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The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Paperback – May 1, 2000
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"Dr. Robertson addresses this topic in a fashion that is not only both incisive and engaging but also thoroughly convincing." --Richard B. Gaffin
"His masterful exegesis of Hebrews 7 and Romans 11 alone are worth the price of this book." --Tremper Longman III
"Robertson provides a fresh and brilliant insight into the content of Gods promises of redemption to Old Testament Israel." --R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
From the Publisher
Robertson offers a fascinating look at the questions: Who is the Israel of God today? and What is their relationship to the Promised Land, and to Israels worship, lifestyle, and future?
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This is how O. Palmer Robertson begins his book The Israel of God. Robertson puts his finger on the issue in these opening words. The quote is from President Clinton in 1997 before the Israeli Knesset. He went on to say, "Your journey is our journey, and America will stand with you now and always."
The Nation of Israel remains a popular topic for this within and outside of the church. Is the modern state of Israel the fulfillment of biblical prophecy? Do Jewish people have a biblical right to the land of Israel? Are Jewish people saved because they are God's chosen nation? What is the relationship between the Nation of Israel and the church? How does our Bible reading impact our News watching?
Robertson works to get to questions like these by examining the Bible to find out who Israel is. In 7 chapters he surveys Israel from the standpoint of its land, people, worship, lifestyle, kingdom, and relationship to the church. In his most detailed section, chapter 6 works through Romans 9-11 to support his view.
I found his study to be beneficial. He writes in a clear way and spends a lot of time anticipating questions as he wrings out the Scriptures. Robertson is covenantal in his understanding. In short, he writes from the perspective that there is no future prophecy related directly to the nation of Israel. Many Jewish people are being saved (and will be) but this is through the ministry of the church. The church is not the replacement but the expansion of Israel.
The beginning of Jesus' ministry indicates the ongoing role of Israel in the kingdom of the Messiah. The designation of exactly twelve disciples shows that Jesus intends to reconstitute the Israel of God through his ministry. He is not, as some suppose, replacing Israel with the church. But he is reconstituting Israel in a way that makes it suitable for the ministry of the new covenant.
From this point on, it is not that the church takes the place of Israel, but that a new Israel of God is being formed by the shaping of the church. This kingdom will reach beyond the limits of the Israel of the old covenant. Although Jesus begins with the Israel of old, he will not allow his kingdom to be limited by its borders. (p.118)
Endeavoring to show the continuity to the Old Testament he notes:
When God set aside Abraham as his instrument of blessing the world, it was made plain that any Gentile could join the covenant community through the process of proselytism (Gen. 17:12-13). Furthermore, no legislation in Israel forbade the marriage of an Egyptian proselyte to an Assyrian proselyte. The offspring of such a union would be fully Israelite, yet completely non-Abrahamic in ethnic origin. On the other hand, any ethnic descendant of Abraham might be declared a non-Israelite as a result of violating the covenant (Gen. 17:14). For these reasons, "Israel" could never be defined along purely ethnic lines. (185)
Robertson would conclude then, that the often debated passage of Galatians 6:16 "And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God" would refer to those who are united to Christ, the people of God from all ages, Jew and Gentile. As a result, Israel as a nation is not more special than Greece or India. And further, if ethnically Jewish people are going to enter the kingdom of God, then they must do it the same way that Greeks and Indians will, through faith in Jesus Christ.
The book has not ended the debate but it has informed many discussions since its first publication in 2000. If you want to read more about this topic The Israel of God is a helpful resource.
Perhaps that is why O. Palmer Robertson's writings have been so helpful to me. I greatly appreciated his Biblical treatment of the various covenants of Scripture in The Christ of the Covenants (see my review). In The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Robertson far exceeded my expectations.
Robertson doesn't have to convince anyone that interpretations concerning the Bible's view of Israel are varied and extremely influential. In his book, though, he manages to bring the focus to where it should be: on what Scripture actually says concerning the topic.
And this is where he excels. He doesn't settle for a few proof texts. Rather he carefully traces out a Biblical theology of the land, the people Israel, their worship and lifestyle, and the Kingdom as it relates to Israel. He offers a careful exposition of Galatians 6:16, Hebrews 7, and Romans 11. All the while, he examines Scripture's entire testimony on these subjects letting all of Scripture weigh in on this issue.
The book shows how the essence of the land promise was spiritual fellowship with God. This is enjoyed by the church today (Matt. 5:5, Rom. 4:13, Eph. 6:3). It argues that the worship and lifestyle of Israel is radically altered with Christ's provision of a better covenant (Heb. 7). It goes on to examine how Scripture defines the people of Israel, and it details how Gentile believers in the church are Abraham's children and heirs, true Jews, yes, even the Israel of God (Gal. 3:26-29, 6:16; Rom. 2:28-29, 4:11-12; Eph. 2:14, 19).
One may well disagree with Robertson's conclusions. But anyone who cares about Scripture will appreciate his emphasis on letting Scripture speak for itself. I would hope those differing with Robertson would at least give his Biblical presentation fair consideration. His exposition of Romans 11 in particular has the potential of changing the mind of many on this subject. Not because it is novel, but because he shows how clearly the chapter as a whole argues for a present-day focus in Paul's concern.
I won't explain all of Robertson's arguments for you. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book yourself. Its a fairly quick read (196 pages), which will definitely keep your interest. I'm sure you'll be glad you gave this book a hearing.
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