Should Christians financially and politically support the Jewish State of Israel?
Article 1 in a series by Robin Corner
Introduction: why this series of articles?
As I write, the Trump campaign is still going full bore to try to overturn Biden’s win. Trump’s behaviour crosses all bounds for egotism, irresponsibility, deliberately ignoring all advice from health professionals, and outright goading of violence among his supporters. In the days when tens of thousands of people are dying of the Covid 19 virus, he organised massive rallies which will inevitably result in more deaths (one study estimated 30,000), and has set an appalling example on failure to wear a mask and take other basic protective measures. In spite of this, he is currently experiencing about 78% support from evangelical Christians (or at least WAS experiencing that level of support recently). One facet of his policy attractive to evangelical Christians is his support of Israel, as seen in his moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. Many people are not aware of the huge support given to Israel by the US, which gives an average of US $10.5 million per day of aid to the Israeli military. Another way the US supports Israel, in this case by private giving of US evangelicals, is the funds given to the “aliya” – the emigration of Jews back to Israel. In 2017 at least 8500 new immigrants to Israel were funded by this means. The main purpose of this series of articles is to examine whether or not the Bible warrants this kind of support to the Jews from believers. Dispensationalism asserts that the Jews have a destiny apart from the Church and have a role in governing the world quite separate from her. Is this claim accurate? How should we all respond?
The theology of dispensationalism and the place of Israel in God’s plan for the world.
This attitude of Christians supporting the Jews to set up a Jewish state was unknown prior to the emergence of the theology of dispensationalism from the 1830’s onwards. The Old Testament promises of Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets were taken primarily to apply metaphorically to the church by the early church, the Reformers, the puritans and in fact virtually all commentators before the 1830’s. Then, John Nelson Darby, and later Cyrus Scofield, author of the notes comprising the Scofield Bible, and many others, invented the doctrines of dispensationalism, which have had huge influence even to today (Walker, 2004).
One of the cardinal tenets of this new theology was that God has a plan and a destiny for Israel which is separate from the destiny of the church. Jesus came as Messiah to Israel. “Israel” is all the people descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (subsequently named “Israel” by God). The concept of the dispensations is very central to dispensationalism, as the name implies. Different writers have different schemas for the exact number of dispensations, or periods of time, dividing human history, and the boundaries of each period.
The dispensation that began with Abraham is generally known as the dispensation of promise, because of the promises God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12 onwards. Dispensationalists lay great store on the unconditional nature of these promises. They emphasize that the Abrahamic covenant was made exclusively to Abraham and his “seed”.
The next covenant was made by God to Israel under Moses, the “Old Covenant”, which required Israel to keep the law. This is said to be the beginning of a new dispensation, the dispensation of law. Once again dispensationalism majors on exclusivity, arguing that the Old Covenant based on law is absolutely exclusive to the Jews.
In fact dispensationalism sees God’s main concern being ethnic Israel, with the salvation of gentiles, that is non-Jewish peoples, being only incidental, happening during the time between the death of Christ and the “rapture of the church” – the “church age”, or dispensation of grace. This time is also termed by dispensationalists the “parenthesis”, and in the thinking of some, it is the only time non-Israelites can be saved by the gospel. The “rapture of the church” is when Jesus comes to earth, gathers the church in the sky, then takes the believers to some part of heaven to celebrate with God, leaving behind all unbelievers to suffer a seven-year intensive “tribulation”.
Many prophecies exclusive to the Jews
This view (“classical dispensationalism”) holds that all the prophetic writings of the Old Testament prophets are now on hold, waiting until the rapture. When that happens, the Old Testament prophecies will find fulfilment in the Jews, and the Jews alone. Even the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is held to be irrelevant to believers of other ethnicities, but only applies to the Jews. God will unleash on them the seven-year tribulation mentioned above to purify the nation, which is held to be the subject matter of the Book of Revelation. During this time also the Antichrist will appear. 144,000 Jewish evangelists will itinerate through the world. All Jews will emigrate to Israel. All the other nations will combine in attacking the Jews at Jerusalem. At the end of the seven years, Christ will come a third time, to deliver the Jews from their enemies at the battle of Armageddon. This will cause them to recognise Him and repent of their past rejection of Him. As a nation they will be converted to Christ.
The millennial reign of the Jews
God will then set up His millennial Kingdom on earth and bind Satan. Ethnic Jews will inhabit and rule the earth. The temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and animal sacrifices as laid out in the Old Testament supposedly resumed. According to some commentators, the Christian believers, having come to earth with Christ, will now take up abode in the heavenly Jerusalem, which will be suspended above the earthly Jerusalem. The Jews will be ruling the earth from the earthly Jerusalem.
After the thousand years, Satan will again be released, and will stir up a final rebellion against God. Jesus will come a fourth time and put down this rebellion. After this, all the saved will live with God for all eternity. Classical dispensationalism still holds that the Jews will be separate from everyone else even into eternity, whereas modern “Progressive dispensationalism is not as dogmatic on this point.
How does this theology affect our lives today?
