My God and My Neighbor

Apr 17, 2024

Israel and the Promised Land

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Did God promise the land in Israel to the Jewish people—permanently? We hear this discussed from all sides today except God’s side. It all goes back to the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12. Was that promise an unconditional guarantee that this land would always belong to the nation of Israel?


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  • Scriptures: Gen. 12:1-7; Genesis 13:15; Deuteronomy 28; II Kings 17; II Kings 24; Deuteronomy 30; Nehemiah 1:8-10; Matthew 21:43; Galatians 3:26-29
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Kerry Duke: Hi, I’m Kerry Duke, host of My God and My Neighbor podcast from Tennessee Bible College, where we see the Bible as not just another book, but the Book. Join us in a study of the inspired word to strengthen your faith and to share what you’ve learned with others.

Politicians are talking a lot about Israel today. So are media personalities, and so are many preachers. But what does God say about this subject? Is the nation of Israel still God’s chosen people? And does the promised land still belong to the Jewish people?

We’re going to turn to the Bible to see what the Scriptures say about these questions. Let’s go back to Genesis chapter 12. If you want to get the beginning of this whole controversy, you have to go back to Genesis chapter 12. So in Genesis chapter 12, God makes a promise to Abraham. Here’s what he said. Genesis 12 verse one: “Get out of your country, and from your kindred and from your father’s house, unto a land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation; and I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” So God is making this promise to Abraham that his seed, that is, his descendants, will be a great nation. And in that great nation, you find a promise in verse seven about the land that these people are going to inherit.

In Genesis 12, verse seven, “The Lord appeared unto Abram and said, unto your seed” (your descendants) “I will give this land.” Now that’s the land of Canaan. In chapter 13, God repeats that promise. In Genesis chapter 13, verse 15, God told Abraham to lift up his eyes and “look from the place where you are—northward and southward and eastward and westward. For all the land which you see, to you I will give it, and to your seed forever.” I’ll look more at the word forever and how that word is used in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, in just a few minutes. But let’s just notice here that the Bible plainly says that God made this promise to Abraham about his descendants.

So, did God promise to give the promised land, as we call it, the land of Canaan, to the nation of Israel? Well, yes, He did. Israel is not a name in the Bible yet. But obviously these are the descendants of Abraham that are being talked about here, even though Abraham does not have even a child at this point.

Now then, what we need to notice about this—and this is not recognized like it should be in Bible studies; you don’t hear a lot about this in sermons on this topic—and that’s this: that promise that God made to Abraham, that his descendants would inherit, that they would possess the promised land, was a conditional promise. The promise hinged on one little yet big word, and that is the word if.

One passage has to be understood if we’re going to understand this whole controversy as you hear people talk and as you talk to other people and listen to them talk about their opinions regarding the nation of Israel in the Bible today.

If we’re going to see it the way that God says it, then we’re going to have to take into account Deuteronomy chapter 28. And it’s important to remember when the book of Deuteronomy was delivered. Moses said these things to the Israelite people just before he died and just before they crossed the river of Jordan to go into the promised land—just before they were about to enter it.

So God is saying in the book of Deuteronomy: You need to remember what I have told you. You need to remember the promises, and you need to remember the warnings. So, throughout the book of Deuteronomy, God says, Remember, remember, remember. That’s a key word in this book. So, in Deuteronomy chapter 28, God says to these Israelite people who were in the plains of Moab, on the other side of Jordan, just before they were to enter into the promised land in Deuteronomy chapter 28, verse 1: “And it shall come to pass, If” (I say it again, if) “you shall hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord your God to observe to do all His commandments, which I command you this day, that the Lord your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come on you and overtake you if you shall hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God.” So He says, you’ll be blessed in the city, blessed in the field. “Blessed will be the fruit of your body, the fruit of the ground. Blessed will be your basket and your store.” You’ll be blessed when you come in and you will be blessed when you go out and so forth. Now that takes you from Deuteronomy chapter 28 verse 1 through 14. So the blessings are in those verses, and they depend on that one word if. If you keep My law, you can have these blessings. Beginning in verse 15, He talks about what will happen if they don’t keep His word, if they don’t obey His commandments.

