The following article was written by Jon Zens and appeared in SEARCHING TOGETHER MAGAZINE, Winter,
IS GOD ON HER SIDE?
"Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, says he has been assured by Prime
Minister Menachem Begin that Israel eventually will control an area that includes parts of
Egypt and Turkey. Begin shares the Biblical view of the promised land said Falwell in a
copyright story in Sunday's editions of the Tyler Courier-Times Telegraph. He said Begin,
whom he termed a personal friend, told him that the first book of the Bible predicts
Israel eventually will have boundaries on the Euphrates and Nile rivers and will include
portions of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan and
Kuwait." Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene. OR), Feb. 7, 1983.
The above Israel-centered sentiments reflect one popular viewpoint among Bible-believers
in America. Adherents of this view believe that all nations must bless and protect Israel
or incur God's wrath. Few, however, realize that this particular prophetic perspective
began in England with the Irvingites and J.N. Darby in the 1830's. This outlook had never
before been suggested in the history of Christian thinking. Yet, because of seven trips
that Darby made to America during his lifetime in the nineteenth century, his views
ultimately came to dominate among evangelicals in the States.
The essence of this position is that God has two purposes in history, an earthly one with
Israel and a heavenly one with the church. From this vantage point what transpires in the
world is Israel-centered. Hence, Charles Feinberg's 1980 hook is titled Israel: At The
Center Of History and Revelation (Multnomah Press). As a result, the literature on
"prophecy" that fills the shelves of bookstores brings readers the following
What is God's will for today? This can be put into one word: Israel. Israel is the final
chord of a scriptural age and at the same time she is the prelude to a new age, the
millennium, the thousand years of peace. The eternal God is busy today fulfilling his holy
will, that is, concerning Israel herself.... All nations are compelled today to do God's
will so that it is actually being said to Israel, "be built" and to the temple
The land given to Israel was never intended to be an
end in itself. It pointed to something better in the future.
This two-purposes theory, which came to be called
"Dispensationalism," carries with it a peculiar notion about Israel's
"right" to certain geographical territory in Palestine. Proponents of this view
claim that God has given Israel that land "forever." If she has a "divine
right" to this soil, then it is easy to see how this provides justification for all
types of military conflict, and causes a stumbling block to peaceful political solutions
in the Middle East. (Of course, the problem is compounded since all Middle Eastern nations
claim that God is with them).
Does Israel have God's sanction to possess a land in these days? Must Christians support
Israel because God is with her in some special way? Is this post-1948 nation the center of
history? Is Christ or Israel the focus of God's revelation? These and other questions will
be addressed in what follows.
God Promised a Land to Abraham
In Genesis 12:5-7 God spoke to Abraham and
promised, "to your seed I will give this land." This foundational promise to
Abraham is the premise for contemporary claims that God has given a specific land to
Israel "forever." However, it is significant that Paul saw these words given to
Abram-"in you all the nations will be blessed" - as an announcement of the
gospel to the Gentiles, not as an indication of Israel's centrality as a measuring stick
for world events (Gal. 3:8).
God Sealed This Promise
in a Covenant Ceremony
In Genesis 15:7-21 God makes a covenant with
Abraham which was ratified by God symbolically passing through the pieces of meat. The
giving of a defined territory is at the heart of this solemn ceremony: "to your seed
I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates; the Kenites,
the Kenizites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perrizites, the Rephaims, the Amorites,
the Canaanites, the Girgashites and Jesushites."
In the midst of this covenant-making event, the future of Israel is spelled out: bondage
in Egypt for 400 years; the judgment upon Pharaoh; the Exodus; and entrance into the land
described above in the fourth generation.
