Progressive Covenantalists place a great deal of weight on typology in their argument that the land promises of the Old Testament are ultimately fulfilled for all of God’s people in the entirety of the new creation (see here).
In response, I would argue that to say the promised land is typical is not careful enough. It leaves time out of the consideration. For instance, the land as it is part of the new creation is not typical, for it is part of the fulfillment. Nor would the land as occupied by the Canaanites in the centuries before the promise or before the conquest be typical of the new creation. Likewise, the land with its people exiled and captive is not typological of the new creation. It is only at certain times in redemptive history that the promised land is typical of the new creation.
There are two points in Israel’s history in which the land clearly is typical of the new creation: the time of Joshua and the time of Solomon. There may be more, but in these two instances the typology can be clearly supported from Scripture.
Land is a key theme in the book of Joshua. It is central from the opening of the book in which God tells Joshua to lead the people into the land through record of the conquest and to the allocation of the land. Joshua shows how the creation blessing is lived out by Israel in a fallen world. The land must be purged of God’s enemies, who have corrupted the land with their sin. The conquest itself typifies the Second Coming in which the Tribulation and return of Christ effect a conquest and purification of the earth (see Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 152-53). The result of the conquest was rest for God’s people in the land (Jos. 1:13, 15; 11:23; 14:15; 21:44; 22:4; 23:1) (see Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 108). The Israelites were to live in the land in accordance with God’s covenant regulations. In this way the nations would be able to see what a land under righteous dominion looks like. Thus Israel’s life in the land was to typify life in the new creation. Life in the new creation is the attainment of Sabbath rest in which mankind rules over the earth under God’s greater rule; this is the antitype to the type of the land in Joshua.
The second point in Israel’s history in which the land is clearly typical of the new creation occurs in Solomon’s reign. In 1 Kings 4 the author intentionally draws parallels between Solomon’s reign and the Abrahamic covenant. Verse 20 says, “Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea,” a reference back to Genesis 22:17, “I will surely multiply your offspring . . . as the sand that is on the seashore.” Verse 21 of 1 Kings 4 says, “Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border or Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” This is a partial fulfillment of God’s promise, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18; cf. 17:8). First Kings 4:34 says that “people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.” This reflects Genesis 22:8, “And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (cf. 12:3; 18:18). Thus all three aspects of the Abrahamic covenant—seed, land, and blessing—are fulfilled in Solomon’s reign.
Indeed, the language of 1 Kings 4 is the language that the prophets, especially Micah, use to describe the Messianic kingdom in the latter days. Since Micah prophesied before Kings was written, it seems likely that the author of Kings intentionally used language from Micah to connect this part of Solomon’s reign typologically with the Messianic kingdom.
In Solomon’s day, “Judah and Israel lived in safety” (1 Kgs. 4:25). In the Messianic kingdom “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more . . . and no one shall make them afraid” (Mic. 4:3-5). In Solomon’s day, this safety is for “every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (1 Kgs. 4:25). In the Messianic kingdom, “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (Mic. 4:4; cf. Zech. 3:10). In Solomon’s day, “people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kgs. 4:34). In the Messianic kingdom, “many nations shall come, and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Mic. 4:2).*
It may be significant to the typology that Solomon is a king who rules over other kingdoms. Though the boundaries given in 1 Kings 4:24-25 correspond to those God promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18), the text does not actually say that the Israelite kingdom filled those borders. Rather, Solomon had dominion over all of the kings within those borders. This reflects the new creation in which the King of kings rules not over an undifferentiated mass of people but over other kings and kingdoms. (Note also that this is a rule that brings blessing to the kings of the earth, for they come to Solomon for wisdom.)
And yet, as the narrative of Kings demonstrates, these elements are present typologically, pointing to their greater fulfillment in the future. Solomon, as his sin makes plain, is not the true fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant.
The significance of these observations should be plain. If the land is not a type in and of itself but only at certain periods of Israel’s history, one cannot conclude on the basis of typology that the land of Israel is only a shadow with no future significance.** The shadow would be the land in the time of Joshua or in the time of Solomon. The substance would be the Davidic Messiah ruling from that land over the nations in the new earth. Thus there is no logical contradiction in the land being a type at certain periods of history and Israel receiving the land in fulfillment of the promises.
*The connection between wisdom and law in the Kings/Micah comparison is not strained. As Craig Bartholomew observes, “The wisdom and legal traditions in the OT are clearly distinct, and yet they manifest some awareness of each other. Both have in common the ordering of the life of God’s people. Van Leeuwen argues persuasively, as we have seen, that a notion of creation order underlies the surface metaphors of Proverbs 1-9.” Craig G. Bartholomew, “A God for Life, and Not Just for Christmas!” in The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture, ed. Paul Helm and Carl R. Trueman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 55. Thus the wisdom of Solomon’s rule points forward to the Messiah’s rule in which people once again live according to the created order, that is, humans live out the dominion of Genesis 1:28 under God’s greater rule.
**Some may wish to challenge the idea that typology always involves a move from shadow to substance. See John S. Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988), 77-76. But such a challenge is not necessary to the argument made here.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture: