Vol. 6, No. 11
~ Page 15 ~
The "land" that the Lord "searched out" (tur, "spied out") for the twelve tribes of Israel was the "most glorious of all lands," said the Lord, flowing "with milk and honey" (Ezekiel 20:6, NRSV). Daniel called Palestine "the Beautiful Land" (8:9; 11:16, 41, NASB). Jeremiah said that Jerusalem was "the throne of Jehovah" (3:17, ASV). A psalmist wrote that Zion, another name for Jerusalem, was "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," the city "of the great King" and "the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 48:2; 50:2).
Some 2000 years before Jesus was born, God promised Abraham that he would give to him and to his descendants all of "the land of Canaan" (now called Palestine) "forever" (Genesis 13:12, 15) for "an everlasting possession" (Genesis 17:8). But if the word God used, which is translated in most versions as "forever" and "everlasting," `olam, is rightly translated, then the Lord is "slack about his promise" (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), for from 70 A.D. down to 1948, none of Abraham's descendants owned any of Palestine.
The word `olam, derived from `alam, to hide, conceal (Davidson, 601), means a time hidden, indefinite or unlimited. The duration of `olam time is therefore hidden and indefinite. The context in which it is used tells how long a time is being considered. The land promise of Palestine to Abraham and his descendants, fulfilled in stages, thus came to an abrupt termination in 70 A.D. when the Lord allowed the Romans to destroy the Temple at Jerusalem. That long context of `olam in Genesis 13:15; 17:8, stretching from Abraham's day (c. 1921 B.C.) until the Jews lost all of their "holy land" (Zechariah 2:12), leads to the translation of God's words to Abraham: "I will give it to you and to your descendants on and on."
In reference to God personally, the context of `olam is not to an "indefinite" span of years, for God is "eternal" (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16). Consequently, the word "everlasting" as a translation of `olam in Psalm 90:2, "And from everlasting [`olam] to everlasting [`olam] you are God," is accurate.
Likewise, in reference to the everlasting existence of heaven and hell (Matthew 10:28; 18:9; 25:46; John 5:29; 1 Peter 1:4), the context of `olam in Daniel 12:2-3 is not of an "indefinite" span of years, but "everlasting [`olam] life" and "everlasting [`olam] contempt."
In other references to `olam, as circumcision, the New Testament context shows that the `olam circumcision of Genesis 17:13 is not "forever" and "everlasting" (Galatians 5:6; 6:15). Similarly, the length of a certain man's life in this world is `olam (Exodus 21:6), but it is not "forever" (Hebrews 9:27). The same thing is true about the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16) and the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 40:15) and the duration of the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:4): all are `olam but not "forever" (Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 7:12; 2 Peter 3:10). Jonah's time in the stomach of a fish was `olam (Jonah 2:6), which the context shows to be "three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17), not "forever," as in the KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASV, NIV, NASB, NRSV and the NEB.
The context around the `olam promise to Abraham and to his seed shows that the land would be forfeited if the twelve tribes misbehaved. The `olam land was conditional. Examine all the "ifs" connected with it: Deuteronomy 28:1, 2, 9, 13, 15, etc.; "if you . . . do all his commandments."
In stages the land promise was fulfilled (Joshua 21:43, 45; 1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chronicles 9:26), but sin brought expulsion from the land: first, the people of the northern kingdom were removed to Assyria in 721 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6-23); and second, the people of the southern kingdom were removed to Babylon in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:11; 1 Chronicles 9:1).
God could see penitence among the Jews in Babylon and he "stirred the spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia" to issue a proclamation: "Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel" (Ezra 1:1-3).
Among those accepting the king's invitation were "the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin, and of the children of Ephraim and Manasseh" (1 Chronicles 9:3).
At the completion of the second temple in 516 B.C., "the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity" kept "the dedication of the house of God with joy" (Ezra 6:15-16). Among the hundreds of animal sacrifices "for a sin-offering for all Israel" were "twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel" (Ezra 6:17).
During the captivity, Ezekiel (c. 570 B.C.) predicted that God would return the Jews to their "own land" (37:14). Vividly he pictured the joining of two sticks, portraying the joining of Israel's two kingdoms, making them "one nation in the land" (37:22). That "one nation" would have "one king," said the Lord, "my servant David" (37:22, 24). What a shock! David? He had died in 970 B.C., some 400 hundred years before Ezekiel's prediction. What is the explanation?
God was planning for the coming of a second David, and so the New Testament begins: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David" (Matthew 1:1). As David the son of Jesse was a king, so Jesus the Son of God was born to be a king (John 18:37). However, the kingdom of the second David would be "not of this world," a non-military kingdom sheathing only "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17).
