The Hope of the Ages — Part 3 – by Mike Stallard –
This article is the third in a multi-part series outlining the Bible’s message of prophetic hope as it pertains to the future of this age, the Church, the nation of Israel, the Gentile nations of the world, and the created universe. Specifically, it will begin to address the future hope for the nation of Israel as outlined in prophecy. Earlier it was established that the nation of Israel and the institution of the Church are distinct institutions within God’s overall plan of the ages. While some future hopes are shared between the two (personal presence of Messiah, rewards in the coming kingdom, etc.), it can easily be shown that the nation of Israel has a unique prospective hope characterized by national, ethnic, political, and geographical dimensions that do not pertain to the Church in any way.
One must first take note of the fact that prophetic hope for Israel is rooted in the unconditional covenant programs referred to as the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants. In this article and future ones, we will not try to trace all of the details of each of these promised plans of God. However, enough will be highlighted to demonstrate the God-directed prophetic hope for the nation. After the review, it should be clear that Israel’s future hope focuses on three elements: (1) a land, (2) a kingdom, and (3) spiritual as well as national restoration. The rest of this article will focus on the first element of future hope in God’s prophetic plan for Israel. Future articles will deal with the other two.
Starting with the Abrahamic covenant, the nation Israel was given a future hope that was centered in a certain land, a specific piece of real estate, so to speak. In Genesis 12:1, the LORD told Abraham to leave his own home and go to a new land. That land would be the place where a great nation would develop (Gen. 12:2) and where Abraham would both receive a blessing from God and be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2-3). In Genesis 12:7 (cp. 13:15), that land was not just for Abraham and his immediate family, but promised to his descendants as well. As the Pentateuch unfolds, it is clear that the developing nation of Israel through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is in view. In other words, the future of this land is inextricably tied to the future of the nation of Israel.
However, what specific land are we talking about? The earth is a large place. God could have chosen many regions. In His sovereignty He chose the land defined by the boundaries mentioned in Genesis 15:18-21: "To your descendants I have given this land from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite." The northern/northeastern and southern/southwestern boundaries of the land seem to be fairly clear. The Euphrates River in the modern day country of Iraq forms a kind of northern border. The river of Egypt, which provides a south/southwest border, has been understood to be either the Nile River or the Wadi el-Arish. The names of the various people groups that are mentioned lived mostly within the boundaries of what we today call Palestine. Others, such as the Hittites, lived outside of the boundaries of modern Palestine as well. Thus, Genesis 15:18-21 describes a general area with some known specific boundaries that has been promised to the descendants of Abraham.
Some Christians erroneously believe that the promise of the Genesis 15 passage has already been fulfilled and does not pertain to some future hope for Israel from our modern day vantage point. They would say that Israel did possess all of the land mentioned during the reigns of David (1 Chron. 18:3), Solomon (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chron. 9:25-26) and in the days of Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:25). However, it is clear in these passages that either the boundaries did not include all of the territory, the nation of Israel had not assimilated all of the territories, or that the king’s rule was only in the matter of tribute and not ownership of the land. Consequently, these passages could not be used to support the idea that a past fulfillment of Genesis 15:18-21 rules out any necessity for future fulfillment of its promise. Furthermore, the unconditional and everlasting nature of the Abrahamic Covenant ensures that this land is a "forever" possession of the nation of Israel (Gen. 17:8). So there must come a day when Israel will possess it permanently. The nation certainly does not do so today.
On the other hand, someone might ask: "If the land outlined in Genesis 15:18-21 is promised as an everlasting possession of Israel, then why has she not possessed it through the years? Is not God defeated in this promise? What kind of hope is that for Israel if they exist without possessing the promise?" The answer is clearly spelled out in God’s overall plan. In Deuteronomy 28-32, God tells the nation that if it rebels against His ways, then it would suffer judgments of several sorts (Deut. 28) including the temporary forfeit of the land (Deut. 29:28). Therefore, an individual or a generation could lose it own enjoyment of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant due to disobedience. Nonetheless the overall program of God with its ultimate "forever" promise could not be annulled for God has promised restoration of the nation to its promised land (Deut. 30:5ff). One is forced to conclude from this biblical information that God may send His nation Israel into exile any number of times, but in the end the land belongs to the nation and is at the center of its future hope. For it is there, in the promised land, that the other elements of Israel’s future hope–the kingdom with its national and spiritual restoration–take place.
One final note must be made. It is important to realize in these volatile times of Mid-East unrest that the nation of Israel does not have to possess the land within the boundaries of Genesis 15:18-21 until the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to establish His kingdom. Therefore, there is no need for the modern state of Israel in the present day to expand its borders in order to fulfill this particular promise. In God’s timing and with God’s fair justice, all nations will receive their proper reward in due time.