The Biblical Understanding of the Relationship of the Jewish People to the Land of Canaan.
Although I have already posted articles on this blog about the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel-Palestine, from a Biblical perspective, I feel it is necessary to revisit this issue once more (and probably not for the last time).
Let me say emphatically what I believe is the black and white teaching on this subject from a Biblical perspective.
The Jewish people do not own the land of Israel-Palestine. They have no entitlement to it by virtue of their Jewishness alone according to the promises made by God to Abraham and the Patriarchs in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, Gary M. Burge, sums up the issue quite accurately:
“God’s remarkable interest in this land can be explained by one undergirding theme. In a profound sense, Israel never “owns” the land of promise. God owns this land. Leviticus uses this idea to explain why the land cannot be sold permanently to others, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Lev 25:23). Israel here is viewed as a tenant in this land, an alien, a renter. The recipient of a gift for use. But not a landlord. Israel must hold this land loosely, because God will determine the tenure of its occupants.” (2010, p. 4)
Burge’s work has been endorsed by Walter Brueggemann, of Columbia Theological Seminary, perhaps the worlds leading Christian authority on the Old Testament.
The term “tenants” in the Leviticus quote above is not there by accident. Tenants do not own the land they live on. Outside of the conditions of their tenancy agreement with the lands owner (in this case, God), the tenants do not have any legitimate claim to the land.
“So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you.” (Lev 18:28).
“You shall faithfully observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the land to which I bring you to settle in spew you out.” (Lev 20:22).
The “rent” that the Israelites had to pay for occupation of the land was faithfulness to God via obedience to the ethical and religious traditions of the Law of Moses. Traditions that demanded that Israel treat all its inhabitants with justice and mercy.
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (Ex 22:21-24)
“When an alien (non-Jew) lives with you in your land, do not mistreat or oppress him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Love him as yourself for you were an alien in Egypt. I am the Lord your God “(Lev 20:33, 34. Emphasis added).
Right from the Exodus narrative itself we see that the descendants of Abraham did not have unconditional title to the land God had promised them. Implicit in the promise was that the Jewish people must live up to their end of the bargain or face exile, or, as in the case of Moses and the generation that was delivered from Egypt, not be allowed to enter the land at all. While God promised that they would one day have the land as an everlasting possession, this did not abrogate God’s demand that Israel can only occupy the land while they are living up to their covenantal responsibilities. The Holy land was not simply a homeland. Just as the High Priest had an entitlement once a year to enter the inner most sanctum or the temple (the Holy of Holies) this did not mean he had license to do what ever he wanted while there. He had a strict mandate that carried dire consequences if ignored. God was not “playing around or joking” about the severity of His demands for Israel as they were soon to find out. Nowhere in scripture has God’s demand that Israel can only have legitimate access to Israel-Palestine as a consequence of obedience to the Torah been revoked.
Nowhere in scripture are the Jewish people given license to mistreat non-Jews in the land in order to simply increase Jewish holdings in the land of promise. The inhabitants of Canaan previous to Joshua were not expelled simply because they were in the way of Jewish occupation of the land. Rather God had waited 400 years before expelling them for their own sins. Implicit in these scriptures is that it would have been wrong for God to expell the Canaanites just to make way for the Jewish people (regardless of the promises He made to Abraham) if they had not piled their own sins up to the heavens first.God would not dispossess anyone just for the sake of making way for the descendants of Abraham.
After the exile of Israel in 586 BC, the “second Exodus” occurred only when acknowledged prophets of God let it be known that it was OK to return. Laws about the treatment of non-Jews who had moved into the land while they were in exile are of profound importance to this discussion:
“You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezek 47:21-23)
The Jewish people are a people in Exile. No theologically Orthodox Jew anywhere in the world believes that the Exile is over regardless of the status of Zionist Israel. In a personal letter from an Orthodox Rabbi, he said, in response to my claim that Orthodox Jews believe the exile to be still on:
” … you said that “Virtually every Orthodox Jew on earth agrees to the fact that the exile of the Jewish people has not ended. The exile is a spiritual problem and cannot be solved by nuclear arsenals or secular European colonialist ideologies” is absolutely true and I don’t see why any Jew had a problem with it. Every Orthodox Jew, even the Zionist settlers, fasts on Tisha B’av, the Jewish day of mourning for the Temple and the exile, which will be abolished when our redemption comes. Every Orthodox Jew recites the prayers that say, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” (personal communication with Rabbi E. Beck)
Zionist ideology stands outside the covenental responsibilities of the Jewish People while in the land. As such the Jewish people are facing sanctions by God if they do not repent. Rather than egging the Zionist state on in its Godless treatment of Palestinians, we should be reminding them of their responsibilities to God and the dire consequences they face if they continue to ignore them.
The purpose of God’s promises was to “Bless all families of the Earth”, not give legitimization to secular nationalism. God’s desire was that Israel not be “as the nations.”, exactly the opposite of Zionist aspirations for their state today. Christians do not support an ethic that states that “the ends justify the means”, regardless of God’s plans for the Israeli state today, God never calls us to unconditionally support and endorse a regime that is in specific rebellion to His mandates.
Jesus said,“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) and a century earlier Rabbi Hillel (1st century BC) said:
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah.”
As is in complete accord with the voices of the prophetic, the sum of the Law and the Prophets is a statement of ethical responsibility. Not the ravings of a Judaic version of Nostradamus. A wise mans once told me…if your eschatology (end times theology) leads you to a view that rejects or even diminishes the ethical demands of God, then your eschatology is the problem, not the ethical demands of God for you towards those who are oppressed and vulnerable in your world.
The minimum requirement of Jewish people to re-enter the land was repentance. There simply is no precedent in scripture for God endorsing a non-repentant Jewish people to take the land legitimately. The Jewish tradition as given by the Three Oaths of the Talmud, also upholds this scriptural legacy as well, if not, even more so. This is why all those of the Christian persuasion who believed in the restoration of Israel in pre-Zionist times demanded that the restoration of Israel could only come after a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity. When the embarrassment of the fact that it was a secular Zionist movement that was charging ahead to colonize Palestine, a quick about face was required by the forerunners of today’s Christian Zionists.
One of Darby’s disciples, W.E. Blackstone, makes an interesting point about the Zionists:
“The Zionists have seized the reins and eschewing the help of Abraham’s God they have accepted agnostics as leaders and are plunging madly into this scheme for the erection of a Godless state. But the Bible student will surely say, this godless national gathering of Israel is not the fulfilment of all the glorious restoration, so glowingly described by the prophets. No indeed! ” (Blackstone, 1916, p. 240)
Suddenly those prophets that were telling us that a restoration of Israel was about to occur were now telling us that the Bible predicted the Zionists all along! But the fact is that the Bible will accord no such fantasy. This type of about face has been a regular fixture for the prophets of Christian Zionism. You may have heard of examples of this yourself.
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