What Do Christians Do With Israel?

What Do Christians Do With Israel? September 8, 2022

One of the worst angry rants that was ever unleashed on me as a pastor happened over the issue of the nation of Israel.

Flag, Israeli, Israel, Symbol, National, Middle East

Image via Pixabay

It was many years ago, and Israeli-Palestinian tensions were high, with each side attacking each other in various ways.

One attack, which Israel later acknowledged and apologized for, involved an Israeli navy ship firing shells at a beach and killing several Palestinian children.

The children had innocently been playing soccer when the Israelis mistook them for combatants, and fired upon the beach, killing them.

You may remember this – there were pictures printed of dead children lying in the sand. It was horrifying and heartbreaking. Even looking it up to remind myself of the details for this column brought tears to my eyes, and I won’t reprint the images here.

While in a conversation with some church people at the time, I commented, “If God hates the death of the innocent (Pr 6.16-19), then He cannot be OK with Palestine where she has killed innocent people, or with Israel where she has killed innocent people.”

I was younger then, more inexperienced in ministry, undoubtedly more naïve.

I didn’t realize that, for some Christians, I had just crossed a significant line by daring to criticize Israel.

A woman in the group angrily let me have it, warning me that I was on thin ice, that if I didn’t stop, God would judge me severely, and reminding me that Israel was God’s Chosen People, and that He was very defensive and protective of them, and would deal with anyone who questioned them.

It was very intense. Divine wrath was being called down upon me!

My response was, “I know God loves His people dearly, and so do I, and yet even God will not be happy when they act in ungodly ways. The Bible is certainly full of God calling Israel out for her sin!”

So ingrained is the Western Church’s devotion to the nation of Israel that some readers may even be a little uncomfortable with this column so far. But push on!

I stand by what I said all those years ago. God hates the death of the innocent, and the nation of Israel has at times killed innocent people, as has Canada, the USA, any nation. At times, God hates the actions of these nations, including Israel, if His Word is to be trusted.

But the incident raises questions that can be tricky for those of us who grew up in Church, where questioning Israel at all was a big no-no.

So what is a Christian to do with the nation of Israel? Especially if we see Israel doing things that we feel are out of line morally and biblically?

Most of the Church’s passion for the land of Israel comes from a good and true place, and from a biblical one.

Of the Jewish people, in Deuteronomy 7.6 the LORD says “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

It is one of many passages that makes clear God’s choosing of the Jewish people.

Romans 10-11 contains the apostle Paul’s passion for the Jewish people, and of God’s faithfulness to them. Paul reminds Christians that Israel are the stewards of prophets and the promises of God, that they are the first-born children of God’s family, that we Gentiles are adopted into the family because of God’s love, and we have been invited to share at their table.

It is a Jewish Bible, highlighting the Jewish people, written by God through Jewish prophets and Jewish Christ-followers, pointing to a Jewish Messiah.

The Bible is chock-full of stories of God’s commitment to the descendants of Abraham. There can be no mistake that God passionately loves the Jewish people, and it is undeniable that Christ-followers are called to do the same.

However, here is what that love does not mean:

 

  • It does not mean that we can never question or critique the nation of Israel;

 

  • It does not mean that everything that Israel does is above reproach;

 

  • It does not mean that we confuse our love for the Jewish people with unquestioning devotion to the secular nation of Israel;

 

  • It does not mean that sin is not sin and that we do not call it such.

 

The modern nation-state of Israel is not the same kingdom of Israel that we find in the Old Testament, even though the people are the same.

Israel’s leaders, although at times people of faith, are governing the nation as a secular democracy, not a Scripture-based theocracy.

And even the theocracy of Israel in Scripture was not above question or rebuke, as the prophets clearly show us.

So we can love and honour the Jewish people while still challenging the actions of the nation-state of Israel at times – they are distinct from one another.

Love never means ignoring sin or ignoring problems.

So we love the Jewish people, we honour them, we bless them, we pray for them, as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps 122.6).

We revere them as God’s Chosen People, as the first-born children of God, as the receiver’s of God’s promises, as the God-breathed authors of Holy Scripture, and as the natural-born family of God, to which we Gentiles have graciously been adopted.

We can uphold the nation of Israel as a democracy, as a safe place for God’s people, as an ally in this world, as a land that we believe was blessed by God and promised to Abraham.

And where we see Israel acting unjustly or immorally, we may call it what it is without fear, as we would when we see injustice or immorality in the Church, or in our own nation, or indeed anywhere at all.

We do so in humility, of course, not in judgment or self-righteousness, reminding ourselves that they are God’s children, and asking ourselves how we would want our own children spoken to in their own sin.

But we need not fear divine retribution for asking questions or critiquing, as it is an important part of being a voice for holiness and justice in this world.

May the LORD richly bless His Chosen People, prospering them and protecting them, correcting them when needed, and may He lead them always in His ways.

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