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A Nation with No Land? Give Me a Break!

The relationship between God, Israel, and the land has been a topic of theological and geo-political significance since the establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant in approximately 1900 B.C.  With the birth of the modern state of Israel on 14 May 1948 questions about God, Israel, and the land have taken on new urgency for both politics, academia, and the popular press. Politically, Israel’s right to occupy their biblical homeland is under diplomatic and military assault.  In the academy, recent studies deny that God has made an eternal promise to provide and preserve a homeland for Israel.  In addition, books aimed at a popular audience, blogs, and ministry leaders are also denying that God has committed Himself to the preservation of a land for Israel.

Politics, academics, and culture converge every two years at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.  Munther Isaac is the driving force behind this conference.  Here is how he describes it: "In this conference we continued as Palestinian Christians to challenge Christian Zionism.  We have done this in the first conference. We have done this in the second conference, the third, and the fourth, and we will do it again. Because we continue to see that theology as a threat to us, let alone in our opinion, the way we read it is not compatible with the teachings of Jesus."  Tommy Ice has an excellent account of his visit to the 2016 conference at the Pre-Trib Research Center.  Just click on that last sentence to go check it out.

The purpose of this post is to expose a fundamental exegetical error that Munther Isaac makes, and which in turn leads him astray regarding the land of Israel.  In his book From Land to Lands, From Eden to the Renewed Earth: A Christ-Centered Biblical Theology of the Promised Land he states that "The initial call to Abraham (Gn. 12:1-3), however, does not include a promise of a possession of land. (p. 78)

Yet in Gn. 12:2 God promised to make Abraham a "great nation".  Nation translates the Hebrew gôy.  This term was used in Gn. 10:5 (2x), 20, 31, 32 to describe the nations formed from the sons of Noah after the flood. In contrast is the word ʿam usually translated “people”.  The former is used with reference to the population of a territory while the latter stresses blood relationship.[1]  Gottwald comments that ʿam is a social or cultural term while gôy is a political one.[2]  Similarly Wenham writes, “A “nation” (gôy) is a political unit with a common land, language, and government, whereas “people” (ʿam) primarily draws attention to the consanguinity of the group”.[3]  Frequently ʿam is used as a generic reference to Israel.  Yet when Israel as a chosen nation is intended the term gôy is employed.  On occasion the two terms are used together but this typically occurs in poetic usage where they are used in synonymous parallelism.[4]  Merrill summarizes the implication of the use of the term gôy when he comments that “nation presupposes such features as (1) consanguinity; (2) common language; (3) definable boundaries; (4) a strong central government; (5) a bureaucratic establishment; (6) a sense of political, social, and military cohesion; and (7) a sense of history and destiny as a socio-political entity.”[5]  

Therefore, contrary to Isaac's assertion,  intrinsic to the promise to make Abraham a nation is the promise to provide him with a land.  God's intention in making a sovereign, unilateral, unconditional, and eternal covenant with Abraham included providing a specific land in which they would dwell as a national entity forever.

[1] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 183.
[2] Norman Gottwald. The Tribes of Yahweh (Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 1979), 241.
[3] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1998), 275.
[4] Dt. 4:6, 4:33—34, 26:5, 2 Sm. 7:23, 1 Chr. 17:21, Is. 1:4, 9:3, 51:4, Jer. 2:11, 33:24; Ez. 37:22–23, Zep. 2:9, Hg. 2:14

[5] Eugene H. Merrill, “Israel According to Torah”, in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel, eds. Darrell L. Bock, Mitch Glaser. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014), Kindle Location 6988.


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