Joshua 21:43-45 and the Promise of Land

In a recent comment here at Expository Thoughts, a reader named Joe took issue with the dispensational teaching that the land promises to Israel have yet to be fulfilled. Joe made several arguments in his refutation, one of which was the often repeated claim that the land promises of the Old Testament were completely fulfilled in the book of Joshua according to Joshua 21:43-45, and therefore we have no reason to expect that there will be a future fulfillment of this promise. As I once wrote on another blog:

To comment briefly on Joshua 21:43-45, I see this passage as indicating an initial and partial fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham. Part of the difficulty of the issue is that Joshua 21 clearly says that Israel possessed all the land promised to her by Yahweh, and yet other passages in Joshua indicate there was remaining land yet to be conquered and possessed (Josh 13:1-17; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12-13, 17-18; 23:4-6, 12-13). It is not an easy issue to resolve. Calvin referred to it as an apparent contradiction.

Regardless of how we solve this dilemma, however, keep in mind the historical context of these passages in Joshua. Prior to their entrance into the promised land, God said that if Israel obeyed the Mosaic Law, she would experience Abrahamic blessing (Lev 26:1-13; Deut 28:1-14), but if Israel disobeyed the Law, she would experience curses (Lev 26:14-46; Deut 28:15-68). With regard to the promised land, if Israel was not faithful to keep the Mosaic Covenant, she would be dispersed from the land (Lev 26:32-33; Deut 28:63-64), but if she was faithful to the Mosaic Covenant, her days in the land would be blessed and prolonged (Lev 26:5-6; Deut 28:8).

In this way, God’s promise that the nation would possess the land was certain and eternal (the Abrahamic Covenant), but the occupation of the land and enjoyment of the blessings by any given generation of Jews was conditioned upon obedience to the Law (the Mosaic Covenant). Put another way, adherence to the Mosaic Covenant would enable a given generation of Israel to experience the blessings promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, but unfaithfulness to the Mosaic Covenant would delay the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises until a later time and a later generation.

This leads me to Deuteronomy 30:1-10. Moses and the people of Israel are on the plains of Moab, on the verge of taking the land the Lord promised her. He has just warned Israel that if she is not faithful to keep the Mosaic Law, she will be torn from the land she is about to enter and she will be scattered among the nations (Deut 28:63-64). Then, in Deuteronomy 30 –prior to her entrance of the land — the Lord makes it clear that this will indeed happen: Israel will be unfaithful to the Mosaic Covenant and will, as a result, be dispersed from the land and scattered among the nations (Deut 30:1; see Deut 31:14-22 and Josh 23:16).

This judgment, however, is not the final word, for in the verses that follow the Lord declares that some time after Israel is dispersed, He will grant to her repentance and a circumcised heart, and she will be restored to the land and experience the blessing originally promised to her in the Abrahamic Covenant (Deut 30:2-10). This happens, of course, just as God has promised, when the Northern Kingdom falls to Assyria in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6) and the Southern Kingdom falls to Babylon in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:1-21; Jer 39:1-10). This is exactly what the Lord predicted back in Deuteronomy 30:1 (and Deut 31:14-22) — Israel has broken the Mosaic Covenant, and as a result she is dispersed from the promised land.

But this is not the end of the story. After all, God has promised Israel that He will restore her once again to the land “which your fathers possessed” (Deut 30:5). In fact, that’s why you see the promise of restoration continuing throughout the prophets who prophesied after Joshua 21 (e.g., Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:1-16; 14:1-2; 27:1-13; 35:1, 10; 43:5-6; 49:8-13; 59:15b-21; 62:4-7; 66:10-20; Jer 3:11-20; 12:14-17; 16:10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 28:1-4; 29:1-14; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14; 32:36-44; 42:1-22; 50:17-20; Ezek 11:14-20; 20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16, 23-31; 36:16-36; 37:1-28; 39:21-29; Hosea 1:10-11; 2:14-23; 14:4-7; Joel 3:18-21; Amos 9:11-15; Obadiah 17, 21; Micah 4:6-7; 7:14-20; Zeph 3:14-20; Zech 8:7-8; 10:6-12; and 14:11).

When God says, “I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers” (Jer 16:15), He is alluding to the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give the land as an everlasting possession (Gen 17:8). The land promised by the prophets doesn’t just happen to be the same land promised to Abraham, as if it were some kind of amazing coincidence, but rather these promises are a reiteration and continuation of the promise made to Abraham.

