Israel, What Are Christians to Think?

Doing my morning commentary work (in Numbers and John right now) I had to struggle with a bit of anger and a preoccupation with wanting to write this post instead of doing my task at hand.

The source of my vexation is a discussion started yesterday on a major Christian blog. As happens from time to time, the left-leaning side of Christianity has to show its moral legitimation by speaking ill of the state of Israel. It is a qualification for true leftness to show maturity by disapproving of every action of the state of Israel and chalking the violence of Hamas up to the understandable pent-up frustration of being an “occupied” nation struggling against oppression.

Before I go on to talk about the way I think Christians should think of the state of Israel (don’t assume you know what I will say), let me tell you that Israelis have a lot more sanity about the situation than the comfortable theorists in America who sit back and judge over their morning coffee untroubled by the prospect of war, of Iranian nukes, or of the rising anti-semitism in Europe. Israelis and, in rare cases where they are allowed to speak freely and without fear of repercussions from their Hamas overlords, Palestinians, believe they can get along. Of course, I am generalizing and you can say my generalization is wrong, if you’d like, but try talking to some Israelis and some Palestinians who have freedom from their oppressive, terrorist government.

But Americans and others in the west continually interfere and fan the flames of hatred. Can anyone suggest to me that American interference has helped the problem? I suppose some people will tell me that if America left Israel unchecked the state would, allegedly, take a heavier hand with the Palestinians. I doubt that and argue against it. Israel has a conscience as big or bigger than America.

America gets a pass, compared to Israel, on the way we treat our enemy combatants. America kills civilians.

Anyway, it felt good to say those things.

The Unhelpful Christian Zionist Approach
On this blog a well-meaning-but-in-way-over-his-head Christian spoke up for Israel. His argument is all too familiar, but needs evaluation:

1. Genesis 12:3 says those who bless Israel will be blessed.
2. The land has been given to Israel by God in the Torah.
3. Therefore, America should seek God’s blessing by supporting the state of Israel in its every decision and action.

Well, I agree with point #1. I think point #2 is true in a sense, but this is the ultimate plan, in God’s time, and is not true of every generation and does not overrule the divine imperative of justice and faithfulness to the Torah covenant.

Let me suggest a Jewish view, a biblical view of the situation:

1. Israel is the people elected freely and irrevocably by God, whose destiny and purpose serve as the forefront of God’s plan of world redemption.
2. Israel’s relationship with God is one of unconditional love and favor, but its temporal fortunes are tied to the covenant relationship through Torah.
3. The state of Israel is a secular government with little regard for Torah, which is obligated to follow the divine commandments and is not, and which is not guaranteed peace or success in any generation until there is renewal.

I believe Christian Zionists are great friends to the Jewish people. I believe there are plenty of mature, biblically thoughtful Christian Zionists. But there are also plenty who have not thought deeply. Their love for Israel is well-meaning but needs to be balanced with the prophetic call for Israel to be the covenant people.

This commenter on the Christian blog did not help the cause with his unbalanced call for unequivocal support for a secular Jewish state.

Of Freedom of Speech in Israel and in Muslim Lands
Dershowitz, in his excellent book, The Case for Israel, documents the right and regular use of free speech by Israelis to criticize their own government.

The disastrous handling of the Gaza flotilla incident, which is the reason people are talking so much about Israel right now, has been roundly criticized by many Israelis. Most Israelis are frustrated with the way their government handled this. It is a black eye for Netanyahu, regardless of how much he personally did or did not become involved in its planning (I am unaware of his involvement or lack of involvement).

Israelis have free speech and can utilize it without fear of reprisal. Israel has been far more conciliatory toward Palestinians as a result. Israelis want peace and have been willing to sacrifice a great deal for it.

Meanwhile, in Palestinian territories and in Muslim lands, there is no such free speech or access to world opinion and news. Palestinian kids are educated with statist propaganda, outright lies, making Israelis out to be de facto Nazis. Citizens of Muslim lands, as a general rule, are not able to say that the Jews have a homeland in the Middle East which is here to stay (I am excepting Israel’s allies: Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt).

Jews are self-criticizing. Muslims must watch their mouths continually. A generalization, sure, but one that is truer than some will admit.

What Should a Christian Think?
One of the other commenters on this Christian blog took the anti-Israel approach to the max. They said Genesis 17 gives the land to Abraham’s descendants, Jew and Arab.

