May 29, 2006

The Truth About Israel

The Bible and Israel

Christian spokespersons, especially among American Evangelicals, have been steadily ramping up the rhetoric in support of Israel, over the past decade or more. Their logic for this often outspoken advocacy is usually accepted with little analysis as ‘obviously’ based on the Bible. More than that, their logic for that support is highly curious. This essay takes a closer look at the reasoning of Evangelical enthusiasm for defending Israel against any and all criticism.

The first curious thing to strike the objective onlooker is that their cozy feelings for Israel are hardly reciprocated, to say the least. Instead of attempting to curry favor with their Christian acolytes, the Israeli government has continued its decades long, low-key antipathy towards the Christian world, in whatever guise it appears. For a couple of decades it has been illegal in Israel to ‘proselytize’-- a law that is essentially aimed at Christian missionary attempts to reach Jews. Even in the US, there is little affection for Christians among official Jewish figures. Far from appreciating Christian support, some Israeli lobbyists in the USA cynically view that collaboration as a political tool to be manipulated for the furtherance of Israeli objectives.

And incidentally, the reason behind Jewish antipathy towards the Christian faith is not highly obvious. Sure, there is a lot of suspicion for historical reasons, with sporadic persecution of Jews in Europe going back almost two millennia. One could point to American blacks who are still predominantly Christian, the faith of the original slave-owners. Or there are the aboriginals in the Americas who will still hear of Jesus, despite the genocide perpetrated against their populations by ostensible Christians. Yet the Jews seem to have hardened their hearts against any attempt to investigate the claims of Christianity... to the detriment of both faiths.

The next curious aspect of Christian enamoration with Israel arises from the supposed ‘Biblical’ basis for it. Many pop evangelists, preaching from their video pulpits, spout verses from the Bible-- almost invariably from the Old Testament scriptures-- as proof of the validity of their exhortations on behalf of Israel. But, what really do the scriptures state about the future of the region of the Middle East that we presently call ‘Israel’?

Before we get into the ofttimes obscure ground of Bible study, it is vital to summarize the history involved. The essentials originate with the figure of Abraham, who is correctly widely recognized as the progenitor of the three major religions struggling on today’s world stage, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. But, how many people actually know how this development came about? First, we have to understand that Abraham was not a Jew; he was from a tribe known as Hebrews (who were descendants of Noah’s son, Shem... hence, ‘Semites’). After relocating, at God’s behest, from ancient Chaldea to the land later called Palestine, Abraham had a son, Ishmael, by his concubine, Hagar, then another son, Isaac, by his wife, Sarah. Moslems trace their ancestry back through Arab lines to Ishmael. But, going back to Isaac, he had two sons by his wife Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, who were (very) non-identical twins. After various adventures, Jacob had a nighttime encounter with an angel (or God) and his name was changed to Israel, in acknowledgment of a change in his inner spirit. At that time, Jacob/Israel was married to two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Eventually, Jacob had 12 sons who went on to become the patriarchs of 12 tribes, each of which was named after one of them. One of the sons was named Judah, and his descendants, the children of Judah, were called ‘Jews’ for short. (The German name for them is ‘Juden’, which shows the linguistic link better than English.) Now you can see that the Jews descended from Abraham, but Abraham could not have been and was NEVER a Jew!

You can also see that Jacob, alias Israel, could not have been a Jew, either! However, the full collection of his offspring were known as ‘the Children of Israel,’ (that makes sense!), or the People of Israel, or quite simply abbreviated as ‘Israel.’ Well then, how did the Jews come to call their conquered territory ‘Israel?’ We have to provide some time markers at this point. Jacob had his large family sometime around 1500 BC, and due to a famine in that region, they all moved to Egypt when the 12 sons were of adult age. The offspring all stayed in Egypt for 430 years, becoming a virtual nation of Hebrews living among the Egyptians. Most people of ‘Western’ heritage know the story of Moses leading the ‘Chosen People’ out of Egypt and into the ‘Promised Land.’ (Note that Moses was NOT a Jew, but a Levite, a descendent of Levi.) To condense a story that spans centuries, the 12 tribes, by then large in numbers, settled in 12 districts in the present-day Middle East. Over time, they coalesced into two main groups: the ‘Southern Kingdom,’ called ‘Judah’ because it consisted of the tribes of Judah and the smaller, Benjamin; and the ‘Northern Kingdom,’ called (get this!) Israel, probably because it comprised the remaining ten tribes. When the famous David came along as king, he succeeded in re-uniting the two nations into one (called Israel) for a while. After his death, the two groups again separated.