God Fulfilled This Abrahamic Promise
Later in History
It is clear from a number of Old Testament
statements that the land-promise to Abraham was indeed fulfilled. The land was given
delineated in Genesis 15, and several verses in Joshua are especially forceful in this
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and He gave it as an
inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions (Josh. 11:23).... So the Lord
gave Israel all the land He has sworn to their forefathers, and they took possession of it
and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as He had sworn to their
forefathers....Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed;
every one was fulfilled (Joshua 21:41-45).
law-covenant had a historical beginning and ending (Gal 3:17,19,25; Heb
There are many other Old Testament scriptures that echo this fulfillment theme (Gen.
28:13-15; 1 Kings 4:21, 8:56; Deut. 28; Exodus 3:17, 6:8; Deut. 30:20, 1:8, 7:2, 11:23,
34:1-4; Joshua 23:13-16; Neh. 9:8, 21-25). If the territorial dimension of the Lord's
promise to Abraham was fulfilled, as these scriptures assert, this raises serious
questions about the propriety of suggesting that twentieth-century "Israel" has
a divine claim to this land. The Lord accomplished His word: He gave the descendants of
Abraham the land described in Genesis 15:18-21. To purport that God has somehow not yet
fulfilled the land-promises, or that they actually came to fruition in 1948, is to stretch
the original prophetic word to Abraham beyond recognition.
Israel's Remaining in this Land
was Conditioned on Obedience
There are many verses in Deuteronomy that reflect
the foundation of the Mosaic covenant, "do this and live," with respect to the
land. If Israel ever went after other gods and broke the covenant, she was assured by God
that she would be "cast out of the land." Abiding in the land God had given to
them was linked to their faithfulness. Unfaithfulness had serious consequences.
in the land, God had given to them, was linked to their faithfulness.
Israel's later history reflected the implications
of her disobedience. The land was invaded by foreigners, and Israel was captive in a
strange land. As time went on the Israelites were "dispersed" to various places
in the world. It is this "casting out'' of Israel from the land that sets the stage
for a future concept of regathering into that lost territory.
The New Testament Perspective
on Israel and the Land
The New Testament teaches that the formation,
history and institutions of Israel were types and shadows of spiritual realities that
would come in the days of the Messiah (Heb.8:1-5; 1 Cor.10:18). The essential elements of
Israel's life as a covenant people (prophet, priest, king, sacrificial system, ark of the
covenant, etc.) were all fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27,
44-45; Rom.15:8; 2 Cor.1:20).
...institutions of Israel were types and shadows of spiritual
realities that would come in the days of the Messiah.
The preparatory nature of the Mosaic economy must
be underscored. The law-covenant had an historical beginning and ending (Ga1.3:17, 19,
25). The old covenant was temporary and lasted only "until the Seed (Christ) had
come." When the fulfillment had come there was no reason to continue the types and
shadows (Co1.2:16-17). Israel as an earthly people separated to God by the Exodus was to
be fulfilled by Christ, whose obedience unto death constituted a New Exodus that would
separate a New Covenant people for God's service.
It is only in this light that the "promised land" must be evaluated. The land
given to Israel was never intended to be an end in itself. It pointed to something better
in the future. Even Abraham who received the promises did not focus on earthly geography,
but rather on a "better country - a heavenly one. . . whose architect and builder is
God" (Heb.ll:16,10). Like other aspects of Israel's covenant life, the land was a
picture of gospel realities to come, not an ongoing entity to be somehow reclaimed in the
future by an earthly people in 1948.
land was a picture of gospel realities to come, not an ongoing entity to somehow
be reclaimed in the future by an earthly people in 1948.
The concept of "Israel" is fulfilled both
in Christ and in the new people of God, the body of Christ. Jesus, like Israel, is called
out of Egypt (Matt.2:15) and finds Himself in the wilderness (Matt.4:1-2). Jesus, unlike
Israel, is obedient to the covenant and is the "faithful servant" referred to in
In light of the emphasis given to alleged unalterable promises made to Israel about the
land, it is instructive to recall that God's words were addressed to Abraham and his
"seed." This "Seed," says Paul, was singular and refers to Christ, not
to an earthly people (Ga1.3:16). Thus, for example, the promised offspring to Abraham must
be seen as an innumerable company of believers, not as a regathering of an earthly nation
(Ga1.3:29; Rev.5:9, 7:9). The physical descendants of Abraham, who indeed became like the
sand of the sea in number, were a picture of the harvest Christ would accomplish in the
gospel age from every tribe, kindred and people. For this reason believers can be referred
to by Paul as "the Israel of God" (Ga1.6:16).
