God’s promise to Israel fulfilled through Joshua – part 7 of ‘The Hope of Israel’

(This is an edited version of chapter 7 of Mauro’s book.)

Verses 43 to 45 of Joshua 21, throw light on the question we are investigating, namely the future hope of the Jews. The passage has already been mentioned in passing, but its importance demands a more extended consideration. Its value for our present purpose lies in the fact that it appears from it that nothing now remains to be fulfilled of all that God promised the fathers of Israel He would do for their natural descendants in the temporal realm.

Joshua (whose name means Saved-of-Jehovah), had by God’s express command, led the children of Israel across the river Jordan and into the land which the Lord had promised their fathers to give them. Furthermore, after a personal interview with “the Captain of the host of the Lord” (who could have been none other than the Lord Jesus Himself) he led them victoriously against their enemies, subduing one after another, until, as the record declares, ‘he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses’(Jos. 11:15). And finally, he divided the entire land among the twelve tribes, assigning to each tribe its inheritance, and to the Levites cities in diverse parts of the land.

God was with Joshua in a very special way; and through that chosen and well prepared instrument He completed all He had promised to do for the children of Israel; and this is plainly and most emphatically declared in the passage we are about to examine. The confusion and misunderstanding that now exist, in regard to the present status and future prospects of an ‘Israel after the flesh,’ would never have arisen had due attention been given to these facts of Scripture: (i) that God’s promise to the fathers of Israel concerning the land of Canaan went no farther than He would bring their descendants into that land, would give them complete possession of it, and would subdue their enemies under them; and (ii) that their continued possession of that promised land would then depend upon their faithfulness to Him and their obedience to His commandments.

Accordingly, when the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had fulfilled to their seed, through Joshua, all He had pledged Himself to do for them, all of which He faithfully accomplished to the last detail, notwithstanding their many and great provocations during the forty years, He suffered their manners in the wilderness, then the promises to the fathers were fulfilled so completely that ‘there failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel’ (Jos. 21:45). Therefore, they stood thenceforth, as to their relations with God, wholly upon the conditional covenant He made with them through Moses (Deut. 29:1), which we have considered in the previous chapters. The details of that substituted covenant, which is strangely ignored by Bible teachers in our day, occupy the greater part of the Book of Deuteronomy. The substance of it was, as we have already seen, that, upon the express condition that the children of Israel would diligently keep the commandments of God – those commandments being of the essence of the covenant – He would plant them firmly in that land, would establish them in permanent possession of it, and would, moreover, give them to enjoy certain specified blessings in it. But if, on the other hand, they should be disobedient, should adopt the customs of the people of the land, and should forsake Him to worship their gods, then He would bring sundry curses upon them, and eventually, for persistent rebellion and apostasy on their part, would destroy them from off the land and scatter them among all the nations of the world (Deut. 28:15-68). This is stated again and again, in the clearest and strongest terms (See Deut. 29:23-28; and 30:17,18).

Certainly it is impossible to maintain, in the face of these plain Scriptures, and of what we are now about to bring to the reader’s attention, that God had obligated Himself to give the land of Canaan to the natural seed of Abraham for an everlasting possession. Moreover, those who so teach this overlook the fact that, if God had indeed obligated Himself by His covenants of promise, not only to bring the children of Israel into that good land, but also to establish them in it forever, then it would have been a breach of covenant on His part to pluck them from off the land and scatter them among all nations of the world, as He has now done. But, as to the conclusions we should reach regarding this important matter, we are not left to an inference, however plain; for we have this clear record:

‘And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He swore to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that He swore unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass’(Josh. 21:43-45).

Here is a carefully worded record, clearly designed to arrest the attention and impress itself upon the minds of the readers of God’s Word; which record declares in the most emphatic terms that God had, despite all the provocation, contumacy and rebellion of that people, fulfilled completely ‘all’ He had promised and sworn to their fathers to do them; insomuch that of all the good things He had spoken concerning the house of Israel, ‘there failed not ought.’

