Claiming Old Testament Promises

Alas, I am still easy-chair bound, and to hobble downstairs and yank out my giant textbooks would be too difficult for a simple blog post, but I’ll write this without citing sources simply as a challenge — rest assured that this challenge was given to me in the form of first year seminary courses, and not something off the top of my head. If you have questions, I encourage you to research them for yourself.

At issue is our tendancy to claim Old Testament promises out of context. I myself am guilty of quoting Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage someone going through a tough time, but its important to understand the implications — especially political, national and theological — of doing so.

The promises God gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament were given to a geopolitical group: when He promised land, He wasn’t promising you land; when He promised wealth, He wasn’t promising you wealth; and when He promised a hope and a future, He wasn’t talking to you, or even to individual Israelites at the time. He was promising to provide a home, and later to provide restoration, to His chosen people — a whole nation (and sometimes not-yet-born generations of that nation, not even the ones alive when He made the promise!!) — with the stipulation that they obey His commandments!

The only way to claim those promises for ourselves today is to re-understand “Israel.” The most common approach to that, and in my opinion, best supported Biblically, is to understand that when Christ came, he redefined “His chosen people” not as a geopolitical people group but as the new nation-less, race-less assembly of those who would chose to follow Him, whom He called His Church. If you can accept that “Israel” is not now the (relatively newly established) country in the Middle East, but is instead the Church, then you can lay claim to some of those Old Testament promises and stipulations on them — as they relate to the whole Church; again, not to individuals.

If, however, for reasons likely political, it is important to you maintain the current country and people of Israel as a continuation of the Old Testament Israel, then you have no claim to the promises given to that nation thousands of years ago; all of those promises belong only to them.

Apparently there are those who find some middle ground, or compromise between those two positions, chosing to view the church Christ established as a chosen people, and ancient-through-modern Israel as also a chosen people, picking and chosing which rules and promises are applicable to the former, as they see fit. I see the two positions as mutually exclusive. John 16:33 promises that in this world we will have trouble. It doesn’t promise that God will make everything right — at least on this earth. Our only reason for hope, and the only reason our brother’s and sister’s living in Israel have for hope, is in life eternally with Him.

There’s no promise that each of us will have a pain free life, just because we’re Christians. I offer as evidence my mangled leg: I hope it will heal completely — but the most likely outcome is that I’ll have 2-3 months of re-hab, 6-12 months of painful swelling, a lifetime with at least a mild limp, and probable arthritis when I get older. If I hope hard enough (or pray hard enough) there’s no promise that will change. But when I get to heaven, I do have hope that my new body will be a much better one than I have now!!

A good list of the viewpoints on who the “Chosen People” are today can be found here.

PS: It would be prudent to exclude Psalms from this discussion, as those should be interpreted differently, due to their genre. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as well seem to offer promises, but the wisdom genre again requires a different kind of exegesis…

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