginal, was not at all necessary.

When referring to Robertson’s views, Horner used terms such as “strange,” and alluded to Robertson’s “intoxication,” as if the idea of the Old Testament having “shadows” was alien, and somehow suspect. But, in two places in the New Testament, the law of Moses is called a shadow of a more tangible reality that has been brought to light by Christ. Paul wrote: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” [Colossians 2:16-17] Also: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” [Hebrews 10:1]

The reference to the law as a shadow, or an image of a greater reality, is one of the great, profound truths of the gospel. And since Hebrews 8:6 says that Christ is the mediator of a better covenant, containing better promises, which Hebrews 11:16 says includes a better country, the same must be true of the land promise. There is nothing “alien” or strange about this, except for premillennialists, and dispensationalists, who evidently struggle to understand it, and unbelieving Jews who Paul described as blind. Horner wrote: [3]

From the foregoing it will be noticed that the anti-Judaic or supercessionist hermeneutic of Wright, Chapman, Sizer, Motyer and Robertson, etc., is declared to be founded upon a supremely Christocentric reinterpretation of the Old Testament, even as Ladd propounds. It is therefore implied that a Judeo-centric eschatology is not sufficiently Christocentric since it is impeded by a more literal understanding of Old Testament Judaism whereby its shadows are allowed to obscure the reality of Christ. Of course in response it simply needs to be pointed out that the risen, glorified Christ has never declared that His Jewishness would ever be abandoned. Though a supercessionist hermeneutic would tend to require this. Thus on the Emmaus road, the two Jewish disciples were enthralled when “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Here was no imposition of Himself on Scripture, no reinterpretation of Scripture, but rather Jesus’ fulfillment of Scripture at every hand which the disciples embraced, not as radically new, but rather as wonderfully fulfilling in terms of the promises of the Old Testament.

Horner overlooked another great spiritual principle; Paul identified the church as the spouse of Christ. [Ephesians 5:23-32] He said, “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” And so as Christ’s spouse, Christians are united with Christ, and a consequence of this is that they share in his Jewish heritage, just as a wife shares the family name and the nationality of her spouse. Thus, even Gentile saints are included in the “tabernacle of David” in Acts 15:16, and they are called a “royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9-10. And for the same reason, Paul wrote, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” [Philippians 3:3] These three statements plainly identify the saints of all nations with the true Israel.

Was Horner present with the disciples on the Emmaus road, when Jesus opened their eyes to the prophecies concerning himself? What proof does he have, that “no reinterpretation of Scripture” was shown to them? Unless he has received a special revelation, that is merely Horner’s unfounded assertion. It is quite likely that in fact, for those disciples, many Scriptures were indeed reinterpreted as they walked along together. Otherwise, they would have learned nothing new, and their eyes would not have been opened. Prophecy must always be interpreted, and if it has not been previously understood, understanding it involves reinterpreting it, and becoming enlightened concerning its mysteries. Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” [Genesis 40:8] Did not Peter reinterpret Psalm 110:1, when he applied it to Jesus Christ in Acts 2:34? Didn’t James reinterpret Amos 9:11, when he applied it to the church, in Acts 15:16? And in those days, the apostles were given power, and gifts of the Spirit, which confirmed the authority of their interpretations.

Horner wrote: [4]

With the preceding thoughts in mind, we now move to consider the most common objection to the idea of national Israel having title to the land promised to Abraham, whether in the present or future. This concerns several New Testament references that are all set forth as evidence that the earthly ha´aretz is indeed a former earthly hope that has been superceded by a more universal and heavenly hope. This cluster of references is Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22, along with Galatians 4:25-26, whereby it is proposed that while Israel’s inheritance of the land according to the Old Testament economy was decidedly earthy, materialistic, and shadowy, the Christian’s future, although rooted in the promise God made to Abraham, is yet a more transcendently spiritual and heavenly hope. As an example of this popular understanding, especially where the repudiation of national Israel is concerned, consider O Palmer Robertson’s explanation.

