A Critique of The Israel of God, by O. Palmer Robertson
Published 2000, Presbyterian and Reformed, New Jersey
Palmer Robertson was until 2008 professor of Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary and principal of the African Bible College in Uganda.
O. Palmer Robertson has won wide critical acclaim for his seminal examination of the Divine Covenants, 'The Christ of the Covenants', and recently for his work 'The Christ of the Prophets'. His evangelical credentials are solid. This makes his trenchant assertion in another recent work, that 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) all the more chilling.
The 'Israel of God' examines
changes in the concept of Israel between the testaments. He devotes chapters to the land, the people, their worship, pilgrim lifestyle and especially its kingdom. He concludes with an exposition of Romans
11 and then crystallises the book with 12 propositions. It is a studious and
detailed work. He repeatedly denies advocating ‘replacement theology’. He
refutes a dispensational view of
The problem arises from the conflation of Abrahamic and Sinatic covenants derived from his earlier work. This is especially evident in his handling of the land promise, which he treats as merely a covenant shadow (p13). He compares the belief that Israel’s land should remain the focus of the covenant of grace, to an expectation that the shadow of the brass serpent on the stake, or Jacob’s ladder might be replaced by a bigger and better one (p5,6)! This is to confuse the substance of the promise with the signs that accompany it, an error we would not expect from a theologian of his stature. To show the folly of this kind of comparison, we ask whether the birth of the Messiah resulted in the disappearance of Isaac in Heaven? Isaac was the down payment of the promise of a seed. He was the beginning of the substance of the promise, not merely a sign to be dispensed with.
In a similar vein, he dismisses
expectation of a return to the land as similar to expectation of a restoration
Whilst all will agree that
His handling of Ezekiel 37 is
especially illuminating. From the unbelieving state of national
There are several problems with this construction. First, man’s creation was not effected by two separate and distinct commands, only one is revealed in the summary in Gen. 1 v.26. The actual creative process is explained sequentially in the single verse 2.7, but there is no dialogue and no further command before the fiat is complete.
Secondly the distinct separateness of the two stages in Ezekiel’s prophecy is underscored by Ezekiel’s observation, God’s further command, the prophet’s obedient response to Divine Call, and the action of the Wind in consequence to bring life. Thirdly this distinctness is underlined by the distinctness of the interpretation of the prophecy, v.12 ‘I will open your graves’, ‘cause you to come up out’, and ‘bring you into the land of Israel’, then in v. 13, ‘ye shall know that I am the Lord’ after My having done these things, and only then in v.14 ‘shall put my Spirit in you and you shall live’. Fourthly, in the sign of the joining of two sticks, which immediately succeeds, the sequence is the same, v.21 ‘I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen’ and ‘will bring them into their own land’. Only then will they have ‘one king’, v.22, cease to ‘defile themselves’ and be graciously cleansed, v.23, and only then be shepherded by David’s Greater Son, v.24, truly walking in the statutes of Divine Law, and only then enjoy their perpetual inheritance, the covenant of peace, the presence of both the true Tabernacle and the true Sanctuary in their midst.
It is impossible to squeeze into
this prophecy the notion that
His exposition of Romans 11 will be easily critiqued by readers familiar with the historic commentators. He leans heavily on the flawed Aleph and B manuscripts by inserting a third ‘now’ into v. 30-31. This enfeebles and enervates the glorious mystery of v 25, as Lloyd-Jones reminds us.
This work is
a potent stimulant to critically ponder vital issues, issues likely to grow in
importance and heat in the near future. It contains welcome redress to the
dispensationalism that often so dominates discussion of