Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land (NSBT)

Martin, Oren R. Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan. NSBT 34; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 208 pp. Pb; $20.00.   Link to IVP

This new addition to New Studies in Biblical Theology is a detailed study of the Promised Land as a canonical link from Eden to Kingdom. The land theme is important because it connects various biblical covenants into a developing story of typological fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem humankind.

Oren Martin Bound for the Promised LandAs is often observed, the kingdom described in Revelation is very much like the Garden of Eden. Martin shows how the beginning and the end are connected through the entire grand narrative of Scripture. Quoting Jon Levenson, Martin quips “eschatology is like proctology;” the beginning corresponds to the end (56).  But each successive stage in God’s redemptive plan escalates the typology so that the end of the story is not just a restored Eden on earth, but an entirely new Heaven and Earth.

In the first two chapters Martin develops his view that the Promised Land is a typology found throughout the canon. Beginning with the creation story, he traces the development of God’s redemptive plan, arguing Eden is the ideal kingdom ruled by God. Humans rebel against the king in the Fall and the effects of sin separate humans from God. The rest of the Bible is therefore the story of God’s plan of redemption. God is “reestablishing his kingdom through covenant” (42). These covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant) are something like stages in God’s plan to restore Eden in the eschatological Kingdom of God. With respect to the New Covenant, Martin point to Jesus’ preaching of the presence of the Kingdom in his ministry as an “already established” restoration of Eden in the church. Yet he sees a still future new creation and kingdom coming in the eschatological age.

Having offered something of a sketch of the whole canon in chapter 2, Martin then provides the details of this developing typology on in chapters 3-9. For much of the Old Testament the promise of restoration is a future hope. While it is true Abraham does dwell in the Promised Land and the Israelites eventually return to the Eden-like Promised Land, the glorious return of Eden remains a tantalizing hope for a future restoration from exile. The promised restoration of God’s rule is in some ways “already” fulfilled, but in other important aspects, “not yet” fulfilled.

The hoped-for restoration from the Exile was inaugurated in the person and work of Christ. While it is difficult to trace Promised Land themes in the teaching of Jesus (117), Martin suggests Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom was an inauguration of the Kingdom and the promise of the land finds its fulfillment in Jesus. This is not a radically new suggestion, although it is critical for some of the theological reflections later in the book.

Martin attempts to find this same sort fulfillment in the epistles as well. There is, however, little in the Epistles that could possibly be taken as typology of the Land Promise. I found the brief material on Paul to be unrelated to a typology of Land, but Hebrews clearly uses a typological method and describes Jesus as a fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, including the rest Israel experienced when they entered the Land. Canaan is functioning typologically in Heb 3:7-4:13, for example, and there is a shift in chapters 12-13 from Sinai to Zion. More work is needed here since it is not clear from Hebrews that the fulfillment of the Land Promise to Abraham is wholly exhausted in the person and work of Jesus. The book would have been better served to omit everything except the material on Hebrews.

Martin describes the fulfillment of the promise in the book of Revelation, the shortest chapter in the book despite the fact Revelation has strong typological ties to the restoration of the Promised Land to God’s people. Martin’s focus in this chapter is almost entirely on the New Jerusalem and new creation as a restoration of the Edenic Temple. While this critique falls under the category “I would have written this part differently,” I do think Martin has missed a great deal which could support his overall thesis by limiting his brief comments in this way. For example, there is a great deal of “new exodus” language in Revelation, especially in the sequence of seven trumpets. The call to leave Babylon in Rev 17-18 could be understood as an allusion to the call to return from exile and return to the Land in Isaiah 40-66.

In the final chapter, Martin makes a series of theological reflections on the Promised Land. The thrust of his chapter seems to be to distance this study from Dispensationalism. In fact, as I was reading the book, I thought at many points Martin was a dispensationalist, or at least speaking in ways which resonate with the more academic dispensational theology usually described as “progressive dispensationalism.”

Dispensationalists maintain a distinction between Israel and the Church even in the present age and argue the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional and not wholly fulfilled in either the Old Testament nor in the Church. They look forward to a real fulfillment of the “land promise” in a future, literal kingdom of God. Since Martin’s study argues the Land Promise is fulfilled typologically in the work of Christ, the Church becomes God’s new covenant people. Yet Martin does say “all God’s promises find their ultimate fulfillment in the person and work of Christ as the culmination of God’s revelation and redemptive plan” (170), so there is still a future new creation which will continue (conclude?) the typological pattern of Eden. To my mind, this is an arbitrary limit placed Martin’s principle of typology expressed early in the book. If each successive use of a typology escalates, then the final restoration after the Parousia ought to be the most complete fulfillment possible. Dispensationalists include a restoration of Israel as God’s people in this ultimate fulfillment of the promise, Martin does not.

Conclusion. Martin has certainly delivered on his promise to create a biblical theology of the Promised Land. This book argues for the Land as a typological link throughout the various covenants of the Old Testament, covenants that find their fulfillment in the person of Jesus. Martin has contributed to the discussion of the over-arching plot of the whole Bible by pointing to the restoration of Eden as a possible controlling typology.


NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

4 thoughts on “Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land (NSBT)

  1. I’ve recently been reading this book. Regarding Paul and land is ‘seated in heavenly places’ not the counterpart to Canaan. I agree Martin is weak on Paul in what is on the whole a helpful book.

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