Dec 12, 2014

Book Review: 'The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel'

Paul Henebury

Dr. Paul Henebury
Telos Theological Ministries

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.

The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel

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

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.