The Promise and the Law

by Homer Hailey
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 7, May 1952.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul began his defense of the truth he preached by showing that the gospel is ONE gospel, and that any deviation from it is a perversion of the gospel and not ANOTHER gospel. This convicts every sectarian today who would preach other than as Paul preached. He proceeded by showing that it is a REVEALED gospel, and not a DISCOVERED gospel. This convicts every modernist today who denies the inspiration of God's Revelation but would make the gospel a discovery. The apostle completed the defense of his apostleship and message by showing that the gospel he preached was a TESTED gospel and not something ASSUMED. It had been tested in Jerusalem and at Antioch and had stood the test. This demonstrates its universality and condemns any who would weaken under temptation to vacillate before opposition, or seek to change it.

From this introduction and defense, the apostle passes to the subject of the gospel as the fulfilling of God's promise to Abraham. This involved a discussion of the relation of the promise to the law, and of the relation of the promise to the gospel. In this section the apostle convicts every judaizing teacher from that time to the present, for the land inheritance promised to Abraham was fulfilled in the Jews receiving the land; and the spiritual promise is fulfilled in Christ, and both independent of the law. In this article we consider the national inheritance, and in the next the spiritual inheritance of the gospel.

The Two-Fold Promise

Let the reader turn to Galatians the third chapter, and read carefully from verse fifteen through twenty-two, noting the uses of the words "promises" (plural, vss. 16,21), and "promise" (singular, vss. 17,18,19,22). Paul is making the argument that neither the inheritance of the Old Covenant, nor that of the New was dependent upon the Law. Both were according to promise; the law did not affect the fulfilling of either. The reference is to the promises God made to Abraham and to his descendants.

The promise to Abraham was two-fold: it was (1) that God would make of him a great nation and to this nation He would give the land of Canaan: "I will make of thee a great nation... and unto thy seed will I give this land" (Genesis 12:2,7); and (2) that in Abraham should "all the families of the earth be blessed" (vs. 3). The two may be summarized as a "nation-land" promise and a "spiritual" or "Messianic" promise. Both were to be fulfilled "according to promise," and neither "according to the law."

The promise to Abraham that God would make of him a great nation and to that nation He would give the land of Canaan was an unconditional promise. Its fulfillment rested solely on the immutability of Him Who made it. When Lot separated himself from Abraham, God repeated the promise (Genesis 13:15). After the rescue of Lot by Abraham, God again appeared unto him and renewed the promise, this time in the form of a covenant, and declaring the extent of the land grant: "In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15:8) He then proceeded to name the nations whose land would be included in that given to Abraham's seed. God later repeated the promise that He would give the land to Abraham and to his seed, to which He added the covenant of circumcision, of which He said, "And My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:8,13).

Summarizing: The land was promised to Abraham and to his seed; it was an unconditional promise; it took the form of a covenant to which was added the covenant of circumcision. Circumcision pertained to Abraham and to his seed, and the land pertained to Abraham and to his seed. Neither pertained to the spiritual Israel of the spiritual promise.

To Isaac were the promises repeated, both of the land and nation, and that of a numerous spiritual posterity through his seed (Genesis 25:1-5). Both continued unconditional. To Jacob, as he fled from Esau, Jehovah appeared and promised him that the land would be given to him and to his seed (Genesis 28:4,13). And finally, when Israel were come out of Egypt and to the borders of Moab, God appeared to Moses and said, "This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying 'I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither" (Deuteronomy 34:4). Then, after Moses' death, God spoke to Joshua and said, "Now therefore arise, go over Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel...Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them" (Joshua 1:2,6).

This traces briefly the promise from its beginning, as God made it to Abraham, through four or more centuries. The seed of Abraham had now become a large nation, having dwelt for over two centuries in a land not theirs, and who had now come out in the fourth generation (Genesis 15:13-16). They were standing on the threshold of thatr land promised unto their fathers, and were ready to go in and possess it. The promise had been unconditional; the reception of it at the hand of God should be unconditional. But -- their retention of the land was NOT unconditional, but CONDITIONAL. This shall be considered later.

The Fulfillment of the Land Promise

After the conquest of the land and after it had been divided among the tribes, Joshua said, "So Jehovah gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein...There failed not aught of any good thing which Jehovah had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (Joshua 21:43,45; see also 23:13-16; 24:13). When Joshua said this he had in mind and was referring to every one of the promises God had made concerning the land: the promise to the "fathers," Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Further, this included all the land which Jehovah had sworn to given to Abraham, sometimes referred to as "the larger" promise. Nehemiah said of Abraham and the promise, "Thou art Jehovah the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham, and foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite, and the Girgashite, to give it unto his seed, and hast performed Thy Words; for Thou are righteous" (Nehemiah 9:7,8). This should settle the question of whether the promise has as yet been fulfilled.

