Last week I saw a picture on a Facebook page that had a drawing of the star of David with the words “I STAND WITH ISRAEL” imposed over it.
Artistically, it was a beautiful design.
Theologically, it was very troubling.
I believe Christians (and even Jews) who proudly boast of “standing with Israel” as a modern nation are in danger of borderline idolatry–by both Old and New Testament standards.
Now, that’s an incredibly controversial thing to say…so allow me to clarify what I mean. But first, a disclaimer:
ANYTIME one attempts to speak to the situation regarding the states of Israel and Palestine (I choose to acknowledge both Israeli AND Palestinian claims to statehood), there will ALWAYS be backlash–particularly if one brings issues of theology into the discussion. However, it is a VERY important discussion to have and we must not be afraid to engage the issue head-on…particularly those of us who claim to follow the Jewish Messiah! That being said, disagreement and criticism of any ideas presented in the Dojo are fair game for rebuttal and critique, especially mine! But what will NOT be tolerated in this discussion are personal attacks or flippant use of inflammatory and unhelpful labels (such as “antisemitic” or “godless”) toward those with whose view you may disagree. Now, back to this post…
The nation that exists today in the Middle East with the blue and white Star of David as its flag is a secular state. Its Constitution is not based on Torah, but rather on Western democratic ideals and a European/American form of government. I don’t know many people who would dispute this–in fact, most who support Israel are quite proud of this very thing!
However, because it was named “Israel” when it was established in the mid-20th century, many Christians saw it as the reconstitution of Biblical Israel…and thus as a divinely-sanctioned nation that was to be a key event in ushering in the return of Christ. In fact, most evangelical Christians claimed it as a “miracle” (despite the fact that after WWII, politically and militarily speaking, there was very little that could be said to be “miraculous” about superpowers with modern weaponry establishing a country in land they controlled) and “fulfilled prophecy” (despite there being very little in the actual details of the events which could be correlated with Biblical prophecy in anything more than a superficial or vague manner).
Understandably, then, those who saw the formation (or “ingathering” as they might rather call it) of Israel in this manner would have a favorable view towards this new nation. And since in just the previous decade the Jewish people had suffered tremendous horror in the form of Shoah (the Holocaust), the world was rightly sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish people and many believed they deserved a homeland where they would be able to live free from fear of attack or persecution.
Through political maneuvering and negotiation between the victorious powers of WWII and the European community, it was decided that the place for this new nation of Israel would be the land in the Middle East where Biblical Israel once lived. It seemed only logical.
The only problem was that during the nearly 2,000 years in which the Jewish people had been spread over the face of the earth as a result of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans, many other people had continued to live in that very land, including a number of Jews of Middle Eastern descent (In fact, a friend of mine whose family was forced to flee Israel in the 1940s can trace her family’s ancestry back to 1st century Christians in Jerusalem!). Needless to say, when this massive influx of Europeans arrived in the new nation of “Israel”, there was conflict with those–both Jews and Arabs–who were already there.
[Note: This is a VERY simplified summary and I am intentionally avoiding getting into the numerous historical nuances of the past 60+ years, both because it is beyond the scope of this post and because there are many accounts with varying degrees of bias to which interested readers can refer.]
However, despite being established as a homeland for the Jewish people, at no point in time has the nation of Israel ever been established according to the Covenant given by God at Mt. Sinai. Rather, many of the earliest and most influential leaders of this new state (often referred to as “Zionists”, to distinguish the political goals they sought from the religious aspects of “Judaism”), such as Theodor Herzl, were mostly secular European Jews who were quite clear that they had little use for Torah’s commandments, other than for their religious symbolic value in gaining support among the larger Jewish and Christian world population (see here for more on the secular roots of Zionism). Incidentally, there were and always have been a vocal minority of devout Jews who openly oppose Zionism in principle because they believe that the true return of the Jews from exile cannot happen apart from the coming of Messiah. For more on this, see “A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism” by Yakov Rabkin.
So despite the claims to the contrary by many prominent and prolific voices among Conservative Christian Zionists, the nation of Israel as a nation cannot be said to have legitimate claim to the promises given to Biblical Covenant Israel. This is a CRUCIAL distinction…and one that many of my fellow evangelical Christians often seem to miss.
