Mountains in prophecy [pdf]
Walter C. Kaiser believes that the land promise of the Old Testament has not been affected by the gospel; it remains intact and applies to ethnic Jews. He wrote: 
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.
Similarly, most dispensationalists believe that the formation of the
Jewish state is a fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecies which
predict a return of Israel to the promised land. But those ancient
prophecies link the restoration to a spiritual return to God, which is
not evident in the migration of Jews to Palestine, or in the policies
of the Jewish state. Often, prophecies such as Ezekiel 36, and
37:1-14, which mention the restoration of Israel to the promised land,
are cited in support of Zionism. Dispensationalists point to the
establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 as evidence of the
fullfilment of these prophecies.
However the prophecies of a restoration of Israel to the land were
not fulfilled in A.D. 1948, as there has been little evidence of the
spiritual change that the prophets foretold. Ezekiel’s prophecy said:
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.
Ezekiel said the land will become like Eden:
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.
There is indeed a fence! But the existence of the 703 km long Israeli West Bank barrier contradicts prophecies that describe the land as “the land of unwalled villages,” [Ezekiel 38:11] and “towns without walls.” [Zechariah 2:4]. It has made that area notoriously unlike “Eden.”
Ezekiel spoke of God being “sanctified” in the people when they are restored to their land.
When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations;
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 prophecy clearly has not been fulfilled in the Jewish state. Jeremiah 31:7-9 is another prophecy that describes the return: “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…”
While popular dispensationalist authors tout the existence of the
Jewish state as a fulfillment of prophecy, other Christian scholars
have concluded that the land promises in the OT have become obsolete.
Gary M. Burge suggested in his book, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to ‘Holy Land’ Theology, that the land promises are discounted in the New Testament. 
Burge claimed the land promises were mostly ignored by Jesus, and by
the authors of the New Testament. He wrote: 
At no point do the earliest Christians
view the Holy Land as a locus of divine activity to which the people of
the Roman empire must be drawn. They do not promote the Holy Land
either for the Jew or for the Christian as a vital aspect of faith. No
Diaspora Jew or pagan Roman is converted and then reminded of the
importance of the Holy Land. The early Christians possessed no
territorial theology. Early Christian preaching preaching is
uninterested in a Jewish eschatology devoted to the restoration of the
land. The kingdom of Christ began in Judea and is historically anchored
there but it is not tethered to a political realization of that kingdom
in the Holy Land. Echoing the message of the Gospel, the praxis of the
Church betrays its theological commitments: Christians will find in
Christ what Judaism had sought in the land.
Burge noted that Paul, when referring to the promises made to
Abraham, made no mention of land. Burge wrote: 
Paul's story demonstrates the geographic
spread of Christianity and how it might find a home in any locale or
any culture. However, in the speeches of Acts we find hints that his
decision to reach beyond the Land of Promise has been considered
carefully. Following Stephen's peech in Acts 7, the next major speech
recorded by Lutke is Paul's inaugural Christian sermon in Acts 13:16-41
at Pisidian Antioch. Paul begins with another recitation of Israel's
history parallel in form to that in Acts 7. Paul anchors the good news
of salvation in the election of Abraham (13.17) and in God's promises
to him (13.26, 32-33). These promises have been fulfilled, Paul writes,
in the resurrection of Jesus (13.33). He cannot deny that the defeat of
the Canaanites led to the gift of Canaan for Israel (13.19). But this
is not theologically anchored in the speech as it ought to be. The
striking thing is that Paul here can refer to the promise of Abraham
and not refer to the Land of Promise. This is what the promise to
Abraham meant! But 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. Abraham becomes a protagonist for the Christian faith, not the
basis for Jewish identity in the land. Luke gives remarkable attention
to Abraham in his writings (15 times in his Gospel; 7 times in Acts)
and he might explain or paraphrase: The promises once given to Abraham
have not been realized as Judaism expected: they are fulfilled in the
life and death and resurrections of Christ. And those who attach
themselves to Christ—not the legacies of Judea—become his children.
In the writings of Paul, Burge found no support for what he labeled
"Jewish territoriality." He wrote: 
Does Paul view the land—a benefit of
Abraham's covenant—as remaining in place for Judaiam? Is Jewish
territoriality a part of Pauline eschatology?
Paul's bold treatment of the law, Jerusalem and even the Temple all point to an implicit rejection of Jewish territoriality. The former things of the former covenant—the Temple being out premier case study—now have undergone a permanent shift since the coming of Christ. And ethnic claims for the land based on lineage to Abraham now must be reexamined in the same way: Christ is the truest heir to Abraham and attachment to him—grafting in Romans 11—is the one prerequisite for being a part of the saving purposes of God. Moreover God's promise to Abraham is not for Judea and its restoration but for the world. An ethnocentric territoriality anchored to the ancestral theological claims cannot survive Paul's fresh rearrangement of God's saving purposes in Christ. To miss these implications is to miss the central theological upheavel Paul is offering to his readers as he rethinks what it means to be "God's people."
Burge suggested that Paul would have opposed any support for Jewish
nationalism in the churches. 
