Those of us in the evangelical world who have on occasion publicly criticized the policies of the Benjamin Netanyahu government have been quickly reminded of the ways we are evoking God’s displeasure with us. My hate mail regularly features the promise that God made to Abraham when he informed the patriarch that he would be the father of a great nation: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:3).
Well, let the hate mail keep coming, but this needs to be said: It was a shameful thing for evangelical pastors to be celebrating the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem while just a few miles away the Israeli army was killing dozens of Palestinian protesters against Israeli policies. (The death toll stood at 60 as of Tuesday, Palestinian officials said, and more than 1,700 people had been hospitalized.) It’s shameful, not only because they use their theology to make the moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a matter of “eternal” significance, but also because they refuse to hold the Netanyahu government accountable for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, some of whom are themselves evangelical Christians.Do I fear being cursed by God for saying that it was a shameful thing for these two pastors to join in the celebration at the opening of the Jerusalem embassy? No, because those who so easily invoke that ancient promise fail to think about what it covers. I do want God to “bless” Israel, as did the ancient prophets who regularly delivered divine messages to their compatriots.
But those prophets never called for an uncritical acceptance of whatever happened to be the current policies and practices of Israel’s leaders. Here, for example, is a typical one of those ancient messages from the Lord: “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice” (Malachi 3:5).
God is not indiscriminate in handing out blessings to Israel. God wants the leaders to promote the cause of righteousness, which has to do with, among other things, how they treat “the stranger in the land.” The ancient Hebrew writers were consistent in emphasizing his point: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
If we want God to “bless” Israel we should keep calling the present Israeli government to treat the Palestinians as those who are “born among you.” We do Israel no favors by praying at its celebrations while ignoring the grave injustices taking place not far away.