[For an incredibly thought-provoking and level-headed discussion of this issue by Jewish Psychologist Mark Braverman, see my previous post: A Jewish voice that needs to be heard by Christians.]
“But wait…what about the famous promise to Abraham’s seed? Didn’t God say flat-out that He would bless those who bless the nation of Israel and curse those who curse them??”
No He didn’t.
Look at the passage:
“Now the LORD said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
and I will make you a great nation,
and I will bless you,
and make your name great;
and so you shall be a blessing;
and I will bless those who bless you,
and the one who curses you I will curse.
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Gen 12:1-3 NAS)
This is God speaking to Abram (who would later be renamed “Abraham”) about His plan to reconcile ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH back to Himself. This is one of the most foundational promises in all of Scripture. It is the “Big Idea” of the Bible.
It is later confirmed by God to Abraham and extended to all of Abraham’s “seed”:
“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him,
“I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.
and I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
and I will multiply you exceedingly.”
And Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.
And I will make you exceedingly fruitful,
and I will make nations of you,
and kings shall come forth from you.
And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [Heb. “seed”] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant,
to be God to you and to your descendants [Heb. “seed”] after you.
And I will give to you and to your descendants after you,
the land of your sojournings,
all the land of Canaan,
for an everlasting possession;
and I will be their God.”” (Gen 17:1-8 NAS)
There are many things–entire semesters’ worth, in fact!–that could be said about the passages above. However, the most important, at least for Christians, is what the New Testament writers said about them. Look at what Paul himself a Pharisee who knew the Hebrew Scripture by heart said about God’s promise to Abraham and his “seed”:
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.” (Gal 3:16 NAS)
“And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
(Gal 3:29 NAS)
This is one of the deepest and most profound teachings of the entire Bible…but I only want to make a few observations:
- The promise of blessings and curses are given to Abraham and his “seed”
- Abraham’s “seed” would include a “multitude of nations”
- Jesus, as Israel’s Messiah, is the culmination of all the promises given to Israel by God, and thus the true “seed” of Abraham
- Those who are united with Israel’s Messiah in covenant faith are heirs to the promise–regardless of their ethnicity or earthly citizenship
Of course, in light of the New Testament, while we are to love and support the Jewish people, which includes seeing to it that no one ever threatens them with genocide or other horrors like they have endured over the centuries (much of it, shamefully, at the hand of people professing to follow Jesus!) ever again…we do so because they are created in God’s image and are dearly loved by Him, not because we’ll “be cursed” if we don’t. God is definitely not done with the Jewish people–as some throughout Church history have erroneously taught! He still has a unique plan for the “descendents of Abraham according to the flesh.”
But it does not follow from any of this that Christians are called to “stand with” the modern nation of Israel.
To equate modern Israel with the Jewish people is theologically wrong and, I would argue, very irresponsible…especially given the fact that modern Israel is a thoroughly secular (i.e. non-religious!) nation which engages in a number of practices and policies which are not in line with Torah itself. For instance, according to Torah:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
(Lev 19:33-34 NAS)
Thus, regardless of how bad the nations surrounding Israel may be, this cannot be used as justification for mistreatment or prejudiced policies regarding Palestinians.Yet, as even many Israelis recognize, Palestinians are systematically treated as suspicious at best, and enemies at worst by the Israeli government. Anyone who claims otherwise should spend a year living in the Palestinian territories…they will likely change their minds as a result.
Furthermore, according to Torah, Israel was only allowed to occupy the land so long as they obeyed the Covenant. Breaking the Covenant was grounds for eviction from the land itself, just as the previous inhabitants had been evicted due to their sin:
You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. (Lev 20:22 NAS)
Now, no matter how much we may agree with or approve of modern Israel’s form of government from a political perspective, it is no more based on Torah than the U.S. Constitution is based on the Sermon on the Mount.
