Good Afternoon Church –
A question arises from the current Middle Eastern war: how should a Christian – whose Bible is filled with references to Israel – view the modern state of Israel?
Starting Place: Affection for Jewish People
To a Bible-reading follower of Christ (and is there another kind?), there’s an easy case to be made: Every Christ follower should default toward a peculiar affection for Jewish people. This affection consists of familiarity, gratitude, the sharing of sacred Scriptures, respect for their rich history, understanding.
Perhaps especially gratitude. Jesus’ parable about the workers who were all paid equally after working various amounts (Matthew 20: 1-16) is intended to put Israel in her place, remind her that God will never be in her debt. But after marking that main point, notice the parable contains a phrase about Israel that every Gentile should bear in mind: they have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Israel was marked out from the rest of the humanity to save the world. This was a privilege… but also a great burden to carry. While the rest of the world was relatively at ease (Psalm 123:4), Israel was a suffering servant for the sake of the world (Isaiah 48: 8-10)
We honor the Jewish people for God’s privileging her with this great vocation (Romans 9:4, 5) and are in her debt for carrying that weight for 1500 years. In other words, Christians instinctively and enthusiastically are on the side of Jewish people. Our celebrations kick up an extra notch when Jewish people come to believe their Christ. Before Jewish people who have not yet believed in Christ, we are careful not to look down our noses. We see them in a big picture (Romans 11:18) of service for our sake.
At least One Complication
While holding a special regard for Jewish people, we should recognize at least one complication: “the Jewish people” and “the modern state of Israel” aren’t the same. At this moment, most Jewish people don’t live in the state of Israel. While tallying the number of Jewish people is a matter of some complexity, it’s certain that no more than 1/3rd of the Jewish worldwide population are citizens of the state of Israel. And not everyone in the state of Israel is Jewish. About 1/5th of Israel is Arab, not Jewish. (Which, by the way, makes Christian churches in Israel especially marvelous and fragile, since Arabs and Jews have come together in Jesus Christ.)
Generally Supportive of Israel
So, our loyalty of affection isn’t to the Israel state, per se, but to the Jewish people. But because that State is largely comprised of Jewish people, it would make sense to reflexively wish the Israel state well, support them, stand by their side. A Christian doesn’t need any other reason for this general support other than the fact Israel is a state comprised mainly of Jewish peoples. Stating that negatively: for a Christian’s general support of Israel he needs neither to connect their State to the Abrahamic covenant nor to a particular prophecy.
General Support ≠ No Criticism
To support the state of Israel from a place of deep affection for Jewish people doesn’t require one to never criticize that State. Of course not! I have in my possession a book entitled “Reclaiming Israel’s History” that’s examining the Jewish- Palestinian conflict from a pro-Israel position. I recommend it to you. This is from the preface:
“…No nation is so noble and no cause so pure. Israel has committed sins both small and large. Israeli soldiers have killed innocent Arab civilians – and not always by mistake. Israeli commanders have expelled Arabs from their villages and destroyed their homes – and not always in cases of clear military necessity.
We now know about these Israeli transgressions in detail. We know about them because Israeli scholars have documented them. And we know about them because the Israeli media has publicized them. Such is to live in a free society. (Brog, p. ix)
To generally support a state (or a church, or a family) doesn’t exclude criticism of the same. Blind loyalty is more excusable but just as wrong as obdurate dislike. But just here, in deciding whether to criticize or withhold criticism or positively support is where we must be careful. In heated moments as this, we’re tempted to jump in and say something definitive, especially something very positive or very negative. But it’d be too easy, unwise to hurriedly take one of the two sides being presented: Against Palestine or against Israel. But hold on: after watching an interview or two, can you claim to really understand the germane issues?
The one who states his cause first seems right/ until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)
I saw an interview of a couple of pro-Palestinian Brits who had been marching and shouting the controversial slogan: “From the River to the Sea…” The interviewer asked them to identify which “River” the slogan referred to. They had no idea! Can you imagine marching and shouting yet having very little idea what it was all for?
Before you eventually come down on a side of an issue that involves vast complications such as ancient claims to land, the rights of statehood, contested histories… shouldn’t you read a book or two about it? Or three? And before you read those books shouldn’t you have done some research to obtain assurance that their authors are reasonable, have some wisdom, laying bare their biases, not given to excitement, know what they’re talking about?
Just because we have been grafted onto the tree of the Israelite patriarchs (Rom 11), I do think it’s appropriate for Christians to invest time and resources into ferreting out the issues around the state of Israel and the justification for a Palestinian state. But before we’ve put in that work, my recommendation is not to adopt a precise position but simply to hold to certain generalities:
- If only because of their fathers, Jewish people everywhere can claim the affectionate gratitude of Christians. After 7 October, another dark moment in Israel’s history, and as Jewish people face increased hatred around the globe, it is entirely appropriate to reach out to your Jewish acquaintances with words of love and support.
- Simply because the state of Israel is comprised of Jewish people, it makes sense for Christians to incline toward supporting her… without offering blanket support and while not insisting she’s beyond criticism.
- Whether or not you can explain or justify how it came to be, the fact is that modern Israel is a sovereign state with all the rights of sovereign states, including self-determination and protection.
- Arab people also are made in the image of God and thus have inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of property ownership.
- The most just of wars is terrible, and part of that is the moral ambiguity around the taking of human lives. But what should be emphatically censured and considered heinous is lethal terrorism during official peacetime. No ambiguity there. To stand with Hamas is morally indefensible.
- In the explosiveness of this moment, it’s easy to forget the main thing: the new creation throughout the earth that God is speaking into existence by the Gospel. God is gathering together from all nations a people constituted in the Messiah by the power of the Spirit. Pray especially for our brothers and sisters in Israel and Gaza, that they’ll together bear witness to that new creation that began when Jesus was raised from the dead.