In my previous study I discussed a post in which the writer emphasized that evangelicals should not support Israel. The post, “Why evangelicals should think twice about equating modern Israel with Israel of the Bible,” is an appeal to evangelicals to stop supporting Israel because the modern state of Israel is not the Israel of the Bible.
The writer presents seven reasons taken from the Bible which, in his view, prove that modern day Israel is not the Israel of the Bible. In my post yesterday I discussed reasons 2-7 and showed that six out of the seven reasons he presented are not supported by the biblical text.
I left the first reason to discuss at a later time. Today I am returning to his post in order to evaluate his most important reason. Reason Number 1: If Israel today is entitled to the covenant blessings spoken by the Old Testament, what about their covenant obligations?
In my post I want to consider two issues raised by that post. First, whether the people of modern-day Israel are the successors of biblical Israel. Second, whether the laws that governed Israel in the Old Testament apply to modern-day Israel.
In order to answer this question, it becomes necessary to discuss two important issues. The first is the nature of the Bible and the second is the nature of the covenant God made with Israel.
The Nature of the Bible
Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the word of God and that it has authority in matters of faith and practice. As Paul wrote: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Not all Christians believe this, but Paul’s statement is a guiding principle for evangelicals.
Second, evangelicals believe that the Bible is the story of God’s work in the world. This story begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. It begins with creation and ends with recreation.
Many Christians reject the Old Testament as outdated and of little importance for the church. But the Old Testament is three-fourths of God’s story. When one comes to Matthew, a large part of the story has already been told.
Thus, what the Bible says about Israel matters. God’s promises to Israel are important factors for a proper understanding of God’s work in the world. These promises are the basis for a proper understanding of Israel, then and now.
The Nature of the Covenant
In the post under discussion, the writer asks: “If Israel today is entitled to the covenant blessings spoken by the Old Testament, what about their covenant obligations?”
A study of the form of the covenant God established with Israel at Sinai reveals that the covenant contains a section dealing with blessings and curses. Deuteronomy 28 contains a list of the blessings and the curses of the covenant. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 presents the blessings and Deuteronomy 28:15-68 presents the curses: fourteen verses of blessings; fifty-three verses of curses. I will come back to the curses in a moment.
However, the covenant at Sinai is not the only covenant God made with Israel. In Genesis 15, God made a covenant with Abraham, a covenant that established Abraham’s descendants as the future people of God.
God had promised Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Since Abraham did not have a son, God made a covenant with Abraham in which God made a solemn promise that he would give Abraham a son and that he also would give his descendants the land of Canaan.
I do not have the space to discuss this covenant in detail. You can read my post, “God’s Covenant with Abraham” for more details. When God made a covenant with Abram, he said: “To your descendants I give this land” (Genesis 15:18). The covenant between God and Abraham is one-sided, that is, it is God who made a commitment to Abraham. It is an unconditional covenant because it is God who bound himself to Abraham.
In my post mentioned above, I wrote the following: “The most remarkable aspect of the covenant between God and Abraham is that it is God, represented by the ‘smoking fire pot’ and the ‘flaming torch,’ who passed between the pieces. By doing so, the Lord was invoking a self-curse to indicate that what he had promised to Abraham would be fulfilled.” God said: “The land is mine” (Leviticus 25:23). Since the land belongs to God, he could give it to Abraham.
God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional; God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai was conditional, that it, it was based on Israel’s obedience. The people said: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Since Israel did not obey the demands of the covenant, since they did not keep their covenant obligations, the curses of the covenant were invoked and Israel went into exile.
But God is a gracious and merciful God and he promised to bring his people back to the land. In the post-exilic time Nehemiah prayed: “You handed them over to the surrounding peoples. However, in Your abundant compassion, You did not destroy them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God. So now, our God–the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God who keeps His gracious covenant–do not view lightly all the hardships that have afflicted us” (Nehemiah 9:30-32).
Nehemiah said that God is a God “who keeps His gracious covenant.” He does so because he promised Abraham, with a self-curse upon himself, that he would keep his promise to give his descendants the land of Canaan. And God is a God who keeps his covenant and his promises and since God’s promise to Abraham was unconditional, the promise is valid for all time, even today.
The Formation of Israel
This brings me to the initial question: is modern day Israel the Israel of the Old Testament? I do not have the space to offer a detailed answer to this question. At the end of this post I will provide several links to posts where I have discussed this issue in detail. There are three different views for the origin of Israel:
1. The biblical view. This view affirms that Israel began with Abraham and found its true identity and mission in the covenant at Sinai.
2. The axial age view. This view teaches that the people who were in Babylon invented the biblical story in order to provide the ideological foundation for those who returned from exile to take away the land from those who remained in the land.
3. The Zionist migration. This view teaches that a group of Polish, Russian, and other European Jews were looking to form a Jewish nation and they chose Palestine to be their homeland.
Some people believe that the Palestinians and the Arabs of the Middle East are the true descendants of Abraham and the true heirs of the land of Palestine, but according to the Lord, Isaac is the son of the promise, not Ishmael.
Under the British Mandate, Britain had jurisdiction over the land ruled by the Ottoman Empire. In 1948 Britain divided the land and made a home for the Jewish people in the land that used to be biblical Israel and created the country of Jordan on the other side of the Jordan River.
So, the question then becomes, who settled in the land: Biblical Israel, Axial Israel, or European Israel? The answer to this question is the background of the controversy raging in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Evangelicals believe that the modern-day people of Israel are the descendants of biblical Israel, even though many of these people came from many countries to which they were exiled. They have the right to return home since Palestine was their ancestral home.
How about the Palestinians? Many of them lost their homes when the State of Israel was created. They also deserve a home. However, the Palestinians refuse to accept the existence of Israel as a nation. As long as this refusal to recognize Israel exists, the two-nations solution will never become a reality.
The violence that exists between the Palestinians and Israelites is unacceptable, but Israel has the right to defend its people. As long as Hamas continues attacking the Jewish people, mutual violence is inevitable. A solution to the problem is possible, but both parties must agree to live in peace in the land.
Evangelicals support Israel because they believe that they are God’s people because of God’s covenant with Abraham. As Paul wrote: “Has God rejected His people? Absolutely not” (Romans 11:1). Although the promise belongs to Isaac, there must be a place in the land for Ishmael.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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