God's Land Grant to the Jewish People - Conditional or Unconditional?
By Thomas Williamson
It is a common belief among American fundamentalist Christians, that the covenant by which God gave the land of Palestine to the Jews was an unconditional covenant. If true, this would mean that the Jewish people would retain their divine title deed to Palestine, regardless of whether or not they kept the covenant.
Even if they rejected and crucified their Messiah, they would still retain their title to the land.
Fundamentalists apply this belief in various ways. Some believe that God will restore Palestine to the Jews in the future, in His own timing and manner, and that no action is required by Christians at this time, to wrest the land from its Palestinian Arab inhabitants and give it to the Jews.
Others, who are known as Christian Zionists, believe that it is their duty to help the Jews to get all of their land back now. This results in a vigorous program of political lobbying, designed to shape American foreign policy in the Middle East so that Israel is supported 100% against the Arabs, and so that the Palestinians are suppressed and eventually expelled.
Christian Zionists tend to reject any recognition of any human or property rights for the Palestinians, who are branded as "land squatters" and who are expected to leave their homeland without any compensation.
They also tend to support wars and "pre-emptive first strikes" against any Middle East nations that are regarded as a threat to Israeli plans for territorial expansion.
Christian Zionists freely admit that the Jews in Israel today are in a state of unbelief and are not keeping the covenant with God. They say that it does not matter - the Jews are still entitled to take the land for themselves, without paying for it - no need to wait for Christ to return or to receive Him as their Messiah.
Christian Zionists tend to make a major issue of the absolute necessity of total Jewish control of Palestine, and they are sometimes abusive toward those who do not see things their way. For instance, Independent Baptist pastor Jim Vineyard of Oklahoma City, at a press conference in Israel held for the purpose of opposing Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, declared, "I normally don't curse. But all Jews in Israel should tell Bush and his road map to go to hell."
Christian Zionists claim the support of 70,000,000 Americans for their extremist agenda. However, not all fundamentalists endorse their activist program. For example, Evangelist Robert Sumner, a strong fundamentalist and dispensationalist, has stated, "We think the blessing/curse of Genesis 12:1-3 has never been voided and good Christians today should try to seek to promote the welfare of Jewish people, including praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). However, the promises about the land are not valid for today; the Jews are in exile, not in Divine favor. They won't own the land again until after Christ returns." (Biblical Evangelist, May-June 2005)
Before we can embrace the Christian Zionist ideology and agenda, we ought to examine the Word of God, to resolve this all-important question: Was God's land grant to Israel based on an unconditional covenant, or were the terms of that covenant conditional on Israel's obedience to the Lord?
GENESIS 17:8, 14: "And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. . . . And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant." The covenant and land grant were conditional on being circumcised.
EXODUS 19:5: Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine." The covenant is conditional on the obedience of the Israelites.
NUMBERS 14:30: "Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein. . . " Because of Israel's disobedience, God delayed their entry into the land for almost 40 years until the generation of the rebels had died. If the possession of the land was unconditional, the Israelites would have been able to enter Canaan immediately, in spite of their disobedience. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Israel's possession of the land was not unconditional.
DEUTERONOMY 4:25-26: "When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it: ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed." Possession of the land is conditional, and would be lost if the people disobey and/or commit idolatry.
DEUTERONOMY 7:12-13: "Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers: And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee." Possession of the land is conditional on hearkening to God's judgments. This passage, and other covenant passages such as Deuteronomy 11, are full of "ifs" - how can the covenant be considered unconditional if it is totally dependent on the obedience of the Israelites? And why would God make a covenant with His people that includes no incentives for good behavior and no sanctions for disobedience?
DEUTERONOMY 11:16-17: "Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them: And then the LORD'S wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you." See also Deuteronomy 11:31-32: "For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein. And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day." "Possess" and "observe" go together as a package deal - if the Jews are to continue to possess the land, they must observe God's statutes. If they fail to do so, they will be removed from the land.
JOSHUA 23:15-16: "Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you." Possession of the land is conditional on keeping the covenant.
1 KINGS 9:6-9: "But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them: and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight: and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people: And at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss: and they shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto this land, and to this house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought forth their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath the LORD brought upon them all this evil." Possession of the land is conditional on keeping God's commandments. See also parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 7:19-22, "Then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land which I have given them." Ultimately, the land is not really Israel's land - it is God's land.
