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Whose Promised Land ?

(Colin Chapman, Lion Paperbacks)

A Review by Theo Todman

June 1984

If you think you can anticipate what the book's answer to this question is, you may be in for a shock when you read it! In brief the author's view is that the present State of Israel is unjustly occupying its territory, having no mandate from the Lord for doing so. He also believes that the State of Israel is supported by Christians as a result of faulty exegesis. All in all, these views will not be readily received by readers of Search - so why am I reviewing this book?

Basically, because most of what is written in this book is accurate and challenging and particularly because it is well and clearly argued. The author states his facts and premises clearly and shows how he reaches his conclusions from them. So much of dispute is obscured by facts not being clearly stated and methodology not considered or explained. Most irreconcilable disputes, where one side cannot understand the other's point of view, can be explained along these lines. One side or other (or both) has either neglected to state what they take to be basic facts or what they take to be valid principles of argument. Once these "facts" and "principles" are known, their validity can be investigated and the solidity of the argument and the certainty of the conclusions can be measured. For this reason alone the book is worth reading and its author's approach is well worth emulating by those associated with The Open Bible Trust. Our aim too is, especially when approaching the Scriptures, to find out what the facts are and to use reliable methods of argument to reach reliable conclusions that can be acted upon.

But what has the book to say about the "Promised Land"? The book's aim is to analyse the present Middle East problem - to find out what the problem actually is, looking at it from Jewish, Arab and Christian viewpoints - and to find some sort of solution or a "way forward". It is not a book limited to the interpretation of prophetic Scripture per se, but only in so far as one's interpretation of prophecy colours one's interpretation of events in the Middle East and particularly as it may lead one to take sides in the conflict. The author believes that the State of Israel has received an unwarranted amount of support from Christians (especially in the United States) on the basis of the popular belief that the existence of the present State of Israel is the direct fulfilment of prophecy. Colin Chapman has been working with students in the Middle East since 1968 and so his interest in the subject is not that of an armchair Bible Student, but of one who has first hand knowledge of and love for the people caught up in the conflict. His main thesis is that, while the present State of Israel can be said to have been brought into being by the providence of God, it is not His "handiwork". While the author does not believe in a millennial kingdom to be established on the earth and centred in Jerusalem, his main point is that even if he did, he would certainly not identify the present Israel with that Kingdom. With this we certainly agree. As Colin Chapman points out, the main characteristic of God's Kingdom is righteousness and this is decidedly lacking in modern Israel (as elsewhere in the world!).

Where The Open Bible Trust would disagree with him is in his refusal to acknowledge the ultimate restoration of the Jews and that the present State of Israel may well set the scene for this.

The book pursues its argument firstly by giving the historical facts about who lived in the land of Palestine at various times from the age of the patriarchs to the present day. He then quotes various witnesses from all sides, whether Jew, Arab or Western Christian, to show the various attitudes that can be held. These first two sections will correct many misconceptions people may have. One of these is the idea that the Jews and Arabs have been at one another's throats since the days when Abraham impatiently begat Ishmael. However, note that not all non-Jewish semitic people are descended from Ishmael, the alleged father of the Arabs. The Moabites and Ammonites descended from Lot and the Edomites from Esau, son of Isaac. Also the Arabs have, in general, been much more favourable to the Jews than have Christians, even real ones - some of Martin Luther's invective against the Jews makes Josef Goebbels' sound moderate !

Another misconception is that the Palestinian Arabs have no cause for complaint and are simply to be viewed as enemies of Israel. In fact, the Western Powers have treated them appallingly. Because of Western Powers' past sins against the Jews and because the Western Powers thought Jewish support and finance valuable, the Zionists have been allowed to form a Jewish state - but rather than give them part of Europe, the Western Powers decided to give them someone else's country instead. (It is interesting to know that part of Argentina was an alternative.) It was only when the proportion of Jews started to affect the balance of the country that the Arabs started to object. The author does not seek to hide the sins of any of the participants, whether they be the self interest of the Western Powers or the Arab absentee landlords who sold so much of the land to the Jewish settlers or the Jews themselves, whose acquisition of the land he thinks is more closely related to Ahab's acquisition of Naboth's vineyard than to Joshua's conquest of Canaan.

