Dispensational Premillenialism: Land Promise Unfulfilled?
This examination focuses itself on eschatology, the unfolding of events in “end times”. I suggest to you we are indeed in the “end times, latter days, last days” (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1, Hebrews 1:2). The broader term of these days which I would personally use is the Christian Dispensation. In these last days, our discussion includes a context of Dispensational Pre-Millenialism (DPM). Central to this context are beliefs regarding the Kingdom of God and the role of physical Israel. Believers of DPM hold that physical Israel (the DNA of Jacob) will again be gathered again as a nation and serve an important role in a thousand year Kingdom reign upon earth with Christ. In this role a thousand years may be held figurative for eternity, however, most DPM believers see a final judgment at the end of the millennium. At the heart of all DPM teaching are the questions: 1. What is the Kingdom of God? 2. What is God’s plan for the physical descendants of Jacob? The answers reside within God’s promises regarding Israel and the Church. The predominance of this study will focus on the answer to the second question.
Opening the pages of the Bible and looking for passages regarding the “kingdom of God” results in four different kingdoms. Searching in Psalm 103:19 and Daniel 4:3, it is found that the Kingdom of God can refer to God’s universal kingdom over all things. From I Chronicles 28:5, 2 Chronicles 13:8, and Mathew 21:43 it is seen that physical Israel was considered God’s Kingdom. Next, Daniel 2:44, Mark 9:1, Acts 1:8, Acts 2, Colossians 1:13, and I Timothy 3:15 demonstrate that the Church is referred to as the Kingdom of God. Finally, 2 Peter 1:10-11 and 2 Timothy 4:18 present the eternal home of the Faithful in heaven as the Kingdom of God. Sesame Street is an American children’s television show which often plays a game called “one of these things is not like the other”. Indeed, that is the situation with the four Kingdoms of God mentioned above. God’s universal kingdom, the Church, and the heavenly kingdom are all eternal. National physical Israel is not like the others. It is not eternal. The physical descendants of Israel are scattered and no longer a Kingdom of God, nor will they ever be again. Their purpose has been served and the physical descendants of Jacob no longer serve any more importance than any other individual upon earth. We are undertaking this study because adherents of DPM reject these statements and declare promises to Abraham and Israel prove otherwise.
What were the promises to Abraham? The book of Genesis provides five instances where God spoke to Abraham and detailed the given promises (Genesis 12:1-7, 13:14-17, 15:18-21, 17:2-8, 22:17-18). Specifically referenced are a nation promise, a land promise and a seed promise. The Genesis 12 passage makes it clear that from Abraham would come a great nation. Yes, this was physical Israel from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Additionally, Abraham was promised the land of the Canaanites. Finally, this same passage also makes it clear that all families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. This is known as the seed promise. Further information is gleaned about each of these promises as God speaks to Abraham in additional Genesis texts. Genesis 13 details the land of the Canaanite would be given to Abraham and his seed “forever”. This passage further figuratively declares the descendants of Abraham would be as numerous as the dust of the earth. Genesis 15 provides not only information that the seed of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars of heaven, but specifics to the land promise. It details a northern and southern border demonstrating the scope of the possession would encompass many other peoples. Important to notice in this passage are the terms “river of Egypt” and “great river, the river Euphrates”. This will be considered later in our examination. Genesis 17 sees God declare His covenant with Abraham and his seed would be everlasting. Additionally, God states the land of Canaan will be for an “everlasting possession” to them. Finally, Genesis 22 essentially repeats the three promises, but it declares the reasoning for giving them – “thou has obeyed my voice”. The promises given to Abraham and his descendants would also be directly promised to Isaac and Jacob. The critical issue surrounding these promises is: were the promises fulfilled?
There is no doubt in Christendom or within the DPM circle that the nation promise to Abraham was fulfilled. The question do be answered later is whether or not Israel will be gathered again as a Nation. Deuteronomy 1:10, 4:6-8, and 2 Samuel 7:23 all make it clear the descendants of Abraham became a great nation. In the first passage the words of Moses proclaim fulfilled prophecy in that he describes Israel in number as the stars of heaven. In the second passage Moses calls Israel a nation three times. Finally, in 2 Samuel 7, King David of Israel in proclaiming the might of God recognizes Israel as a nation whom God redeemed from Egypt.
