From Exile to the Promised Land

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:21-24).

The first few chapters of the Bible tell the story of the fall of man and his subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden under the curse of death. At the same time the promise was given to Eve of the Redeemer, the seed of the woman, who would crush the head of the deceiver (Gen. 3:15). From there onwards the Scriptures turn to the covenant that God made with Abraham to bless all peoples through his seed. Abraham is considered the father of Israel for to him was given the promise of a land wherein his descendants would be established as a holy nation and through whom the process of redemption would be brought to fruition.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-2).

When we trace the genealogies in Genesis we find that although Abraham was born more than one thousand years after Adam died Abraham was contemporary with Noah, who was contemporary with Enos, who was contemporary with Adam. Thus Abraham’s connection to Adam is not very far removed and he would have been well aware of the expulsion from Eden and of the promise of the Redeemer who would reverse the curse of death and restore fallen man to his former position in the Garden of Eden wherein is the mysterious tree of life. Until such time man remains a mortal being, subject to physical death, having been barred from partaking of the tree of life so that he can live forever (Genesis 3:22).

Where is the Garden of Eden and how is the way opened for anyone to get past the cherubim and flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life? The apostle Peter referred to Jesus as the promised Messiah whom heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21). To be sure, the restitution of all things must include the restoration to the Garden of Eden.

The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17).

When the LORD told Abraham to look north and south, east and west, did he mean to confine Abraham’s inheritance to what could be seen from that vantage point? Was his inheritance only the territory in the Middle East that was later defined as the territory extending from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea (Deuteronomy 11:24)? Or is his inheritance the new earth that will be revealed in the resurrection at the restitution of all things? The Apostle Paul confirms that the redemption encompasses the entire creation: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21). He further declares that the promise to Abraham and his offspring was that he would be heir of the world.

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. (Romans 4:13).

In his epistle to the Galatians Paul emphasizes the fact that the seed of Abraham, is Jesus the Messiah, prefigured in the miraculous birth of Isaac, the son of promise. He is the rightful heir to the world, through whom all nations will be blessed: The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16). As the lawful heir he invites the faithful, who demonstrate the same faithfulness as Abraham, to be co-heirs with him and to share in his glory (cf. Romans 8:17-20).

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalm 2:6-8)

The Zionist movement is intent on laying claim to the land while eschewing the rightful heir who has secured an eternal inheritance through his victory over death (see the parable of the vineyard – Matthew 21:33-44). The conflict over the land has thrust Jews and Muslims into a futile struggle in which both sides forfeit the eternal inheritance, for all who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah will die in their sins and be eternally condemned (cf. John 8:24). For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:25). David Ben-Gurion acknowledged that the Zionist agenda would provoke hostilities with the inhabitants of the land: “We are the aggressors, and they defend themselves…Palestine is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.” When Lot quarrelled with Abraham over the land Abraham allowed him to have first choice of the land. Quite remarkably, it was then that the LORD promised the land to Abraham and his offspring (Genesis 13:1-14). Similarly, Abraham demonstrated that he was even prepared to sacrifice Isaac – his only son through whom, figuratively speaking, God’s promise of redemption was destined to be fulfilled – because he reasoned that God could raise the dead (Heb. 11:19). Abraham understood that God’s promise transcended this life and would be fulfilled in the resurrection. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 10:39; 19:29). Abraham left everything to follow the LORD and only such devotion to Christ demonstrates genuine faith.

The present return in unbelief may be compared to Abraham’s attempt to father the child of promise through his servant woman, Hagar. The apostle Paul figuratively compared the old covenant and the present city of Jerusalem to Hagar:

…it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother (Galatians 4:22-26).

The meek will inherit the earth in the resurrection but those who attempt to take it by military might – having rejected the seed of Abraham who holds the right of redemption – will have no part in the inheritance (see Mt. 21:33-46). The LORD said through the prophet Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit”. The present Zionist movement – backed by many Christians with a misplaced religious zeal that is based on a faulty understanding of the redemption in Christ – is erecting the very barrier and dividing wall of hostility between carnal-minded men which Jesus destroyed by his death on the cross (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

When the Israelites were delivered from their bondage in Egypt and the next generation entered the land of Canaan it was just the beginning of the process of restoration, the ultimate redemption awaiting the coming of the Messiah. When the exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple it was still just the beginning of the process of restoration that would be accomplished through the Messiah-Redeemer. God’s dealing with Israel in Egypt, in the wilderness, in the land of Canaan, in the exile and in their subsequent return after seventy years in Babylon were to serve as examples to us of steadfast faith in the redemption that would be wrought at the hands of the Messiah. These things illustrated, by way of shadows and types, the future restoration of all things since man was exiled from Eden. The Promised Land symbolised the ultimate restoration in the new heaven and the new earth.

