In considering whether or not the Abrahamic promises still apply to the Israelites it is important that we first consider the unconditional nature of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants.
When the Lord told Abram that he would inherit the land and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven, Abram asked Him: “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” (Gen 15:8). In order to reassure him that the fulfillment of the promise was certain the Lord told him to cut some animals in half, placing the halves opposite of each other. This was the manner in which the Chaldeans of that time made solemn covenants between two persons. The two men would pass between the animals which had been cut in half saying: “May the same be done to the one who breaks this covenant.”
However, in order to emphasize that the fulfillment depended entirely upon His covenant faithfulness, the Lord caused Abram to fall into a deep sleep and He passed alone between the animals. This made it clear to Abram that the fulfillment depended entirely upon God’s covenant faithfulness and not the faithfulness of Abraham or his descendants. After that it says:
“On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates — 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Gen 15:18-21)
There were promises given later under the Law, but they were usually conditional covenants – “If you…then I….” In contrast, the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants was emphatically unconditional. He didn’t say: “If you and your descendants continue in my ways, then I will give you the land.” No. The Lord solemnly swore by Himself with an oath saying: “To your descendants I have given this land.” The fulfillment of the promise was a given, even before Abram had any descendant and before they had taken possession of the land.
It is significant that the Lord here changed the tense of the verb from “I will give” in 13:14-17 to the perfect tense, “I have given.” From this point forward in Scripture He refers to the Promised Land as “the land I have given to the children of Israel” (Nu 20:24; 20:12; 33:53, etc.). Even when He sent them into captivity among the nations in judgment, He still refers to it as “the land I have given you” and promises to restore them permanently in their land afterwards. After warnings of strong and severe judgments, before removing them from the land, He promised their ultimate restoration saying:
“I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God.” (Amos 9:15)
This speaks of a final restoration of the 10 northern tribes of Israel to the land after their dispersion, never to be removed from it again.
Some would argue that God said that He would restore them to their land, but that was before they had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. However, there is more than one problem with this reasoning. In the first place, God inhabits eternity, is omniscient and therefore knew that Israel would reject their Messiah when He gave the promise to Abraham. He also knew what they were going to do when He told them that He would bring them back into their land forever.
In the second place, as we already saw, His promise to Israel is unconditional and irrevocable. God through Jeremiah reassured Israel and Judah of His covenant faithfulness to them at a time when the 10 tribes of Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed and Jerusalem was being sieged and its inhabitants taken captive to Babylon. The Lord promised them saying:
“For behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah, says the Lord. And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it… 11 For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I WILL NOT MAKE A COMPLETE END OF YOU. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.” (Jer 30:3,11)
Here God reassures both Israel and Judah that, however severe His judgments may be, they would never permanently lose their national identity as subsequently did the Assyrians and Babylonians and other nations who came against them. The existence of Israel as a people after nearly 2,000 years without a land is a clear indisputable testimony to God’s covenant faithfulness.
It is said that Queen Victoria of England asked Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli for evidence of the existence of God. After a moment of reflection, he replied, “The Jew, your majesty.” Indeed, the only nation of biblical times which still retains its national identity is the nation of Israel. And this in spite of all attempts of anti-Semites to eliminate them throughout the centuries. Israel’s existence is the fulfillment of God’s promise which He most emphatically reiterated a few verses later where, in spite of their sin and apostasy, He swore saying:
“Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): 36 ‘If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.’
37 Thus says the Lord: ‘If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel FOR ALL THAT THEY HAVE DONE, says the Lord.” (Jer 31:35-37)
The Lord’s choice of words here could not have been more emphatic! Nothing Israel has done or might do in the future can cause God to go back on His promise. If the Abrahamic covenant were a conditional covenant, as was the Mosaic Law, then their sins would have constituted a breach of contract and God would be absolved of all responsibility to fulfill His promise. But the Lord by Himself made an unconditional promise to Abraham and his descendants. He then goes on to declare that the then destroyed city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt for the Messiah when He returns better than it ever was before:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The surveyor's line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. 40 And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.” (Jer 31:38-40)
Here the unconditional promise continues, declaring that in the future Jerusalem will be rebuilt for the Lord, but it describes Jerusalem with a greater glory than it has ever previously known. Even Gehenna, the accursed valley of dead bodies and ashes, will then be holy to the Lord and this new millennial capitol will never be destroyed or conquered again forever. When will this take place? The prophets all speak of it being fulfilled in the latter days. Hosea prophesies:
“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hos 3:4-5)
God who knows all things before they take place declares that the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord and David their king after a prolonged time of exile and this will take place “in the latter days.” Again, it is not conditional as merely some potential future event. It doesn’t say, “If they return and seek the Lord,” but rather is a statement of fact, “they shall seek the Lord and fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.”
