The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View -- By: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:552 (Oct 1981)
Article: The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View
Author: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

[Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Dean and Vice-President of Education, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois]

In the Old Testament few issues are as important as that of the promise of the land to the patriarchs and the nation Israel. In fact, אֶרֶחּ, “land,” is the fourth most frequent substantive in the Hebrew Bible.1 Were it not for the larger and more comprehensive theme of the total promise2 with all its multifaceted provisions, the theme of Israel and her land could well serve as the central idea or the organizing rubric for the entire canon. However, it does hold a dominant place in the divine gifts of blessing to Israel.

Yet there is more to the promise of the land than religious significance and theological meaning, an essential interrelationship exists between the political and empirical reality of the land as a Jewish state and all biblical statements about its spiritual or theological functions. The land of Israel cannot be reduced to a sort of mystical land defined as a new spiritual reality which transcends the old geographic and political designations if one wishes to continue to represent the single truth-intentions3 of the writers of the biblical text. Instead, the Bible is most insistent on the fact that the land was promised to the patriarchs as a gift where their descendants would reside and rule as a nation.

The Land as Promise

The priority of the divine Word and divine oath as the basis for any discussion of the land is of first importance. From the

inception of God’s call to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, God had marked out a specific geographical destination for him (Gen 12:1). This territorial bequest was immediately reaffirmed and extended to his descendants as soon as Abraham reached Shechem (Gen 12:7).

Thus Alt was certainly wrong in rejecting the land as a part of the original promise. Noth was closer to the mark when he declared that the promise of both the land and the seed was part of the original covenant to the patriarchs.4

So solemn was this covenant with its gift of the land5 that Genesis 15:7–21 depicted God alone moving bet...

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