Abraham knew that he could not receive or attempt to take hold of an eternal inheritance without the assurance of eternal life. He remained a sojourner (as did Isaac and Jacob), never receiving the inheritance, because he had faith in God’s promise to secure his inheritance through the heir that would come from his own body. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10). Moses was born in Egypt and never entered the Promised Land, seeing it only from a distance, from Mount Nebo in Moab, after which he died. Daniel spent most of his life in exile, dying in Babylon, but he was assured, “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Daniel 12:13).

These, (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses Daniel and all the people of genuine faith), were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect(Hebrews 11:39-40).

Unfortunately, many have lost sight of the hope and faith of Abraham in the city whose builder is God and have traded that eternal hope for a temporal hope that will pass away, as though possession of Canaan were the ultimate goal. The land was never intended to be an end in itself, but rather a means towards the restoration of all things. That end cannot be achieved by military might, nor political manoeuvrings. Only through faith in Jesus, the Messiah-Redeemer do the righteous become co-heirs of the new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness (cf. Isaiah. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation. 21:1).

Dispensationalists believe that the Jews, as natural descendants of Abraham, are destined to be restored to the Promised Land, whereas the Church, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, is destined to inhabit heaven, having never been promised any land. They evidently confuse the ultimate restoration of all things with the temporal restoration of exiles to the land of Canaan following the Babylonian exile. But Jesus declared quite emphatically that those who reject him will die in their sins and forfeit their inheritance. In other words, they will be like faithless Esau who sold his birthright. The notion that Jews will share in Abraham’s inheritance apart from faith in Christ is a false gospel!

After his encounter with the Roman centurion Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom (those who reject Christ) will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matthew 8:10-12).

One of the fundamental errors of the dispensational method of interpreting the Scriptures is to make a distinction between Israel and the church rather than between the faithful and the unfaithful. This leads them to conclude that God has two distinct covenant “nations” to which different promises have been given. The Scriptures are consequently also divided according to whether they “apply” to Israel or to the Church. This faulty logic leads to the absurd conclusion that Jews who believe in Jesus have ceased to be a part of Israel because they have been included in the Church, rather than the biblical teaching – using the analogy of the olive tree – that Gentiles are included with Israel while some Jews (those who reject the Messiah) are cut off while they persist in unbelief. The redeemed are one covenant people comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles whom God has joined together as one people. Such a distinction unwittingly undermines the very essence of the gospel.

The apostle Paul wrote: In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:2-6).

Dave Hunt, who insists on this false dichotomy between Israel and the church, writes:

“The true church is heavenly, not earthly, and no land on earth was ever promised to her….The major promise to Israel for the last days is that she will be gathered from the nations where God scattered her to dwell once more in the Promised Land and that Christ will rule over her from Jerusalem – a promise that would be meaningless for the church. The church was never cast out from any land, and it was never promised that she would return to the land from which she was cast out, as God promised Israel. Israel is distinguished from the church for all time by the land which God gave to her….In order for the church to take the promises that God made to Israel, one must deliteralize or “spiritualize” the Old Testament. It thus becomes allegory instead of factual history of a real people known as Israel.”

According to Scripture, who are reckoned as Abraham’s descendants and heirs of God’s promises to the land? Is it restricted to those who are Jews by either paternal or maternal descent? Does it include those who are not racial descendants but who are considered Jews through conversion to Rabbinical Judaism? Or is it those who have been “born again” and “converted” through the circumcision of the heart, done by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ irrespective of natural descent? (see Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11). It is abundantly clear from the passage below, as well as from many other Scriptures, that belonging to Gods covenant people is determined by faithfulness to the covenant and not by one’s birthright. The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah saying that because they had all become unfaithful to the covenant made at Mount Sinai he would make a new covenant with Israel, which he has indeed done through Jesus Christ. Faithfulness to this covenant determines the Israel of God.

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant– to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer (Isaiah 56:3-7).

The descendants of Abraham are those who are counted in Christ – the seed of Abraham – and they are heirs according to the promise.

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham… You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:6-9; 26-29).

The restoration to the land is not confined to time and earthly borders as we know them. Making “aliyah”, which is to go up to Jerusalem – the city in which the temple once stood and which was once the designated place of worship – has now been superseded by the spiritual reality in which the way back into the Garden of Eden, or Paradise, has been opened for the faithful. The writer to the Hebrews wrote: …you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22-24). Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “…a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. …salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:21-23).

In anticipation of this great redemption and restoration the prophet Isaiah said, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:8-10).

Jesus is the way, and the truth and the life (John 14:6). The true worshippers, the faithful, redeemed people of the Lord, do not go up to an earthly city or a place defined by natural borders, nor do they fight with the sword to take hold of their inheritance, for the way to the heavenly city – the city that Abraham was looking for whose architect and builder is God – has been revealed through Jesus Christ. They eagerly await the new heaven and the new earth, the home of the righteous (i.e. in right standing with the Lord) – who are declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.

He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new!”(the restoration of all things) … “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:5-8).

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him… “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:1-3;13-14).