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Did Jesus Give Away the Land of Israel to Christians? (Matthew 5:5) Part 2

Photo courtesy of The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation

Introduction

It is next to impossible to not know what the heartfelt cry, “Stop the Steal” refers to. In the aftermath of the November 3, 2020 presidential race, there are a great number of Trump supporters who believe the election was stolen; thus the declared winner of that contest, Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.

Along with the questionable belief that the election victory of former President Dοnald Trump was pilfered from the former POTUS, we find various conspiratorial assumptions fermenting among a select segment of his support base. According to some conspiracy subscribers, as reported by Joel Lawrence from Center for Pastor Theologians, God has promised to give President Trump another four years in the White House and the “Deep State” has been working to thwart the will of the Lord (“Faith, Apocalypse, and Nationalism: Why Evangelicals are Vulnerable to Conspiracy Theories”, Center for Pastor Theologians, 01/25/2021).

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

From these alleged concerns comes the cry, “Stop the Steal!” In the January 6th insurrection of our nation’s capital, we heard the cry repeatedly among those who stormed our nation’s treasured buildings and from those who protested “peacefully” outside. Joel Lawrence traces some of the roots that led to the “Stop the Steal” protest:

According to the Presidential narrative, this vast conspiracy involved Hugo Chavez, Dominion voting machines, Republican governors and Secretaries of State, Democratic poll workers in largely African American cities, Antifa, and countless others. These theories thrived in an environment of conspiracy, eventually leading to an attack on the United States Capitol, in which five people lost their lives and the safety of legislators were threatened.

“Faith, Apocalypse, and Nationalism: Why Evangelicals are Vulnerable to Conspiracy Theories”, Center for Pastor Theologians, 01/25/2021

The important takeaway is that President Trump, along with an extensive team of lawyers and advisors claimed without evidence in court, the 2020 vote for the president was rigged. Despite the data to the contrary, a majority of Trump supporters still aggressively believe the election was poached from the 45th president.

The steal of the identity of the nation of Israel

This author does not hesitate to apply the term “steal” to the teaching among conservative replacement theologians who profess the nation of Israel has been replaced by the church. Essentially, Replacement Theology(RT) maintains the Church or even Jesus is the “new Israel”.

If Jesus or the Church is the “new” Israel, God’s chosen nation has been replaced by a greater spiritual reality. Therefore, the status of Israel is reduced from a people who are the “elect of God” to a community “abandoned by God” when it comes to His national promises to the Jewish people. If this teaching is not true, then these academics, pastors and theologians are guilty of stealing the rightful God-given identity of Israel and misapplying this divine status to the Church.

Photo from Winnipeg Free Press March 24, 2021 https://bit.ly/3qsVFXY

The root of this thinking is the misunderstanding of the election of Israel. The chosen status of the Jewish people has been misread by the Jewish nation’s detractors and supporters in several ways:

1) Many believe chosenness implies the Jewish people are superior to other peoples. Since ethnic or racial superiority is contrary to biblical truth, the Jewish people have disqualified themselves to be divine representatives on earth. This responsibility, according to RT advocates has been transferred over to the Church. This erroneous impression of Israel’s runaway self-importance and superiority is absent from traditional Jewish teaching. if anything, God’s election of Israel calls for the nation to have a greater moral and spiritual responsibility before God and man.

2) Others wrongly maintain Israel’s election grants divine approval of all Israel’s decisions and actions when it comes to the Palestinians. A simple perusing of Israel’s 73-year history demonstrates the nation’s constant examination of its relationship with the Palestinians. On several occasions, Israelis have taken to the streets in protest of the IDF’s actions towards their Arab neighbors. The Jewish nation displays little evidence their concept of chosenness provides them a free pass when it comes to unfair treatment towards those who oppose the establishment of the Jewish state. Once again, anti-Israel evangelicals are grossly mistaken to try to belittle Israel’s elect status because of the Jewish state’s perceived or actual mistreatment of other peoples. When necessary, Israel has proven time after time its willingness for self-examination and self-correction in regards to the Palestinian people.

3) Israel’s election, according to some Christian Zionists, is an alternative for Jewish people needing to believe in the Messiah Yeshua. Christian Zionists who hold to this viewpoint believe are truly supportive of Israel. Yet they are not true to the divine plan for the Jewish nation which includes accepting Yeshua as the promised Messiah. Backing the nation of Israel by Christian Zionists is greatly appreciated by the Jewish nation. However, these well-meaning Christians are pilfering from Israel the blessing of finding redemption in Yeshua.

