Reviewed by Joshua T. Benadum
Bound for the Promised Land is written by Oren R. Martin, assistant professor of Christian theology at Boyce College at Southern Seminary. This volume represents his contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson. Martin affirms in his preface his intent to trace and unpack the delineation of the “land theme” across the whole of the biblical corpus. He accomplishes this task by synthesizing the land promises, kingdom promises, and eschatology beginning with expulsion at Eden and ending with the New Jerusalem.
The book is written in an easy-to-read format and includes a detailed table of contents and also a helpful glossary of abbreviations used throughout the text. Chapter one sets the table for what follows by introducing the thesis and shows how Martin will proceed. Martin states “the aim of the present study is to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land – prepared for all God’s people throughout history – that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ.” (17).
He goes on to explain the necessity of this study which is in opposition to certain previous scholarship and complements other theories and theologies which have addressed the same subject, including but not limited to the work of Walter Brueggemann, Norman Habel, W. D. Davies, Peter Walker, Gary Burge, and Peter Gentry. Martin’s overall argument is that, while his work may be in substantial agreement with much of what previous scholars have said, “land theology” is yet to receive the focused treatment it deserves spanning both testaments. Chapter one ends with a helpful description of Martin’s key assumptions regarding the relationship between systematic and biblical theology, typology, and the role of eschatology as an interpretive lens.
Chapter two is the most essential piece of Martin’s argument, as it is here that he lays down the biblical argument for establishment of Edenic paradise as both the archetype of God’s intention for humanity, and also the telos of salvation history. The second half of the chapter then again gives an overview of the theme of God’s kingdom through covenant from Abraham to the New Jerusalem. The kingdom of God is “the beginning, middle, and end of the biblical story”, describing “God’s people in his place under his rule.” (58). Martin finishes this overview chapter with the fitting question “but how do we get to the New Jerusalem from Eden?” (59).
Chapter three focuses on Genesis, pointing out that the events of Genesis 1-11 are more than a simple prologue but are in fact paradigmatic to the rest of scripture. This is a key facet of Martin’s argument. Where many would begin with Abraham, he begins with Eden. However, Abraham is still the one to receive the land promise, and thereby to begin the process by which God will restore his Kingdom lost at Eden. A lengthy explanation of the Abrahamic covenant follows, including the key point that even in this original covenant what is promised goes far beyond the geographically and culturally narrow initial fulfillment in the land of Canaan.
If in Genesis we saw the promise made, then it is advanced in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Chapter four draws out the ways in which the land promise connects to Eden based on its purpose and description, and engages God’s intent through the Exodus to create a people of his own. Chapter five groups together Joshua, Judges, and Kings: this grouping displays that Israel’s initial occupation of the land could not have been the ultimate end of the Abrahamic covenant, as it falls far short of the Edenic ideal. While God fulfills his promise the people rebel. Even the building of the great temple of God is rendered only symbolic by Israel’s corruption and apostasy despite God’s faithfulness.
Chapter six is the longest of all Martin’s Old Testament chapters as it covers all the major and minor prophetic books. The prophets understand the exile as God’s righteous judgment and pick up on the prophetic foreshadowing of a greater land, a greater king, and a final kingdom, which they express with increasing detail and scale. The international scope of these prophecies and the role of the Messiah figure in their fulfillment are of particular concern. Martin then concludes with a helpful summary of the Old Testament’s teaching regarding the land promise.
Chapter seven concedes that “land theology” receives less direct attention in the majority of the New Testament. However Martin argues that Gospel’s discourses on “the kingdom of God” essentially expand the theme, looking forward to Christ’s bringing about of the fulfillment.
Chapter eight engages the epistles, particularly the book of Hebrews and its interpretation and application of the Old Testament narratives to what now stands before the New Testament saints as the final rest of God, or the heavenly country for which Abraham sought.
Chapter nine is short but key in that it addresses the major source of New Testament land theology, the Book of Revelation and its teaching on the New Jerusalem. Particularly convincing is Martin’s comparison of the New Jerusalem with Eden, proving intentional similarity, and arguing that the former is really the final rebirth of the latter.
Martin summarizes with the idea that the New Testament represents the spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, even though there is a physical dimension yet to be attained. The work of Christ fulfills and secures the inheritance of God’s people who are now all of those identified with his death and resurrection.
The book’s final chapter contains theological reflections and implications of the land theme as unpacked by Martin in biblical and systematic theology. Martin is especially interested in how the land theme affects the debate between dispensational and covenantal theology. He critiques dispensational perspectives which maintain that the Old Testament land promises find their end in a national Israel back in the land of Canaan. The Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants were always prefiguring Eden restored for all humanity.
Martin seems to be saying that because God’s promises to national Israel always looked forward to the greater land and greater fulfillment in the New Jerusalem, we are justified in seeing all of the promises to national Israel as in fact inherited by the church. As a dispensationalist, I was not entirely persuaded. But I admire him for working against an over-spiritualization of the land promises in the New Testament. As Jesus Christ himself came with the Spirit of God but in human flesh, so will the Lord establish a physical land for his spiritual people, a new heaven and a new earth in the redeemed image of Eden. This has always been his intention.
Martin’s approach is thorough and consistent. He interacts well with opposing arguments to effectively deliver his thesis that land theology is bookended by Eden and the New Jerusalem which at every point supposed a global fulfillment.
In summary, Bound for the Promised Land is an interesting and accessible study of a key biblical theme. Pastors teaching through books like Genesis, Joshua, and Hebrews where land theology features significantly will find Martin’s work edifying. Students of systematic theology could also benefit from his thorough investigation of this widespread biblical motif.
Joshua T. Benadum is Pastor and Leadership Class Instructor at Xenos Christian Fellowship, Columbus, OH
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Bound For The Promised Land: The Land Promise In God's Redemptive Plan