Israel, the Church, and Replacement Theology

Numbers (PTW) I appreciate and agree with Iain Duguid’s discussion of “replacement theology” in his commentary on Numbers 24:

Some Christians believe that Old Testament promises that speak of “Israel” are only intended for ethnic Israel and not for the church. For them, Balaam’s prophecies speak of a glorious future for the physical descendants of Israel, but they would call any attempt to apply these promises to the church “replacement theology.” I would suggest that this is a misunderstanding of what the Scriptures teach about Israel. It is not that the church has replaced Israel in the New Testament so much as that Old Testament Israel—ethnic Israel—finds its true goal and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the star of Jacob, the Israel of God.

In the person of Jesus, therefore, the true Israel has arrived, and all those who come to God by faith in him—Jews and Gentiles alike—become God’s children and are thereby incorporated into this new people of God (John 1:11, 12). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles together become the true heirs of the promise given to Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Galatians 3:29). Outside of Christ, on the other hand, there is no longer any true Israel. It is those who are in Christ who are the true chosen people: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been chosen by God for exactly the same special relationship that he had with his Old Testament people. In his incredible grace and mercy, God chose us before the foundation of the world, so that we might be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3, 4). He has rescued us from the final judgment that awaits all those who remain outside his people and has given us the glorious inheritance of a relationship with himself. In Jesus, the star of Jacob has risen for us and for our salvation.

Iain M. Duguid and R. Kent Hughes, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 287–288.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


The Church, the Israel of God (Minear)

I recently picked up an older book that gives a detailed summary of the different New Testament images for the church.  It’s by Paul Minear and is called Images of the Church in the New Testament (1960).  I’m not finished with it, but so far it has been pretty interesting and helpful.  Below is a helpful excerpt of a section where Minear summarizes the political and national analogies of the church found in the NT.  One is “Israel”:

This designation [Israel] was given most directly in a letter of Paul to the churches of Galatia.  These churches were composed largely of Gentiles who had been suffering from the inroads of the Judaizers.  Yet Paul closed his sharpest polemic against the Judaizers by the surprising benediction: ‘Peace and mercy be upon…the Israel of God.’  Those waging bitter battles against the Jews were thus reminded that they themselves were God’s Israel.  This Israel included all who walked according to the rule that circumcision ‘counts for nothing’ (Gal. 6:15-16).  Even though two groups were thus contesting the name, Paul did not fall back upon a concept of two Israels, the old and the new, or the false and the true.  He defined God’s Israel as one people, as measured qualitatively by God’s mercy in the cross of Christ

This same qualification appears in other writings that speak variously of the church as the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12), as the house of Israel (Heb. 8:8-10); 11:25), as the sons of Israel (Rev. 2:14), or simply as my people Israel.  It is in relation to this people that the mission of the Messiah is understood.  He is sent to Israel (Matt. 15:24), as its shepherd, ruler, and judge, to bring repentance and forgiveness (Acts 5:31).  His advent is designed for Israel’s glory (Luke 2:32), and for the rising and falling of many in Israel (v. 34).  Though many in Israel do fall, nowhere in the New Testament is it conceded that God had rejected or could reject ‘his people whom he foreknew’ (Rom. 11:2).

In its liturgy and life the church knows itself to be addressed by the familiar words: ‘Hear O Israel’ (Mk 12:29).  Its God is none other than the God of Israel, and the fulfillment of all his purposes is shaped by the terms of his steadfast love for Israel.  To be sure, some Christian writers appealed to the fact that a new covenant had been promised by the old, but they continued to insist that this new covenant was one that God established with the house of Israel (Heb. 8:8-13).

So strong is this sense of solidarity that one must conclude that the continuity between the two Testaments is grounded in the fact that both tell the story of how the same God fulfills his covenant promises to the same people.  It is significant that no change of name was considered necessary to make room for the new community.  The Israel to whom the gospel comes and through whom the mission to the world is accomplished is the same Israel to whom the promise had been given.

Paul Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 72.

Shane Lems

Moses and Israel, Genealogy and Geography

Dominion and Dynasty: A Study in Old Testament Theology (New Studies in Biblical Theology) I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible.  If I have time later on I’ll give it a fuller review here.  For now, I do want to note that it is an excellent OT biblical-theological resource.  To give our readers a snapshot, here is an insightful paragraph on Dempster’s comparison of Moses to Israel as found in the Exodus story.