2 KINGS 21:8-9: "Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them. But they hearkened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel." Possession of the land is conditional on keeping the law of Moses.
EZRA 9:12, 14: "Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. . . . Should we again break the commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? Wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? Possession of the land is conditional on not intermarrying with the heathen.
NEHEMIAH 1:8-9: "Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: but if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there." Possession of the land, and restoration after being removed from the land, are both conditional on keeping the law of Moses. At this time, 445 BC, the Jews were in the process of being restored to the land after being taken into captivity in 586 BC. Their restoration to the land was conditional upon obedience.
JEREMIAH 7:3-6: "Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever." The promise that the Jews would dwell in Palestine "forever" is clearly conditional on their making a drastic change in their moral condition. See also Jeremiah 9:13-16: "Because they have forsaken my law . . . I will scatter them also among the heathen, whom neither they nor their fathers have known: and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them."
JEREMIAH 44:22: "So that the LORD could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without an inhabitant, as at this day." This was spoken by Jeremiah to Jewish refugees in Egypt, shortly after all the Jews in Palestine had been ejected from the land as a result of the Babylonian conquest in 586 BC. If the land grant was unconditional, why would God break His promise and kick His people out of the land as He clearly did in 586 BC? Or could it be that God never made such an unconditional promise, and that His covenant with the Jews was conditional?
LAMENTATIONS 1:10: "The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation." The promise of God that the heathen would not enter into and destroy the sanctuary in Jerusalem was conditional upon Judah's obedience. Judah did not obey God, and as a result, the adversary was allowed to conquer Jerusalem and lay it waste in 586 BC.
EZEKIEL 33:24-26: "Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance. Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land? Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbour's wife: and shall ye possess the land?" This was spoken immediately after Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and the people taken away into captivity. God ordained that Nebuchadnezzar should take the Jews into captivity away from their land. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Israel's possession of the land of Israel was not unconditional.
MATTHEW 21:43: "Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." See also Matthew 23:38, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." Within one generation after Christ spoke these words to the Pharisees, the Romans came in 70 AD and destroyed Jerusalem and its inhabitants, as Christ had predicted (Matthew 23:35-36, Luke 19:41-44). Most of the surviving Jews were removed from Palestine, by Titus and by Emperor Hadrian 70 years later. The "kingdom" and "house" of the Jews, which included the land grant, were taken away from them because they rejected the Law of Moses, especially Deuteronomy 18:15-19, which commanded them to receive their Messiah when He came. Instead of receiving Him, they crucified Him. The Kingdom which was rejected by the unregenerate Jews was given instead to the Jewish and Gentile Christian believers, and the land promise to them is now heavenly in nature, not earthly (Galatians 4:25-26, Hebrews 11:13-16).
CONCLUSION: Since the land promise to the Jews was conditional upon their obedience, and they completely failed to obey God or keep the covenant with God, therefore there is no duty upon Christians to help modern-day Jews to take Palestine away from the Arabs, nor to prevent them from giving back to the Arabs land that they have already occupied (such as the Gaza Strip).
As Christians we should support no action to dispossess any lawful owner of land in Palestine, whether Jew or Arab, who has paid for his land, and we should respect all lawful property rights of the Palestinians and Jews, just we would respect the rights of property owners anywhere else in the world.
Christian Zionism, as a result of its rejection of Bible truth with regard to the conditional nature of God's covenant with Israel, has veered into serious theological error and has become an embarrassment to evangelical Christianity.
Christian Zionists preach and practice racial bigotry toward Palestinians and other peoples of Middle Eastern ancestry. They teach that it is right for Israeli settlers to steal from the Arabs and that it is the duty of Christians to help them steal.
They heap curses on American Presidents and Israeli Prime Ministers who try to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They oppose all peace plans for Israel, because their bloodthirsty, fanciful "end of days" scenario requires that two-thirds of all the Jews in the world be slaughtered in a final Battle of Armageddon. For these reasons, Christian Zionism has always been rejected and repudiated by intelligent, right-thinking Christians and Jews.
Jewish Scholars Say That God's Land Grant to the Jews is Conditional On Keeping the Covenant
On the subject of what the Old Testament says about God's land grant to the Jews, I would tend to pay more attention to the scholarly teachings of Jews, than I would to the opinions of the typical fundamentalist Christian church member.
The Jews have a knowledge of the Hebrew language, in which the Old Testament was written, and they have devoted themselves to deep study of the Old Testament.