The promise to Abraham regarding the boundaries and duration of the possession of the promised land by the nation of Israel are hotly declared as unfulfilled by DPM adherents. This is a must for DPM doctrine. If Israel’s role is over, if there place as a nation is over, then DPM fail to stand. Later, their objections shall be examined. At the present, let us search the inspired scriptures of God and see what He has said. Joshua 21:43-44 declares all the land sworn to the fathers of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) was given to them and they possessed it. The context follows from Joshua 18:1 in which the land was said to be subdued before Israel. Thus, Joshua sent me out to detail the boundaries and he then divided the land among the tribes. Prior to this in Joshua 11, it is said that Joshua took the whole land promised unto Moses (who brought the children of Israel to the land to claim the promise given to the Fathers.). I Kings 4:21 details the third king of Israel holding all the land from the Border of Egypt to the Euphrates (the land promised). Nehemiah 9:7-8 sees Israel centuries after it had taken the land. They were now returning from captivity in Babylon. Having been centuries since Israel had taken the land, common sense would declare there would have been much grumbling and complaining if God had not fulfilled His land promise to Abraham. Yet, during that time frame there is not a single utterance about a lack of fulfillment. In fact, when Nehemiah and the other Israelites returned to the land, Nehemiah references the promise God made to Abraham and declared that God had performed it. Are the scriptures God breathed as stated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Are they from the mind of God 2 Peter 1:20-21? If God be true, then the scriptures proclaim the Land promise fulfilled. Further evidence of this is seen in Deuteronomy 19:8-9 and Joshua 20:7-8. God told Moses that three cities of refuge should be established in the land of Israel. Then, when all the land God had promised the fathers had been given three more cities of refuge should be set up. Following the fulfillment of the promise, Joshua appointed the three additional cities of refuge. Once more in the Old Testament, the psalmist writes in Psalm 105:42-44 that Israel had inherited the promised lands as he had spoken to Abraham. But does the New Testament say anything about the Land Promise to Abraham? In Acts 13:19 the apostle Paul declares Canaan was conquered and divided among the tribes. Never in the Old Testament or the New Testament were the words of fulfillment to Abraham challenged. Never did the people cry out that God had failed to be faithful. This cry comes only from the 1800’s AD by a people looking back at history and questioning the veracity of the very people to whom the promise was made and acknowledged fulfilled.
From scripture it has been seen that the nation and land promise to Abraham have been fulfilled. This leaves an examination of the seed promise. Galatians 3:8-9, 16, 26-29 provides us with the words of the apostle Paul. He preached both to Israel and non-Israel. He shared the gospel with everyone. All those that are in Christ through baptism are considered the Children of Abraham. Paul says these people of all families and nations of the world are blessed by the seed promise to Abraham. The apostle Peter declared to the Jews who would convert to Christianity that the seed promise to Abraham would also be fulfilled in them and 5,000 were baptized (Acts 3:25-26). Paul speaks later to the Jews and he provides an understanding of exactly what the blessing to all promised to Abraham would be. In Acts 13:32-33, 38, it is established that through Christ was the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness was available to all and the blessing experienced by those who acted in faith to the commands of God.
A straightforward look at the scriptures has demonstrated that the promises to Abraham (nation, land, seed) have been fulfilled. Specifically regarding the Land promise, those who took the land believed it, those who returned to the land believed it, and the apostle Paul declared it so. With such strong witness as the Word of God, his prophets, and his apostles teaching this it is a fair question to ask why anyone would question the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. Next up a number of DPM arguments are presented as to why they believe the way they do.
Some DPM believe that Abraham himself did not receive the promised land and must therefore rise before the millennium to enter the promised land. Stephen filled with the Spirit of God testified in Acts 7:5-7 that the fulfillment of Abraham’s possession would be with that of his descendants. He clearly states Abraham would not even put a foot in it. As he spoke his reference was the promise given by God in Genesis 15:7-8, 13-16, when Abraham asked how he would know if he inherited the Land. God told him that he would die before going, but his inheritance would come with his descendants returning to the land after their stay in Egypt. Promise fulfilled.
