I fully agree that we are supposed to bless Israel (Gen 12:3). And I do believe that God is faithful to His promises. And I think he has: In Jesus! That is, Jesus is Israel. This is fundamental to the NT and to the Bible. Let me make several points:
First, I am quite grieved by the fact that many Christians who engage in this debate are too often not willing to honestly look at Scripture. Regardless of what side we end up on, we must be viewed as people of love who are open and honest. Instead, this issue, perhaps more than any other issue, often engenders more narrow-mindedness and dogmatism among Christians. We as Christians must been seen as those who are pursuing truth in love. If we are found to be wrong on something, then we confess our wrong and move forward. But for some reason we don’t. We embitter ourselves towards one another and in doing so disgrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ; not only towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, but towards the world.
So I ask that you read and discern what I am saying. As I hope to do with any responses. To spew venom and hatred toward one another only makes a mockery of the Kingdom of God.
Now I understand that we have all learned to read the Bible in a certain manner. For those who are reading this and are holding to some of the mainstream views of evangelical Christianity, let me make a couple of opening comments.
I have great respect for much within evangelicalism (I am myself a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and count myself as one of you). Evangelicals tend to have a zeal for God that I wish were be shared by all followers of Christ. They often have a great heart for God, and a great love for Jesus. And they are deeply committed to the Bible. I affirm all of this myself!
My first point is that the manner in which many of you have learned to read the Bible (which is how I too was raised to read it) is not the historical position of the church, nor even the common reading among Christians today. With this in view, I am asking for you to understand this and to try to view things as I am presenting it. See if my approach, which is the traditional view of the Church, not only makes sense of the OT but the NT as well. That is, don’t assume your view for a moment. Instead, see if mine makes sense on the terms in which I am presenting it (i.e., don’t assume that you are right and thereby conclude that I am wrong. Listen to my side with an open mind and evaluate it on its own terms. Such is only fair).
Secondly, this is not simply a question of one person citing various verses and another citing others. Clearly both sides have their arsenal (such is true for most issues upon which Christians debate among themselves). The question is which paradigm (worldview; perspective; approach to reading Scripture) can account for all of the verses in question? This is the essential question! That is, I am not suggesting that based on my ten verses my position is therefore correct. For when we argue this way what is most often left out of the equation is the fact that you too have ten verses that support your position. Instead, I am suggesting that we have been reading the text with the wrong set of lenses. The lenses that we have been wearing make some sense of parts of Scripture but do not truly account for the entirety of the Bible. Furthermore, these lenses are not those that the Church has been using for the last 2,000 years. Instead, they are new, they are the product of a modernist worldview, and they are seriously deficient. So again I ask that you put them aside for a moment and try on this set of lenses and see if the biblical text does not come into clearer focus.
Reading the Bible in light of Jesus
When it comes to questions of prophecy and the fulfillment of OT promises I would suggest that the answer is found by reading the OT in light of the NT; and even more so reading the OT in light of Christ. Sure I believe that the OT stands on its own. That is, we study the OT in light of itself in order to determine what it meant to the audience to whom it was written. But if we want to understand what it meant in light of the whole of God’s revelation we must turn to the NT. For it is clear that Jesus read the OT and saw its fulfillment in light of Himself. This is what Peter was saying when he notes that the OT prophets didn’t fully understand the fulfillment of their prophesies (1 Pet 1:10-12).
Now when we approach the NT we notice that the fulfillment of the OT is not what was expected—especially from a straightforward reading of the OT. We recognize that the Pharisees and leaders of Israel did not accept Jesus. Part of the reason is that they had come to expect the Kingdom of God to look a certain way based on their reading of the OT. But their reading was wrong. It was wrong because they failed to understand that the OT was about Jesus! And since Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, nor their wants and wishes, they were not about to reread the OT in light of Jesus.