Nor is the modern state of Israel submitted to that which Torah points–the New Covenant of the Messiah Jesus. Despite the efforts of various Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ to share the Gospel of Yeshua with their fellow Jews in ways that do not advocate abandoning one’s “Jewishness” (the best of which can be found in Dr. Michael L. Brown’s excellent “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus” volumes), the numbers of Christians and Messianic Jews in Israel remains very small. [Note: I have a TREMENDOUS amount of respect for Dr. Brown and have even had the pleasure of having dinner with him after he spoke at CharlotteONE a few years ago. He is an incredible scholar with a first-rate mind who I am deeply indebted to in my own theological development. He and I would likely not see eye-to-eye on many things regarding the current state of Israel, but that does not in any way diminish the admiration I have for him and his ministry.]
Thus, by both Old or New Testament standards, the modern nation known as “Israel” can in no way be said to have God’s unconditional blessing.
Furthermore, even when Israel was under Torah (that is, during the Hebrew Monarchy and 2nd Temple period), there was never a one-to-one correspondence between supporting them militarily and receiving blessing from God. In fact, Prophets such as Jeremiah were often persecuted precisely because they spoke out against the nation of Israel…and their persecutors were those who, regardless of the nation’s behavior, were most definitely “standing with Israel”!
This is why, even from a Hebrew Bible perspective, one cannot justify an unconditional support of Israel as a nation–particularly when such “support” comes in the form of billions of dollars worth of US military hardware and bulldozers.
So are you saying we should “stand with Palestine” then?!
Like modern Israel, modern Palestine is an earthly political state. While I personally believe Palestinians have been on the receiving end of a greater degree of violence (be it from early Zionist militias, modern settlers, or IDF bombs and bullets), I do not believe this automatically exonerates the state of Palestine from wrongdoing, nor does it automatically render them the “good guys” (as many anti-Israel proponents often argue). Palestinian leaders and radicals bear a large measure of guilt in this ongoing conflict and this should not be downplayed by those who are sympathetic to their cause.
But the fact remains:
ALL modern political states are a mixed bag.
ALL modern political states are earthly powers.
Jesus specifically said that His Kingdom (that is, the Kingdom of God!) was not of this world.
Jesus did not “stand with” Israel’s leadership anymore so than he did with Rome’s.
Jesus knew that being Abraham’s “seed” was a matter of devotion to God and covenant faith, not ethnicity or earthly citizenship.
Why then do modern Christians have such a hard time living this out when it comes to Israel and Palestine (or Iran, or China, or Russia, or America, or North Korea, or *insert ‘bad guy’ country of choice*)??
Why do we ignore the clear teachings of the Bible (“love your neighbor as yourself” in Torah, interpreted as “love your enemy” by Jesus) in favor of folk-theology or esoteric “End Times” scenarios that require an engineering degree to chart out properly, and which show little, if any, regard in particular for Palestinian followers of Jesus??
I would suggest it’s because many of us want quick, sound-byte answers; we want to know who the “good guys” are and who to “stand with”…rather than having to do the complicated, tiresome, and challenging work of being a true peacemaker!
I would also suggest it’s because we have a natural tendency to identify with those who are more “like us”, either in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status, form of government, or cultural outlook. “We” are the good guys…”they” MUST therefore be the “bad guys” because “they” are not “us!” Yet these are the very walls that the Gospel was given to tear down!
When we choose to “stand with” a modern nation–even one named “Israel”–we often end up unintentionally “standing against” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…as well as our Jewish Messiah.
The potential irony should at the very least give us pause in our political/military/sociological convictions, should it not?
As Christians, we are free to gravitate toward policies or endorse political outlooks which we believe honor God and demonstrate love for neighbor (keeping in mind Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” is often quite different than ours!), but we must never seek to baptize those ideologies or political views which openly favor one modern geopolitical nation over another by appealing to Scriptural proof-texts.
To do so is to mishandle the Sword of the Spirit and risk wounding ourselves and others in the process.
The situation with Israel and Palestine is a VERY complicated one; anyone who believes otherwise is either misinformed or woefully naive. But it is for this very reason that we must resist the urge to sanctify “our side”–be it that of Israel, Palestine or any other modern nation. It’s hard to maintain such balance…but that is what we are called to do as peacemakers!
In fact, it is the “peacemakers”, rather than those who “stand with Israel”, who Israel’s Messiah Himself said were to be “blessed” (Matt.5:9).
May we “stand with” the Prince of Peace rather than continue waving our own particular flags…regardless of the colors.
Blessings from the Dojo,