But that is not all; for Joshua, when about to die, assembled all Israel, with their elders, their heads, their judges and their officers (Jos. 23:2), and after rehearsing briefly what Jehovah had done for them, he earnestly exhorted them to be “very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses”; to shun the idolatries of the Canaanites, not even so much as to make mention of the names of their gods; but to cleave steadfastly to Jehovah their God, as they had done during the period of his leadership (verses 6-8).

And then, with great solemnity and impressiveness, he warned them that, if they should ‘in anywise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of those nations… and make marriages with them’, then they were to ‘know for a certainty’ that the Lord would no more drive out those enemies; but would make them the instruments of His judgment upon the apostate people, ‘until you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you’(11-13).

And he concludes with these weighty words: ‘And behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.’

‘Therefore, it shall come to pass that, as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you; so shall the Lord bring upon you all evil things, until He have destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you. When you have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which He has given unto you’ (verses 14-16).

It is specially to be noticed that Joshua’s last message changes in character at verse 15 from an exhortation to a prophecy; and that, in the prophetic part of that message, he plainly declares that the then unborn generations of Israelites would transgress the covenant of the Lord, and that He would therefore destroy them from off the land. (That the prophecy had reference to future generations of Israelites appears from verse 31 of the next chapter, where it is recorded that ‘Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over lived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that He had done for Israel.’)

And now the whole world has been witness for nineteen centuries that God has done just what He said He would do. And is there to be, in time to come, a reversal of this Divine decree and judgment? Impossible. (I use that strong word advisedly.) For to begin with, there is no hint in the Scripture we have been considering of the reversal of this decree and of a return to the old order of things; and ‘God will do nothing, but He reveals His secret unto His servants the prophets.’ Furthermore, the terms in which God announced through Moses and Joshua (the founders of the nation of Israel) the destruction of that nation, exclude the possibility of its restoration.

And finally, it was necessary that the old covenant and all that was connected with it should grow old and pass away, in order that place might be made for the new and everlasting covenant, the ‘better covenant, which was established upon better promises’ (Heb. 8:6-13). It was under that old covenant, which had merely ‘the shadow of good things to come’- the glorious and eternal things of God’s everlasting kingdom – that the children of Israel took possession of the land of Canaan. And now, not only have the old covenant and all the shadows connected with it passed away, but they have been replaced by the eternal realities, which those shadows symbolised and represented for that era of mingled light and darkness. But ‘the darkness is past and the true light now shines’ (1 John 2:8); so there can be no going back again to the time of dimness and shadows.

It is of the highest importance that this truth be clearly grasped and firmly maintained, for it is of the very essence and substance of the gospel that, while there is mercy now for all men – pardon, life and eternal blessing – ‘through the blood of the everlasting covenant,” there is no mercy and no blessing for any, whether Jews or Gentiles, under any other covenant. There now remains no promises for any except the ‘better promises’ of the gospel of Christ; and for those who refuse that gospel – regardless their ancestry – there is nothing but the abiding wrath of God, nothing ‘but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the enemies of God’ (Heb. 10:27). It is owing to the glory of God and the honour of His gospel to insist upon this.
FROM THE DESERT TO THE RIVER EUPHRATES

Those who hold the doctrine of a national restoration for the Jews, and with a territorial dominion greater (so we are told) than any they occupied in their past history, usually refer to the word of the Lord to Abraham – ‘Unto your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’ (Gen 15:18), as affording support for the doctrine. The argument is – and it is regarded by those who use it as quite conclusive of the matter – that this promise has never been fulfilled to the seed of Abraham, and hence there must needs be a restoration of national Israel, if only for the purpose of the fulfilment of this particular promise.

