The primary argument that Dispensationalists use to advocate why modern Israel must possess all of the Palestinian land and more, is because they have never truly possessed all the land that God had promised. If you ask them what specific part of the land they have not possessed, they cannot give you an exact answer. At least, I was not able to find anyone who could state what land natural Israel had failed to possess. They just make the blanket statement that Israel hasn’t taken possession based upon their Schofield notes, which say,
“It is important to see that the nation has never as yet taken the land under the unconditional Abrahamic covenant nor has it ever possessed the whole land.”
In addition to this stated above, they say that the land was promised unconditionally to Israel forever.
We will see in the following study that ancient Israel had fully possessed all the land that it was promised. Also, the promise of continued possession of the land was not unconditional, but was dependent upon their obedience to God and His commandments.
The Promised Boundaries
There are many passages in the Bible that describe the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants through Jacob (Israel). Just a few are Gen. 15:18-21; Num. 34:3-12; Deut. 1:7,11:24; Joshua 1:4.
“What were the boundaries of the Promised Land? The issue is controversial because of the different descriptions that we find in the Bible of these boundaries. The Bible does not give just one description of the boundaries. It is not that simple.”
[Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, The Bible and the Land – 2 What Were the Boundaries of the Promised Land?]
You will find different descriptions of the boundaries of the promised land, depending on what passage you are reading. For example, if you read Numbers 34:3-12, you will find the most detailed description of the allotment of the land in the Bible. Numbers 34:2 states,
“Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land of Canaan; (this is the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan with the coasts thereof:)”
The Lord clearly tells them that it is the land of Canaan that is to “fall unto you for an inheritance.” The northern border in this passage is at the “entrance of Hamath.” There is no mention of the River Euphrates, as there is in other passages, serving as the northern border in this instance.
So which is the correct northern boundary for the land, and did ancient Israel ever expand its borders to match these boundaries?
The southern boundary which separates the land of promise from Egypt is called in the KJV the river of Egypt[Num. 34:5]. However, the Hebrew word (nahal, Strong's #h5158) translated as, river, actually denotes what in the geography of the area is called a wadi. A wadi is "a stream flowing rapidly in winter, or in the rainy season." This would more correctly be translated as the brook of Egypt or the wadi of Egypt. In the summertime or a dry season, these wadis look more like a dry creek bed. However, an unannouced rain storm can turn these into a raging torrent of water.
Some have mistakenly identified this river of Egypt as the Nile River. Nowhere is the Nile mentioned as a border to the land of promise. When identifying the northern border, it is always described as the great river, the River Euphrates. However, in all of the descriptions of the borders of the land of promise, the Nile River is never mentioned by name as the southern border, as the Euphrates River is as the northern.
Regardless of which description of boundaries you look at, ancient Israel expanded its borders to the full.
Fulfillment of the Promised Boundaries
When you take a serious look at what the Bible says about whether or not the Israelites actually inherited/possessed the land that was promised to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the evidence is overwhelming they did.
1. When Moses recounted his second trip up the Mount to receive the tablets of the Law, he says,
And the Lord said unto me, Arise, take thy journey before the people, that they may go in and possess the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give unto them.[Deut. 10:11]
He states the Lord’s intention of leading the people to go in and possess the land, which He swore to their fathers to give. The “fathers” here refer to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
2. In Moses’ farewell address to the children of Israel, he charged Joshua in the sight of all Israel,
And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.[Deut. 31:7]
Moses told Joshua that he would “cause them to inherit it,” the ‘it’ being the land the Lord swore to give unto their fathers.
3. After the passing of Moses, God gave command to Joshua to lead the children of Israel into the land, saying,
Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.
3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.
6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.[Joshua 1:2-6]
It is made clear in these verses, that God charged Joshua with taking the children of Israel into the land which He was giving to them. Joshua was to divide the land which God swore to their fathers to give them for an inheritance.
4. After Joshua caused the tribes to inherit the lands God had given them, and as he was about to die, it is recorded.
43 And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.
44 And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand.
45 There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.
Pay close attention to verse 43. He states, “The Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.” This one verse should put the entire matter to rest. You simply cannot state it any plainer. Add to verse 43 the witness of verse 45, which says, “There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.”
However, the Scripture indicates that two or three witnesses are better than one. So here are more.
5. It is also recorded in 1 Kings 4:20-21;24 concerning Solomon’s reign,
20 Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.
21 And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life.
24 For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him.
Here we have recorded what was promised to Abraham was fulfilled by the son of David, Solomon. The offspring of Abraham, Judah and Israel, were as the sand of the sea (Gen. 22:17). He also possessed the land from the river (Euphrates) to the border of Egypt (the river of Egypt).
