Israel - It's Past, Present and Future - Dr. H.M. Ohmann (1928-2006)
From Abraham, the believer, to whom the promises were made (Gal. 3:16), we came to Moses, who received the Law. And again I remind the readers of what it says in Gal. 3:17: "The Law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void." To Moses it was also granted to lead the people before the gates of the promised land. Abraham and Moses we called two Israelites rising head and shoulders above the others. Are they the only ones? What about David, the king? David, author of so many Psalms, king and prophet? Isn't he to be put on a level with the other two if one takes into account the place he was given in the history of his people, or rather, in the history of God's revelation, his reign being the undisputed highlight, the acme, of what is within reach of the people in the Old Testament?
Taking long strides through history we now are going to pay attention to the fact that once Israel had entered into the promised land, the inheritance, which the LORD their God gave them, it was granted to them to have a king, like all the nations that were round about them. Israel became a kingdom. In addition to all the other blessings bestowed upon them, this privilege, this glory, was not withheld from them.
To be sure, it took some time. The people first had to go through the period of the Judges, with its ups and downs, its trial and error, its tiring circular course of apostasy - oppression - repentance - redemption, so as to mature in view of the centuries of kingship. Their desire for it becomes noticeable more and more. In Judges 8:22ff. we read that an offer was made to Gideon, but he refused. His son Abimelech tried a kingship after the Canaanite fashion, so it was foredoomed to failure. However, the first king to be appointed by the LORD, i.e., in the legal way, proved to be a failure. We know all about the crucial point, phrased as it is in the wellknown words of 1 Sam. 15:22: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of ram and so on. To obey, to hearken, that is in other words: to believe; faith. As with Abraham, as with Moses, it is faith again that is going to be the decisive factor for the man privileged to sit upon the throne in Israel, to reign over the people on behalf of the LORD according to the style of the theocracy. The LORD rejected Saul as king over Israel because he had rejected the word of the LORD. Afterwards he wore out his days in misery. But then we do not hear the LORD say: Enough of this! At no time a king anymore! No, Samuel the great intermediary of his time, as far as that goes a man comparable with Moses, is called to go and anoint another king: David, the second, whose reign is to be the undisputed highlight in the history of O.T. Israel. His reign would stand out as ideal for times to come and a type of the glorious and blessed reign of the Messiah, who was to be Son of David. It was in view of the Messiah that kings were appointed and anointed.
That Israel ever was to become a kingdom was implied in promise and prophecy with so many words. First intimations of a future kingdom are found in Genesis 17:6, where it is recorded: "I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you" This is restated in vs. 16 of the same chapter in relation to the promise of the son of Sarah: "And I will bless her, and moreover I will give thee a son of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings and peoples shall be of her."The promise of a kingdom given to Abraham's seed is subsequently narrowed to Isaac and Jacob, and in Gen. 49:10 it is further limited to the tribe of Judah: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be." In this context I can still mention the last oracle of Balaam, Nb. 22:17.
On the other hand, demands are made upon the future king. I mean in the Law of Deut. 17:14ff. "When you come to the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and dwell in it, and then say: 'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me'; you may indeed set as king over you him whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you."
As far as that goes, Israel's petition in I Sam. 8 is legitimate. Apart from that, however, questions arise, as e.g.: What does it mean in Israel's mouth: "to govern us like all the nations"? In the same way as other nations are governed by their own kings? With all that is implied? For example, that kings were considered to be divine and entitled to be worshipped like the gods? For that reason some O.T. scholars considered kingship in Israel to be a plant from foreign soil. But that does not hold good, as we have seen above. God had made provisions beforehand. No, kingship among Israel has a very special character. It is a theocratic kingship. However much the king is king, he always should be alive to the fact that he is but a man sitting on a throne supported by God in heaven. He is God's representative among the people, like the prophets are. More than that, the King cannot do without the prophet through whom the LORD is pleased to address himself to him, whose voice he should obey. The earthly throne stands in the shadow of the heavenly one and is allowed to reflect the glory of the heavenly throne. So it is with the throne as with the land and the promised seed; they all are given on a certain condition: Faith.