Also, in Micah 4 we see that “in the latter days” Jerusalem will be the seat of world government and all the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord (Micah 4:1). In Ezequiel chapter 36 onwards it speaks of the restoration of Israel to their land. In chapter 37 we see the vision of the dry bones which represents “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 37:11). The dry bones are first gathered together before flesh comes upon them and they live again. This would parallel their present gathering into the Land of Israel yet in their unbelief. In chapters 38 and 39 we see that in “the latter years” the armies of Gog will come against Israel when Israel is dwelling safely in their land, but his armies will be destroyed by God (Ezek 38:8,22,23). The reference to them dwelling safely in their land could possibly be the result of a peace-accord put together by the Antichrist, whom they will welcome, thinking that he is their long-awaited Messiah (Dan 9:27). When the Lord comes from Zion delivering Israel, it says that the whole house of Israel will acknowledge Him as their God, and He will restore them:
“So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward… 28 then they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. 29 And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel, says the Lord God.” (Ezek 39:22,28-29)
In Ezekiel chapters 40 thru 47 it gives details concerning the Millennial temple in Jerusalem with its measurements and the service of worship. The Millennial temple will not be the third temple that the Jews today are making preparations to build since their plans are patterned after Herod’s temple and the dimensions do not correspond with the Millennial temple described here in Ezekiel. However, they will apparently rebuild the third temple before the middle of Daniel’s 70th week when the coming prince or the Antichrist causes their sacrifices and offerings to cease (Dan 9:27; Matt 24:15; Rev 11:1-2). After giving the detailed description of the Millennial temple, in the latter part of chapter 47 much detail is given specifying how the restored Land of Israel is to be divided among the 12 tribes.
How do Replacement theologians explain such detailed descriptions of Israel’s restoration in the latter days? Many try to argue against the obvious, saying that the promises were conditional. However, we have already seen that God is very emphatic in stating that His promises to Israel are irrevocable, and that, although He will punish them for their sins, He will never go back on His promises to them.
Another approach is to spiritualize all the passages which speak of Israel’s restoration in an attempt to apply them to the Church. However, the practice of spiritualizing or allegorizing the Scriptures, or any other literature for that matter, is a gross violation of common hermeneutics. An author may choose to make use of allegory or any other form of speech to express himself, but it is a violation of hermeneutics, common sense and the author’s intent to convert what the author has written into allegory.
Some argue for an allegorical hermeneutic, while others insist upon a literal one. However, a sound hermeneutic is neither literal nor allegorical – it is contextual. In other words, we must interpret Scripture according to the nature of the text itself, just as we would do with any other literature. If the author uses literal speech, we should interpret it literally. If he uses allegory or other figures of speech, we should interpret accordingly. This is interpreting according to context or common sense. When Jesus says, “I am the vine” or “I am the door” common sense tells us that He is speaking figuratively and therefore, rather than taking Him literally or imagining something beyond the context, we look for the truth expressed within the context itself. On the other hand, when He uses normal speech, we understand Him literally.
The practice of spiritualizing or allegorizing the text in order to accommodate one’s particular doctrinal bias, such as Replacement theology, violates common laws of literature and removes Scripture from the realm of objective, knowable truth. Using such methods, it becomes impossible to reason from the Scriptures as Paul did and as Luke commended the Bereans for doing (Acts 17:2,11). Once we begin to Spiritualize the Scriptures it becomes possible to make the Scriptures say anything we wish. Indeed, the primary reason there are so many divergent doctrines within Christianity is the departure from sound, common-sense hermeneutics – “if the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.”
Returning to the subject of Replacement theology, many insist that it would be impossible for all Israel to be restored since, according to them, when the 10 northern tribes were dispersed in 722 B.C. they ceased to exist as a people-group. However, the term “ten lost tribes” is erroneous and is never found in Scripture. Even having been conquered and dispersed by the Assyrians, God promised them that He would not make a full end of Israel (Jer 30:11) and that they would never cease from being a nation before Him forever (Jer 31:36).
What many seem to overlook is that all twelve tribes were present and worshipping God at the time of the writing of the New Testament over 700 years after the dispersion. On the day of Pentecost, we see that the devout Jews of the dispersion, representing all the house of Israel, were in Jerusalem for the Passover Feasts:
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language…. ‘Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know…. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:5, 6, 22, 36)
Here we see that on the day of Pentecost, Jews representative of the whole house of Israel were present in Jerusalem for the Feast (all twelve tribes were referred to as Jews as well as Israelites since the Babylonian captivity). Paul, speaking before Agrippa, presents in his speech something that was common knowledge – there were devout Jews serving God from all twelve tribes in his time:
“To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews (Acts 26:7).”
