Worth a read

The New York Times has an article by Matti Friedman on the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

There Is No ‘Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’

He suggests we have to zoom out to see a different picture, or at least frame the conflict differently.

But because I’m zoomed out, I’m also seeing Hezbollah (not Palestinian), and the Russians and Iranians (not Palestinian), and the Islamic State-affiliated insurgents (not Palestinian) on our border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. I’m considering the disastrous result of the power vacuum in Syria, which is a 90-minute drive from the West Bank.

And an aside, nothing to do with the above, we are in Madrid. With salt purchased ready to go to some places that need a good old cleaning up. And yesterday we should have completed all the final payments on the apartment. Successful up to the final point! We turn up at the registry of properties, some 30 minutes in the north of the city, to be informed that there is a document missing from the seller, so that needs to be resolved. If not resolved in 30 days… property registry to our name does not complete… sure that would not be too smart, but we think there will be a resolution.

Bless

The following verse contains quite a God statement spoken to Abraham:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:3).

The last part is easy. The true seed of Abraham, Jesus, is the one through whom all the earth is blessed, regardless of ethnic background. The former part could be taken at a simple level and applied to Abraham. Given the election of God of Abraham all who bless him will be blessed and those who do not will be cursed. It is often though understood to not simply be an attitude toward Abraham but toward the seed of Abraham and this can be backed up by adding the words that Balaam spoke:

May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed! (Numbers 24:9).

So it is probably right to include the descendants of Abraham in that original God statement. Settled then? If anyone criticises Israel (today’s Israel) then they are in trouble. However… the prophets spent a lot of their time critiquing and even criticising Israel. The nation was often spoken of in challenging terms and the criticisms can be summarised under two main headings – criticised for not trusting God as Provider nor as Protector. So blessing Israel cannot mean no criticism. And that was to a people still seeking to be a covenant people, with some major differences to the secular state of today.

I am not Jewish, nor do I have a focus toward that ethnic group; I can easily acknowledge that they are ‘beloved because of the patriarchs’, but the continuation of their call is what interests me. If blessing Israel was key maybe a good way to approach these texts is to ask what did it mean to be Israel, for as Paul says, ‘Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.’ Not all of ‘Israel’ are ‘Israel’. That debate is what fuelled the sects within the nation, not too different to – ‘well of course they are not proper Christians, just going to church does not make you a Christian, but unless you are…’ Israel, special nation, was called for the sake of the nations. A wonderful privilege to be called into a unique relationship but with a unique responsibility for all that lay beyond its borders.

Bless Israel. But what if Israel is not being Israel? Ultimately all those who are in Christ are descendants of Abraham, and it is this aspect that is of real interest to me. How do we shape up? Are we (the church) here for those beyond our borders? Don’t curse Israel. Bless (true) Israel. But Israel and all those who live from that calling – live up to the calling. I am sure even when we have not done too well (and when Israel did not do too well) God has a soft spot for the descendants of Abraham. He understands it can be pretty tough at times living up to that non-self-centred calling.

If we live up to our calling and those around bless us there will be blessing flowing to them as we live for them; should they curse us that clearly would not be too smart.

Bless at all costs

Quickly bless Israel or we will be cursed. Thank God the embassy has been moved (sigh of relief) now God can bless. The question of Israel, the chosen people, is a thorny issue and one that is sure to divide. The two polarised positions of the church as a kind of stop-gap and the future being that for Israel with Jesus reigning literally from Jerusalem, and that of Israel as chosen being over has divided Christians for ever. Terminology such as ‘replacement theology’ has been branded against the latter and the former is termed ‘Zionist’.

So up front: I am closer to the latter position than the former and do not consider simple support for the nation of Israel is warranted by Scripture. I do, however, acknowledge that there is a very real issue of Israel being marginalised with certain nations / ideologies committed to see it removed from the earth.

There has always been a critique of Israel within Scripture

The prophets – as they always should – challenged the ‘Israel exceptionalism’ that was prevalent. (This is why the prophetic voice is not going to sound patriotic in any situation!) Their challenge to Israel can be reduced to two main points:

Are you willing to trust God as your PROTECTOR – or the weapons of warfare?
Are you willing to trust God as your PROVIDER – or is it the trade and exploitation of others so that Israel is first?

