Shall Israel be Restored Again As A Nation?
Under the above title a writer, in a recent issue of a religious periodical, undertakes to give scriptural evidence in support of the doctrine that the natural seed of Jacob are hereafter to be reconstituted as an earthly nation, and as such are to reoccupy the land of Canaan.
This attempt is commendable. For it is surely incumbent upon those who uphold the doctrine above referred to, to bring clear proof thereof from the Word of God. Moreover, it will help the reader to form his own independent judgment on the important matter we are considering, if we call his attention to the passages of Scripture relied upon by those who hold the doctrine of the national restoration of Israel.
What evidences then does this writer advance?
First he quotes Jeremiah 31:35-37; and to this passage particular heed should be given; for of course the first witness will be one upon whose testimony special reliance is placed. Here is the passage:
"Thus saith the Lord that giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, that divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; the LORD of hosts is His name: If those ordinances depart from before Me, then the seed of Israel shall cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord."
Do these verses declare that the earthly Israel are hereafter to be restored nationally?
Looking at the context, which is the way to learn what is the subject of the prophecy, we find that the verses quoted above follow immediately God's promise of the "new covenant," which (He says) was to be "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which My covenant they brake." Under that old covenant earthly blessings were promised to an earthly people, including national existence and the possession of the land of Canaan. Those blessings, moreover (and it is important to observe this) were made to depend upon express conditions, to be faithfully observed by that people, and were to be forfeited if those conditions were not observed. But that covenant, the Lord declares, "they brake." And now, through Jeremiah, He proclaims the great fact that He will make, in a time then future, "a new covenant," which was to be of a different sort.
The Epistle to the Hebrews explains fully this prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the new covenant, the prophecy itself being quoted in full in Heb. 8:7-13, and in part in 10:15-17. It is the "everlasting covenant," secured by the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 13: 20). It is established with a heavenly people, those who are "come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem, . . . and to the church of the first born (ones) who are written (i.e. enrolled) in heaven" (Ch. 12:22, 23). It is "a better covenant established upon better promises" (Ch. 8:6). It is the covenant whereunder every repentant and believing sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, receives the forgiveness of his sins (Ch. 10:12-18). And finally, it is the only covenant under which God henceforth deals with any part of the human family; for Hebrews gives great prominence to the truth that the old covenant, with its conditional promises of national prosperity and an earthly country (promises long since forfeited by rebellion and apostasy) has been set aside completely and forever (8:13, 10:9).
Furthermore, our Lord Himself fixed the interpretation of this prophecy of Jeremiah, and showed that it has its fulfilment in Himself and His redeemed people ("the Israel of God"), when, in instituting His memorial supper, He said, "This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mat. 26:28).
Beyond all question therefore, the prophecy we are considering pertains to this present gospel era (not to some future day) ; and it has its consummation in that "holy nation" (I Pet. 2:9) which began with the believing "remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5), to which the saved from among the Gentiles are added, according to the revelation of "the mystery," which God has now made known "unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, (namely) that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body," etc. (Eph. 3:1-6).
But even if we disregard the context and confine our attention to the verses quoted in the article we are reviewing, it is plain that they contain no prediction that the earthly Israel is to be "restored as a nation." The promise they contain is that Israel should never cease from being a nation. Now it is easy to see the fulfilment of this promise in Christ and His redeemed people; for "Israel" is perpetuated in that "peculiar people" (Tit. 2:14, I Pet. 2:9) just as David's line is maintained and perpetuated in Jesus Christ the Son of David risen from the dead (see also Mat. 21:43, where our Lord speaks of the new "nation"). But it is simply an impossibility that the prophecy that the seed of Israel should never "cease from being a nation" should apply to the natural seed of Jacob; for they have ceased from being a nation since the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.
Further the verses quoted from Jeremiah promised that God would not "cast off all the seed of Israel, for all that they have done." And God has not "cast off all the seed of Israel" - a fact which Paul is most careful to point out in Romans 11:1-5. For there we read that God "has not cast away His people which He foreknew," but has accepted "the remnant according to the election of grace." And the apostle goes on to show in the same chapter, that these, with believing Gentiles "graffed in," constitute the "good olive tree," the true Israel of God.
In view of all this, which it needs no special gift of spiritual intelligence to discern, any one who cites Jeremiah 31 as a prophecy of the future restoration of the natural Israel as a nation is bound to show clearly where that prediction is to be found in it. But the article I am reviewing contains not a word of explanation to that effect. The writer thereof merely quotes along with it Jeremiah 33:25, 26 (where the prophet foretells, as he does in various other passages, the return of the Jews from the then approaching Babylonian captivity), and then makes the following comment:
"Thanks, Jeremiah, we know that you have much more to say that was given you from the Lord; but this is to the point and quite sufficient."
And not a word of explanation does he give to show wherein the verses quoted from Jeremiah relate in any wise to the political status of the natural Israel in a yet future era. The writer of that article appears to have a very poor opinion of the intelligence of his readers.
Next is quoted the following:
"Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone" - they were already in captivity when this prophecy was given - "and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all" (Ezek. 37:21, 22).
