God’s Chosen People and God’s Chosen Politics?

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Recently, President Obama made some comments about restoring the pre-1967 borders to Israel.  This led to quite an uproar in the Jewish community and in among Zionist Fundamentalist Christian groups.  Much of the alliance that the church in America has had with Israel, comes from the belief that God is currently dealing with two different peoples: 1) the church, 2) Israel.  This belief is accompanied by some form of Dispensationalism that teaches that in the end, a remnant of Israel will be saved and will play a significant role in the end times.  I question such an approach to New Testament theology.

Walter Brueggemann rightly wrestles with the tension between the promises made to ancient Israel and their appropriation for modern Israel.  He believes that the final form of Torah came during the Exile and that land is therefore an issue of return more than it is of the original conquest (271).  While I hold to a more historical reading of the Torah than perhaps he would, the pastoral quality of the utterance of God for the land during Exile cannot be ignored (274).  But as NT Wright has noted, even after returning to the land, it seems Israel was still in spiritual exile.

Does the promise of land still apply?  Israelis’ zeal for land continues to brew unjust bloodshed against Palestinians.  Brueggemann rightly differentiates between ancient Israel and the modern nation (274). What Brueggemann doesn’t do in this particular section of his book is thread the needle into the New Testament idea of a “new Israel.”

Paul states: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3.29). The same kind of logic is put forward in Ephesians chapter 2 as well, where the division between the Jews and Gentiles has been done away with by the peace of the cross.  Out of the two groups God through Christ is forming a “new humanity.”

These two texts make clear that it is not nationality that determines Abraham’s family any longer, but all who “belong to Christ” are “Abraham’s seed!” The church is in direct continuity with all of the faithful Israelites throughout history, and all the promises in the OT, are now the Church’s.  Except the land is expanded to the whole earth!  Therefore, to blindly support Israel because they are “God’s people” in the present is simply unjust.

1) There’s several stories of US Christians promoting policies that blindly support Israel, which led to Israelis killing Christian Palestinians.  How has a “two peoples of God” theology caused contributed to such oppression?

2) Brueggemann closes his discussion on this question by quoting Hebrews 11:13-16.  Does not the story of Scripture as prophesied by Isaiah and Revelation, reveal that the true holy land will be renewed creation?  How should this shape our political perspective regarding national Israel in the present?

 

Below is a chart that visually demonstrates the perceptive of the people of God that was described above. (PS – This is different than old fashioned “replacement theology.”  Also, may I add that I believe in the possibility of *some* who may be “unbelievers” [including Jewish people] might be saved, because God is merciful and just beyond our knowing!)


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Source:

Brueggemann, Walter. Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. Nashville: Abingdon, 2008.

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  • Drew Chapados

    really good article Kurt–much of North American foreign policy and somewhat many European nations is not solely due to justice as it is to this approach of Scripture.

  • http://www.gentlewisdom.org.uk/ Peter Kirk

    So what do you do with Romans 9-11? See my analysis. These chapters are sometimes seen as teaching that ethnicity is unimportant, but if read carefully they do not, but they specify a future for the physical descendants of Abraham.

    • http://zackallen.me Zack Allen

      Have you read any of N.T. Wright’s work on Romans?

  • Luke

    There’s a couple problems with this view, IMO…
    1) God promised the land unconditionally to Abraham and his descendants. This is re-iterated throughout the Bible and even re-affirmed by God on a number of occasions. Any argument that they forfeited the promise by sinning is false, as it would make God a liar.
    2) There are so many passages in the Bible that allude to a re-awakening of Israel as a nation that will come to faith in Christ that I have a hard time accepting this one verse trumping everything else.

    It is my belief that these verses explain that now through Christ there is no difference between a Jew and Gentile that become saved, in that we all have salvation through the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection as the basis of our salvation. However, as God’s chosen people, Israel will be given the gift of its promise, and in that we as Gentiles differ. We, as other nations, will be blessed through God’s covenant with Abraham, as can be read in Genesis. Blessed differently, though. This idea that we are now Israel and Canaan has now transitioned to the whole earth seems unfounded in scripture.

    • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

      Good thoughts Luke. The thing is that Paul / God have broadened and narrowed the category for what Israel truly is. In Romans 9-11 Paul laments that ‘national Israel’ isn’t living up to their Identity as God’s true “Israel.” God has widened this category to include the gentile believers. The logic of this is not only in Galatians (the “one verse” you mention) but also embedded within the letter to the Romans as well. Consider verse 4.16:

      “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”

      You see, the whole point of jesus teaching ministry was to warn National Israel that they would be cut out of the covenant if they did not join in God’s true Israel, gathered around the Messiah. Then, Paul adds that the inclusion of the gentiles and the exclusion of the unbelieving Jews is the widening and narrowing of what it means to truly be part of Israel. This is also why at the close of his long discourse he adds: “In this way “all Israel” will be saved.” In what way? In the way that reminds the reader that not only the followers of the law of Moses (ethnic / national Israel) but also those who have the faith of Abraham (those who were formerly outside of the covenant… aka, believing Gentiles). Add all this to the passage in 9.6 that says that “Not all who are of Israel are in fact of Israel” and then connect another passage in Galatians where Paul speaks of “the Israel of God” – then you get a clear claim supporting a theology of a “new Israel.” Not that Israel has been ‘replaced’ but that out of the two (Jew and Gentile) God created “one new humanity”.

  • Anonymous

    Kurt as always, great article. Congrats on PATHEOS!!!!

    I would say to Luke that technically, the land still belongs to Abraham. Most Judeo-Christian myth places the Arab peoples as descendants of Ishmael. Muslims affirm this history, placing Ishmael as among their prophets. Which technically means that the land (whether owned by Palestine or by Israel) is under the control of the heirs of Abraham.

    That being said, genetically speaking – I’d surmise that most of us have at least a bit of Abraham’s blood in us. It’s been God knows how long since he walked the earth. His descendants have married and traversed and had children…and in Christ we are all the heirs of Abraham anyway.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that when the Bible speaks of a nation, it is talking about a particular people or culture. Not necessarily a government. When it says kingdom, or empire, then we can safely say it refers to a nation as we know it (ie: a state).

  • Luke Thomas

    This is a tough issue Kurt. As a dispensationalist, I fully would up hold that God continues to uphold a distinction between the nations and Israel. How this is defined is up to him. I believe that Revelation and Isaiah both hold that distinction. I agree from with the other Luke than on his points, but I feel like any explanation that I have heard that deals with Rom. 9-11 or Isaiah (and many of the other O.T. prophets) tend to spiritualize without reading in context. You have to almost completely ignore the original audience of the book to take promises given to Jews and consider them for Gentiles.

    On another note, I am absolutely ashamed that loyalties of many to secular Israel over the Palestinians. The political problem of modern Israel continues to be a major theological issue. In my view, Israel is in the future plan of God’s kingdom distinct and fulfilling his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and the OT. However as the church, we should not support an Israel that is democratic in politics, secular in religion,oppressive in it’s stance against foreigners, and oppresses especially a minority of Christian believers that are Palestinian. At the same time, the terrorism of the Palestinians at times has caused an oppression. I struggle because politically there is no straight forward answer. However, I do not feel to support Israel as a nation that has not accepted their Messiah. There are probably more opinions.

    • http://zackallen.me Zack Allen

      Have you read N.T. Wright’s “Justification”?

    • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

      Luke, we may disagree with exposition of some text (mainly romans 9-11) but this is a reasonable way to approach the political issue. I am quite impressed with your attempt to deal with the inherent tension between national Israel and the true Israel which will emerge (in your view, assuming I understand correctly) in the events leading to the eschaton. This might be the most reasonable approach I’ve seen by any futurist / dispensationalist on this issue. Thanks for your thoughts bro!

      • Luke Thomas

        Your welcome!

    • Marco Ambriz

      Luke T,

      Thank you so much for your respectful disagreement and points of engagement with Kurt’s blog post. I am no longer a dispensationalist myself, (although I was for over 23 years and respect many people who are). But I agree with Kurt that your approach is one of the most refreshing of dispensational opinions I have ever heard. You may be someone in position to be an influential voice among your peers who have gone too far in blind idolatrous support of America and Israel. And by the way, many of us non-dispies have to confess our own idolatries of arrogance. So often we walk around proudly as if to say that when Christ returns we will not also be amazed or completely surprised by his power and glory. Thank you so much for your comment and your heart for all people. I’m encouraged by reading this dialogue.

  • Steve Highlander

    I must comment on one thing that really iritates me concerning accusations against the Jews. While there has been bloodshed, why is it that if the Jews defend their country they are violent, bloodthirsty oppressers, but if a Palestinian kills women and children in a suicide bombing they are hailed as the oppressed fighting for a place just to exist? I bet if someone blew up a bomb in your hometown you would want some justice. (I am not saying it is right or wrong – just that it is mind you.)

    On another note. I believe in Covenenant Theology – God making a new covenant with Israel and including the gentiles. There is “one new man”, however that does not mean God is through with the Jewish nation. I do not hold to Replacement Theology (Israel is now the church and has no signifcance anymore) or Dispendationalism -(The Church will be raptured and Israel will pick up where they left off 2000 years ago.)

