17 October 2023

Standing with Israel?

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

For the average American Evangelical, the Jews are God’s chosen people. Ek 20.5 There might be more than a few antisemites among us, but for the most part we believe God established a relationship with Abraham ben Terah, and God chose Abraham’s and Israel’s descendants as his particular people. God graciously freed Israel’s descendants from Egyptian slavery. God set up a king over them whom they called Messiah (or as gentiles usually call him, Christ). Jesus of Nazareth is the final and greatest and eternal Messiah. Our religion is a descendant of the Hebrew religion. We even swiped their holidays.

Likewise the average American Evangelical also believes God promised the descendants of Israel a land on the Mediterranean Sea’s west coast, known as the Levant, or Canaan, or Palestine. The promise was conditional: If the Israelis kept covenant with the LORD and upheld his Law, they could live there and prosper. 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: When Israel followed God, it and its allies prospered. When it didn’t, not so much.

And because it didn’t, ancient Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. It was made a client state of them, and later of 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. Stayed destroyed, most Evangelicals say, until the 20th century, when the Jews reestablished the modern state of Israel in 1948.

And here’s where they and I part company. The modern state of Israel is an entirely new state. It’s not the same state as ancient Israel.

It contains God’s chosen people, in that many Israelis are Jews. It consists of a lot of land which ancient Israel occupied. It’s ancient Israel’s successor state. But it’s not the same state. No more than Italy is the Roman Empire, Turkey is the Ottoman Empire, or Russia is the Soviet Union. It’s a new country, younger than the United States.

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. Therefore none of the bible’s prophecies and promises which have to do with the country of Israel, apply to present-day Israel. They were fulfilled by ancient Israel. They might look like they repeat themselves with present-day Israel… but that’s only because history repeats itself. That, and certain Evangelicals love to stretch those bible passages to suit their ideas, but they’re not at all what God means by them.

No. They’re not the same country.

The ancient nation-state of Israel consisted of 13 tribes occupying 12 territories, ruled by patriarchies connected by a common ancestry, common God, and common covenant with that God. Later it had a king, who turned the 12 territories into a state. The king’s policies and practices defined the government of the state, though the authors of the bible (namely the Deuteronomistic historian) would argue it should be defined by the Law of Moses, as spelled out in the first five books of the bible, which was basically the nation’s constitution. But the kings didn’t always follow it, and their personal loyalties to the LORD tended to sway the entire country’s devotion, and affected their peace and stability in disastrous ways.

The current state of Israel has a כְּנֶסֶת/K’nesset, “assembly,” an elected parliament which functions like other countries’ parliaments: You vote for your party, the majority party (or a majority coalition of parties) picks the prime minister and cabinet, and they run the country. Today’s Israel also has a military-industrial complex which constantly, vigorously keeps the country ready to defend itself against its neighbors, fight its dissidents, and suppress a large ethnic minority of Palestinians. None of this current system is spelled out in the Law of Moses. In fact today’s Israel is officially a secular state, which permits freedom of religion, so they’re not obligated to follow the Law. Not that Jewish nationalists don’t try with all their might to make ’em follow it.

Ancient Israel would have purged and penalized anyone who didn’t follow the Law. And if they didn’t, the authors of the bible would describe the state as horribly sinful. Nationalistic Israelis would love Israel to follow it. Individual devout Israelis may. Lots of ’em hold public office, pay homage to that Law, and try to eliminate any separation of temple and state. Politicians regularly claim the right to interpret the Law of Moses as they see fit. But the people of Israel as a whole do not follow the Law. There are plenty of secular Israelis who aren’t religious at all. There are plenty of Israelis who are Muslim and Christian and atheist. The Israeli people follow the Basic Laws of Israel, which the state uses as a secular constitution.

The Law doesn’t really define a structure of government. Which is why ancient Israel was run by patriarchs and judges for its 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 can’t run it under the Law nowadays, same as the Judean senate did. But the senate was forbidden to pass laws ’cause the Jews already had a Law. In contrast the Knesset passes laws all the time—’cause they don’t recognize the Law as their law. The Basic Laws of Israel is their law. Different constitution. Therefore different country.