Due to this fallacious grasp of the election of Israel, many evangelical theologians are susceptible to eliminating Israel from God’s eternal plan for the nation. One of the ways this depreciation pans out is through the teaching Israel has been replaced by the triumphant Church that DID accept Yeshua as Messiah. I often wonder if we applied these same tests of moral superiority and unchecked behavior to evangelicals, how well our elect status would hold together? Church history-both ancient and modern-is filled with numerous occasions when the Church has behaved in ways that betrayed its elect status. Yet to select evangelical scholars, the moral test only applies to Israel.

in contrast, the Apostle Paul warns Gentile Christians, “do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Romans 11:18–21 ESV).

The steal of the land once promised to the people of Israel

RT advocates the Old Testament land promises no longer describe a geographical space. The nation Israel failed to enter into the physical and spiritual rest to be found in the Promised Land. Presently the land promises have been overhauled. These Christian academics teach the spiritual rest Israel was to experience in the physical land of Israel can now be encountered in the promised spiritual rest in Jesus minus the possession of the land. Some Christian thinkers have added the land of Israel was merely a shadow of the ultimate eternal rest experienced in heaven or in Yeshua.

Thus, the geographical promise of the land of Israel made to the Jewish nation has been transformed into a spiritualized improvement. The spiritual rest in the Son of God appeals especially to those evangelicals who have bought into a Gnostic dualism in which the material world is inferior to the transcendent reality of heaven. If the material land promises now refer to Jesus or heaven or the Church, then the Old Testament promises to the Jewish people are null and void or unnecessary. We now have the greater spiritual reality that the land promised to Abraham pointed to.

In the opinion of this author, the belief system of Replacement Theology is a “steal” of Israel’s rightful place in biblical theology. Once God made time-tested promises to Israel regarding a people, a land and a channel for blessing to others. Now these promises have been reinterpreted and confiscated from the Jewish people by replacement theologians.

Louis Lapides

This present series of articles focuses on the use of the third beatitude to disparage God’s promises of the land to Israel. The misapplication of the third beatitude is a prime example of how RT theologians have no qualms about deploying New Testament passages to support their theological system that supplants or steals God’s blessings from the nation of Israel.

Reviewing the Controversies Found in Psalm 37

The reader will find it hard to miss the fact Jesus is quoting Psalm 37:11 as the background verse for Matthew 5:5. Jesus quotes verbatim from the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX Psalm 36:11). The entire Psalm itself contains many allusions to the land: “dwelling in the land” (Psalm 37:3); “inheriting the land” (Psalm 37:9, 22, 29, 34); “the land” (Psalm 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34). Yeshua quoted from a passage replete with qualifications that govern how Israel will enjoy the promised land. Therefore, many questions arise regarding how Jesus used Psalm 37:11 in the third beatitude when He said, “the meek shall inherit the earth [land]”.

Western Expansion
https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/conestoga-wagon

To be clear, Psalm 37 does qualify the enjoyment of the geographical land of Israel for the faithful followers of the God of Israel. In other words, here are the fundamental requirements necessary for the individual Israelite who desires to enter into the blessings of living in the land of milk and honey.

As we shall see, RT has a cursory understanding of Psalm 37 and assumes Jesus was removing the land promises from Israel. In addition, Jesus handing these promises over to His “meek” followers who will inherit the “earth” in the form of an eternal home in heaven or earth under the authority of Jesus Himself in the Messianic future. This perspective is known as the “expansionist view.”

However, the question still looms regarding how Yeshua employed Psalm 37:11 in the Sermon on the Mount. When He used this passage in the beatitudes, does the term “land” refer to the land of Israel or the entire earth? Did Jesus expand the land promise of Israel given to the Jewish people to the whole earth and then turned over the promises to the meek to be totally realized in the final Messianic earthly kingdom? Does the term “meek” in Matthew 5:5 refer to the remnant of faithful Jewish people or any group faithful to God’s promises?

According to the RT perspective, the Old Testament presents a promise of a specific land area to a distinct group of people. However, in the New Testament, the promises have become universalized. The covenant made with Abraham in regards to the Jewish people now pertains to the entire earth and not to a limited land area.

To wrap up, the expansionist view argues two essential points: 1) those who inherit the earth are faithful followers of Jesus and 2) the land has been expanded from the promise of Israel to now include the whole earth. This viewpoint has major ramifications for the promises God gave Israel regarding the land.