It is here that I think that many Christians do that same thing. For example, many of the OT promises to the people of God are clearly applied to Jesus in the NT. This corresponds with the NT’s emphasis that the entire story finds its fulfillment in Jesus (2 Cor 1:20; Luke 24). Jesus testifies to this fact to the two men on the road to Emmaus. For, according to Luke 24 the men were grieved because, as they said, they “were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Now we should note that Luke has already told his readers that Jesus is the one who will redeem Israel (Luke 2:25, 38—both Simeon and Anna were looking for this and Luke clearly wants us to see that the baby Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise). So we the readers already know that these two men are missing the significance of Jesus. Luke then tells us that Jesus replied to the men, “‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27). Thus, they came to understand that their hopes that Jesus was going to redeem and restore Israel have indeed been fulfilled. The fulfillment, however, came through Jesus’ suffering! This was the part they didn’t get. That the restoration of Israel must happen through suffering. And Jesus has done so. Note, Jesus doesn’t say to them: “I am not here to redeem Israel, but to die for your sins. I will redeem Israel in the future.” No, Jesus gently rebukes them for failing to understand that “all the prophets” have noted; namely, that the restoration of Israel comes through suffering!
Thus, a paradigm shift is needed. The paradigm shift simply necessitates making Jesus and his suffering the center of Scripture. If all is fulfilled in Him (2 Cor 1:20; Luke 24) then we too must re-read the OT. If the promises are fulfilled in Christ, then does this mean that we should understand the NT in terms of this fulfillment? Yes. And when we do so, the entire story of Scripture begins to make much more sense.
Thus, when it comes to particular questions such as who are the people of God, we must also ask, ‘how does the NT view such?; or what does the fulfillment of this in Christ look like?’ Here is where many get thrown off. For the fulfillment of these things in the NT does not mean that they have been fulfilled in all their fullness. For that we are awaiting the New Jerusalem.
For many evangelicals this is an ‘either’ ‘or’ set of propositions. That is, either the prophecies have been fulfilled or they haven’t. For them, since the fulfillment does meet their expectations, they have concluded that the fulfillment is still future. But, again, when we read the NT we begin to notice that Jesus has ushered in the beginning of the fulfillment and that He brings about the consummation of all things at His return (1 Cor 15:25).
When we look at the question of who are the people of God, we see that Paul clearly says, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom 2:29). Later, Paul notes that Abraham is the “father of all who believe” (Rom 4:11). By any reckoning, that makes all Christians, regardless of race, the children of Abraham! Israelites! Jews! Paul goes on to say that, “if those who are of law are heirs, faith if made void and the promise is nullified” (Rom 4:14). Thus, Paul concludes, “For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). Again, that makes all Christians the descendants of Abraham—including any Jewish person who has the faith of Abraham, which is in Christ!
Now let’s keep the question of whether or not there is a future for ethnic Israel also on the shelf for a moment. The point is that Paul clearly sees the people of God are included in the descendants of Abraham—this is what the grafting into the tree of Israel is all about (Rom 11). One only has to look at the word ‘inheritance’ in the NT to see that this word, which was central to the promises of the OT covenant related to land and family, is applied to the Christians in the NT. Paul, in fact, notes that the ‘inheritance’ cannot be based on the law (Gal 3:18).
Furthermore, note that even in the OT God’s people were never tied to a race. For, in the OT the race of Israelites were not all without exception recipients of God’s promises. Paul says this emphatically: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants” (Rom 9:6-7).
Such a reading of the OT also makes sense as to why Isaiah 49 (which is about Israel) is applied both to Jesus (Luke 2:32) and to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:47). We see that the role for Israel in the OT was to be a light unto the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6). Yet, we know that Jesus claims that He is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). And we see that Jesus tells His disciples that they are the light of the world (Matt 5:14). It is both. The fulfillment of the call and mission of Israel is first Jesus and then His followers. Now this may not look like the grandiose fulfillment promised in the OT. But Jesus Himself told us that the Kingdom of God will begin in an insignificant manner (like a mustard seed; Mark 4:30-32) and then will become “larger than all the garden plants” (Mark 4:32). Thus, the fulfillment has come in Christ, continues through the Church by means of the Spirit, and climaxes in the New Jerusalem. This mission will be accomplished only in the New Jerusalem; when those from “every nation, tribe, people, and tongue, stand before the throne” (Rev 7:9).
