Whose Promised Land?

Written by Colin Chapman Reviewed By Howard Taylor

Colin Chapman’s updated, scholarly and highly readable book Whose Promised Land? is essential reading for all students of the Israel/Arab conflict and how it relates to the Bible. It is packed with facts, biblical interpretation, and moving insights into the mind and heart of Jews and Arabs alike. He shows a real Christian concern for both peoples. So I am very sorry to have to disagree profoundly with his main conclusions.

Deuteronomy tells us that the principles by which God will punish and forgive Israel will be dramatically demonstrated by scattering them from, and eventually regathering them to, the land. Over and over again these principles are reiterated in the Hebrew prophets, who speak of a final restoration to the land at the end of the age when Israel will find itself at the centre of world hostility. Finally, it will be reconciled to its Lord who will save it from its enemies and bring blessing to all the world.

Do these principles and prophecies relate to the ingathering of the Jews to the promised land that we have witnessed this century? What does the NT have to teach us? Is the Jewish state so guilty of oppressing the Arabs that Christians should not support it? These are the main questions which Colin Chapman ably addresses.

In his first section he very helpfully traces the history of the land from Abraham to the present day. However, at a crucial point in modern history he tells us only one side of the story. In 1967, after Israel defeated the attacking Arab armies and took what we now call the occupied territories, the Security Council instructed Israel to give back the territories. Chapman tells us that Israel disobeyed this. He does not tell us that the Security Council also told the Arab States to live at peace with Israel, and the Arab Summit’s response to Israel’s offer to return most of the territories was: ‘No negotiation, no peace and no recognition of Israel’!

In his second very useful section, through a brilliant juxtaposition of quotations from Jews, Arabs and others he portrays the deep conflicting ideals and claims of Jews and Arabs so that the reader gets into the core of both sides of the conflict. We are taken into the heart of anti-Semitism, Zionism, and Arab nationalism.

The third section deals with the significance of the land in the OT and the NT, rightly showing that the NT sees the coming of Jesus as fulfilling Israel’s destiny. However, Chapman does not properly deal with the very important question that exercised the mind of Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, namely: granted the OT prophecies re Israel are fulfilled in Jesus and his church, does this mean that they have lost their literal application for Israel? Chapman seems to think they have. However, later in the book his exposition of Romans 11 shows that he does understand Paul’s point that it is precisely because the Gentile church owes its salvation to the Jewish rejection of Jesus (and this was God’s eternal purpose) that God has not forgotten his promise to them. But he cannot see the significance of the land. Just because Paul doesn’t explicitly refer to the land, he concludes that Paul’s assertion about God’s ancient promises about his purposes for Israel cannot include the land. Chapman fails to see that just as man and nature are bound together in God’s purposes of redemption, so Chosen People and Promised Land must also be bound together in God’s intentions. The idea that one can break off God’s covenant purposes for Israel from their relationship to the land is in my view biblically and theologically impossible.

Chapman believes that the literal scattering and regathering were completely fulfilled in the Babylonian exile and return. He is aware that Christian Zionists use Luke 21:20–24 to show that the scattering and regathering prophecies are not yet completely fulfilled. His attempt to counter this is unconvincing. The fact that Jesus says that what is about to happen is in ‘fulfilment of all that has been written’ and will not be forever surely means that the Babylonian exile and return can only have been a foretaste of that great exile and return that would happen after Israel had rejected Jesus, for this would be the true ‘fulfilment of all that has been written’.

Section 4, entitled ‘Is There A Word from the Lord?’, is another very well put together series of quotations from Jews and Arabs giving both sides to the political conflict juxtaposed with calls to righteousness from the Hebrew prophets. There is a very great deal one can learn from this section. He skilfully puts his magnifying glass to Israel and the occupied territories where of course the Palestinian Arabs are the underdogs, so one should not be surprised that, although he attempts to see both sides, he is clearly more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

However, he fails to give adequate attention to the larger context of the conflict. At the moment of Israel’s birth, the Arab states waged war against her, and, to the present day, most remain in a formal state of war with her (Israel is the size of Wales). The Palestinian refugee problem was the result of Arab—Jewish fighting caused by these wars waged by the Arab states against Israel. The PLO claim is that Palestinians belong to the one Arab nation that covers the huge and wealthy 20 or so states of the Middle East. It, then, can hardly be tiny Israel’s fault that the Palestinians have no homeland. Arab nationalism is at least showing itself able to come to terms with Israel’s existence but the Koran teaches that Jews will be in permanent dispersion as a punishment from Allah. Therefore Islamic fundamentalism can never accept Israel’s existence. Thus the context has been a tiny nation struggling for its survival in the face of over-whelming external odds and trying to cope with an internal uprising of people who have always supported its enemies. Even though Israel, before God, may be guilty of seriously hurting Palestinian Arabs, can we think of another nation that would behave any better given only a fraction of the danger which Israel faces? It is these very large and crucial facts that Chapman doesn’t adequately face and this is my main criticism of the political conclusions of the book.

I conclude by recommending this book as an excellent source for understanding the Israel—Palestinian problem. Many of its pages make moving reading indeed. In spite of my deep disagreement with Colin Chapman I personally benefited greatly from reading it. All sides of the argument must take this book very seriously.

Howard Taylor

Glasgow Bible College