The Father William Most Collection
Modern Jews and the Land
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
1. The Promise to Abraham: in Genesis 15:16-19 God promised to Abraham to give him and his descendants the land forever.
God did add a condition, however, in Genesis 17:1: "Walk before me and be blameless."
That condition was spelled out more clearly in Exodus 19:5: "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people."
A threat was added in words to Solomon right after he had dedicated the great temple (1 Kings 9:1-9), saying that if he and his people would be faithful, God would keep his presence there forever. But if he and his descendants ever withdrew and did not keep the commandments... : I will cut of Israel from the land I gave them and repudiate my temple."; People would then see it and ask why? The reply: "They forsook the Lord, their God... ." The threat was confirmed in a message to Jeremiah 22:4-9.
2. Recipients of the Promise: The original promise was for the descendants of Abraham, with the condition of fidelity. In the centuries up to today there has of course been much mixture. Especially significant is the case of the Khazars, a Turkic people who set up a commercial and political empire that dominated large parts of S. Russia in much of the 7-10 centuries. During the 8th century the King and aristocracy became Jewish by religion.
Not a few Jews today do not even believe in survival after death or any reward of punishment in a next life.
The Parable of the unjust tenants, in Matthew 21:33-46 was told in the presence of the chief priests and the Pharisees. 21:45 says that they understood He was speaking of them. In 21:43 He had said: "The kingdom will be taken from you, and given to a nation that will bear a rich harvest." It meant that they were no longer to be part of the People of God: the gentiles were called.
Yet not all Jews were to be left out. In Romans 11:1: "God has not rejected His people, has He?" Similarly in 11:29: "God's gifts and His call are irrevocable."
Many today, not only Jews, but some Christians, have said therefore: The Jews have a separate, eternal covenant. Eugene Fisher wrote in Biblical Archeology Review (March - April 1991, p. 58) that when a Jew says no to Christ he is saying yes to God.
But that is not what Paul said. He did indeed say that God's invitation still stands. But it is one thing for Him to invite: another for them to accept.
In Romans 9:25-26 Paul quotes Hosea: "Those who were not my people, I will call my people." In the original setting, Hosea was saying that the Jews because of their sins, brought on the exile, and had fallen out of the People of God. But after their repentance, God would gladly take them back: "Those who were not my people [lo ammi], I will call my People [ammi]."
Therefore in the middle of Romans 11 Paul has a comparison of two olive trees. The tame olive tree is the original people of God. The wild olive tree is the gentiles. Many branches fell off from the tame tree - Jews rejected their Messiah. In their place, the gentiles were engrafted, in line with Ephesians 3:6 which says it is revealing something not known to previous ages: the gentiles are called to be part of the people of God with the Jews who accept the Messiah. Hence there is one flock and one shepherd, composed of Jews who remained faithful, and gentiles who joined the Messiah. Hence the gentiles become part of the people of God, along with the faithful Jews.
But, sadly, the Jews who reject the Messiah are no longer part of the people of God. As a result, the Jews who reject have no claim at all to the land. It was promised to the descendants of Abraham on condition of fidelity. Solemn threats were given by God Himself twice, once to Solomon, once through Jeremiah, as quoted above.
Paul also in Romans 11 predicts that at the end the Jews will accept the Messiah. When they do, their claim to the land will be restored.
Objection: In Galatians 3:15ff Paul says the promise to Abraham was without condition. But Paul was reinterpreting. Originally it was just to the land - and there was a condition as we saw above. Paul, along with many others late in the OT period, reinterpreted that promise to refer to eternal salvation . That is true, that eternal life is given without merit, without our earning it, as Paul makes clear in Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin [what we earn] is death; the free gift of God [what we do not earn] is eternal life."