We can affirm this understanding throughout the NT. Thus, Ephesians 2:11-3:6 encourages the Gentiles that they are included into the family of God! Paul begins by equating the Gentiles with those who had no share in the land-kinship of Israel (2:12). Then Paul describes the work of Christ as breaking down the barrier between Jew and Gentile and its consequences: “You are no longer strangers and aliens, . . . but are of God’s household” (Eph 2:19; cf Mark 3:34-35). Finally, Paul summarizes their new position as ‘fellow heirs’, ‘fellow members’, ‘fellow partakers’ (Eph 3:6).
Peter, also calls the NT people of God, “a holy priesthood; . . . A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:5, 9). These titles are exclusively used in the OT for the people of Israel (Chosen Race: see Isa 43:16-20—text notes that YHWH provides for His people in the midst of adversity; Royal priesthood: see Exod 19:5-6—text also alludes to God’s deliverance of His people from bondage; People for God’s own possession: cp Exod 19:5; Isa 43:21; Mal 3:17). Thus, the NT views this as fulfilled in the inclusion of the Gentiles through the work of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion: when we read the OT through the lens of Jesus, as I believe that NT writers did, then we can see clearly that the fulfillment of the OT begins in Jesus, continues through the NT people of God, and climaxes in the New Jerusalem. To suggest that the promises to Israel still apply to an ethnic race fail to understand the fulfillment in Jesus and the nature of the fulfillment. Yes, this may not be what we expected. But, we also see that the fulfillment transcends what we might have expected. Therefore, if the fulfillment for the call of Israel is in Christ, His people, and the New Jerusalem, and the promise was that those who bless/curse Israel God will bless/curse, then we should expect to see this principle carried forth in the NT. And we do. This is the essence of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where God rewards or punishes men for how they have treated “the least of these brothers of mine” (Matt 25:40, 45). And this theme runs through the book of Revelation where the judgment of the wicked is because of how they have treated God’s people (e.g., Rev 6:10; 16:5-6; 17:6-18:24).
Thus, to bless Israel means to bless the God’s people; and in the NT God’s people transcend any given race.
This is an easy one. No. Unequivocally. Emphatically. Unquestioningly. Unhesitatingly. No. To be anti-Semitic is to be unchristian.
I am also not anti-Palestinian (many of whom ironically are Semitic); nor am I anti-Jew; nor anti-Muslim; nor anti-US. Nor anti-anything! I suppose one might suggest that I am anti-anti—and therefore, I am anti-something.
But let’s take this a little further. It is commonly asserted that to criticize Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is to be anti-Semitic. And the world is rightly cautious of anti-Semitism being only three generations removed from one of the greatest crimes against humanity in the holocaust. Understandable.
But I would assert that if you truly love someone, then you will hold them accountable for their actions. To turn a blind eye toward the ill behavior of anyone is unloving. The author of Hebrews notes: ‘for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ (Heb 12:7-11)
To love someone, then, means that you believe that they are a being of value. And as such they need to be held accountable for their actions. The child that is not held accountable for their actions will only continue on the path of their destructive behavior—and this to their own detriment!
Therefore, to call attention to Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is to love Israel and the Palestinians (and I would add the US). It is also then an act of love on our part to reach out to those Christians who are blindly supporting Israel and in effect helping to perpetuating this conflict. They need to understand the serious harm that is occurring as a result of such views: harm to both Israel and Palestine, as well as to the people themselves—some of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters.
Therefore, it is, in actually, those who are advocating for the unquestioning support of Israel, and who turn their backs on the injustices perpetrated by the state of Israel, that are acting in an unloving manner towards Israel.
The answer to the title of this article should be clear. We should not bless any nation, or even any person for that matter, unquestioningly. We don’t bless our own children when they do wrong. So, why should we bless a nation regardless of their behavior? Furthermore, to bless our own children even when they do wrong is to hate them. For to do so, would be to teach them that they can do wrong without consequences. This is not love.
