Israel’s ‘Divine Right’ to the Land

Hi Reggie,

Some of John Piper’s books and thoughts have impacted my life, most notably the idea: ‘God is most glorified in me to the degree that I am most satisfied in Him.’ He points to the superior pleasures of loving God. I’m pretty sure you are familiar with his teachings, including his stance on a post tribulational rapture.

My question is Piper’s stance on Israel. Someone sent me a piece from the website of Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries. She takes Piper to task: “Also among this critical legion includes a pastor in my hometown of Minneapolis. He is Pastor John Piper, lauded for his many books and mushrooming churches in this area. His sentiment is quite well known. He does not believe the Jews even deserve their land due to their unbelief. He states in a sermon from March 2004, ‘The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel. Being born Jewish does not make one an heir of the promise — neither the promise of the land nor any other promise.’ ”

I guess you are all Minnesotan’s so I thought you might aide me in sorting through who is right here and who is wrong!!


Yes, I know of John Piper’s position, and it saddens me deeply to see him literally “give away the farm” on an issue that will be the centerpiece of world conflict at the end of the age. Strategically, the issue of the Land is divinely ordained to evoke every other issue of the faith. It will test all nations, and no less the church in the nations. So this is not an issue of only marginal concern.

To be fair, I don’t think we’d ever hear John use language like “the Jews don’t even deserve their land” (to quote Jan Markell). He recognizes the legitimacy of secular Israel, and is glad for a Jewish homeland, but does not believe that Jews outside of Christ can claim the land as a “divine right.”

To his credit, Piper does not hesitate to part company with many of his Reformed brethren on the question of Israel’s corporate salvation at Christ’s return, citing such passages as Zech 12:10 in connection with Mt 23:39, and also Isa 66:8, as especially suggestive of the magnitude of the event. He is exegetically sound on Ro 11:12, Ro 11:25-29 concerning Israel’s future grace. But until that grace comes, he is sure that secular and religious Jews without Christ have no “divine right” to the Land. Well, yes and no. It depends on what is meant by ‘right’ to the Land. It raises the question: When, and on what basis did God give Israel the Land?

We know that the gift of the Land did not depend on any particular degree of sanctification, since never more than a comparatively few (the remnant) were actually righteous by faith. It is also true that continued tenure in the Land was always conditional on faithfulness to the covenant. Never, in all the years of Israel’s sojourn in, out, and back to the Land, have the conditions existed for Israel’s secure and lasting safety in the Land. Those conditions would not be realized until the coming in of the “everlasting righteousness” of messianic promise (Dan 9:24; Jer 23:5-6).

Recently, I received an email where Piper shows how the conditional and unconditional aspects of our salvation exist in perfect compliment, so that the one vindicates the integrity of the other without compromise to either (linked here). This is grace. Unfortunately, Piper appears to permit Israel’s present blindness to blind him to the crucial distinction between an unconditional gift (Ro 11:29) and a conditional inheritance based on predestined grace. He sees the Land as belonging to Israel only after the nation has been transformed. Well, in terms of secure and everlasting inheritance, that’s true. But it does not comport with the long history of Israel’s relationship to the Land, as based on divine gift and election.

For centuries Israel inhabited the Land that God gave them, while the threat of expulsion and judgment always hung over them. Still, it was no less “their Land,” simply because it was “God’s land” to give to whom He would. Although possession of the Land was always tentative, the gift of the Land to the Jews was irrevocable, and even during times of exile, the nations were held accountable to recognize God’s covenant claim on the Land, and that meant His right to give it to the Jews, despite their lack of covenant conformity at the time. Covenant conditionality notwithstanding, the gift of the Land was not based on Israel’s righteousness, but on God’s eternal and unconditional decree. In due time, the eternal decree of grace would secure an everlasting righteousness that would enable Israel to inherit the Land forever after the day of the Lord (the millennial vindication of the Word of promise concerning them).

Consider the temporary possessions of the Land in Israel’s past. To what degree did the return after the 70 years in Babylon depend on Israel’s sanctification? The prophets all said essentially, “this is not it!” This is not the abiding inheritance! Jacob’s trouble is still ahead!” Covenant jeopardy and further expulsion and exile would continue to hang over the head of a people always prone to backslide. But was the Land NOT theirs by divine right, despite the fact that it remained under the power of gentile overlords? Furthermore, Piper’s contention does not agree with the way prophecy depicts the “controversy of Zion” (Isa 34:8; Zech 12:2-3). Pipers view does not agree with the way scripture presents the relationship of the Jews to the Land in the coming Antichrist assault on the holy places in the Land (Isa 63:18; 64:11; Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Mt 24:14; 2Thes 2:4).

Significantly, in Daniel, the Antichrist assault on Jerusalem is described as a war “against the holy covenant” ( Dan 11:28, 30). If Israel has no divine right to the Land, it is hard to understand why the final gentile invasion of the Land would be thus depicted in prophecy.

How can Piper’s view be held in the light of clear scriptures that show God’s anger at the pride of the nations for their presumption to attack His heritage Israel in His Land? God’s fury against the nations for attacking Israel cannot be because of Israel’s righteousness. On the contrary, Israel is enduring the divine chastisements of the “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1 w/ Mt 24:21) precisely because they are not yet repentant. Behold the offense that God takes when the nations come down to take a spoil and a prey (Ezek 38:12), and to scatter His people and to divide His Land (Joel 3:2; Dan 11:39). The gentile invasion of God’s people in His Land is divinely regarded as a consummate act of provocation of divine wrath. At this, God’s fury comes up in His face (Ezek 38:18). It is the great day of God almighty (Ezek 39:8, 22-29; Rev 16:14-17), and it significantly converges in the Land (Dan 11:40-45). It would certainly appear that Israel’s relation to the Land is something that God holds the nations accountable to recognize, and this despite Israel’s impenitent condition at the time.

The issue of Jewish right to the Land and the city of Jerusalem will be the great stumbling block of the last days leading to the time of the unequaled tribulation (Jer 30:7; (Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). The offense that the Land belongs to the Jews by divine right will be magnified as the world finds greater and greater fault with a people who dig themselves an ever deepening hole by their desperate struggle to secure peace by the arm of the flesh. They will incur the wrath and disdain of many nations, particularly those Islamic nations that particularly despise the covenant that grants the Land to a people of no special regard (Ps 83: Ezek 35:5; 36:5; 38:2-3, 5-6).

In my view, Piper’s view undermines this basic conviction of scripture concerning the relationship of the Jew to the Land. Furthermore, it opens the way for the church to turn its head away from the growing chorus of anti Zionism. The outcry against the “Zionist state” is not merely a protest against Israeli politics, it is a disdain for the covenant of election. The new anti Zionism masks the old anti-Semitism. But it ends in the same blood. It is really the secret envy that exists in every natural heart against the sovereignty of a divine election that has nothing to do with human merit.

Jews in unbelief do what unbelievers do. Get used to it! To recognize Israel’s right to the Land is not to naively hide our eyes to acts of Jewish injustice. Their election of God absolves them of nothing. Ours is not a sentimental celebration of all things Jewish. Rather, it is the recognition that just as the Land is called holy even while it is yet polluted, so the ‘natural branches’, as a corporate national entity, are regarded as “holy” in the sense of set apart (Ro 11:16), even before they are made holy by faith. Despite the world’s present state of ignorance and natural resistance, the picture that we get from prophecy is that God requires the nations to acknowledge the Word He has spoken concerning this people and “their” land, a land they can in no wise keep until the everlasting covenant is established by an everlasting righteousness.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

Filed under
Anti-Christ, Israel and the Church, Jacob's Trouble
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