7 Principles Concerning Israel and the Land (John Piper)

Israel Hamas Conflict

Yesterday Matt Smethurst published a blog post on Israel, Gaza, and the idea of Israel’s ‘divine right’ to the land (originally posted Nov 22, 2012). In it Matt linked to and shared thoughts from one of John Piper’s sermons on that same topic. I was familiar with this sermon; I have listened to it once or twice previously. But I was reminded of it yesterday; and, like Matt, I thought it would be good to share his principles as well as some commentary.

In the sermon, John Piper provides 7 principles concerning Israel, Palestine, the land, ‘divine right,’ etc. I want to share these because 1) this is incredibly relevant right now and 2) I think Piper is spot on here.

1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.

Deuteronomy 7:6 –  The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Genesis 15:18 – On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

Genesis 17:7-8 – “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel [cf. principle #6], not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.

Romans 9:6-8 – But it is not as though the word of God [i.e., His promises] has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel [i.e., ethnic Israel] belong to [true] Israel [i.e., heirs of the promises], and not all are children of Abraham [in terms of being recipients of the promises] because they are his [ethnic] offspring…. This means that it is not the children of the flesh [i.e., ethnic Israel] who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Although the covenant promises are ultimately unconditional and irrevocable, their is an element of conditionality required for the actual experience of their blessings. As John Piper said in a Christianity Today post on this same subject,

 I also believe the promise of the Land to this redeemed ethnic Israel is both conditional and irrevocable. Irrevocable means they will finally have it as a special dwelling place…. The Land is part of God’s everlasting covenant with Israel. … But this irrevocable covenant promise is also conditional. The obedience that comes from faith is the condition.

Genesis 18:19 – For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him. (Cf. Gen 17:1-2; 22:16-18; 26:5.)

And in the Mosaic covenant, the climax of the covenant curses for disobedience is eviction from the land–exile.

Deuteronomy 28:58, 63-64 – If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book … you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other….

And in Israel’s history, her disobedience disqualified her from experiencing the blessings of the land promise (e.g., 2 Kgs 17:7, 15).

As a needful caveat, Piper adds,

This does not mean that other nations have the right to molest her. She still has human rights among nations. Nations that gloated over Israel’s divine discipline were punished by God (Isa. 10:5–13).

But nonetheless, the unconditional, irrevocable, eternal, entirely-based-on-grace-for-ultimate-fulfilment promise of the land does not mean ‘divine right,’ “no ifs, ands, or buts.”

Building off of this point…

4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.

Israel’s current disobedience in rejecting her covenant Lord–Jesus Christ–disqualifies her from any claim to ‘divine right’ to the land.

5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

Piper states,

We [Christians] should not give blanket approval to Jewish or to Palestinian actions. We should approve or denounce according to Biblical standards of justice and mercy among peoples. We should encourage our representatives to seek a just settlement that takes the historical and social claims of both peoples into account. Neither should be allowed to sway the judgments of justice by a present divine claim to the land.

6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.

As Piper stated in principle #3, “The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel,” i.e., the Church (Rom 2:26-29; Gal 6:16; Phil 3:3; 1 Pet 2:9, etc.)–believing Israel and incorporated gentiles (and we might add a future generation of believing Jews–Rom 11:26).

Ephesians 3:6 – This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Galatians 3:28-29 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Romans 4:16 – That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham,who is the father of us all.

Ephesians 2:12-16, 19 – Remember that you [gentiles] 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 [i.e., made partakers of those things] by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both [Israel and gentiles] one … that he might create in himself one new man [lit. humanity] in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both [Israel and gentiles] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

However, Piper rightly comments on the typological nature of the promised land: “We will inherit the world [the new heavens and new earth] which includes the Land.” That’s why Paul can say what he did in Rom 4:13.

Romans 4:13 – For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world.

7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the second coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.

John 18:36 – My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.

See John Piper’s sermon Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.

See Matt Smethurst’s blog post Israel, Gaza, ‘Divine Right,’ and John Piper.