The Rise of "Zionism"
Because Israel was cast out of the covenant land
and forced to exist in cultures outside of Palestine, it is not surprising that as history
elapsed a new form of Israelite nationalism would arise. From the time of Constantine
onwards those attached to the synagogues had a rough time functioning in other countries.
They were often persecuted, mistreated, misunderstood and discriminated against.
Nevertheless, being hard workers, they tended to prosper in their trades and businesses.
"Zion" came to refer to the deep attachment most Jews had for their homeland.
"Zionism" is primarily a modern movement that arose out of some social struggles
of the nineteenth century. Anti-Semitism, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia, caused
the Jews to long for a rebirth of Judaism. This became connected to their
"right" to the old promised land.
"Zionism" was divided into two camps. Some, like Ahad Ha'am, focused on
spiritual renewal. But the major thrust, which was essentially political and
nationalistic, came from men like Moses Hess, Leo Pinsker and Theodor Herzl.
In the late nineteenth century some wealthy Jews in Western Europe helped assist in the
establishment of small Jewish colonies in Palestine. In this context, Theodor Kerzl's per
Judenstaat, "The Jewish State" (1896), became the foundation for modern
Zionism. He came to the conclusion that a homeland for the Jews was the only solution to
the mistreatment they were experiencing in most other places. Under his guidance the first
Zionist Congress met in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and the World Zionist Organization was
A proposal for a Jewish homeland obviously created a serious conflict with those already
living in Palestine. What would happen to those already occupying this region? Would these
people leave peacefully so that Jews could live in ''their'' land?
Herzl's ideas were passed on to a Russian-born Jew, Chaim Weizmann, in 1904. Because of
his discovery of a powerful explosive called cordite (he was a chemist at the University
of Manchester), Weizmann was brought into prominence. He used his influence to try and get
the British government to conquer Palestine, hold it for Jewish immigration and
settlement, and then allow the land to be used for British interests. Through a series of
events the British took over Jerusalem in December of 1917. Then in the Balfour
Declaration it was stated that Britain favored the establishment of a home in Palestine
for the Jews, but not to the hurt of those already living in the area.
Needless to say, in the ensuing years tensions began to mount between Jewish settlers and
the Arab population. The Biltmore Conference (May, 1942), led by David Ben-Gurion, stated
that British-controlled Palestine should become Jewish property. This alarmed many Jews,
and as a result an anti-Zionist organization - The American Council for Judaism - was
formed in May of 1943.
With the knowledge of Hitler's atrocities against the Jews coming to light in May of 1945,
the Zionist program regained strength and support. But Arabs resisted the importation of
Jews into the land.
In 1947 the British turned over their control of Palestine to the newly-formed United
Nations Organization. Under much political pressure, the U.N. finally partitioned off' a
small portion of the land (the size of Vermont) for the Jews in November of 1947. As the
British withdrew in 1948, armed groups of Zionists forced thousands of Arabs to leave
their homes. In the midst of this conflict there was a declaration of the State of Israel
on May 14, 1948.
Since then there has been constant pressure for Jews to return to "the land."
World Zionism looks upon this State as the home of all Jews. The Justification for
Occupying "The Land" In order to justify the many political and military actions
necessary to establish, maintain, defend and expand "the land," Zionists have
used many Old Testament texts. Inherent in this approach is the idea that God is on
Israel's side, and that He has purposed for her to possess this land. With this foundation
a rationale is provided to kill people, to displace thousands of people, and to do what it
takes to "rule."