This is very clearly stated in 2 Samuel 7, which chapter is a kernel in the book and in the Old Testament. The reader knows the story. David desired to build a house for the LORD and Nathan the prophet attached his fiat to it. In spite of his enthusiasm Nathan on the spur of the moment did not behave like a real prophet. He did not consult the LORD. But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying that it would not be David who was to build a house for the LORD, but his offspring after him, who would come forth from his body, his son. A disillusionment? Oh no, on the contrary, considering things from the angle of that which the LORD is going to do for David: " Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, and I will establish his kingdom . . . and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he shall be my son" (11-14). How great a promise! In his posterity David is going to occupy the throne of Israel, the people of the covenant, the people of God, for ever.
When you come to think of how the LORD is going to bind, to commit himself to the House of David, you cannot help being surprised. Be he ever so much a descendant of Judah, who sees anything different in him in comparison with other Israelites? Yet it does not prevent the LORD from making such a pledge to this very man.
However, shall the LORD never repent? Does the LORD bind himself without any condition? No, but notice on what condition! "When he commits iniquity I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me, your throne shall be established for ever" (14-16). In case of serious sin his descendants will be chastised, sure, but that does not take away that the promise will come true.
The rest of the chapter tells us how David gave thanks to the LORD. Please read it, and you may read in this connection also Psalm 2, which speaks of his enthronement, Psalm 89, and Psalm 132 - Psalms worth being studied by ministers and church members so as to consider the history of the Bible from the right angle.
We hear the LORD God unfold His plan with regard to the future of his people, the course He is to pursue in times to come. Not simply a time of prosperity, much as Israel under Solomon is seen reaching the pinnacle of its glory - as far as there can be GLORY on this earth! Solomon, so very promising as he started his reign and so brilliant in the heyday of prosperity, was the man whose life in the end turned out to be bitter disillusionment, the more so because it was he who knew by what the throne was supported. I am referring to the Book of Proverbs. Immediately after his death the kingdom was split. Yet a son of Solomon, that is, a grandson of David, is continued in office - over a part of the inheritance, to be sure, but, significantly, the part where the city of the LORD, Jerusalem is situated. Some 350 years later this part of the people is led into captivity. But after the exile follows the return. No, Israel is not restored to the glory of being a kingdom, apart from what was accomplished under the Maccabees in the second century B.C. However, was that a time to boast of? How soon the decline came to light!
What matters most of all is that the Davidic line was preserved down the centuries. On the way back from Babel we meet a Zerubbabel of the house of David as leader beside the highpriest. And though it is the highpriests who uphold Israel's honour of being an independent nation, at any rate a nation by itself, in that they underline the religious character of Israel's existence, David is not forgotten by God. His heavenly messenger Gabriel knows where the claimant to the throne can be found: in Nazareth. And it is his fiancee Mary who is to give birth to Him who will be called: THE SON OF DAVID. And that's why in the history of his birth we are emphatically reminded of David and what the LORD once spoke to him. See e.g. Matth. 1:20: "Joseph, son of David"; Luke 1:32: "Andthe LORD God will give to Him the throne of his father David". And as far as we, Christians of the Gentiles, are concerned, we should never reason this way: "If only the Saviour is born it is fine with me. It does not matter where and out of whom!" For it really does matter! When God comes to the rescue, He not only reveals Himself to be the Merciful, but also the Faithful One, keeping the promises made from of old. And that is what makes the future promising.
Ever since the history of Israel and the prophecy to Israel the name of David has been indissolubly connected with the prophesied restoration of Israel. The same holds good with regard to David's city, Jerusalem or Mount Sion. David's city, I say. In a certain way it was David's choice; cp. 2 Sam. 5. In the next chapter we are told that the Ark of the covenant was brought there, pledge of the LORD's presence among His people, so the LORD was pleased to dwell here. That the LORD's habitation was here: that was Jerusalem's glory so as to make the city unforgettable.
To whom? To everyone who is really interested in the history of Israel in olden times, that is first of all, in Old Testament times. To Jews who greet each other with the well-known "See you again in Jerusalem", but to Christians as well, who are not Abraham's seed as far as blood relations are concerned but the more so when faith is at stake.