The author also reminds us of the chronic disunity of the Arabs and the violent methods used by all sides. An interesting remark is that many Jews acknowledge that the present State of Israel has been founded at the cost of the Jews becoming just another gentile nation and losing their distinctive message. Perhaps the greatest indictment against modern Israel is that, though they "know the heart of a stranger" having been scattered over the earth throughout most of their history, they are treating the Palestinians much as they themselves were treated in Europe - as non-citizens who would be better off not there. His solution to the problem is one that can really only be brought about by the Lord. Both sides in the conflict must acknowledge their past sins and learn to accept one another - that the "promised land" now belongs to both Jew and Arab who must accept one another as equals and start to work together.

We must now consider the book's attitude to the interpretation of prophetic Scripture. As stated above, Colin Chapman's canon of interpretation is antipathetic to that of The Open Bible Trust, but by clearly stating his objections I believe he has performed a great service in clarifying the issues. In an appendix he states correctly that a prophecy may have at least a threefold fulfilment - firstly, a fulfilment soon after the pronouncement of the prophecy. Secondly, a fulfilment at the first coming of Christ and thirdly, a fulfilment at the second coming of Christ. (It is good that in general he rejects the manifestly unsound historicist view of prophecy being fulfilled in the history of the church.) However it is the way in which he decides to apportion the fulfilments of prophecy between the three categories that would lead us to take issue with him. Notably, he has a tendency to assume too many figurative interpretations - probably because the literal ones are repugnant to him. For instance, while believing in the literal Second Coming of Christ at the end of the age, he tends to relate many scriptures that refer to this great event to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, even the cosmic disturbances, (by analogy between Mark 13:24-25 and Isaiah 13:10, which applies cosmic disturbances to the destruction of Babylon. However, there seems no need to restrict the fulfilment of Isaiah 13 to 539 B.C. Much of the chapter is dealing with the Day of the Lord, of which 539 B.C. was a premonition. Babylon is again destroyed in Revelation, but Colin Chapman would probably not take this as literal Babylon.)

Another, to us, unusual feature is his contention that "the primary reference in the words (in Mark 13:26) about the coming of the Son of Man is to His public vindication in the near future" and by re-translating "angels" in Mark 13:27 as "messengers" he seems to refer the verse to the ministry of the apostles in preaching the gospel. Really, this is simply another way of wriggling out of the difficulty of the Lord's postponed early return, by changing the meaning of "return". The other popular method, by reference to 2 Peter 3:18, changes the meaning of "early". The approach adopted by The Open Bible Trust, of noting the conditional nature of this promise (Acts 3:19-21) and the parenthetical nature of the present dispensation, seems more sober than either.

Thirdly, the author's preconceptions spring rather garishly into the foreground with such statements as, "the mind boggles at the thought of a descendant of David being installed as king in Jerusalem, the temple being rebuilt and the whole sacrificial system re-instituted", (page 236 on Ezekiel 37:25-26). Again he says, when John later takes up the picture of all nations attacking Jerusalem, he describes it as "the camp of God's people, the city He loves", (Revelation 20:6) and this could hardly refer to the Jewish people or the city of Jerusalem, and must therefore refer to the church ! One's mind boggles at that which it is predisposed to boggle ! My mind boggles at the "hardly" and "therefore" in the above. It is true that Revelation 20 does not name the city as Jerusalem, but neither is it named in Revelation 11:8 "wherein their lord was crucified." But why can it not be literal Jerusalem ? If the events of Revelation 20:7-10 are post-millennial, as verse 7 states (but Colin Chapman does not believe in the millennium) then it is quite reasonable that it should then be "the camp of the saints and the beloved city."

