Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Modern Israel and the Bible

On a very regular basis I hear people speak of the need to support the modern nation of Israel because they are "God's People". Whenever a nation threatens Israel there are many Christians who advocate doing whatever we can to help Israel react to an attack. The current war Israel is waging against Gaza is such an example. I have heard several prominent American Evangelical bible teachers speak in such terms effectively suggesting we (the U.S.) should do our best to always be on the side of Israel, because ultimately God is on Israel's side with some kind of future national redemption inevitable. All of this of course is based on a particular interpretation of Scripture known as Dispensationalism. While there are a plethora of variances in this kind of bible interpretation, the usual thinking is this- Israel (the nation) was specially chosen in Genesis 12. God promised Israel land and eventually a king. Since, according to this view, neither have been fully fulfilled in their history, God will work events to bring Israel in to her land (the full borders of Palestine described in the Penteteuch) and Christ will be the promised King taking His place on the throne in Jerusalem (known as the "Millennial Kingdom" period). This will not happen until a necessary series of events unfold (see the "Left Behind" series, or not...), which have not yet occurred. So, in line with such thinking, the modern nation of Israel has the special hand of God upon it and nations ought to leave her alone and if need be, come to her aid when in conflict with other nations. Such theology has clearly influenced American policy with Israel in recent years.

Is such an understanding of modern Israel biblical? I do not believe so. Don't get me wrong, I fully support Israel's sovereign right to defend itself against threats. I am careful to judge what they believe is necessary for defense because I live in a place that is relatively geographically isolated from the constant clear and present dangers Israel deals with. The distances are so short in the Middle East and the proliferation of longer range weaponry makes it possible for neighboring countries (and militia/terrorist groups operating in those countries) to strike Israel easily and often. This fact coupled with repeated statements about the desire to annihilate Israel (the latest such threats from Iran) would make me pretty nervous and probably quite proactive too. I lack the overall expertise to make a clear judgment on how the modern nation of Israel should react to it's threats- perceived or real. I just don't know for sure.

The question I think worth asking and answering is how modern Israel relates to the bible. Is there some kind of lasting promise of God to Israel that requires us to judge their actions in a different way than other nations? Is the modern nation of Israel truly still God's chosen people?

I say NO WAY. Such a view that holds modern Israel in some kind of favored status with God fails to understand a basic fact about the fulfillment of the national part of the Abrahamic Covenant- God fulfilled all His promises to Israel (the nation) under Joshua (see Josh. 21:43-45 and 23:16)through Solomon (see 1 Kings 4:21). God even sent their King, the Lord Jesus. Bottom line- the nation of Israel rejected Messiah then and still does today. They are no longer God's people. Period.

As I have read and re-read the covenant God made with Abraham (contained in Genesis 12-17) it seems clear that God is calling a "people" to Himself. He begins to call those people (in history) by forming a nation called Israel. It was not His intent to have this nation be the "end all" of redemption, in fact, a key component of the Abrahamic Covenant is blessing the nations. Using a nation like Israel was just the start of God's redemptive outworking, not the end goal. The Messiah would come forth from Israel to be the Savior of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It was never primarily meant to be an ethnic thing. It was about having a right relationship with God through the promised Redeemer, not because a person was Jewish. When Jesus came, national Israel rejected Him, and so they were rejected as the vehicle to bring forth God's Elect. The way was opened to the Gentiles and the Church became the new Israel. The Church is God's People, not the modern nation of Israel. Those who profess the name of Christ are God's People, not those who reject Christ.

What does modern Israel have to do with the bible? Israel, while rich in biblical heritage and God's chosen means to bring forth Messiah is predominantly a land of unbelievers that needs to turn to Christ, just like so many other nations. Let us remember who the true sons and daughters of Abraham are, according to Scripture:

Galatians 3: 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 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.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

I recommend the following links for good, biblical teaching on this important matter:


Rick Calohan said...

Thank you Tony for pointing out my lifelong support of the state of Israel is perhaps misguided in Dispensationalism. Nevertheless, when anyone looks at the map of Israel and since most people the only history they know is from the time they were born, Israel in defending itself in 1967 the year I was born (incidentally 42 years ago today) rightly so took the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai, call it Israel’s Manifest destiny.

Israel in its attempt to make peace with its neighbors returned the lands they had captured. Yes if we only give back the land, we will have peace. How many times did we hear it repeatedly from the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah, Let us face it the Palestinians are Trans-Jordanians and therefore need to be expatriated back to Jordan! Oh wait, the Jordanians don’t want them, neither do the Syrians, Lebanese, or Egyptians.

The fact is the Arab world has never recognized Israel since 1948. Islamic leaders repeatedly call for the destruction of Israel, and every action Israel has taken even when preemptive have been defensive.