Some have tried to argue that Solomon's ruling all this territory is not the same as possessing it. However, this is ridiculous reasoning. When can you say that a king rules over land that he does not possess or have control of? The ruling over the land is the same as possessing it.
6. Jeremiah 32:21-23
21 And hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror;
22 And hast given them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey;
23 And they came in, and possessed it; but they obeyed not thy voice, neither walked in thy law; they have done nothing of all that thou commandedst them to do: therefore thou hast caused all this evil to come upon them:
Here, the prophet Jeremiah says that the Lord,
“brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt”
“And hast given them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them”
“And they came in, and possessed it”
However, Jeremiah also points out, "They have done nothing of all that thou commandedst them to do." Jeremiah refers to this evil, which is a reference to the destruction of the temple and the resulting exile into Babylon.
7. After the Lord brought back the remnant from Babylon, in a corporate assembly the levites recounted the history of Israel to those gathered. In this recounting, they said,
22 Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.
23 Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.
24 So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would.
In verse 23 we see the fulfillment of the promise to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The children of Israel were as “the stars of heaven” and they were brought into the land promised, that they should possess it.
Extent of David and Solomon’s Kingdom
The Kingdom of Israel under David extended to the northern most boundary of the land promised by God, i.e., the Euphrates River (Gen. 15:18;Deut. 1:7;11:24; Joshua 1:4).
2 Samuel 8:3
David smote also Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates.
1 Chronicles 18:3
And David smote Hadarezer king of Zobah unto Hamath, as he went to stablish his dominion by the river Euphrates.
Solomon’s Kingdom also reached to the boundaries given by God.
1 Kings 4:24
For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him.
(The Euphrates is also referred to as “the river” or “the great river.”)
It was only during the reigns of both David and Solomon that the northern boundary reached to the Euphrates River.
We see this extent of ruling over the land to the Euphrates witnessed also in the Persian records of King Artaxerxes, which according to Ezra 4:20, states,
There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.
This is stated from the perspective of the Persian kings. When they say, “which have ruled over all countries beyond the river,” they are referring to lands west of the Euphrates River.
Possession Unconditional and Forever?
Some say that Israel’s possession of the land was unconditional and forever. There are verses which certainly might make it sound like this is the case. However, upon further investigation, it is found to be untrue, as far as natural Israel is concerned.
Jeremiah demonstrates that this inheritance of the land had very specific conditions, by saying,
“But they obeyed not thy voice, neither walked in thy law; they have done nothing of all that thou commandedst them to do: therefore thou hast caused all this evil to come upon them.” (Jer. 32:23)
As stated earlier, the evil that had come upon them was the Babylonian invasion, destruction of the temple and the resulting captivity. God evicted them from the land. He could do this because the land belonged to Him.
Lev. 25:23 states,
“The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.”
The word here translated “strangers” is the Hebrew, ger, which means, a temporary inhabitant, a newcomer lacking inherited rights. The word translated “sojourners” is the Hebrew, toshab, which means, a resident alien.
He was only allowing them to live in the land as tenants-at-will, meaning they could live in the land as long as they behaved and obeyed Him.
The Lord had warned Israel repeatedly, that if they failed to obey His voice and keep His commandments they would be ejected from the land. He actually uses language that is stronger than that. He told them that if they did not obey Him, and if they adopted the ways of those nations that lived in the land before them, the land itself would “vomit them out.”
The very evils that had brought divine judgement upon the current inhabitants of the land, e.g., sacrificing their children by fire to Molech, bestiality, homosexuality, incest and all manner of sin against God and nature, would also cause the land to spew out the Israelites, if they committed such sin. Their disobedience to God’s Word would make the land sick and cause it to vomit them out.
24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:
25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.
26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:
27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)
28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
2 Kings 21:8 repeats the promise that God made to David and Solomon concerning the temple.
8 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.
Notice the condition? God will allow Israel to move no more out of the land, “only if they.” That sounds like a condition, don't you think? God says they may continue to remain in the land, if they obey all that He has commanded.
Summary of Fulfillment To Natural Israel
To summarize this, we can see the following.
- Moses stated God’s intention to bring Israel into the land He swore to their fathers. [Deut. 10:11]
- Moses charged Joshua in the presence of Israel that he was to lead Israel into the land promised to their fathers. [Deut. 31:7]
- God charged Joshua to “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.” [Joshua 1:6]
- At the end of Joshua’s life, he had accomplished what God had sent him to do. “And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.” [Joshua 21:43]
- Solomon’s dominion extended from “the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt.” [1 Kings 4:21]
- Jeremiah states the Lord “hast given them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.” [Jer. 32:22]
- After the return from Babylon, the Levites recounted the history to the community of those who returned, saying, “Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it. So the children went in and possessed the land,” [Neh. 9:23-24a]
- The Land was never Israel’s possession unconditionally. God told Israel, “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.” (Lev. 25:23) No land belongs to strangers or sojourners. They are only allowed to live on God’s land as long as they obeyed His voice and commandments. When they failed to keep His commandments, the land spewed them out.