For Jerusalem with its temple is not just a historic memorial, of which a scanty remainder is left in the Wailing Wall - for to have such a wall is a poor comfort - but the sanctuary, the Holy Place where the ministry of reconciliation was administered by the priests; where the atoning blood was poured out at the altar; where the sins of the covenant people, the sins of the king and the royal family included, were atoned on account of the merits of Him who was to come: Son of David, right, but what is more: Highpriest, who had been distributing the fruits of salvation centuries in advance, during all the time of the Old Testament.
It is on account of the Messiah to come that David's house and throne are spoken of as established for ever; cp. 2 Sam. 7:16; 1 Kings 2:4, 45; 9:5; Psalm 18:50(51); 45:6(7); 89:28, 29; 132:11, 12. Old Testament scholars are used to speaking here of a so called "style of the court", "court ceremonial". That, however, is wrong. It would be poor comfort. Not on account of the way the royal household is used to addressing him, but only on account of the Messiah to come such a promise or asseveration can be given. Furthermore, we should notice that it is only David who is spoken of this way; David, and no other king. The kings of the ten tribes are excluded and those of the kingdom of Judah are all included in their ancestor, provided they follow in his track. It is not a certain person, a single member of the dynasty, that matters first, but the dynasty, the house that is represented by its ancestor: David. And whatever the prophets are going to say about the glorious future of Israel is basically linked up with the prospect held out to David. So light is thrown upon passages like Amos 9:11f.: "in that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old." The people of Israel shall be shaken with a sieve (9:9). But the LORD Himself will take action and restore the fortunes of his people Israel. And in vss. 13ff. of this chapter you read how the future state of salvation is pictured in bright and vivid colours borrowed from that which the average Israelite could visualize in those days. Another text dating from the same time is Hos. 3:5: "Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness." Again David here is not the David of times gone by, which would have been of little use, but "David" is the embodiment of his dynasty and eventually it is Christ. From the wording you can gather that a divine figure out of David's house who must have been meant. Isn't he put on one level with the LORD? In the same vein you meet the name of David in the later prophets: Isaiah, e.g. 16:5 and 55:3, 5, where God's faithfulness to the covenant is the underlying idea, on the ground of which the coming of the Messiah, David's Son, can be expected. I can also mention Jer. 23:5 and Ezech. 37:24.
So, dealing with David, we did not only discuss the David of the historical books, Samuel and Kings, but the David of the prophetical books as well. That is the David to whom reference is made in the New Testament, the father of our LORD JESUS CHRIST. That was the sense of his life, his reign, and of Israel's rise under the monarchy.
Still dealing with Israel's past - I mean Old Testament times - we cast already a glance at the future. For in the past the future was already spoken of and a prospect of the future held out. More than any other speculations concerning Israel's future, launched throughout the centuries, it is the perspective opened by the prophets in the Bible, the very Word of God, which we should be interested in.
Israel's prophets were contemporaries of the kings who were discussed in the previous article. That is what they have in common, but for the rest they turned out to be each other's opponents time and again. It is kings who make history, some are used to saying. By history they understand: the course of events, what came to pass in their lifetime. Books are written about them. Rarely have books been written by one of them. Apart from David and Solomon I would not be able to mention any in Israel. So theirs is an exceptional case. But it is the LORD GOD who is actually the Maker of history; cp. Prov. 21:1; Psalm 33. In addition, He sent his prophets to exhort the kings to do what is right, to hold the mirror of the Law up to them, to confront them if necessary with their guilt.
That there is an independent nation called Israel living in its own land, being ruled by its own government, that is not saying much. Present-day authors on the subject, like the ones quoted in my second article, deem it the prerequisite to be met with when it comes to what Israel is entitled to. However, I for one think it is rather belief in the Truth, the standard that was set for the people, which is and will be decisive. That is what they saw impressed upon themselves by the Law and the prophets. Prophets, who did not only speak with a view to the future but also with regard to the time they lived in. Their message was meant for their contemporaries first of all, reminding them of a glorious past, opening perspectives for the future, on the earlier mentioned condition: faith and repentance.
Now that we have come to the subject of prophecy, we see our path crossed by others who take a keen interest in that which is said in the Bible, especially in the prophetic books, with regard to Israel; they like to speak as well as to write about it. As for us, we cannot possibly subscribe to their view on account of the fact that their approach is basically different from ours.
