Israel: The Land and the People: An Evangelical Affirmation of God’s Promises
|Book Title:||Israel: The Land and the People: An Evangelical Affirmation of God’s Promises|
|Author:||H. Wayne House|
|Date Published:||January 1998|
|Publisher:||Kregel Publications; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition|
|Review Date:||Sep 1, 1998|
In 1997, a group of twelve scholars and writers came together in Jerusalem with some burning issues to explore: the place of Israel—the land and the people—in God’s plan. The resulting compendium, edited by H. Wayne House, attempts to meet head-on issues such as replacement theology and the particular distinctives between the Church and Israel.
Jews for Jesus founder Moishe Rosen points out that the various authors of this book affirm “three truths: (1) the church is not Israel; (2) God is not finished with His people, the Jews; (3)the church (made up primarily of Gentiles and a remnant of Jews) is comprised of God’s people but has a different goal and different future than Israel has.” Similarly, general editor H. Wayne House affirms the volume’s purpose as one that “encourages the reader and the broader Christian family, both Jew and Gentile, to rejoice in the special place that God has for His chosen people, the Jews, and that more of this remnant will be led to completeness in the recognition that Yeshua came as Savior, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile” (Introduction, pp. 10-11).
The contributions are divided among four categories: “Identity Issues,” “Historical Issues,” “Biblical Issues,” and “Theological Issues.”
In the “Identity Issues” section, Ronald B. Allen expounds upon “The Land of Israel,” arguing for an ongoing place for God’s promise of Eretz Israel to the Jewish people. For example, he points out that “the dimensions of the land grant to Abram were never fully realized in the experience of Israel in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures.…This realization of God’s promise, we believe, will be fulfilled when the Lord Jesus returns to the earth to establish His glorious kingdom. Then the land promise of the covenant will be realized, for the promises of God, guaranteed by His character, may not be revoked” (pp. 24-25).
Tuvya Zaretsky contributes a cogent look at “Israel the People,” complementing the geographical emphasis of Allen’s article with the issues of Jewish peoplehood, carefully explaining what it means to be the “chosen people.” Ray A. Pritz rounds out the section with “The Remnant of Israel and the Messiah.” He further unpacks some of the material in Zaretsky’s article even as he helps explain the relationship of the Jewish believer in Jesus to both the Church and the Jewish people as a whole. Pritz covers an aspect of theology often neglected by most Christians, namely, the theology of the remnant. These three treatments provide much to think about concerning the place, purpose, and nature of what it means to be Israel.
The “Historical Issues” section features a much-needed essay by editor H. Wayne House. “The Church’s Appropriation of Israel’s Blessings” not only gives insight into understanding replacement theology, but also the historical material on the early Jewish Christians will prove eye-opening to many Christians. Of special interest to those involved in modern Jewish missions is the material concerning how the first Jewish Christians sometimes used Jewish symbols to express their faith in Christ:
Not only did Pharisaic Jews seek to rid themselves of Jewish Christians by expulsion from the synagogue, they also sought to differentiate themselves from believers in Christ by introducing a double manner of wearing the phylacteries. This backfired on them because the Jewish Christians…adopted the custom with a different meaning, seeing the sign of the cross, changing this Jewish practice to a Christological significance (p. 95).
Today’s counter-missionaries never tire of accusing Jewish believers of “misusing” and “distorting” Jewish symbols. How enlightening to find out that Jewish believers of the first centuries, like their modern counterparts, also felt free to express their faith in Yeshua through Jewish symbolism!
Continuing through the “Historical Issues” section, Louis Goldberg contributes “Historical and Political Factors in the Twentieth Century Affecting the Identity of Israel.” He takes Hosea 3:4-5 as his keynote verses and includes a broad survey of the history of Jewish evangelism within the land, along with a survey of recent church statements which challenge the validity of Jewish missions. Included are evaluations of two well-known Christian organizations, Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, who share “their love for Jewish people but with no offer of a message of salvation” (p. 131). Goldberg points out the problems with these and other organizations like them who put a low if nonexistent emphasis on evangelizing the Jewish people.
Goldberg says that he does not question that many such “Christian Zionists” are believers. However, sometimes such believers fail to share the claims of Yeshua for his deity, or fail to talk about his death as the exclusive means of salvation. They fail to do so because they know that many Jewish people consider those doctrines offensive. In withholding this witness, three things result. First, there is a moral question raised since the believer is holding back information he or she knows must be conveyed to all peoples. Second, such behavior sets an example to the younger generations to “waffle” on basic doctrines if proclaiming them causes conflict. Third, this behavior could lead to future generations dispensing with such basic doctrines altogether. This analysis will undoubtedly be eye-opening for many readers.
The third section on “Biblical Issues” consists of largely exegetical treatises. It begins with a look at “Israel in Romans 9-11” by Harold W. Hoehner. This Romans passage is critical to the understanding of the place of Israel in God’s plan and crucial to seeing the importance of Jewish evangelism, and indeed, of all evangelism. What is especially helpful is that Hoehner lays out the various exegetical options and clearly states his own conclusion. Hoehner does a masterful job of exegeting Romans 11, showing that two-covenant theology (according to which the Jews have a separate way of salvation) cannot be found in that chapter. To the contrary, Paul speaks of the urgency of bringing the gospel to the Jewish people as well as the Gentiles.
