Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What are Christians to Make of Israel?

Christian Nationalism/Zionism
"I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:3)

As a young Christian I was brought up under the well nigh standard rubric of dispensational theology. Part of this includes the view that the end times are upon us and the nation of Israel needs the support of Christians as part of their duty to be obedient to Gen 12:3. This is coupled with the principal that the Israeli people by virtue of their Jewish ancestry are the special chosen people of God.

I heartily imbibed this sort of thinking, saw nothing amiss about churches having Israeli flags alongside American flags within their sanctuaries, I thought it to be quite fine for gentilic believers waving around shofars, stars of David and prayer shawls in an attempt to be "messianic believers". I further found it appropriate to be in constant prayer and supplication for the current nation of Israel. I also saw believers of Semitic ancestry to be a sort of believer worth of "double honor" by virtue of the blood in their veins.

I had the sort of notion that for me as a gentile my relationship to the covenant keeping God of the Bible to be on a sort of long distance phone plan, whereas, for individuals of Semitic extraction it was akin to a sort of a local calling plan.

Note that I use the past tense for the above verbs, I cannot and do not think like this anymore.

The main reasons I have had a change of mind are: 1.) An understanding of the covenants of scripture, as well as 2.) The doctrine of election, and lastly in reference to the nation of Israel itself 3.) I find a non-interventionist foreign policy for America to be most conducive to liberty at home and abroad.

I. The Nature of the Covenants

What are we to make of the promises of Gen 12:3, or the exhortation to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you!" (Psalm 122:6)? I think the answer to this is found in the Person of Christ.

Christ is the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham in Gen 12, through Him all nations are blessed, and truly through Him Abraham's descendants are as the stars in the sky. Galatians chapter 3 is rather unambiguous on this very issue as it states:

"Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Gal 3:7-9)

Furthermore, Paul explicitly makes clear that the culmination of the Abrahamic covenant is in Christ as he states:

"Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ." (Gal 3:16)

Paul flushes this concept out and its implications at the end of chapter 3 as he writes:

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Gal 3:27-29)

The context of Galatians is further illuminating as its original recipients were Gentile believers being taken in by Judiazers. We further see Peter rebuked in chapter 2 for treating the Gentiles as inferiors and refusing to share fellowship with them. So what we see here is Paul's God inspired explanation of the nature of the new covenant in relationship to the old, as he tries to disentangle these believers from the legalistic pitfalls that others were seeking to impose upon them.

Paul is saying to these Gentiles, you are the true children of Abraham if you have the same faith as Abraham. Ethnicity is not the issue, nor was it ever, the issue always was trust in the promises, and in the New Covenant trust in the Promised One. Paul is ripping down the Jew Gentile distinction, whereas many modern Christians find it appropriate to erect yet again this distinction.

This strongly parallels Paul's exposition in Romans 9 which reads:

"But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring." (Rom 9:6-8)

Paul could not be more clear, the promises to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, and the descendants of Abraham are those with the faith of Abraham in the Christ. Again ethnicity does not matter, the Israel of God are those who are in Christ by faith. It is here we see the continuity between the old and new covenants, it was always based upon faith not ethnicity. This is why even in the Old Covenant we see believers like the mixed multitude coming out of Egypt, Rahab, Ruth, and others. It never was an ethnic based promise but one of faith, the ethnic aspect, as already quoted, had primarily to do with Christ, Abraham's seed/offspring (singular).

This is not replacement theology as the Gentiles never have replaced the Jewish people, rather, this is a continuity between the covenants which inclusion within has always been based upon faith. The problem is that dispensationalism has coarsely divided the covenants with the precision of a rusty and dull hacksaw, and for whatever reason this rather new thinking has gained ascendancy within evangelicalism.

There are indeed differences in the covenants but at the center the essence has always been faith in the Promise of God, and this was and is open to Jew and Gentile alike (Take all the rules in dealing with "strangers" or "foreigners" in the law of Moses for instance).