So far I haven't mentioned them by name; I didn't even have them in mind all the time. However, in developing our standpoint with regard to Israel's history, we were continually taking a stand against them. Anyway, I turned out to have been doing so, judging by the book Prophecy and the Church by Oswald T. Allis, late professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, to which my attention was drawn by my colleague Dr. Faber. That is to say, not that I haven't heard of the book before. I remember that when I was a student at Kampen, during the lectures in Dogmatics of Prof. K. Schilder, a paper on Chiliasm was discussed in which some references were made to the book of O.T. Allis. However, that was some twenty-five years ago, and the present writer had a better memory for names of German scholars than for those of their colleagues in the AngloSaxon countries.
After having read O.T. Allis on the subject I don't speak that way anymore. His book is worthwhile being studied. Although I had already taken my stand, I was strengthened in my opinion by the arguments brought to the fore by this erudite scholar, who had such a clear insight into the structure of the LORD's revelation. I hope the reader will not take it ill of me that I follow him in the present article.
In the first chapter he presents a survey of the various trends and nuances in Millenarianism and Dispensationalism. First we are enlightened on our own viewpoint. Under the heading "One visible coming (A en Post- millenialism)" we read: "This is the teaching that the only visible coming of Christ to this earth which the Church is to expect will be for judgment and will be followed by the final state. It is anti-chiliastic or amillennial, because it rejects the doctrine that there are to be two resurrections with an interval of a thousand years (the millennial reign of Christ with his saints on earth) between them.'' That there are however nuances is a thing which often escapes the adherents. A distinction is made by the author between:a. The Augustinian view. Augustine taught that the millennium is to be interpreted spiritually as fulfilled in the Christian Church. This view, which discovers the millennium in the present Christian dispensation, has had a number of different forms, of which the view of Whitby is worthy of mention. It is the doctrine of the "golden age" of the Church on earth. The thousand years of Rev. 20 are regarded as following in chronological sequence upon chap. 19. The millennium, though wholly future, is at the same time regarded as an integral part of the interadventual period, that is, the period the Church lives in; it is the climax and culmination of the Church age.
b. Kliefoth's view. Kliefoth deemed unwarranted both the millennial or chiliastic view and the a-millennial view that seeks the period of thousand years in the present dispensation and maintained that the 1000 years described in terms of completeness or ecumenicity the blessed state of the saints in heaven.Under the heading: "Thedoctrine of Two Advents (Premillennialism)" it reads: "Christian Chiliasm, or PreMillenarianism, is the doctrine of the personal reign of Christ, on earth, 1000 years after the Beast, False Prophet, and Apostate Christendom have been judged and perished in a common doom . . . A visible coming of Christ will precede the millennium . . . At this coming the elect are to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (the first resurrection and rapture) and then to return with Him to the earth for His millennial reign. This reign of Christ and His saints is to be followed by a 'little season" of apostasy, when Satan will be unbound. Then will come a second or postmillennial advent which will be followed by the last judgment and the final state. There will, therefore, be two visible comings, the one to reign, the other to judge, with a thousand year interval between them." That is why those who hold this view are usually and not inaptly called Premillennialists.
Under the heading "The Doctrine of Three Advents (Dispensationalism)" Allis writes: "This (viz. the name) is due to the emphasis which is placed in this teaching upon the 'dispensational' interpretation of Scripture . . . A dispensation is defined as 'a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God'. Seven dispensations are usually distinguished: innocency, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and the kingdom. There is a marked tendency to stress the differences between these dispensations and to set them in sharp contrast to one another. This is especially true of the last four; and the dispensation of grace as representing the present Church age is distinguished from all the others as a mystery parenthesis, having no connection with the dispensation of law which preceded it or with that of the kingdom which is to follow it."
Going a little bit further into details we find what is going to happen during the millennium summarized as follows: A visible coming of Christ will precede it. The coming will be in two stages, the rapture and the appearing, with a considerable interval of time between them, in which important events will take place. The rapture may take place at "any moment", and will certainly precede the great tribulation. The rapture will concern the Church only. The Church is composed of those, and those only, who are saved between Pentecost and the rapture. The Church age is a mystery period - a parenthesis dispensation unknown (emphasis mine, H.M.O.) lying between the 69th and 70th weeks of the prophecy of Daniel 9. Between the rapture and the appearing the events of the last week of Daniel 9, of Matth. 24 and of Rev. 4 19 are to take place. After a rapture a Jewish remnant will take the place of the Church as God's agent on earth for the conversion of Israel and the gentiles.