Some DPM believe that physical Israel was to receive the promised land forever (previously read). Consider this from two different approaches. First, remember the promise was given to Abraham based upon his obedience. The children of Israel were told before entering the land that though they would receive the Land, they would perish if they were disobedient to God (Deuteronomy 8:19-20; 30:17-18). Joshua repeated this and declared their disobedience would destroy them off the Land God gave them (Joshua 23:12-16). Consider the promised land like a car. A father gives his son a car and tells him this is your car forever. He tells him before handing him the keys, if you transgress the law you I will not let you enjoy its blessings. The son later breaks the law with the car. The father “impounds” the car. The car may still be the son’s car, but he no longer has the right to be in it. The father may drive the car. The mother may drive the car. The sister or neighbor may drive the car. However, the son is excluded from driving his own car based on his disobedience. Promise fulfilled. A second way to consider the concept of forever is to examine the Hebrew language. Though the English words “forever” and then “everlasting” are used in translation in Genesis 17 and 13 the translation is not adequate to explain the Hebrew. The Hebrew words are “Olam” and “Ad”. “Olam” is used in Leviticus 24:7-9 and 2 Chronicles 2:4 in reference to the showbread offering of Israel. Though the terms everlasting, forever, and perpetual are used, it is quite clear the Law of Moses would end and so would the earthly sacrifices. One might argue that these could again begin. Why on earth would someone reject the once for all sacrifice of Christ which could forgive sin in order to go back to an imperfect sacrificial system? “Ad” is used in Job 20:4 and Psalm 132:13-14. As used in Job it references mankind from the beginning of earth… not an eternal timeframe. In the book of Psalms the references God’s connection with Israel, yet God would cast off that people and place. Alternative definitions for “Olam” and “Ad” prohibit certainty of the solution stating these terms mean the English “forever”. Israel held the land for a period unseen into the future. The end of that period became visible with their sins. Promise fulfilled.
Some DPM believe that despite the nation of Israel declaring it received the promise of God that not all the land promised was truly given. This is based upon the words in Genesis 15:18 that the land would be possessed to the “River of Egypt”. By this it is declared that the River of Egypt is the Nile. Numbers 34:5, Joshua 15:4, I Kings 8:65, and 2 Chronicles 7:8 reference the River of Egypt in regard to the possession of Israel. Yet, all obvious scriptural references to the Nile use H2975 to reference the Nile. None of the aforementioned verses use that word. Additionally, other passages describing the promised land of Israel use “Brook of Egypt”, “Border of Egypt”, “Shihor”, and “From the wilderness” (Exodus 23:31, I Kings 4:21, 2 Kings 24:7, 2 Chronicles 9:26, Isaiah 27:12, Jeremiah 2:18). These terms are all synonymous with the river name or location of the Wadi el Arish. That this land was held is not disputed. The River of Egypt in Genesis 15:18 is the same. Note: From Genesis 15 we drew attention to the “great river, the river Euphrates”. The Nile was not smaller than the Euphrates. To call the Euphrates “Great” in comparison would indicate the truth that the Nile was not being referenced. Again, the fulfillment of the land promise was never questioned by ancient Israel.
Some DPM declare Replacement Theology is responsible for substituting the Church for Israel and it should not be done. It is declared that the Bible does not spiritualize literal Israel. Jeremiah 31:31-40 speaks of the ending of the Law of Moses and points to the New Covenant in Christ. It is said this new covenant would be with the “House of Israel”. Then the text continues on to mention a faithful Israel, forgiveness of sin, and God’s faithfulness to that Israel. The question is whether or not this “House of Israel” is the Church or physical Israel. The truth of the matter is that the Law of Moses, the sacrifices, the tabernacle, all of it was a shadow or type of what was to come. Hebrews 8ff puts the context and fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-40 into proper understanding (Hebrews 8:6-13, 9:28, 10:14-22). The Hebrew author first quotes Jeremiah. Then he ties this to Christ and forgiveness of sins. Finally, he ties all of this to those who would be sanctified by Christ. That is the “House of God” which Timothy declares is the Church (I Timothy 3:15). What DPM says cannot occur, the spiritualization of physical Israel in the form of the Church, is exactly what God does.
Finally, though there are countless arguments that DPM attempt to assert, we now consider the claim that Israel was promised to be restored. It has already been seen from Jeremiah 31 that speaking of a physical faithful Israel can reference the Church. I suggest to you all such passages speak of the Church. Historic Israel never returned faithful to God. It is understood as well that there are passages like those in Daniel 9 and Jeremiah 25:8-13 referencing the return of Israel from their 70 year captivity in Babylon. This was certainly fulfilled. However, in regard to the destiny of physical Israel Jesus proclaimed in Mathew 21:42-44 that their kingdom would be taken from them. Jeremiah 19:1,10-11 proclaims physical Israel to be like broken pottery – impossible to make whole again! The destiny of Physical Israel is complete. Physical Israel had the purpose of showing the world God’s blessings and curses (Romans 15:4). They had the purpose of carrying the seed who is the Christ (Galatians 3:16). In doing so, they fulfilled the seed promise of Abraham. There will be no physical restoration of the nation of Israel. The salvation of all mankind is united in Christ not divided in DNA.
DPM is a false doctrine that looks to a future plan for physical Israel. These plans rest upon assertions that God has not fulfilled His promise to Israel. Yet, scripture refutes these claims. God is faithful and just. God cannot lie. What he declares by Word has and will occur. His plans for faithful men revolve around Christ’s Church and not physical Israel.