Ask a group of Christians why they support Israel’s efforts against the Palestinians and you’ll probably hear back that Jews hold the deed to the dirt. God gave it to them.
This can be quickly verified by checking the Old Testament: “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring'” (Deut. 34:4). Numerous passages in Genesis and Exodus speak to the same thing. But this is not the whole story.
“If you are not careful to do all the words of this law … you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it,” warns Moses in Deuteronomy 28. “And the LORD will scatter you among all the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other. …”
God was making covenant with Israel. Covenants are conditional. This is why they come with the promise of blessings and the warning of curses. If God’s people faithfully obey his commands, they prosper. If they don’t, God lowers the boom.
“Before the Almighty gave us the Holy Land 3260 years ago, He made these conditions: If we abide by the Torah, it is ours, if not, we will be expelled,” explains Orthodox Rabbi E. Schwartz of Neturei Karta.
We know from Scripture that God’s gift of the land to Abraham and his decedents was not unconditional. God threw them off the land a few times – not that God broke the promise. God never breaks a promise, but man certainly does renege on his end of the bargain. When that happens, hello Assyrians, hello Babylonians, hello Rome.
Right here is where dispensationalists like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye point to Ezekiel 37 and the promise of a restored Israel, which they say happened in 1948 with the founding of the modern-day nation Israel: Sure the Jews were scattered by the Romans, but they’ve returned. They’re back in the land. That’s how we know it’s the end times.
Maybe. But we should ask ourselves something: If the Israelites were driven from the land by God for not keeping covenant with him, why are they back on the land now and still not keeping covenant with him?
This is a perennial problem among Orthodox Jews. For them a political savior ignores the genuine cause of the exile and, thus, its genuine solution. God sent the Israelites eviction papers in the form of prophetic warnings about their sins and calls to repentance (e.g., Ezekiel and Jeremiah). Those papers aren’t void until repentance comes.
“Only through complete repentance will the Almighty alone, without any human intervention, redeem us from exile,” says Schwartz, who quickly moves to condemn Zionism as the brainchild of atheists and denial of the covenantal understanding of the Diaspora.
Many Christians are likewise clueless these days about the concept of covenant. Our ideas of “New Testament Christianity” have stripped our understanding of the vital doctrines of the Old Testament. As such, many Christians simply assume that modern-day Israel, despite its continued unbelief, is the restored Israel.
This frequently leads Christians to uncritically accept whatever happens in the Holy Land by Israelis as OK, regardless of whether in particular instances Israel might be wildly in the wrong. By muddling our theology and foreign policy this way we approve of injustices as if they were permitted by heavenly warrant. Either that or we refuse to consider any evidence against Israeli actions as going against God himself.
This is not an adequate response to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
“There are biblical reasons for treating both sides with compassionate public justice in the same way that disputes should be settled between nations generally,” says Baptist theologian John Piper. “In other words, the Bible does not teach us to be partial to Israel or to the Palestinians because either has a special divine status.”
Echoing Rabbi Schwartz, Piper notes, “a non-covenant-keeping people does not have a divine right to hold the land of promise. … Israel has no warrant to a present experience of divine privilege when she is not keeping covenant with God.”
As such, the Christian response should be to weigh judicially the claims of both sides to the land and actions to defend or take it and to continue to evangelize them both – salvation is as much for the Jew as the Palestinian. And we must not forget this last point. The Jews’ final expulsion happened because they rejected the Messiah. Until they accept him, they are forever in exile.
This is not an argument for pacifism or a wink at Palestinian aggression. Aggressors must be stopped, killed if necessary. But we must not quickly assume the righteousness of the Israelis simply because they are “God’s chosen” and the evil of the Palestinians because they are not.
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