    Last point. Every Jew is an Israelite, but not every Israelite is a Jew. The term Jew is a derivative of Judah after the return form the exile around 400 bc. A careful reading of the NT, especiall Hebrews will reveal that God would make a New Covenant with “the house of Israel” and and the” House of Judah”. This is also seen elswhere. There are Israelites that are not “Jews” particularly. This may have some bearing on the discussion.

    • Walt

      I agree, Steve. In fact, if you hold to Herbert W. Armstrong, whom I have recently been reading, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are Great Britain and the US. Now, I’m not saying that is entirely accurate. I am certainly not a Bible scholar, but I do agree that “every Israelite is not a Jew.”

  • Marittakuosa

    You´re partly right. Yes, we are the new seed of Abraham! But we are only implanted in the original tree! So, God is not through with Israel as a nation at all!
    But, like I always say: Let God give them the country back! It will happen during the Millenium.. Israel has no right to shed the blood of others to force the situation through!!

  • http://twitter.com/jonhuckins Jon Huckins

    Glad you brought this up, Kurt. It is a topic that is too often walked around, rather than through. The greatest failure of Christians in this whole deal is our unwillingness to critically wrestle with the theological and social realities that are created by Zionism. I was in the West Bank last week and heard a brilliant Christian Palestinian scholar say, “Any theology that allows for the oppression of neighbor or enemy is not biblical.”

    I was part of a Just Peacemaking team and offered on the ground video blogs summarizing our experiences/insights: http://jonhuckins.net/tag/just-peacemaking/

  • Pneumajohn

    Do the Arab brothers really care about Palastine’s people, or is it an antisemitic game, and ploy? How much money, and finance, and housing, have they given to there supposed brothers? Have the Saudi Princes given up a few billion to make there life better or is this just hate Israel motivation? The US, has a long standing role to protect Israel against a second holocaust. Many of the state dictators in that reqion, have come to power by vowing to destroy them as a people. The left wing of politics and theology in our country, have to keep this in perspective, 6 million Jews were exterminated in recent history… That does not mean Israel should not use restraint and wisdom. But, what about the Arab brothers giving up sizeable real estate instead of asking little real estate Israel has to give up its land? Hypocrisy?
    Its smacks of games and slithery arguments without true justice, ” Mishpat” of equity! The Ivy League thinkers Obama was educated by, seem to miss the point. Tell the
    Arabs to give up 100 of miles of land, and billions of dollars to help them, if not, its all hyprocrisy, and just a tool to attack Israel.. Israel has little choices in this matrix of pressure and hate.. We have to do theology in a context of the situation, not in the make believe world of a Western man who does not sleep at night with the real fear, that a foreign army next door has vowed to annihilate you and your people… And could any night attack….!

  • http://twitter.com/micahspence Micah Spence

    You say “Israelis’ zeal for land continues to brew unjust bloodshed against Palestinians.” I do not condone killing, but where is the mention of Palestinian aggression and terrorism against Israel? I dislike taking sides on political issues, especially as there are Christian brothers and sisters on both sides..

    Romans 11 is pretty clear that God has not rejected Israel as His people, even though the majority are in spiritual darkness. Genesis 15 God makes an unconditional covenant with Abraham, which while still being fulfilled spiritually through the Church, does not discount the Jews as remaining God’s chosen people.

  • Anonymous

    Isaiah 2 captures what Zion is and isn’t supposed to look like. It is supposed to be the mountain of the Lord that’s established over all the nations where people can go to receive God’s righteous judgment and bend their swords into ploughshares as a result. What it is clearly not supposed to be is what Isaiah saw around him during the reign of Uzziah which foreshadowed the Israel of today — a land of chariots and silver where people worship what their hands have made (F-15′s, phosphorus bombs, Caterpillar bulldozers, etc). To call what Israel is today Zion is to blaspheme the name of יהוה. You cannot build a Zion with barbed wire and bulldozers from US tax dollars not just from a social justice standpoint but from an idolatry standpoint. Israel is more analogous to the tower of Babel than the mountain of the Lord that Zion will one day be.

  • http://naturalaw.failuretorefrain.com jurisnaturalist

    You completely miss the real problem and thus leave the discussion open to attack. God never intended any political nation state in Caanan, Jewish or Palestinian. Nation states exist for themselves and the concentration of power-over in the hands of it’s leaders. Same for the US. God’s promises may persist for the Jewish nation, people that is, without them applying to any particular secular political entity. Dispensationalists and post millenials alike engage in one dimension of argument, assuming God’s approval of collective action outside the church, while ignoring another dimension, the role of the church if God opposes all states.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wmonn Whitney Monn

    Thank you for this post.  I admit that I have not kept in the loop of this issue, and I’ve always wondered why there are so many Christians involved in this issue.  This not only helped me understand the issue better, but it also put words to my feeling on the issue, which I can better articulate now.  PS- I love the diagram!


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