As to the history of this movement we learn that "The Dispensational teaching of today, as represented, for example, by the SCOFIELD REFERENCE BIBLE, can be traced back directly to the Brethren Movement which arose in England and Ireland about the year 1830. Its adherents are often known as Plymouth Brethren . . . It is also called Darbyism, after John Nelson Darby (1800 82), its most conspicuous representative." Their doctrine pivots around the Church age that is to be regarded as a parenthesis, between the Old Testament Kingdom of the past and the Old Testament Kingdom of the future, around the "Any Moment Coming" of the Lord; and around the Jewish Remnant. After the rapture of the entire Church, there will be no Christian on earth. A Jewish remnant is to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and through the preaching of this gospel multitudes are to be saved.
In the present series of articles on Israel a confrontation is unavoidable. As I said, Premillennialists take a keen interest in the subject under consideration; several publications have seen the light; so, they are crossing our path. It is impossible to ignore them, in particular now that we are entering upon prophecy, a subject interrelated with the preceding ones. It is especially their manner of interpretation that calls for attention.
A favourite subject is the emphasis placed on the literal interpretation of Scripture. Only when interpreted literally the Bible is interpreted truly, so they argue. The Church and its ministers they denounce as "spiritualizers" and "allegorizers". "The question of literal versus figurative interpretation is, therefore, one which has to be faced at the very outset," Allis says. "And it is to be observed at once that the issue cannot be stated as a simple alternative, either literal or figurative," he adds. Allis now points out why a thoroughly literal interpretation of Scripture is impossible. First, the language of the Bible often contains figures of speech, e.g. poetry; second, the great theme of the Bible is: God and His redemptive dealings with mankind. God is a Spirit; the most precious teachings of the Bible are spiritual; and these spiritual and heavenly realities are often set forth under the form of earthly objects; third, the Old Testament is both preliminary and preparatory to the New Testament.
Over against these basic viewpoints of a sound exegesis, Dispensationalists like to make the following statements: They insist that Israel always means Israel; it does not mean or typify the Church. Prophecies regarding Israel should not be applied to the Church. E.g., the "throne of David" is a phrase as definite, historically, as the throne of the Caesars at Rome, and admits of as little "spiritualizing". Accordingly there is a tendency to seek significant meanings in the very letter of Scripture, which has led to fanciful and even fantastic results. Striking examples are given by Allis, e.g. concerning the way the words "dust", "sand",and "stars" in the promise the Lord made to Abraham are evaluated. The stars thus signify a heavenly seed and the dust an earthly seed! The doves of Isa. 60:8 are discovered to be airplanes and the chariots with flaming torches of Nah. 2:3 are made into automobiles or tanks. They do not deny that there are spiritual values in the Bible, but they apply to the New Testament Church only. All promises and prophecies which concern Israel are earthly and ought to be taken literally.
Nevertheless, that those extreme literalists can be very inconsistent as well, is shown in the distinction made by them when interpreting history. Prophecy should be taken literally, but in the interpretation of history the principle of typical interpretation is carried to an extreme. Genesis 24, e.g., is regarded as highly typical and the Doctrine of the Trinity is found in it. In the same vein they deal with the history of Joseph, who is made a type of Christ. Here the question arises: When are we allowed to speak of a "typeof Christ"? - which question in its turn is determined by that other one: What about his place and function or office in the History of God's Revelation? Not only is it often difficult to determine whether an Old Testament feature has typical significance; it is also difficult to be sure just in what respect and to what extent a type is truly typical. The way Premillennialists and Dispensationalists deal with the history of Joseph and e.g. the figures in the Book of Esther is a warning example. The next time more on the interpretation of Prophecy.
As in the previous article, we'll cross swords with Premillennialism and Dispensationalism with regard to Prophecy, that is to say, the Interpretation of Prophecy, for that is where the ways part. We saw already that their main principle is that of literal interpretation, however inconsistent these extreme literalists may be. As we then followed Oswald Allis in his exposition, we'll now do so again since what is argued in his book fits wonderfully into that which has been pointed out by us in this series so far.