So here in verse 15 of Deuteronomy chapter 28 God said, “But it shall come to pass, If, you will not hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes, which I command you this day, that all these cursings shall come upon you and overtake you.” And if you want to see a frightening and a sobering section of Scripture as to what happens to people when they turn their back on God, when they forget about God and forget what he said and do their own will; if you want to see the consequences of a nation that leaves God, you read Deuteronomy chapter 28. It is vivid. It is graphic. You will read about war. You will read about starvation. You’ll read about cannibalism here because the people were starving.

Why? As a result of their sins against God. So in Deuteronomy chapter 28, God said it’s your choice. You have a decision to make. You can keep my law and keep the land. You can disobey my law and you will be taken from off that land. You will lose that land. So look down in Deuteronomy chapter 28 at verse 63.

God said in verse 63, “It shall come to pass that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and to multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and to bring you to nothing, and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go to possess it. And the Lord will scatter you among all people from the one end of the earth to the other.”

And the Bible tells us even more about that as you read through Deuteronomy chapter 28. So it goes from Deuteronomy chapter 28, verse 15, all the way down through verse 68 to talk about and describe the curses, the consequences, of sinning against God. So this passage of Scripture says, especially when you read verse 63 and verse 64, God said, if you don’t do what I tell you, if you don’t obey me, I will pluck you off that land.

So, if you want to keep the land, obey me. If you want to lose the land, you disobey me. And God meant what he said. So what we find then is that there are many people who will read Genesis chapter 12 verse 7, where the Bible says, “Unto you and your seed, I will give you this land.” And they’ll read Genesis chapter 13 verse 15: “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you and your descendants forever.”

But they don’t read Deuteronomy chapter 28. Now the plain truth about this, folks, is that the Jews eventually disobeyed God and they lost the land,just like God said. Israel in the north after the kingdom divided lost the land in 721 B. C. This is what happened. The Bible says in 2 Kings chapter 17 verse 6 and 7, “The king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria.”

Now that’s what God warned about in Deuteronomy chapter 28. Hundreds of years before this is recorded in the book of Second Kings, chapter 17, God said, I’m telling you, if you disobey my voice, I will take you off that land. I will pluck you off that land that I’ve given you. And that is exactly what the Bible says happened in 2 Kings chapter 17.

The king of Assyria took Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and “carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Hela, and by the Habor, the river of Gaza, and in the cities of the Medes.” Now listen to the last part. “For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God.”

Again, that is 2 Kings. Chapter 17, verses 6 and 7, and again, that was in 721 BC. Now then, in Judah, down to the south, in the years 606 to 587 BC, here’s what we read in the book of 2 Kings chapter 24, verses 3 and 4, “Surely at the commandment of the Lord this came upon Judah, to remove them from his sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon. At that time, the servants of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. Also, he carried into captivity all Jerusalem.” Now, that’s what God warned about. God said, if you disobey me, I will pluck you off that land. So I ask you, in all of the talk, and maybe in all of the sermons that you’ve heard about Israel today, have you heard these passages? Have you heard about Deuteronomy chapter 28 saying that God would dispossess them from the land, that God would pluck them off the land?

Have you heard the fact that the Bible says that that land promise was a conditional, not an unconditional, but a conditional promise, and that those Jews disobeyed God and God removed them from off that land? Now, you may be thinking about the word forever in Genesis chapter 13 verse 15, because there God said, “For all the land which you see, to you I will give it, and to your descendants forever.”