"Support Israel or Experience God's
- Jerry Falwell
To add to the problem many conservative Christians
believe that the Old Testament supports Israel's right to the land, and they see May 14,
1948, as an amazing fulfillment of "prophecy." Those who hold to this
perspective believe that Christians must be pro-Israel. Jerry Falwell asserted at a
meeting of religious broadcasters, "theologically, any Christian has to support
Israel, simply because Jesus said to." During the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Oral Roberts
confidently posited, "there is no way Israel is going to be defeated, according to
the Bible." Thus many television and radio preachers and Christian leaders fervently
encourage their followers to support Israel in her efforts to maintain the land, and even
exhort believers to contribute financial aid for Israel's cause.
Based on God's promise to Abraham -- "I will bless those who bless you and curse
those who curse you" -- many preachers are dogmatic in saying that all nations must
support Israel or be doomed to the worst calamities. This leads to the conviction, of
course, that the USA must support Israel's cause or experience God's wrath, as Jerry
Falwell suggested. Tremendous pressure is exerted by pro-Israel forces upon our State
Department not to do anything that would violate our good relations with Israel. To
compound this problem, recent U.S. Presidents have embraced the notion of Israel's divine
right to the land.
"God Is With Us"
The position of the Zionists and of many Christians
creates many serious problems. If God is on Israel's side, then it becomes virtually
impossible to critique her policies and actions. In principle, whatever Israel does must
be right since God backs her supremacy in the land. We must never forget, however, that
"God is with us" was inscribed on the belt buckles of those who burned Jews in
ovens. History reveals that the "God is with us" slogan has often been behind
the worst of atrocities.
God Is Not With Israel or Any Other
In the former days God did separate Israel for
Himself and gave her the land promised to Abraham. Israel was special among all the
nations of the earth (Deut.7). But ultimately the blessing upon Abraham was to be given to
all the nations (Matt.28:19-20). With the coming of Christ God fulfilled all the promises
to the fathers (Rom.15:8). In this age, "God does not show favoritism, but accepts
people from every nation who fear Him and do what is right'' (Acts 10:34).
All of Israel's institutions were fulfilled in Christ - including the land concept Heb.
3-4). The Old Testament clearly states that God kept His word and gave the land to Israel.
The notion that God had to give the land "again" is without Biblical foundation.
notion that God has to give the land "again" is without Biblical
There is nothing wrong with Jews living in a
certain land, but to claim a "divine right" to it and to employ this claim as a
basis for disputing, hurting, and killing others is wrong. God is not with people when
they manipulate and intimidate others. God uses the wicked actions of people in His
purposes, but He does not sanction them.
The Middle East conflicts have no easy solution.
But we can be sure that a solution for the benefit of ail involved cannot be realized as
long as many Jews and Christians continue to maintain that God is with Israel in the
taking of "the land." The "divine right" notion will only block
efforts for peace in the Middle East. It can only serve as continued justification for
taking the lives of others in "serving God's cause."
More importantly, however, it must be noted that the Israel-centeredness of much
Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism diverts attention away from the One whom God has set His
seal upon - Jesus Christ (John 6:27; Matt.3:17). People are blessed or cursed not by how
they treat Israel, but by how they respond to the claims of Christ upon their lives (Psalm
2:12; 1 Cor.16:22). God's purpose focuses on the Son, not on an earthly nation (Eph.3:ll).
God is not ruling all things with reference to Israel, but with reference to the body of
Christ on earth (Eph.l:22). The unfolding of the future is not gauged by what happens to
Israel, but by what Christ is doing to build His congregations.
are blessed or cursed not by how they treat Israel,
but by how they respond to the claims of Christ
upon their lives
(Psalm 2:12; 1 Cor.16:22).
The Scriptures - Old and New - specifically tell us
how God is with us. Jesus' name was Immanuel - "God with us." God is
with those who are in his Son, not with any nation. In this sense,
then, He is with all those believers who are "in Christ."