Toxic theology: “Support” Israel or be cursed by God

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)”

and

“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,
Nathan Myers

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17 thoughts on “Toxic theology: “Support” Israel or be cursed by God

  1. It is interesting to hear the “support for Israel” crowd. In John Hagee’s book, In Defense of Israel, not only does he take his love for Israel so far as to deny that Jesus was the Messiah, he calls for unconditional love and support for Israel. I was like “WHAT!?” That sounds like our love for God, not for a people group.

    Anyway, I think you make some great points about the biblical statements about the lack of separation between Jews and Gentiles and the union of physical and spiritual children of Abraham. I love at the end of Galatians where the Church is called the “Israel of God.” But I think a key is how Paul interprets Abraham’s “descendants” in Galatians 3:16, where he says that “seed” is singular for a reason. That makes me feel like “descendants” is mistranslated all throughout the Old Testament when that promise is repeated. In fact, in my Ryrie (dispensational) New American Standard, there is a footnote on every word “descendant” that it should literally be “seed.” So while the Abrahamic Blessing does include a “nation,” the main promise that is repeated over and over is to Abraham’s “seed,” which Paul tells us is Christ.

    But anyway, I think what you said was good. And it is disturbing that Genesis 12:3 is considered “God’s foreign policy statement.” It’s for reasons such as these that make me glad I have repented of my dispensationalist ways. It’s funny to see how God reprimands and punishes Israel throughout the Old Testament for their ungodly ways, and yet hear dispensationalist leaders say we must give them unconditional allegiance and support.

    And it’s sad how this type of theology, which is really very new and a minority understanding in Christianity, is so freaking vocal. They really give the rest of us a black eye, too.

  2. You should send this to Charisma to see if they have a response. You’ve got some really great insight and I don’t think many evangelicals even suspect that there is a dissenting view about our ties as Christians to the modern nation of Israel.

    Or maybe send it to the younger Strang at Relevant Magazine. He might publish it.

  3. Pingback: My respect for Cameron Strang as a leader grew from this… « Thoughts and Ruminations

  4. Alan,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I saw the Hagee quote from that book in researching a bit for what I wanted to say here, and I was floored. To me, it’s a clear case of someone being enamored with an issue so deeply that they lose perspective on the larger picture; something we’re all tempted to do. I think Hagee was astonished at the history of anti-Semitism in the church and the blatant disgregard for Jewish interests in the twentieth century and wanted to rectify the issue. I think at one time this was a solid, healthy perspective on his part. I may be wrong on that, but it clearly is WAAAAAY out of whack Biblically now.

    What’s most disturbing, however, is that Hagee isn’t alone. In fact, he’s surrounded by a number of prominent evangelical leaders.

    That’s why I would side a bit more with John D’s perspective that this is the majority position in American evangelicalism; with my position being one of dissent, rather than you suggesting they are a minority Christian group. They are certainly very vocal, and very new, but have exerted a powerful influence on a mostly-Biblically-illiterate Christian crowd in America and won them over with these veiled threats of blessing and cursing.

    Thanks for going a bit deeper Biblically, as well. I was surprised and encouraged by the points you made in looking at Galatians in-depth. The “Israel of God” phrase was interesting and a great support for the direction I think the Bible takes on the issue of Israel.

    The Galatians 3 passage is an important one that I’m really wrestling with now, especially with getting a chance to go deeper in Biblical interpretation beyond “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” (probably the best understanding I had of the Bible before). I’ve read some commentators mention that Paul may have made a fundamental error in interpreting what, in context, seems to be a clear plural term…that Paul tried to force-fit the Scripture into his argument about Christ. In looking at all passages in context, it seems like a tough sell to me to make all of those references to descendents refer to Christ in the singular; especially when the footnotes in Galatians 3:16 point toward three passages in Genesis that all talk about “descendents” in the larger context of “land.”

    Having said that, I think Paul could have accomplished the same point by simply acknowledging Christ as a legitimate inheritor of the promise through his faithfulness, as a legitimate descendent bringing the people into a greater knowledge of the law and what lies beyond it. Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

    I may be wrong, but Paul’s interpretation seems out of step with both the entirety of the Old Testament and the gospels. Do you see what I’m struggling with? Maybe you could bring up some points that might lead me in different directions. I’m just not seeing it right now.

    Nate

    • Hagee is always way out of line with his interpretation of scripture that is is usually not even close for those that look up and read the actual word. He has claimed that he was shot at and bullet passed through him without any damage. He is a propaganda mouthpiece for Israel. How many pastors get protection by the Israeli Mossad?