James wrote his epistle to all twelve tribes of the Jews of the dispersion:
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings (James 1:1).”
Though not all from the ten tribes returned to the land of Israel (that awaits the latter days) they were definitely not all forever lost, nor absorbed by the nations. And of those that apparently are lost, they are only lost to men, not to God. God’s promise was that they would never cease being a nation (Heb. goy “nation or people”) before Him.
The Jewish lineage in biblical times was traced through the father’s line and not the mother’s line. Throughout the Scriptures we see that a child continues to be a Jew even if the child’s mother is non-Jewish as long as the father is Jewish. Joseph married an Egyptian, yet his two sons became the fathers of the two half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Moses married a Midianite. In the messianic genealogy of Matthew chapter one, we see that Rahab the harlot of Jericho was the mother of Boaz, but Boaz continued to be included in the line of Judah. He in turn married Ruth, a Moabite. So, although there were Gentiles in Jesus’ bloodline, that did not exclude Him from being a legitimate descendent of Judah, and thus qualified to be the Messiah as a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah. God knows the paternal descent of every Jew and is fully capable of distinguishing them and drawing them back into the land and unto Himself.
There are millions of devout Jews in the world today who know they are Jews but do not know with certainty of which tribe they are. Some conclude that because their surnames are Levi or Cohen that they are of the tribe of Levi but even that is not conclusive. Genealogical records cannot be traced back more than a few generations. Israelites have been banished from many nations, persecuted, slaughtered, and obligated to embrace Christendom or the Muslim faith, further complicating things (for a timeline showing how the Jews have been trampled underfoot by the Gentiles see the following link: ). It is a miracle that they remain a distinct people after so many attempts to destroy them. Many modern-day Jews have continued to practice the Jewish faith as passed down from their ancestors even though they may not know of which tribe they are descended. Be what it may, God knows their paternal descent and will draw them back into their land in the latter days.
When God speaks of His people as “the whole house of Israel” in Ezekiel He is referring to all 12 tribes of Israel and not only the 10 tribes that separated from Benjamin and Judah after the end of king Solomon’s reign. Ezekiel, writing after the 10 tribes had already been dispersed and Judah was captive in Babylon, wrote concerning their future restoration as one nation in their own land. He was commanded to prophesy saying to them:
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; 22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again.” (Ezek 37:21,22)
The Scriptures are very clear and emphatic concerning God’s promises to Israel and Judah. The promises are so clearly unconditional in nature that any attempt to negate them would make God out to be a liar. They are so detailed and specific that any attempt to make them allegorically apply to the Church would be ludicrous. Those who deny that God’s promises to the nation of Israel still apply to them would do well to heed the declaration God made through Balaam’s prophesy when he wanted to curse Israel: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num 23:19)
Some, ignoring the context and flow of the book of Hosea, take certain declarations made against Israel in Hosea as evidence that God has once and for all rejected and divorced Israel. Hosea prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam just before the northern kingdom was conquered and dispersed. In order to communicate His heart to unfaithful idolatrous Israel, He told Hosea to marry a harlot. It is a heartrending story of love and betrayal, but most importantly it illustrates God’s covenant faithfulness to unfaithful Israel. Hosea had children with her, but she continued in her adulterous ways and finally left him, returning to her harlotries. She sank so low that she became a sex slave. To illustrate His covenant faithfulness to His adulterous people Israel, the Lord tells Hosea to buy her back and take her unto himself and love her again as his wife. He said to Hosea:
“Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.’ 2 So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. 3 And I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man — so, too, will I be toward you.’
4 For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hos 3)
In Hosea God expresses to adulterous Israel both His jealous anger and His unfailing love and faithfulness to them. Anyone who has deeply loved an unfaithful mate can readily identify with what to others may seem to be contradictory statements in the book of Hosea.
In chapter one the Lord says that He will no longer have mercy on Israel but will utterly take them away (1:6). He told Hosea to tell them: “You are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (1:9). Then in the very next breath He says:
“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘you are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘you are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! (Jezreel, “the Lord’s sowing.’) Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’” (1:10 - 2:1)
Right after saying to Israel, “You are not my people and I will not be your God,” He tells both Israel and Judah that in the future they will not only be received by Him as His people but they will be called sons of the living God and that they will be gathered together and come up out of the land because the Lord will sow them there, never to be uprooted from their land again. Then, in the following verse the Lord tells Hosea to say to his brethren that they are His people, and to his sisters that mercy is shown. Even in His wrath God remembers mercy! (Hab 3:2).