If the United States were to hand over the lands it gain from Mexico, Spain, France, Russia, and various Indian nations, I think America would truly understand what Israel has gone through its entire existence. Some could argue we are returning land to Mexico and Indian Nations and look at how much is spent in border protection, enforcement, not to mention support of illegal aliens in public services such as schools and hospitals that is literally bankrupting the border states much in the same way Palestinians are attempting to do to Israel.

While we pray for peace, we must prepare for war!

Reepicheep said...

Israel's military actions should be judged on the same "Just War" basis as any nation and not on some false notion that they are God's People and get some kind of special allowance in how they act or react to threats from other nations.

There is no biblical theological mandate to give special preference to Israel. We (the U.S.) may decide to support Israel, but not because the bible tells us to.

Frontier Forest said...

It’s interesting, for over 33 years, well-meaning but ignorant, I stood behind, vehemently defending Israel’s every action. Now “Reformed” and putting “dispensational theology” in it’s proper Biblical perspective, it seems almost humorous when I listen to Evangelicals espouse the mandates for all believers everywhere to stand behind Israel’s every move. Like you said, and certainly agree, defending your country sovereign rights to exist in peace, and taking a stand for righteousness sake is always God’s Will, but sadly far too many of these die-hard dispensationalists should realize, there are more Christians Palestinians’ in Gaza than in all of Israel. Therefore, standing for the Jewish State of Israel at any or all cost, is ignorantly turning your back on a significant number of suffering, fellow believers.

Rick Calohan said...

For the record these stats come from the CIA Fact Book and Wikipedia

Population: 7,112,359 Religion: Jewish 76.4%, Muslim 16%, Arab Christians 1.7%, other Christian 0.4%, Druze 1.6%, unspecified 3.9% (2004)

2.1% Christian = 149,360 Christians in Israel

Gaza Strip

Population: 1,500,202, Religion: Muslim (predominantly Sunni) 99.3%, Christian 0.7%

Christian 0.7% = 10, 501

The Golan Heights

In 2005 the Golan Heights had a population of approximately 38,900, including approximately 19,300 Druze, 16,500 Jews, and 2,100 Muslims

West Bank:

Population: 2,407,681 Religion: Muslim 75% (predominantly Sunni), Jewish 17%, Christian and other 8%

8% Christian and other = 192,614 Christian and other in West Bank

Roger Mann said...

Is there some kind of lasting promise of God to Israel that requires us to judge their actions in a different way than other nations? Is the modern nation of Israel truly still God's chosen people? I say NO WAY.

Ok, let me play devil’s advocate. How do you square your view of Israel’s future with the following passages? Shortly before our Lord’s ascension, Scripture records the following discussion between Christ and His apostles:

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times and seasons which the Father has put in His own authority…” (Acts 1:6-7; cf. 3:21)

Now, it seems quite clear that the apostles fully expected that Christ would “restore the kingdom to Israel,” and that this restoration might be imminent. And this was after the Lord had spoken to them “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3) over a period of forty days. So you would expect that they had a correct understanding of the issue. But Christ’s answer seems to leave no doubt that their question was valid. He simply said, “It is not for you to know times and seasons” -- i.e., of when the kingdom will be restored to Israel. He doesn’t even hint at the fact that they had misunderstood His teaching about the kingdom of God, but only that the “times and seasons” of when this would take place was hidden from them. But how can this be the case if God has permanently rejected Israel, and has no plan to restore the kingdom to Israel in the future?

“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them [Israel/Jacob], when I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they [Israel/Jacob, who is currently blind] are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:25-29)

Notice that the same “Israel/Jacob” is spoken of throughout this passage. It’s not speaking of the “Church” as Israel. Rather, it says that blindness in part has happened to “Israel.” All “Israel” will be saved after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. This will take place when the Deliverer comes out of Zion and turns away ungodliness from “Israel/Jacob.” Why will this happen? Because this is God’s covenant with “Israel/Jacob.” While they are currently enemies of the gospel for the sake of the Gentiles, “concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” All this is true not because of some merit or worthiness on the part of “Israel,” but because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” In other words, God’s “calling” and “election” of Israel is irrevocable. But, again, how can this be the case if God has permanently rejected Israel, and they are in no sense God’s elect people anymore?

Of course, even if the above interpretation is correct, none of this “requires us to judge [Israel’s] actions in a different way than other nations.” They should be judged by the same standard that any other nation is judged by. I happen to believe they are fully justified in their current military operations against Hamas in Gaza. But if they are wrong in something they do, then we have both the right and duty to condemn their actions.

Reepicheep said...

Roger, I think Romans does teach some kind of "restoration" of Israel meaning there will be a special reformation among ethnic Jews as God causes many of them to come to Christ. But for "all" Israel to be saved, I think this refers to the Elect of God, the spiritual Israel if you will. Again, who are the sons and daughters of Abraham? Those who have faith in Christ.

