The Ten Northern Tribes and their Land Promises: Dialoguing with Lindsay Kennedy’s Review of My Book (Part 2)

lindsey kennedy review

If you have not read Lindsey’s review of my book, you can find it here.

Lindsey and readers: Once again, I apologize for my delay in interaction. These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of significant (albeit good) life events for me and my family (I shall post about them soon.). As I wrote in my previous post, I realize that much of what I shall write is likely already understood by Lindsey. Thus, it is for the sake of “all readers” that I seek to provide a more thoroughgoing context about the matter.

Lindsey writes:

“I am confused as to how the promise for the Northern Kingdom to return to the land is fulfilled. For example, “the Gentile nations coming to salvation is one and the same with the restoration of the northern tribes back into the land” (p111). Exactly how? The Gentiles never came in mass to Jerusalem. What’s more, if this were fulfilled in the first century, what role do the events of AD70 play to this ingathering? At very least, this ingathering awaits the complete fulfillment of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21-22). A Preterist may respond that this New Jerusalem is the church, and thus has already come, but Lewis does not address this.”

First, I have already adequately addressed my thoughts on Preterism in my previous post. Thus, it is not necessary for me to elaborate any further. I take issue with the label and think that it is rarely clearly defined. I am not arguing for a “complete” fulfillment, as in no significance past A.D. 70 (or complete consummation). The promises ultimately transcend time.

Of course, the prophets continually described the restoration of Israel in terms of a return to the land (e.g., Isa 2, 11, 56, 65–66; Jer 3, 30–31; Ezek 36–37; Zech 9–10; Mic 4; Tob 13–14.). In my book, one central point was that these promises were not altogether abandoned. I think we err if we insist on real estate as the ultimate aim of this promise. Instead, in my opinion, this promise—the ingathering of “all” Israel back into the land—was an eschatological event that transcended (and continues to transcend) geographical area and time. Thus, it is inconsequential as to whether the Gentiles (i.e., Gentilized Israelites, see my Review of Scott Hahn’s Essay, All Israel Will Be Saved: The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9–11) ever “came in mass” into Jerusalem. Israel’s nationalistic and physical promises were mere shadows of heavenly and spiritual realities, i.e., they ultimately have an eschatological significance. In my opinion, the bottom line is that the ingathering should not be linked to a “geographical” location. Instead, “all Israel” is ultimately ingathered into the land by being incorporated into Christ.

There is much evidence that the restoration of Israel was understood to be more than simply an earthly return to the promised land. For example, the author of the book of Hebrews was undoubtedly aware of an alternative tradition that did not expect a temporal fulfillment. Consider the following:

“All of these died in faith [Abraham and his descendants] without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 13–16).

With this in mind, I would be remiss if I did not also make mention of Brant Pitre’s work on this subject. In Letter & Spirit, Vol. 5: Liturgy and Empire: Faith in Exile and Political Theology, Pitre connects the “Eschatological Banquet” with the “promised land.” Furthermore, he cites W. D. Davies, Dale Allison, and John Meier, who all agree that the “promised land” is often connected with “the world to come” in Jewish Tradition. Moreover, Pitre argues that ancient Jewish tradition, the Mishnah, and the Babylonian Talmud likewise speak of a “heavenly promised land” or an “eschatological promised land” that “will be part of the new creation” and the “world to come” (see pp. 145–166)—whose fulfillment should not be linked to a temporal-geographical location. Pitre goes on to give many more examples, which you can read on your own time, but for now consider just one.

“All Israelites have a share in the world to come, for it is written, “Your people also shall all be righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands that I may be glorified (Isa. 60:21).” ~ Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:1.

Finally, concerning the apostle Paul—since his theology was the subject of my book. There was a context to Paul’s theology. I have argued that Rom 9–11 must be interpreted in light of the expectation of restoration of all twelve tribes of Israel into the land and an end to their exile. Moreover, I also argued that Paul understood his mission to the Gentiles to also be a means of rescuing the northern ten tribes from this exile, thus bringing it to an end. That is, for Paul, the Gentile nations coming to salvation was one and the same with the restoration of the northern tribes back into the land. However, I doubt that the “earthly land” is where Paul saw ultimate significance. The land was a “heavenly” promised land.


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