Frankly, when people use Joshua 21:43-45 as a proof-text to say that God will not restore the nation of Israel to the promised land, it makes me wonder how they interpret Deuteronomy 30:1-10. In this passage, God says that one day after Israel is dispersed, He will bring her back into the very same land from which she was dispersed. Which land is that, and if the restoration to this land is not future, when did it happen?

25 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Massimo Mollica on July 1, 2008 at 2:47 am

    Thanks for the post. On a related issue, what’s your understanding of the Hebrew word “olam” translated in “everlasting” or “forever” in so many of these promise/covenant texts? Do you believe the promises end at the close of the millennium, or is there room to see them continuing into the eternal state?

    I was discussing Deut 30:1-10 with an amill friend a few weeks ago. He said that 30:2 demonstrates a condition on Israel’s restoration that has not been fulfilled. The promises were given to motivate repentance. Thus, in his mind, Israel’s restoration is conditioned on her obedience. He then sees all the promises in the prophets to be a reiteration of Deut 30:2, a conditional promise. I disagree with his view because I think it underestimates the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic and New Covenants (Jer 31, etc.) and also the unconditionality of the OT prophetic promises. I think 30:2-3 has the appearance of conditionality, but if 30:2 requires a turning of Israel with her heart and soul, then her heart must be first circumcised, which God must do (30:6). Thus, God has obligated himself to bring about the change of heart he requires for Israel’s restoration. Thanks again for the post!!

  2. Nice post. Judges 1 also makes it clear that the conquest was not complete. I have linked to this post at my blog

  3. Posted by Scott on July 2, 2008 at 1:36 am

    Thanks for the helpful post. Do you guys at ET have any other posts in which you discuss more extensively the nature of the relationship of the Mosaic to the Abrahamic Covenant? I’d love to hear more on this.

  4. Posted by Joe on July 2, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Was Israel not restored to the land after the Babylonian captivity? Did Abraham not look for a spiritual fulfillment to the promises made to him by God? Did Jesus not tell the leaders of Israel that the scriptures speak of him? Are these Scriptures not authoritative toward the way we should see prophecy fulfilled [1) Malachi 4:5-6 / Matthew 11:7-15; 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13, 2) Joel 2:27-Joel 3:2 / Acts 2:16-21, 3) Deuteronomy 18:15-22 / Acts 3: 17-26, 4) Isaiah 61:1-3 / Luke 4:16-21]? Did the leaders and teachers of Israel look for a literal fulfillment in the flesh concerning a fleshly, earthly restoration of the national government of Israel? Did Jesus oblige them? Did they receive their King and Saviour (Messiah)? Was Exodus 23:20-23 partially fulfilled when
    Joshua led Israel across the Jordan, and will Jesus fulfill this scripture completely when he leads all his people, the expanded Israel complete with believing Jews and Gentiles from all the nations, into the heavenly Jerusalem?

    No offense is meant when I say that I think dispensationalists look for a literal of the flesh fulfillment of scripture, when a literal of the Spirit fulfillment is always much more satisfying and complete. I do think the dispensationalists place Israel at the center of their theology – the place where Christ Jesus ought to be.

    II Corinthians 1:20: For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

  5. […] on the Land Promises In yesterday’s post, “Joshua 21:43-45 and the Promise of Land,” I concluded with a question about how Deuteronomy 30:1-10 is interpreted by those who see no future […]

  6. Did the leaders and teachers of Israel look for a literal fulfillment in the flesh concerning a fleshly, earthly restoration of the national government of Israel? Did Jesus oblige them?

    The apostles certainly did. In Acts 1:6,7, they specifically asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time RESTORE the kingdom to Israel?” Note what Jesus stated, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” This would had been the perfect opportunity to correct their “fleshly” inclinations about the Kingdom when in fact it was suppose to be only spiritual, but Jesus doesn’t. He says it is for the Father to know the time and the seasons of such things.


  7. Posted by Scott Christensen on July 3, 2008 at 1:21 am

    I don’t think it is helpful to say Dispensationalists put Israel at the center of their theology at the expense of Christ.

    The fact that God fully intends to fulfill His promises to Israel is in fact a celebration of the centrality and magnificience of a gracious God who has not rejected his people the Israelites whom he foreknew (Rom. 11:1-2) and to whom His gifts and calling of are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).

    Imagine what kind of Savior we would serve who recieved the precious gift of God’s flock to Him only to say, “I don’t like this gift, I think I will throw it away.” The fact that Christ gratefully recieves the gift of all believers from the Father and promises never to cast them out or to lose any of them (John 6:37-40) tells me that we serve a magnificent Savior. He is the same Savior to Israel.