I am not saying that God has "permanently rejected" anyone, but I am saying that modern Israel can no longer be labeled "God's chosen people".

In Exodus 20 God forecasts Israel to be "A chosen people, a royal priesthood". In 1 Peter 2:9 He says to us (the Church) "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood".

I like Dr. Reymond's paper on this. Gordon Clark has a good one also, the name escapes me. I'll get it to you.

Roger Mann said...

I am not saying that God has "permanently rejected" anyone, but I am saying that modern Israel can no longer be labeled "God's chosen people".

So what does Paul mean when he says of ethnic Israel, but “concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers,” and “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable?” Aren’t the terms “chosen” and “election” pretty much synonymous? And what about the apostles question concerning the kingdom being “restored” to Israel? Doesn’t Christ’s answer imply that the kingdom will in some sense be restored to ethnic Israel in the future?

By the way, I’m not disputing the fact that “all Israel” will be saved when they are converted to faith in Christ. That’s what Scripture is talking about when it says, “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob [ethnic Israel]; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” I’m not arguing that ethnic Israel will somehow be “saved” and have the kingdom “restored” to them as unbelievers. But the fact that they will have a future conversion doesn’t negate the above scriptures, which seem to teach that unbelieving ethnic Israel still holds a special elect status as “beloved for the sake of the fathers,” and a special promise of having the kingdom in some sense “restored” to them in the future.

Reepicheep said...


"Doesn’t Christ’s answer imply that the kingdom will in some sense be restored to ethnic Israel in the future?"

Yes, true, "in some sense". I see that as their being a special movement of God's Spirit to work repentance in ethnic Jews- which is tremendous for sure. I just don't see it as some unfulfilled part of the Abrahamic Covenant that God MUST fulfill (particularly the land promise). That's all I'm getting at.

I do have great appreciation for the Jewish people/culture. God gave us Scripture through Israel, and more importantly, our Messiah.

Roger Mann said...

Yes, true, "in some sense". I see that as their being a special movement of God's Spirit to work repentance in ethnic Jews- which is tremendous for sure. I just don't see it as some unfulfilled part of the Abrahamic Covenant that God MUST fulfill (particularly the land promise). That's all I'm getting at.

Ok, I think we’re closer than it may seem. I, too, am not suggesting that Israel’s future conversion will be as a separate people of God, as dispensationalists teach. Scripture clearly teaches that there’s only one “elect” people of God chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This has always been the case throughout redemptive history.

For example, even under the Old Covenant, “true” Israel always consisted of elect or regenerate believers:

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” -- Romans 2:28-29

“But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the [physical] seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” -- Romans 9:6-8

And, of course, this carries over into the New Covenant:

“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” -- Romans 11:1-5

So this is not something “new” that is reserved for the New Covenant or Church era. That’s why Paul writes:

“For in Christ Jesus [the same Christ Jesus that Abraham and all the Old Covenant believers trusted in] neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and [or even] upon the Israel of God.” -- Galatians 6:15-16

In other words, “true” Israel (God’s elect people) is composed of genuine believers regardless of what era they live in. Indeed, one of the primary differences between “true” Israel under the Old Covenant and “true” Israel under the New Covenant is that under the New Covenant God has added a great influx of Gentile believers to the “remnant” of true believers out of the physical descendants of Abraham:

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near [together with Jewish believers] by the blood of Christ.” -- Ephesians 2:11-13

So it’s not as though the New Covenant Church has “replaced” Israel or become the “new” Israel, but it is rather a continuation of “true” Israel under the terms of the New Covenant administration of the Covenant of Grace. While it’s currently composed, by God’s design, of predominantly Gentile believers (with a Jewish “remnant” of believers), a time is coming when God will convert the vast majority of Jews living at that time, and so “all Israel” will be saved.

Nevertheless, I don’t see how any of this precludes “Israel” as an ethnic people having the kingdom restored to them in a fuller sense than merely their future repentance and conversion. For example, Scripture seems to suggest that the land “promises” given to Abraham were of a worldwide scope (“inherit the earth” -- Ps 37:9,11,22,29,34; Matthew 5:5; etc.), not limited merely to Palestine:

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)

Isn’t it possible that God will fulfill His promises to ethnic Israel by converting them and allowing them to “inherit the earth” (along with Gentile believers), primarily in the future manifestation of God’s kingdom as the “new heavens and new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)? Couldn’t this be what the apostles were referring to when they asked Jesus about “restoring the kingdom to Israel?” It seems likely to me.

Reepicheep said...

Roger, I agree with what you have so ably stated.

Tom said...

Do you believe that the secular, anti-Christian, modern state of Israel is God's chosen people? By the mere fact of their physical lineage? Do you believe that all of the Jews will be saved?