All Israel… who?

Anything but conclusions

Toward the end of Paul’s (definitely not) aside on Israel in Rom. 9-11 he says ‘all Israel will be saved’. It has been an anchor point for the claim that at the end of this age there will be a mass turning of Jews to their Messiah… however, to hold to such a view logically would only involve Jews alive at the coming of Jesus, thus all those who had lived before that would not be ‘saved’. A further issue is that the phrase, sometimes translated ‘and then’ is NOT a temporal phrase (kai houtos, has to be translated ‘in this way‘). There is no time reference in what he writes but the means of ‘salvation’ coming is what he has been consistently writing about in these chapters. The question is ‘how’ will all Israel be ‘saved’ not when.

And a twist I am trying to think about is the distinction between ‘Israel’ and ‘Jew’. The work of Jason Staples in ‘The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism’ argues that the two are not synonymous, with ‘Jew’ referring to those who belonged to the Southern kingdom and Israel referring to the bigger entity of the 12 tribes. This morning I was reading Paul’s defence before Agrippa and took note of what I had not seen before:

I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain… It is for this hope… that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead.

He was accused by Jews and he claimed his hope was the hope of Israel! [I am thinking this might give yet another twist to ‘Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?’.]

The northern kingdom (the ‘ten tribes’) ‘disappears’ with the Assyrian exile leaving (eventually post-a trip to Babylon) Judah, Benjamin and some of Levi, the ‘southern kingdom’ that had been faithful to David and his line. Generally speaking that is what is referred to as ‘Judah’ and gains the description ‘Jews’. Then we can add so many twists but how about this one: Ephraim and Manasseh are elevated to the position as tribes. They are the sons of Joseph and ‘Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On’. Joseph’s wife: an Egyptian and from a dodgy spiritual line!! Ethnic purity – NOT. [And Jewishness comes through the mother’s line?]

‘All Israel’… and not ‘all those descended from Israel are Israelites’… wow, all a tight knot that is not simple to undo(!) but leading surely to where Paul is headed in these chapters – ‘so that he might be merciful to all’. And ALL is a big term.

I have some unpicking still to do but it seems Paul is not arguing for some great future event but a process that is ongoing that we should not reduce to being able to produce some physical DNA results as evidence. The hope of Israel, the twelve tribes… Paul, from the tribe of Benjamin, becomes an apostle to the non-Jews (Gentiles), so that the ‘hope’ of God might be fulfilled, that of a transformed world, in which the hope of Israel will also be fulfilled. Israel is bigger than Jewishness; Israel is ‘dirtier’ than ethnicity. And above and beyond it all God’s ‘hope’ is bigger than my hope, or the hope of Israel.

I have no direct conclusions as yet on the tight knot, but ‘in this way’, in God’s way there is an eternal ever expanding reach toward all of humanity.

One of my perplexed questions

For a long time I have pondered concerning the actions and prayers of ‘believers’ – if we are pushing in a wrong direction does that cock things up, does it even work against a godly resolution – I will come to Gaza and Israel before I finish this post, but maybe start a little back from that. Of course what I write are ‘perspectives’ but they are based on certain presuppositions (I hesitated to write ‘truths’!!):

  • I do not believe that God controls the future in the sense of exercising omnipotence over all things. For sure God works in all things for a good / the best outcome. God is love, and that love is non-controlling (although I struggle with certain aspects of Oord’s ‘God can’t’ I certainly go with the premise of ‘Uncontrolling Love’). To believe in ‘sovereignty’ in the sense of control runs up against the justifiable ‘problem of evil’ objection.
  • There is no divide between the God of the OT and the God of the NT, but we are not invited to read OT genocidal commands as coming from heaven… we are invited to continue to read and in reading discover that the God who is one (Old and New Testaments) is the ‘Christlike God’. We must engage with the intra-canonical dialogue and disagreement of Scripture. Scripture disarms us as much as parts of it need to be disarmed.
  • (Relevant to Gaza / Israel – surely it is remarkable that there are no NT Scriptures that seek to pull on Ezekiel-type passages concerning Armageddon, the land as promise etc… The only way to get there is to start with a system and then fit the passages into that – something completely absent in the NT… and I include Revelation as apocalyptic (and certainly far from literal) literature in that assertion, which of course does mention the mythical place of Armageddon.)