“…The narrative focus [in Exodus] narrows from a stress on births (Israelite seed in general) and persecution, to a particular birth (Israelite seed in particular) – Moses, who narrowly escapes disaster by being placed in an ark in the River Nile (Exod. 2:1-10).  Moses’ salvation from the water echoes backwards and forwards in the text; backwards to the salvation of humanity from the judgment of the flood by Noah (Gen. 6-8), and forwards  to the Israelites’ future escape from the waters of the Reed Sea (Exod. 14).”

“Significantly, as Fox (1997: 253) shows, the figure of of Moses, this child born as a type of savior figure, not only saves Israel but embodies Israel at times.  His rescue from the water prefigures the nation’s salvation from the water; his escape after the death of an Egyptian (Exod. 2:11-15) is a prelude to the Israelites’ flight after the death of many Egyptians (Exod. 12:29-39); his experience of being in the desert for forty years (Exod. 12:29-39) foreshadows the same for Israel (Num. 14:33); his divine encounter before the burning bush (Exod. 3) anticipates Israel before the fire at Sinai (Exod. 19-24).  As was the case with Joseph, another significant Israelite, this member of the tribe of Levi gives greater significance to the understanding of divine dominion in the world” (p. 94).

Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty (Nottingham: Apollos/InterVarsity Press, 2003).

shane lems

Life in Biblical Israel

Life in Biblical Israel (Library of Ancient Israel) If you’re looking for a scholarly yet readable textbook on life in biblical Israel, I highly recommend a resource with that name: Life in Biblical Israel by Philip King and Lawrence Stager.  At 430+ pages, this book gives an excellent archaeological and historical picture of what life was like for the Israelites.  With glossy pages, diagrams, drawings, and colorful pictures the reader is given some wonderful insight to the customs, habits, and culture of OT Israel.

The book follows this outline: 1) Introduction – the importance of everyday life; 2) The Israelite House and Household; 3) The Means of Existence; 4) Patrimonial Kingdom; 5) Culture and Expressive Life; and 6) Religious Institutions.  In other words, by reading this book, one would learn how the Israelites cooked, slept, worked, fought battles, worshiped, dressed, traded, and traveled (just to name a few).  I appreciate the structure of the book – it is easy to read from front to back but also easy to use as a reference work.  Below is a small excerpt on “travel” in OT Israel (to give our readers an idea of the book’s contents):

“Pedestrian travel was difficult in Palestine, because the terrain was so rugged.  The Israelites had many reasons to travel – business transactions, military duty, annual pilgrim feasts (Passover, Weeks, Tabernacles), family visits, and migration in time of famine.  The Bible refers frequently to messengers (mal’akim), couriers (rasim), and traders (soharim), people who travelled regularly because of their work.  A day’s journey in biblical times averaged between twenty-seven and thirty-seven kilometers.  Marching about thirty-two kilometers a day, the Assyrian army took a little more than two months to go from Nineveh to Lacish in 701 B.C.E.  Professional armies would have traveled on foot through the Palestinian high lands only after the rainy season (p. 186).

I don’t necessarily agree with the authors’ views on the OT Scriptures and their perspective on OT historiography, but the book is still a valuable asset to have on my OT bookshelf.  I’m reading it because it is interesting, but I will no doubt use it in sermon preparation as well.  Again, I very much recommend this resource: Philip King and Lawrence Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Vos on the Mosaic Covenant

Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.) Thanks to Logos Reformed, I’ve been enjoying the first two volumes of Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics (English translation).  In these volumes, and among other things, Vos discusses Reformed covenant theology extensively (the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace).  Here’s a section of Vos’ longer discussion on the place of the Mosaic covenant – the covenant God made with Israel on Sinai.

“The Sinaitic covenant is not a new covenant as concerns the essence of the matter, but the old covenant of grace established with Abraham in somewhat changed form….”

“The covenant with Israel served in an emphatic manner to recall the strict demands of the covenant of works. To that end, the law of the Ten Commandments was presented so emphatically and engraved deeply in stone. This law was not, as Cocceius meant, simply a form for the covenant of grace. It truly contained the content of the covenant of works. But—and one should certainly note this—it contains this content as made serviceable for a particular period of the covenant of grace. It therefore says, for example, “I am the Lord your God.” Therefore, it also contains expressions that had reference specifically to Israel, and thus are not totally applicable to us (e.g., “that it may be well with you in the land that the Lord your God gives you”).”

