To the Galatians, preoccupied with entering, through circumcision, the family of the patriarch, in order to have a right to the promised heritage, Paul shows that circumcision is no longer necessary, for what is important is faith in Christ. By faith, one becomes a son of Abraham (Ga 3:17), for Christ is the privileged descendant (3:16) and, through faith, people are incorporated into Christ and so become “descendants of Abraham, heirs to the promise” (3:29). It is in this way – and not through circumcision – that the pagans will receive the blessing transmitted by Abraham (3:8,14). In Ga 4: 22-31, a daring typological interpretation arrives at the same conclusions.
In the Letter to the Romans (4:1-25), Paul returns to the subject in less polemical terms. He highlights the faith of Abraham, for him the source of justification and the basis of Abraham’s paternity which extends to all who believe whether Jew or pagan. For God had promised Abraham: “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gn 17:4); Paul sees the promise realised in the many believers of pagan origin who belong to Christ (Rm 4:11,17-18). He makes a distinction between “children of the flesh” and “children of the promise” (Rm 9:8). The Jews who belong to Christ are both. Believers of pagan origin are “children of the promise”, that is the more important of the two.
56. Every human group wishes to inhabit territory in a permanent manner. Otherwise, reduced to the status of stranger or refugee, it finds itself, at best, tolerated, or at worst, exploited and continually oppressed. Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt and received from God the promise of land. Its realisation required time and gave rise to many problems throughout the course of its history. For the people of the Bible, even after the return from the Babylonian Exile, the land remained an object of hope: “Those blessed by the lord”will possess the land (Ps ).
The term “promised land” is not found in the Hebrew Bible, which has no word for “promise”. The idea is expressed by the future tense of the verb “to give”, or by using the verb “to swear”: “the land which he swore to give to you” (Ex 13:5; 33:1, etc.).
In the Abraham traditions, the promise of land will be fulfilled through descendants. 243 It concerns the “land of Canaan” (Gn 17:8). God raises up a leader, Moses, to liberate Israel and lead it into the promised land. 244 But the people as a whole lose faith: of those faithful from the beginning, only a few survive the long journey through the desert; it is the younger generation that will enter the land (Nu -38). Under the leadership of Joshua, the tribes of Israel are settled in the promised territory.
For the Priestly tradition, the land must as far as possible be without blemish, for God himself dwells there (Nu ). The gift is therefore conditioned by moral purity 245 and by service to the Lord alone, to the exclusion of foreign gods (Jos -24). On the other hand, God himself is the owner of the land. If the Israelites dwell there, it is as “strangers and sojourners”, 246 like the patriarchs in former times (Gn 23:4; Ex 6:4).
After the reign of Solomon, the heritage land was split into two rival kingdoms. The prophets condemn idolatry and social injustice; they threaten punishment: the loss of the land, conquered by foreigners, and the exile of its population. But they always leave open a way to return to a new occupation of the promised land, 247 while emphasising also the central role of Jerusalem and its Temple. 248 Later the perspective opens out to an eschatological future. Although occupying a limited geographical space, the promised land will become the focus of attraction for the nations. 249