Dispensationalism lays great store on interpreting everything in the Bible literally. The State of Israel will, according to this theory, expand to the borders described by God to Abraham. Every Jew according to this theology should migrate and take up abode in the state of Israel. This is called “Zionism”, whether Christian Zionism, or Jewish Zionism, according to who is advocating it.. To a greater or lesser extent advocates of Zionism think that other inhabitants of Palestine should leave, so that Palestine can just be a homeland for the Jews.
Many advocates of dispensationalism think that every Christian believer ought right now to be doing something to further this agenda. They think anyone who has the temerity to disagree risks damnation because they are opposing God.
This series of articles will examine the tenets of dispensationalism one by one and consider whether the dispensationalist interpretation is valid. This first article will deal with the question of whether salvation and relationship with God was only open to or relevant to Israel in Old Testament times, as dispensationalists often argue, or did God have a wider agenda?
Was salvation only for Israel in the Old Testament?
This is a common misunderstanding that salvation was only for the Jews in the Old Testament, but in fact right from the beginning God’s plan was for the whole of mankind, not just for ethnic Israel. He chose Abraham to found the dynasty He would use to model the Kingdom of God for all, and called him to separate himself from his relatives. Certainly, He was to bring great blessing to Abraham:
“Gen 12:2-3 I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God’s intention was to bless the whole of mankind through this remarkable man. But also we should consider whether there were others who received blessing from God at the time of Abraham. If there were no others who received blessing like Abraham, perhaps dispensationalism could be right. Perhaps this really was an age (or “dispensation”) where God was exclusively interested in working with Abraham and his Israelite descendants, as some dispensationalists would claim. However, if we find that God worked through others as well as the Israelites at that time, and what they received was not essentially different from what the Israelites received, this would cast doubt on the theology of dispensationalism. In fact, there were others. Two obvious examples were Job and Melchizedek. They were both greatly favoured and loved by God.
Job’s faith journey
Job knew by faith that God was his redeemer, and looked to the time of living with God after death:
Job 19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
The above is a striking statement of faith befitting any servant of God in any age. He knew that he would be resurrected after death, that he would see God and that God was his redeemer. He was aware of the universal judgment and was conscious that he had been redeemed. God was proud of him and regarded him as His servant. When he was tested, some of Job’s attitudes were found wanting. Isn’t that the case with us all who seek to know God? During the course of the book, Job came to repent of his wrong attitudes to God and the whole book stands as a record of his remarkable faith journey.
In the Book of Job, a pattern of repentance and faith was laid out for us. There is no information in the book about his genealogy, but clues in the book suggest he was a contemporary of Abraham, and certainly lived well before Moses. Probably the book of Job was the first book of the Old Testament written. Genesis to Deuteronomy, according to Biblical tradition, were written by Moses later. So we can say that from the beginning, repentance and faith have been the way to God, whatever covenant was or is in force.
Melchizedek, priest of God Most High
Another contemporary of Abraham was Melchizedek, who Moses, in writing of him under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, called priest of God Most High. Melchizedek blessed Abraham, prophesied over him and took tithes from him, proof in Biblical culture he was the senior of the two. We don’t know anything of his faith journey, but we know that he was high in God’s esteem, and we know that he gained this position without being part of Israel or coming under the Old Covenant. He must have had strong faith to take the role he played.
Some have held Melchizedek’s appearance to be an actual visitation of Christ (termed a “Christophany” by theologians), based on comments in Hebrews 7. But this is not supported by a close reading of the text of either Genesis 14 or Hebrews 7. In most “epiphanies” (of which a “Christophany” is a kind) or manifestations of God in the Old Testament, the person who encountered God was left with a profound sense of having been in His presence[i]. But there is no suggestion of this in Melchizedek’s meeting with Abraham. Secondly, all Biblical priests represent man to God, and hence are fully human (See Hebrews 5:1). Jesus was and still is fully human, and so He can be our High Priest. But if Melchizedek was in fact Christ, he could not qualify as a priest. Christ was only fully human after His incarnation. Thirdly, Melchizedek is said to be “made like the Son of God” in Hebrews 7:3. The sense of the text is that he resembles Jesus, not that he is Jesus. The intention of the author of Hebrews was to build Jesus, not Melchizedek, up in the estimation of his readers. Melchizedek is a “type” which enables him to make his points clear. Melchizedek was a great man, but only a man nonetheless (DuncanIII, 2013) (Grey, 2016).
Therefore, being descended from Adam, he would have had sin to be dealt with. Again, the path of repentance and faith is set forth for us. As we read through the Bible, we encounter other examples of God’s care for non-Israelites, and His universal outlook. Let’s look at the Law of Moses. First we will consider the general attitude God required of Israel
God’s care for non-Israelites shown in the Law
Love shown to the stranger
It may be surprising to some, but God actually commanded Israel to love “the stranger”, i.e. the non-Israelite. While it is true that God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites, this was only because of the extraordinary evil the Canaanite peoples had fallen into. Other peoples were treated with respect and love. A selection of passages from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy will demonstrate this. It is always easier to empathise with someone when you have suffered in the same way. The Israelites were expected to allow that empathy to flow and extend their love to strangers who joined themselves to Israel, as these following two passages show:
Lev 19:4 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Exo 23:9 “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Many might ask why the Israelites were commanded to manifest this character of love. The answer is simple. This is God’s own character, demonstrated by His impartiality and practical care for those in need, whether they be orphans, widows or foreigners:
Deu 10:17-19 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In the Bible, genuine love always expresses itself in practical ways. Poverty was always not far away in the ancient world. Here is the foundation of God’s way of dealing with the threat. Israelites were required to help the poor:
‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
One practical measure to help was the reservation of grain at the corners of every field, and the prohibition of thorough gleaning, so there would always be something left over:
Lev 23:22 ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.’ ”
The Law applied to the stranger.
