Reviewed by Micah McCormick
Bound for the Promised Land takes a spot in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson. This series generally takes a major theme and traces that theme through its development in Scripture (occasionally volumes in the series will simply focus on one author or one book of the Bible). As the title implies, Bound for the Promised Land sets out to chart the development of the land theme in Scripture. More specifically, the author, Oren Martin, seeks “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 of God’s people throughout history—that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ” (17).
The book achieves its goal and has a number of strengths.
First, Martin does an excellent job of extending the discussion of the land from the original creation all the way to the new creation. Too often, discussions of land promises in Scripture focus simply on the Abrahamic covenant—and perhaps accompanying arguments about hermeneutical presuppositions.
Martin shows that the Abrahamic covenant and corresponding promise of a land continues the story begun in Eden. Likewise the prophetic hopes of a return to the land are redolent with Edenic language. To give just a couple examples, Martin connects the “life,” “prolonging of days,” and “obedience” themes in Deuteronomy with Israel’s enjoyment of the land and then points out a similar pattern set before Adam (84). In addition, the “holy mountain” future land of Isaiah is drawn together with Eden, the “holy mountain” of God in Ezekiel 28 (106).
Second, Martin rightly shows that the anticipation of a greater land is developed within the OT itself. Rather than letting the book become weighed down with arguments about the interpretative priority of the OT vs. the NT, Martin simply lets the text speak for itself. In doing so, he shows that the OT typology contains a trajectory that is greater than one sharply defined piece of real estate in the Middle East.
The OT promise to Abraham, along with recalling the hope of what the world lost in Adam, offers a blessing that extends beyond the boundaries of Israel. One piece of evidence lies in the fact that although the OT often describes the borders of the land in quite specific ways, the boundaries are flexible rather than rigid, introducing a possibility that the territory can indeed expand (72-74).
Third, rather than calling for a specific political stance toward the Middle East, Martin follows the star straight to the cradle of Christ. Here is wisdom: taking up primary conversation with Dempster (Dominion and Dynasty), Beale (The Temple and the Church’s Mission), and Gentry and Wellum (Kingdom Through Covenant)—not with cable news, convention floors, and John Hagee.
Martin navigates the unconditional and conditional elements of the OT covenants and argues that the covenant blessing of land “will be brought about by an obedient one” (70). It is Christ who fulfills the conditions of the covenant, so that all of God’s promises find their yes in him (71). The prayer of Psalm 80 that God’s people be restored as a vine in their land can only come through the true vine Jesus Christ—since “the place of blessing is in him” (130). Thus the first priority for Israel in A.D. 20 or A.D. 2000 is that they be grafted into Christ.
Finally, Martin does an expert job of weaving together themes in Scripture that are closely tied to the land. For instance, developing the theme of rest has important implications for the land promises, since rest is bound up with the land (74, 85, 127, 143). Temple, inheritance, and obedience all contribute to a robust theology of land, and Martin shows the connections without ever become sidetracked from his main thesis.
I can’t say that I have any major criticisms of the book, but I’ll mention a couple of wishes.
First, I wish Martin would have been more cautious in his critique of those who “spiritualize” the land promises. “Spiritualize,” like the word “allegorize,” is one of those slippery terms that is easily used but avoids careful definition. Martin cites France (125) and Berkhof (136) as examples of spiritualizers, but I’m not convinced that either of them would disagree with the way Martin unpacks the land. Perhaps Martin would have been better to borrow the already-not yet language and suggest that some commentators emphasize the “already” of the land blessings in Christ and don’t highlight the “not yet” of a future physical new creation to the extent that they should.
Second, I wish Martin would have engaged in more detailed exegesis of some of the land passages, particularly in the prophets. One of the most fascinating interchanges in the book is a footnoted counterpoint between Block and Beale concerning the nature of the temple vision in Ezekiel 40-48 (112-113). Given the scope of the book, I understand that every land passage can’t be looked at in detail, and certainly publishers impose their own limitations on length. But perhaps in the future Martin could expand on the excellent groundwork laid in this book by looking at a greater number of specific prophetic passages (e.g. Zechariah 14).
Finally, I was a little surprised that Martin didn’t explicitly apply his argument to the various millennial views. Unless I missed it, he didn’t land (pardon the pun) in any one camp. Some theologians might suggest that those who are expecting a future pre-millennial installment of the land promises are missing the typological progress of revelation and throwing redemptive history into retrograde. Other theologians could argue that a future millennial experience of the land wonderfully fulfills God’s irrevocable purposes and serves as an important step in the unfolding development of this theme in Scripture.
Martin does well to let the text speak and not become bogged down in controversy, but given the amount of ink spilled over this question, it would seem helpful for him to apply the findings of his study in some measure to the nature of the land as it relates to the millennium.
I read Martin as more friendly to a non-premillennial position—he speaks of typological progression and expanding borders and an idealized return and the coextensive nature of land, city, and temple, and he doesn’t positively affirm any kind of future millennial fulfillment. But in any case, perhaps Martin wanted to be just textual enough to gain commendations from as many people as possible, and if that’s his strategy it worked on me—I heartily recommend his book!
Micah McCormick is Assistant Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church in New Hyde Park, NY.
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Bound For The Promised Land: The Land Promise In God's Redemptive Plan