Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Israel Is Not Israel

Modern National Israel 
Is Not Old Testament Israel

The older I get the more I know, to use Donald Rumsfield's phraseology, that there are "known unknowns" and there are "unknown unknowns." There are things we do not know, and we know that we don't.  We know we do not know the date of the Second Coming of Christ. We know enough to know we don't know that. 

But there are things we do not know of which we have no awareness at all. With regard to the past, we can give examples of what were "unknown unknowns." Until the new physics came along we did not know that there are particles that behave chaotically - that is non-predictably. But with regard to the future, we cannot give examples simply because we do not know enough to know we don't know. 

One of my known unknowns is what God is going to do with ethnic Israel. Even to try to define "ethnic Israel" is an exercise in frustration. What does "all Israel will be saved" mean? Does Paul teach us that all elect ethnic Jews will be saved or does he teach us that there is yet to be a mass turning of ethnic Jews to Christ? I take a "wait and see" approach to this issue.

But one of my "known knowns" is that, if there is to be a mass turning of the Jews to Christ, it does not require a national homeland for ethnic Jews in the approximate location of ancient Old Testament Israel. Jews can turn to Christ as well in the United States, or Egypt for that matter, as in the modern state of Israel.

The modern state of Israel is geographically strange. It encompasses only part of the territory promised to God's people in the Old Testament. Specifically, while Israel has settled Israelis in the west bank area, Israel does not encompass "Judea" and "Samaria" to say nothing of any east bank territory one may believe that God meant to give the Israelites.

Here is one proposed map of Israel according to the allotments to the tribes:

Allotments to Tribes

Here is a map of the approximate borders of Israel in the time of Solomon, the apex of ethnic/national Israel's territorial control.

Israel in Solomon's Time

But what about the modern state of Israel?

Last summer the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America divested itself of stock in three companies that sell to Israel materials that have military uses. Many evangelicals tried to prevent this action and decried it after it was taken.

Lately with regard to the conflict in Gaza much support for Israel has been expressed. Panelists on Fox's Special Report, especially Charles Krauthammer, strongly support Israel's action. Rush Limbaugh supports of Israel, saying that the Palestinian groups must be defeated and subdued before there can be peace in the area. Israel must impose peace on its defeated foes. I have also seen a number of posts by Christian friends supporting the Israeli incursion. For the purposes of this Blog let me grant that the Israeli action is politically, militarily, and morally necessary. That granted for now, I want to question reasons for the support of Israeli actions. 

It seems to me that some Christians' support of just about anything Israel does assumes that Jewish people have continuously dwelt in and occupied territory in the geographic area that came to be known as Palestine or, if you prefer, Canaan from the days of Joshua or post-Exilic days (take your pick) forward. But that is not the case. Here is a map showing Jewish settlement from 1881 to 1914.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 vaguely committed the British government to the establishment of a Jewish "homeland" in Palestine. However, a geographical grant of territory to Jews did not come about until 1947 when the United Nations partitioned Palestine between the Israelis and the Arabs (or Palestinians). The Jewish state of modern Israel declared its existence in 1948. The Arabs did not like partition or the existence of the state of Israel, so a war ensued.

Here are maps of the U.N. Partition and of the 1948 war:

There is a good chance there would have been no Israeli state, at least not for quite awhile, had it not been for virulent anti-Semitism in Europe and particularly had the Holocaust not occurred. This ratcheted up demands for a "safe homeland" for Jews (how is that working out?). After World War II, when Britain still governed Palestine, the British gave up efforts to control it, partly because of Jewish terrorism against the British (carried out by men such as Menachem Begin, later Prime Minister). At the same time there was growing Jewish pressure in the United States which led to President Trueman's supporting (at least in part because of electoral considerations) the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. From that time forward there has been almost continuous conflict (including 3 wars) about the land between the Jews and the Palestinians. Still the modern state of Israel does not occupy the territory claimed by Old Testament Israel. 

Here is a map of Israeli territory before the 1967 War and today.

Israel 1967 and Today

A question we must ask is:

Does the Israeli state have a right to the territory allotted to the tribes of Israel by Joshua? If you are a dispensationalist, you do think that, because you believe that the Jews are God's people, that there is a future for Israel distinct from the church, and that the Old Testament land belongs to Israel by divine right. You believe that the human race is divided both as believers and unbelievers and as Jews and Gentiles.  We live in a parenthesis (the Church Age) which will be followed by God's implementation of his original plan for Israel and the fulfillment of his ancient promises to Israel. 

My question to those who are not dispensationalists is, Why do you respond to the actions of the Israelis on dispensationalist assumptions? That is, Why do you respond to the conflicts in Palestine as though you believe a geographical land belongs to ethnic Jews and the modern Jewish state? Or, Why do you instinctively support what the Israeli state does as though it has a special status that trumps every other consideration?

In other words, it seems to me that the right way to view the national claims and geographical aspirations of ethnic Jews is to view them the same as we would any other group of people in the world. It is to view these claims and aspirations as we would if (as is the case) ethnic Jews do not have a Biblical claim to land in the Middle East. The modern state of Israel is no different from any other nation as to its rights and obligations. 

The state of Israel does exist. We may question whether it was wise to establish a state for ethnic Jews in Palestine. But we may not question the fact of its existence. As a state it has no less but also no more rights than any other state. We have no reason to condemn Israel's actions when they fall within the rights we recognize for ourselves or any other nation. But we also have no reason to support Israel as though it were a special case.

I find the situation with Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jews, and Palestinians politically, militarily, and morally vexing. I have trouble sorting out the right and the wrong, the wise and the foolish, the workable and the unworkable. I do not know what a just, wise, and workable solution looks like. What I do know is that there no Biblical reason to look at these questions as though the modern state of Israel is a special case.

Modern Israel is just another country that is in the world and whose existence is recognized by the United Nations. No less. No more.

When Abraham walked the land of Palestine and God told him that every place his foot fell would belong to his descendants, God was giving Abraham and his descendants a sign of and down payment on the much bigger promise to give him the whole world (Romans 4:13). And who are Abraham's descendants who have inherited this promise? He is "the father of all who believe without being circumcised... and...the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised" (Romans 4: 11,12). The promise of the world will be gained, not by armies, rifles, artillery shells, and missiles, but now by the gospel and in the end by coming again of the Lord.  


Daniel said...

Good points. Agree that the current state of Israel should not be treated as a special case. Here is an interesting article from a different angle:

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curt Day said...

THank you for writing this. I will be sharing this on a couple of websites.