  8. Posted by Massimo on July 3, 2008 at 3:33 am

    As someone who believes in a future for Israel (like Matt has outlined in this post and the one from 7/2), I fully believe that this puts the glory of Christ at center display in Scripture—Jesus reigning over the world with undeserving Israel as a servant nation to his glory, righteousness, and his grace. Furthermore, Ezekiel 36:22-23 says Israel’s restoration is the means of God gaining for himself much glory in the world. So, I would say that understanding Israel’s function in the future plans of God has expanded my view of Christ and caused me to see the centrality of Christ in eschatology and marvel increasingly at His grace. That is very satisfying and complete. :)

    One dispensational author who has helped me with this is Alva McClain, who stated, “It would not be wrong to say that, if the coming Biblical Kingdom has any chief glory, its luster is a “borrowed ray” derived from the glorious person of its wondrous King.” (from The Greatness of the Kingdom).

  9. Posted by Joe on July 3, 2008 at 6:44 am

    I do not understand much, but this I do believe.

    Ephesians 2:11-22 “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

    The above scripture does not separate Israel from the Church.

  10. Joe said, “I do not understand much.” Now obviously you said more than that but hopefully that will remind you that context is important and the context of Scripture even more so.

    Respectfully, you have missed the point of Eph. 2. One could infer from your comment(s) that the Lord has dropped Israel from the picture and that you now believe Eph. 2 supports this. Actually, this passage shows that the covenants/promises toward Israel have not changed but that what has changed is the fact of Gentile inclusion. Because of the death of Christ, those who were strangers to the covenants of promise have now been brought near by the blood of Christ.

    Additionally, what this passage points out is that whether one is Jew or Gentile, all must approach God through the person and work of the Messiah.

    Joe, I will also join Scott, Fred and others who pointed out that your comment about an Israel-centered theology is off base. Not only is it off base but it’s either intentionally misleading or willfully ignorant of the issues that have been discussed on this topic for the last 100 years. I think it’s more honoring to Christ if we faithfully represent other’s positions even those with which we might disagree.

  11. Posted by Joe on July 3, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Why must you argue? Why am I accused of being “off-based?” You have also called me”intentionally misleading” and “willfully ignorant.” I am just a Christian that reads God’s Word. I have only indicated that I think dispensationalists are Israel-centered rather than Christ centered. From that I am accused of all the above. Certainly
    Israel is first, the Messiah is Israel and from Israel. Yet there is no separation. I said no more, and certainly none of what you accused me. So then the Scriptures speak clearly to you, and yet you do not agree.

    I once asked a Jehovah Witness to read a section from his own Bible. As he read, he began to argue. I merely pointed out that he was not arguing with me, but with the words he was reading. This is a similar case, my friends.

  12. How exactly does Ephesians 2 negate the fulfillment of physical land promises to Israel? I am reading the same text as you, and I don’t see how the inclusion of gentiles with Jews to make the Church eliminates the promise of a coming kingdom.

    Again, Acts 1:6,7 has to mean something.


  13. Posted by Massimo on July 3, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I agree with Fred, except that I would think many current supersessionists would not like the terms negate or eliminate. I’d think they’d prefer to see the unity of Jew and Gentile in Eph 2 to teach the fulfillment of promises to OT Israel, not negation. Of course, either way, the OT promises to national Israel do not see to remain in tact. Could somebody provide further clarity on this?

    Its difficult to see what in Ephesians 2:11-22 says about the negation (or fulfillment) of the promises to national Israel in the NT church. Ephesians 2 addresses the soteriological unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ. In a soteriological sense, Jew and Gentile are on common ground and part of the people of God. However, nothing in this text rules out or prevents a functional role for national Israel in the future, as promised by the OT (and reiterated in Acts 1:5-6!!).

    After spending literally hours trying to see how unity between Jew and Gentiles means that there can be no functional role for Israel in the future, I’ve concluded that the only to find that in Ephesians 2 is to start with it as an assumption and import it into the text. I don’t believe Eph 2 is the text to use if you want to prove that there is no future for national Israel.

  14. Posted by Joe on July 3, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    My quoting of Ephesians did not include any statement concerning land promises. You are all reading that into Ephesians. Apparently, you are comprehending that which you are unwilling to accept. I don’t have an opinion. If God wants to restore a particular land to a physical nation of people to be known as Israel, well He may. I personally think the end will be as was the flood, where the antediluvian world perished. Thus we are silly to look for Eden. Peter (2 Peter 3) seems to indicate that it will be similar in the future. I am pretty sure, however, that there will be no restoration of the system of sacrifice, and the other shadows of the reality that is in Christ.