Horner quoted O. Palmer Robertson: [5]

Just as the tabernacle was never intended to be a settled item in the plan of redemption but was to point to Christ’s tabernacling among his people (cf. John 1:14), and just as the sacrificial system could never atone for sins but could only foreshadow the offering of the Son of God (Heb. 9:23-26), so in a similar manner Abraham received the promise of the land but never experienced the blessing of its full possession. In this way, the patriarch learned to look forward to “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). . . . [I]f the promised land of the old covenant becomes the blessed object to be achieved, then its tremendous fulfillment in the new covenant could be missed. To claim “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), Abraham had to look beyond the shadowy form of the promise, which he never possessed, to the realities that could be perceived only by faith.

There are implications to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not receiving the land that was promised to them in their lifetimes. In the resurrection, what need would they have for the literal land? Will they then herd cattle and sheep? The unfolding of events in the lives of the patriarchs would have taught them that the land which they were promised represents something other than the limited territory of Canaan.

Horner quoted Peter Walker: [6]

[In Hebrews 11] positive descriptions of the physical land, however, are then immediately eclipsed by his [the author's] insistence that the real focus of the promise to which Abraham “looked forward” was the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v. 10). This eschatological focus is then repeated in verse 16: “Instead, they were looking 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.” So the patriarchs were looking forward, not so much for the day when their descendants would inherit the physical land, but rather to the day when they would inherit the heavenly country (or city) which the physical land signified. In a sense they “saw through the promise of the land, looking beyond it to a deeper, spiritual reality.”

The Scriptures tell us that Abraham looked for something other than the literal land. But there was certainly some meaning attached to the land, which was connected with godly living. Hebrews 3:18-19 indicates that entering the land requires faith, but no faith is required to go to Tel Aviv; just buy a plane ticket!

Horner wrote: [7]

To begin with, consider Abraham, called of God and converted from paganism in Ur of the Chaldees, having entered Canaan via Haran, is confronted with more paganism in the land of promise. He explores this inheritance from north to south, as an unsettled nomadic tent dweller, and continues to be appalled at its pervasive unholiness that only the future leadership of Joshua could begin to cleanse. Yes, he was looking for “a better country, that is a heavenly one,” but the vital matter here concerns not how a Gentile world view perceives this expression, but the Hebrew perspective of the author. Franz Delitzsch makes a significant comment on Hebrews 11:16 at this point.

He quoted Delitzsch: [8]

It must be confessed that we nowhere read of the patriarchs, that they expressed a conscious desire for a home in heaven. The nearest approach to anything of the kind is in Jacob’s vision of the angel-ladder, and his wondering exclamation, “this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17), but even there no desire is expressed for an entrance into the heavenly land, but the promise renewed of future possession of the earthly Canaan; “The land whereon thou sleepest will I give to thee.”

Horner quoted a comment by Delitzsch on Hebrews 11:10: “… the heavenly Jerusalem is not contrasted with the earthly city, but with the frail and moveable dwellings of the patriarchs in their nomad life.”

The interpretation Jacob put on the promises he received was expressed in metaphorical, prophetic terms, when he blessed Joseph, and said: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” [Genesis 49:26] The blessings he inherited, and the promises he was given, were high, and lofty, as they were spiritual in nature, and they were durable, or eternal, like the hills. Thus, Jacob associated them with mountains. In the promised land, there were many mountains, and they are symbolic of the revelations of God. The Old Testament is a record God’s promise of the land working out in the history of Israel. The promise was fulfilled, but they eventually lost the land. The prophets foretold a restoration, but the return to the land would be spiritual, and involves reconciliation to God, which is not evident in the modern Jewish settlement of Palestine.

