Archive for August, 2012

Who’s meek? Which land?

August 27, 2012
It may shock you to learn that the words of Yeshua, the King of the Jews and the Consolation of Israel, are used by some to question God’s promise of the land of Canaan to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet that is precisely what some replacement theologians do. Are they correct?
Does Yeshua teach replacement theology?
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Yeshua, Beatitudes, Matthew 5:5)
In his influential book Whose Promised Land? Anglican theologian Colin Chapman notes that this verse, which itself is a quotation from Psalm 37:11, is Yeshua’s only “clear and obvious reference to the land.”For Chapman, “the Greek word translated ‘earth’ (gen) can also mean ‘land’; and the Hebrew word which lies behind this Greek word is eretz, the word that is used throughout the Old Testament for ‘the land’ [of Israel]… Jesus is therefore saying that ‘the meek will inherit the land’, and the expression is taken from Psalm 37, which contains no further than 7 references to ‘the land’ or ‘the inheritance’ (Ps. 37:3, 9, 11, 18, 22, 29, 34).”2 According to Chapman, “The Psalmist was obviously thinking of the land of Palestine, ‘the land which the Lord has given you as an inheritance’. On the lips of Jesus, however, the land now begins to take on a new meaning: those who will inherit and possess the land and dwell securely in it for ever are the poor in spirit – presumably of any nation – who mourn and are meek.”3 In other words, according to Chapman, Yeshua is teaching that the Jewish people have no legitimate Biblical claim on the land of Israel; the only people who have a claim on it are those who are “meek” (i.e. presumably “Christians” of any nation). Chapman later maintains that “it is not appropriate for Christians to interpret the recent history of Israel/Palestine in terms of the fulfilment of the promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants and the prophecies of a return of Jewish exiles to the land.”4 In short, Chapman uses Yeshua’s words to support replacement theology. Is he right?
Psalm 37 and Matthew 5:5: a closer look
Chapman’s argument is flawed because he does not examine the Biblical languages sufficiently carefully. He omits to mention that, in the Tanakh, eretz can mean “earth” as well as “land” (e.g. Genesis 1:1) The Hebrew definite article ha or etmakes it clear when the land of Israel is being referred to specifically (e.g. Psalm 105:11, Exodus 6:8). By contrast, in Psalm 37, eretz appears throughout without the definite article ha or et. It is therefore far from certain that the Psalmist is talking about the land of Israel, as opposed to simply “the earth”. There is a future dimension (v. 37-v 40): ultimately, “those who trust in the Lord and do good”, “the meek”, “the blameless” and “the righteous” will inherit “the earth”. In other words, Psalm 37 is foreshadowing “the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). David is not commenting on who inhabits the land of Israel!
The Beatitudes also has a global or universal future dimension (e.g. Matthew 5:3b, 7, 10b). This suggests that gen here means “the earth”, as it does in Matthew 28:18 – “All authority in heaven and on earth”. (By contrast, in Matthew 2:20 and 2:21, the land of Israel is referred to specifically as gen Israel.) Far from giving the word gen a new meaning, Yeshua in Matthew 5:5 is making a similar point to that made by David in Psalm 37. Ultimately, the (new heavens and the new) earth will be inhabited by those with the characteristics described in Matthew 5:3-10. Yeshua is not talking about who inhabits the land of Israel! Chapman’s argument is therefore wrong.
The sound of silence?
For Chapman, the fact that Yeshua otherwise said nothing specific about the land is “surprising… against the background of typical Jewish hopes and expectations of the first century… Jesus had so little to say specifically about the land because the main focus of his teaching was on the coming of the kingdom of God” (e.g. Mark 1:15).5Yet an argument from silence is weak, particularly coming from an Anglican who presumably baptises infants despite their being no clear Biblical injunction to do so! At the time of Yeshua’s ministry, many Jewish people were still in the land, which was therefore not mentioned because it was not an issue. More positively, Yeshua’spresumption is that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Any departure from something laid out in the Old Testament should therefore only be on the basis of a clear teaching in the New – for example, concerning the food laws (Mark 7:19), the Temple sacrifices (Hebrews), or circumcision for Gentile proselytes (Galatians). There is no clear New Testament teaching abrogating the promises of the land to the Jewish people.
Ethical issues
Based on an equally shaky interpretation of Psalm 37:11 and Matthew 5:5, Chapman’s fellow pro-Palestinian replacementist Stephen Sizer asks whether, “due to its present expansionist policies, the State of Israel might not expect another exile rather than a restoration.”6 According to this argument, the heavily armed, modern state of Israel can scarcely be described as “meek”, and therefore its continued existence cannot be taken for granted. Yet this argument begs a question, which replacementists neither ask nor answer. For what reason did the Palestinians losethe land? Was it because they lacked meekness?  Arabs forcibly resisted Jewish resettlement in the land almost from the outset; Palestinian Christians were not immune from this trend.7 Since then, has Palestinian society shown itself to be “meek”? This is questionable, given the militarist rhetoric and anti-Jewish sentiment of significant sectors of Palestinian society. 8 If “meekness” is indeed a requirement for retaining residency of “the land”, then it needs to be applied even-handedly toboth Israelis and Palestinians, not simply used as a stick with which to beat Israel!
Biblical theology
Even if Chapman is correct to argue that Psalm 37 and Matthew 5:5 are referring specifically to the land of Israel, does the requirement for “meekness” rule out the modern state of Israel? A survey of those texts in their Biblical contexts suggests not. David wrote Psalm 37 before the first exile. The requirement for “meekness” did not stop God bringing Israel back to the land. Were all those who returned from exile “meek”, as defined in Psalm 37? This seems unlikely, given that shortly after the return from the exile, the people were neglecting the Temple, breaking the Sabbath, and marrying foreign women (Nehemiah 13:101—1, 15-16, 23-24). Yet God, who knows all things, had nevertheless graciously restored his people to the land. Yeshua, meanwhile, spoke Matt. 5:5 before the second exile. If the requirement for “meekness” did not stop a gracious restoration to the land after the first exile, nor should it stop a gracious restoration to the land following the second exile, even though the majority of Jewish people are back in the land in unbelief. Elsewhere in Scripture, “meekness” can follow restoration to the land, rather than being a pre-condition for it (Ezekiel 36:24).
Replacement theologians argue that the modern state of Israel is not a fulfilment of Biblical promises and prophecies. A correct treatment of Psalm 37:11 and Matthew 5:5 does not support their position. Rather, those texts foreshadow the new heavens and the new earth, which will be inhabited by those whom God has made “meek” through Yeshua. Elsewhere, Scripture promises a specific piece of land to the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The prophets saw a day when that people would be restored to that land, and there brought to repentance and faith in “the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). May it happen quickly, and even in our day, for the glory of His name.
1. Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? The Continuing Crisis over Israel and Palestine (3rd edition, Lion 2002) 154
2. Ibid 156 (emphasis in original)
3. Ibid 156 (emphasis added)
4. Ibid 190
5. Ibid 155
6. Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (IVP 2004) 163-164
7. See
8. See
This article first appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance’s Chai magazine.