    “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

    What is the land which contains Israel except for a place to build a temple, and the temple the symbol of God’s reign? Without the temple, what would be Israel? So in light of this portion of Ephesians, is there a need for a land restoration. Or could the physical have been fulfilled as God said in earlier times?

    What was Abraham looking for toward fulfillment? What does Hebrews say? What did Jesus say? What did the Scribes and Pharisees say?

  15. Posted by Joe on July 3, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Have you noticed the “strange” dates and times attached to these posts? They are in the future with regard to the correct time my posts were made.

  16. Joe,

    The reason why you are getting feedback is that you cut and paste Eph. 2:11-22 (KJV) as if that settles some argument that you have been having with someone who has yet to show up here in the comments. The problem is that this has little to do with what has been discussed here in this post.

    So that there’s no continued misunderstanding, please inform us as to what you hoped to show by pasting the text in the comments here. What do you understand this text to mean and what is it’s connection to this post?

    Also, in you last comment you said, “could the physical have been fulfilled as God said in earlier times?” Would you please be more specific as to where God said this? Additionally, what is your response to Fred objection in Acts 1:6,7?

  17. I hope I have fixed the time stamp issue.

  18. Posted by Scott Christensen on July 3, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    There is often an objection to Dispenasationalism and the land promises to Israel by suggesting that it adheres to notions that are too ‘physical’ or we might say ‘materialistic.’ This is pitted against what is considered a more ‘spiritual’ vision that is generally associated with Coventalism and its various forms of eschatology. Often this more ‘spiritual’ motif is associated with the so-called Christological hermenuetic. That sounds very spiritual indeed. Who would want to have a hermeneutic that is non-Christological?

    My problem with this objection is that it in fact does pit the so-called spiritual against the so-called physical or material. I realize this is not the intention of Covenantal theology, but it sounds very much like a kind of pseudo-gnostic mentality. The fact is, God created the physical world and called it good. To suggest land promises as part of a future restoration of a physical kingdom is unspiritual suggests to me a view of God that is more gnostic-like than a God who has an all-encompasing plan for the universe he created (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). That creation includes a profound panorama of physical and meta-physical components that are together capable of fulfilling a more complete spiritual vision in God’s plan and purposes in the unfolding of redemption.

  19. Posted by Lew Miller on July 3, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Good point! There is a book entitled “Future Israel” by Barry Horner which discusses the issue you bring up.

  20. Posted by Joe on July 3, 2008 at 8:02 pm


    The Ephesians quotation is very clear because the Lord had Paul write it very clearly.

    You know very well where God has said He fulfilled the land promises to physical Israel. Just read several comments before your latest.

    Since Fred connected this very article to a blog site article entitled “Understanding the Land Promise: Part 6,” I am sure I am on target.

    It is not honest when you ask questions and have no expectation of listening and considering the answer.

    Since you are just interested in arguing without understanding, I will leave you in peace with your buds.

  21. Posted by Joe on July 3, 2008 at 8:05 pm


    Your time stamp problem has so disordered things that it looks as though I replied to you before you wrote. Oh well, I am gone anyway.

  22. […] to be fulfilled. Joe made several arguments in his refutation, one of which was the often repeated Week 13 Year II Edel McClean offers these reflections: Readings: amos 2 Matthew 8: 18-22 I??m […]

  23. Posted by george fisher on August 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    In Romans we read that Abraham was actually promised the whole world (chapter 3, maybe… I don’t have my Sword with me). Where’s that in the OT?
    The land was a type of ‘rest’. The writer to the Hebrews asks, If Joshua had given them rest..” not because they didn’t actually capture/possess the land, but because the land was a type. Just as the OT temple, yes, and Ezek’s temples are types of the temple of which Christ is the chief cornerstone and the apostles/prophets are the foundation. Why have we allowed the Judaizers to be victorious? Poor ol’ Paul did his best to fight ’em. Apparently, they won.

  24. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on August 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    George: I must confess that I had a bit of difficulty understanding your comment, but I think the bottom line is this: Those who believe that Deuteronomy 30 will take place in the future when God restores the nation of Israel to the land which her fathers possessed in fulfillment of the New Covenant –such interpreters fall into the category of the “Judaizers” whom the apostle Paul did his best to refute. Does that fairly represent what you’re saying?

    As a “non-Judaizer,” I wonder if you would accept the challenge of the final paragraph of the original post and walk us through your interpretation of Deuteronomy 30:1-10. When and how exactly will this prophecy be fulfilled? Or when and how was it fulfilled?

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