A few days ago, a former student sent me a link to a blog post where the writer says that evangelicals should not support modern Israel in its quest for existence because modern Israel is not the Israel of the Bible.
In his attempt to show why evangelicals should not support Israel, the writer presents several reasons from the Bible to support his view. These reasons show that Israel does not deserve the support of evangelicals. The following are some of the reasons the writer presents to support his view:
1. If Israel today is entitled to the covenant blessings spoken by the Old Testament, what about their covenant obligations?
2. Israel was not supposed to have a standing army.
3. There are no taxes to fund a permanent military.
4. Israel was not allowed to conscript anyone into military service.
5. Israel’s rulers were forbidden from amassing large numbers of horses.
6. Israel was not supposed to stockpile weapons.
7. At times God cut down the number of fighting soldiers as a reminder that Israel should not rely on military strength.
When one looks at these seven reason the writer presented for not supporting Israel today, I have to say, his argument is very weak. When compared with the historical narratives of the Old Testament, all seven reasons presented by the writer are proven to be wrong.
I will leave reason number 1 for another post. In this post I will show that reasons 2-7 contradict what the Old Testament says about Israel and its society. It is impossible to provide a detailed answer to each question. However, a more detailed study will reveal that the Old Testament does not support his reasons for why evangelicals should not support Israel.
Reason Number 2: Israel was not supposed to have a standing army.
This is not correct. When Saul went to battle against the Philistines, he had a standing army and the commander of his army was Abner: “The name of the commander of [Saul’s] army was Abner son of Ner” (1 Samuel 14:50).
In fact, David had two armies, one army was composed of conscripted soldiers; they were the regular militia. The other army, was composed of professional soldiers. Joab was the commander of the regular army (1 Kings 1:19) and Benaiah was the commander of the Cherethites and the Pelethites, David’s mercenary army (2 Samuel 8:18).
Reason Number 3: There are no taxes to fund a permanent military.
This is not correct. When Samuel told the people of Israel what their king would do, one thing Samuel told the people was that the king would raise taxes for the military:
“He [the king] will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Samuel 8:14-17).
The tenth that the king took from the people were taxes he needed to support his army and his government. There was also “the king’s mowings” (Amos 7:1). The “king’s mowing” was a form of taxation that the king took from the farmers to feed his horses.
Reason Number 4: Israel was not allowed to conscript anyone into military service.
This again is contradicted by what the Bible says. In the same passage quoted above, Samuel told the people what the king would do: “He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots” (1 Samuel 8:11-12).
When the writer of the blog quotes from Deuteronomy 20 to prove that Israel was not allowed to conscript people into military service, he misunderstands what the passage is saying. The quotation in his post refers to deferments that the army allowed for special circumstances.
Several people are excused from serving in the army for one simple reason: “Let him go home so that the other [soldiers] will not become disheartened too” (Deuteronomy 20:8). The next verse, verse 9, would show the writer that he was taking the passage out of context. This is what verse 9 says: “When the officers have finished addressing the army, they will appoint military commanders to lead it” (Deuteronomy 20:9).
Reason Number 5: Israel’s rulers were forbidden from amassing large numbers of horses.
To understand reason number 5 one needs to know what Deuteronomy 17:16-17 (the text from where the reason was taken) actually says. This is what the text says:
“Even so, he [the king] must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You must never return that way again’” (Deuteronomy 17:16).
This passage does not forbid the king from acquiring horses. Rather, the text forbids the king from supplying Hebrew soldiers in return for Egyptian horses, which Solomon did (1 Kings 10:28; Deuteronomy 28:68).
Reason Number 6: Israel was not supposed to stockpile weapons.
I do not have the time and space to discuss all the weapons, offensive and defensive, mentioned in the Bible. One thing that God told the people the king would do was to conscript people “to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots” (1 Samuel 8:12). This alone says that kings need weapons to fight wars.
In his war against Shalmaneser III, King of Assyria, Ahab, king of Israel, and Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, fought together. Ahaz provided 2,000 chariots, more than all of the other nations combined.
The writer of the post quotes Micah 5 to say that in the Messianic days God will eliminate wars: “In that day, says the LORD, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots” (Micah 5:10).
The same sentiment is also present in Micah 4:3. In the days of the Messiah, nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).
What the writer does not say is that before that day comes, and it has not come yet, Israel will be confronted with hostile forces, bent on destroying the nation: “Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare war, stir up the warriors. Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up” (Joel 3:9). On that day people will be forced to rearm themselves, to stockpile weapons: “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears” (Joel 3:10).
Reason Number 7: At times God cut down the number of fighting soldiers as a reminder that Israel should not rely on military strength.
As for reason number 7, let us just remember the armies of the following kings:
Abijah’s army: 400,000 men
Jeroboam’s army: 800,000 men
Asa’s army: 300,000 men
Benjamin’s army: 280,000 men
Granted, these numbers are idealistic and hyperbolic. However, they indicate that some of the kings of Judah and Israel had large armies with thousands of soldiers. Most kings had commanders of the thousands and commanders of the hundreds in their armies.
Thus, after reviewing reasons 2-7 of why evangelicals should not support Israel, one has to conclude that all six reasons do not find support in the Bible. In light of this, should evangelicals support Israel? Since the writer did not present convincing reasons why not, the answer must be “yes.”
Tomorrow I will discuss Israel and the covenant.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Professor, the link you shared is extremely disturbing from a historical point of view. The church has a long, unfortunate history of denying Jewish rights, in Christian lands and in the land of Israel, on the premise that the Jews corporately have violated their covenant and deserve the punishment–exile–that had been imposed on them. And although I assume this gentleman would acknowledge that Jews ought to be free to live in the West, he nonetheless uses the same theological arguments of anti-Semites before him against the Jews of Israel. This post really is no different in theological outlook than the historical claims that Jews are a condemned people to be deprived of the right of any other peoples, including national sovereignty, on purely religious grounds.
Putting aside that fact, the post you linked to simply makes no argument at all. It’s a line of indictments against modern statehood from (as you point out) a misrepresentation of certain biblical passages. But if this gentleman wants to bring up covenantal obligations as a bludgeon against Israel, he picked the wrong measurement. The primary obligations upon the Jewish people as a condition for remaining in the land are ethical and religious, not political. There’s obviously an idealized state of political organization alluded to in the Hebrew texts, but no fixed formula is ever given. In fact, the proper political organization changed throughout the entire biblical period, all with God’s apparent consent or acquiescence.
But he makes no effort to claim Jews are to be denied their state on the grounds of their lack of religiosity or moral observance. Such a claim would not only be bigoted, but quite hypocritical.
Thank you for your comment. I agree with your sentiments that there is some anti-Semitic feelings behind that post. I hope you read my post tomorrow as I discuss the covenant. More people need to read my objections to that post. I hope you will share my post with others.
Thank you for visiting my blog.
Of course, as you note, the problem is that people have a tendency to read passages of Scripture instead of books of the Bible. We can make anything say anything without a context. Or, as I heard it once spoken: A text without a context becomes a pretext for a prooftext.
That being said, I have no problem supporting Israel as a political entity. The USA can choose to be an ally of anyone it chooses. That being said, I think many of the reasons for choosing this particular kinship are based, again, on some passages taken way out of context and misapplied.
Thanks for clear thought.
Thank you for your comment. You are right when you say that people take passages out of context to prove a point. This happens very often.
The US supports Israel politically. The issue is whether evangelicals can also support Israel today as descendants of the Israel of the Bible. I think we can and this is the topic for my nest post.