With violence erupting between the nation of Israel and the Christians and Muslims referred to collectively as the Palestinians, so also have American Christians taken to the airwaves to pledge their unwavering support for Israel. Certainly, for those of us who grew up in fundamentalism, blind and unwavering support for the modern state of Israel was a core component of our belief system. However, this view has spread beyond fundamentalism and gone so much further that even today, our national foreign policy is actually built upon this fundamentalist assumption that we must stand with or bless Israel.
But, does the Bible actually command us to stand with Israel?
The premise for the argument that we must bless Israel stems from a reading of Genesis chapter 12. In this chapter, God speaks to Abraham and says the following:
“2 I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
As we see, God promised (made a covenant) to bless Abraham so that the whole world would be blessed through him, and that whoever blessed him would be blessed and whoever cursed him would be cursed. As Christians on the other side of the climax of human history, we now see that this covenant was fulfilled when Jesus came from the line of Abraham, and indeed the whole world was blessed. In fact, Jesus himself claimed to establish a new covenant, pointing to the fulfillment of the former covenant.
However, from this passage modern fundamentalists and even mainstream evangelicals arrive at the notion that we must bless the modern nation state of Israel, else be cursed as a people. The way they arrive at that belief is by the following deduction: The command to bless Israel extends to the descendants of Abraham, the Jews are his descendants, the Jews live in Israel, therefore we must bless Israel. Or, for my visual folks, it flows like this:
The first problem we arrive at is the command to bless was aimed at Abraham, an actual person. “Israel” did not exist at the time (it’s a name God gave to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob), so the idea that all humanity must bless and support a particular nation state must be imported into the text— it’s not there on its own. However, let’s assume that it is, and that we must in fact bless and support the descendants or “children of Abraham.”
Jacob, who was called Israel, was the grandson of Abraham and the son of Isaac. It is from this line that God fulfilled the covenant that “all the world will be blessed” because it is of this line that we get Jesus (and is the line of the Jewish people). However, this isn’t the only line of descendants who come from Abraham. Since Abraham had two sons, if we are actually to bless the children (plural) of Abraham we must bless the people who came from both sons, no? I would hope so, because as we see in Genesis 17, God himself blessed both of them.
In Genesis 17 God gives a blessing over all of the descendants of Abraham, and says that he will be their God forever (v.7). God affirms his blessing for Abraham and both sons, noting that Isaac will be the line of the covenant (Jesus would come from this line of descendants) and that Ishmael (often forgotten in this story) would be blessed by God and become the father of a great nation– which he did. Again, for my visual folks, here’s how that looks:
Did you catch that last part? Yeah, Ishmael received God’s blessing as a child of Abraham, and God promised to turn him into a great nation. From him we get the Arab people, and ultimately Muslims as well. All of them are descendants of Abraham, as both were his children. Just to make it clear, I’ll draw you a picture:
So, anyone who reads God’s promise to Abraham and say, “Yes! We must stand with Israel!” would be wise to realize that by that same argument, we need to be blessing all of the children of Abraham– including Muslims.
Furthermore, what also goes overlooked in blindly standing with Israel is that many Palestinians are Christians who are persecuted by the Israelis. Their churches are burned down and defaced (something called price tag attacks), Christians are spat upon while walking down the street, and Christian schools have come under attack by the Israeli occupation. For a people group who love to talk about how persecuted we are around the globe, we turn a blind eye to the fact that standing with Israel means standing for the persecution and oppression of Christians.
Ultimately, the nation that exists today called Israel is a secular nation state, it is not biblical Israel, and nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to blindly support it. However, if one wants to insist that what God said to Abraham in Genesis 12 means we must stand with modern Israel, they’d need to apply that passage faithfully and give the rest of Abraham’s descendants the same unwavering support.