Love acknowledges that one is made in the image of God and knows better. We don’t hold people accountable for their actions only when we deem that they didn’t know better, or that they were unable to do better. But the nation of Israel knows better and they are able to do better. Thus, regardless of our view of Israel and prophecy we cannot simply endorse unquestioningly the behavior of Israel. To suggest that ethnic Israel is still a part of God’s plan and, thus, we must bless them regardless of what they do is fundamentally against Scripture.
For one, the prophets taught that election alone was not sufficient, but that they must do justice. Israel was never immune from God’s judgment: “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). The Israelites who were not obedient to God’s law were not blessed. Thus, the unfaithful Israelites died in the wilderness. And those who didn’t put blood on their doorposts also lost their firstborn. This is the entire basis for the OT covenant—and the essence of any covenant relationship. If Israel wants to receive the blessings of the covenant then they must obey the covenant (Deut 27-30).
Thus, if Israel doesn’t obey the covenant then they will never receive the blessings of the covenant; but only the curses! This is fundamental to the OT and the nature of God. “But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that shall waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you shall sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies shall eat it up. And I will set My face against you so that you shall be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when no one is pursuing you. If also after these things, you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (Lev 26:14-18). (we could cite dozens of verses like this).
Leviticus goes on the say (as does Deuteronomy; which forms the basis for the books of Joshua-Kings), that the land will ‘spew’ them out if they are unfaithful (Lev 18:28; 20:22). Now, if God kicked them out of the land when they did not obey His covenant, which included justice to the foreigner (Lev 19:33 “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong”), then why should we turn our face from what modern day Israel is doing?—or even attempt to justify it by the supposed fact that they are God’s chosen people? God never unquestioningly blesses Israel regardless of their behavior: so why should anyone suggest that suddenly we must do so? In fact, if we love Israel we will not let them get away with injustice, because will punish them.
Secondly, even if we thought that Israel was to be restored to the land, we must also recognized that they are still to be held to standards of justice. This is unquestioningly the message of the prophets. They repeatedly affirm, “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isa 58:6-7). If a prophet were to hear his people respond, ‘But, Israel is God’s chosen race!’ I think that would have torn out their hair and cried! For, even if they are still God’s people, then this would only serve the point more forcefully: for as the people of God they know better and are accountable for their actions.
Now we must be very careful to call injustice for what it is. And we must never support it. For, just as God held the Israelites accountable, so too will He hold His Church accountable. This is the point. For, even if we were to conclude that there is a future for ethnic Israel in God’s plan, that does not mean that we should endorse everything they do.
I am very fearful that many Christians are so concerned to support Israel because of their conviction of a divine commandment to do so, that they are unwilling to see injustice for what it is. Have we looked at the face of injustice and concluded, ‘but they are God’s chosen people’? But the displacement of people is wrong. Demolishing their homes and stealing their lands and depriving them of human dignity is wrong! And when wrong happens God’s people must call it wrong. We must be a voice for those who are suffering. Especially when those who are suffering includes Christians!
In fact, if we believe in the covenant faithfulness of God, then we must not suppose that He will excuse the NT people of God when they commit (or permit) injustice. We too will be held accountable before Him. Psalm 82 still speaks for the heart of God: ‘How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked’ (Ps 82:2-4)
Thus, when someone says that they think it is dangerous to not support Israel, I think they are missing two important factors. First, to support Israel is to love them (regardless of whether they are chosen or not; as we are to love all people). To love them is to not allow them to get away with injustice. To do so is to allow them to fall under the condemnation of God. This position is far more loving toward Israel. Secondly, to support Israel at all costs and to allow them to suppress and oppress the people of Palestine, some of whom are Christians, is to place oneself under the judgment of God—who always sides with His people when they are the oppressed (again, please recognize that we do not intend to suppose that the Palestinians are innocent in all matters. They too have committed crimes. Nor, do we suppose that Israel is not justified in some of their acts. They do have a right to defend themselves. But we must acknowledge that Israel has perpetrated crimes against the Palestinians and are breaking numerous international laws).