This is how Paul can both say that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (as in regards to justification by faith there never was), and remind the Jewish people that the promise remains for them in Romans 11, God has not replaced the Jews with the Gentiles. But rather, all are one in Christ through faith.

In short, the only special people of God are those who have been brought out of the miry clay of unbelief and been set upon the Rock by faith. (Psalm 40:2, Eph 2)

II. Election

Romans 9 has already been cited, however it needs to be highlighted that individuals are chosen by God not ethnic groups or nations. This is abundantly clear for those willing (no pun intended) to see:
"And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call-- she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?"
(Romans 9:10-24)

One of the things that has always amazed me about this passage is the fact that Paul anticipates and rebuts the standard objection to the doctrine of election. He would not anticipate these objections had he not indeed been talking about what he is obviously talking about, namely that God elects individuals for salvation without regard to any inherent virtue in the individual (as there is none).

Christians who have problems with these implications have done all sorts of acrobatic tricks to avoid the clear implications here so much so that PT Barnum would be not a little impressed. The trickery of men knows no bounds (Eph 4:14), the most often invoked explanation I have heard to diffuse this bomb of a sovereign God is that the passage is really talking about nations not individuals.

Even if we accept such a sottish interpretation are not nations made of individuals? Furthermore it is clear that nations are not implicated as Paul had stated "they are not all Israel who are of Israel". Also, last I checked Esau, Jacob, and Pharaoh were all individuals who existed in time and space, no to mention pronouns like "us" and "whom" to say this is all allegorical and references nations is to do violence to the text.

My point in all of this is simple, as God has chosen individuals by election, these individuals come to Christ by grace through faith, faith is something only individuals can do not nations which is just a human category or grouping. God elects individuals not groups, which is why Paul can say "They are not all Israel who are Israel" which can be rendered, "They are not all the chosen people of God who are ethnic Israelites."

III. Application- A Christian Foreign Policy

If the promise given to Abraham in Gen 12:3 extended beyond Abraham's earthly lifespan does it apply to the modern Israeli state? I answer with scripture emphatically "NO".

The promise applies to Abraham's seed, which is Christ. There is one body, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph 4), it is here that the promise resides, with those of the faith of Abraham, Abraham's offspring. Abraham's offspring is not a nation or ethnic group but those who have faith in the Seed of Abraham, this is the Church of Jesus Christ. There are not two peoples of God but one, and it is not a nation or an ethnic group, but extends to all nations and all ethnic groups (Rev 5:9).

The application of this above truth of God's work of redemption for foreign policy is tremendous, we ought to treat all nations equally and, as our founders argued, we ought not to have entangling alliances. Unfortunately, evangelicals if they even agree with the founders (most have embraced an imperialistic foreign policy in the name of "spreading freedom") will make an exception for the nation of Israel.

This can be seen as Ron Paul was frowned upon at the Christian values voter debate during the 2008 presidential selection. Ron Paul declined to give an affirmative answer to continue to fund Israel with American tax payer's money. Paul, who is a Christian, was not only in line with the founders but a Biblical worldview that sees the people of God as neither a nation nor an ethnic group.

I am sure these same Christians would heartily support the removal of US foreign aid to the Islamic nations that "threaten" Israel. Ron Paul is simply consistent, a rare anomaly these days, and calls for us to treat all nations equally and stop robbing from the American people to prop up dictators across the globe.

I have had trouble seeing how Christians can continue to support the jingoistic foreign policy of a nation that by and large rejects Christianity, and subdues large portions of people groups in a garrison like police state. The only rationale given for such a see no evil hear no evil attitude on behalf of American evangelicalism toward Israel is based upon Gen 12:3, which as I have argued has nothing to do with ethnic extraction.

I simply do not know how you can be "God's people" and reject Him as Lord. Yet, this does not stop evangelicals from seeing Israel as some sort of special nation fulfilling prophecies as she subdues with an iron fist those who have been displaced by Israeli expansion. I suppose this has more to do with slapdash eschatology, and books in the family of "Left Behind" (an apocalyptic version of "The Hardy Boys" series).

