[This piece was written by my good friend Joe Puglia, who is the pastor of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Mansfield. It appeared in the News Journal this past Saturday]
As Christian people, we should have a sincere love for, and an abiding interest in the nation of Israel. The reason for this is obvious. Jesus Christ, our blessed Redeemer, is the seed of Abraham and the Son of David. The Jewish race carried the torch of divine revelation for centuries and offered the world the babe born in Bethlehem. The saints of the New Testament are the privileged recipients of the oracles of God, the covenants of promise, and of the message of redemption, all rising from the foundation of Jewish prophets and centering upon a Jewish Messiah.
But how should our love for the nation of Israel correspond to the land of Palestine, that land that flowed with milk and with honey? As I interact with Christian people, I find a high degree of ambiguity on the subject. Many Christians believe that the land unequivocally belongs to Israel. Others believe it does not because it has been forfeited through Israel’s rebellion. Allow me to open a window on this subject, not in an attempt answer all of our questions, but to show the level of difficulty that surrounds the issue.
The promise of the land is covenantal. When the Apostle Paul (who loved most fervently his kinsmen according to the flesh) described the future that the Lord has for Israel in receiving the Messiah, he launched forth into a beautiful doxology “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out”.
God’s covenantal relationship with Israel is “unsearchable” and “past finding out”. Therefore, an oversimplification of the issue manifests a lack of appreciation for the unfathomable depths of Divine wisdom in relating to His people.
Aspects of God’s covenant are unconditional. Genesis 17:7 describes it as an everlasting covenant. Yet the Lord, communicating with Solomon underscored the importance of faithfulness on Israel’s part. Without faithfulness, Israel would be “cut off from the land” (I Kings 9:6-7). Elements of God’s covenant (including the land) are unconditional, other elements are conditional. This issue is more profound than many think.
The promise of the land is expanded in the New Testament.
One of the fascinating characteristics of the New Testament concerning the Promised Land is its deafening silence. The geographical land of Palestine is hardly mentioned prophetically in the New Testament. Instead, the Lord Jesus speaks of the blessedness of the meek who will inherit the earth (the whole earth). Matthew 5:5. The promise of the land has been expanded to the whole earth.
The promise of the land is a type. Although the land of Palestine is hardly mentioned in the NT (meaning it is not as important as some would have it) it is mentioned in Hebrews 11. Verse 13 declares that the Hebrews dwelt in the land as “strangers and pilgrims” because (verse 16) they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. In other words, they knew that the land was a type (symbolic representation) of the heavenly country.
Beloved, the types of the Old Testament have been done away through the coming of the King. The New Testament is not the age of types but of realities. Why should we overemphasize the importance of the land when the recipients of the land in the OT dwelt as strangers and pilgrims, desiring the better country?
You may respond by stating that Israel is back in the land, therefore God has great things in store. Most Christian teachers believe God does have great things in store. Romans 11 declares that Israel will receive the Messiah and be grafted back into the olive tree. Praise God! May the glorious day come.
Let us love Israel and pray for their faith in Jesus Christ. With humility of mind, let us consider the challenges that face the study of the land. This issue is deeper and higher than it appears at first blush.
–Joseph Puglia, Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Mansfield
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