We have the witness of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings that God fulfilled the promise He made to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This promise of seed as numerable as the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven was fulfilled in natural Israel. The promise of all the land being given to Israel was fulfilled to natural Israel. The witness of God stands sure. It is Schofield’s word against God’s word. Who are you going to believe?
The Land and The New Testament
There is no argument that the promise of seed and land was made to Abraham. The point of contention is to whom does the promise ultimately apply. As mentioned before, Scofieldism believes that this promise of seed and land applies only to natural Israel.
What does the New Testament teach on this matter? If we call ourselves New Testament believers, then the New Testament should be our guide. We should filter our understanding of the Old Testament writings through the New Testament. Where it speaks to and interprets the Old for us, we should listen. The New has much to say about this matter of the promise to Abraham of seed and land. In fact, this Abrahamic Promise is at the very foundation of the New Covenant.
Does the NT hold to the opinion that the Abrahamic promises apply only to natural Israel as Scofieldism teaches? No, it does not. The apostle Paul deals with the topic more than any other writer. From Paul’s teaching it is clear that the OT reference to Abraham’s seed clearly refers to Christ.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
Notice Paul emphasizes the fact that it was to Abraham and his seed, singular not plural, that the promises were made. It is without question verifiable that all the references to the promised seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is masculine and singular. The promises made to Abraham were for seed and for land. If Paul teaches that the promised seed is Christ, then how is the promised land understood? Is he suggesting that the land of Israel actually belongs to Christ? The answer is yes and no.
Before we address what the NT teaches us about the promise of land, we want to clarify the extent to which the promise of seed is fulfilled in Christ.
26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
According to Paul, all those who believe in Christ Jesus, regardless of their genetic background or cultural status, have been baptized into Christ. This baptism into Christ signifies being in or putting on Christ. You can condense the theology of Paul into these two words, that of being In Christ.
It is interesting to note, that the orthodox Jew prays three times a day and thanks God he is not a Gentile, a slave or a woman. In his daily prayer, he makes plain the difference between the Judaism which makes a proud boast of who they are in the flesh, and the faith of Christ, wherein all these cultural distinctions fall as impotent at the foot of the cross. It is very likely that the same prayers said today by the orthodox Jew, a spiritual descendent of the Pharisees, were said by the Pharisees in Paul's day. Paul likely prayed this same prayer or one very similar, when he lived as a "Pharisee of Pharisees."
He continues by stating that if you belong to Christ, then you are also Abraham’s seed, “and heirs according to the promise.” Regardless of whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, if you are in Christ, you are counted as Abraham’s seed. Not just counted as Abraham’s seed, but “heirs according to the promise.”
According to Paul, being In Christ makes us heirs with Him, according to the promise! What promise? Obviously the promise of all that God had promised to Abraham. Does this mean the land also? Oh, so much more than that tiny strip of land in Palestine.
What Scofieldism fails to recognize is that Abraham and his seed was to inherit the world. Have you not heard this? In Paul’s presentation that Abraham was counted righteous by faith while he was still uncircumcised, Paul says,
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law [Natural Israel], but through the righteousness of faith[Israel of God]. [Rom. 4:13]
First of all, notice that this promise to be heir of the world was made to Abraham and to his seed. Paul’s point in this verse is that this promise came not through the Law(not to natural Israel), but through the righteousness of faith(the Israel of God). The amazing point Paul makes here, is that the promise made to Abraham encompasses the whole world. How can Paul say this?
Part of the promise that God made to Abraham is contained in the following.
“… and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
God promised Abraham’s influence should reach all the earth, and that in Abraham and by association his Seed, all families of the earth shall be blessed. This promise of blessing all the families of the earth can only be fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that Paul states Christ is the promised seed of Abraham would automatically place the scope of the promises on a world-wide scale. Why is that? Because the scope of the inheritance promised to Christ is world-wide.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
There is no doubt among Jewish or Christian scholars, that this Psalm is Messianic in its subject. Here the Lord says, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.”
This is a statement of fulfillment of the promise to David. This Davidic promise is restated in Jeremiah 33:17.
