For the first time in a long time, it seems Israel finally has the upper hand on public relations in this conflict with Hamas. Yes, there are those who publish bloody pictures of Palestinians merely to elicit sympathy with zero historical context, zero blame on Hamas and zero mention of Israeli efforts to avoid civilian casualties – but those voices seem muted compared to those that speak the truth about this conflict: that it was started by Hamas, that Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way on purpose and that it is Israel that has called homes, dropped leaflets and even used false missiles to scare civilians away before using real ones. The editorial board of the Washington Post, of all things, has come out against Hamas, and by implication in support of Israel’s righteous cause, the sacred duty of self-defense.
So at this crucial time, it is imperative we support Israel against the foes of civilization and humanity. Hamas is animated by a demonic urge to murder, and as much as it is directed against Israel, it has also claimed Palestinians themselves in its rage.
But I have something else to say. It may not be popular, but it has been an increasing burden on my soul: Many of us who support Israel go beyond support and turn to idolizing her. So what does idolizing Israel look like? In short, it amounts to embracing one or several of these notions:
- Israel never does anything wrong.
- If someone who is not firmly in the “pro-Israel” camp criticizes Israel, he or she is anti-Semitic by default.
- Everything Israel does is justified because the Jews are God’s “chosen people.”
On my recent research trip to the Middle East, two very powerful stories from the Bible came to mind: first, the story of Joshua and the angel of the Lord: “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come'” (Joshua 5:13-14).
What was Joshua’s response to the angel’s words? Did he complain? Did he say that the angel was against Israel? Did he call the angel anti-Jewish (since “anti-Semitic” wasn’t a term yet)? No. He fell down on his face and worshiped, asking the angel what was the command of the Lord.
Second, the Prophets of Israel. Few could claim to love Israel as much as the Prophets, and yet no one had as harsh and piercing of words for Israel as the Prophets. Israel, God’s chosen, had fallen victim to idol worship, to sorcery, to child sacrifice, to exploitation of the poor and needy and to immorality of all kinds. And the Prophets called them out on it.
In light of these scriptural examples, why are those who offer any criticism of Israel today almost threatened with the injunction from Genesis 12 that if they “curse Israel” they shall be cursed? Is criticism, by nature, a “curse”?
I would say, biblically, no. To draw an example from the culture wars in America: It is now deemed “unloving” by many to call homosexuality a “sin.” This is “hurtful,” “judgmental” and, to use a more old-fashioned word, a “curse” upon homosexuals. And yet, any plain reading of scripture shows that true biblical love calls sin “sin” in grace and truth, respecting the person and calling out the evil at the same time. In no way can such fidelity to scripture be called a “curse.” This truth is obvious to anyone who shows fidelity to scripture. It is part of what true biblical love is.
So if it’s true in that case, why is not true when it comes to Israel? Why is legitimate criticism “grace and truth” in one instance but in another amounts to a curse? Where in scripture do we find God’s chosen people beyond reproach? Nowhere. In fact, it is precisely because they are God’s people that God reserves for them, through His Prophets, a particularly strident critique. Calling out sin in grace and truth is an act of love, not a curse.
Am I saying this because I believe Israel and the Palestinians are morally equivalent? Absolutely not. The sides, in many instances, could not be more different. Moral equivocation in this conflict is highly immoral.
However, Israel is still not a perfect country. Not even close. No matter how much it may shine in relation to its neighbors, it is still dim and dull in relation to its Maker. Israel is still in need of its Messiah, as are its neighbors. Those of us who love the Messiah of Israel, and who also love Israel, must never surrender our conscience and the commandments of God’s Word to any perverted notion of “supporting Israel” that leaves no room for legitimate and if need be strident criticism. Do we even do that with our own country, the United States? Israel is still a highly secular country. The IDF provides at least one free abortion for every woman in its employ. Tel Aviv is frequently included in the top cities worldwide that support the homosexual agenda and is a city in which it is not uncommon to see advertisements for all sorts of sexual perversion. These are just minor examples.
Idolization is always a barrier to true love in any relationship. Let us support Israel, but never idolize it. Let us never transform a people whom God loves and to whom He is covenantally faithful into a people to whom He has nothing to say. This is not true of anyone, and Israel is no exception. If it was good enough for Joshua, the angel of the Lord and the Prophets, it is good enough for us.
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