They reject the biblical teaching that the covenant passed through Isaac and not Ishmael, through Jacob and not Esau. Their unbalanced view is no better than the Israel-gets-the-land-no-matter-what Christian Zionist commenter (in fact, their view is worse).

But given the theological parameters I discussed above, here are some bullet points that I think should clarify a valid Christian Zionist position:

1. The state of Israel is in need of reform from the Torah (I believe Messiah will come after a return to Torah).

2. The state of Israel has no guarantee of success in the land as long as it is unfaithful to the covenant.

3. Blessing Israel a la Genesis 12 is about praying for a return to God, to Torah, to covenant love, not approving of each and every policy of the state.

4. Speaking against the state of Israel from time to time as a friend is a sign of a mature relationship.

5. Israel has a right as a sovereign nation to defend itself (I know the arguments for passive resistance as the only legitimate form of response and I reject them as heinous, not valuing human life enough to fight for it).

6. Supposed peace activists who bring combatants and arms into Gaza bring on themselves whatever happens (any boats bringing people chanting about the destruction of America with religious zeal would be seized and the people locked up).

7. The state of Israel must be held to Torah standards of justice, respect for human life, and so on. It is perfectly legitimate for Christians to be angry about torture and other abuses.

8. The Palestinians and Muslim anti-Israel activists have much more to answer for than Israel: for violent bloodshed, for a lack of respect for human life that makes Israel’s abuses pale, for oppressing their own people in ways that should embarrass every left-leaning supporter of the Islamic cause, for insisting that the Jews all leave Israel, for ignoring the historical reality that Israel has always been the home of the Jewish people, for denying God and Torah to a greater degree that the Israeli state, and the list of charges against Muslim cruelty and oppression could go on and on.

The Bottom Line
Christians should be pro-Israel as the elect people of God, holding the state of Israel to God’s standards, and praying for renewal in Israel. Christians can differ as to theories about solutions. Christians, like Jews and Israelis, should hold the government of Israel’s feet to the fire. Christians should recognize that the land will be restored by God to the people of Israel in his time and in his way. Christians should bless Israel by praying for and encouraging Jews to discover Torah and live by it. Christians should speak out against Muslim acts of violence, inherent disregard for life in the Muslim jihad, and the Muslim counter-narrative which arrogates God’s election of the Jewish people to itself.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Islam and the West, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Israel, What Are Christians to Think?

  1. Good article Derek. I agree that Christians should not give unequivocal support for Israel’s secular government. It has made plenty of mistakes. The most often repeated one seems to have been trying to give away land for peace. I have to take issue with you, however, on one point. You called the handling of the flotilla incident “disastrous.” On that point, I’m not sure what Israel could have done differently. I suppose they could have torpedoed the boat or sent men down to the deck of it armed with real bullets or perhaps let it sail on to Gaza. All of these options would have created a far worse outcome. It was a no win situation in my mind, but the course they took seems to have been the best. At least it gave them sympathy in the eyes of fair-minded people. I’m curious to know what you think could have been done differently.

    -David Cook

  2. Sure one has a right to criticize Israel, or any country or people for that matter. The problem is when people feel that it’s their place to be armchair quarterbacks (e.g. being indignant about Israel torturing anyone to extract information about terror plots, while sitting comfy and out of harm’s way) or that somehow they have a right to FOCUS on Israel’s shortcomings (while ignoring far greater injustices perpetrated by EVERY other nation on this planet.)

    I completely agree with your Torah/covenant faithfulness analysis. Unless Israel, the secular nation, draws to G-d and his Torah as a nation, it will be disciplined (out of G-d’s love for her) again and again in the way G-d usually did it – by sending other nations, Israel’s enemies, against it.

  3. Mike says:

    Good stuff Derek. Israel sure does not get a fair shake in the media. Seems like their neighboring countries get a lot more leeway when it comes to many things. And, the issues certainly are complex.

    Unfortunately, it seems things may get worse before it gets better in the middle east. I pray for all of them, on all sides of the borders, because we are all children of G-d.

    As for the flotilla, I don’t understand how the world cannot see that is was a calculated move to provoke Israel, and like healthtourist, I think it could have gone a lot worse.

  4. Healthtourist:

    My opinion on the flotilla is that they should have been prepared for either resistance or certain of non-resistance. They tried to walk a middle line (crowd control weapons and light force).

    What I think they should have done is to disable the ship and tow it to port or to come with overwhelming force and board peacefully (no one would have resisted an Israeli ship with lots of troops and firepower). In both cases, no one would have died and Israel would have received milder criticism.