17 For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want[or lack] a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;
This promise that David “shall never lack a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel,” is fulfilled in Ps. 2:6. The holy hill of Zion is where the throne of David was set (2 Sam. 5:7; Ps. 48:2). It was from Zion that the Messiah was to rule over the Kingdom of God (Ps. 110:2; Isaiah 2:1-4).
This was not a promise of a continual, eternal succession of Davidic kings, but the promise of One Eternal King, ruling the Kingdom of God from His father David’s Throne, from the holy hill of Zion. This Zion is not the physical hill that exists in the land of Israel, but is the Holy Mount Zion, from which God rules His Kingdom(Heb. 12:22-24).
A Multitude in One Seed
On the surface, there seems to be a problem with Paul’s interpretation of Abraham’s seed being understood as singular. How can that understanding be true, when God told Abraham that his seed would be like the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven (Gen. 22:17)? Both of these phrases speak of the seed as being of a vast, innumerable count. How can Abraham’s seed be considered as singular and yet be innumerable?
The answer is that in that one singular seed is an innumerable host of offspring. Have you never heard the old saying, “You can count the seeds in an apple, but you cannot count the apples in a seed.”
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
Through the death of Christ, the Seed of Promise, He is able to bring forth much fruit. It is through the death of the Promised Seed that, “all families of the earth shall be blessed.” It is this blessing of all families and nations that Psalm 2:8 speaks of.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
It is in this we see the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of land and seed. It is to the Seed of Promise, the Eternal Davidic King who sits on the holy hill of Zion, that is given,
- The heathen for inheritance (seed as the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven)
- The uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (not just a strip of land in Canaan, but the whole earth).
To determine whether certain promises and prophecies of Scripture have been fulfilled, we can run into misunderstanding. We try to classify a promise or prophecy as being fulfilled literally or spiritually. The classification of these into literal or spiritual is the cause of the confusion. An example of Literal vs Spiritual would be like this.
In John 10:7, Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep.” Now does Jesus mean that he is a literal door with hinges and a knob? Of course not. That would be taking what Jesus says in a very literal, wooden sense. We know what He meant was that He is the way for the sheep to enter into God’s fold. This would be to understand what Jesus said in a spiritual sense.
To set up literal against spiritual, is to imply that the spiritual is somehow not real. This is a great error. For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal [2 Cor. 4:18]. The choice of classification is not between literal or spiritual, but is between natural and spiritual. How do we know this? The apostle Paul in his teaching concerning the resurrection, sets forth this understanding for us very clearly.
1 Cor. 15:45-49
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.
48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Paul tells us that which is natural is first, then afterwards, that which is spiritual. The fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to his natural offspring was fulfilled first. As stated earlier, we have Joshua 21:43-45, Jeremiah 32:21-23 and 1 Kings 4:20-21; 24, among others that tell us the ancient Israelites possessed all the land they had been promised. However, they lost their right to dwell in that land through disobedience.
Edward Hendrie makes the same observation.
God’s plan is to first establish the earthly and then the spiritual. “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” (1 Corinthians 15:46-48 AV) God will not reverse course and reestablish the earthly kingdom of Israel in place of his spiritual kingdom of Israel. That is contrary to his revealed plan. Fleshly Israel was intended by God for an example to us, his church. 1 Corinthians 10:6. It is not the circumcision of the flesh that counts but the circumcision of the heart. Colossians 2:11.
[Hendrie, Edward. "Solving the Mystery of Babylon the Great", 2010, p.vi]
After the promise was fulfilled to Natural Israel, the spiritual and eternal fulfillment is accomplished through Christ. It is in Christ that the Abrahamic Promises find their ultimate and truest fulfillment.
As noted earlier, Scofieldism believes that the promise of seed and specifically the land was unconditional and forever. This is true, but only as it relates to the eternal seed of Christ, who is the eternal Davidic King, ruling over the Kingdom of God of both heaven and earth.
It is clear that New Testament teaching sees the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham as being realized in Christ Jesus. Those who follow the teachings of the Talmudic rabbis (Schofieldism/Dispensationalism) fail in this realization. They have ceased to follow New Testament revelation and have placed their confidence in the tradition of the elders (Talmudism), which Jesus condemns.
This is only one of the many tenets of Scofieldism that fails the Biblical analysis test. Many of the points of belief in this system have more things in common with Judaism than with Biblical Christianity. The focal point of Biblical Christianity is Christ Jesus, while with Scofieldism, the status of those who identify as Jewish is its main focus.
It is obvious that Schofieldism believes that the subject and focus of the Bible is the Jew, while Biblical Christianity knows that the subject and focus from Genesis to Revelation is Christ Jesus.
You must decide which path to follow when faced with this fork in the road.