      I first saw him “healing” people in wheel chairs at a smaller church that removed him when he divorced his wife and remarried. I am convinced the mega churches are all government funded propaganda/psycho-babble mills taking us down the Zionist path to ruin.

    • Hi Nathan,
      My wife supports the Palestinian cause and dislikes the Pro-Israel “Christian Zionist” movement that supports Israel no matter what they do that is unjust and illegal. I can see her point and support the fight against injustice. God hates it. I also try to take the middle ground a bit because in my reading of Bible prophesy it seems that Israel still seems to have a part to play in future events in world history. I would class myself as a “futurist” rather than a “preterist” in my “eschatology”. I didn’t know the difference until recently but a quick google sorted it out… I tend to take the prophetic words of the Bible literally but this does not mean I am blind to the metaphors and parables in scripture. In your blog you quote from Romans 11 but you stop at verse 24. It is verse 25 onwards that it gets interesting. Paul suggests that God has not yet finished with the nation of Israel. In verse 25 he suggests that the national blindness is both partial and temporary. The blindness is partial because we know that not all Jews believe in Jesus and its temporary because he uses the word “until”. He says the partial blindness of Israel lasts until “the fullness of the Gentiles comes in”

      I accept that the Jewish nation is not the same as the Old Testament theocracy. A Jew that does not believe in Christ is the same as a non-Jew – they are both lost in their sin. I also don’t think it is our role as believers to try and “help” God fulfill the prophetic writings by blind and uncritical support of a secular state BUT I cannot read the Bible without seeing that God in his wisdom has foretold in His word that the political issues of this world (and spiritual battles – eg Rev 12 ) will increasingly revolve around a little nation and a little city that Jesus cried over and a city he called ” the city of the great King” (Matt 5:35). Along with heaven as a throne and earth as a footstool (see also Isaiah 66) it seems that God actually chose Jerusalem as a special place on planet earth and brought redemption to us through the descendant of one man who used to live around there.

      I find the amazing and unfulfilled prophetic writings of Zechariah 9-14 (especially chapter 14) are difficult to understand if we completely ignore the importance of what is happening and will happen in Israel. We accept the literal fulfillment of prophecy in Zechariah that pertain to the first coming because we have it in the new testament Bible as historical record but there are some amazing things written by this prophet that involve Israel and they clearly have not been fulfilled yet. As a “futurist” in my eschatology I think they will be fulfilled literally. I think Jesus will return to Jerusalem and apparently “restore the kingdom to Israel” and “rule the nations with an iron rod”. He said he would return in many places but particularly clearly in Matthew 23:37-39 which references Psalm 118:22-26 and Acts 4:11,25,26. Acts 1:6-8 is also interesting because of how Jesus answered the disciples question… There is much more but I will not go on…

      Mark from Australia

  5. Nate,

    I hope to be able to keep my comment to a reasonable length. So here it goes.

    I’ve said before, in a series I did on Dispensationalism, that I think the whole movement owes part of its theological inheritance to a reaction against anti-Semitism. But yeah, they (and Hagee especially) have crossed the line when you begin trying to say that Jesus somehow wasn’t the Messiah. And the large, televised group he teaches on Sunday mornings haven’t left in droves, which means other people are buying into that nonsense.

    I would agree that within American Evangelicalism, Dispensationalism is probably the majority. But I said Christianity, and I certainly don’t think American Evangelicals (though I is one….) make up the whole of Christianity. In the Church at large, Christianity as a whole, Dispensationalism is not the majority viewpoint. They just know how to get loud.

    Actually, I very much see what you’re struggling with in regards to Galatians 3. The entire book of Galatians presents interpretive difficulties. For instance, in Galatians 4, Paul admits to allegorizing the story of Sarah and Hagar. We were discussing Origen’s allegorical tendencies in a class a couple of weeks ago and this very passage came up. It brings up the whole question of where you draw the line.

    But back to Galatians 3. I think maybe a couple of things might help. First, it is often presented as though Judaism was the religion of the Old Testament. The Epistle of Barnabas points out that the Hebrew religion was certainly not monolithic, and that a Messianic reading of the OT is the correct one, and the one that Christianity grew out of. To see the correct understanding of the OT as Judaism (i.e., the promise of physical land and a nation descending from Abraham, complete with theocratic laws for everything from sexual purity to sacrifice to corporal punishment), leaves one with the only options being Judaism, Marcionism or Dispensationalism.

