Mountains in prophecy [pdf]
If Christ’s gospel is true, would God’s promise of the land, made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, simply fizzle out? When God promised to give Abraham and his descendants the land where he was a stranger, was it a bad idea, that has gone into oblivion? Has God abandoned his promise of the land?
Zionists and Dispensationalists say no, the land promise was to be forever; it is to be fulfilled to ethnic Jews, as we see happening today, in the modern state of Israel. However, the much touted “return” of Jews to their homeland has been somewhat disappointing. It has not been accompanied by their repentance, and the outpouring of God’s holy spirit that was hoped for, and promised by men like W. E. Blackstone, who promoted Christian Restorationism, and the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land, a century ago, as a prelude to their conversion to Christianity, initially “out of a pious wish to hasten the coming of the Messiah.” 
The land promise, although a prominent theme in the Old Testament, seems to be almost forgotten by the authors of the books of the New Testament, a fact which has led modern Bible scholars to strikingly diverse conclusions. While dispensationalism claims the land promises to Israel remain to be fulfilled, preterism says that under Joshua, the land promises were fulfilled already.
The book of Hebrews alludes to the promised land in a discussion about faith. The Israelites in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt failed to enter into the rest, because they lacked faith. They perished in the wilderness, everyone who over 20 years old when they departed from Egypt, except for Caleb, and Joshua. That lesson is applied to Christians in Hebrews 4:1-12. Possession of the land is referred to as entering into a “rest,” and it is associated with the “rest” of the sabbath day. Both possession of the land, and resting on the sabbath day, are types of something more glorious that Christians enter into by faith in Christ. In verses 11-12, the rest is something we must labour to enter, and it has to do with believing the word of God.
Jesus came to minister to the Jews, and his teachings went beyond what the law of Moses said. He came to confirm, and fulfil the promises made to the fathers. Paul said, “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.” [Romans 15:8]
So, what about the land promise? How likely is it, that God would have cancelled it, as preterists suggest? According to them, in the law of Moses, possessing the land was conditional; Jews of the first century did not live up to those conditions, and so they lost their land, and were removed from it, and their city and temple were destroyed. 
Some preterists believe and teach that the violence of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD reflects the wrath of God upon the Jews, and the termination of the entire Old Covenant system, including the promise of the land; they suggest the Jews are to blame for it.  They cite some of the early church fathers in support of these views. But, if that were true, why would Paul argue that since the law was given 430 years after the promise, therefore it could not invalidate the promise? [Galatians 3:17] The promise of land would remain, even if the Mosaic system passed away, since it was included in the promises made to Abraham. The land promise remains, even though the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 AD.
Does the preterist interpretation of the land promises agree with what the prophets said? And, what does their interpretation, that claims the land promises no longer apply, suggest about God, who made such promises? In the debate about what became of the land promise, the true answer may be neither of those two dominant positions that scholars have taken; it may be something completely different. Thus, in Ezekiel’s prophecy, the Lord calls for a sword against the invading armies of Gog and Magog. “And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man’s sword shall be against his brother.” [Ezekiel 38:21]
Similarly, in Zechariah, the armies that come against Jerusalem fight against each other.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the LORD shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbour, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbour.
The great tumult is well illustrated by the following comments by dispensationalist Thomas Ice, who wrote: 
An increasing number of anti-Zionists, usually advocates of some kind of replacement theology, have been using a misinterpretation of Joshua 21:43-45 as a prooftext, which they believe nullifies God's land promises to Israel. They present God as Someone who is looking to discharge promises, in a legalistic way, by, in essence saying, “I have fulfilled the letter of the law on that one, now I can mark it off of my list of obligations.” They claim that God has discharged all His promises to Israel regarding the land because of the statement in Joshua 21.
In the process of making this claim, they either ignore or claim that God's eternal and perpetual promises to Israel about her land are no longer in force today. They want to do away with Israel and they think they have found a biblical passage that supports their un-biblical notion. At least, that's what they think.
It is not surprising that Gary DeMar is one who believes as such. He says concerning Israel's future: “the text says nothing about the restoration of Israel to her land as a fulfillment of some covenantal obligation. All the land promises that God made to Israel were fulfilled (Joshua 21:43-45).” DeMar's perspective should not surprise us since he believes that virtually all prophecy has already been fulfilled. He believes on that basis that the modern state of Israel has no legitimate biblical basis.
Anti-Zionist, Stephen Sizer, also believes that the Joshua 21 passage ends any future claims by the Jews to the Land of Israel. Sizer says, “To the claim that certain promises have yet to be fulfilled, Joshua is emphatic, ‘Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.’” Replacement theologian, Keith Mathison, declares, “Joshua 21:43-45 explicitly declares that all the land that God promised Israel was given to them.” So have the land promises to Israel been totally fulfilled so that there is no hope at all for national Israel? The answer is NO!
In the kingdom of God, is there nothing that corresponds to the territory, or land, of an earthly kingdom? Are the land promises, after all, really about something spiritual?