What happened next is important. As detailed in the Bible, the two Abrahamic, or Israelite kingdoms had numerous episodes of idolatry and spiritual infidelity, and then, in the year 722 BC, the Assyrians under Chedorlaomer, defeated ‘Israel,’ the Northern Kingdom, and dispersed the inhabitants to Assyria, and apparently, later to all points of the compass. While theories abound, the fact is that the ten northern tribes disappeared from history as an identifiable entity. You could correctly state that it was the end of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah continued right up to the time of Jesus... and slightly beyond. In fact, Jesus, in his ‘Olivet sermon,’ predicted the future destruction of Jerusalem and the great temple that had become an instrument of religious oppression in the hands of a self-serving clergy. Jesus’ words were fulfilled within the lifetime of many of his hearers; the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD, destroying the temple, and killing many Jews. The survivors dispersed to different lands, but they carried their religious traditions with them-- a religion that is called Judaism. But you can see that it could more accurately have been given a more general name, since the fundaments had been given through Moses in the desert to all 12 tribes. Also-- note this-- Abraham never observed a Jewish religion! The Ten Commandment covenant, the basis of Jewish faith, was handed down to the ‘people of Israel’ through Moses, more than four centuries after Abraham’s death.

After the end of the Second World War, Jews living in Europe organized an army that invaded Palestine, inhabited for centuries by Arabs, and with the complicity of the victorious ‘Allies,’ they occupied a piece of territory they designated as ‘Israel.’ They should more rightly have termed it Judah, but it is claimed that all 12 tribes are represented in the ranks of nominal Jews. In any case, by calling it Israel, they probably hoped to lend it an air of Biblical legitimacy, since they claimed to be re-possessing the land promised to their ancestor, Abraham. Some of us have a hard time understanding how you can come along after a lapse of 2000 years and declare ownership of a land supposedly promised to your ‘great-to-the-nth-power grandfather;’ but apparently, any excuse will do when you have the firepower on your side.

Alright; that pretext is sufficient for Jews, (although there are a few today who are questioning this dogma). But, why do ‘Christians’ accept this line of logic? Does the Bible really say that God ‘promised’ Palestine to the far-off descendants of Abraham? And if God did promise them the land, why do they need to wrest it by force of arms? Starting with Abe himself, and his famous tryst with his maidservant, Hagar, his descendants have been trying to ‘help’ God to keep his promises to them. That does not seem to evidence faith; but who am I to question? It’s time to open the Bible and see what it says concerning Israel.

A rational humanist may well inquire as to why we must consult scriptures that date back to some 12 centuries BCE, but such are the subtleties of religious logic. While today’s Jews insist that the Bible (or their Torah-- the Christians’ Old Testament) gives them eternal title to the land of Palestine, it’s valuable to study those writings for oneself to see what they really state. The book of Leviticus quotes the words of God as, in fact, stating exactly the opposite of the commonly held claims:

"The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” Leviticus 25:23 (NIV)

God is telling them bluntly that they don’t own the land-- he does. Okay, that wouldn’t deter the Jewish occupiers of Israel/Palestine; they will just reply that they have re-claimed their lease on the land and occupy it on his behalf according to ancient dictum. For some, that may be good enough, and they’ll just accept the assertion as ‘gospel.’ But-- we want to dig deeper and see if there’s more to the story... don’t we?

As it turns out, that lend-lease from God did NOT come ‘carte blanche;’ there were numerous conditions attached. If you read the next chapter of Leviticus-- or it’s recapitulation in Deuteronomy 28-- you will find that the whole land deal was predicated on strict conditions. God starts these clauses with a big IF... and then enumerates at length, first, the blessing they will enjoy in the land provided that they fulfill the demands handed down through Moses at Mount Sinai. Secondly, he describes the horrors that will fall upon the children of Israel if they should fail to live as God required and spelled out in ‘the Law’ handed down to them via Moses. Among those curses, they would be driven out of the land and scattered abroad, offering themselves as slaves to support themselves. It makes for scary reading... especially now, in retrospect, as we see that the curses were carried out as predicted, first to the northern ‘Israelites,’ and later, to the southern Jews.