Ralph H. Alexander speaks to “A New Covenant—An Eternal People (Jeremiah 31).” It is a helpful exegesis of a passage critical to understanding the “new covenant” spoken of by Jesus himself. It might have gained additional value if objections to Alexander’s view had been addressed, and if the question of how the prophecy finds fulfillment in the church had been dealt with more fully.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., contributes “The Land of Israel and the Future Return (Zechariah 10:6-12).” He considers whether, as some teach, the return of the Jews to the land of Israel already took place in the return from the Babylonian Captivity. Kaiser cogently argues for a yet future return and devotes a helpful separate section to addressing objections to that position.
The first of three essays in the final section on “Theological Issues” is by John A. Jelinek on “The Dispersion and Restoration of Israel to the Land.” He unpacks the biblical theology of judgment and restoration in connection with the land and argues that it is a regenerated Israel that returns to the land (p. 240). This differs from Kaiser’s analysis in which he points out that it is true that the Bible contains both passages that speak of regeneration prior to regathering alongside those that speak of regeneration after regathering (pp. 216-17).
This issue of when a regenerated Israel will be regathered is an important question for today in light of the fact that some Christian Zionist organizations sponsor Jewish emigration to Israel (without preaching the gospel to the emigrants!). Their rationale is their expectation that once all Israel is regathered, she will then be regenerated.
Jelinek further traces the biblical theology of judgment and restoration from Leviticus and Deuteronomy up through Paul whose letters are shown to be informed by this very theology.
Largely done through an exegesis of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah, Robert L. Thomas contributes “The Mission of Israel and of the Messiah in the Plan of God.” One wonders, however, if the author has not shortchanged the role of Israel in the present age when he writes that “the mission of the servant Israel is in abeyance during this [church] period when God is visiting all nations to call out a people for His name.…The mission of the church during this interim period is separate from God’s mission for servant Israel.” Is there then no role for unsaved Israel in testifying of God or being a witness, albeit an unknowing one, in the present age? Thomas’ view that the “authoritative” New Testament writers gave “additional meanings” to Old Testament passages “not intended” for the original readers may also cause problems for some, as it (against Thomas’ intent) can lend support to elsewhere spiritualizing away God’s promises to Israel.
A. Boyd Luter writes of “Israel and the Nations in God’s Redemptive Plan.” This focuses on the outworking of God’s promises concerning blessing to Abraham, including blessings not only on the Jews but on other peoples such as the Arabs. Luter gives the scriptural examples of Lot, Laban, and Potiphar’s household as instances of those non-Jews who were blessed through Abraham and his descendants. In particular, Luter details God’s blessings to Ishmael, father of the Arab nations, and shows how those nations have been blessed by God. He concludes that “it is also the intention of the Lord’s redemptive plan that the Abrahamic blessing provide the basis for a present and future connection through faith (Gen. 15:6) in Christ (Gal. 3:6-9). It is a blessing that can, one by one, person by person, overcome even the tensions between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East” (p. 293).
The concluding “A Celebration of the Lord Our God’s Role in the Future of Israel” by David L. Larsen rounds out the volume. “Solid, exegetically based theology,” writes Larsen, “must be doxological” (p. 301). The author reflects at length on several areas in which we can praise God: for His sovereignty “as seen in the mystery of Israel’s election”; for His fidelity “as seen in the tragedy of Israel and her preservation”; for His mercy “as seen in the destiny of Israel and her salvation”; for His persistency “as seen in the responsibility of the church under the Great Commission.” The concluding note of praise emphasizes the need for a vigorous witness to the Jewish people.
There is no doubt that this book covers a tremendously wide range of territory biblically, historically, and theologically. Each chapter but one ends with study questions that sharpen and review the issues and are suitable for use in a Sunday School setting. Many of the questions would be excellent academic term paper topics as well.
The subject matter of this book is of crucial importance to the church and has ramifications well beyond the Jewish people. The questions raised and the issues tackled are often either ignored or the source of much polarization. Yet they address replacement theology on the one side and two-covenant theology on the other. Israel, the Land and the People could be helpful as a textbook for courses in missions, biblical theology, or even for a special course on a topic such as “Israel in God’s Plan.”
This reviewer’s concern is that this important book might not receive much notice in Lutheran and Reformed circles since most of the contributors adhere to a dispensational pre-millennial position. While it is certainly true that there are fewer scholars who speak out against replacement theology and two-covenant theology in the Reformed and Lutheran streams and even fewer who have spoken of a future for Jews in the literal Land of Israel, it would be unfortunate if Christians from these backgrounds could not be encouraged to learn about Israel and support her uniqueness. The publisher should consider a second, expanded edition drawing in a few contributors from a broader variety of backgrounds. The questions and issues raised are too important not to have the widest possible impact within the Church.
Color photograph plates of Israel, three indices, and extensive endnotes with each chapter add value to this volume. A number of errors were found (in the hardcover edition) in reproducing the Hebrew alphabet (for example, the frequent replacement of Hebrew final mem with a Greek mu).
The value of this rich volume far outweighs the shortcomings mentioned. Believers of all persuasions should be encouraged to read this book and use it for personal Bible study, as well as in the classroom and the Sunday School. This year as Israel celebrates her 50th anniversary, it should lead all Christians everywhere to celebrate God’s dealings with Israel—and more than just celebrate, to also pray, give, and witness to the end that, as the apostle Paul ardently hoped, “all Israel will be saved.”
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.