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Bound for the Promised Land by Oren R. Martin: A Review Article

Sherif Gendy

Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan, by Oren R. Martin. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015, 208 pages, $25.00, paper.

Bound for the Promised Land is volume 34 of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Oren R. Martin demonstrates how, within the redemptive-historical framework of God’s unfolding plan, the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden. This promise also serves as a type throughout Israel’s history, anticipating the even greater land prepared for God’s people, which will result from the person and work of Christ. This land will be enjoyed in the new creation for eternity. Martin unpacks the land promise as it progressively unfolds across the Bible’s two testaments in ten chapters with a concluding summary of the Old Testament after the sixth chapter and a concluding summary of the New Testament after the ninth chapter. Also provided are a bibliography, author index, and a Scripture index. Here is a summary with assessment for each chapter.

1. Biblical Theology and the Land Promise

In this chapter Martin lays the foundation for his study by briefly surveying the land promise in biblical scholarship through classic and modern works. Aiming to clarify and complete what is lacking, Martin furthers the land study from the standpoint of a whole-Bible theology. He explains his approach and assumptions, which include unity in the diversity of the books of the Bible, continuity between the Old and New Testaments, progressive typology, and interpreting texts within their textual, epochal, and canonical horizons. Worthy of note here is Martin’s summary of the four components in typology. First, it pays careful attention to textual and the historical/theological correspondences that develop across the canon. Second, typology is prospective and prophetic. Third, typology stresses escalation as the Old Testament story line moves forward to its New Testament fulfillment. Finally, typological connections find their terminus in the person and inaugurated-yet-not-consummated work of Christ.

2. The Beginning and the End: The Land and the Kingdom

This chapter provides the biblical-theological framework from which a theology of land can be canonically understood within the biblical story line, from creation to new creation. Martin shows how the land theme is organically related to both the kingdom of God and the covenants as they unfold and progress across the canon. More specifically, Martin establishes a framework for understanding the place of God’s people in the kingdom. He considers the beginning (Gen. 1–3) and the related eschatological themes that reach their terminus in the end—the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21–22). Martin concludes that the biblical story describes the teleological design of God’s people in his place under his rule. Moreover, the structure of the covenants shows how God’s ordained means will reach his divinely ordained end.

Martin’s discussion of the covenant at creation (Adamic covenant) does not show how it relates to the kingdom of God or the land theme. This is true to some extent in Martin’s discussions of the Noahic and, surprisingly, the Abrahamic covenant. In biblical theology, divine covenants are means by which God governs his kingdom among his people who are living in the land. At the heart of the covenant is the promise of the Lord’s dwelling among his people. Therefore, the place where the Lord dwells among his people, the land, is portrayed as a sanctuary where the Lord’s glory is revealed as a sign of his dwelling. When the people keep the covenant regulations, they enjoy living in the land. However, for disobeying the covenant stipulation, the Lord warns that his people would experience an exile from the land (e.g., Deut. 28:36‬–37, 63–65). Martin does not connect these themes together and fails to see the development of the land theme and the establishment of the kingdom through the covenants with Adam, Noah, and Abraham.

3. Making the Promise: Genesis

Martin considers here the importance of Genesis 1–11 for the entrance of Abraham into God’s redemptive plan. He examines the nature and scope of the Abrahamic covenant and the promise of God in Genesis 12–50. He concludes that, with Eden as the prototypical place for the kingdom, the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom. This land promised is a type of a greater reality with international and worldwide dimensions.

Martin wrestles with the question of conditionality, or lack thereof, of God’s promises in the Abrahamic covenant. He sees both elements in the covenant where God’s fundamental intention to bless Abraham was unconditioned yet the how and when of the blessing are conditioned. These conditions are met by God himself when he sends his obedient Son—the true seed of Abraham—to fulfil the demands of the covenant.

4. Advancing the Promise: Exodus–Deuteronomy

This chapter evaluates the progress of God’s fulfillment of his promise of land to Abraham in two plot movements in Israel’s history. First, Martin looks at the Exodus event and demonstrates how it is a means through which God fulfills his promises to his people, constituting the beginning of a great journey to relocate to a new land. Through the Exodus, Israel is God’s blessed new humanity destined for a new creation from where and through whom blessing to the world will come. Second, Martin considers Deuteronomy’s way of portraying the land. This includes the land as a gift Yahweh owns, a new paradise with the Edenic creational mandate passing on to Israel, and a place of inheritance and rest where “life” and “prolonging of days” are experienced when there is obedience.

Martin rightly argues that the land is not earned by Israel; rather it is an underserved gift from God tied to his unconditional election of Israel (Deut. 7:6–11).

5. Partially Fulfilling the Promise: Joshua–Kings

In this chapter Martin continues his focus on the progress of the fulfillment of the land promised to Abraham through Joshua and Kings. Joshua significantly advances the promise of land and marks how it will be fulfilled. Standing in continuity with Deuteronomy, Joshua marks a new beginning that results in conquest, occupation, and possession of the land. With the arrival of David, who appears in a Joshua-like role, the fulfillment of God’s promise of the land significantly advances and escalates. Solomon is portrayed as an Adam-like figure who on the one hand typifies a restoration to Edenic conditions, while on the other hand being responsible, through his disobedience, for the second expulsion from the sanctuary-land and the end of the monarchy.

