Have You Considered the Relationship Between Israel, the Church, and the Middle East?

Published just in time to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, Darrel L. Bock and Mitch Glaser have collaborated as editors on a book explaining the current conflict in the Middle East from a biblical viewpoint. Written by theologians on both sides of the Atlantic in meticulously researched articles, the book walks us through the conflict step by step, explaining not only the historical background but the present situation and future prophetic promises concerning the role of Israel in the world: “God always intended to use the Jewish people as his bridge of redemption to a sinful and broken world” (Dr. Darrell Bock, 262).

As an evangelical Christian, I have always believed the Old Testament teaching that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance. What I didn’t realize is that I am part of the 82% of white evangelicals who hold this position, but according to a Pew Research Center poll, less than half that many Jewish or Catholic Americans agree (187). I was a little amazed, but then it occurred to me that if you don’t believe the Bible, then of course you wouldn’t have any particular basis for believing the Jewish people have any right to an independent nation of their own. However, as recently as 2017, the FBI reported that Jewish people are subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group in America, and the statistics aren’t much different in Europe (197). Even for those who don’t believe the Jewish people have a “right” to the land,  doesn’t it seem good that every group of moral, law-abiding people deserves to have a haven of refuge where they can “secure domestic tranquility,” just as we have in America?

I loved this quote from an AIPAC document, pointing out the shared values between America and Israel: “Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And, both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities.” Perhaps these common values are shared by many nations around the world, but I deeply appreciate being able to live in a land that enjoys democratic rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and I am thankful for other countries that provide similar freedoms. As far as I know, Israel is probably the truest democracy in the Middle East. Would you agree?

Finally, the book is written from the perspective of God’s love for all, and I’d like to end with Mark Bailey’s conclusion: “If one is not careful, one will look through the colored lens of politics and end up despising either the Arabs or the Jews, or both. A proper gaze through a biblical lens will engender a genuine love for Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, and Jews alike as people created in the image of God, the object of his love, and all viable candidates to receive the love of Christ through our proclamation of the Gospel message” (201).

By the way, if you’ve never read the Bible, and wonder why anybody thinks Israel “deserves” their own state, here are a few passages about God’s giving the land of Canaan (present day Israel) to Abraham (the “Father” of modern Jewish people).

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:14-17).

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

Of course, Muslims and Jews both descended from Abraham, and this is part of the problem. I’m not sure if the Koran has anything to say about which land belongs to whom, but in the Bible, a distinction is made between Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael (via Hagar, progenitor of the Muslims) and Isaac (via Abraham’s wife, Sarah, progenitor of the Jews):

 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Genesis 17:15-21).