This is my first promised post regarding Christian support for Israel. An alternative title could be: “Why Dispensationalists Should Hesitate to Support Israel.”
First, let’s distinguish between “Israel” as defined in Scripture and “Israel” in modern parlance. The modern nation-state of Israel declared independence in 1948 following British withdrawal from the territory of Palestine. The Israeli government has always been secular in the Western tradition, and bears no resemblance to any biblical conception of what a renewed Israel should look like. The designation “Israeli” includes secular and religious Jews, as well as secular and religious Arabs.
Dispensational visions of eschatological restoration involve a religious state and a revived temple cult. While there are religious Jewish Israelis who share this vision, the nation-state of Israel has not moved in that direction in its sixty-four-year history, but has become more secular.
Unqualified Christian support for Israel undermines our moral authority to condemn unjust actions of Israeli government. Even if dispensational premillennialism is correct, Israel still would have a long way to go in order to be a biblical restoration, and Christians should not hesitate to criticize actions of the Israeli government or unbiblical tendencies in Israeli culture/society–just as they should not hesitate to criticize the secular governments of their own nations.
In considering the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, it’s important to remember some history–not just sixty years of history. Israel was born out of Britain’s betrayal of the Arabs after WWI. At the urging of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), the British promised the Arabs independence in exchange for their support against the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 made support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine official British imperial policy. Before WWI and even during the Mandate (1918-1948), Jews and Arabs lived together in Jerusalem and in Palestine. An independent Palestinian state comprised of Jews and Arabs could theoretically have been possible. But the Balfour Declaration resulted in a heavy migration of Jews from Russia and Europe in response to pogroms and the specter of rising Nazism in Germany.
This is not the place for a comprehensive history of the Palestinian people. But looking back as far as 1918, the Arab natives of the land of Palestine have been treated very poorly. Their own “leadership” is equally to blame for their current oppressed state. But it does not help America’s image in the Middle East–nor does it promote peace–if America is perceived as supporting the Israeli government, no matter what the cost.
In fact, there is some evidence that American support for the Israeli government has resulted in less security for America and less security for Israel. If the American government ceased support for Israel, Islamic terrorist organizations would lose a huge recruiting tool. By shedding the American leash, Israel would be able to act unilaterally in its own interests.
Finally, this Israel might not be eschatological “Israel.” Let’s assume that dispensationalists are correct that God’s eschatological plan includes a reconstitution of ethnic Israel in the land of Palestine. What if the current nation-state of Israel has no relation to that plan? What if–heaven forbid–Iran succeeded in obtaining a nuclear weapon and annihilating the current state of Israel? Jews would still exist around the world–what if the parousia is still a thousand years away?
If this cataclysm were to befall Israel, those Christians who aligned their theology too closely to the newspaper will find themselves without explanation. Even worse, this Christian theological perspective might become the ideological underpinning for an irrational sense of Israel’s invincibility, which could itself lead to Israel’s demise–I’m not worried that Israeli leaders would be so naïve, but it might affect American public opinion and consequently American foreign policy. There are Christians in high positions in the American government who believe that Israel is part of God’s eschatological plan and will not fall.
In order to maintain the moral integrity necessary to criticize injustice worldwide, and to preserve the focus on the gospel, dispensational Christians should hesitate to support the modern nation-state of Israel.
In my next post, I’ll consider some reasons why non-dispensationalist Christians should offer some support to Israel.