We spent much time praying into the effects of the Civil War in Spain – and into some of the underlying history from centuries prior to that. A big concern was the burial of Franco inside a huge ‘cathedral’ hewn inside a mountain with the largest cross of its type above the tomb – some 200 metres high. That raised the question as to whether by placing the cross there corrupted the meaning of the cross but co-opted some of the power it symbolised. That is a huge assumption and if true (I think so) indicated why it was such a battle to see Franco’s body exhumed and moved. That experience and journey left me with a conviction that when something that is genuinely ‘of Christ’ is used (abused) it is not something neutral but co-opts what should be present for transformation and reconciliation for something that stands against genuine transformation and reconciliation. Moving on…

This then has given me my perplexed question. What happens if I as a believer in Jesus start to pray for (say) judgement against my enemies – does that in some way release something spiritual that has an outworking against my ‘enemies’, all the while Jesus is saying ‘Martin, love your enemy, bless those who curse you’?

What if, prayers that are ‘wrong’, in the sense of not flowing with the Christlike God and for the kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, actually frustrate the coming of that kingdom or indeed go further and they actually resist the kingdom of God coming? This is the heart of my perplexed question… and if (as I suspect I am partly on to something) it really troubles me.

My guess is that since so much of evangelical Christianity is shaped by (a modified) form of Dispensationalism there are huge amount of prayers that are along the lines of ‘give Israel victory, restore the boundaries to them’ being offered up to heaven in the current war scenario. If not prayers, then I doubt if from that quarter there are prayers being offered up for peace and reconciliation, or if peace is viewed as a good outcome it is as per Rome who built their temple dedicated to the god of peace (Pax) literally on the field that was dedicated to the god of war (Mars). Peace but how? Through war and subduing all the enemies – the way of all Imperial kingdoms / basileia . So different to the path of peace forged through the blood of Messiah – the way of the kingdom / basileia of heaven.

Into Gaza and Israel we have generational trauma on both sides; both groups have been wronged, and of course until we are healed of such wrongs we tend to believe that any wrong that we are now involved in comes under the heading of ‘justice’ – two wrongs making a right / a justice.

The kingdom does not advance and rejoice when blood is shed – blood shedding being one of the primary actions that pollute land and polluted land draws demonic strongholds to it in increasing measure.

I wish I could resolve my perplexed question with the answer that God does not listen to ‘wrong’ prayers, but sadly and painfully I have not been able to do that. If I am only partly right I pray God have mercy on us, forgive us as we do not know what we are doing. I have to increase my faith that God works in the midst of all the mess we have helped create.

God have mercy on… Israel, Jews, Gaza, Palestinian Arabs (many of whom have Jewish ancestry), God have mercy on us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace.

It is complex… so here is another perspective

In what I write, if there are aspects I leave out please do not make assumptions as to what might be my take on those areas. My concern is we sit powerless against the level of catastrophe of Gaza / Israel. It is far enough away that it does not touch us directly, and if we add to that and we try and plot this against a prophetic ‘time-line’ that we are further paralysed but are then content in that we have ‘inside knowledge’. The centre of ALL of God’s purposes is Jesus – all the promises find their double ‘yes’ in him. Yes we have to nuance Israel as a people some with reference to Rom. 11 but not to the level of over-riding the centre. And beyond that…

1948 and the giving of the land (by the British) as a homeland to the Jews in order to be a solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ has not exactly resolved that issue! If as many assume that that act was a restoration of the land as a fulfilment of prophecy we should also consider that whenever God is active that the ‘enemy’ is active. The work of the enemy – and Paul says ‘we are not unaware of the schemes of the devil’ – is something we are to consider as we can easily unwittingly play along or fail to see what is happening. So with the above premise of enemy activity…

What if the land and promise is connected (not my view) then the enemy scheme would be to play with that, and dare I suggest that encourage us to lose sight of something bigger than the land, that of ‘kingdom’ or even ‘new creation’. The kingdom of God is righteousness, shalom and joy. The new creation is without tears, and harmony between peoples as they bring in their gifts to that new Jerusalem – the city that has no Temple.