Under the heading "The Intelligibility of Prophecy" we read (p. 25): "if prophecy is to be taken literally, i.e., according to the letter, it would be natural to conclude that its literal meaning must be clear and obvious.
"The usual view on this subject has been that prophecy is not intended to be fully understood before its fulfilment, that it is only when God 'establishes the word of his servant and fulfils the counsel of his messengers,' that the meaning and import of their words becomes fully manifest. The reason for this is to be found, as Patrick Fairbairn has so admirably pointed out, in the fact that these disclosures of things to come are made known to men by One who has made man and knows his human frailty and how much knowledge of the future is for his good. Prophecy, in the words of Sir lsaac Newton, is not given to make men prophets but as a witness of God when it is fulfilled. Prophecy is a wonderful combination of the clear and the obscure. Enough of God's purpose is revealed to act powerfully upon the heart and the conscience of those to whom the heavenly message is sent, but not enough to make fatalists of them, to paralyse human effort, or to coerce the human will: enough to prove the message to have been a true word from Him to whom alone the unknown future is fully known, but not enough to enable man to foresee with certainty when and how that purpose is to be realized. "I can hardly say how pleased I am with these words, so worthwhile to be quoted. Everyone who is to study the Messianic prophecies or eschatological passages in the O.T. should have them in mind continually.
Over against this exposition, Dispensationalists state that prophecy is intended to be plain and fully intelligible before its fulfilment. Allis quotes Darby (the well known John Nelson Darby, predecessor of the Plymouth brethren or Darbists) who went so far as to say: "I do not want history to tell me Nineveh or Babylon is ruined or Jerusalem in the hands of the Gentiles, I know that this is sure to take place since the prophets foretold it so."
Another statement you hear in these circles is: "Prophecy is prewritten history. If prophecy is written as simply and plainly as history, it should be quite as intelligible as history; and we should have no more difficulty in understanding the prophecies of Isaiah than the history recorded in the Books of Kings.
Any minister in our Churches who has studied Prof. Greijdanus' Schriftbeginselen ter Schriftverklaring, as well as any believing church member judging of things in sober reason, and that is how it should be, will agree that such statements run counter to the basic principles of hermeneutics and a sound exegesis, which prescribe that each type of material, prose and poetry, history and prophecy and wisdom literature should be dealt with according to its proper standards. Seemingly it does great honour to the Bible to insist that prophecy is clear as crystal, as plain as print, but in reality it derogates from the very character and beauty of the Word of God, since it pleased the LORD to speak to His people in many and various ways: by history, prophecy and psalms and other poetry; by means of the law and proverbs full of practical wisdom.
"Prophecy is pre-written history". With regard to that statement Allis makes another good point when he writes: "This literal view of prophecy also makes its appeal to those who wish to exchange faith for sight, who wish to be able to read the future with clearness and set up precise prophetical programs regarding things to come, programs which no one can conclusively disprove until the events of history have tested them". Here you have in few lines what a sectarian mentality is really after; a mentality which is characteristic of pre-millennialists and other sects as often as they use the literal text of the Bible to back themselves up, e.g. in rejecting the Baptism of infants. "Where does it say so? Show me the text!" they are used to saying. But there is more behind it than meets the eye, namely, the will to safeguard their beloved, cherished viewpoints.
The conception of Premillennialism "cannot be made to square with the phenomena of prophecy as they lie before us in Scripture". "The use of figurative language - symbols, parables, etc. - is far more characteristic of prophecy than of historical narration." Several instances can be quoted here. Another point is that "not only the language of prophecy is often figurative and parabolic, it also differs from history in its frequent lack of precision and definiteness". Cf., for example, expressions like: "In that day", "inthose days", or "in the latter days"; the word "time" in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7.
"From a practical standpoint, the clearest indication that prophecy is not 'prewritten history' consists in the fact that there is in many cases such a wide difference of opinion among commentators as to whether certain predictions have been fulfilled, and whether, if fulfilled, this fulfilment is to be regarded as complete and final or as only partial or 'germinant'."
