God gave Abraham and his descendants the Land as an everlasting possession. He did this when Abraham was in a deep sleep, to show the unilateral and therefore, unconditional nature of the promise. Yet even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelt as strangers in a Land that they never possessed, but dwelt in tents as sojourners (Acts 7:5; Heb 11:9). The patriarchs knew they were in for a considerable wait (Gen 15:13-16, 50:25), Abraham’s promised inheritance of the Land with Isaac and all his descendants ultimately requires bodily resurrection, most particularly for the elect ‘seed’ of promise, meaning the regenerate children of God. So, this battle over the Land for ultimate fulfillment of the promise was always going to be a very long range struggle, requiring an eschatological conclusion.
Such an eschatological conclusion would not, of course, be required if the Land promise is not to be interpreted literally. But without going into all the details and implications, when understood literally, as manifestly understood by the later prophets, the promise requires an ultimate inheritance by those whom Paul calls the ‘natural branches’, inclusive not only of Christ but also of the Land. However, the Land would never be Israel’s to retain in secure permanence until all the people are righteous by the gift of the Spirit, and preserved in that righteousness forever (“never depart”; Isa 59:21; Jer 32:40).
Time does not permit, but a rather invincible case can be made that this is how the prophets interpreted the promise. It is why Paul will speak of the salvation of “all Israel”, not just the rounding out of the full number of elect Jews, but the time when there would not be a single unsaved Jew alive on the earth – in the millennial age (see Deut 30:6; Isa 4:3; 45:17; 25: 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; 66:22; Jer 31:34; 32:40; Eze 20:40; 37:24-25; 39:22, 28-29; Zeph 3:13, etc).
In the first place, the presently much-debated “Divine right” to the Land was never based on Israel’s ability to enter it – or, once having entered, to retain it. Deut 9:4-6 makes very clear that Israel’s righteousness has nothing to do with their ability to enter the Land and possess it; this is God’s decision, based on His covenant with the Patriarchs, and nothing else. Furthermore, even before Israel enters the Land, Moses tells them they would not be able to hold it long.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.
Then in Deut 9:24, he gives the reason why:
Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day. All the prophets assume that this condition of national blindness will persist until the Spirit is poured out on the surviving remnant, after a last and unequaled time of trouble ending in the day of the Lord (demonstrable through many scriptures). But they never interpreted this to mean that the Land would never be Israel’s till then, nor that judgment and expulsion could terminate the right of return, even before the eschatological righteousness of eternal promise, as seen in the return under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
So yes, Israel’s ability to dwell in the Land in unassailable security (2Sam 7:10; Isa 54:17; Amos 9:15) awaits an eschatological fulfillment of the law, in the revelation of the new covenant, but this obviously never stopped God from giving the Land, nor for sovereignly returning back to the Land a remnant that was manifestly short of meeting the conditions necessary for permanent tenure.
This still-defective condition is why the post-exilic prophet Zechariah, while acknowledging a ‘little reviving’ in the Land, would expect further apostasy in the future, bringing the ultimate judgments of the yet-future day of the Lord. Notwithstanding, the Jew’s homecoming was regarded as a partial fulfillment of covenant promise made ‘irrevocably’ to the fathers (Jer 30:3), even though those who returned for the larger part fell far short of the kind of repentant transformation that will describe the penitent survivors of the last and unequaled tribulation.
Clearly then, Israel’s presence and right to the Land is regarded as an irrevocable gift from God that is never finally revoked, but only temporarily suspended when the threshold of iniquity has reached the point of Divine intolerance.
The ability to hold the Land is not the basis for the gift. The Land is a lesson in the nature of righteousness, because the only way God could have given the Land to Jacob’s descendants as an everlasting possession is if He had already determined within Himself to also give them the only kind of righteousness that can keep it. This is what Daniel means by the “bringing in of everlasting righteousness”. It is God’s own righteousness wrought in His elect by the Spirit’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
The kingdom of God on earth waits for this great event. This is why the dilemma of the Land is really nothing more than the dilemma or crisis of the covenant in general. The great question was always how does a hopelessly unrighteous people inherit a final and secure inheritance that is conditional on their ‘permanent’ fulfillment of the conditions of the covenant? It is to ask the question that Gal 3:17 answers:
And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot dis-annul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Add as many conditions as you will. The promise is not afraid of conditions because it doesn’t depend on man! The gift could be as freely given to Abraham’s descendants as to faithful Abraham. Why? Because the gift never depended on Israel anymore than it depended on Abraham, but all is at best only partially and temporarily received in this age, pointing ever on to the necessity of ultimate, eternally imperishable resurrection, glorification, and the end of death (1Cor 15:26).
Abraham did not participate in the making of the covenant. This was to show that God Himself alone would see to the full and righteous fulfillment of all of its provisions. He would provide Himself, not only as the sacrifice but as the fulfill-er of all the conditions of the law, as He would become their only all-sufficient righteousness (Isa 54:17).
So the question, not only as to the ultimate salvation of “all Israel”, but no less, of their ‘everlasting’ inheritance of the Land, God most wisely puts on a basis that is manifestly wholly of grace, requiring nothing short of an event of resurrection life. Only then will a habitually backsliding people be able to keep the Land forever because of an indwelling righteousness that is forever, even “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:5-6).
In the meantime, God has every right to give the Land to whom He will, despite their inability to hold it. He has been long-suffering with Israel all these years, whether in or out of the Land, and during the whole time of their exile, the Land has never ceased to be theirs by covenant promise, NOT by the conditions of the law, although the curse of the law upon disobedience would continue to threaten.
From the beginning God has made it obviously clear that Israel’s ability to inherit the Land in abiding peace and righteousness does not lie in an obedience that is in their power to supply. Rather, it lies in God’s predestined purpose to provide the required obedience on their behalf through His Son, and then in and through them by His Spirit at the appointed time, and never sooner! (Ps 102:13).
Until that time, the Land is regarded as theirs only because it is His to give as He wills, to whom He wills, and under the conditions that He grants (Joel 3:2). The entire end-time controversy is over the Land, and the nations are held to great account by their disregard of the covenant, proof of which is their willing, even celebratory instrumentality in the public exhibition of the final severity of covenant discipline upon Israel, to the point of arrogating the land to themselves.
This should tell us that God is using the Land to demonstrate something about the kind of grace that defines the nature of true gospel righteousness. It is a grace that doesn’t depend on man! The issue of the Land and the ability to possess and keep what God has irrevocably given is the Divinely-ordained test case that illustrates this.