But the Jews would not accept a spiritual kingdom of "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17), an invisible kingdom "within" (entos) the hearts of its citizens (Luke 17:20-21). Because the Jews "rejected" the One born to be King, "the kingdom" was "taken away" from them, and was given to a "holy nation" that would bear "the fruit of the Spirit" (Matthew 21:42-43; Galatians 5:22-23). The result of Jesus' kingdom that "comes not with observation," that is inside each person born again "of water and Spirit" (Luke 17:20-21; John 3:5), is visible, but the change that occurs in a Christian's heart is invisible: "so is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).
Sadly, one reads of Jesus that "his own people did not receive him" (John 1:11). They "killed the Lord Jesus," and God permitted the Romans to bring "wrath" upon "them to the uttermost" (1 Thessalonians 1:15-16). Jesus loved his people, and he loved their land: "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! . . . How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings! But you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37).
On Sunday before he died, as he approached the city, tears came into his eyes, and he said: "If you, even you, had known today the things that make for peace! But they are hidden from your eyes. . . . your enemies . . . will completely destroy you, and your children with you. They will not leave one stone on another" (Luke 19:42-43).
On July 16, A.D. 70, the last sacrifice was offered. The "great tribulation" had begun (Matthew 24:21). Children were eaten! On August 9, the Romans broke through the walls, and complete "desolation" followed (Luke 21:20). One million and one hundred thousand Jews were killed, and one hundred thousand were sold as slaves.
The second temple, finished in 516 B.C. in the days of Zerubbabel, had since 18 B.C. been refurbished and beautified by King Herod. In 27 A.D. the Jews said that the restoration had been going on for 46 years (John 2:20). On Sunday, April 2, 30 A.D., Jesus' disciples commented on the beauty of the temple: "Teacher, look! What stones! What buildings!" (Mark 13:1).
Even though the white marble stones were mammoth in size (50 feet by 24 by 16), not one was left on another, as Jesus had predicted (Matthew 24:2). Foundation stones, on which melted gold from the burning of the temple had run down, were excavated. An eyewitness reported that the area looked as if it had never been inhabited. No Jew was permitted in what had been called the "Beautiful Land," which Jesus also had foretold: "Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
An attempt has been made to show that Jesus was wrong. After Constantine became the first Christian emperor of Rome, he was succeeded by Julian (331-362). At first Julian also was a Christian, but then he turned savagely against Jesus and became known as "Julian the Apostate." To prove that Jesus was wrong, Julian set about restoring the Jews to Palestine. In addition, with the wealth of the Roman treasury, he began the rebuilding of a temple in Jerusalem for the Jews. Unsuccessful in both projects, finally he gave up, exclaiming, "Galilean, you have conquered!"
Another determined effort to restore the Jews to Palestine is political Zionism, fathered by Theodore Herzel in 1897. His work came to fruition in 1947 when the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. On May 14, 1948, the Zionists proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. The Arabs have protested from the beginning, but they were defeated in the Six-Days War, June 5-11, 1967.
The majority of the Israelites (as modern day Zionists are called) are secular. Many are atheists. The modern State of Israel was not founded by God, making one think of the Lord's statement through Hosea, "They have set up kings, but not by me" (8:4). God had been forced to give up on the Jews when they turned against Jesus: "the kingdom of God" was "taken from" them (Matthew 21:3). Since their rolls of genealogy were destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., no Jew today knows of what tribe he is a descendant.
However, there are devout, religious Jews who reject Jesus, not believing that he was the Messiah. They still look for his appearance, but they are not Zionists. They do not believe in human efforts to create a Jewish state. These anti-Zionist Jews are called the Satmar Hasidic sect, headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y. Their chief rabbi has said that the modern State of Israel is "an abomination that can only delay God's redemption of the Jewish people." On the other hand, some Jews believe that the existing State of Israel is a providential step on the way to the coming of the Messiah. Dr. B.L. Turner has written that there will be "a gathering of the Jewish people which is to occur following the coming of the Messiah."
In 1975 a Jewish tour guide, a veteran of the Six-Days War (June 5-11, 1967), told our group, as we completed a tour of Palestine at Joppa, that he believes, when the Messiah comes, he will take over the present State of Israel and begin a world-wide reign as an earthly king. He was surprised that I did not believe him. He said, "Don't you believe it? Billy Graham does!"
Then there are some Jews, and many non-Jews, who believe in Jesus, saying that Jesus will come again to restore all Jews to the "Beautiful Land" and that he will begin a thousand year reign over all the earth. All of these Jews and non-Jews ignore the fact that God has no "holy land" today anymore than any other land is holy. Biblically based Christians do not look forward to living in a corrupted and defiled Palestine, but to "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled," that "fades not away, reserved in heaven" (1 Peter 1:4).
Biblically based Christians do not believe that Jesus will set a foot on this earth again, for they live in the faith that Jesus will "descend from heaven" to meet them "in the air" to take them, not to Palestine, but to "my Father's house" (John 14:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Their minds are "set" on "things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth" (Colossians 3:2). Their yearning is not for "the Jerusalem that now is," but for "the Jerusalem that is above," the "city which is to come," having "the splendor of God" (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 13:14; Revelation 21:11).