For further particulars I may refer to the book of Dr. P.A. Verhoef, Die Vraagstuk van die Onvervulde Voorsegginge in verband met Jesaja 1-39, a doctoral thesis at the Free University by a South African Theologian, who really goes into the matter and, as a disciple of the late Prof. G. Ch. Aalders, takes a good stand over against the ideas of modernism and pre-millennialism. Peculiar examples of a strictly literal interpretation of prophecy are also offered in Prof. Dr. K. Schilder, Om Woord en Kerk, vol. It, p. 132, in the article entitled "Het Zoeklicht", a magazine that was edited by Johan de Heer. The ideas current in this magazine are spotlighted by K.S. and compared with the results of a genuine Reformed exegesis.
On page 31 of his book, under the heading "Conditional and Unconditional Elements in Prophecy", Prof. Allis turns to an argument insistently advanced by Dispensationalists in support of the complete intelligilbility and literal fulfilment of prophecy, namely, the claim that unconditional promises must be literally fulfilled. "in making this claim Dispensationalists have the Abrahamic covenant especially in view. They insist that this covenant was 'unconditional'; and they set it as such in sharp contrast and, even direct antithesis to the Mosaic law. The covenant was unconditional and must be fulfilled to the letter. The law was conditioned by the words, 'if ye will obey my voice" (Ex. XIX. 5); this condition was broken immediately and repeatedly; consequently the promise attached to the keeping of this law need not be fulfilled. It is largely on this basis that it is claimed that Israel must return to the land of Canaan and possess the whole of it under the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, which we are told she has never yet done. The superior blessedness of this dispensation of promise, as viewed by Dispensationalists, is indicated by Scofield's words: "The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law [Ex. VIX. 8]" (italics---(italics mine, H.M.O.). The word 'rashly' is startlingly significant. It implies either that Israel without due consideration forsook a more favorable status for a less favorable one, or that, in accepting the more favorable one, the people did not weigh sufficiently the condition attached to it, did not realize their utter inability to perform it."
"Since this question of the relation of man's obedience to the fulfilment of God's covenant is a matter of great importance," (and I presume my readers who remember the struggle in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the early forties on this issue will wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Allis) "we shall consider it in three aspects' .
Allis now first of all looks more closely at the Abrahamic Covenant and Obedience, just as we did already in the first two articles, but also in the ones that followed, since according to us basically nothing has changed in the subsequent stages of the history of God's revelation. In principle it was the same stipulations over and over, in the period of the patriarchs, in the Mosaic era, in the days of the Davidic kingship. But let us listen to Allis: "Firstof all it is to be observed that a condition may be involved in a command or promise without its being specifically stated". He points to the career of Jonah, who was to preach unconditioned judgment, yet the unstated condition was presupposed in the very character of God as a God of mercy and compassion, in brief: a Covenant-God. If Nineveh repents, the judgment is not going to be executed, much as it had been announced by the prophet.
About the case of the Patriarchs, Allis writes: "it is true that, in the express terms of the covenant with Abraham, obedience is not stated as a condition. But that obedience (equals faith, H.M.O.) was presupposed is clearly indicated by two facts. The one is that obedience is the precondition of blessing under all circumstances . . . This is the general principle of God's providential and also of His gracious dealings with His children." (Please realize that these very words were written by an American scholar when the struggle on this issue in the Dutch Reformed Churches was at its height, andthe "concerned", such as Prof. K. Schilder, were under suspicion of remonstrantism because of conviction that in the Covenant of Grace God had made conditions, stipulations!) "The second fact", Allis says, "is that in the case of Abraham the duty of obedience is particularly stressed. In Gen. XVIII. 17f. it is plainly stated that, through His choice of Abraham, God proposed to bring into being, by pious nurture , a righteous seed which would 'keep the way of the LORD', in order that as a result and reward of such obedience 'the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him ... When the covenant was renewed to Isaac, it concluded with what we may call the Old Testament obituary of Abraham, 'because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws' (XXVI. 5). It was because of the obedience of Abraham that the promise was repeated to his son, who had himself learned on mount Moriah the extent of the obedience required of his father . . .
"That obedience was vitally connected with the Abrahamic covenant is shown with especial dearness by the fact that there was connected with it a sign, the right of circumcision, to the observance of which the utmost important was attached. Cutting off from the covenant people was the penalty for the failure to observe it."
"But the best part is yet to come.