So, you can read for yourself, that long ago, the Jews forfeited the land that God had lent them! If the people of Israel had modelled their society along the lines required by God, they would have enjoyed unparalleled prosperity and harmony, as well as protection from enemies. In failing to keep their end of the bargain (ie. the so-called Mosaic, or Sinai Covenant), they lost the rights to the promised land. The ‘promise’ came with conditions-- the Jews, and their Judeo-Christian acolytes, never mention those telling conditions. In light of the true Biblical perspective, then, one has to question why the modern, 20th century Jews tried to justify their invasion of Palestine on scriptural grounds. Evidently, they made the reasonable assumption that most people have never bothered to read the Bible, and therefore could be told anything about its contents.

Yet, there are plenty of so-called Christians who seem to be conversant with the Bible, and still they support the fiction that ‘God gave the land to the Jews.’ Why do they do this? One can either assume that they aren’t aware of the verses quoted here, or that they are being devious. Regrettably, the art of deconstucting Bible verses and reassembling them to justify almost any particular view is ages old. Scripture twisting was used in ages past to persecute Jews; later, to justify slavery. Today, they are used as pious rationale to destroy the Palestinians and enlarge the Jewish conquered territory.

Perhaps the right-wing, pseudo-Christian lobby that agitates for Jewish/Israeli hegemony is motivated by another warped understanding of scripture-- those that pertain to the ‘end times.’ In that aberrant optic, the adherents believe that the temple of Solomon must be rebuilt on the ‘temple mount,’ site of a present-day Mosque, a holy shrine of Islam. Surely if a Christian church had been built on the mount, these ‘Christian’ militants would be quite opposed to the notion of rebuilding the temple. But, in their faulty exegesis of ‘eschatological’ texts (ie. those pertaining to the ‘end of the age’) these opportunists seem to think they can advance God’s cosmic clock to the final bell... and thus hasten the return of Christ to rule-- with their ready assistance-- the whole earth, for a thousand years of peace, they believe.

For any thinking non-Christian, this line of reasoning must appear quite absurd on several points. For example, how can puny humans suppose that they can hasten Christ’s return by taking matters into their clumsy hands? And, do they honestly believe that Jesus is going to place these scheming manipulators into positions of authority? God forbid! But such is the arrogance of those drunk on dreams of religious dictatorship.

Those proud Republicans of the religious right, the moral majority, have been conned into buying this ‘Christian claptrap’ lock, stock and barrel by fast-talking ‘evangelists’ who have made fortunes on the side with a flood of pamphlets, fantastic novels (purporting to be ‘bible-based’) and more recently, videos giving graphic dramatizations of their bizarre theological theories of ‘apocalyptic times.’ Do the purveyors of these sensational scenarios honestly believe it? Maybe some do; the question hardly matters. The supertanker is moving briskly, and it’s not about to be turned around easily. The blind opportunists have been exercising increasing political clout in recent decades, especially since their first poster-boy Ronald Reagan was president and admitted his sympathy with the Evangelical views. Now they are egging the White House on to giving Israel an unlimited blank check to achieve a common goal-- expulsion of the Palestinians from their ancestral land, and approval to level the Mosque and rebuild the temple.

It’s insanity based on absurdity... yet it has a grip on the minds of a sizable number of Judeo-Christians in America today. If Christians bothered to investigate for themselves, instead of letting the snake-oil salesmen tell them what to believe, they would be astounded to read what Jesus, and Paul have to say on the subject of Israel. Many church-goers seem to regard Jesus’ parables as folksy tales with a spiritual message; rarely do they understand that these stories can also reflect important reality. In the parable of the vineyard owner who leases the land to tenants (Matt 21:33-44), he says the owner (God) sent servants (the prophets) to request his due from the tenants (the children of Israel). But what did they do? The renters mistreated the servants and refused to honor their lease terms. The owner then sent his son as his emissary. This time, the wicked tenants threw him outside the vineyard (symbolic of Jerusalem-- Calvary was outside the city), and killed the son (obviously, Jesus). Now, it’s interesting to read what follows (verse 45):

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them.