But this is not all. It is said that David "went to recover his dominion at the River" (II Samuel 8:3). How could he recover it if Israel had never possessed it? Later, "And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt" (I Kings 4:21). How much more did God promise Abraham? And further, it is said of Jeroboam II, "He restored (recovered) the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath unto the sea of the Arabah" (II Kings 14:25).

Here is the combined testimony of Joshua, Nehemiah, and the writers of Second Samuel, and First and Second Kings to the effect that God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham that He would make of him a great nation and give to his seed the land from the River of Egypt (not the Nile, but a waddy which separated Canaan from Egypt) to the River Euphrates. There is nothing of the promise to be fulfilled, all has been fulfilled.

The Conditional Possession

It has been emphasized that the promise to Abraham and to his posterity that God would make of him a nation and give to that nation the land of Israel was an unconditional promise. God fulfilled it because He said He would. But the retention of the land by the posterity of Abraham was definitely conditional. When the nation came to the border of Moab, before the death of Moses, God made a covenant with the people, a conditional covenant, which should govern their continued possession of the land about to be given them. "And it shall come to pass, IF thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of Jehovah thy God, to observe to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, tht Jehovah thy God will set thee on high above all the nations of the earth" (Deuteronomy 28:1). Then followed an enumeration of the blessings, among which is this, "And Jehovah will make thee plenteous for good, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of they cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers to give thee" (vs. 11).

Turning to the negative, Moses continued, "But it shall come to pass, IF (the conditional "if" again) thou wilt NOT hearken unto the voice of Jehovah thy God...all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee" (vs. 15). Then followed the curses, among which was this, "And thou shalt be tossed to and fro amont all the kingdoms of the earth" (vs. 25), "And ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest in to possess it" (vs. 63). The retention of the land was conditional: IF they should keep the commandments of God; but IF they should not, then they should be thrust from off the land.

This statement of blessing and cursing was declared to have been a covenant: "These are the words of the covenant which Jehovah commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, BESIDES the covenant which He made with them at Horeb" (29:1). This was a covenant of the conditions upon and by which Israel should retain the land. Moses knew they would not keep the conditions, but would be cast out, for he then spoke of their calling to mind the possessed inheritance. If they did not these things then they should be cast among the nations whither Jehovah would scatter them (30:1). He likewise knew that some would repent and return unto Jehovah, whereupon Jehovah would bring them back and rejoice over them. But this return and rejoicing should be conditional: "If thou shalt obey the voice of Jehovah thy God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn unto Jehovah thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (vs. 10).

It should be carefully noted that those who should return to dwell in the land would be those who would turn to Jehovah with all the heart, obey His voice and keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law. They should return while the commandments and statutes of the law were in force.

Some eight hundred years or more after this covenant was made, before their going into the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah delivered to Judah a lesson from the potter's vessel, in which he reiterated the "If" conditions of God's favor or disfavor (Jeremiah 18:1-10). He followed the lesson with one by illustration, as he took a bottle and broke it in the presence of the elders, saying, "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, tht cannot be made whole again" (19:1-11). The covenant was conditional, Israel did not keep the covenant, therefore they were thrust out of the land. They were broken as a nation, never to be made whole again. Those who returned to Jehovah should return to the land during the time of the law's power, but not as a nation. The Jews could not be restored now because the law is no longer in force. For a portion of them to return, in keeping with the promises of God, the law would have to become of force again. This would be to nullify the gospel. But the remnant has returned, and that under the law. Nehemiah repeated the promise God had made through Moses to the people (Nehehmiah 1:8,9 from Deuteronomy 30:1-10), declaring, "Now these are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand" (vs. 10). The remnant was brought back between the time of Zerubbabel (c. 536 B. C.) and that of Nehemiah (c. 444 B.C.), under the law, but never again to be made a nation as of old times.

What Then Is The Law?

The promise of the inheritance was unconditional. The possession of the land as a perpetual inheritance by the Jews was conditional. The law did not affect the keeping of the promise of God. "What then is the law?" What was its purpose? It was given to the nation to govern that nation. Not in the affecting the receiving of the land nor God's fulfilling of His promise; but, their continued retention of the land was conditioned upon their keeping the law and its commandments.

God has fulfilled the promise; the Jews possessed the land; they broke the covenant and were thrust out. Those who would, returned as a remnant to the land while the law was still in force. The law is now no longer in force, the Jews are no longer a nation, and God has not one thing for them outside of Christ. When the Jew accepts Christ as the Messiah and obeys the conditions of the gospel, he loses his identity as a Jew. He has no further interest in physical Canaan; he now becomes a Christian, a "new creature in Christ," looking to a new inheritance, a spiritual, reserved in heaven. To teach or indicate a return of the Jews to Palestine is nothing short of infidelity, for it flatly contradicts all that God has said on the subject. Let us be content with what He has said. We earnestly desire that our mistaken brethren will see the error of their teaching and give it up.