by Dalton Lifsey ©
Throughout Church history the debate about Israel has always raged with regard to the Land and the people. Every few centuries another violent outburst of Christian anti-Judaism would stain a nation with Jewish blood. And every few centuries Christ-rejecting Jews would find more reasons to continue rejecting Him.
“GOD IS THROUGH WITH THE JEWS”
At the heart of that debate has always been the Church’s insistent rejection of Israel’s national identity and destiny. Our generation is no exception. The late Lorraine Boettner stated that:
“It may seem harsh to say that, ‘God is through with the Jews.’ But the fact of the matter is that He is through with them as a unified national group.”
And because many believe He is through with them as a unified national people group the Church is provoked to anger and sometimes aggressively violent opposition when the Jewish people view and carry themselves as a unified national group (hence the contemporary Christian rage against the modern State). Anti-Semitic theologian Albert Pieters said the same thing as Boettner but with more hostility.
“God willed that after the institution of the New Covenant there should no longer be any Jewish people in the world—yet here they are! That is a fact—a very sad fact, brought about by their wicked rebellion against God.”
For many Bible reading Christ adoring believers statements like these from prominent Christian theologians don’t sit well; for moral and theological reasons.
Morally they feel that such statements misrepresent the heart of God and the Gospel that was originally and continually “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16). They believe that such loveless speech encourages the Church to continue in our shameful historical continuum of violence against the Jews. And they believe that such statements further galvanize the sad fact that the Church of Jesus has been an abysmal failure at “provoking the Jews to jealousy” (Rom 11:11-12). While the Holocaust of World War II drove much of the Church’s anti-Semitism underground over the last half a century, it is by no means a minor problem in the contemporary global professing Church.
Theologically they feel such statements represent a gross deviation from Biblical theology concerning Israel as it was declared by Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. They look to passages like Jeremiah 31:36 that promise Israel “will never cease to be a nation before me” and Amos 9:15 that point to a Day in the future when Israel will be “planted in the Land never to be uprooted again.” They believe that such realities and prophecies are grounded in an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7-8; 1 Chron. 16:15-18; Is. 24:5; Jer. 32:40) containing “irrevocable” “gifts” (Rom. 11:28-29) that were given unconditionally and unilaterally. They respond to Boettner and Pieters by pointing to verses like the ones below emphasizing that the covenant that was made with Israel was an “everlasting covenant” that promised “everlasting possession” of the literal Land of Canaan that would be given to Abraham’s descendants “forever.”
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for aneverlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7-8)
14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. (Genesis 13:14-15)
They are then stunned to hear self-respecting theologians declare their unbelief in the plain meaning of these promises.
EMPTYING THE PROMISES OF GOD OF THEIR SUBSTANCE AND MEANING
Theologians like those mentioned above along with others such as John Stott, N. T. Wright, Stephen Sizer, Gary M. Burge, Peter Walker, Colin Chapman, and others argue that this promise is no longer binding and that this covenant has been “fulfilled” (which is equivalent to saying: “emptied of its meaning and significance”). For example, Gary M. Burge writes:
Christ is the reality behind all earthbound promises…land is rejected….land is spiritualized as something else…the promise is historicized in Jesus, a man who lives in the land…Whatever the ‘land’ meant in the Old Testament, whatever the promise contained, this now belongs to Christians...The land was a metaphor, a symbol of a greater place beyond the soil of Canaan.
N. T. Wright echoes Burge saying
“[Paul] has systematically transferred the privileges and attributes of ‘Israel’ to the Messiah and His [new] people [the Church]. It is therefore greatly preferable to take…“Israel” as a typically Pauline polemical redefinition…”
This is a scholarly way of saying “Israel has been replaced by the Church and all the privileges that were once there’s have been taken from them and given to us.” It’s also an academic way of saying “When God made a promise to Abraham He never intended to fulfill it as He declared it.” While Burge and Wright will no doubt take offense to such “redefinitions” of their words I feel it’s appropriate considering that it is in response to their redefinitions of God’s words.
