Pierce argues that if an ethic and national future exists for the state of Israel, then it isn't based upon God's “unconditional” covenants with Abraham and David (the traditional Dispensational view). Based upon his exegetical study, he argues that none of the covenants in fact are unconditional. Instead, each of the covenants is presented in a three-fold pattern where:
1) God sovereignly chooses an individual 2) which immediately results in a covenant relationship 3) in which the blessings are conditional upon the recipient's obedience. To make his point, Pierce reveals how this pattern emerges in each of the covenants in question. In the Abrahamic covenant, Abraham is shown explicitly being chosen by God and a covenant immediately following. The conditional nature of the blessings listed in the covenant (to become a great nation) hang on two commands: “Go” and “be a blessing.” If Abraham had not complied with these divine imperatives, then not even faith or God's sovereign choice would have sustained the blessings. Thus, the covenant is clearly not unconditional. Similarly, the Israelite Covenant given at Mount Sinai is sovereignly initiated by God with the people of Israel (God did not attach himself to the nation because of Israel's greatness, but because he loved them and swore an oath to them) forming a communion between the two, and creates obligations for Israel through the Law. Pierce then demonstrates that the Davidic Covenant is also threefold and was understood by its recipients to be conditional. It's undeniable that God chose David to be king and a covenant began in which David's house would stand forever. However, David's understanding of the covenant as he commissioned his son Solomon (1 Kings 2:1-4) reveals that he understood the covenant to include responsibility on their behalf. Solomon too repeated the conditions of obedience when he dedicated the temple “...so that the Lord may keep his promise to me [David]” (2 Chronicles 7:17-22). Pierce makes the distinction that while an element of the covenant with David, namely that his house, throne and kingdom would last forever, it is inaccurate to say that this promise is unconditional (Pierce, 32).
Moving toward modern times, Pierce reveals how both the crisis of the exile and then the coming of the Messiah (Jesus Christ) with the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah reveal a difference between secular and spiritual repossessions of the land. He states that Israel's inclusion in the New Covenant is still a conditional promise based on obedience. In discussing Romans 11, he posits that Paul has more of a hope or expectation that God will offer another opportunity for Israel to enter into the new covenant if they do not continue in their unbelief as opposed to a prophetic word about its guarantee. In support of this claim, Pierce makes some limited observations between the times of the Messiah's offer and modern Israel in which any reclamation of the land was secular, not spiritual (the exiles returned without true repentance, the Hasmonian political dynasty, etc.) and as a result the land was either quickly lost or was dominated by foreign rulers. Furthermore, not even the latest return led by modern Zionists led to any prophetic words regarding God's intend for Israel's future.
A modern application of seeing the conditional nature of these covenants would be to stop the unconditional covenant mentality which has led to the “biblical guarantee” of Israel's future as a nation state and the subsequent blind support for Israel's politics. This also cautions that predictions about Israel beyond 1948 should be avoided, for ultimately we don't know what God's final plan is for Israel.
Personal Observations – Pierce's works certainly could take the wind out of the sails for eschatological predictions regarding Israel. God's promise to Israel in Romans 11 seems to be limited to an offer of restoration, as opposed to the promise of restoration itself. If so, the nation we currently know as Israel could fall away again with hopes to be reclaimed, or not, and God's name would not be diminished. In the end, whether we opt for a Dispensational or Covenant interpretation, we should all agree with Pierce that “It seems best to join the apostle in his prayer for their [the Jews] salvation (10:1), but to base future hope on the established pattern of God's grace, offered and reoffered to Israel in special ways despite their failure, rather than on the notion of an unconditional covenant” (Pierce, 38).
Pierce's Article in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Societyhttp://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-1/JETS_37-1_027-038_Pierce.pdf
6/11/2012 04:06:04 am
Speaking as a DTS grad, I am aware of many dispensationalists who find no connection between the OT covenants and the modern state of Israel. Fewer and fewer old school dispensationalists are out there, and now I'm not so sure if this matter is as simple as a dispensational v. covenant theology interpretation. What I do know is that debating these things mostly went out of fashion in the late 90's ;)
6/11/2012 07:05:48 am
I certainly hope that Pierce's views do come across in strict accord with my own or that I think ill of my Dispensational brothers in Christ. I rather fancy a DisCo position in accordance with my Molinistic tendencies to see God's sovereignty and human choice harmonized as it is inextricably linked in how we see Israel in light of the Church Age.
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