"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 book 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 dogmatic opinions:
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 year reign 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 "be laid."
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 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.
In Genesis 12:5-7 God spoke to Abram and promised, "to your seed I will give this land." This foundational promise to Abram 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).
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.
It is clear from a number of Old Testament statements that the land-promise to Abraham was indeed fulfilled. The land was given as delineated in Genesis 15, and several verses in Joshua are especially forceful in this regard.
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 had sworn to their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just an 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 (Josh. 21:41-45).
There are many other Old Testament scriptures that echo this fulfillment theme (Gen. 28: 13-15; I 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.
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.
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 the "casting out" of Israel from the land that sets the stage for a future concept of regathering in to that lost territory.
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).
The preparatory nature of the Mosaic economy must be underscored. The law-covenant had an historical beginning and ending (Gal. 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 (Col. 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. 11: 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.
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 the Prophets.
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 (Gal. 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 (Gal. 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" (Gal. 6:16).
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 the establishment of small Jewish colonies in Palestine. In this context, Theodor Herzl's Der 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 m most other places Under his guidance the first Zionist Congress met in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and the World Zionist Organization was formed.
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.
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."
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 Yore Kippur war, Oral Roberts confidently posited, "there is no way Israel is going to be defeated, according to the Bible."
Thus may 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 in 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.
The position of the Zionists and of many Christians creates many serious problems. If God is on Israel's side, 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 been behind the worst of atrocities.
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 nations 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.
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 disrupting, 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 all 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 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. 3:11). God is not ruling all things with reference to Israel, but with reference to the body of Christ on earth (Eph. 1:22). The unfolding of the future is not gauged by what happens to Israel, but by what Christ is doing to build His congregations.
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."