This is why at one time I would have thought it great for American and Israeli flags to drape the backdrop of a church and now I find myself repulsed by any flag as the backdrop of a Church, Christians are not to be nationalistic, as the Church of Christ knows no borders nor national allegiances.

For instance, the other week I visited a local church with my daughter, as my wife was sick so we didn't take our usual 40 minute trek to our home church, right in the foyer was a 2' x 5' map of Israel. this was not Israel in the time of Christ, the time of David, or the 12 tribes, this was modern Israel in satellite form. The message was clear, Christians have some sort of link or duty to fulfill to that nation.

I would say as Christians we do not owe that nation any more deference than we owe to any other nation composed of individuals made in the image of God. Sure it would be neat to walk and see the sights where Christ and the apostles also walked, but there are no pilgrimages in biblical Christianity as Biblical Christianity has no holy shrines or sites. There are no virtuous effects of bathing in the Jordan that eclipse the virtues of bathing in the Mississippi, nor does the mount of Olives grant the pilgrim with any special grace which Pikes Peak lacks.

The virtue of the land itself lay in giving a picture to the student of scripture to go with the history of redemption rendered to us in God's word. This indeed is a wonderful blessing. To go beyond this is to flirt with Romanism and the reasoning that blessed the world with the crusades.

IV. Conclusion

How do I draw this to a close?

Firstly, that the promises made to Abraham were not nationalistic nor ethnic, the promise transcends these categories as Christ's work of redemption transcends these categories.

Secondly, the election of God Biblically is the election of individuals, not nations nor ethnic groups.

Lastly, given the above reasons, Christians should pursue a humble foreign policy in dealing with nations. Imperialism is simply out of step with Biblical Christianity.

To conclude by answering the question entitling this write up, "What are Christians to Make of Israel?"

I would answer that we should be appreciative and conversant in the biblical history and biblical culture of the Jewish people as their history is our history, they were the saints of old (Eph 2:19). I would add the caveat that we should not make an idol of Jewishness as the Galatians were tempted, and as much of evangelicalism today is tempted if not outright guilty of. We need to recall that as Paul declared there is no special ethnic people of God, there is one people of God, those in Christ by faith.

If we apply these truths we should treat the current nation of Israel as any other nation, one with whom we seek to trade and pursue peace with. We should treat her as any other nation created by the United Nations rather than one fulfilling the unbridled fantasies of the latest prophecy buff.
(Most of the pictures in the blog are from Christian ministry web pages)


Lisa said...

I agree in that I do think that the apostle Paul wouldn't necessarily support the current nation of Israel. I think I heard J. Vernon McGee say "God didn't give the land back to Israel, the United Nations did." Anyway, Paul does make it clear that Jew and Gentile are alike in that they are both condemned by their sin and in need of salvation by grace through faith. But as a Jew himself, Paul had great love for his own people and, I would say, an appreciation and respect for them in that the promises and the covenant were given to them. I think his sorrow over their unbelief was heightened by that fact. And he warned Gentile believers not to be arrogant towards unbelieving Jews but to mind the root(Rom 11:18).

Rom 3:1-2 "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God."
Rom 9:3-5 "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen."

Bob said...

Indeed, I meant to include that Romans 3 quote. My main thrust here was to emphasize the continuity of the covenants in juxtaposition to the crass divisions often made that result in the notion of 2 seperate peoples of God. I also wanted to address the rampant zionism within much of evangelicalism which results in support of aggression for protecting Israel. (Good quote from Mcgee btw)

I do not deny that Israel and the Jewish people enjoyed blessings of God that no other people had through redemptive history, I do deny that ethnicity/nationality is somehow the source of present blessings blessings. At one point the nation of Israel composed primarily of ethnic Jews had the law and prophets, no other nation had this, and this was by God's electing design. So the Jewish people certainly held a special role in redemptive history and that role was climaxed in the coming of Christ.

What I argue against here is the modern almost idolatrous veneration of all things Jewish in the church. I do not deny we should as Christians see our Jewish heritage as precious, heck most real Christians give their children Jewish names for example.

