What should the church’s attitude toward Israel be in this age?
This question (supplied by Mark & Julie Perry) needs to be addressed from historical, moral and theological perspectives.
Historical. Beginning in the nineteenth and continuing into the twentieth century, calls for a Jewish homeland emanated from three sources:
Ø Influential Christians who believed that the Bible predicts a re-establishment of the Jewish state and a mass conversion of the Jews before the return of Christ.
Ø Jewish Zionism, which arose somewhat later, motivated by both secular and religious concerns.
Ø Political leaders from America and Europe who sympathized with the persecution of the Jews under Russian pogroms and the German Holocaust. These leaders recognized that Jewish refugees would end up somewhere, but they didn’t want them all showing up on European or American doorsteps.
Early calls for a Jewish homeland never materialized, but in 1947 a UN Resolution authorized the establishment of Jewish and Palestinian states. Israel declared its independent existence in 1948. The Arab states, refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist, immediately attacked.
The war of Jewish independence resulted in the expulsion or flight of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs. Except for Jordan, the neighboring Arab nations refused to grant citizenship and civil rights to the refugees. This refusal has resulted in a large number of stateless Arabs who are demanding the right to return to Israel and reclaim lands that they or their ancestors once inhabited. If this ever took place and they were granted citizenship, the Jewishness of the nation of Israel would at once be compromised.
In the years since its creation, modern Israel has been in an almost constant state of siege, fighting major and minor wars and suffering from ongoing terrorist attacks.
Moral. Unfortunately, many Christians (especially in the United States) have adopted an uncritically supportive stance toward Israel. God’s promise to Abraham (I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, Genesis 12:3) has been cited to prove that our national blessing is dependent on always siding with Israel. However, God Himself has never adopted an uncritical support for His people. Just read the prophets. If we want to adopt a biblical attitude toward Israel’s actions, we ought to weigh them by the biblical standards of justice and mercy, which God commanded Israel to show even toward aliens (Deuteronomy 10:16-19).
On the other hand, Israel is often blamed unfairly by western media.
Ø The issue of stateless Palestinians should not be laid at Israel’s feet alone. The United States and Europe have taken in millions of Muslim refugees, people whose religion and cultures were vastly different from the majority of their citizens. Why did the Muslim nations surrounding Israel refuse to grant citizenship to their own co-religionists?
Ø Although Israel has at times exacerbated tensions by its harsh treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in general its restraint under constant threats to its survival can hardly be matched by any other nation in history.
Ø We ought not take the words of Israel’s enemies at face value. Too often their blatant lies have been reported without correction. When talking western reporters, they have condemned suicide bombers, but when speaking to their own people, they have praised and supported them.
Ø Time and time again, Israel has been blamed for killing civilians, but Palestinians targeting Israel with their rockets have not been blamed for using those civilians as human shields.
These considerations taken together indicate that evaluating Israel’s actions is not easy. The situation is morally complex and often morally ambiguous. Christians, in my view, should not lend unqualified support to everything Israel does, but neither should we be unduly negative. We ought to stand up for Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself.
Theological. Numerous Old Testament prophecies predict the regathering and conversion of Israel in the latter days. It is unreasonable to suggest that these prophecies have been completely fulfilled in ancient times, that they have been taken over by the church, or that they have been set aside by God because of Israel’s sins. Romans 11 clearly looks forward to a future for ethnic Israel.
The prophetic status of Israel today can best be described in the language of Ezekiel 37. Ezekiel saw a valley filled with scattered dry bones. As he watched, the bones came together and flesh grew upon them, but the bodies were still just corpses. Finally, the Spirit of God breathed into them “and they came to life and stood on their feet.” (One wonders on what else besides their feet they might have stood J.)
The Lord explained that the bones represented the whole house of Israel that was to be regathered and made to live again. For 2000 years Israel was dead, dry and scattered. Now the bones have begun to come together again, but still there is no spiritual life in the vast majority of the Jewish people. The state of Israel is openly hostile to Christian evangelism.
From a theological perspective, the church ought to be praying for God to outpour His Spirit on His ancient people, just as He promised He would (Zechariah 12:10). We should not fall prey to the notion that Jews can be saved through Judaism without conscious faith in Jesus Christ. They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:1-4). Therefore, the church needs to support the evangelism of Jewish people both inside and outside of Israel.
Finally, Scripture does not enable us to date the return of Christ by referring to the reestablishment of the State of Israel. Jesus’ prophecy that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30) probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, not to the end-time events that were foreshadowed by that destruction. Therefore, Christians should not become feverishly excited about the second coming of Christ. We should live faithfully and diligently every day as though He might come in the next blink of an eye, but we should plan for the future as though we might live to see our children’s children’s children.