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Christians and Israel // Part I
Israel, Palestine and Ancient History
I sat down today to write out my thoughts on what a “Christian” response to what is happening in Israel should be. I reached the post limit on substack, so I’ve decided to break this up into smaller posts that way they are easier to read. Over the next few days, I’ll follow up with the rest of my thinking.
There is an interesting dynamic that often takes place during times of conflict. Things rarely splinter. They mostly seem to form into two camps. Republican and Democrat. Pre-trib and post-trib. Good and evil. North and south. East and west. Israel and Palestine.
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The only things that are black and white are things that are clear in scripture. The more we introduce humanity, the more we introduce gray area. Even the meaning of scripture itself is often obfuscated by our human thinking an interpretations.
I do not have a “revelation from God” on Israel. This represents my current best thinking and understanding of history + how God teaches us to live through scripture.
Humanity is complex. So is history. By understanding both and weighing them against what Scripture teaches, we can probably figure out what to do right now.
"A generation which ignores history has no past and no future." // Robert Heinlein
“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land…
// Deuteronomy 6:10-11
The conflict between Israel and Palestine dates back as far as we can measure. The stories of the Old Testament are filled with conflict between the Children of Israel and all the other groups that lived within the promised land. The name “Palestine” is often attributed to the Philistines who lived on the coastal areas and primarily in Gaza - where many Palestinians live today. This conflict has been around as long as humans have.
When God sent Abraham to dwell there in Genesis 12, there were already people living there. The land of Canaan was inhabited and built by all the non-Israelite people living there. Since that time until today, there has been conflict in this land between the Children of Israel and everybody else.
This is how large that land mass was with God’s original promise.
Modern day Israel is a sliver on the east of this map with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip claimed and inhabited by Palestinians.
In Deuteronomy 4:40 God gives Israel a conditional promise.
40 If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
If you know much about Biblical history you know what happened next. The Israelites often disobeyed, and were exiled from the Promised Land multiple times. However, the promise was still the promise that God would give them this land forever. As long as they returned to obey Him.
Before we move on, I want to say something that I frequently say, but you may not have heard.
God works how He wants to work, whether you agree or not.
The Biblical fact, is that God promised the Israelites this land. He promised it to them until the end of time. You can see this reflected in Genesis 26:3, Genesis 28:13-14, Psalm 132:14, Isaiah 14:1, Zechariah 2:3-5, 10-13.
Scripture is full of God’s promises to Israel concerning the Promised Land. Which brings me to my first point.
Israel is the only nation on the planet with land God - the creator of the planet - gave to them.
I’m not going to assume you know this, even if you are a Christian, because according to most recent statistics, only 5% of Christians have a biblical worldview.
This is a common refrain you will hear from me, or have heard from me. Most Christians just “believe in Jesus.” They don’t have much Biblical depth beyond that. The thinking of most Christians is not in line with Scripture, but is in line with their preferences, politics, or preferred cultural narratives.
One of the things you will commonly hear taught in churches and Christian circles today is that “people matter to God.” And they absolutely do. But that’s not the only thing that matters to God. Places matter too.
Before God created human beings, he created heaven and he created the earth. The first verse in the Bible isn’t about people, its about places. He created the Garden of Eden before he created Adam and Eve. At the same time as he was making a covenant with Abram, he was telling him to go to a new place. The story of the Exodus is the story of people going to a place, the Promised Land. Throughout the Old Testament, the place matters.
Whether you are a Christian or a person who is just trying to understand what is happening, you must understand the depth of conviction and commitment that Jews have to their homeland. This place is the place that God told their ancestor Abraham would belong to them for all time.
If you are a Christian, there’s also a couple things you must assent to. First, sola scriptura. The Bible is the sole source of our belief, practice and approach to life. It is the only thing that is absolutely and always true. So, if we are going to “believe,” we must believe what the Bible teaches about everything. Including Israel. Some people will tell you that the Old Testament doesn’t apply, or isn’t true anymore because of the New Testament.
However, this is an unbiblical approach to Scripture itself. And it runs contrary to what Jesus himself taught.
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.
// Matthew 5:17-18
Jesus himself taught that the “law of Moses” ie, the Old Testament was not abolished, but completed in him. We cannot separate the Old Testament from the New Testament. Immature theologians do this because its easier for them to make points. But the Old Testament cannot be fully understood without the New Testament and without the New Testament, the Old Testament promises of God cannot be fully realized.
That includes what God said about everything. Including Israel.
So, Israel can do whatever they want? Aren’t they doing bad things too?
This is a strawman argument. No one is defending people that do evil things. Israelites included. Jeremiah 17 says that the human heart is “desperately wicked.” Psalm 14, Psalm 53 and Romans 3 tells us that “there is no one who does good, not even one.”
This isn’t a defense of indefensible actions.
However, regardless of Israel’s actions (which God knew would happen) he still made them a promise. And if we believe in Scripture, than we must believe in the land that God promised to his people, the Jews.
Why does this matter to me? A Western Christian?
When God chose the nation of Israel, he said "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
In John 4:22, Jesus says that salvation has come through the Jews. He himself is obviously Jewish. All of the first converts to Christianity were Jewish. Gentiles like you and me were not invited until the book of Acts.
All that we have that is worth having, our destiny, our relationship to God and our eternal salvation is linked to God’s original family. The Jews. Romans 11 tells us that we are grafted into this family, and that they are still his chosen family that he loves.
To support Israel does not mean that you agree with all their policies, or support every decision that is made in their country. To support Israel means to agree with their Biblical mandate of statehood and their right to be a self-directed country in the place God promised them.
There are a lot of political reasons why Christians and westerners should want a democratic and military ally as well in the Middle East, but other people have written a lot more about that than me. Here’s five Biblical and non-political reasons why Christians should support Israel.
1. We (non-Jews) have a Biblical requirement to bless the nation of Israel
When God makes the original covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:3, he says to Abraham that he “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.” That doesn’t go away in the world of the New Testament.
2. God promised to bring them back to the Promised Land
and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:14-15)
God promised to one day give their land back to them after extended periods of exile (of which they had a few). Many Christians believe that modern day Israel is an expression of this promise.
4. Isaiah tells us to comfort Jerusalem, Psalms tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)
Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper. O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “May you have peace.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:6-9)
In these verses, Jerusalem is about much more than the city. It represents the entire nation. Both David and Isaiah tell us to comfort Jerusalem. The people and place.
5. Paul shows us a precedent in the early church to bless the Jews with material blessings because of the spiritual blessings we have received from the Jews
But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the believers there. For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. (Romans 15:25-27)
The church in Jerusalem was not Gentile, they were vast majority Jewish. This is an echo of what Jesus said in John 4 when he said “salvation came through the Jews.” The Gentiles are encouraged in the New Testament to bless the Jews (and Jewish believers) materially because of this spiritual blessing of salvation.
Final thoughts (for today)
Christian thinkers, in an attempt to be politically and ideologically correct often will try to divide the Jewish people from the place of Israel. However, this is unbiblical. The name “Children of Israel” represents both people and place. There is no other nation in world history who we can point to that illustrates this phenomenon. Just this, in and of itself, shows God’s providence towards the Jews.
And God is perfectly capable of navigating all of the humanity entangled within the nation of Israel. That’s really his job. Not ours.
Unless you have been to Israel, it will be hard to comprehend what that place (and people) means and represents.
Tomorrow, we will look at less ancient history, but we must start here. And as we look at the ancient history of Israel, the truth of Scripture is clear.
God ordained and established the people of Israel and the nation.
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