Those who insist that the Abrahamic covenant was wholly unconditional, do not really so regard it, as is shown by the great importance which Dispensationalists attach to Israel's being 'in the land'as the precondition of blessing under the covenant. Scofield tells us: 'The descendants of Abraham had but to abide in their own land to inherit every blessing.' How important they hold this condition is illustrated by the attempt made by Scofield to distinguish between the 'directive' and the 'permissive' will of God regarding Jacob's going down to Egypt." Referring to Gen. 46:3, Allis can easily refute Dispensationalism and Scofield, since this narrative tells us with great plainness that this journey was of God. "What plainer intimation could Jacob have received that it was God's will for him. to go down to Egypt? God would Himself go with him!". He also refers to Joseph, who very plainly saw the hand of God in his career.
A very good point is made by Allis on page 35, where he remarks: "That Dispensationalists do not regard the Abrahamic covenant as wholly unconditional is indicated also by the fact that we never hear them speak of the restoration of Esau to the land of Canaan and to. full blessing under the Abrahamic covenant." Oh, you say, but Esau was immoral and unreligious (Hebr. 12:16). Sure, that is what you say, and I agree, but to a Dispensationalist it should not make any difference, since there are no conditions under the Abrahamic Covenant! I quote again: "This is due of course to the fact that Israel is the constant theme of Old Testament prophecy, while the burden of prophecy regarding Edom is almost wholly denunciatory. It is the New Testament which fills Amos' prediction of the subjugation of Edom (IX. 12) with the glory of that gospel invitation which is made to 'the residue of men . . . and all the Gentiles', Acts XV. 17. But if the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional, if obedience was not required until the words, 'if ye will obey my voice,' were uttered at Sinai, why is Esau excluded from the blessings of this covenant? He was a son of Isaac as much as Jacob was." He even was a child born out of a wonder, a child prayed for insistently (Gen. 25:21), which prayer was granted by the LORD. if I were a Dispensationalist, I would add another section to those which are to be found in their books.
I now think of the book of Prof. John F. Walvoord, A.M., Th. D., D.D., President of Dallas Theological Seminary. Israel in Prophecyis the title. According to him, the eschatological program of God may be considered in four major divisions: (1) The program for angels. (2) The program of God for Gentiles. Included in God's program for the Gentiles is provision for the salvation of those who turn to God in true faith. (3) The divine program for Israel is unfolded in the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic and new covenants. It begins in Genesis 12. It includes all of God's dealings with Israel in the past and predicts a consummation in the future, when a time of great tribulation will befall the nation, which time will be followed by Israel's regathering, restoration and glory in the millennial kingdom. (4) The divine program for the church. It fails into two broad areas: (a) the professing church, i.e. Christendom, destined to become a world religion of apostate character; (b) the calling out of the true church, the body of Christ, within the professing church, composed of Jew and Gentile alike on equal basis (p. 28).
It is he, among others, who has taken up his pen to refute Allis. Well, you wonder, does he answer his questions in a satisfactory way? Read what he writes on page 41. I quote: "it is true that in some cases in the Bible, promises are given in a conditional way. For instance, the Mosaic covenant contains many conditional promises, i.e., blessing for obedience, cursing or divine judgment for disobedience. However, it is not true that in Scripture obedience is always the condition of blessing. Allis, who is Calvinist, has forgotten his doctrine of unconditional election. He has also forgotten the principle of divine grace in which God blesses those who are unworthy. The fact is that many of God's blessings fall upon those who are the least worthy of them. In such a doctrine as the security of the believer, which Allis would be the first to support, there is recognition of the principle that God makes promises which depend on Himself and His grace and not on human faithfulness. It certainly is not true that God's promises or that prophecy as a whole is conditioned upon human action. The major premise of Allis therefore that obedience is always the condition of blessing, is a fallacy. God is able to make promises and keep them regard less of what men may do" (italics mine, H.M.0). I was struck by such a way of argumentation; however, not so as to be convinced. On the contrary. It is because Prof. Walvoord takes recourse to exactly the same way of reasoning as found in the synodical decrees of 1942 - 1946 and in what was written in explanation of it, namely, the reasoning that in a Reformed Church and in Reformed Doctrine one cannot speak of conditions of the covenant.
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