What I argue against here is the two people of God mentality, and the UN created Israel can do no wrong mentality.

Perhaps on emphasizing the oneness of the people of God and the continuity of the covenants the post lacks the fully orbed perspective in regards to the unique place in redemptive history the Jewish people occupied, I own up to that deficiency.

Ubersehen said...

Having just recently spent two years living in the Middle East, I've found it interesting to contrast the news networks' take on the armed conflict between Israel and its neighbours. It wasn't until I turned on the television in Saudi Arabia that it became apparent to me just how Israel-leaning North American news is. When some sort of skirmish or attack is reported on CNN, Fox, NBC, CBC (in Canada), or the Washington Post or New York Times, it is always framed as Israel responding in an entirely justified manner to horrible, nasty rocket fire or what have you out of Gaza or the West Bank. Turn that around and watch Al-Jazeera, The Saudi Gazette, or any other Middle Eastern publication's coverage of the very same event and the balance will have shifted 180 degrees. They will report something to the effect that children were killed and hospitals destroyed in Israeli attacks, essentially painting their own people out to be in the right. The BBC seems to be more balanced overall, but with big name networks it's difficult to tell.

I suppose the ultimate point I'm trying to get at here is that I completely agree (though for purely logical and humanitarian reasons) that Israel should receive no special treatment simply because they are viewed as a "promised land" or a special people of some kind. They are no more or less special than any other group of people on the planet, including their neighbours over whom they appear to exploit a preposterously unbalanced military presence. The issues faced by the entire region are so muddy and entrenched that a clear analysis, unclouded by any underlying religious favoritism, is essential to understanding and ultimately helping to resolve their issues.

Bob said...

That's an excellent point Uber, obviously bias exists in both presentation of events and this really could blossom into a discussion how propaganda works. I remember seeing a fascinating documentary on the Iraq war initiated by Bush the lesser, Al Jazeera was feeding propaganda that the Americans would meet stiff resistance in the Iraqi guard, which never happened.

It is interesting how things are spun and if you have an eye for it you see it all the time, one group that is favored by the "reporters" will recieve a description of sensibility and peace seeking wheras their ideological opponents will be described as retrograde and irrational. This of course applies to international conflict as well as ideological.

On a side note have you seen the debate between Hitchens and Doug Wilson I had posted at Westminster? I honestly gained a good deal of respect for Hitchens although disagreeing with him fundamentally. I can't say that of most of the apologists for atheism, not mentioning any names but Sam Harris is espescially annoying.

At anyrate I have said it before and I will say it again, I wish we could hang out and talk rather than type.

Ubersehen said...

one group that is favored by the "reporters" will recieve a description of sensibility and peace seeking wheras their ideological opponents will be described as retrograde and irrational.

This approach, sadly, has a very noticeable effect on the community in general. In North America, there is an appalling lack of information available on the considerable diversity of cultural, religious, and political viewpoints that abound in the Middle East. A Middle Eastern country's policies and outlook can vary enormously from one to the other, just like any other region of the world. Unfortunately, from what our major networks tell us, the entire Arabian Peninsula could very well be in flames under uniformly repressive regimes. From the opposite point of view, because of what is available to them in the media, many middle-eastern children are being raised with the backwards politics of their parents and grandparents and are taught to hate Israel with an unsettling passion. During a kindergarten class my wife taught, her students heard a jet flying overhead (the Saudi air force ran regular exercises over our city). My wife thought she overheard one of her students exclaim "I hate juice!", but when she tried to clarify what was being said it turned out that the child was saying "Jews", not "juice". The image of Israeli air-strikes had been so ingrained into their minds at so young an age, despite never having lived in any of the affected regions, that the sound of a low-flying jet immediately conjured up this sentiment.