The most important questions we will address are as follows, “Does Psalm 37:11 leave room for an expansionist view of the land promises? When David spoke of the meek inheriting the earth, was the King of Israel redrawing the borderlines beyond Israel?”

Surveying the Major Themes in Psalm 37

As one peruses Psalm 37 it becomes clear the overall theme of this passage has to do with the contrast between God’s faithful people as opposed to the unrighteous. Throughout this Psalm, we will be inquiring how this thesis plays out in the text.

Five overarching themes run through Psalm 37. These themes are best articulated by J.A. Moyter in the New Bible Commentary (J.A. Motyer, The Psalms, ed. D. A Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 508). Each one of these themes helps us comprehend the background of Yeshua’s quotation of Psalm 37:11. In these points, we will grasp how they flesh out a deeper perspective on who the meek are and what it means to inherit the land.

The faith that God is active in the world. When the reader stands back to survey the entire psalm, he is struck by the overall message: despite the unfairness of life, God is still active in our struggles. Though we may not see fairness and justice in the present moment, we can trust in the Lord to ensure honesty will rule in the end. Every detail of our lives comes under the watchful eye of the Lord. When Jesus spoke of the meek inheriting the earth, His reference to the “meek” describes those who walk in this world trusting in the goodness of God to meet their needs. They do not live an existence where they are out to grab all they can, but rather they know God is active in the world and we can lean on Him to supply us all we need.

The certainty the good prosper and the wicked suffer disaster. Here the psalmist demonstrates the contrast between two groups: the faithful in Israel (the meek) over against those who are faithless towards God. This essential comparison helps the righteous in the nation of Israel understand who they were before the Lord. Though they may not enjoy the same earthly treasures as the unrighteous, the Lord wants them to see the superior blessing of knowing Him.

The terms in Psalm 37 used to describe the faithful ones of God are varied: those “who wait on the Lord” (37:9), the “meek” (37:11), the “poor and destitute” (37:14), the “upright in heart” (37:14),  the “holy ones” (37:28), and the “people of peace” (37:37). Those close to God are blessed in knowing Him. However, this relationship does not remove any possibility that those devoted to God will be spared hard times.

Lincoln Eye
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

In contrast to the faithful, the unfaithful members of Israel are classified as those who “do evil” (37:1, 9, cf. 8), those who “are wrongdoers” (37:1), the “children of the wicked” (37:28), those who “prosper in [their] way” (37:7) and those who “carry out evil devices” (37:7). Even though the wicked may prosper for a season, we see the result of their rebellion towards God is ultimate judgment.

In the midst of the spiritual diversity between the faithful and the faithless the psalmist speaks of the “meek” who will inherit the earth in contrast to the wrongdoers who will lose out due to their lack of trust in the Lord.

The divergence the Lord is making has to do with the methods we use to achieve our goals in life. Do we trust in the Lord in the way we operate in life or have we bought into the view that prosperity is achieved by winning at all costs?

Louis Lapides

The warning against envying the prosperity of the wicked. Psalm 37 is an exhortation to the righteous in Israel not to worry about evildoers, but to trust in the Lord. In the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Willem S. Prinsloo suggests that “the righteous can be tempted to envy by the prosperity of the wicked and to fall into unbelief. The psalm teaches, however, that the success of the wicked is temporary, but the reward of the righteous is permanent and sure” (Willem S. Prinsloo, The Psalms, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003, pg. 388.).

Because God is righteous, fair and just, He can be depended upon to reward our faith. There is no need to despair over the success of the unrighteous. The true believer puts his confidence in the justice of God to vindicate a lifetime of commitment to Him even in times when that connection to the Creator does not have an immediate payoff.

The conviction that goodness is valuable in itself. Is it worth putting all your eggs in God’s basket? What if a true follower of God leaves this earth in poverty? Does it mean the Lord cannot be trusted?

As we navigate through Psalm 37 we notice the promises of God to His people. In Psalm 37:4 the worshipper of the Lord is told to delight in the Lord and He will provide the desires of his heart. In verse 5 we are encouraged to commit our way to the Lord and He will act. Then in verse 6, the promise is made God will bring forth our righteousness as the light along with our justice as the noonday.

Even if one leaves this earth with unmet needs, the act of living by one’s trust in God is a blessing in itself. In addition, “the success of the wicked is temporary, but the reward of the righteous is permanent and sure . . . Psalm 37 says that eventually, all will be well for the righteous” (Willem S. Prinsloo, The Psalms, ed. James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003, pg. 387).

