In my last post, I shared some thoughts on Israel and Zionism, taking an extract from Kairos USA material as a jumping-off point. What follows is my own theologically and biblically based position statement, intentionally targeted to Christian believers. [This will not be a statement on peace in the Middle East. To pursue that important part of the world’s conversation, may I suggest a website/author recommended to me by a friend: mikopeled.com.] First, some introductory remarks.
A pamphlet written several decades ago was titled “Neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jew.”¹ In creating that manifesto, the pamphlet’s revered authors attempted to designate what they saw as a distinct niche. Echoing their title, I might say that my views on Israel are neither Republican, Christendom-ish (Mainstream or Evangelical), nor Jewish.
The books pictured here were recently traded at the bookstore my wife manages. The mere titles manifest one person’s reading interests, but they are sadly indicative of the illusions of many—Christian adherents, Christian devotees, and bystanders alike. The titles betray the theological/eschatological positions of the respective authors, and I suggest that certain underlying assumptions of the books—all too often swallowed whole by Christian believers—are skewed. Taking exception to the general stances of some of these books, I would assert that the application of ancient Hebrew prophecy to modern nations including the USA is either hermeneutically highly questionable or egocentric (or both). Although the idea of “standing with Israel” sounds pro-Christian (and strikes me as appropriately anti-Nazi-holocaust), it turns out to be a largely secular position.
I hope here to present an alternative, biblically and theologically responsible view of Israel past, present, and future. The points below summarize my current beliefs.
- The ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah played major roles in God’s redemptive history. Israel and Judah (separately or together) may therefore be seen in terms of God’s reign/kingdom. However, the main thing has always been the reign of God in His people—not any human-king-centered, political, or temple-based Kingdom. As I read the OT, after the judges and by the time of the kings and the “A-list” prophets, it becomes increasingly clear that God as King was a fading memory.²
- In the prophetic writings (and in Jewish thought), the physical Kingdom of Judah and Kingdom of Israel offer weak, shadowy representations of the Reign of God. With hindsight, and speaking in general terms, we can perceive that God’s identity as King was eventually overshadowed (in the view of the people as a whole).
- Old Israel broke down. During what I see as a transitional period, Old Israel was conclusively phased out sometime between 26ish and 70ish CE. The precise dates of some prior beginnings, endings, conquests, and captivities are elusive, and their pursuit, illusory. Even those dates that can be determined with relative certainty are not as consequential as the simple reality that old Israel ceased to be. The theocratic nation of Israel no longer exists, and it doesn’t matter where people of the Jewish faith live today or might live in the future.
- Now, the Kingdom of God no longer has anything directly to do with Jews/Jewishness or with Israel/Judah/Judea as such. I don’t know what God will do with post-Jesus Jews who believe in YHVH but not in Jesus as Messiah. I suspect they will be dealt with on the same basis as everyone else. In other words, I am of the opinion that Jewish faith today is neither here nor there, unless it turns out to be a telic Jewish faith, consummated in one’s faith in Jesus.³
- Today’s political nation of Israel has no spiritual significance. The State of Israel takes its place among the other geopolitical entities of the world. The Kingdom/Reign of God never has had, and never will have, any direct relationship to the modern country/state of Israel.
- On the other hand, the New “Nation” of Israel (a spiritual grouping of believers in Jesus) is very spiritually significant. The Christians that make up the universal church, regardless of connection or disconnection with established church groups in Christendom, are themselves the New Israel—God’s people—and “heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).4
Among the implications of these beliefs is that every time I read or hear some right-wing Christian urging others to “stand with Israel,” I demur, based on (a) scripturally based theology and (b) my conscientious aversion to earthy political goals and activities.
I do not intend here to downgrade (or upgrade) Israel’s significance. Israel is what it is: a war-torn country with a famously storied history and viciously disputed land claims. The perverse Nazi doings were horrific, and there yet exists a terrible situation in and around the land of Israel . . . but those realities do not imbue the modern State of Israel with any specialized spiritual significance.
A substantive aside: just two days before this post’s publication, I heard an audio lesson that touched on the so-called “Last Words of David” as recorded in 2Samuel 23. These were probably not actually the last words uttered by King David, but the words do carry literary weight. Readers of this climactic passage might be tempted to draw too broad a conclusion, e.g., that every king, president, or prime minister perceived as ruling justly or “in the fear of God” is to be considered alongside David. That line of thinking, although well intended, tends to make too much of today’s human kingdoms.
For my part, I read the “Last Words” as the patently poetic, seriously devoted expressions of a ruler who tried to be God’s ruler. David recognized that he was the Israelites’ chosen/favorite “singer” and that God, the “protector of Israel,” spoke to David and worked through him. I take it that David did rule (mostly) in the fear of God, and that the people of Israel experienced blessing and refreshment.
Further, David considered that his house/dynasty was party to an ongoing covenant with the Almighty. Here, it might be good to note five different English renderings of a “duration” word of 2Sam 23:5b, “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant” (ESV):
perpetual everlasting eternal lasting guaranteed
Each of those terms has been used in one or more published English translations to depict David’s understanding of God’s covenant with him. Each term has a different shade of meaning. Arguably, the most specific one is “perpetual,” and I found that rendering in only one translation. Clearly, the Davidic covenant did not involve a single, perpetual throne for one human dynasty: the Kingdom of Israel was soon divided. A logical reader experiences cognitive dissonance at this point and must opt for an understanding of “perpetual” other than “never-ending.”
The middle three terms are synonymous: whether proper or improper synonymy exists, I’m not sure, but the meanings overlap one another and may be seen as closely related. Those terms may be understood as promising that David’s throne would last forever, but it has not, in fact, lasted—so many mainstream and evangelical Christians have jumped to pre- or post-millennial eschatological conclusions about Jerusalem.
The last word, “guaranteed,” is the most intriguing as a possible translation, and I tend to prefer that word as a description of the ultimate end of God’s people (not as pertaining to Jerusalem or the State of Israel). However one takes David’s words (gratefully pensive or effusively pompous? deeply prophetic or royally oratorical?), I would caution against extending such a dynastic expectation to any present or future government. The promises related to David’s covenant guarantee something other than a human throne, and no one should deduce that God has blessed or will bless one human government over another.
A deep, broad understanding of the backdrop formed by the Davidic Kingdom can greatly enlighten us as we attempt to grasp the situation of the new iteration, the new inbreaking of the Kingdom at the time of John the Prophet-Immerser and Jesus the Messiah-King. That very Kingdom fulfills the covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David.
B. Casey, 3/27/17 (Rev. #23 on 4/27/17)
² The era from King Saul to the Babylonian captivity is thought to have lasted just under 500 years. One might extend backward to include the prior era of the judges. God’s reign in and over His people could even be said to have begun long before that. For more than half a millennium, then, leading to the Babylonian captivity, the people’s sense of God as King appears to have become increasingly adulterated. This degradation is a theme of John Bright’s book The Kingdom of God (a book I also spotlighted here).
³ Arguably, many Jews and Zionist Christians would have at least one spiritual foible in common: wrongly placing confidence in a physical kingdom. Could it be that Zionist Christians are unbelievers to the same extent as non-messianic Jews these days? All of them seem to have missed the spiritual basis and eternal, non-physical, durative quality of the Kingdom. As with Jesus’ hard words to Simon Peter (Matt 16:23), it is Satanic—adversarial to God’s purposes—to look to earthly kingdoms as the means or the goal.
4 One may find so-called supersessionism here, and I don’t mind that label too much, although it seems to be used mostly pejoratively.