10 Oct 2023

“I Stand with Israel”: What Do You Mean? A Plea for Truth, Justice, Love and Shalom

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, Kingdom, Love, Politics, Suffering

Can Borrow Your mind and heart for a Few Minutes?

I write about the Jewish/Hebraic roots of The Way frequently. It is nearly impossible to have an accurate understanding of the NT and the Way apart from the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism. It is necessary to say that “Christianity is Jewish.” I condemn all forms of anti-Semiticism theologically, politically, and any other way. I am not a “supersessionist” (at least not a classical one). Know that as you begin reading what follows.

U2, the rock band, performed in “The Sphere” in Las Vegas on Sunday. They opened their show with, and dedicated their great song, “Pride, in the Name of Love” (see link) to the victims massacred at Saturday’s music festival in Israel. I weep for them for every Israeli that has experienced this horror. I understand that emotions run deep … high!

I unequivocally condemn as not only crimes against humanity, but barbaric, Hamas’ unbridled attacks upon civilians in the State of Israel. The civilized world community should soundly condemn this and the criminals held accountable.

Is it possible to be HORRIFIED and PISSED OFF (yes that is the right word) over the terrorism of Hamas on Saturday and not succumb to the same barbarism?

Is it possible to see that Palestinians are my brothers as much as Jews in Israel?

Is it possible to grasp that the State of Israel, in the name of security, has in fact perpetuated crimes against the Palestinians?

Is it possible to condemn what Hamas has done and recognize that the reality of how Palestinians live on a daily basis? Is it possible to recognize that more Palestinians are my brothers and sisters in Jesus than Jews in Israel? Is it possible to think rather than just react emotionally?

Does Truth, Justice, Love and Shalom play any role in how we look at the State of Israel (and the Palestinians too)?

Is it possible?

For a Christian it should not only be possible but a way of life. Hate begets hate. Violence will not stop the cycle of violence. Love will. Grace will.

I am a person who believes that biblical theology should determine how Christians live and think about everything in life. That means biblical theology should shape my views (and thus actions) on race, justice, mercy, war, money, sex, and that contentious area of life called “politics.”

I do not expect that non-believers in King Jesus will hold to my views nor why I hold them. What I do expect is that my own views, and the reasons I hold them, will express my allegiance to biblical theology and the kingdom of God. The Greatest Commands of Love God and Love my Neighbor do not change when bad things happen. Jesus made this abundantly clear in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5.44).

That includes the State of Israel AND the Palestinians. Christians are committed to Love, Justice and Shalom.

When my friends post memes that declare “I Stand with Israel,” I ask what does that mean?

Does this mean the State of Israel is beyond criticism or accountability? If we imagine it is beyond the pale to criticize “Israel” then we have never read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Ezekiel or any of the Prophets.

Is it heresy to say that the treatment of human beings falls extremely short of justice? The Gaza Strip is only a third of the size of Contra Costa County (140 sq miles vs 716 sq miles. Or another way is the Gaza Strip is about 3x the land area of San Francisco!!). It is run like a small reservation in 19th century USA.

For a Christian, numerous questions SHOULD BE ASKED. For example, What do you mean by “Israel?”

According to the Bible, the people of God are Israel. The physical descendants of Abraham include both Jews and Arabs (biblically speaking. I was thankful for the Abraham Accords). And in the New Testament, Gentiles who place their faith in the Messiah are made part of Israel (Acts 15.13-18; Galatians 3.27-29; Ephesians 2.11-3.6).

Israel is, in a sense, all nations in one just as Adam is all humanity in one. In the New Testament the “land promise,” is not the “holy land” but the whole redeemed earth which God’s People will share with the Messiah at the end of the age (Romans 4.13; cf. Sirach 44.21). The land of Israel, just as the people represent ALL humanity, represents the whole of creation. There is no specific spot that is “the” holy land any more.

Stepping back just a bit. When we look in the Hebrew Bible, the gift of the land was just that – a grace, NOT A RIGHT, much less a divine right. In fact in the “Old Testament” Israel (the people of God) never “own” the land. Israel was by definition “aliens and tenants.” “The land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (Leviticus 25.23). Israel, and no Israelite, never owned “the land.” The land belongs to God.

It is God’s land. The whole world is God’s and everything in it. Israel in the Hebrew Bible was NOT allowed to do just whatever she wanted in God’s land. Israelites lived in the land by grace, not by right. If you read the Hebrew Bible, even poorly, it is hard to miss the fact that God tossed the Israelites out of the land for the same reasons he did the Canaanites. First was the Assyrian exile. Then there was the Babylonian exile.

God does not play favorites, even with “Israel” in the Hebrew Bible (take the time to read Amos 1 and 2).

Israel (the people of God) was commanded to treat aliens (those had to be Canaanites, Edomites, Egyptians, etc) humanely and as if they were Israelites themselves. Israel was to be faithful to the Covenant of Love with devotion to Yahweh and to love Yahweh by loving the poor and the aliens (Deuteronomy 10.12-22).

Israel, in the Hebrew Bible, was to always remember she existed by the grace of God and to treat others based on the memory that she had been oppressed herself. This is fundamental to the Sabbath day itself (Deuteronomy 5.12-15). Israel cannot become a new Egypt and Pharaoh toward others. If they do they will reap what Pharaoh did.

