When we read the word ‘Israel’ in the Bible, does it have the same definition as when we read it in the news?
The modern state of Israel, founded in 1948, is not a Davidic monarchy or a Zadokite hierocracy [a ruling body of priests]. Rather, it is a secular state closely aligned to various expressions of the Jewish religion. So the Israel of Netanyahu is not the same as the Israel of Nahum!
Are there certain things Christians should do, ask, think, or be aware of when they read about Israel in the Bible?
Yes, I think it is important that Christians do not jump from Genesis 3:15 to Matthew 1:1 and regard everything in between as a mixture of Ancient Near Eastern genocidal warfare, a Jewish version of Game of Thrones, Sunday school stories about kings offering to cut babies in half, some nice poetry, and a list of blessings to be claimed. We need to remember that God’s purposes for the world run through Israel for, in the biblical storyline, a transformed Israel will transform the world (see the work of English theologian George Caird for more). That is why Jesus was sent to Israel. Not because they get first bite of the pie and, if they don’t want it then the pie goes to the Gentiles. No, God’s plan has always been to reach the world through Israel. This is why Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6) and a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). The church, clinging to Israel’s messiah, is the vanguard of the renewed Israel that God was always promising.
How do Christians ‘think wrongly’ about Israel? What are the mistakes we should avoid?
Anti-Semitism is the most successful ideology of the twentieth century and Christianity is partly to blame for its success. This requires repentance and reflection!