Archive for June, 2014

Does the Psalmist get it wrong?

June 23, 2014

There is a certain line among replacement theologians that suggests that it is wrong to assume that

(i) that “Promised Land” was given by God to the Jewish people as an everlasting inheritance; or indeed that

(ii) The Jewish people are God’s chosen people.

On (i), Stephen Sizer writes

“Contrary to popular assumption, the Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence is always conditional. For example, God said to his people, “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Leviticus 25:23). In Ezekiel, it seems the Lord anticipated the reasoning of those who arrogantly claimed rights to the land because of the covenant made originally to Abraham.

“Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’  Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you do detestable things… Should you then possess the land?’ … I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end.’ (Ezekiel 33:24-26,28-29)

The scriptures insist, residence was open to all God’s people on the basis of faith not race. Indeed, the writer to Hebrews explains that the land was never their ultimate desire or inheritance any way. The land was only ever intended as a temporary residence until the coming of Jesus Christ.  Our shared eternal inheritance is heavenly not earthly.”

If Sizer is right, then it would seem that the Psalmist did not get the message. Here are some verses from Psalm 105:8-11

He remembers his covenant forever,
    the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
    the oath he swore to Isaac.
10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
    to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
11 “To you I will give the land of Canaan
    as the portion you will inherit.”

The Psalmist (who, in v.11, appears to be alluding to the promises to Abraham in Genesis 13:15 and 15:18) sees the land of Canaan as a permanent gift and inheritance, not as a temporary lease. Granted – the Jewish people could be (and were) cast out of the land for disobedience; but the eternal nature of the covenant surely means that we should not be surprised if God in his grace would bring them back. Moreover, if Sizer wants to go a supersessionist step further and argue that the words “forever” and “everlasting” in verses 8 and 10 do not really mean “forever” and “everlasting” because the coming of Jesus has changed everything, he would presumably need to argue that God is not to be praised “from everlasting to everlasting” after all (Psalm 106:48), or that Jesus’ eternal priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is not “forever” either (Psalm 110:4), since the same Hebrew word, olam, is used in all four verses.

On (ii), Stephen Sizer writes: “The assumption that the Jewish people are God’s “chosen people” is so deeply ingrained, to question it sounds heretical or anti-Semitic.  Yet both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures insist membership of God’s people is open to all races on the basis of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 56, we see the Lord anticipate and repudiate the rise of an exclusive Israeli nationalism. In the New Testament the term “chosen” is used exclusively of the followers of Jesus, irrespective of race (See also Ephesians 2:14-16 and Colossians 3:11-12 concerning the unity of God’s people).”

Whilst the NT is clear that, yes, all followers of Jesus are “chosen” in a salvific sense, there is nevertheless still a (certain kind of ) “chosenness” to the Jewish people. Psalm 105:42-45 says this:

“42 For he remembered his holy promise
    given to his servant Abraham.
43 He brought out his people with rejoicing,
    his chosen ones with shouts of joy;
44 he gave them the lands of the nations,
    and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—
45 that they might keep his precepts
    and observe his laws.

Praise the Lord.

The “chosen ones” of v.43 can only be the nation of Israel as a whole, since the Psalm describes that nation’s history.

Clearly, much more could (and perhaps will) be said about these themes. For now, though, it seems fair to say that Psalm 105 weighs against these two propositions of Stephen Sizer. Whilst Sizer alludes to that Psalm, his failure to look at it in detail seems striking.