The Land as Our Inheritance

When God called Abraham, he promised blessings through which all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3). Included in those blessings is the land promise (Genesis 12:6-7). The promised land is part of the Abrahamic promise.

This land promise is both overplayed as some identify the contemporary state of Israel with this land promise and undervalued as others see no fulfillment of this promise in Israel’s Messiah who is Abraham’s seed. The former think that the state of Israel is the fulfillment (or at least the beginning of the fulfillment) of God’s promise to Israel while the later believe the land promise no longer obtains after Israel was returned from Babylonian exile. I would like to propose an alternative as I don’t think either of the above options are viable.

Israel is described as the “people of [God’s} inheritance” (Deuteronomy 4:20; cf. 1 Kings 8:53) The land was part of Israel’s inheritance as the firstborn son of God among the nations (Exodus 32:13; Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 4:21). One need only to skim the Torah, especially Deuteronomy, to recognize the central role the land plays as the inheritance Israel receives from Yahweh as God’s children.

Psalm 37 is a good example how the hope of inheriting the land, living in the land, and experiencing the goodness of God in the land is intergral to Israel’s joy in the Lord. Disturbed by the prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist assures Israel that those who hope in and wait on the Lord will inherit the land. Six times the Psalmist promises–and Israel liturgically rehearses promise–that Israel will ultimately receive its promised inheritance. They will “inherit the land.” Jesus himself practically quotes Psalm 37:11 when he announces: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

As part of the Abrahamic promise, the land is not conditioned by the Mosaic covenant. This means that the intent of God to fulfill his promise to Abraham is not conditioned by Torah-obedience. Whether the nation of Israel at any particular time or individuals within Israel at any particular time possess the land is conditioned on Torah-obedience, but the ultimate fulfillment that Israel would inherit the land is unqualified. It is as unconditonal as the promise of the Messiah is.

On the analogy of Paul’s argument in Galatians 3, the promise was before the law and is therefore not ultimately conditioned by the law. Israel will inherit the land as God promised Abraham. It is a divine promise and God keeps his promises. More explicitly, Paul notes that “it was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise” (Romans 4:13).

This is a significant point–a critical juncture. The Abrahamic promise belongs to the children of Israel. The land is part of the Abrahamic promise. The children of Israel will possess the land; it is their inheritance.

But who is Israel? Who are the children of Abraham? Paul is, I think, clear. Since the “promise comes by faith,” it is “guarenteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law” (e.g., Torah-obeying ethnic Israel) “but also to those who have the faith of Abraham” (e.g., including the nations). In this sense Abraham is the “father of many nations;” he is the “father of us all” (Romans 4:16-17). The Gentiles (nations) have been grafted into Israel through faith (Romans 11:17). Those who belong to Messiah–those in Christ–are the children of Abraham and thus heirs of the promise (Galatians 3:29).

But does this include the land? Yes, indeed. As Paul phrases it, Abraham was the “heir of the world” (kosmos)….not just the land of Palestine (Romans 4:13). The inheritance of the children of Abraham is the world–the whole cosmos.

This is not a land we possess by violence or by purchase. Rather, we receive it by faith in the Messiah and on the ground of the faithfulness of the Messiah. The “faith(fulness) of Jesus” secures the inheritance for Israel and we participate in it through faith (Galatians 3:22). The Messiah is the heir of the all things and we are co-heirs with the Messiah through faith (Romans 8:17).

The creation is the inheritance of the people of God. We yet await, according to Romans 8:18-25, the full adoption into the family of God when we our bodies are redeemed (resurrection) and the creation is liberated (new heaven and new earth of Revelation 22:1-4). That is our inheritance. John reminds of the whole Abrahamic trajectory (Genesis 17:8) with this language himself in Revelation: “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (22:7).

The Abrahamic promise was first given to ethnic Israel but, by faith and because of the Messiah, it includes the nations as well. Perhaps on the new heaven and new earth the redeemed of ethnic Israel will dwell in Palestine–in the land between the rivers of Egypt and Babylon–but the whole earth will belong to the people of God as they again reign on the earth with God. The kingdom of God will fill the earth!

I think this accounts for Paul’s language about inheritance. He writes about inheriting “the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; cf. James 2:5). He praises God for the gifting us with the Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance which will arrive when God has fully redeemed his possession (people; Ephesians 1:14–that phraseology is loaded with Hebraic expression and thought). Through faith, Paul writes, we are “qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12).

The fullness of the kingdom of God, which is yet future, is our inheritance. It is the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise through which God will make Israel a great nation, a great name and bless all the nations. That promise includes the land–the whole cosmos, and it belongs to all those who place their hope in Yahweh’s Messiah.

Consequently, the new heaven and new earth as the renewed (new) creation is integral to the plot line of the story of God from Abraham to the eschaton. The earth is the inheritance of God’s people and one day the reign of God will fill it from the east to the west, from the north to the south. The whole earth, unlike its present condition, will be “Holy to the Lord.”

May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is heaven!



13 Responses to “The Land as Our Inheritance”

  1.   Jr Says:

    If you would allow me a moment of praise…

    O how this glorifies Christ!

    Probably my favorite section about this topic is:

    “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom 9:6-8).

    We never had a shot for how are we to be born a Jew if we are not a Jew? How are we to be an Israelite when we are not of Israel? Where is our hope for the promise?

    Answer:
    “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13).

    For “through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2).

    Praise God for His gift of grace through Jesus Christ!

    “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

    This is all so mind blowing.

  2.   rich constant Says:

    one more please JR.

