Review: ‘The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel’

Review of The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014, 349 pages.

The book under review is the result of a conference that was held in New York in support of the special place of Israel in the Scriptures.  Seventeen contributors put forth various articles under the headings of New Testament, Old Testament, Hermeneutics, Theology & Church History, and Practical Theology.  A Forward is provided by popular writer Joel Rosenberg. The Introduction is by Glaser, and a short Conclusion is by Bock.

The purpose of the book is to bring together studies advocating the place of “Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God’ as the subtitle has it.  The presenters come from the broadly premillennial camp; many are dispensationalists.

On the whole the articles are brief – about 12 to 15 pages on average, but for the most part each author has made good use of their allotted space.  It may be helpful to give a few general remarks about the contributions rather than choosing one or two pieces for extended comment.

In the first place I found Rosenberg’s Forward to be off-putting.  It is written in a journalistic parlance which is at odds with the tenor of most of the articles. It also focuses on biblical prophecies being fulfilled in our time, which seems a questionable assertion.  That said, I agree with the statement that the existence of the State of Israel today is testimony to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (17).  Nevertheless, I think the book could have done with a less popular opening.

Eugene Merrill’s survey of the Torah is not as good as I expected from such an author.  His advocacy of a ‘Creation covenant’ is unpersuasive, omitting mention of the crucial covenant-oath.  He surprisingly holds that the land grant, nationhood, and blessing “were fulfilled in biblical times” (35).  Although saying this does not mean that there is no future for national Israel, the references he uses (e.g. Gen. 15:18 & 22:17) do not really find fulfillment until the kingdom age.

Walter Kaiser’s chapter on “Israel according to the Writings” is well done and includes helpful treatments of the Davidic covenant, prophecies in Daniel, and providence in Esther.  Robert Chisholm’s chapter on the Prophets spends a lot of time arguing for “essential fulfillment which allows for human freedom” (54).  Chisholm refers to the prophecy to Ahab about the dogs licking his blood “in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth” (1 Kings 21:19).  He observes that the dogs licked Ahab’s blood at Samaria, not Jezreel where Naboth was killed (59).  He believes the discrepancy shows that “God makes room for human freedom in the outworking of even irrevocable prophecy.” (60). In other words, he holds that prophecy can be fulfilled somewhat differently than written.  I found this article perhaps the least satisfactory of all the chapters in the book.  It sows doubt where there ought to be confidence.

In response to the Ahab prophecy it should be noted that Ahab’s repentance did seem to impact the pronouncement; the doom being transferred over to his son (1 Kings 21:29 with 2 Kings 9:25-26).  Further, 1 Kings 22:38 says the dogs licked Ahab’s blood “according to the word of the LORD”, which was true.  It does not mention the place where Naboth’s blood was licked up, most likely because of the change in Ahab’s outlook.  But this incident should not be used, as Chisholm uses it, as paradigmatic of long-term prophecy.  Chisholm states, “When fulfillment transcends the prophet’s time and context, the language takes on archetypal status and one should expect essential or generic, not exact or literal, fulfillment of prophecy.” (61).  There then follows examples of such “contextualized” “partial fulfillment.” Unsurprisingly, Ezekiel’s Temple sacrifices are one such example (65).  In my opinion this chapter hardly helps the aims of the book.

The next chapter, by Michael Brown, discusses Jewish traditional interpretations.  Since these are often speculative and sometimes wacky (a 150 foot tall ‘shrunken’ Adam on p. 81!), Dr. Brown’s talents might have been utilized better on another subject.

If the OT contributions are uneven, the NT contributions are much better.  The pieces by M. Wilkins (Matthew), and D. Bock (Luke-Acts), are both valuable.  Not far behind is M. Vanlaningham’s coverage of Romans, although strangely he doesn’t attend to the Olive Tree figure in Romans 11.  Craig Evans on the General Epistles spends too much time discussing authorship.  He even inserts the idea that Paul begrudged calling James one of the pillars of the early church (135).  His chapter is too generic to offer much solid help.

Craig Blaising on “Israel and Hermeneutics” is one of the best chapters in the book.  One gets the impression that he would have liked more space to really bring out his points.  But he does succeed in showing why supercessionism fails in regard to being comprehensive, congruent, and (too briefly) consistent and coherent.  His use of the argument from performative language hits home (160-162). Next follow two strong chapters from M. Saucy and J. Feinberg.  This part of the book is the best in my opinion.

