Unbelieving Israel's return to her land is unforeseen by Scripture, (p 194), and one which `may be expected to perish, as all other nations have perished in due time', (p112)
O. Palmer Robertson2
'The obvious Biblical truth is that the current nation of Israel has nothing to do with God's true Israel'
'The idea that Israel 'must return to her physically to the land it occupied for some of its history is notably modern - which even most proponents of the view admit.'
It would be hard to find a doctrinal distinctive on which all these authors agree, yet like many other contemporary writers, they seem content to co-localise Israel in scripture with the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, except when a serious curse or indignation is intended, in which case the hermeneutic conveniently returns the consequences to national ethnic Israel.
However how proper is this approach? Does it carry theological danger? Is it a significant contributor to Western spiritual decline?
The issue here is not whether the Gentile church is a co-heir to the blessings promised to Israel in the flesh, all non-dispensational parties agree to that secondary sense, the question is are the promises spoken of Israel relevant still to unbelieving, as yet unrepentant Israel for the future, when it is restored and revived?
John Gill, CH Spurgeon, Murray M'Cheyne and Horatio Bonar and a large host of other older worthies diverge radically from these writers at this point.
1. A brief examination of use of the word 'Israel' in the New Testament.
Of the 73 uses of the term Israel in the New Testament, almost all apply unequivocally to ethnic Israel, irrespective of whether in faith or in unbelief.
Some simple examples will suffice:
Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. Matt.8.10
Other texts are extremely plain, see Matt.8.5,6 ; Matt.15.24
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel Luke.2.32
Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Acts.1.6
Of the small handful of texts which are ambiguous and where the term is sometimes claimed to apply to believing Gentiles, a little careful and prayerful examination will dispel doubt:
Not all Israel
For example, the latter half of Romans 9.6, 'For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel' is sometimes used to suggest that Gentile believers have been described as truly part of Israel proper.
However it is more consonant with other scriptures to see the text having the opposite sense, that only some Israelites are of the true seed of faith.
The Lord Jesus never said to the centurion or the Syro-Phoenician woman, at whose faith He marvelled, what he said to Nathanael, 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!', though neither did He use the same expression of the unbelieving Pharisees or Sadducees.
The context makes this clearer, Paul repeatedly uses the word Israel in the next three chapters for a nation in apostasy and unbelief, a large proportion of will be saved at the time of the end, and to this end he prays, longs and labours.
'Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.' (Ro 10.1)
'But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.' (Ro 10.19) Suggesting a future restoration, though now stubborn and hard hearted.
'But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.' (Ro 10:21)
'What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded' (Ro 11.7)
It would make nonsense of this statement in Rom.9.6 to equate the Holy Spirit's use of the term Israel with the Gentile elect, just as it would in the following one.
'For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.' (Ro 11.25)
Here is the context of another statement sometimes pressed into merging believing Jews and the Gentiles as one 'Israel'.
'And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.'
Quite apart from the difficulty of seeing the ungodliness of Jacob as a Gentile problem, the distinction between Israel and believing Gentiles is maintained immediately after this statement.
'For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they [unbelieving Jews] are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they [unbelieving Jews] are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief...' (Rom 11.27-30)
This makes it crystal clear the two bodies are distinct, albeit no longer separated, the middle wall has been broken down, the hostility removed for believers, the Gentiles circumcised without hands, who have entered into the adoption, and even the commonwealth (πολιτεια or politics) of Israel, but that doesn't make Gentiles into Israelites, or unbelieving Israelites into Gentiles, while the opportunity and promise of the gift of repentance remains!
Are Americans Indian when the come to Christ, do Chinese become Americans? Then why do we insist without warrant that all Gentiles become Israelis when they turn to her Messiah?
For many anti-Zionists the key text is Galatians 6.16 Upon this foundation Palmer Robertson builds his 12 flawed theses.
'And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.'
'And' here usually has a copulative though sometimes also a cumulative force as a conjunction. The usually sense of it meaning something added rather than expressed emphatically can be seen in the same verse twice!
'Mercy and peace' often go together, one depends upon the other, but they are not identical. Nor are believers walking with God, all 'Israel'.
The assertions in v 16 are certainly based on v .15 that circumcision does not bring favour or entry into God's presence rather the new birth does, but it is not identical with the proposition in v.16. 'Peace and mercy will be upon those who walk in this rule' is not just an emphatic repetition of 'circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature', it is a significant addition of distinctly new information.
Israel and the Gentiles are no longer separated by ceremonial, including circumcision, when it comes to obtaining Divine favour or worship, but they remain largely discrete, not least because of Gentile prejudice, even towards fully assimilated Jews.
2. An examination of the word Goi (גּוֹי) or a Gentile nation when juxtaposed with Israel in the Old Testament, with particular regard to the future.
Israel and its component tribes are distinguished from God-fearing Gentiles
O Israel, trust thou in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.
Ye that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.
The LORD hath been mindful of us: he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron.
He will bless them that fear the LORD, both small and great.
Ps.118.2 Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
v.3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
v.4 Let them now that fear the LORD say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
v.10 All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the LORD will I destroy them.
Israel is distinguished from not merged with believing Gentile nations in the prophetic future
Isa 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
Isa 11:12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Isa 49:6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
Isa 42:6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people [i.e. Israel, see v 22 and 24], for a light of the Gentiles;
Deut 32:43 Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
There are specific and definite promises given to Israel and heralded before the believing nations to admire.
Jer 31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.
Eze 28:25 Thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob.