That scheme would not be too difficult to execute. Biblically there would be more than enough texts and complete passages of Scripture to defend our view and lead to a blanket support of one side (Israel) in any confict, as God is with them (a theme that was VERY loud in the two major catastrophes in 586BCE and 70CE),

There has to be – and always has been a third way – that of ‘God is neither for us nor for our enemy’ (and of course ‘love for the enemy’ as advocated by Jesus does somewhat move us beyond what Joshua encountered). Add the wisdom of Solzhenitsin who said the line of good and evil never runs between ‘me’ and someone else, but through us both, and our allegiances have to be tempered.

Maybe also add the summary (as I read it) of Old Testament prophets as they chastised a people they identified with over the two-fold issue of ‘provision’ and ‘protection’ and where their trust was and I do not think there would be at this time a blanket support coming from any of them.

Yes it is deeply complex, how does a nation-state (not the same as a biblical nation) act when attacked? As those privleged (for now) not to be caught up in what is taking place, my plea is that in our powerlessness we ask not for the vindication of this side or that, but that sanity and humanity comes into the situation (at least that might be within our faith level even if calling for the righetousness, shalom and joy of the Spirit is beyond our faith level).

Wars and rumours…

We all know, even if we cannot quote the words of Jesus:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs (Matt. 24:6-8).

All ‘signs of the end’ and when war breaks out, as it has in Israel, the above Scriptures often are quoted. I am no expert in the conflict(s) that have gone on since the establishment of the state of Israel (1948) but am aware that there is among some of Israel’s neighbours a desire to remove Israel from the map. I see enormous significance in what is happenning there – but do not believe there is anything in Scripture that is ‘prophesying’ this conflict. That frees me to pray for justice, resolution and an end to conflict. The Jesus-path is demanding, but it is always ever so close. The path of love, love your neighbour, love your enemy is always just right there… and in a hot-bed of potential revolt that was soon to overspill Jesus proclaimed ‘repent and believe in me’ for in so doing the kingdom of God could be entered as it was ‘at hand’. Those words, by Jesus, were the words that Josephus (a wealthy Jewish historian) used when he travelled north to Galilee a few decades after the death of Jesus. He travelled there to persuade the hot-heads who had had enough of Rome’s oppression not to rebel but to lay down their arms and to follow the path that he was laying out. His message to ‘repent and beleive in me’ was not a call to come to the front to repeat the ‘sinner’s prayer’ but to ‘change their mind’ and follow another path. The Jesus-path is always there – the ‘third way’ in every situation. The Jesus’ call is transcendental / spiritual, but also deeply political in the sense of being non-nationalistic.

I am not proposing a simplistic solution, but that we start with an understanding that we can sow into the non-polarisation of our world. God is not for ‘us’ nor for ‘our enemies’.

The words of Jesus that I quoted at the beginning as with all Scripture is NOT written to us. Jesus was NOT speaking to us; he was not addressing the 21st Century, but inot the days that lay ahead (culminating in the intense brutal war of 66-70CE) for the ‘you’ to whom he was speaking. It is written FOR us and remains deeply instructive in every situation, but we will not hear what it is saying into our situation is we assume it was written directly to us.

Years ago while travelling in the USA I was approached by an enthusiastic young man (I too was young back then). In his hands he had a set of videos from a ‘prophetic teacher of the end-times’. I had not seen the videos but could see that at the heart of them was a ‘time-line’ approach. This person asked me along these lines: ‘You are from Europe, and the antiChrist is going to rise within Europe and might already be present there, how do you handle that?’. My reply was – you have seen the videos, I have not. I need your help in knowing how to respond. So if we begin with prayer… in the light of the videos should I pray against the evils of antiChrist but maybe feel a little guilty about resisting what has been pre-ordaiined; or should I pray for the success of antiChrist as it would be in line with prophetic understanding – and then feel somewhat guilty in partnering with antiChrist?

The answer – I guess you can work that out. He had the videos and all the information… and all it could lead to was paralysis. No Scripture leads to paralysis but to a ‘what then should we do / how then do we live’ type of response.

