Standing with Israel?

Evangelicals insist it’s important. It is; but not in the way they’re thinking.

My views on Israel are not conventional. So, of course, they’re controversial.

The average American Evangelical believes that the Jews are God’s chosen people. ’Cause they are. Ek 20.5 There might be a few antisemites hiding out among Evangelicals, but for the most part we believe God chose Abraham, God chose Abraham’s and Israel’s descendants, God demonstrated salvation by freeing Israel’s descendants from Egypt, God set a king over them whom they called Messiah, and Jesus of Nazareth is the final and greatest and eternal Messiah. (Or Christ, as gentiles tend to call him. Means the same thing.) Our religion is a descendant of the Hebrew religion. We even swiped their holidays.

The average American Evangelical also believes the nation of Israel is a nation of God’s chosen people. God promised ’em the land of the Levant/Canaan/Palestine if they kept covenant with him, and upheld his Law. God encouraged the nations round about Israel to support it and ally themselves with it—if they knew what was good for them. Of course this is based on the presumption Israel followed God; and when Israel followed God, it and its allies prospered. When it didn’t, not so much.

Hence, as a nation, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. It was made a client state of them, and the subsequent Persian, Greek, Seleucid, and Roman empires. (With a tiny bout of independence between the Seleucid and Roman periods.) Then, in the year 70, the Romans destroyed Israel again. And it stayed destroyed.

“Until the 20th century” is how most Evangelicals usually end that last sentence. Here’s where they and I part company.

The current nation contains God’s chosen people, in that many Israelis are Jews. It consists of a lot of the land the ancient Hebrews occupied. It’s the ancient nation’s successor state. But it’s not the same state, any more than Italy is the Roman Empire, Turkey is the Ottoman Empire, or Russia is the Soviet Union. It’s an entirely new state, founded in 1948. Despite what both Jews and Evangelicals claim, it’s a whole different country than the one founded by the LORD through Moses ben Amram in the 1400s BC.

So all the prophecies and promises in the bible which have to do with Israel? Don’t automatically apply to modern Israel. ’Cause it’s not the same country.

No they’re not the same.

Okay: The original nation of Israel was based on the Law of Moses, as spelled out in the first five books of the bible. That’s basically the original nation’s constitution. Is the current nation of Israel following it? Nope. It definitely pays homage to that Law, and there’s no separation of temple and state: Politicians regularly claim the right to interpret the Law of Moses as they see fit. But the nation doesn’t follow the Law: It follows the Basic Laws of Israel, which it uses as a constitution.

The Law doesn’t really define a structure of government, which is why ancient Israel was run by judges for the first five centuries, kings for the next six, governors and head priests for the next five, and a Senate in Jesus’s day. No reason a Knesset/“congress” can’t run it nowadays. But the problem the Senate had in Jesus’s day, was it was forbidden to pass laws ’cause the Jews had a Law. The Knesset doesn’t have that problem, ’cause the Law isn’t really their Law. Different constitution. Therefore different nation.

I mentioned no separation of temple and state. It’s why many Israelis assume there is continuity between ancient and modern Israel. Problem is, there’s also no continuity between modern Judaism—no matter how traditional or orthodox it gets—and the ancient Hebrew religion. Ancient Israel had priests, a tabernacle and temple, and daily ritual sacrifices. Modern Judaism has none of that. It’s an adaptation of the original religion, for people who had no temple, for people who didn’t even live in their homeland. Judaism is a different religion than the one founded by the LORD through Moses ben Amram in the 1400s BC. It’s a successor religion. (As is Christianity.)

Much as they wanna claim continuity, there isn’t any.

So why do Jews and Evangelicals insist they are the same country? ’Cause man alive, does it come in handy for them:

  • Evangelicals’ overly literal interpretations of End Times events might come to pass just as they imagine.
  • Israel will get the unquestioning support of politically and financially powerful Christians. (Which, frankly, is a pleasant turnaround, considering all the nasty Christian antisemitism of the past 17 centuries.)
  • Evangelical leaders can make nice with Jewish political leaders, and feel important.
  • Holy Land tourism.