In the promised land, there were hills, valleys, mountains, rivers, deserts; they are the subject of various prophecies. What do these landforms correspond to in those prophecies, and in the gospel, and in God’s heavenly kingdom?
Paul said, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers, principalities, and spiritual wickedness in high places. What high places did he mean? How high were they? Where are they located? Does “high places” refer to heaven, as in Revelation 12:7? How does spiritual warfare occur? What weapons are used in it? (Paul seems to answer this.) Are there casualties? What happens to them?
In the New Covenant, the land is no longer the literal land of Palestine, but according to the author of Hebrews, the patriarchs looked for a heavenly country. God has prepared a city for them; the heavenly Jerusalem. [Hebrews 11:16] The warfare described in Revelation 12:7 is spiritual; it involves the angels of the dragon, and of Michael.
Even after the Jews had returned from their exile in Babylon, the prophets spoke of a yet future return to the land, one which would be permanent. It would include every person in Israel. Ezekiel said,
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.
According to this prophecy, none of the people of Israel would remain among the nations. Does this mean that Jews cannot go anywhere else, but must remain in their own land for their entire lives? Ezekiel’s prophecy seems to say that, but perhaps the land here is a metaphor; it represents something other that the territory of Canaan that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in which they were strangers and pilgrims. [Exodus 6:4; Hebrews 11:13]
The promise to Abraham was that his seed would number as the stars, and as the sand on the sea shore. Each of these represents an enormous number. In only a few truckloads of sand, there are more grains of sand, than the total number of people living on the earth, and probably more than the number of people who have ever lived. So, how could the limited area of the land of Canaan support such a multitude? How could the land, significant parts of which are barren, produce enough food? Is there a sufficient water supply?
Even in the days of Abraham, water was scarce. In scripture, each of the patriarchs was involved in digging wells. In the days of Isaac, there was a dispute over the possession of the wells Isaac’s men had dug.
In the days of Jacob there was a great drought, that lasted for seven years, so that Jacob and his sons and their families all went to Egypt where there was food. And in the time of Elijah, there was drought that lasted for three years and six months. Even today, water is scarce in the land.
Several prophecies are about sources of water and rivers that flow from Jerusalem, and the temple. David spoke of a river that would make the saints glad.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
Isaiah said that in Jerusalem, God would “be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams.”
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
Ezekiel described a river flowing from the temple. Normally, when fresh water is mixed with salt, the fresh water turns to salt; but in Ezekiel’s prophecy, the fresh water makes salt water fresh!
The description of the river provided by Ezekiel is given is such a way, that it precludes a literal interpretation. He gave information about the increase in the river depth as it flowed away from the temple. Isaiah 2:1-2 suggests that Jerusalem and Zion will be raised up to become a high mountain; however, that idea seems to be contradicted by Ezekiel. The river flowing from the temple has such a gentle gradient in the area east of the temple, that its depth after 1,000 cubits was only up to his ankles, and after another 1,000 cubits, it was up to his knees, and after another 1,000 cubits, it was up to his loins, showing that in about half a mile, there was a change in elevation of less than three feet. [Ezekiel 47:3-4] The detailed measurements that Ezekiel provides, besides showing a remarkably rapid increase in the size of the river, contradict the idea that the city of Jerusalem will be literally “raised up” to become a high mountain, as any such elevation would tend to increase the gradient of the river, if that river is also taken to be a literal one.
No doubt Ezekiel’s report about the gradient of the stream was provided to teach us that neither the elevation of Jerusalem, nor the description of the wonderful river flowing from the temple, should be viewed literally.
Zechariah said rivers of living water would flow from Jerusalem: “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.” [Zechariah 14:8]
The meaning of “living water” is explained in John 7:38-39; it refers to the spirit given to the saints. So Zechariah’s rivers are spiritual. They represent the gospel and the spirit of Christ that waters the earth. Ezekiel’s river is spiritual in nature as well. The land where it flows is metaphorical; it represents the truth of the gospel.
Just as one cannot have a river without land, the spirit of God flows from the temple of God, over the land which is a metaphor representing the truth.
Joel wrote 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.” [Joel 3:18]
The valley of Shittim was where the Israelites camped, before entering the promised land. The hills that flow with milk are the words of scripture; Peter said, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” [1 Peter 2:2]
New wine is a metaphor that Jesus used for his teachings. [Matthew 9:17] The mountains that drop new wine are the prominent revelations of scripture, prophecies, and promises.
The rivers that flow from Jerusalem that the prophets spoke of are spiritual. Jerusalem is raised up, it is the heavenly Jerusalem, that represents the saints. The land also represents something other than the literal land of Canaan, which is of limited extent, and so could support only a limited population; the vast numbers of Abraham’s seed, that in scripture includes most if not all humanity, could not survive in the literal territory of Canaan. The land is a metaphor, representing the spiritual things promised to the saints, and their promised “rest.” Jesus promised his disciples, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” [John 8:32]
2. See, for example, this argument in: Israel Received All of the Land.
3. Chilton, David. The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (1987)
4. Thomas Ice. What About The Land Promises to Israel?
Copyright © 2011 by Douglas E. Cox
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