So far we have dealt only with points which are easy to dispose of - most of them arose because of the author's tenure of the common belief that the occurrence of events (such as those in Ezekiel 37 quoted above) when taken literally and as future would be a step backwards - he ends the book with the statement (in another and slightly more correct context) "it's rather like lighting a candle when the sun is already shining." This view is true, up to a point, if such events were to happen tomorrow. However when Ezekiel 37 is fulfilled the sun will not have been shining for some years. The world will just have emerged from its darkest hour, under the reign of antichrist, and the people will need re-educating, much as the Israelites emerging from the idolatry of Egypt needed re-educating under Moses, to bring them to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

There are, however, more difficult points raised by the author. One is the way that the New Testament handles the Old. Colin Chapman contends that this changes the apparent meaning of the Old Testament passages referred to and gives us guidelines in the interpretation of others. More especially, he contends that the New Testament use of Old Testament passages is repugnant to the meaning given them by dispensationalists.

Another is the use of "for ever" in reference to things that have terminated, as literally first promised. If the Davidic kingship (2 Samuel 7:16), the Aaronic priesthood (1 Chronicles 23:13) and the Solomonic temple (1 Kings 9:3) all ceased, though promised "for ever", why should not the promise of the land to Abraham be transmuted to some spiritual equivalent, and he quotes Hebrews 11:9-16 ? These are considerable questions, not to be answered in a few words.

Taking the second point first, pointers to its elucidation can perhaps be found in considering such factors as whether a promise is conditional or not. Those to Solomon, involving the temple (and therefore the practice of the priesthood) and the throne, are clearly conditional - 1 Kings 9:6-7. Also, the Heavenly Jerusalem need not be considered as equivalent to the land, especially as Hebrews 11 is dealing with rewards for faithfulness, rather than unconditional election. The city will, in any case, not remain in heaven for ever, (Revelation 21:2).

We now come to the first of the above questions. How far is the New Testament use of the Old Testament destructive of the original surface meaning of the passages quoted? Let us put the question this way - does the New Testament use Old Testament passages as "proof texts", much as a modern preacher might do, and force us to accept further an interpretation other than the "natural" one? This is a difficult question to consider without copious examples, but perhaps two points could briefly be made.

Firstly, there seems to be a wide range of usage - some passages are strictly literal applications, others see features in the Old Testament text that are not straightforward constructions from the passage. For instance, the famous Emmanuel passage in Isaiah 7:14 has nothing in it to indicate that it should apply to any time other than that of Ahaz, but the Holy Spirit in Matthew 1:23 brings our attention to a deeper significance of those words. However, the usage in Matthew 1 does not take away the literal meaning of the original text, as Colin Chapman acknowledges. This deals with what might be called "allusions" to Old Testament passages.

However, what about New Testament passages that seem to be expositions of Old Testament ones? In that case we are certainly bound by the sense given by the Holy Spirit, but each passage has to be taken on its merits firstly to determine whether an exposition is actually being undertaken and secondly whether the exposition really is such as is made out by the expositors of the New Testament text. We take one final example, that of Acts 15:16-17 and Amos 9:11-12 (Septuagint), which is, sadly, complicated by differences between the Hebrew and the Septuagint / New Testament texts. Here, James is taken, by Colin Chapman, to mean that the "rebuilding of the tabernacles of David" was occurring during Acts 15, in some spiritual sense and that this, being an inspired exposition of Amos 9, means that we cannot use that passage to predict a promised return to the land for Israel. However, James might rather be seen to be saying that the salvation of Gentiles before the Lord's return, which was perturbing some of the Jewish Christians, had been foretold. On Messiah's return, when the fortunes of David are restored, after the reign of antichrist, the remnant of the men (presumably believing Jews in this context) and the believing Gentiles who have survived the great tribulation, will then be free to seek Him.

Secondly, and this is perhaps the whole raison d'être of the historical grammatical approach to Scriptural exposition, isn't the idea that the Old Testament texts do not mean what they appear to mean (allowing for the fact that there is much more to them than a surface literal meaning and not neglecting typological considerations) somewhat disconcerting and inconducive to Bible Study? Wouldn't they then become shifting sand open to the caprice of the expositor? If a trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for the battle (1 Corinthians 14:8)?

© Theo Todman June 1984.

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