Hesed Hermeneutics

Dispensational and Reformed theology both claim to consistently interpret the bible in a literal, grammatical, historical, contextual, and literary manner. And yet when it comes to the relationship between Israel and the Church, they usually reach very different conclusions. Why is that? I think much of the explanation for this can be traced to the significance of one Hebrew word, hesed.

With respect to the interaction between Yahweh and Israel, Israel in terms of both the people and the Land, hesed refers to the fundamental unchanging nature of God’s covenant commitments. It points to His covenantal love and loyalty. It declares that the God of Israel in His dealings with Israel is faithful in His promises and loyal in His love. It means that God is actually going to do what He said He’s going to do with regard to the specific group of people He has chosen to initiate a unique covenant relationship with; unique in that this kind of relationship does not exist with any other nation. And it’s at this very point where I think Reformed thought often drops the hermeneutical ball.

Reformed theology tends to deal with the biblical covenants of promise in a manner where the spiritual and physical promises associated with the four unconditional covenants God made with national ethnic Israel are allegorized and transferred to overwhelmingly non-Jewish segment of the universal church. In fact, because the biblical concept of covenant is approached deductively instead of inductively; Reformed theology actually renames, redefines, and refers to the biblical covenants of promise as so-called “theological covenants.” And that means that individual passages are forced into a pre-determined interpretative mold, rather than allowing the evidence in the individually relevant passages to determine the final shape of one’s conclusions.

Having said that, I do consider myself as being reformed in the sense of fully affirming the Five Solas associated with the Protestant reformation. But the stark contrast between Dispensationalism and Reformed theology on this issue of how to understand and apply the biblical covenants of promise is significant enough that in order to be as biblical in my theology as I can be, I’m compelled to align myself with Dispensationalism.

I don’t pretend to speak as an academician on these issues. Rather I speak from the perspective of a guest preacher simply making observations on today’s church based on my experiences. And from that vantage point, I suspect that a lot of folks who buy into Reformed theology hook, line, and sinker; do so because they assume that if someone like R.C. Sproul is correct on one thing, he must also be correct on just about everything! And truth be told, most of us probably do the same thing to some degree with teachers we like, because honestly that’s a whole lot easier than trying to work through these issues for ourselves. Nevertheless; we need to individually read widely, think deeply, and pray fervently so our convictions are truly our convictions.

To borrow a line from an old song Temptations song, the world is a ball of confusion! Getting the Mid-East conflict politically right, requires getting Israel and the Jewish people biblically right. And that means we not only have to check things out for ourselves like the Berean Jewish community (cf. Acts 17:11), but we also have to be like the Jewish men from the tribe of Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do (1 Chron. 12:32).

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