“But also, beyond the Decalogue, there is reference to the law as a demand of the covenant of works (e.g., Lev 18:5; Deut 27:26; 2 Cor 3:7, 9). It is for this reason that in the last cited passage, Paul calls the ministry of Moses a ministry of condemnation. This simply shows how the demand of the law comes more to the fore in this dispensation of the covenant of grace. This ministry of the law had a twofold purpose: 1) It is a disciplinarian until Christ. 2) It serves to multiply sin, that is, both to lure sin out from its hidden inner recesses as well as to bring it to consciousness (cf. Gal 3:19; Rom 4:15; 5:13). Paul teaches expressly that the law did not appear here as an independent covenant of works in Gal 3:19ff. That the law is also not a summary of the covenant of grace appears from the absence of the demand of faith and of the doctrine of the atonement.”

On a similar note, check out Francis Turretin’s description of the Mosaic covenant (HERE) and William Ames’ description (HERE).

Finally, Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics are not for sale individually quite yet at Logos Reformed, but the volumes 1-2 are included in some Logos Reformed package deals.  The above quote is found in Vos, Geerhardus. Reformed Dogmatics. Ed. Richard B. Gaffin & Richard de Witt. Trans. Annemie Godbehere et al. Vol. 2. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013, pp 76-77.

shane lems
hammond, wi

“The God I Don’t Understand”

 Since I appreciated and enjoyed Chris Wright’s The Mission of God, I thought it would be worthwhile to read some of his other works.  I started with The God I Don’t Understand (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).  In this book, Wright reflects upon a few tough questions that have to do with the Christian faith.  The four big themes are these: suffering and evil, the OT Canaanite conquest, the cross of Christ, and the end of the world (eschatology).  I appreciate Wright’s level-headed biblical approach to answering these questions.  At the outset, he reminds the readers that as finite humans, we cannot fully understand our infinite God and his ways – so we have to approach these topics with humility.  At the same time, we don’t have to be skeptics about everything, because God has clearly revealed some things to us in his word.

One section that stuck out for me was how Wright wrestled over the OT Caananite conquest, when God told Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan.  If you’ve struggled with this OT concept of herem warfare, I strongly recommend reading this section by Wright (who is an OT scholar by trade).  Here’s one part I thought was helpful.

“…We need to know that Israel’s practice of herem was not in itself unique.  Texts from other nations at the time show that such total destruction in war was practised, or at any rate proudly claimed, elsewhere.  But we must also recognize that the language of warfare had a conventional rhetoric that liked to make absolute and universal claims about total victory and completely wiping out the enemy.  Such rhetoric often exceeded reality on the ground.”

“Admittedly this does not remove the problem [of struggling with the concept of herem warfare], since the reality was still horrible at any level.  But it enables us to allow for the fact that descriptions of the destruction of ‘everything that lives and breathes’ were not necessarily intended literally.  Even in the Old Testament itself this phenomenon is recognized and accepted.  So, for example, we read in the book of Joshua that all the land was captured, all the kings were defeated, all the people without survivors (such as Rahab) were destroyed (e.g. Josh 10:40-42, 11:16-20).  But this must have been intended as rhetorical exaggeration, for the book of Judges (whose final editor was undoubtedly aware of these accounts in Joshua) sees no contradiction in telling us that the process of subduing the inhabitants of the land was far from completed and went on for considerable time, and that many of the original nations continued to live alongside the Israelites.  The key military centers – the small fortified cities of the petty Canaanite kingdoms – were wiped out.  But clearly not all the people, or anything like all the people, had in fact been actually destroyed by Joshua.”

This is helpful to consider when discussing the herem warfare the Israelites visited upon the Canaanites.  Wright goes on to examine other aspects of this topic as well – again, this is worth reading. 

I’ll have to visit other parts of this book later.  For now, if those four topics above are things you’ve thought about in-depth, I recommend letting Wright be a conversation partner in your discussions and thoughts.

The above quote is taken from page 88 in The God I Don’t Understand.

 shane lems

The Gospel in the OT

If you’re interested in learning how the gospel is proclaimed in the OT, you need to check out this series: The Gospel According to the Old Testament.  I just saw that WTS books is having a great sale on these books: the set is $71.44 (plus $1 shipping).  Another option: if you get 3 of them, there is a 50% discount.  I think that would mean you get 3 of these books for around $17, which is an outstanding deal.  Here are a few that I highly recommend:


I’ve enjoyed these titles – these would be great for personal study as well as small group study.  The reading level is around senior in high school, give or take.  I’m glad I have these in my library, and I encourage our readers to add these to your own libraries.

shane lems