When I say, “I stand with Israel,” I mean that I stand with all those who (Jew and Gentile, red and yellow, black and white, male and female) who have placed their faith in the Messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul calls this the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6.16). The Israel of God exists among all the nations of the world as a witness to the true King of all Creation. The Church did not “replace” Israel of the Hebrew Bible, rather the “church” is the renewal of the same People of God that includes the nations that are blessed through the Covenant of Abraham the reaches its zenith in Jesus the Messiah.

The State of Israel that was formed in 1948 is NOT equivalent to biblical Israel and we (who believe the Bible) need to be very careful. If the State of Israel embraces the terrorist tactics of Hamas they are no better. And Hamas is not all Palestinians (and the non-Hamas Palestinians may in fact in some way support them just as Arizona Apaches may have supported Geronimo in the 1880s.).

Now, at the same time we must avoid (at all costs) anti-Semiticism. They are not “Christ killers” and the other horrific stereotypes Christians have painted them with. It is a sad fact of history that European Christians have systematically killed more Jews than Muslims ever did.

God still is not done with Jews as I understand Paul in Romans 9-11. Christianity and Judaism have a great deal in common and it is hard to understand Christian faith accurately without the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish womb in which Christian faith was born and grew for hundreds of years.

However, the State of Israel is not biblical Israel (I am biblically a citizen of Israel). I DO believe the Jewish state has a right to exist.

But the State of Israel is not free to treat Palestinians the way the United States did Native Americans (sometimes called “Indians”). In fact the Palestinians have a right to self-government as much as the Israelis.

The historical problem – the conflict – in the middle east does not go back 3000 years. That is a huge misnomer though frequently claimed, especially by Evangelical Christians. Jews and Arabs (and other ethnic groups) have lived in “the land” for centuries upon centuries.

During Roman times.
During Byzantine times.
After the Islamic conquest.
During the Ottoman Empire.

Jews continued to live and thrive not only in “the land” but also in Egypt and Mesopotamia (both of which had larger Jewish populations than “the land”). More Jews died at the hands of Christian Crusaders than they did at the hands of Muslims (we have a way of conveniently forgetting/denying facts).

The roots of the modern conflict are found in the late 19th century. And it mushroomed largely because of the British and World War I. During that Great War, large areas of the former Ottoman Empire became part of European nations like England and France. In 1917, the British Balfour Declaration decreed that Palestine would be the home for European Jews. But in 1917, the vast majority of the population of Palestine was Arab, with a Jewish minority. They did not live in a state of war. Europe was in fact far more hostile to Jews than the Middle East of the time.

I do not fault hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Jews emigrating to “the land.” They were hunted down and treated in savage ways by Europeans, not just Hitler. In many ways the Balfour Declaration was simply a convenient way of dealing with the “Jewish problem” in for England.

But what do you do when the land is already occupied? Do you do what the Americans did to the “Indians?” Do you do to the Palestinians what the Germans did to the Jews of Warsaw and create a Ghetto (Gaza is basically that Ghetto). Do you just take it?

This is the root of the conflict. The State of Israel has done, in many instances, to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews in Warsaw or the Americans have done to the Native Americans … with the same results. Bloody conflict.

One little aside here that North American Christians often either do not know, or don’t care to know. Thousands of Palestinians are not Muslim but Christians. Now the majority are Muslim but many are not.

Prejudice is a horrid evil and warps our brains and causes us to sanction atrocities in the name of supposed freedom and security.

The issue of the State of Israel and Palestine is exceedingly complex. I have no simple solution. It is the result of European chauvinism and is not inherit in either Scripture nor the Quran. American Christian views toward the State of Israel are formed by atrocious theology (dispensational premillennialism and a failure to understand just what biblical Israel means).

We are not called to simply give the State of Israel a blank check to do what it pleases. It has a right to defend itself but Palestinians also have a right to basic dignity and human rights.

So I stand with Israel, the biblical Israel which is the people of God who have faith in the Messiah Jesus – which includes Palestinians who are my brothers and sisters as well as Jewish believers in the Messiah.

I stand with the State of Israel in saying it has a right to exist. She has a right to defend herself in legitimate ways. But it does not have a right to become Pharaoh.

I stand with the Palestinians who at the moment often live in the Gaza Strip in ways not far removed from the ancient Israelites in Pharaoh’s Egypt. Such is wrong and we need to say so.

Our job, as the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), is to bear witness against injustice and oppression even if it is against the Palestinians, just as the prophets Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah dared to speak against the Israel of God when she oppressed the poor and the aliens in “the land.”

I want to recommend a small book by New Testament scholar, Gary Burge called

Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to ‘Holy Land’ Theology.

It is fantastic. I reviewed it way back in 2014 here on my wall. I will place a link in the comments. It is very readable and is sound theology. Also a book that has been extremely helpful though it is older now,

Barbara Tuchman’s The Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour … an eye opening book.

I do pray for Shalom of God to cover the entire land of Israel, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran, Egypt, and the whole world. Loving our Enemy is Hard Work.

Seeking Shalom

One Response to ““I Stand with Israel”: What Do You Mean? A Plea for Truth, Justice, Love and Shalom”

  1. JT Says:

    Well said, Bobby

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