The aim of persuading hearers to commit themselves to God. Throughout the Psalm, the writer lists various rewards for those who delight in the Lord. Some of these rewards are described as follows: providing the desires of the heart (v. 4); righteousness (v.6a); justice (v. 6b); abundant peace (v. 11); a heritage (v. 18); abundance (v. 19); a future (v. 37); salvation (v. 39a); stronghold in the day of trouble (v. 39); help (v. 40a) and deliverance (v. 40b).

The writer uses these rewards as motivations to become people who “wait for the LORD” (v. 9), who are “the humble” (v. 11), “those blessed by Him” (v. 22), “the righteous” (v. 25) and those who “keep His way” (v. 34).

Yet the one reward mentioned five times in Psalm 37 is the benefit of inheriting the land of Israel (vss. 9, 11, 22, 29, 34). Consequently, the Psalmist makes a differentiation between those who enjoy the land of Israel and those who will lose the reward of residing in the land. (Moody Bible Commentary, pg. 792).

In the Moody Bible Commentary authors Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham see a focus on the nature of the reward promised to Israel which is summed up in the eternal inheritance of the land of Israel. In the next article in this series, we will gaze deeper into the issue of faithfulness and enjoyment of the land.

The Jewish Study Bible picks up on this same theme. About Psalm 37, “It expresses the certainty that ultimately the righteous will succeed and will inherit the land, and the wicked will fail” (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, 1307). Therefore, it behooves a person who wants divine blessing to commit themselves to Him. In a sense, this psalm is an evangelistic cry for the hearer to take action and to not allow the success of the wrongdoers to cause him to turn from God.

After surveying the five themes of Psalm 37, we see the practical application of Psalm 37 is that the righteous are to continue to place their confidence in the Lord despite the prosperity of the wicked.

Yes, it is difficult to comprehend why the abundance of the unrighteous comes to them despite their behavior. Still the righteous are to trust in God despite the evil actions of the wicked. Psalm 73 teaches against despair, taking revenge, losing hope, and gravitating towards jealousy of the temporal blessings of the unrighteous. In contrast, the faithful are to trust in the ultimate justice of God.

In the next article, we will look at the particulars of Psalm 37 and especially zero in on the context that surrounds David’s statement describing how the “meek will inherit the land.” We need to ascertain what this text actually meant to the writer of the Psalm before we can capture the full thrust of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

Conclusion

I deeply understand unfairness. Not because I was treated unfairly. Rather, I was the one accused of being the source of unfairness. Back in the late 1960s, I was spared from becoming a death statistic while serving in Vietnam as a U.S. soldier. Yet my step sister was killed in a tragic accident on the day she graduated high school. Her life stopped short at 18 as she embarked on a potentially rewarding college experience and a hopefully successful career.

To my stepfather, I was the one who should not have been given the break while his daughter met her demise. He felt justified in his rationale. I came home from Vietnam depressed and confused about life. I turned to the use of hallucinogenic drugs and immoral living. In contrast, my step-sister had embarked on what was expected to be a fulfilling life.

Long after my step-sister was gone, I learned she was reading the Scriptures. Among her effects, I found a Bible, and stuffed in its pages was a church bulletin from a worship service she attended. In contrast, I was the one removed from any relationship with God.

I had no control over the fact my step-sister was taken from our family. I was not pulling the strings. I could not answer for God. Yet I certainly felt some guilt that I was left and my step sibling was taken. The questions from my mother and her husband came rapidly. Why was God so unfair? Why is life filled with inequities?

I can never understand the pain of losing a treasured child. Quoting pertinent biblical passages can be so trite to a hurting heart. Nevertheless, David writes to an audience who felt threatened by fellow Israelites, forgotten by God, and unsure of their future. When times like these trounce upon our calculated assumptions about life, our best choice is to trust in the God who acts in goodness towards us. The alternative is hopeless anger, irrational envy, and baseless vengeance. Thereafter, we soon poison our own souls with hatred and a torrid sense of unfairness. Only God can heal a tormented soul who has sunk deep into the thick mire of anger.

My step-father is gone. However, his words continue to quiz me as to why I made it made safely home from a combat zone while his daughter living in a peaceful suburb of Philadelphia was ripped from his heart I can only retort that God kept me alive to come to know Him. Hopefully, my departed step-sister also embraced Yeshua as her Messiah and Redeemer. In that alone, I take solace in how I wrongfully became the source of someone else’s failure to grasp the imbalances of life.

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