To the unbiased mind that is willing to suspend doctrinal convictions to affirm Biblical truths (as the two sometimes conflict), such statements as those above seem like desperate attempts to explain away an eternal institution that poses problems for their theological prejudices against Israel: namely, an “everlasting covenant” with Israel. They ask “How can an everlasting covenant that ensures everlasting possession of specific Land be rendered meaningless and irrelevant?”
One of the ways Burge and his cronies respond to this skepticism is by arguing that ‘”everlasting” doesn’t mean “forever” or “eternal.”‘ They say that the Hebrew word “Olam” (5769) doesn’t necessarily mean or imply that the covenant will never end or that the possession of the Land will actually be perpetuated. And they claim that when the Lord said “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession” He didn’t actually mean that the Land would be theirs forever. They say that when Jesus came (in Wright’s words) He “redefined” these promises and “transferred” them to the Church the “new Israel.” Thus, they assert: “”everlasting” doesn’t mean everlasting!”
Do they have a case? Or is this a sad attempt to justify a doctrinal perspective that lacks Biblical support? I think the answer is clear by looking at the definition of the Hebrew word and its use throughout the Old Testament.
THE DEFINITION OF “OLAM” AND ITS USE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In my Hebrew Dictionary in the back of my AMG Study Bible “Olam” is defined as:
“…the vanishing point; out of mind; eternity; always; ancient; continuance; eternal; long time; of old; without end.”
While the word “Olam” is used in many passages where eternity future isn’t in view (as in 1 Sam. 27:8; 2 Kings 5:27; Job 22:15), there are a multitude of passages where the word can mean “forever” and a multitude of passages where the word must mean “forever.” Let’s look at a few (with “olam” emboldened and underlined) and you be the judge of whether it can or must mean “forever” as “forever” is commonly understood.
Jesus’ deity in Micah 5:2
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
The eternity of God in Isaiah 40:28
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
God’s love in Psalm 118:
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
God’s name (“nature and character”) in Exodus 3:15
15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
God’s word in Isaiah 40:8
8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
The promise that God would never flood the earth with water again in Genesis 9:16
16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
God’s steadfast love in Jeremiah 33:11
11 …“‘Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!’
The fleeting value of money in Proverbs 27:24
24 for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?
The kind of righteousness Jesus secured and imputes to us through His death in Daniel 9:24
24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness
The enduring nature of our salvation in Isaiah 45:17
17 But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.
The word “Olam” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “forever” in every passage. But in some passages it must; specifically those that pertain to the nature of God, His word, or the righteousness with which He has clothed us. Considering that Replacement Theologians worship an eternal God revealed in an eternal Word who has saved us with an eternal salvation because of His eternal love, I find it curious and comical (if so much weren’t on the line) that they don’t believe in eternal covenants.
While the survey above doesn’t necessarily prove that the “everlasting covenant” promising the “everlasting possession” of the Land in passages like Genesis 17:7-8 and many others must mean “forever,” it does prove that it can mean “forever.” And this is problematic to those who embrace Replacement Theology. Moreover, when we consider how the prophets of old spoke of the future vindication of the “everlasting covenant” it becomes clear that “everlasting possession” of the Land is not as far fetched as contemporary Replacement Theologians make it out to be. In fact, we find that it is central to God’s purposes at the end of the Age.
I leave you with a selection of prophecies that tie the final regathering of the scattered children of Israel to the Land of Israel together with the “everlasting covenant.” You decide.
They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:25-28)
Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:37-41)
Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. (Isaiah 60:21-22)
I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the LORD your God. (Amos 9:15)
I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23)
 Lorraine Boettner, The Millennium (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, December 1, 1990), 314.
 Albertus Pieters, The Seed of Abraham (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1950), 123.
 Gary Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise?, (Pilgrim Press, June 2004) p. 176-177, 179
 The Climax of the Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress Press October 1, 1993), 25.
Image by: Deni Fitzpatrick - firstname.lastname@example.org