Always within Israel’s history there was the challenge of ‘who is Israel?’. Only the most liberal were able to accept race as being the defining issue. Ask a Maccabean, a Pharisee, or an Essene and they would quickly shout another criterion – faithfulness to the God who called Israel. They denied that race gave a person ‘salvation’. The New Testament seems to follow along. Consider the very harsh words of Jesus:

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
“Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:37-47.)

Strong words in the extreme. It is hard not to read the above words as declaring that all Pharisees who opposed Jesus are not Abraham’s children but the children of the devil. No-one could get away with making those statements, but they are recorded as being from the mouth of Jesus.

Paul is maybe a little less polemic (other than when writing autobiographically saying that his pure racial inheritance was ‘dung / crap’) but picks up the typical intra-Jewish debate of who really can lay claim to being of Israel:

Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children (Rom. 9:7).

It was not considered enough to be physically descended from Abraham to be included as part of the ‘Israel of God’. Faithful Israel was less than physical Israel, and Israel suffered many times the judgement of God by foreign imperial captivity because of the unfaithful in the land. This is what drove the pre-Christian Saul / Paul to persecute (Jewish) believers in Jesus as the Messiah. He was totally justified in doing so as one faithful to the covenant. (Later he saw such behaviour as an indication that he was the ‘chief of sinners’.)

Jesus, born of a woman (human), born under the law (Jewish) laid claim to Israel’s calling as ‘son of God’. Out of Egypt he came (Matt. 2:15 / Hosea 11:1). It is little wonder therefore that post crucifixion (the Roman penalty for rebellion, and would in 66-70AD become the very visible penalty for Israel’s rebellion) the apostolic appeal was to all who were descended from Abraham to save themselves from this corrupt generation (Acts 2:40 quoting Deut. 32:5 – ‘They are corrupt and not his children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation’) through baptism into Jesus.

It is not sufficient to say Jesus replaced Israel, but an understanding that his death was the death of Israel, for their sake, and his resurrection was the resurrection of Israel on the third day (Hosea 6:2). He dies in Israel’s place, the mother hen willing to sacrifice its life when the fire comes so that the chicks could survive. There were those of Israel who survived – witness the 3000 on the day of Pentecost mirroring, and contrasting, the 3000 who died on the day when the Levites exercised judgement on all those who were unfaithful (Exodus 32:28).

Jesus, ultimately is the one true Israelite, the one true human. The future centres in on his work for Israel, for the world. The future does not centre in on Abraham and his physical descendants, thought without them there is no God incarnate as a faithful Jew.

The complexity of it comes out in Paul’s anguish in Rom. 9-11.

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:28-32.)

They are loved because of the patriarchs. Race counts for something, yet they (those who have not responded to Jesus) are now enemies and disobedient, but the result is salvation to the Gentiles. Indeed, Paul suggests we are all in the same boat: disobedient whether Gentile of Jew (all have sinned, both Gentile and Jew) with the result that all can now receive the mercy of God ( NB he states NOW, not at some future date).

Bless Israel? Well if that means no criticism of policies that does not seem to line up with Scripture. And to suggest that modern Israel as a secular state means that all those who are Jews within it by race are chosen – there seems a big weight of Scripture opposed to that, and if we were to draw a straight line from OT theocratic Israel to secular Israel today we would have to do with the critical lenses of ‘Provider and Protector’.

Disregard Israel? There still seems to be that ‘loved because of the Patriarchs’ element hanging there.

But there remains the chosen nature of humanity that only Jesus fulfilled. As servant to the nations, as suffering servant on behalf of one and all. Yes he took that on as on behalf of Israel, but that was only ever for the sake of the world. Israel was never chosen to condemn the world, but to enable the world to truly live and move within the Presence of God. Whatever we make of Israel’s current status I think is academic if we as the body of Christ fail to live up to our calling – to bless the world. To live knowing that a new creation is our habitat, one free of fear of the other, and one filled with faith for the future, the future that the one true Israelite, the one true human, the God-incarnate one came to release. That was the calling of Israel and is the calling of the body of Christ. Quite something to live out and something the nations are still calling for.

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