Jer.31.36-7 If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
Either these words do or don't apply to a believing remnant of Jacob's offspring, if they do not, and the promise applies only to the Gentile nations, how may we draw enduring comfort from a promise that according to this supposition, deceived the very recipients to whom Jeremiah first wrote? If a specific promise is withdrawn from those to whom it was first addressed, how may we appropriate the same promises with assurance that they may not also be withdrawn for our many current sins (Rom.11.21)?
Jer.33.7 And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first.
And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me.
And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.
Jer 46:28 Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.
True or not true, is Israel as an ethnic nation now surrounded by hostile and jealous enemies indeed finished, or does it not retain a glorious hope of revival and repentance?
Promises of restoration to the LORD and to the land are given, which can only fairly and fully be applied to the nation.
Eze.34. 11-13 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
Eze.34.22-25 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.
Eze.34.28-30 And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more. Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord GOD.
3. The unmistakeable perpetuity of the land covenant anchors Israel's position in the sight of God
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. (Genesis 17.7-8)
The occasion of the making of this covenant was not the seed, which Abraham believed but the land inheritance.
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again...' (Genesis 15.5-16a)
Perpetual to over 25,000 years, of which only a tiny portion has elapsed
'He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac;
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.' (Psalm 105.8-11)
4. The view of C. H. Spurgeon
'The way in which Israel shall be saved is the same by which any one individual sinner shall be saved. It is not, however, the one case which the prophet is aiming at; he is looking at the vast mass of cases, the multitudes of instances to be found among the Jewish people, of gracious quickening and holy resurrection. His first and primary intention was to speak of them, and though it is right and lawful to take a passage in its widest possible meaning, yet I hold it to be treason to God’s Word to neglect its primary meaning. The preacher of God’s truth should not give up the Holy Spirit’s meaning; he should take care that he does not even put it in the background. The first meaning of a text, the Spirit’s meaning, is that which should be brought out first, and though the rest may fairly spring out of it, yet the first sense should have the chief place.'
'The Restoration & Conversion of the Jews' (Ezekiel 37)
June 1864, Preached at the Tabernacle to the Jews' Society (now Christian Witness to Israel)
5. The view of John Gill
'If the fall and lessening of the Jews were the means of enriching the Gentiles with the riches of Christ and his grace, what a glory must be brought to them,
when they should all of them be converted and join them!' Introduction to commentary on Romans 11.
On v.26 'And so all Israel shall be saved, etc..] Meaning not the mystical spiritual Israel of God, consisting both of Jews and Gentiles, who shall appear to be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation, when all God's elect among the latter are gathered in, which is the sense many give into; but the people of the Jews, the generality of them, the body of that nation, called “the fulness” of them, and relates to the latter day, when a nation of them shall be born again at once; when, their number being as the sand of the sea, they shall come up out of the lands where they are dispersed, and appoint them one head, Christ, and great shall be the day of Jezreel; when they as a body, even the far greater part of
them that shall be in being, shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their King; shall acknowledge Jesus to be the true Messiah, and shall look to him, believe on him, and be saved by him from wrath to come.'
'This chapter contains a prophecy of the Jews’ return from captivity to their own land; of the union of the each tribes with one another; and of the
glorious kingdom of Christ among them.' Commentary on Ezekiel 37
6. Bonar, Ryle and M'Cheyne's views are very similar. (Courtesy of CWi)
7. Implications for Gentile Christians
Gentile nations and the United Kingdom in particular have at the same time shared the privilege of helping restore Israel by Divine grace to the land promised to Abraham and at the same time of attempting to obstruct the fulfilment of that promise! Can you imagine Cyrus reversing the decree of the Medes and Persians that 'cannot be changed', which 'does not alter'? Sadly British foreign policy has been more akin to a jellyfish than a rock in its weak inconsistency and yielding to some hostile Arab opinion, some of which was allegedly stoked and encouraged by anti-Zionist British statesmen and soldiers. Active opposition to Israel's formation has been organised and manifold in British governing circles. This included identification of the Jews in Israel with the Nazis by the last British High Commissioner, a statement of extraordinary malignance and ignorance. It also includes widespread allegations of serious neglect of the defence of Jewish citizens in Palestine during the mandate despite advance knowledge of serious massacres, whilst simultaneously severely curtailing measures for self defence.
Britain has serious charges laid at her feet for Bevingrad, for its internment camps for Jewish escapees from the Nazi death camps, for its obstruction of Jewish refugees from Nazi terror, resulting in the death of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Jews who might otherwise have fled home. All this to her own disadvantage and to the loss of her prestige in trying to appease an evil sentiment that was both implacable and insatiable. Europe has funded and supported anti-Zionist NGOs within Israel, supported UNRWA's blind support for Hamas and Fatah's incitement to murder and malice against Jews for children as soon as they are able to speak. Are these small crimes in the sight of Heaven?
Is it any wonder if the Holy Spirit withdraws from churches that fail the moral crucible of our generation - those who tacitly or even vocally support the newest form of the oldest hatred? Is it astonishing that even formerly sound and healthy evangelical churches by the hundreds are going rotten, that even earnest and serious evangelistic endeavours are like plowing on granite? Is it any surprise that when the Jews are restored to their offended Messiah by provocation to jealousy by a small remnant, that it will be as 'life from the dead' to a largely apostate and formalistic Gentile church?
O, that we might share the Messiah and His apostle's own heart toward Israel, rather than stealing her blessings and dumping curses upon her:
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.'
1. Wagner, Don (January 1995). Anxious for Armageddon. US: Herald Press. p. 80-4. ISBN 9780836136517.
2. O Palmer Robertson ((May 1, 2000) The Israel of God. P & R Publishing ISBN 9780875523989.
3. Gillquist, Metropolitan Philip, pp. 132-3.
Ministry of God's Word
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The land of Israel