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Questions About Israel

This is my contribution to a symposium about Israel.

Time constraints do not allow me to give a detailed, documented and carefully researched treatise on the questions at hand, therefore, I must be brief (do I hear a collective sigh of relief out there?)  My answer to question one (Does modern Israel have any covenantal significance?) would have to be “no” since I believe that Yahweh’s operative covenant in the modern world is the New Covenant which does not recognize national or ethnic entities, but only those in Christ.  Israel as a geopolitical nation is no more significant covenantally than America, China or Cameroon (and don’t get me started on the America-is-a-Christian-nation nonsense).

My answer to the second question (Does modern Israel have a legitimate right to exist?) is to stand in opposition to mainstream evangelicalism.  Much of evangelicalism believes that Israel has not only a legitimate right to exist, but a divine right as well. It is evident that the dispensational camp was roused by Lord Balfour’s declaration to give the Jews a homeland as cited in Christianity Today’s article by Timothy Weber, How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend (http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/1998/october5/8tb038.html) . Not only did it excite them, it rallied them to help the eschatological process along.  On a theological level, this begs the question of how God brings about the fulfillment of His prophecies.

It appears that the formation of modern Israel was less a result of prophecy than it was planning.  That is, from all appearances, the “prophetic fulfillment” of Israel’s birth as a nation seems to have had a bit of a push from well-meaning, though over-zealous evangelicals.  Might this not bring the prophetic legitimacy of Israel’s existence into question?

In short, it could be said that arguing modern Israel’s political legitimacy as a nation and what to do about it would be no more profitable than arguing the legitimacy of the United States after displacing Native Americans.  In reference to the subject at hand, I believe there has been too little dialogue about the nature of the historical fulfillment of God’s prophecies and whether modern Israel fits the profile.

In consideration of question number three (What are the propositions for advancing peace in the Middle East?), I am going to offer comments that amount to a dialectic, for which I don’t particularly care.  But when hammering out a worldview intended to promote peace among nations, the extremes must be identified, marked off and avoided at all costs; hence, my observations about these two polar issues.

The first extreme is fairly obvious.  It is the view that Israel has no right to exist whatsoever and it is a heavenly mission to wipe it off the face of the planet.  This is the view that shows up in the media most often today involving a cast of radical Islamists and weapons of mass destruction.  This view can and does have no other end except stirring hostility in the Middle East.

The view from the other pole is that modern Israel has every right to exist and its existence is divinely mandated.  This is the predominant view of much of evangelicalism today and is shared by the non-Christian Zionist sector.  The shared trait this view has with the first is that it can lead to no other conclusion than hostility.  It says that Israel has a divine right to exist and every effort to harm the apple of God’s eye ought to be met with utmost resistance.  Like the other view, hostility is acceptable in order to advance the heavenly agenda.

The dispensational/futurist view regarding Israel is de facto violent and militaristic.  After all, reasons the dispensationalist, what’s the purpose of all those missiles and Blackhawk helicopters mentioned in Revelation?  Admittedly, the preterist view of Revelation is also violent and militaristic, but the war has already been finished and won.  Now we have every reason to work for peace among nations.

Therefore, if we are to construct an agenda that promotes peace in the Middle East (or anywhere else for that matter), then we must strongly establish that the violent nature of the end-times prophecies are past and not future.  Further, we must more strongly challenge the dispensational worldview for its granting of Israel most-favored-nation status in the eyes of Yahweh, when the nature of the gospel is open the grace of God to all nations.

I must confess here my pondering of another issue that bears further dialogue.  I know that to challenge the sincerity of one’s faith ranks right up there with devil worship and voodoo.  But my question for dialogue would be this: How forcefully do we distance ourselves and our Christianity from the likes of popular, pro-Zionist evangelical leaders (names like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and John Hagee come to mind)?

Is their theology of promoting a futuristic rebuilt temple and reinstitution of animal sacrifices tantamount to resurrecting the ineffectual Old Covenant?  In my admittedly fallible understanding, I think that the tenants of the Old Covenant are the quintessential anti-Christianity.  I think this is why Yahweh so violently and completely destroyed the system in AD 70.

Ward Fenley characterized modern Israel as “apostate.”  While I would not argue with that, can we also say that any “Christian” religion that seeks to apply or resurrect an Old Covenant system over the New is no less apostate?  I am wondering if the anemia of modern, American Christianity is due in part to our trying to blend the flesh of the Old Covenant with the spirit of the New rather than proclaiming the stark distinction between the two.

I hope I am not misunderstood here.  Any debate or dialogue in which we engage must be seasoned with grace and love.  I just fear that the lack of grace and love in evangelical churches is due in part to promoting the Old Covenant system that had (has?) no power to open the storehouses of God’s lavish love for sinners.  How forceful should we be in promoting a distinction between the Old and the New and in reproving those who would mix the two?

What do you think?

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