How about that! The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) knew he was referring to them. Yet today’s Christians don’t seem to ‘get’ the point of Jesus words. Even though, in the same chapter, he made it crystal clear. In verse 43, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying:

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

There’s no doubt that the ‘you’ in this verse refers to his audience, the Jews. (As proof, see Jesus’ words when he ‘wept’ over Jerusalem; Matt 23:37). Even prior to this parable, Jesus had enacted a prophecy regarding the Jews and ‘fruit.’ In a single amazing verse (Matthew 21:19) is captured in enacted symbolism the veritable future of Israel:

Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.

The tree represents the people planted by God (Israel) on the road of life. The leaves held out promise from afar; but alas, there was no ‘fruit,’ no manifestation of the presence of God in their lives. Jesus didn’t just ignore the tree in disappointment; he cursed it in disgust!

Yet the evangelical lackeys of modern Israel are anxious to ‘bless’ that impostor! Why? Again because of a complete lack of understanding of the scriptures. Most facile Christians believe that the Bible advises that you must bless the Jews in order to receive a blessing. Is that what it states? Let’s see how a Jewish contemporary of Jesus understood that idea.

Galatians 3:8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."

What Paul realizes here is that all nations were blessed through Abraham (not ‘Jews’) because Jesus’ earthly lineage was traced back to Abraham. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that blesses ALL nations... NOT attempting to mimic ancient Jewish traditions!

In order to make the whole lesson unavoidably plain, Jesus made another prediction that was astounding in the ears of his audience. While they were admiring the great Temple of Solomon (one of the ‘Wonders’ of the ancient world) Jesus assured his companions that it would soon be leveled to the ground (Matt 24:1-2). It is recorded in the gospels (Matt 27:51, etc.) that the heavy veil or curtain that separated the first compartment (called the Holy Place) in the temple from the second (the ‘Most Holy Place’) was torn in two, from top to bottom, at the moment of Jesus’ expiry on the cross. This supernatural act was a sign from God that the entire temple service, with its priests and rituals and sacrifices (called ‘holocausts’, incidentally) was henceforth obsolete, futile. In case some still did not comprehend, the Roman army came to ‘pacify’ Judea, as they called the region, and in 70 AD, they destroyed the temple, exactly as Jesus had predicted. This act was a graphic demonstration that the entire system represented by the temple was finished, terminated.

Obviously, in view of the unmistakable words and acts of God and Jesus, every thinking Christian has to ask ‘How do these spokesmen get their weird ideas that we must support Israel so they can rebuild the temple... and hasten Jesus’ return?’ It’s all pure fabrication! Actually, it’s worse than that. In striving to do exactly what God has undone, to act opposite to the judgements of Jesus, to ‘bless’ what Jesus has cursed, these pseudo-Christians are furthering the cause of the one who opposes Christ-- the so-called ‘Anti-Christ.’ By rejecting Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah who offers them peace, the Jews are (still) rejecting the God of Abraham. Jesus said, He who hates me hates my Father as well. (John 15: 23). Therefore, according to Jesus himself, there can be no such ‘abomination’ as ‘Judeo-Christianity!’

Am I saying that Christians should be antagonistic towards Jews and Israel? No! Don’t infer that notion. I’m saying that the political support advocated by some self-appointed Christian figures is quite misguided, non-Biblical, and ultimately anti-Christian. Every person on earth is of equal worth in the sight of God; there are no ‘chosen people’ who enjoy some

kind of special status before God. As Paul wrote to the believers in Galatia (ch. 3:6-7):

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.

It ought to be a fundamental article of Christian understanding that every human can be a ‘spiritual descendent’ of Abraham by the simple exercise of faith... not birth! Paul states this fact in many of his letters; why evangelicals are not teaching this fact is a blatant error and a shame. It’s time for Christians to stop thinking that they are somehow nothing more than an off-shoot of Judaism. That is completely wrong! The Christ-based faith goes back to Abraham himself. (Indeed, it could be traced to Eden, but let’s leave it at Abraham for this purpose.) It’s time to stop looking in the rear-view mirror, and to look toward the one who gave his life for mankind and whose name so many people pretend to worship. As Jesus told his skeptical audience:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” John 8:56

If Abraham, by faith, looked forward to ‘the day of the Lord,’ why should we be content to look backwards to Moses? The Jews took a detour in the Sinai desert... and never got back on track, even when the Son of God came to enlighten them. Let’s not make the same mistake all over because we’re too listless to read scripture for ourselves, and too eager to listen to fantastic stories about coming wars and miracles in the Middle East.

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