    Instead they waffled and paid for it. Many Israelis are outspoken in this regard. And it helps to read Israel news either from a variety of sources or from the Israeli moderate side.


  5. jimsobery says: is the best free website I have found that gives daily information concerning Israeli political analysis, espionage, terrorism and security. It is updated regularly, is well presented and I understand it is written by Israeli former military and intelligence officers.

  6. captainkudzu says:

    Excellent article, Derek. The Israeli hands are not clean, but consider this:

    If the Arabs laid down their arms, there would be peace. If the Jews laid down their arms, there would be a genocide.

  7. Ovadia says:

    Great article.
    While I pray for an end to the pervasive secularism that pervades Israeli society, I do have trepidations about what a “turn to Torah” by the State of Israel as a government would look like. The kind of hardline Religious Zionists who advocate a “halachic state” (Kahane being the most radical example) have not done anything to make me believe the state they envision is a viable or positive alternative to what we have now.

    What specifically do you mean by “reform from the Torah”?

  8. Ovadia:

    I do not think the ultra-Orthodox represent a return to Torah. In fact, I am appalled by some aspects of their belief and practice. The ongoing battle about desegregation of schools (Haredi families don’t want their kids in school with Sephardim and Mizrachim) is indicative of a lack of love of neighbor (the best read I’ve seen is that Haredi families have a sort of nobility system based on the family pedigree and disdain “lesser” Jews). I am also incensed by ultra-Orthodox views of non-Jews (animal-like souls) and their hardline approach to spreading Torah (keep it according to our opinion or we will throw rocks and even feces at you).

    A return to Torah would come from more moderate elements, in my opinion, and would look more welcoming and humble. It would break down barriers instead of setting them up.

    I’m told that there are some signs of movement of Israelis toward Torah. I hope it will continue. The Haredi have all but ruined their chance to participate.


  9. kendman1 says:

    Derek: Regarding the last two posts by Ovadia and yourself (on the topic of retuning to the Torah), I am reminded of a certain part of a novel I read several years ago. The novel, which you may have read (and even if you haven’t, I’m sure you’re well aware of it) is James A. Michener’s “The Source.” It is in my opinion one of the truly underrated literary masterpieces of the 20th Century. In the classic generational historical fiction that he is famous for, Michener brings about an account of the land that is now modern (well, 1964) Israel, going back thousands of years. Each new generational chapter is begun by an artifact recovered from an archeological dig.

    At the outset of the novel in 1964, the dig’s financier, an American-Jewish multi-millionaire from Chicago, arrives at the dig site to meet the team and be briefed.

    On Friday night, he notices that the younger members of the dig are gathered together in their makeshift residence/office/mess hall dressed casually and leisurely enjoying themselves like any young Americans would be doing.

    He promptly leaves the site and is driven to a nearby village to attend an Orthodox Service presided over by an elderly rabbi who managed to survive the pogroms and persecutions of early 20th century eastern Europe, and now officiates over this very simple, primitive synagogue. The American entrepreneur is clearly mesmerized by the dramatic, emotional readings from the Torah by this rabbi and his congregation.

    Upon his return to the dig site, he gets into a heated exchange with one of the young archaeologists there, telling her “You should follow the example of the old rabbi and his congregation in the next town on Friday [Sabbath] nights” (ie: instead of sitting around hanging out listening to Stones, Beatles, and Doo-Wop records). The spunky, outspoken young Israeli woman replies to him “Is that how you spend your Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in Chicago”? To which he replies “No. I’m not a religious man. But that’s not the point. I am an American mainstream Jew. I shouldn’t be expected to be so religious. But the point is that I have donated much money to various causes in Israel, such as this, and when I come to Israel I expect to see the Jews here making a concerted effort to live by Jewish laws“!!! To which she replied something like “Well, excuse me”!!!

    Who was right? You decide.

    Yes, the state of Israel was established in great part to give a sanctuary/safe haven to Jews who had known persecution in other parts of the world so they could live a peaceful, safe existence in their own homeland. However, it’s citizens should be encouraged to pay greater attention to Jewish culture, customs, and the Torah.

    As far as the flotilla incident and the topic of “What are Christians to think”?, Here is an excellent article by the former Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, which describes very well how Christians and the rest of the world should view Israel:

  10. Pingback: Saturday links « sacred journeys in L.A.

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