The context of this prophecy makes it quite plain that it relates to the kingdom of Christ and the "everlasting covenant" (see particularly verses 24-26). The oneness here foretold is the oneness of all who are in Christ, "whether Jews or Gentiles" (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:13-15; Col. 3-11). So it has always been understood by Christian teachers and commentators; and therefore anyone who now would put a radically different interpretation upon the passage is called upon to prove his case convincingly. The vision of Ezekiel 37 is one of a series which begins at chapter 34 with God's stern reproof of "the shepherds of Israel," in which chapter He makes the great promise, "Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out" (37:11). This puts us on the right track for the true explanation of these prophecies. But again the writer completely ignores the context; and again he makes not the slightest attempt to show that the passage prophesies the restoration of Israel as an earthly people. Therefore we need not dwell longer upon it.
Then we have this passage:
"And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim" (Isa. 11:12, 13).
This Scripture is part of one of the most glorious of all the O.T. prophecies of Christ and His gospel; and I protest earnestly against the attempt to put upon it a meaning that would lend support to the carnal expectations of apostate Jews. The verses immediately preceding the quotation are these:
"In that day" - what day? - "there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; and to it shall the Gentiles seek: and His rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand the second time to recover the remnant of His people which shall be left from Assyria, and from Egypt" - etc. (comp. the countries out of which they were gathered on the day of Pentecost, Ac. 2:9-11) - And then follow the words quoted in the article under consideration, viz., "And He shall set up an ensign for the nations" (the Gentiles!). So here we have a clear and distinct prophecy of the gospel, precisely as it was historically fulfilled in the begnning of this dispensation. Christ was to come as a "Shoot" or "Branch" out of the stem of Jesse (the royal house being cut down to the roots) ; and "the spirit of the Lord" was to "rest upon Him" (vv. 1, 2).
This "Root of Jesse" was to stand for an ensign (a banner or standard) for the people; and the Gentiles were to seek unto Him; and He should bring them into a glorious rest (v. 10). And specifically, He should first "recover the remnant of His people" (v. 10), and then "set up an ensign for the nations." All of which has been gloriously fulfilled. And so wondrously do the historical facts correspond to the inspired prediction that very few, I am sure, even in this day of what has been not ineptly termed "crazy-quilt dispensationalism," would have the temerity to take this blessed prophecy away from the redeemed of the Lord and apply it to an earthly people of a yet future era.
And when we turn to the article where the above quoted verses are cited, in order to learn wherein they speak of the restoration of natural Israel as a nation in a yet future day, we find no explanation at all. It is simply taken for granted that the "king" (spelled with a small k) is a mortal man, and that the people are "Israel after the flesh" (I Cor. 10:18).
THE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES
Our writer now turns to the N. T. and quotes (or rather partly mis-quotes and partly garbles) the scripture which says that - "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy" (Rom. 16:9).
The words I have italicized, which are a part of the same sentence with what precedes, are not quoted in the article at all; and the omission is highly significant, inasmuch as in this passage Paul, as "the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles" (v. 16), is citing O.T. Scriptures to show what were God's purposes and promises from of old concerning the Gentiles. His promises in that regard began with the assurance given to Abraham that in his Seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22:18). Those promises were renewed through Moses, David, and Isaiah, as the apostle in this passage sets forth. And those were "the promises made unto the fathers" that Christ came "to confirm." Yet the writer of the article we are reviewing ignores the perfectly plain sense of the passage, and takes it for granted, first, that God had promised the fathers of Israel that He would reconstitute that nation in a post-gospel era (whereas He promised no such thing, but the very opposite); and second, that Christ came to confirm that (purely imaginary) promise. Surely the importance of the matter at issue demands at least a serious attempt to show that the Scriptures quoted lend support to the view advocated by the one who quotes them. But none is made in the paper now under review.
Following this is a very cursory reference to Romans 11, from which several short bits are quoted, and again with no explanation of the bearing of the quotations. It is my understanding of the matter, and in another chapter (Chap. XVII) I have attempted to show, that Romans 11 contains proof of the most conclusive sort that there is no future in the purposes of God for the natural seed of Jacob as a nation, but that there is the hope and promise of personal salvation for individual Israelites - "if they abide not still in unbelief" (Rom. 11:23).
Lastly Acts 15:14-17 is quoted, and it is stated that the phrase "After this" means after this present gospel dispensation is ended. It matters little what era that phrase indicates, for the passage speaks not a word about restoring again the Jewish nation, but of raising up the tabernacle of David - a very different matter (see chapter herein on The Tabernacle of David). But the application which James makes of these words (quoted by him from Amos 9:11) shows plainly that the time indicated by the words "after this" was the time then already come when the convocation at Jerusalem was being held. A reference to the text and context (Am. 9:9-11) will abundantly confirm this.
Therefore, no other conclusion is possible from a careful examination of the Scriptures cited in the article we are discussing, than that the doctrine of a yet future restoration of the Jewish nation has not a scriptural leg to stand upon.
It would be, of course, a tedious business to examine minutely every passage in which old covenant shadows - as Israel, Zion, Jerusalem, the temple, etc. - are mentioned as symbols of the eternal realities they represent. Nor is there any need to do so in order to arrive at the truth of the matter we are investigating. A single plain statement of the New Testament will suffice for that. This, for example:
"Nevertheless, what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman" (Gal. 4:30).
In this passage the apostle Paul not only "spiritualizes" the O.T. Scripture (as in fact he does habitually) but he also makes it certain that all the unfulfilled promises of God are for the spiritual seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:7, 29; see also Heb. 2:16, marg. and Lu. 1:54,55). This should put the matter beyond dispute for all who accept the epistles of Paul as the Word of God.
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