Many fundamentalist Christians have little knowledge of what the Old Testament teaches, and in many cases they have never even read it through once. When they say that "God gave Palestine to the Jews in an unconditional covenant," they are merely parroting the pronouncements of their favorite televangelist or prophecy guru. None of these teachers, or their followers, can point to anything in the Bible that says that God's covenant or land grant to the Jews were unconditional.
With that in mind, let us see what thoughtful, intelligent, scholarly Jews have said about the nature of God's covenant and land grant.
"We're not the Chosen People just by virtue of our forefathers; Leviticus warns the land will vomit us out, too, if we continue to be stiff-necked and evil. . . . There is no eternal guarantee to this holy land. . . . Our presence in the land is neither eternal nor automatic. Rather, our presence in the land is intimately connected with our moral behavior (our treatment of the stranger, widow and orphan) as a nation. If we act wickedly towards the stranger; turn our heads from the poverty of the orphan, and stuff our ears to the cries of the widow, then the land will vomit us out - just as it had done to so many nations before us. When life is not lived morally, there's no difference between Jews and Amorites, between Israelis and Canaanites, Romans or Crusaders." - Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).
"The text [Exodus 19:5] makes clear that this special status [Chosen People] is conditional: Israel must uphold their end of the deal and maintain the terms of the covenant. As the text states, 'IF you will obey Me faithfully and keep my covenant, THEN you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.' It is not Israel as a people who are special, but rather it is their behaviour, their commitment to and adherence to the laws of the covenant, which sets them apart from all other people." - Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, in Kolel, The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.
"Here [Deuteronomy 11:31-32] is clearly spelled out the formula for successful conquest and possession of Eretz Israel. In order that we should succeed in inheriting and dwelling in the Land, the Torah tells us we must observe all of Hashem's laws. It was therefore necessary to dramatically communicate a public declaration of blessings and curses upon entry into the Land, to drive home the message that possession of the Land was conditional on observance of the commandments." - Rabbi Mendel Weinbach, Dean, Ohr Somayach Institutions.
"And it is followed by the verse, 'And it will happen, when your G-d brings you to the land He vowed to give to your ancestors, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov . . .' [Deuteronomy 6:10]. As is well known the second paragraph, 'Vehaya,' makes the continued dwelling in the land conditional on observing the mitzvot of loving G-d and serving Him." - Rabbi Amnon Bazak, in "Toras Aish."
"'Judah was sent into Exile because it prized Land and soil as the bulwark of its freedom and belittled the Torah,' writes Rabbi Hirsch. 'The Exile cannot therefore end with the same delusion.' Possession of the Land, Hirsch reminds us, is conditional on the performance of specific duties." - Jonathan Rosenbloom, in Jerusalem Post.
"'Before the Almighty gave us the Holy Land 3260 years ago, He made these conditions: If we abide by the Torah, it is ours, if not, we will be expelled,' explains Orthodox Rabbi E. Schwartz of Neturei Karta. We know from Scripture that God's gift of the land to Abraham and his decedents was not unconditional." - Quoted in "Does Israel Belong to the Jews?," Joel Miller in WorldNetDaily.
"This Midrash expresses the conditional nature of G-d's Covenant with Israel, a central theme in EKEV and one that appears with increasing emphasis as we advance through Deuteronomy. . . . Long-term possession of the Land of Israel and enjoyment of its blessings are strictly contingent upon proper observance of the Covenant on our part. This is clearly stated at the climax of the parshah (Deuteronomy 11:13-21)." - Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, in "Universal Torah."
"The covenant, by definition, is not rooted upon a guarantee given by the Redeemer of Israel to the People of Israel, but rather on a relationship of mutuality or reciprocity - mutual obligations to fulfill the demands of the covenant: a promise, yes, but a conditional one. The covenant, by its very nature, stands as the total contra to a pre-determined future, whether it be for bad or for good. It accentuates the option of possibility, of uncertainty, and of human freedom. Our obligations precede the Redemption, and the latter is dependent on our fulfillment of them. Although the prophetic promise concerning the future is absolute and definite, its fulfillment in a given generation or in a given society or a certain State is dependent on the ways and behavior of that generation and society. The attempt to lend to the events of our generation the stamp of the absolute and final destiny, to blur the borders between history and the meta-historical, may be understood to be a forfeiture of the covenant." - Prof. Aviezer Ravitsky, "The Redemption and the Covenant," in Oz Veshalom - Netivot Shalom.