The Church of Scotland has published a report titled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land’” in which the church declares that the land of Palestine does not belong to the Jewish people.
In Genesis 12:7, the Lord told Abraham: “To your offspring I will give this land.” However, the report says that “Promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory. They are a way of speaking about how to live under God” (p. 8).
According to the report, the concept of the promised land in the Bible “is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God.” It is for this reason, the report concludes, that the “promised land” can be found– or built– anywhere” (p. 8).
The report quotes a statement from Walter Brueggemann which appeared in his book Reverberations of Faith, to affirm that “the land is God’s, given in trust to be cared for and lived in according to God’s instruction” (p. 5). For this reason, the report declares that possession of the land is “conditional” (p. 5) and that Israel does not have a legitimate claim on the land because it is not doing God’s will.
To God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding” (Genesis 17:7-8), the Church of Scotland’s report asks: “How can Christians support the violation of human rights in the name of alleged divinely conferred exclusive rights to a specific area of land?” (p. 4).
On the claim by Christians that the Bible supports Israel’s right to the land and that the modern state of Israel is “the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, as well as the fulfillment of biblical prophets such as Ezekiel” (p. 4), the report says that the New Testament provides a better way of understanding God’s promises. The report says:
If Jesus is indeed the Yes to all God’s promises the promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people. Jesus gave a new direction and message for the people of God, one which did not feature a special area of land for them.
This report has generated much discussion in the UK, primarily among the Jewish community which was not consulted before the draft of the document. Some Christian organizations in Scotland have requested that the document be rejected by the Church. The annual general assembly of the Church of Scotland will vote on the report later this month.
Christians should read this report and come to their own conclusions on the merits of the report. Read the full report here. [UPDATE: The Church of Scotland has removed the document from its web page]
The Palestinian issue, their claim to the land, and the right of Israel to exist as a nation with a land which they can call their own, is a matter of debate among Christians and it is an issue for which no easy answers can be found.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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