I am deeply concerned about the current situation. It is likely to escalate. I am also deeply concerned about the prophetic time-line approach as paralysis will abound, and only contribute to the escalation.

Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, floods, pandemics, famines, refugees, climate crisis – yes all signs of the times: the times being of a generation that is hell-bent on destroying what God has given to us. The current conflict though cannot be used to plot a time-line. It can be used to further provoke our listening to the cry of the land for liberation to what we have subjected it to (Rom. 8). Israel was subject to Pharoah and cried out, the land is now in bondage to our ‘lording it over’ and is crying out. Can we join our cry to the cry of the land, even when we do not know how to pray?

If we pull out (Old Testament) Scriptures in a way that the New Testament NEVER does we might well advocate violence, but I suggest that if we pray for resolution and shalom we will be much more in line with the New Testament. And if we do so, political outworkings might be closer to ‘the wolf lying with the lamb’… closer to the biblical hope than to any set of texts used to prove a position.

  1. I know that the situation is deeply complex; issues of war and ‘self-defence’ cannot be resolved simply… but, neither are conflicts solved by any rhetoric that dehumanises the ‘other’. My plea is that for us who feel powerless that we do not submit to texts being quoted that leave us with information about the future while, by any reasonable standard, justice can be ignored.
  2. I am currently working my way through videos and writings on eschatology – ever so important as Scripture is written for us… but we have to avoid the errors of history that have sidelined the body of Christ by feeding us ‘information’ and the ‘inside story’. Following Jesus demands a level of ignorance so that our ‘knowledge of him’ far exceeds any other kind of knowledge – I think the original sin narrative speaks deeply into that.
  3. I am hoping in the not-too-distant future to have a zoom evening with a Christian Arab Palestinian who is an Israeli citizen, to hear from her, be better informed – I am working on a suitable date and will let you know by posting here. dates will be posted here. She has been in touch with Amy Bell (Cádiz) and wrote from Jerusalem:

I’m shocked, scared but mostly super sad. I feel that people from all sides are dying just for nothing. and I was praying to be able to do something even if it is small. I would like to explain the situation here to people who want to know. It’s very complicated, and I truly believe that if you stand with one side and cancel the other, then you do not understand what is going really here. and since I believe that only real change can bring real peace, I would love to share about what’s happening here from my point of view. as a Christian Arab Palestinian woman living as an Israeli citizen.

I hope you can join us…

Pray (what) for Israel

Glad to read of people praying for Israel, and in these days of resurgent violence to be praying for peace. Individuals and families being thrown into pain and suffering.

Something happens though that seems so predictable with a Scripture pulled out to defend whatever ‘Israel’ does. So here I go into a little turbulent waters.

What is meant by ‘Israel’? There are many answers to that question – dependent on what theology shapes the reading. And when I write theology, we also have to include Jewish theologies. Not all Jews (now, nor in biblical times) accept that ‘all Israel is Israel’. Even Jewish theologies differ on their perspective of the ‘land’.

Never speak a negative word about Israel… really? That seems so far from being in line with the biblical prophets. They spoke into the life of other nations but mainly spoke into the life of Israel. And given the various streams in the Scriptures if we let the streams of conflict to influence each other it would be very difficult to jump on a bandwagon of ‘support Israel at all costs’. In all situations, support can also mean challenge… don’t let me get away with whatever path I choose.

I am not actually convinced that God promised the land to Israel. Of course there are many, many Scriptures that suggest that… but then again there are some Scriptures that suggest God ‘ordained’ monarchy (Deut. 17:14-16)… whereas I much prefer 1 Sam. 8 as being God’s response to monarchy (for Israel). Oh and the land… I think Paul agrees with me in Romans. And if Paul does not then I think there is a Paul somewhere in the world who does! (Of course the first sentence above is a little provocative… but I appeal to Paul of Tarsus, Jeremiah, and to Stephen; to the original promise to a certain gentleman from Ur and to his ‘seed’.)

I am not interested in replacement, but am interested in fulfilment; I am interested in calling, and calling for the sake of the entire world (book #2 on ‘Significant Other’ tracks the downward trajectory of Israel as royal priesthood so that it opens the understanding of Jesus dying for the Jew (first)).