The Bible plainly says that in Genesis chapter 13 verse 15 in  the King James Version and the New King James Version. And other translations have that word. Now, the thing to remember about the word forever in the Bible is that you have to look at the context. You have to see how the word is being used. For example, do you remember Jonah being swallowed by the great fish and he was there for three days and three nights?

Well, the Bible says in Jonah chapter two, verse six, that Jonah cried out and said that he was in there forever. And yet we know that was three days because Jesus said it was in Matthew chapter 12 verse 40. And yet Jonah says this is forever. Well, that’s a figurative use, a symbolic use. That is a poetic way of talking about that time period.

So there’s a clear case of the word forever in the Bible not meaning forever as in non-ending. Here’s another example. A slave in Israel in Bible times could choose to be a permanent servant of his master. The Bible says he had to go through different steps to do that, and in Deuteronomy, chapter 15, verse 17, the Bible says once he complied with that procedure, he shall be your servant forever.

Well, obviously, that means for the rest of his life, but that doesn’t mean throughout all of eternity or beyond his life. So, there is a limited use, a limited time frame of that word forever. That’s Deuteronomy chapter 15, verse 17. Here’s another example. The Bible says that the Sabbath was a perpetual covenant and “a sign between me and the children of Israel forever.”

That’s Exodus chapter 31, verses 16 and 17. And yet the Bible shows that the Sabbath was temporary. It was for the Jews and the Jews only for a temporary period of time. In Colossians chapter 2, verse 14, the Bible says that when Jesus died, He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us.

Now, in light of the fact that that Law of Commandments, these ordinances in the Law of Moses, had been nailed to the cross, Paul said in verse 16, “Let no man therefore judge you,” that is, condemn you. Condemn you basically for not keeping the law of Moses in these ways.

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink.” That is, in regard to the offerings, the meat offerings; that is, the meal offerings and the drink offerings that the law of Moses prescribed. Don’t let anybody judge you and tell you that you’re wrong because you don’t do those things anymore—or  in respect of an holy day or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days.

Now here’s what you have to remember, and if you’ll read the Old Testament very carefully, you’ll see this pattern. What you have here is Paul talking about the yearly celebrations of the Jews, the monthly celebration and the weekly celebration. When Paul said, don’t let anybody judge you in respect of an holy day, he was talking about those annual feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re wrong because you don’t keep those anymore. Then the new moon was the monthly celebration. That’s the monthly ritual that the Jews observed.

The Sabbath here, consistently, throughout the Old Testament, refers to the weekly. It’s not talking about the Jubilee. It’s not talking about the land Sabbath and so forth. This is about the weekly Sabbath. That’s the consistent way that the Bible describes these things: the yearly, the monthly, and then the weekly. And the Bible says, don’t let anybody condemn you about these things.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you have to observe these Mosaic rituals, because the Bible says in verse 17, that these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ. Now, my point is this, the Bible in the Old Testament says that the Sabbath was a perpetual covenant. It says that the children of Israel would have it as a sign between them and God forever.

That’s Exodus chapter 31 verses 16 and 17. Here the word forever in Hebrew means an indefinite long duration of time. And there’s one more example I’ll look at and then we’ll move on. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse 4 that the earth abides forever. Well, the word forever there again is being used in a poetic way.

It’s being used to refer to a long duration of time that is indefinite, because the Bible says in 2 Peter chapter 3 verse 10 that the earth will be burned up. So the word forever in Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse 4 cannot mean without end because the Bible says that the earth will have an end. It’s used in a poetic sense.

And in all these passages, that’s what we find. It means an indefinite duration of time. It’s very long, but it’s indefinite. When Jonas said that he was in the belly of the great fish forever, when the Bible says that a servant could become a servant forever to his master, when the Bible says that the Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel forever, and when the Bible says that the earth abides forever, in all those passages, we see that the word forever does not mean without any kind of end at all.

If that’s true in all those passages, Then it shouldn’t be a strange thing for us to say that that’s how it’s used in Genesis 13 verse 15 when the Bible says that the land was given to the Israelites forever. It means a long duration of time. But again, that was conditional and that word forever needs to be understood in the Bible context.