Delitzsch missed the significance of Jacob’s description of the nature of his blessings, which imply they were indeed spiritual, and Horner, following Delitzsch, missed its import too, although H. A. C. Hävernick had previously suggested a similar explanation. [9] Horner commented: [10]

Thus Abraham’s hope was eschatological, but certainly not in the sense of the superiority of heaven above compared with earth below, of the superiority of the spiritual over the material. Rather his hope was of the future messianic age, the millennial kingdom in which heaven would be manifest on earth and residence there would be gloriously holy, permanent.

Nowhere does Scripture support Horner’s idea that Abraham hoped for a future millennial kingdom! But God had said to Abram, in a vision, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” [Genesis 15:1] This is what Abraham hoped for; and perhaps this underlies the statement in Hebrews 11:16, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

Since the New Testament shows Jerusalem is raised up to heaven, above the hills, [Isaiah 2:2] does it make any sense to say that the promised land remains an earthly territory? It is a land that we enter only by faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]

References

1. Barry E. Horner. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007.

2. Ibid., p. 228.

3. Ibid., p. 229.

4. Ibid., p. 291.

5. Ibid. Quote is from O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, pp. 13, 31.

6. Ibid., p.292. Quote is from Peter Walker, “The Land in the Apostles’ Writings,” The Land of Promise,
eds. Philip Johnston and Peter Walker, p. 90.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid. Quote is from Franz Delitzsch, Hebrews, II, p. 246.

9. H. A. C. Hävernick on the mountains of Israel

10. Barry E. Horner, Op. Cit., p. 293.

Links related to the land promise

Has the land promise been set aside?

Prophetic Mountains

The Gospel and the land promise

Gehenna and the land promise

Changes in the promised land

Jesus and the Mount of Olives

Heavenly Jerusalem

Land, Seed, and Blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant, by Nathan Pitchford

Understanding the Land Promise, by Bob Hayton

Why I'm Not a Christian Zionist, Academically Speaking by Gary M. Burge

The Gospel in Joshua (Anon.) 1869

The law of the offerings in Leviticus i.-vii. by Andrew Jukes 1848

The fulness of blessing by Sarah Frances Smiley 1878

Patrick Fairbairn on the land promise

The Covenant of Promise by J. W. Brooks

Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament perspectives on Jerusalem, by Peter W. L. Walker. [Grand Rapids, Mich. W.B. Eerdmans Pub. 1996]

Review: The Land of Promise. Philip Johnston, and Peter Walker, eds. [Downers Grove, Ill., InterVarsity Press, 2000.]

Theology of the Land: A History of Dispensational Approaches by Steven Sizer (From the book The Land of Promise.)

The Israel of God, by Michael Marlowe

An Alternative Theology of the Holy Land: A Critique of Christian Zionism by Dr. Stephen R. Sizer

Israel and Palestine: Where is God in the conflict? by Colin Chapman

The people of God according to Romans 9-11, by Daniel Ayuch

The Land and Jesus, by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. A review of Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology by Gary M. Burge. (Baker Academic, 2010)

Joshua: and the Land of Promise, by F. B. Meyer. 1893

Jesus is the Promised Land, by M.F. Blume

The true meaning of the promised land, by David Wilkerson

The Promised Land A Biblical Journey of Discovery, by Philip P. Eapen

Christ is the Owner of Haaretz, by Yohanna Katanacho

Taking the Promised Land, Leaving the Promised Land: Luke's Use of Joshua for a Christian Foundation Story

A Christian approach to Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel, by Chris Wright

Yahweh as the Warrior in the Conquest of the Promised Land and the theological implications for the establishment of the Modern State of Israel, by David Chong Wui Howe

A Biblical Perspective on Israel/Palestine, by Colin Chapman

The Loss of the Kingdom/Land Promise, by Bruce Lyon

Jerusalem: Past and Present in the Purposes of God. Peter W. L. Walker, editor. Cambridge: Tyndale House, 1992

Copyright © 2010, 2012 by Douglas E. Cox
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