I honestly can't say I've read any of Sam Harris' work. I'm a little more up to speed on Dawkins and Hitchens, and I agree for the most part with what they have to say. Regardless, I think that holding up individual authors or public figures as representations of the people that fall under the same category that they do (ie: atheists, Christians, etc) is problematic. Sam Harris may very well be angry, rude, or off base with his arguments, I don't know, but that's Sam Harris. He's one man. I think that it's much harder to get to the root of what the general representation of a given belief system actually believe because North American society seems to me to be terrified of talking in person about religion with people who believe different things. In some cases, you may as well ask someone about their favourite sexual positions while you're at it, because it would be on par with the awkwardness elicited by querying them on their religious beliefs. This is all basically to say that you have the bulk of the people that hold a particular category of belief and represent the average viewpoint remaining silent out of some sort of awkwardness or discomfort, and a few vocal individuals (ie: Sam Harris) that wind up being far more visible and that only appear to represent the average viewpoint. And maybe they do, but it's difficult to tell with this setup.

Anonymous said...

this is a test.

Anonymous said...

Good article Bob!

Good to see you add your two cents Lisa!

Good for you to be humble with a wife like her, Bob! :)

As I read the article, many things came to mind.

I will try to put over some of what was stirred up in my head and heart while reading it.

First, I would that "Christians", True, blue, Chosen and Elect "Christians" would be as evangelistic as the Chinese and the Jews! Huh? Well,having traveled the world over I found an amazing truth in all the countries I visited for one reason or another. Two things; one, I could eat at a Chinese Restuarant; and two, I could always find a Jewish owned business somewhere in country! :)

Now, to a deeper and closer to Jesus, in the historic sense, look at what you are addressing here by redress, Bobby, I cite Peter the Apostle and these words, which, as you noted of Paul in the article, dealing with election, so too, Peter, dealing with the witness of the election of "non-Jewish" believers up close and personal, here:::>

Act 10:39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,
Act 10:40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,
Act 10:41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Act 10:42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
Act 10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Act 10:44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.
Act 10:45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
Act 10:46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
Act 10:47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
Act 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

"and he commanded them to be visit the doctor and be circumcised", aaah, oops, no, rather, "and he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ"!

I would point then to the "work" of the Church. One politician coined a phrase that Ron Paul tries to emulate:::>

"all politics is local".

All salvations are local. All baptisms are local. I suppose now, with the advent of high technologies, satellite coverage and all, one could have a mass baptism simultaneously in many countries worldwide, like the Moonies have mass weddings? But, as noted already, it's still a particular soul being baptized into the Name of Jesus Christ. It is always personal and local, the event. And too, if you are going to be saved, it will always be 'now'! I die daily to self that daily I might have the Bread of Heaven!

Anonymous said...


What then is the "local" work of the True, Biblically corrected and selected Elected Chosen CHURCH?

I proffer these two passages written to the Ephesians:


Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
Eph 1:8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
Eph 1:9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
Eph 1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

and then, second, after being catechized, trained and seasoned for war, this:::>

Eph 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
Eph 3:9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,
Eph 3:10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Eph 3:11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Eph 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

And finally, then, this, after citing again the Gen. 12 passage you started with:

"I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:3)

I would simply note, the curse comes on those who "dishonors" anyone, Jew or Gentile, living in that very same "Faith" as Abram. He, by living by this Faith once delivered to the Saints, grew in Grace and stature, becoming "Abraham" and finding favor now with both God and man as his offspring too, the One for Whom all this applies:::>

Luk 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

When one lives by this "same" Faith, he will continually "bless" those that have it.

When one lives by their own self righteousness, they are, whether they know it or not, are, by their very self righteousness cursing both those who "live by Faith" and and God, and will, sadly, as a consequence, be dishonored by the God of this Faith and the Faithful!

Psa 149:5 Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.
Psa 149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,
Psa 149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples,
Psa 149:8 to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron,
Psa 149:9 to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the LORD!

Bob said...

Good to hear from you again Michael, I appreciate your comments and they are indeed insightful into the nature of the Church. I particularly like how you apply the Gen 12 promise/curse to all who have the faith of Abraham (the true church) made up of individuals not groups.