Now, here’s something else that is brought up and legitimately so. I’m certainly not criticizing and disagreeing with the fact that this is brought up as a question because it is a good question. Remember in Deuteronomy chapter 28, that God said, if you keep the law, you can keep the land, but if you do not keep the law, then you can’t keep the land?

Well, God knew what they would do. God knows the future. And He knew what these Israelites would eventually do. He knew that they would sin and lose the land. Now then, in Deuteronomy chapter 30, God said, okay, when that happens, You will still be given a chance because you can come back to the land. So in Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse one says, “And it shall come to pass when all these things are come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you and you shall call them to mind among all the nations, where the Lord your God has driven you and you shall return unto the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice. According to all that I command you this day, you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul, that then the Lord your God will turn your captivity and have compassion upon you and will return and gather you from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you if any of yours be driven out unto the utmost parts of the heavens. From there will the Lord your God gather you.”

And from there He will, the King James says, “fetch you and the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it, and he will do you good and multiply you above your fathers.”

 Now, there are a lot of people that look at that passage, and again, they do not consult the rest of the Bible. They do not look at what the rest of the Bible says about that promise. They just look at it and say, well, that’s what God is doing today. He’s bringing the Jews back home. He’s gathering the Jewish people back to their land in Israel today in our time. Now, if you let the Bible interpret itself, however, you find that this was fulfilled many, many centuries ago.

As a matter of fact, it was fulfilled over 400 years before Jesus came to the earth. The promise of the Jews returning to their land in Deuteronomy chapter 30 was fulfilled when those Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. We know that because the Bible specifically tells us that.

In Nehemiah chapter 1 verses 8 through 10, here’s what the Bible says: “Remember, I pray, the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.”

Now listen very carefully to what he says. He says You remember what God said? God warned your ancestors that if they disobeyed, then the nation of Israel would be taken off of the land. But if you repented, if you returned in your heart to God when you were in captivity, then God would bring you home.

Listen to what Nehemiah chapter 1, verses 8 through 10 says about the fulfillment. The Bible says, “Now these are your servants, and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand” (Nehemiah 1:8-10). He’s talking about the Jews that returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity.

You read about that in the book of Ezra. You read about it here in the book of Nehemiah and Nehemiah cites Deuteronomy chapter 30 and he says, here is how that applies. Here is how it was fulfilled. So my question is, how can people take a promise that the Bible specifically says was fulfilled at a certain point and in a certain way and apply it to today?

How can you do that? If the Bible says, here is what happened, and this was a fulfillment of this passage that was spoken hundreds of years ago, then how can you take that same promise and apply that same prophecy and say, “Well, no; it’s actually going to be fulfilled today.” And people have tried to do that numerous times.

Our generation is not the only generation that has tried to speculate about these things and tried to apply and reapply and reapply even more these passages of Scripture which the Bible says were located in Old Testament history. So, with that in mind, let’s go 400 years into the future from the time of Nehemiah to the New Testament, and let’s allow the New Testament to shed light on and explain more about the nation of Israel and Israel’s state before God today.

In the New Testament, you have in the book of Matthew, which was written primarily with a Jewish audience in mind, you have God foretelling the fact that He is going to execute judgment upon the nation of Israel. In the parable of the wicked vinedressers, which represents the wickedness of the Jewish leaders, Jesus plainly told those Jewish leaders in Matthew 21, verse 43, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation, bringing forth its fruits.” Now, Jesus said the kingdom of God, that is, the rule of God, the favor of God you are as a nation enjoying, the privileged status of God is going to be taken from you.

Now, how many times do you hear that passage talked about when people talk about Israel today? It’s in the Bible. Jesus said it. Jesus said there’s going to be a change. You will no longer enjoy what you have had for all these years, for all these centuries. That is going to change. The kingdom of God, the reign of God, the privilege of God is going to be taken from you and it’s going to be given to another nation.