The last part of The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel includes M. Vlach on “Israel in Church History” – a solid treatment.  There is also a fine chapter about Israel as an evidence for the truth of Scripture from M. Rydelnik.  Another interesting chapter, the last of the book, is a study of the positions on Israel taken by theological schools.  The survey is by Gregory Hagg.  As no school or denomination is mentioned the chapter lacks decisiveness, but is still worth reading.

The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel is a mixed bag.  The highlights are the chapters by Kaiser, Wilkins, Bock, Vanlaningham, Blaising, Saucy, Feinberg, Vlach, and Rydelnik.  The impression left by most of these authors is that they would have benefited from more space.  Chisholm’s chapter was most disappointing.  I could have done without the piece by Brown, and Evans didn’t do much for me.  The other chapters are quite good, but not great.  The decision to use endnotes instead of footnotes was unfortunate.

Despite some bright moments, all in all the work falls behind similar works such as David Larsen’s Jews, Gentiles, and the Church; Barry Horner’s Future Israel, and Israel, the Land and the People, ed. by H. Wayne House.

This book was provided free of charge by the publisher.

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9 comments

  1. the discussion of the Ahab prophecy got me thinking. do you think its a fair assessment to say that while God’s prophetic word toward blessing always has and always will be fulfilled — to the letter — some prophetic pronouncements towards judgment can be lessened? another example similar perhaps to Ahab’s situation, was Hezekiah’s (Isa 38, 2 Kings 20), where God extended his life another 15 years after Hezekiah pleaded with Him.
    moreover, whenever we read through the prophets and see judgment after judgment being pronounced upon Israel and Judah (by the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians, respectively), we also see God extending His offers of mercy, again and again. although these judgments are said in irrevocable language, it would seem, God will then say something to the effect of “BUT, if you repent and turn towards me, I will not bring this calamity upon you…” (paraphrasing, but I can look up several examples if needed). Of course, Israel and Judah did not repent and every letter of judgment was fulfilled.
    the point being, I wonder if my hypothesis has any weight to it.

    1. I think you are right. God did sometimes reverse a judgment because of prayer (Moses, Abraham) or repentance (Ahab). My issue with Chisholm is that he makes hay with it.

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. It would be an interesting study to go through the OT and enumerate all the promises (of blessing and of cursing) spoken of by God, and see how “literal” and “exact” they were fulfilled.

        i’d suspect that one could find several promises of cursing that were lessened due to a repentant heart (like the ones we just mentioned), for we know that God is a merciful God.

        I’d also suspect that any promise of blessing really would be fulfilled, by the letter, and this no matter what the actions were thereafter by the receiving party (provided the promise was made unilaterally). Just one example of this that comes to mind is God’s promise to bless Zedekiah in Jer 34. Later on though, we see that Zed goes back on his word and continued to rebel, and was eventually exiled in Babylon after getting his eyes gouged out and watching his children die in front of him. but the promise in Jer 34 still ultimately came to pass, exactly how it was worded.

        If such a study was made, i think it could show that God’s promises to restore Israel are very much alive and awaiting literal fulfillment — for God does not go back on His Word, most especially if that Word is one of blessing!

  2. Thanks for the helpful review. This reminds me that I need to review it too. I definitely agree that it takes a back seat to Larsen, Horner and some others. Given the strength of some of the essays, would it nevertheless merit consideration for inclusion in your recommended reading list were you compiling it today?

    I do think that the use of the QR codes linking to the conference videos is somewhat innovative. I’m going to watch some of the videos to see if any more significant points were brought out in any of the messages than what is reflected in the book. I watched Rosenberg’s message and I seem to recall it having some more material than the book. And it also seemed to be from toward the end of the conference rather than the beginning as the book would suggest. But it has been 2-3 months since I looked at it. Evidently Kaiser was not at the conference as there is no video of him.

    What did you think of Barry Leventhal’s lengthy “Israel in Light of the Holocaust,” which at 40 pages appears to be the longest chapter? While it is certainly a pertinent subject, some reviewers have written that they would have preferred to have seen some of the other chapters unpacked a little more instead.

    Speaking of Rydlenik and Vanlaningham, have you had a chance to peruse the new one volume Moody Bible Commentary?

    1. Chris,

      1. I don’t think the good articles, given their short length, merit the price of the book.

      2. I didn’t mention the codes. Perhaps I should have done, but I saw that more as a gimmick. Call me cynical.

      3. I too think Leventhal’s piece, while informative, didn’t really belong.

      4. I have heard good things about the new Moody Commentary, but I haven’t seen it.

      God bless,

      P

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