As Jewish nationalism began to swell in
the 50s and 70s, some among Paul's churches might have been tempted to
see this call of religious patriotism—a call to defend holy land—as a
requirement for Christians. Paul would have stopped such sentiments
forcefully. 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. And above all, Paul would have sen as
aberrant any Christian territorialism wed to first-century politics. A
religiously fueled regional nationalism did arise in the first century
in Judaism and it eventually delivered Jerusalem to the Roman armies.
But nothing of its type ever surfaced in Paul's churches thanks to the
Colin Chapman likewise argued that the land promise is discounted in the New Testament. He wrote: 
Jesus had little or nothing to say about the land. The reason for this silence is not that Jesus took traditional Jewish hopes for granted and affirmed them, but that all these hopes are now to be understood in the context of the coming of the kingdom of God in and through Jesus.
Mark 1:15 ‘The time has come … the kingdom of God is near …’ Matthew 5:5 ‘the meek shall inherit the land’ (cf Psalm 37:11) Luke 4:17-21; 7:21-23 the Exile is over … (cf. Isaiah 35; 61:1-2)) Luke 21:20-28 ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on … you will see the Son of Man …’
Matthew 5:5 seems to be the only clear reference to the land in the teaching of Jesus. But it is not an accident that Jesus has so little to say about the land, because the land is now being understood in the context of the kingdom of God. Tom Wright has shown that when Jesus quotes verses from Isaiah which were originally about the return from Exile, he is saying in effect, ‘A new return from Exile is taking place; and all the blessings associated with return are now being offered in a new way.’
Christian authors like Burge and Chapman minimize the land promises. They claim the blessings represented by the land promise were fulfilled in a “new way,” but without explaining how. On the other hand, several prophecies seem to contradict the notion that the land promises have been forgotten. Leviticus 26:42 says that God will “remember the land.”
Many Christian writers see the promise of the “seed” fulfilled in Christ, but ignore the land promises included in the same promise; for example, Genesis 12:2-3; 13:15; 15:18-21; 22:18.
The prophets described a future restoration of Israel to the land, that occurs after the return of the Jews from the exile in Babylon. 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] 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 will be possessed by Israel. [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.
These prophecies include judgment of those who come against Jerusalem, and Israel’s land, and the mountains. Fire, brimstone, and hail, and “overflowing rain” falls upon them. [Ezekiel 38:22] They all fall by the sword. [Ezekiel 39:23] Their flesh is eaten by birds and beasts. [Ezekiel 39:17-19] That is after their corpses generate a great stench that will “stop the noses of the passengers,” and their burial for a period of seven months!
These prophecies reappear in Revelation; the attack by the hordes of Gog and Magog is interpreted as an assault by deceived people upon the church, “the camp of the saints” and “the beloved city.” [Revelation 20:7-9] The invitation to the birds, to feast upon the flesh of men in Revelation 19 alludes to the judgments described in Ezekiel 39.
In the New Testament, the warfare of the saints is not against flesh and blood, but it is spiritual. [Ephesians 6:12] And the territory in dispute is spiritual too. The land of promise is called “a better country, that is, an heavenly.” [Hebrews 11:16] Revelation 12:9 shows that Satan and his angels will be cast out of heaven to the earth. The saints “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” [vs. 11]
The significance of the land promises is no doubt one of the things that are involved here. 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)
One of the New Testament passages generally overlooked in the context of the land promise is Matthew 24, and the words of Jesus, “let those in Judea flee to the mountains.” [Matthew 24:15-21] 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 self-preservation. When he said “flee to the mountains,” it was not for self-preservation! Jesus said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” [Luke 17:33]
Consider what “housetop” means here. What is a housetop?
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! See also Luke 12:3. 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. [Romans 15:8] This implies they will possess the spiritual things that are promised to them, one of which is the Spirit of truth, who guides the church unto “all truth.” [John 16:13]
The “clothes” Jesus refers to are symbolic, and they picture the truth. [Ephesians 6:14] Jesus gives to his saints as spiritual clothing. The church is the woman “clothed with the sun” in Revelation 12:1. The sun which clothes her represents the gospel.The bride of the Lamb in Revelation is “arrayed in fine linen.”
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
The sabbath day of Matthew 24:20 represents God’s rest, that the saints labor to enter. [Hebrews 4:3-11] Jesus warns us to be prepared, get ready, so we don’t have to flee after all the saints have entered their promised rest!
Jesus refers to not fleeing in the 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. [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 judgment. The judgment is called a time of “great tribulation,” in Revelation 7:14.
Jesus said, “And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!” [Matthew 24:19] 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 fetuses! 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]
I suggest Jesus meant those who teach the word of God to others, when he referred 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 for those who embrace literalism; “milk” is food for babes, as it does not require chewing. The 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!
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, mountains represent revelations of God, and promises to the saints, and covenants. 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.”
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 was raised up to heaven, when Jesus ascended to his Father’s throne. So when Jesus said “flee to the mountains,” he wants 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. [Joel 3:18] 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!
1. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View. Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981) 302-312.
8. Chris Wright, A Christian approach to Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel, 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.
Copyright © 2011 by Douglas E. Cox
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