“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” — Genesis 15:18
SECOND IN A SERIES
Genesis 15:9–21 describes a rather bizarre scene—at least in modern times. Five bloody animal carcasses are on the ground, three of them split in half. But in the ancient Middle East of 4,000 years ago, a ritual involving the cutting of animals was commonly used in land-grant treaties, and various contractual (covenantal) agreements between kings.
These contracts involved an oath—a ritual promise—the purpose of which was to display the sincerity of the one making the promise. The slaughtered animals were part of a self-malediction. By walking between the parts of the slaughtered animals, the king was saying: “May this [being slaughtered and cut in half] be my doom if I don’t keep my promise made in this covenant.”
A Covenant of Central Importance
God had made some hard-to-believe promises to Abram, promises that seemed too glorious to be true. He was promised an heir, though he and his wife were far past child-bearing age. He was also promised a very large parcel of land (Gen. 15:4-7). So, Abram naturally asked, “whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (vs. 8). This ceremony was God’s way of answering Abram’s question. It demonstrated God’s sincerity in making and keeping His promise. As a “smoking furnace and a burning lamp” passed between the pieces of the slaughtered animals, God Almighty was taking upon Himself the oath of self-imprecation. “For when God made promise to Abraham,” we read in Hebrews 6:13, “because he could swear by no greater he swore by himself.”
Cutting animals in two made it possible for the pledging party to walk between the pieces, affirming that the same should happen to the pledging party if they reneged on his promise (see also Jer. 34:18-19). It is most significant that Abram did not walk between the pieces of the slain animals. He was in a deep sleep (Gen. 15:12). Abram made no promise. The abiding and eternal validity of the promise must not be questioned. God took the maledictory oath upon Himself. Hence, we can say that this is an unconditional covenant. There should be no doubt about its complete fulfillment. God doesn’t break promises.
The Apostle Paul emphatically affirms, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise” (Gal. 3:17-18). This has far-reaching implications for Christians living today. We are not under the law (Rom. 6:14), yet, it also validates the abiding validity of the Abrahamic covenant for the Jewish people.
Who Owns the Land?
One of the hot-button issues today is the question: Who owns the land of Israel? Genesis 15:18 (above) tells us. It was given to Abraham and his descendants. When Abram went forth from Haran into Canaan, he came to Shechem. “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.” The promise of the land is repeated in scripture in Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 17:8; 26:3; 28:13.
Moreover, the exact dimensions of the land granted to Abram and his descendants are carefully given (Gen 15:18–21). Significantly, the Bible gives both general (Exod. 23:31; Num. 13:21; Deut. 11:24; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:25; Isa. 27:12) and specific (Num. 14:1–12; Josh. 15; Ezek. 47:15–20) descriptions of the land given to Abram and his descendants. The dimensions repeatedly given indicate that we must not modify the land promise or its specificity.
It’s important for careful students of the Word to realize that God’s method of fulfilling His promises to Abram has been literal. We must not seek to allegorize the land promise. We see the literal nature of the fulfillment in five ways: 1 Abraham has been blessed personally both spiritually and temporally; 2 He was a man of high standing and had a great name among his contemporaries; 3 He was a channel of blessing to others; 4 He did have an heir by Sarah, even though he and Sarah doubted that would literally happen because of their age; 5 The nations that persecuted Israel, even when such was a fulfillment of God’s discipline on Israel, have suffered grievously, as promised. The Abrahamic covenant was unconditional and has been confirmed over and over again despite Israel’s apostasy and disobedience.
Has The Land Promise Already Been Fulfilled?
Replacement Theology—the view that the church has inherited Israel’s blessings and future, and therefore God has no future plan for Israel and the Jewish people—argues that the land promise has already been fulfilled. Hence Zionist Christians who support the Jewish State are woefully misinformed. The Jewish State exists in occupied territory belonging to Palestinians, and, allegedly, the Jews are the occupiers.
Rest assured I am not seeking to sanitize everything the Israeli military has done, nor am I giving Israel a blank check for the future—any more than I sanitize everything America has done, such as the detention of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I am simply looking at biblical texts and seeing where they lead us.
Replacement Theology appeals to Joshua 21:43–45 to support its claim that the land promise has already been fulfilled: “And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; and the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord has spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.”
From a biased and superficial reading of this passage it looks like all has been fulfilled. But wait—it looks like Israel no longer has any enemies! “The Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand.” This is simply speaking about the conquest of the land of Canaan 3,400 years ago. Israel still has many enemies. Hamas is firing rockets into Israel from the north. The Palestinians are firing rockets into Israel from the west, and Iran is hoping to destroy Israel from the east. In fact, The Times of Israel (2/8/23) reported that “The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps displayed an apparent ballistic missile with the words ‘Death to Israel’ emblazoned in Hebrew down the side, at an exhibition in the central city of Isfahan.”
But there is another reason why we must not believe that Joshua 21 speaks about the fulfillment of the Abrahamic land promise. There are several scriptures that speak of a future fulfillment of the Abrahamic land. Though the Exodus deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea was a miracle that is referenced over and over again in Israel’s religious writings, something even more spectacular is coming. “Therefore, behold the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers” (Jer. 16:15). And, please note, it is “their land.” It doesn’t belong to the church, the Palestinians, and certainly not the U.N.
But What About the New Testament?
Amillennialists, Preterists, and those who have a Reformed covenantal view of Scripture argue that the New Testament says nothing about Israel, its future, and the land. To be sure, the New Testament does not focus on Israel. Its focus is on the church, on the gentiles, and the Gospel going into the whole world. But it is not true that Israel has dropped out of the picture in the New Testament.
Michael Rydelnik gave a presentation dealing with this issue at the 2013 Pre-Trib Study Group Conference. The New Testament reaffirms that the promises presently belong to Israel, he said, citing Acts 3:25: “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” Romans 9:4–5 is similar: “Who are the Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Please note, the “promises” have not been dropped. They remain.
In Acts 1:6–7, the Lord had a perfect opportunity to explain to His disciples that Israel is not out of the picture and has no future promises. But that is not what He did. “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
In the following verse we notice the Lord does not deny that the kingdom will be restored to Israel, nor does He indicate that the promise has been expanded to include the church, but simply that the time of this occurring has not been revealed: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”
“But aren’t the promises to Israel carnal, and not fitting to the latter time of fulfillment?” Not at all.
Israel in Her Covenant Land
When Israel dwells in her covenant land, they will no longer defile themselves with their idols, and they will be cleansed. The nations of the world will know that “I the Lord, do sanctify Israel when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore” (Ezek. 37:21-28).
Ezekiel 36:22–36 shows that God’s future plans for Israel in the land will occur at the time of Israel’s national repentance (vss. 25–26, 31). Moreover, Israel’s restoration to the land and repentance rests on the highest motive possible, maintaining the honor and glory of God (vss. 22, 36). There will be rebirth and renewal. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones” (Ezek. 37:1). These were very dry bones, left out in the sun, bleached and lifeless. “And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves. And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land.”
There is nothing carnal and unspiritual about Israel’s national repentance, nor is there anything carnal about a restored Israel living in the land God has promised the nation and people.
Next: We will examine replacement theology and its leading proponents—some of whom are quite popular in evangelical circles—and look at what I call “Christian anti-Semitism.”