I was reading my mom’s Charisma magazine last week as we watched the Republican National Convention, and I flat out lost my temper. You wouldn’t have known it on the outside, because I seemed to be OK. If you knew me well (like my wife, who shot me a look of concern), you would’ve known I was upset, but it wasn’t hugely obvious.
I’m just gonna say this. I am so very tired of hearing Pentecostal/evangelical/conservative/fundamentalist/apocalyptic Christians talk about “supporting Israel.” If you’d like a definition of what they mean when they call us to “support Israel,” maybe the following will suffice. From the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) main page: “The Bible commands us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), to speak out for Zion’s sake (Isaiah 62:1), to be watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6) and to bless the Jewish people (Genesis 12:3). These and so many other verses of the Bible that have one overriding message– as Christians we have a Biblical obligation to defend Israel and the Jewish people.”
For months now, I have inwardly seethed and said nothing as I saw blatant misrepresentations and misinterpretations of Scriptures to support such a position, and I can no longer stand idly by.
For right now, I’m going to offer a simple outline for the reading of the Scriptures that will guide us to a more wise, discerning position on this issue of “supporting Israel.” First, there is the foundational Scripture passage for Christian Zionists that comes from Genesis 12:1-3, and it reads;
The LORD had said to Abram,
“Leave your country,
your people and your father’s household
and go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Essentially, the LORD tells Abe two things. First, he will be made into a great nation, and second, those who interact with Abe’s descendents will face consequences for how they treat them; positive ones for blessing them, and negative ones for cursing them.
Now, clearly, the historical result of God’s promise to Abe was the creation of the people of Israel. One could assume (as the above-mentioned “leaders” do) that this includes all of the Jewish people up until the present day. That assumption would be unwise and ultimately false. “Why?” you may ask. I’ll give good clear Scriptural reasons why. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 3, verse 7 and following, John the Baptist (a Jew), said this to some fellow Jews who came out to the desert to hear the message he was proclaiming;
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
What John tells his Jewish hearers is essentially this; the claim to be a descendent of Abraham is not based on biological heritage, but instead on whether one obeys God. This is very different from the way we typically think about heritages today, so it might be a bit weird for us to grasp what John is saying, but he uses the metaphor of trees to illustrate his point. The trees are “Abraham’s children,” and those who do not “produce good fruit” (faithful living, obedience) will be “thrown into the fire” (cut off from God’s “great nation”).
During Jesus’ ministry that directly followed John the Baptist’s, Jesus said something that expounded on John’s statement. Again, it’s a bit mystical, but not terribly hard to figure out. It comes from the gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 31 and following. This passage comes right in the middle of Jesus speaking both with those his disciples (those obeying him) and the Pharisees (those not all sold on his message, and therefore disobeying him);
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
“Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here.
In this passage, Jesus is also questioning the people’s belief that they are Abraham’s descendents based on biological parentage. He makes an important distinction between being Abraham’s “descendents” and being Abraham’s children. Jesus says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the things Abraham did.” His implication is obvious; those who disobey him are no longer Abraham’s children. Their disobedience places them outside of the covenant people of God.
To reinforce in a powerful way what John the Baptist and Jesus have already made clear, we turn to the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapters 9-11, Paul gives an extended argument on how a vast majority of the people of Israel now are no longer considered children of Abraham. Beginning his argument, Paul writes in chapter 9 (you can almost hear him wailing this through tears);
“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
“Who are the children of the promise?” we might ask in response to this section of the Scriptures. As Jesus stated very clearly, it is those who “hold to my teaching.” And since a huge majority of Jews in Paul’s day denied Jesus was the Messiah (all the way up to today), Paul uses harsh imagery in the following passage to illustrate that they are no longer Abraham’s children. If you remember John using a tree as a metaphor, Paul uses a metaphor of tree branches. And this section in Romans 11 is addressed to Gentiles (non-Jews);
“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”
Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”
In Paul’s metaphor of the branches of an olive tree, the root of the tree is God, and the branches are those who make up God’s “nation.” The Gentiles are “wild olive shoots” that have been grafted in among the other, we could say, more natural branches. The other branches aren’t more natural in that they’re more human, or somehow more gifted. They’re simply more natural in that they should know what the truth is since God called them to seek and represent the truth to the world before the others. And Paul makes clear here that being part of the tree is rooted in “faith,” which is essentially trusting God and obeying him.
You can really see Paul’s struggle as he, a biological descendent of Abraham, laments that most of the other biological descendents of Abraham are no longer part of the faithful people of Israel, but he makes no bones about it. Those who were formerly outside Abraham’s blessing (Gentiles) are now inheritors of the blessing, while those with biological connections to Abraham are now cut off from the blessing. Gentiles are now part of the people of Israel, along with the Jews who trusted and obeyed Jesus as Messiah. The message can’t be much clearer than that, and flat-out obvious for readers to see.
I’m tired of seeing evangelical leaders like John Hagee and Stephen Strang and the late Jerry Falwell use threats and fear to urge Christians to “support Israel,” suggesting that Christians who don’t blindly support what Israel does will be cursed. This is a disgusting, unholy, unfaithful practice, and it grieves the heart of God. Not to mention when you haul out threats to substantiate your message, that generally shows your motives are childish and petty
So Christians, when you hear supposed Christian “leaders” justify the modern Israeli state’s illegal settlements, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Palestinians or other Middle Eastern Arabs by saying things like,
“God said to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). This is God’s foreign policy statement concerning the Jewish people.” (Stephen Strang October 27, 2006)”
“I firmly believe God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jew. If this nation wants her fields to remain white with grain, her scientific achievements to remain notable, and her freedom to remain intact, America must continue to stand with Israel.” (Jerry Falwell in book Listen America! 1980),
ignore their fearmongering and simply say, “No, Jerry and Stephen. I am a part of Israel today, and I will not stand for your baseless positions that support hatred, murder, and fear. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find someone more naive and Biblically illiterate than me to sit under your authority.”
I am SO sick and tired of Christian leaders spouting this drivel that leads Christians to justify some of the disgusting things the modern Israeli state is carrying out. May we reject fear and seek the truth in God’s word. May we tremble and maintain a healthy fear of God’s word, not those of misguided leaders.
Humbly, yet forcefully seeking the truth,