Seeing David as a Joshua-like figure, while Solomon as an Adam-like figure, is scripturally warranted. However, Martin does not spend time discussing them being messiah figures, too.

6. Fulfilling the Promise? Exile and the Prophets of an Eschatological Hope

In this chapter Martin examines the loss of land in exile and the prophetic anticipation of an international and universal restoration realized through a new covenant. This eschatological hope advances God’s cosmological plan from Adam through Abraham, and is cast in terms of an Edenic land, city, and temple—all of which are coextensive. Martin concludes that through the substitutionary work of a Davidic Servant-Shepherd-King, God will make a new creation that is reminiscent of the idyllic conditions of Eden, where his people will dwell securely.

Martin speaks of Jerusalem becoming the center of the world, where all the nations will go to receive blessing, within the context of the new covenant. This description needs some qualifications on Martin’s part. While the Old Testament prophets spoke of Jerusalem as becoming the land of blessing for God’s people, when read carefully, one can see that the prophets had a larger peripheral vision when they spoke of the earthly Jerusalem (Isa. 65:18–19; cf. 4:2–6; Jer. 31:38–40). In fact, when we come to the New Testament, we realize that the earthly Jerusalem was merely a shadow or picture of a much greater heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 11:10, 16; Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10). In the new covenant, the earthly Jerusalem does not become the center of the world, with nations going into her to receive blessings, rather the blessing (the gospel message) goes out of Jerusalem to all the nations (Isa. 2:3; cf. Luke 24:47; Isa. 37:32).

7. The Fulfillment of the Promise Inaugurated: The Gospels

In this chapter Martin examines the most relevant passages in the Gospels of Matthew and John to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham will finally be won by Christ. Christ, being the typological fulfillment of Israel, has inaugurated a new creational kingdom through his physical resurrection. Martin’s treatment of the Gospels is brief and misses some key passages (e.g., Matt. 2:6; 5:13).

8. The Fulfillment of the Promise Inaugurated: The Epistles

Martin considers here the fulfillment of the land promise in Paul, highlighting the inheritance language that Paul uses which is linked to the Abrahamic promises. There is a future orientation inherent within the idea of inheritance, which is expressed through the typological correspondences that unfold within the Old Testament. The fulfillment in Hebrews comes through Christ and his work. God will bring those who persevere in faith into his eschatological rest, the heavenly Jerusalem, their final homeland, and the unshakeable kingdom. Finally, in Peter we see a transformed eschatological reality with the promised new heaven and new earth.

Martin adequately explains the land promise in the Epistles with a special consideration of the use in Hebrews of “city” and that city’s already-and-not-yet fulfillment of the promise.

9. The Fulfillment of the Promise Consummated: The Eschatological Kingdom in Revelation

In this chapter Martin examines the new creation in the book of Revelation as the fulfillment of the land promise. More specifically, the new creation is depicted as Edenic paradise, temple, and city (new Jerusalem). These images portray the glorious return to God’s people living in his care under his rule. God’s people will once again dwell in the land of promise forever. Martin rightly emphasizes that the fulfillment of the Old Testament types of Eden, land, temple, and city are in light of Christ and his work of creating a new people and place. The consummation is not merely a spiritual or ethereal place, rather the earth will be redeemed. The new temple-city will recapture and advance the idyllic conditions of Eden, which reach their terminus in the new creation.

10. Theological Reflections

Martin concludes his study by making theological connections and applying the interpretative findings of the previous chapters to eschatology. More specifically, this chapter evaluates how the land promise is interpreted and fulfilled in the theological systems of dispensationalism and covenant theology. In the end, the chapter provides a via media in the light of the arguments presented throughout the book. Martin argues that the New Testament demonstrates both when and how the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ in a way that does not reinterpret, spiritualize, or contravene the earlier texts.

Martin’s via media is indeed what covenant theology teaches, if understood properly. It seems that Martin is equating covenant theology with replacement theology, which is not accurate. Covenant theology does not see the church replacing Israel; rather the church consists of believing Israel along with believing Gentiles in both the Old and New Testaments.

What believing Israel obtains is far greater than the land of Canaan, for they—along with the nations—will inherit the whole earth in fulfillment of God’s gracious and irrevocable promises. Indeed, Abraham was promised the whole world (Rom. 4:13). The New Testament shows that all of God’s saving promises have already been fulfilled in Christ and that these promises are expanding where Christ is present—in the church now and finally in the new heaven and new earth.

Martin skillfully connects the land theme with the garden of Eden on the one hand, and the new heaven and new earth on the other. He reads the land promise in light of the overall plan of redemption and particularly through the person and work of Christ. Martin interacts with many scholars and cites a number of resources, to the point where his own voice is lost in the presentation. It is hard to distinguish his own argument or contribution in the subject.

Sherif Gendy is a licentiate in the Presbytery of the Midwest (OPC), a PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and serving as Arabic Theological Editor for Third Millennium Ministries in Casselberry, Florida. Ordained Servant Online, December 2015

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Ordained Servant: December 2015

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