    GAL.
    6:14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 6:15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation! 6:16 And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    john mark

    my contemporary way of explaining your second paragraph…
    which is almost but not quite,and is deceiving the Nations…and becomes a Self,fulfilling prophecy
    good or bad it is what i think…
    fractal geometry:introduced at the fall,death and curse’s
    A fractal is generally “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,” a property called self-similarity.
    self-similarity:
    evil=lie=deception=world view(humanism)=darkness=
    “what is truth”Greek sophistry…also “get behind me Satan”

    and then there is god’s…Light the very good of GOD…
    there is no variance in the light of the truth

    REV…
    22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life ? water as clear as crystal ? pouring out3 from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 22:2 flowing down the middle of the city?s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. 22:3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His11 servants will worship him, 22:4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 22:5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.

    22:6 Then the angel said to me, ?These words are reliable1 and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants1 what must happen soon.?

    22:7 (Look! I am coming soon!

    Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy expressed in this book.)

    if this is just tooo whacked out throw it out..
    blessings all
    rich

  4. Profile photo of George Mearns  George Mearns Says:

    John Mark,

    It’s always nice when a professor agrees with me – ha, ha. Seriously, I wrote a number of bulletin articles on covenants this past summer. One was looking at the land promise and the meek inheriting the earth along with the new heavens and earth. Thanks for your post on this. It will be interesting to see if others see it this way. God bless.

  5.   Randall Says:

    JMH,
    Thanks for this post. As always there is much here to edify me and I do look forward to living in the land.

    I do find it confusing that Gentile Christians would think of themselves as Jews; and I don’t find that concept taught by Paul or his contemporaries.

    “But who is Israel? Who are the children of Abraham?” — These seem to me to be two different questions rather than two ways of asking the same question. I certainly consider all Gentiles that have come to the type of faith that Abraham had to be his spiritual descendants, but how are they Jews? Granted they share in the promises God made to the Jews and may be thought of as having been grafted into the olive tree. However, when I read Paul I never get the sense that he confused Gentile believers (or unbelievers) with Jewish believers (or unbelievers).

    Thanks again for this and all your posts.
    Peace,
    Randall

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Randall. I always appreciate your interaction.

      When I asked “who is Israel?” it is a question about whether ethnicity is determinate for the promise. Gentiles are not Jews, of course, in terms of ethnicity. But in terms of inheritance, they are–they are Israel, children of Abraham. Romans 9:6 uses this kind of language. There is no confusion of ethnicity, but there is a union of the two in Christ as both are heirs of the promise.

      Blessings, John Mark

      •   Randall Says:

        JMH,
        I appreciate your perspective and agree that one’s ethnicity is irrelevant to one’s standing before God. But I may have a slightly different understanding of Romans 9-11 as I understand Paul to be addressing the (apparent) problem of Israel’s rejection of their messiah. Thus he points out that not all of Abraham’s descendants are true Israel, but eventually God will graft the Jews back into their “olive tree” when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Of course, what prompted my query runs deeper than that aspect of eschatology.

        The Covenant theologians and many amils in the CofC understand the church to be the group God really had in mind when he made many promises to Israel – and thus those promises find their fulfillment in the church. This concept is a little disturbing. If God made prophecies and promises concerning ethnic Israel in the common sense meaning that really refer to the (predominantly Gentile) church it seems to me that he kind of pulls the rug out from under the common sense meaning of his words. If this is so, then how could the church be confident she understands promises made to the church for their common sense meaning?

        I have never gotten the impression from your writings that you have accepted this aspect of Covenental theology or eschatology. It would also seem to run contrary to your (and my) expressed preference for clearly revealed doctrine over doctrine that rests to a significant degree on more abstract theology.

        I guess I was a little surprised to see you refer to the church as Israel in your post as I do not see the need to call ourselves Israel in order to regard ourselves as spiritual descendants of Abraham.

        Ismael and Esau never were true Israel even though they were physical descendants of Abraham. Only those descendants of Abraham and Issac and Jacob (Israel) that possess a faith like Abraham’s are true Israel.

        I do understand the point that Jesus may be thought of as the true Israel, but even he qualified as a Jew according to the flesh as the son of Mary and God. No disrespect towards deity is intended by that statement. Even though I am completely in Christ I have never thought of myself as Jewish as I view that as a position I enjoy rather than a practical standing.

        Thanks for taking the time to share you views with us. They are meaningful and edifying.
        Randall

        • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

          Randall,

          I always appreciate your interaction.

          Ultimately, for me, it is as simple as the promise belongs to the children of Abraham. Gentiles are included in the promise through faith in the Messiah. The promise includes, I think, all the promises of restoration in the prophets as fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise.

          I do not believe that believing ethnic Israel or ethnic Israel itself is promised something that does not also include those who are children of Abraham by faith in the Messiah. We are all, by faith, heirs of the promise.

          As such, I do not see a problem with using “Israel” to refer to the one body of God’s people. We, Gentiles, have been grafted into Israel so that we are part of Israel. The one body is Israel as heir to the promise.

          For the moment, that is my perspective. But it can change. :-)

          JMH

  6.   fundyreformed Says:

    Great post. It’s nice that the WordPress “related links” worked for me this time. I found this post in tracing some visitors to a series of posts on mine related to the land. My series is “Understanding the Land Promise“. I take much the same position espoused here. Again great article, God bless.

    Bob Hayton

  7.   rich constant Says:

    BOB

    last night i read
    “understanding the land promise”,
    the lesson’s presented and the comments/answers, they were just to good and reflects the effort of the study put into the question.
    thank you so much.
    may god continue to bless us all through diligent study.
    rich constant

  8.   fundyreformed Says:

    Thanks Rich and John. Blessings to you both, Bob

  9.   Drew Says:

    Great article. If only all followers of Jesus could understand this promise more clearly, it would change the way we pursue Christ.

    Great book I’ve read. “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright. It addresses this topic in detail.

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