    But Paul, like the other NT writers and first followers of Jesus, come from the Messianic reading of the OT. So in some ways, Paul is very out of line with Judaism, but very much in line with the proper reading of the OT. The proper reading saw that there were promises made, most of them multi-faceted, all of which are ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah. For instance, Israel never did get the promised land. This is fulfilled in the Messiah, the promised “seed” of Abraham.

    And while I, myself, struggled with the notion that the “descendants” of Abraham was a mistranslation, I’ve come across other passages that actually ratify what Paul writes in Galatians. For instance, take a look at Genesis 22:17. I know the NAS and ESV both translate a phrase in that verse “their enemies,” referencing the descendants (seed) of Abraham. But in the footnotes, they point out that it should be translated “his enemies.” They made a singular personal pronoun into a plural personal pronoun to fit with the idea that “seed” refers to the nation of Israel. But quite clearly, Paul tells us that “seed’ is singular for a reason (to point to the Messiah), and the Hebrew text has a pronoun for it in the singular that the English translation turn into a plural.

    And the idea of this “seed” of Abraham is the only thing that makes sense of Genesis 38–not just the story, but its placement within the canon.

    I will admit, there is some ambiguity with the word “seed” in the OT, particularly in Genesis. There are times when it needs to be seen as a people, and not just the Messiah. And I think that is what Paul is picking up on when he refers to all who have faith in the Messiah as children of Abraham (children of the promise). But the multi-faceted aspect of the promises to Abraham are fine, and still point to the main purpose of the promise as the Messiah, and (as a pseudo-Covenant theologian) Israel and the land being typology (not unlike what Paul does in Galatians 4).

    Anyway, I hope I have made myself understood. I know this probably raises more questions than it answers. A good resource on this would be virtually any book by John Sailhamer. He is a conservative, evangelical scholar, but is atypical, to say the least.

    -Alan

  6. MONEY, MY DEAR SIR, BUYS EVEN CONSCIENCES, AT ALMOST 69 YEARS OLD I AM STILL LEARNING OF HOW FAR US HUMANS WILL GO TO PROTECT OUR TURF.
    MONEY IS EXTREMELY ABOUNDANT IN THE HEBREW’S COMUNITY THEY HAVE THE STRONGEST LOBBY IN OUR CONGRESS, ALTHOUGH ONLY 2 % OF USA IS HEBREW THEY IN 13% OF OUR CONGRESS PEOPLE ARE HEBREWS.
    WHY SHOULD IT SURPRISE YOU THAT CHRISTIANS ARE THINKING ERRONEOUSLY.
    I REMEMBER THAT BEFORE THE FALL OF SADAM HUSSEIN THERE WHERE 2 OR MORE MARTIRS A DAY IN THE STREETS OF ISRAEL. THANKS TO OUR PEOPLE BLODD AND MONEY SINCE WE ARE IN IRAQ THERE ARE 2 MARTIRS A YEAR.
    THEN HENCE WHY THE WAR IN IRAQ WHEN WE HAD NOT FINISHED IN AFGHANISTAN, WHEN TALIBANS ARE STILL ON THE RAMPAGE IN ASIA.
    YOU GUYS KEEP READING THE BIBLE, I KEEP READING IN BETWEEN THE LINES IN THE NEWS.

    • Mr. Vega,

      You might check out the books by Col. Donn de Grand-Pre who was an arms “peddler” in the Pentagon for the mideast. At AmericanFreePress.net He has a lot of insight.

  7. I agree with most of what you’ve said here. You seem to have the heart of a Berean. Acts 17:11 “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for the received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true.”
    Modern Christianity is under cut by “leaders” who make profound statements based upon biblical half-truths or outright lies. The only defense of their positions they offer is public condemnation for anyone who disagrees with them.
    From a realistic standpoint one would be hard pressed to prove that the modern secular state of Israel is the Israel of the Old Test. Indeed I believe most of the Israelis would have a hard time proving they are Abraham’s descendants.

  8. Jonathan,

    Thanks for your comment. Where would you push me in what I said? Do you have some differing perspective to offer? I’d like to hear another contributing voice.

    Nathan

  9. Perhaps more attention needs to be paid to the spiritual trap our evangelical leaders seem to find themselves in when God is mixed with politics. I am straying off the beaten path here, but the history of Christianity is littered with church leaders who have gotten involved on the political level and eventually their message became anything but christian. Equally frightening is the willingness of the flock to blindly follow these men. This seems to be a plague of the faith, an infection of the soul.

  10. Pingback: Toxic Theology: End Times Obsession « Thoughts and Ruminations

  11. Pingback: Avoiding Obsession of End Times « blograpture

  12. Pingback: 16 Resources Exposing Zionism as Anti-Christian « In the Spirit of Truth

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