Paul later quotes this passage, expanding it to include the Gentiles who are now sons of God and joint heirs through faith in Christ, Abraham’s seed (Rom 9:25). Replacement theologians interpret this as meaning that we are now the people of God to the exclusion of national Israel. However, reading the development of Paul’s argumentation through to Romans chapter 11, it is evident that he is referring to the inclusion of the Gentiles but not to the exclusion of national Israel. We Gentiles, as wild olive branches, were grafted in, but when the Deliverer comes from Zion removing ungodliness from Jacob, all Israel will be saved and restored (Rom 11:25-28). Israel and Judah will be reunited as one nation and David shall be their king (Hos 3:5; Jer 30:9).
In chapter 2 of Hosea, verses 2 to 13, the Lord renounces Israel as His wife and delivers her over to the consequences of her own adulterous ways. However, once again we see that, beginning in verse 14 thru the end of the chapter He later allures her and leads her into the wilderness where He speaks words of comfort to her. I believe that the wilderness represents the time of Jacob’s trouble or the Great Tribulation (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Rev 12:13-14). In their affliction they will seek the Lord (Hosea 5:15-6:1). Then again, as in chapter 1, there is a full reversal in which God takes her back to be His wife forever:
“And it shall be, in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me 'My Husband,' and no longer call Me 'My Master,' I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; 20 I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” (Hos 2:16, 19-20)
Again, it is the very same Israel He divorces and casts off that He later betroths forever, rather than it referring to the Church replacing Israel. The Church, the Bride of Christ, will be married for the first time to Christ as a chaste virgin, becoming the wife of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem. In contrast, Israel is here received back as Jehovah’s wife to possess their earthly inheritance in the Land of Israel. This is made abundantly clear in the verses that follow in chapter 3 where it says that they will abide many days without a king but will return to the Lord and to David their king in the latter days. (Hos 3:4-5)
Again, in chapter 5 we see the Lord rejecting not only Israel but also Judah, however not permanently but only until they seek Him:
“For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue. 15 I will return again to My place TILL they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” (Hos 5:14-15)
This is clearly not speaking of Israel being replaced by the Church. It is the same Israel and Judah that are scattered and taken captive who will later seek His face in their affliction. The following verses clearly speak of their restoration:
“Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. 2 After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hos 6:1-2)
Again, it is clearly the same Israel whom the Lord has torn in judgment who will later seek Him for healing and revival. While this and other passages referring to God’s dealings with the people of Israel may have a secondary application to us within the Church, its primary reference is to national Israel and Judah – not spiritual Israel. Many promises and prophesies concerning Israel are first applied to the Church in order to provoke Israel to jealousy, but their full fulfillment awaits the time of their full restitution.
Some Replacement theologians argue that Christ replaced Israel as the true Israel of God since “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Hosea 11:1), is applied to Christ in Matthew where it says: “When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matt 2:14-15)
However, as we continue reading in Hosea it is evident that, although Christ is identified with Israel, He doesn’t replace Israel. Christ going into Egypt and being called out of Egypt back into the Land of Israel contrasts Israel’s failure upon leaving Egypt with Christ’s obedience much like the contrast between Adam and Christ, the Last Adam, but Christ doesn’t replace Israel. This becomes evident as one continues reading in Hosea. For example, verse 5 says: “He (Israel) shall not return to the land of Egypt; but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent.” Later in the chapter He speaks of how He will not always be angry with Israel but will show mercy towards them in the end:
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. 9 I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror.” (Hos 11:8-9)
Those who think that God would permanently reject Israel for all that they have done forget that God is a God of mercy who does not cast off forever nor willingly afflict the children of men. In His mercy God promises that He will bring them back into their land from the nations where He scattered them in His anger. He says in the next verses:
“They shall walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west;11 They shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt, like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses,’ says the Lord.” (Hos 11:10,11)
In the 19th and early 20th centuries Replacement theologians ridiculed Premillennial Dispensationalists for insisting upon the normal, literal interpretation of these and numerous other passages prophesying the restoration of Israel and Judah in their land in the latter days but they insisted on believed it simply because the Bible said it, even though it seemed impossible at the time. One would think that now, seeing that Israel is a nation and they are returning to their homeland, all would recognize that God is fulfilling His promise to Israel. But sadly, as with the brothers of the rich man in hades, some will not believe even if one were to rise from the dead.
It should be clear to any unbiased student of the Word that God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants, the children of Israel, are unconditional and irrevocable. We as Gentiles should be thankful that in God’s mercy, we have been grafted into the olive tree, becoming heirs of the blessing of Abraham. But we should not presume to have replaced Israel. God clearly still has a glorious future in store for His people Israel.