I mentioned the separation of temple and state. Many Israelis ignore any such separation, and insist they do follow the Law—they have to!—and try to pass laws in the Knesset which reflect their interpretations of the bible. Problem is, there are so many modern-day interpretations of the bible. Including interpretations created once the sacrificial system was ended by the Romans in the year 70. There’s no continuity between that form of Judaism, and modern Judaism—no matter how traditional or orthodox they might get. Ancient Israel had priests, a tabernacle and temple, and daily ritual sacrifice. Modern Judaism has none of that. It’s an adaptation of the original religion, invented for a people who lost their temple and homeland. Even though they now have a homeland, they still don’t follow all the Law’s commands for land appropriation, debt forgiveness, jubilee years, harvests, gleaning, tithing, and constructing a tabernacle (at the very least!) so they can perform ritual sacrifice. 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 their current worldviews!

  • Futurist interpretations of the End Times, which inappropriately use a lot of out-of-context Old Testament passages, require there to be a nation of Israel in their timeline. If today’s Israel isn’t actually the same country as ancient Israel, their predictions might never come to pass!
  • Present-day Israel can thereby get the unquestioning support of politically and financially powerful Evangelicals. (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 powerful and important in world affairs.
  • Holy Land tourism, big-time.

It’s mutually beneficial for these folks in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, it’s seriously detrimental to reality and truth. And, more often than not, it craps all over the Palestinian people.

Civic idolatry… with another nation as the idol.

Assuming Israel was still following the LORD, God wanted ancient Israel’s neighbors to ally themselves with Israel and support them. Thing is, ancient Israel regularly didn’t follow God. Modern Israel doesn’t follow him either. As proven by the way they treat Palestinians. What modern Israel does to those people—segregating them, limiting their movements, crippling their economy, rejecting their leaders, limiting their access to government, refusing to seat them in the Knesset—isn’t at all consistent with God’s Law.

People try to define the Palestinians as “resident aliens” in the land—even though they lived in the land a thousand years longer than the European, American, and African Jews who migrated there in the 20th century. Since they are all descendants of Abraham, same as the Jews, it might be best to consider them family. At the very least, neighbors. And the Law forbids the Hebrews from mistreating their neighbors, Lv 19.18 or mistreating resident aliens. Dt 24.17 Yet that’s what the Israeli government does with Palestinians, and uses anti-Israeli terrorism to justify it. The actions of a small percentage of radicals among Palestinians, namely terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, does not merit oppressive behavior towards the entire group. The Hebrews were commanded to love their neighbors, to do right by any strangers in their midst, and apply their very same Law to them. That’s not at all what Israel does.

Considering an estimated 47,000 Palestinians are Christian, I find it hugely annoying how American Christians tend to unthinkingly, unquestioningly take the Israelis’ side in their every action towards Palestinians. We turn a blind eye to when they stomp on our Christian sisters and brothers. True, it’s partly because Americans ignorantly 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 a lot of it is racism.

When Israel does the right thing, of course we should take their side. But whenever they don’t, we Christians are always to take God’s side. We don’t make exceptions. Not even for allies. Nor chosen people.

Opposing the state of Israel’s policies and behaviors, or wanting the Israelis to change their government and throw out their nationalist leadership, is not at all the the same thing as antisemitism, nor 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 disguise their evil as patriotism. I don’t want modern Israel destroyed any more than they do. But I can’t condone evil.

“Israel right or wrong, no matter what” proves you don’t know your bible at all. And if Israel’s policies ever violate the Constitution of the United States, or Israel were ever to declare war on us (God forbid), I remind Americans it’d be treason to take Israel’s side.

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 minions. I don’t either, but I’m a preterist: I believe most of the End Times prophecies are fulfilled, and Jesus can return whenever he wants. He isn’t dependent on the existing nation of Israel. When he returns, he’s overthrowing their government anyway—and ours as well—to rule us both as king.

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. Again, they’re not ancient Israel! Both modern Israel and Palestine are occupying territory which rightly belongs to Jesus. I’m not pushing for Israel to wholly occupy Jerusalem, since once Jesus takes over, he’ll just place 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 long been promoting a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. I’m not a fan. My solution (as if 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 works for the United States: Back when the states didn’t yet trust one another, it’s how we set up 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 my advice’ll do.