It’s important to stand by your mate. When he asks you to play bass in his new band, with him on lead vocals, even though he can’t distinguish one note from another, you agree. You work hard to get along with that girl he’s dating. When he wants that Guns N’ Roses tattoo etched across his back, you shake your head and say, ‘Whatever works for you, man’.
But lets call a spade a shovel: sometimes your mate is a tool. When he compromises people’s safety or acts aggressively or disrespectfully to others, do you back his play, or sit him down for a much-needed ‘man chat’?
Children of Abraham, Children of God
In light of recent events, scores of right-leaning Christians have proclaimed that they ‘stand with Israel’, come hell or high water. What lies behind this stance?
The Old Testament traces the story of Israel, chosen and set apart by YHWH as a unique people, according to the promises to their ancestor Abraham. They were known as ‘the children of God’ (Hosea 1:10, 11:1). Of course, they weren’t chosen for their own sake, but for a mission: to represent YHWH to the world, to enact God’s purposes, and direct the worship of the nations toward God, acting as a ‘kingdom of priests, a holy nation’ (Exodus 19:6).
Unfortunately, scripture records their abject failure in this role. Through the prophets, YHWH rebuked them for their idolatry, their greed, and their injustice toward the poor and foreigners within their borders. Rather than act as God’s representatives, they behaved instead like the nations around them. The consequence was exile to Babylon in 589 B.C., a cataclysm that resounded in the national consciousness for generations afterwords.
Those same prophets, though, foretold the restoration of Israel, that God would raise them again to their former status and vocation. In Jeremiah, YHWH promises a ‘new covenant’ with Israel, where they would once again be the people of God.
Many Christians believe these prophecies were fulfilled with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1949. And since YHWH’s contract with Abraham included the line, ‘I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse’ (Genesis 12:3), they believe strongly that we must support Israel for our own good!
However, Jesus and his first disciples wouldn’t see it the same way. They asserted that Jesus himself fulfilled the ancient prophecies about Israel’s restoration, accomplishing Israel’s mission to bear YHWH’s image and to focus the world’s worship toward God. Jesus instituted the ‘new covenant’ spoken of in Jeremiah, forming a ‘new Israel’ from his followers (Luke 22:20)#. He envisioned himself as the vine (deliberately reinterpreting an ancient metaphor for Israel), with his disciples as the branches (John 15:5)*.
The Fourth Gospel states it poignantly:
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:11-13 (NRSV)
The writer is crystal clear: the ‘children of God’ would no longer be determined by blood or ethnicity, but by receiving Jesus and believing in his name. That’s why Paul can say that ‘the blessing of Abraham’ can now come to all of us, along with the Spirit (Galatians 3:14)*. That’s why Peter can apply the Exodus 19 passage to the churches to whom he’s writing, calling them ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (I Peter 2:9-10). Through Jesus, we’ve inherited not only Israel’s promises, but her vocation as well.
Real People, Real Problems
Where misinterpretations of scripture meet apparent patriotic duty (‘America stands with Israel, so I do too.’), a great number of Evangelicals lend their unquestioning support to modern Israel and cut the Israeli government a blank check to do whatever they please with respect to Palestinian people. Yet most of us are either unaware of or unconcerned with what those actions actually entail: limiting Palestinian access to fertile land; restricting the flow of essential goods and services to Palestinian territory; denying equal work opportunities and legal recourse to Palestinian people; repossessing land on which Palestinians have built their homes and building walled settlements in which Palestinians are not permitted to live; denying the vast majority of Palestinians citizenship, making them essentially stateless; labelling Palestinians as ‘terrorists’ or ‘agitators’ to dehumanise them and justify all of these actions.
In the face of all this, how do we begin to respond?
Return to prayer and scripture. The simple question is, will we force prayer and scripture to conform to our existing theology and worldview, or will we allow reflective reading and humble prayer to shape and reshape our beliefs and values?
Differentiate the State of Israel from biblical Israel. Simply put, the modern, secular nation-state of Israel in no way equates to the theocracy portrayed in the Bible.
Differentiate the Jewish people from the government of Israel. Don’t misunderstand – we absolutely should love and respect the Jewish people. But that doesn’t mean blindly supporting the manoeuvres of the government of the Israeli state. Ask yourself, do you agree with everything your government does?
Recognise the humanity of Palestinians. Regular viewing of Fox News makes it easy to forget that the great majority of Palestinians are real people trying to make the best of a hopeless situation. Yes, there are a some who turn to violence as an answer to this desperation. Should we neglect the genuine needs of Palestinians on account of this?
Pray for Palestinians. This one seems simplistic, but I suspect that most of us don’t place prayer for Palestinians high on our priority list. And lets face it, there’s no argument you can make against praying for the Palestinian people.
Pursue the Kingdom of God: Be Peacemakers. Jesus announced the Kingdom of God, proclaiming good news to the poor, freedom to the captives and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18). He also declared that peacemakers would be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). Do we think he actually meant all that stuff? Notably, he didn’t end either of these statements with ‘except where Palestinians are concerned’. Let’s pray and act for peace, speaking out from basic human compassion on behalf of the Palestinian people.
# Jesus didn’t choose 12 disciples for his inner circle just because he thought 12 was a nice even number. No, he was making a statement, one that would not have been missed by anyone in 1st-century Palestine.
* Paul uses a similar metaphor in Romans 11, using the picture of an olive tree to teach his readers that God is forming a new family in Jesus from both Jews and non-Jews. The Galatians passage forms part of Paul’s primary argument in the letter: belonging to the people of God doesn’t require anyone to conform to Jewish cultural or religious requirements.
- Feature Image: Israeli Flag (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)
- Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel, from Givat Mordechai Etz Yosef synagogue facade, Jerusalem (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons).
- Palestinian children in Jenin, West Bank, July 2002 (Wikimedia Commons)