There is one incredibly strong Scripture concerning Israel… and I do not think that an appeal to the host of Scriptures that are often appealed to cut it… after all someone on the throne of David forever, priesthood for ever… for ever… for ever…

‘Because of the patriarchs’. Now that is strong. Says a lot about God… gives me a lot of hope for all peoples.

Certainly not all Greek

No need to read the verses above! Just a lot of the word ‘anthropos’ that appears there including the part that affirms that Jesus’ identity post resurrection is as ‘the man Christ Jesus’… and yet that is what I wish to challenge.

The resurrection is a very key event which has enormous ramifications for creation. The resurrection is not a Greek alive-after-death scenario affirming that there is life after death, rather it is the resurrection of a physical body that affirms God’s ongoing commitment to his work of creation and secures a physical future.

Jesus died, Jesus rose again. The body that went in the grave is the one that came out and there was a transformation of that body. He enters the grave male and comes out…

A little speculative theology about to be embarked on here.

I have considered the question about resurrection and gender in my little head before and had previously reasoned that if sexual identity is an element of my identity then resurrection would include that element. Recently though I have re-considered. So a little journey to get to where I am speculatively settling.

A few basics first, and in this terminology is not always easy. I consider that God is neither male nor female, but both masculine and feminine. Humanity (and I appreciate there are biological exceptions to this) are either male or female but both are masculine and feminine. In other words I am using male / female biologically and masculine / feminine to relate to characteristics, and in that open up the whole scenario to the critique of cultural and gender stereotypes.

Jesus was male and Jewish. Jewish as they were the redeeming nation that had lost the plot. Born of a woman and born under the law he came at a time when the ‘sins of the Jews’ had reached fullness:

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Lk. 11:50,51 – ‘sins of the Jews’ is a cheeky, but I think appropriate, adaptation of the term ‘sins of the Amorites’ from Gen. 15).

The nation called to be the means of redemption are condemned under the power of sin and therefore needed a representative redeemer. He is the Jewish Messiah. He dies as a Jew – we will come back to his resurrection in due course on this. He is not only Jewish but male, not because of some inherent superiority in the male gender – far from it. Male, as male had partnered with the powers, as expressed in patriarchal rule. Such dominance is antithetical to the kingdom of God. Jesus, as male, broke, through his relationships, behaviour, words and action this male dominance. A simple example of his cultural opposition to patriarchy is in Luke 11: 27,28:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Her world view spilled right out in the presence of such a truly human presence. A woman’s status was like climbing a set of steps to the pinnacle. A woman needed to be married (step 1), to have children (step 2), to have a male child (third step) and the ultimate was to be a woman who not only gave birth to a male child but to a rabbi of the stature of Jesus. In one short sentence he corrected this totally. A woman’s status was not tied to her marital nor maternal relationships. Males are not superior, females are not subservient.

He is male, not to demonstrate superiority, but to deal with patriarchy. Unless sin at the sharp end is dealt with there can be no redemption. If he dies as Jew he dies for the world; if he dies as male he dies for humanity. Now to the resurrection.

He rises as new humanity, a humanity that is neither Jew nor Greek. Hence I do not see Jesus today as Jewish. He dies as Jew, he rises trans-national. And then… yes I think I have also moved ground on the maleness of the resurrected Jesus. He dies male, but ‘in Christ there is neither male and female’. This verse uses the term ‘and‘ when referring to male and female, unlike the ‘nor’ when referring to Jew / Greek and slave / free. The ‘and’ pushes us back to Genesis when God created male and female. New humanity is not male and female.

There is in heaven a human mediator:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people (1 Tim. 2: 5,6).

I chose this translation with all its clumsy male language deliberately. ‘Mankind’ would be much better translated as’ humanity’, and the term the ‘man Christ Jesus’ is the generic ‘anthropos’ (humanity) not the specific ‘aner’ (male). Jesus was male, he (?) is now still fully human, but this verse leaves open the gender issue in the sense of ‘male’ or ‘female’.

The Godhead was not and is not male nor female. The Godhead was not Jewish. Jesus in the incarnation was both Jewish and male, but now?

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.


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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