But this argument is based upon a two-fold mistake: first, a mistake as to the facts of history, for this promise was duly fulfilled to Abraham’s natural seed, and the Bible contains clear records of this, as I will show presently; and second, a mistake as to the nature of the promise; for the promise in its fullness runs to Abraham’s true Seed (which is Christ), as clearly explained by the apostle Paul. This also will be shown below.

(1)
As to the historical facts. At Mount Sinai God showed to Moses how He would put the children of Israel in possession of their promised inheritance. He would not drive out the inhabitants of the land ‘in one year’, but He said, ‘little by little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.’ And He goes on to say that He would set the bounds of their possession ‘from the desert unto the river’ (Euphrates), and would ‘deliver the inhabitants of the land’ into their hand, and they should ‘drive them out’ before them (Ex. 23:27-31). This shows that the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, insofar as it was to be the temporal fulfilment to his natural seed, was not to be postponed to a far-off dispensation, but was to be accomplished in that era of the old covenant. And so it was.

Again, when Moses had brought the Israelites to the river Jordan and was about to leave them, he reminded them of the word of Jehovah spoken at Horeb, where He commanded them to take their journey ‘to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates’, and said, “Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them’ (Deut. 1:6-8). From this it will be seen that, as soon as the Israelites had crossed the river Jordan, they were constructively in possession of the of the whole land of promise, from the Red sea to the Euphrates river. And once again, in this last message, Moses says: ‘Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours; from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be’ (Deut. 11:24).

Furthermore, in God’s first word to Joshua after the death of Moses, He commanded him, saying: ‘Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, unto the land that I do give them, even to the children of Israel’ (Jos. 1:2). And what was the extent of the territory which God gave to the children of Israel at that time? The next verses answer the question: ‘Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast’ (verses 3-4).

Here therefore, we have a record of the fulfilment of the promise, considered as a promise of an earthly possession to an earthly people, in its widest extent.

But there are later records which make it yet more certain that nothing remains of the promise we are considering. Thus we read (2 Sam. 8:3) that ‘David smote also Hadadeger, the son of Rehob, King of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates.’ This record makes evident that the eastern boundary of the territory of the nation of Israel was the river Euphrates. It shows further that part of that territory has been wrested from them, and was occupied by the King of Zobah, and then when David defeated the latter he did not conquer alien territory, but merely recovered his own proper ‘border at the river Euphrates’. (See also 1 Chron. 13:3).

A little further on we read: ‘And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms, from the river [i.e., the Euphrates] unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt … For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side of the river’ (1 Ki. 4:21, 24. See also 2 Chron. 9:26).

So much for the “literal” fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and his seed.

(2)
But we learn from the New Testament that God’s promise to Abraham, recorded in Genesis 15:18, was much larger than appears from the words in which it was spoken; and we learn also that, while it had Abraham’s natural seed immediately in view, its fullness was intended for a specific seed, and for those who would be ‘found in him’.

For in Romans 4:9-25 Paul unfolds the great truth that Abraham was, in God’s sight and according to His eternal purpose, the father, not only of a natural line of posterity, but also ‘the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised.’ And in that connection he refers to the promise we are considering, and say: ‘For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith’ (v. 13).

Here we get a view of the vast extent and the true character of this promise; and we see also that the heirs of the promise are not simply Abraham’s natural descendants, but his spiritual children. And this is confirmed by what is written in Galatians 3:7. ‘Know therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham’, and in Galatians 3:29, ‘And if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’

‘The promise’ referred to in this chapter of Galatians is the promise of Genesis 13:15 and 15:18; and verse 16 contains an illuminating explanation of it: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, ‘and to seeds’, as of many; but as of one, ‘and to thy seed’, which is Christ.”

Thus we find that the promise to Abraham embraced the gift of the whole world, and that the true and sole heir of that promise is Jesus Christ; although, through God’s wondrous grace, all those who believe in Christ are reckoned ‘the children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:16,17). And this makes it impossible that there should be a future fulfilment of the promise in the realm of ‘that which is natural and temporal’ (1 Cor. 15:46).

THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE HEIR

But Scripture does not leave the matter there. Chapter 3 of Galatians states the positive side of the truth, showing, and with all the clearness that could be asked, that Christ and His people are the true ‘Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16), the seed of Abraham and heirs of the promises. But chapter 4 presents the negative side of the same truth, making it evident that the natural Israel has no longer any standing before God, or any part in His future purposes. And further it is shown that the setting aside of an ‘Israel after the flesh’ is not a new revelation given to Paul, but was to be found in the typology of the Old Testament. For there is evident reproof in the words: ‘Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman’ (Gal. 4:21-22). Paul’s question implies that those who construe the Scriptures in the sense that is nowadays miscalled ‘literal’, should have known better. And he goes on to show that these things ‘are an allegory’ in which Hagar stands for the Old Covenant and her son, Ishmael, for the natural Israel; whereas Sarah represents the new covenant and Isaac, the Son of Promise, the true Israel. And the climax of the lesson is found in the words of Sarah, which the apostle here declares to be the voice of Scripture; for, in declaring what was to be the outcome of the controversy between the natural Israel, that which ‘was born after the flesh’ and the true Israel, that which was born according to the promise, being ‘after the Spirit’ and which was being persecuted by the natural Israel, he says: ‘Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ And he concludes with this comforting statement: ‘So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.’

It is superfluous to say that these New Testament Scriptures make certain that the national restoration of an Israel after the flesh is not a part of the revealed will of God, but that the reverse is true.

THE PERIOD OF THE JUDGES

The period of the Judges is one of repeated departures by the people of Israel from the right ways of the Lord, and of repeated lapses into idolatry. Yet He exercised great patience and long forbearance with them, not casting them off for one offence, or for many; but permitting them to have one bitter experience after another at the hands of their enemies, to teach them that their welfare, and indeed their very existence as a nation, depended upon their faithfulness to Him and their obedience to His law. And again and again, during that long period of decline, He intervened for their deliverance by the hand of one and another of the Judges.

It is recorded that, in the completeness of their apostasy and the depth of their degradation, “they sacrificed unto devils” (Deut. 32:7). And further to show the extent of their denial of God during the era of the Judges, we quote the following testimony from their own scriptures:

‘And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the Lord and served Him not’ (Judges 10:6).

Finally, during the regency of Samuel, the last of the Judges and the first of the line of Prophets, the wickedness of the people culminated in their demand for a king. And notwithstanding that ‘the thing displeased Samuel,’ they persisted in that demand, saying, ‘Make us a king to judge us like all the nations’ (1 Sam. 8:5-6).

This was a national sin of rebellion against Jehovah. Nevertheless, He did not cast them off, but directed Samuel to let them have their own way, saying:

‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them’ (verse 7).

This was the origin of the earthly Kingdom of Israel, over which David and his descendants reigned, and which the carnally minded Jews were, and are, expecting their long looked for Messiah to restore. And we see that, so far from being the Kingdom of God, that earthly kingdom involved the repudiation of the Kingdom of God.

Later on, Samuel, by the Lord’s command, gathered the people together, and after recalling what the Lord had done for them in days past, said:

‘And you have this day rejected your God, who Himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations, and you have said unto Him, Nay, but set a king over us’(1 Sam. 10:17-19).

Finally when Samuel was about to die, he addressed ‘All Israel’, reminding them of their grievous sin, and saying:

‘And when you saw that Nahash the King of the children of Ammon came against you, you said unto me, Nay, but a king shall reign over us, when the Lord your God was your King.’

And he went on to say:

‘Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call unto the Lord, and He will send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king’ (Sam. 12:6-17).

These passages make it abundantly clear, even were there nothing else to enlighten us, that God regards that earthly kingdom with utter detestation, that He will never restore it, and that when John the Baptist preached to the Jewish people, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ he was not announcing the setting up again of the earthly throne of David.