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.

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).
Conclusions
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.
References
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 https://largebluefootballs.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/palestinian-christians-under-the-microscope/
8. See http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2056
This article first appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance’s Chai magazine. http://www.bmja.net

DEXTER VAN ZILE: UPDATING THE ANCIENT INFRASTRUCTURE OF CHRISTIAN CONTEMPT: SABEEL*

February 28, 2011

Lengthy but worthwhile and well-researched article at http://www.spme.net/cgi-bin/articles.cgi?ID=7683

Palestinian Christians under the microscope

February 8, 2011

(Strangely, I have never heard those who accuse Christian Zionists of supporting allegedly racist Israeli policies talk about this.)

Palestinian Arab Christians did share some triumphalist, imperialist attitudes towards Jews with Muslims, even with their sense of jihad, to some degree. The earliest Palestinian Arab nationalist institutions were the Muslim-Christian Associations, founded from 1919.

Probably the most famous and influential Palestinian Arab (Orthodox) Christian intellectual of the inter-war years was KhaliD As-Sakini, whose views were unambiguously belligerent, and infused with anti-Judaism and antisemitism, although, to be fair, he did express disgust with his fellow Arabs when a Nabil Musa meeting, I think in 1929, broke up into cries of ‘Fllastin biladna, Al Yahud kalabna’. Nevertheless, he supported attacks on Jews in 1936, and the Nazis in WWII.

(From http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/hear-shlomo-sand-at-the-rsa-thursday-10th-february-1200pm/#comment-14101 )

“Sakakini often expressed humanistic ideas, and had a business card made out to read “Khalil Sakakini: human being, God willing”. At the same time, he defined himself first and foremost as an Arab, and is hailed as one of the founding fathers of Arab nationalism in the region. He was an advocate of Pan-Arabism and envisaged Palestine united with Syria. He saw Zionism as a great threat and believed that the Jewish right to the land had expired while the Arab right was “a living one”.[11][12]

During the 1936-1939 Arab revolt, he applauded the Arab attacks on Jews; worried that the rebellion’s violence looked bad in the public eye because ‘the Jews controlled the newspapers and radio’, he concluded that ‘the sword was mightier than the book’. On the grenade attack of a Jewish civilian train, he praised the “heroes” responsible.[13] After the attack on Jerusalem’s Edison cinema that left three dead, he wrote:

“There is no other heroism like this, except the heroism of Sheikh al-Qassam”.[14]

Yet the terrorism still bothered him at times:

“I feel the pain of the troubles, whether they fall on Arabs or on the English or on the Jews. For that reason you will sometimes find me on the side of the Arabs, at others times on the side of the English, and still other times on the side of the Jews. And if there were animals who suffered from even a faint whiff of these troubles, I would sometimes be on the side of the animals.[15]

Sakakini also came to believe that Nazi Germany might weaken the British and ‘liberate Palestine from the Jew’, so he supported the Nazis. He wrote that Adolf Hitler had opened the World’s eyes to the myth of Jewish power, and that Germany had stood up to the Jews and put them in their place as Mussolini had done to the British.[16]

Sakakini vehemently opposed allowing Holocaust survivors into Palestine, arguing that a human problem needed to be solved by all humanity. While saddened by events like the sinking of the Jewish refugee ship Struma, he felt that the passengers were in fact invaders that an independent Palestinian Arab government could have used force to prevent from landing, and he felt that while elderly Jews could come to live out their last years as in generations past, a thriving community under British protection should be forbidden.[17] He believed that the Holocaust was being exploited parasitically by Jews demanding a homeland in Palestine, who he said would throw the Arabs out as soon as they got it. Due to supposed Jewish influence in the United States, he believed that their right to vote should be revoked in that country.[18]”

(From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalil_al-Sakakini )

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