Now that doesn’t mean another nation like Russia or China or the United States today or some nation like the Romans in the New Testament as far as a physical political entity was concerned. He’s talking about the fact that the kingdom of God, the favor of God, the privilege of God is going to be given to the Gentile people.

That means that the kingdom will shift. It was an Old Testament political kingdom. Now it is a spiritual kingdom, the church, because Jesus said in John 18, verse 36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I say to you again, folks, when you look at Matthew 21, 43, how many preachers, how many sermons that you have heard even mention this passage?

This passage says that the kingdom of God, and that means the rule of God that these Jews enjoyed, had changed. They lost it. The Bible says the kingdom of God was taken from them, and God gave that special status, that special place, that special relationship to the Gentile people. Now, of course, Jews could be in it as well, but he’s talking about the church here, a spiritual kingdom.

That’s what Jesus came to accomplish anyway. And what we find in the book of Matthew in chapter 23 and in chapter 24 is that God pronounces judgment upon that generation of Jewish people. And that’s why Matthew 24 one through 34 talks about the end of the Jewish nation as God’s chosen people. And that happened finally in 70 A. D., when God poured out His wrath upon the Israelite people in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Now, as a result, today the Bible says in Romans 10 verse 12, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” That’s Romans 10 verse 12. Listen to Galatians 3, 26 through 29. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

So notice that he says here that it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re Jew or Greek. That distinction as far as spiritual things are concerned, as far as a spiritual relationship to God is concerned is no longer there.

He says in verse 29, and if you are Christ’s, that is if you belong to Christ, if you’ve been baptized into Christ, you’re in Christ, you belong to Christ, and if you’re there in Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed. You are Abraham’s descendants, spiritually. You see, so many times when people read the Bible and they see the Scriptures talking about Abraham’s seed, they automatically assume that the passage is talking about his physical descendants.

And sometimes it is. But not here. And that’s not the main point that God was making about his descendants. Anyway, you read about that in Galatians 3 verse 8, because the Bible says that when God said in Genesis 12 verse 3, through your seed all nations will be blessed, He was actually pointing to, he was actually predicting the gospel being preached to the Gentiles and them becoming Christians.

Now, that’s what Galatians 3 26 through 29 is about. If you’ve been baptized into Christ, you’ve put on Christ, and in Christ there’s neither June or Greek. And if you’re Christ, he says, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. What promise? Genesis 12, verse 3. So what happens today is that people get so caught up in the political aspect of these discussions and the earthly part of it that they don’t pay attention to the fact that God’s main intention, his main purpose was to bring a spiritual kingdom to the earth, the church. The earthly aspect was secondary. It always was.

And so what we find in Galatians chapter 3 verse 29 is that the Bible plainly connects salvation in the church in Christ Jesus to the promise made to Abraham that most people think is specifically and only to the Jews and exclusively to the Israelite people. And yet, that was a foreshadow of the church that is here with us today.

So, here are some facts about Israel according to the Scriptures that we’ve just looked at.

First of all, Israel is not God’s chosen people any longer.

Number two, Israel today does not have a biblical right to the promised land.

Number three, Jesus is not coming to revive Old Testament Israel for 1, 000 years.

Number four, the kingdom promised in the Old Testament is the church, not political Israel.

And number five, the gospel is the only way for Jews or Gentiles to be saved. Romans 1 16 says the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

In John 14 verse six, our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father except through me.” And in John chapter three, verse five, Jesus told a ruler named Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

So what we’ve read is not an anti-Semitic view. It is not an un-American doctrine. This is simply Scripture. And that’s what My God and My Neighbor is all about. It’s not a political commentary. It’s not a contemporary discussion of events from a human point of view. It’s simply designed to go back to the Bible and understand what God wants us to see.

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