It’s mutually beneficial for these folks in a lot of weird ways. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s detrimental to other folks.

Civic idolatry… with another nation as the idol.

You recall God wanted ancient Israel’s neighbors to support them… providing the nation was following him. Well, often ancient Israel wasn’t following God. And sometimes modern Israel isn’t following him either.

Take the Palestinians. What modern Israel is doing to those people—segregating them, limiting their movements, crippling their economy, limiting their access to government, refusing to seat them in the Knesset—isn’t at all consistent with God’s Law. You might consider the Palestinians to be “resident aliens” in the land—even though they were in the land a thousand years longer than the European Jews who migrated there in the 20th century. You might consider them neighbors, since they are all descendants of Abraham. But either way, the Law forbade the Hebrews from treating their neighbors, Lv 19.18 or resident aliens, Dt 24.17 the way the Israeli government treats the Palestinians. The actions of a small percentage of radicals among them does not merit the oppressive behavior towards the larger group. The Hebrews were commanded to love their neighbors, to do right by any strangers in their midst, and apply the very same Law to them. That’s not at all what Israel is doing.

Considering an estimated 38,000 Palestinians are Christian, I find it hugely annoying how American Christians tend to unquestioningly take the Israelis’ side in their actions towards the Palestinians. We’re turning a blind eye to when they stomp on our Christian sisters and brothers. True, it’s partly because Americans assume all Palestinians are Muslim… and partly because a lot of Evangelicals assume if you’re a Palestinian Christian, you’re Orthodox or Catholic, and those churches “aren’t really Christian.” And of course, some of it is antisemitism. (Arabs are semites too, y’know.)

When Israel does the right thing, take their side. Of course. But when they’re not, we Christians are always to take God’s side. We don’t make exceptions. Not even for chosen people.

Opposing the state of Israel’s policies and behaviors is not the same thing as antisemitism. Nor is it wanting to see Israel destroyed. But that’s the way their politicians put it, ’cause that’s the way any politician speaks when they’re trying to cloak their bad behavior in patriotism. I don’t want modern Israel destroyed any more than they do. But I can’t condone evil.

“Israel right or wrong” is unbiblical. And if Israel’s policies ever run counter to the Constitution of the United States, or Israel were ever to declare war on us (God forbid), I remind Americans it’d be treason.

Most of the reason American Evangelicals tend to go the “Israel right or wrong” route is because they’re futurists: They believe most of the End Times prophecies are still in the future, believe a lot of ’em involve Israel, and believe the Beast is Israel’s enemy. They don’t wanna join the Beast’s team. I don’t either, but I’m a preterist: I believe most of the End Times prophecies have been fulfilled, meaning Jesus can return whenever he wants. He isn’t dependent on an existing nation of Israel. When he returns, he’s overthrowing them anyway.

Israeli-iconoclasm.

As a result, my beliefs about Israeli politics have nothing to do with trying to force Israel into policies which suit my End Times theories. Of course, since I’m not Israeli, fat lot of good my two cents (or eight agorot) will do.

I’m not obligated to support the idea of Israel wholly occupying the land—including the Palestinian territories—’cause it’s not the same nation. I’m not pushing for Israel to wholly occupy Jerusalem, since once Jesus takes over, he’ll just stick New Jerusalem wherever he pleases. The way Israel treats refugees doesn’t get any special exemptions: When they mistreat the poor and weak, God stands against the oppressors, even if they’re Israeli. And when they help the poor and weak, God approves.

The United States government has been promoting a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. I’m not a fan. My solution (like anyone’s listening) is federalism: Let the Palestinians have and run their own cities or territories as independent states. Israelis do the same. As such, each state elects representatives to a congress, which handles national matters while the states handle everything else.

Hey, it worked for us: Back when the states didn’t yet trust one another, it’s how we rigged our Constitution. It’s a system which can work in any country where the people in it don’t yet think of themselves as one nation.

Of course, the Israelis aren’t willing to give up power, and the Palestinians aren’t willing to share it. But I still say union is better than division. For all the good that’ll do.