Some may think that the Biblical law was instituted to provide sadistic amusement for a vengeful God, but such a caricature has always been far from the case. The law is there to protect everyone and institute justice. When justice departs from a society, the wicked may prosper for a little while, but at their death they cannot take their riches with them. They are destined to live in torment for all eternity. Without the law, behaviour deteriorates, and the end result could be a nation like Sodom or pre-Israelite Canaan, both of which God set forth as a warning of the terrible result of unrestrained sin. Proverbs 14:34 tells us, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” So it was to the stranger’s benefit that he or she came under the law when they joined themselves to Israel. God was insistent that there should be one law for all in Israelite lands. The next passage shows the principle:
Lev 24:22 You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.’ ”
Because the law is uniform, the judges could impart justice at their hearings. The following passage shows that it was important to God that the strangers had the same access to justice as the native-born Israelite.
Deut 1:16 “Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.
The law has to have sanctions or it cannot be effective. The sanctions are the same for the stranger as for the Israelite:
Lev 18:26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you
The law regulates and defines sin and crime, and thus would have greatly improved the life of the stranger. But there is another function of the law which would have had a deeper effect on the one who studied it conscientiously, described in Psalm 19:
Psalm 19:7-8 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
Studying the law converts the soul (Psa 19:7). To have been given the law was an indescribable privilege for the strangers, and no doubt studying the law must have helped many of them to find a place of grace. Following are two specific sections of the law which the strangers were invited to partake. These sections are the law relating to the Passover, and the law about offering animal sacrifices, “a sweet aroma to the Lord”.
Exo 12:48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.
Num 15:14 And if a stranger dwells with you, or whoever is among you throughout your generations, and would present an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord, just as you do, so shall he do.
The inclusion into Israel of all these strangers has shown the care of God for all nations, in opening the way for strangers to join themselves to Israel, come under the law, and participate in Israel’s great blessings. When they were participating in the Passover, and making their offerings, the strangers must have felt they were really part of Israel, and glorified God for His great mercies.
Other individuals who found a state of grace in the Old Testament
Here are some more examples of individual non-Israelites who found grace in the Old Testament:
Caleb, – This great hero of Israel was not actually an Israelite but a Kenizzite, one of the Canaanite tribes mentioned in Genesis 15:19. Yet God spoke these words of commendation about him, making no difference between him and Joshua, yet condemning those of Israel who failed to respond to His commands with faith, proving the words from Deuteronomy 10 we have already considered that God shows no partiality in His dealings:
Num 32:11-12 ‘Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me, 12 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.
Rahab, Joshua 2 – We are specifically told in Hebrews that Rahab found deliverance through faith: Heb 11:31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. Rahab was included in a long list of men and women of faith. The others in the list were all Israelites or their ancestors, but Rahab, the non-Israelite, was commended along with them.
Othniel, Judges 3:9 – Caleb’s younger brother, from the same non-Israelite ancestry as Caleb, was raised up by God as a deliverer and judge in Israel.
Jael, Judges 4-5 – She killed Sisera, the enemy of Israel, though she was a Kenite, not an Israelite. She must have exhitaShe was sung this accolade from Deborah, God’s Prophet:
“Most blessed among women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Blessed is she among women in tents.
Ruth, Book of Ruth – Ruth was a Moabite, who saw by faith the blessing on Israel and, unlike Orpah her sister-in-law, decided to go with Naomi, her mother-in-law, to live in Israel. Ruth’s case is very interesting to study because all the benefits of the law were applied to her, a stranger.
Obed-Edom, 2 Samuel 6 – This Philistine from Gath was incredibly privileged to have the Ark of the Covenant stored on his premises, surely a great blessing from God.
The Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10 – She had a major revelation of God, as expressed in her words of faith to Solomon:
1 Kin 10:9 Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.”
Naaman, 2 Kings 5 – The Aramean commander who came to Elisha for healing. A clear case of repentance and faith leading to God’s blessing.
God’s dealings with Assyria and Egypt
God’s love has always extended to all mankind, sometimes bestowing His love on whole peoples other than Israel. In the case of Egypt and Assyria, Israel’s old enemies, God announced His plan to bless them abundantly:
Isa 19:16 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.
That prophecy is still to be fulfilled in the future, but in Old Testament times God sent His prophet Jonah to Nineveh (the capital city of Assyria) to call the Ninevites to repentance. At least that was God’s plan. Jonah himself was disappointed that they repented. He wanted God to destroy the city and its inhabitants. God’s attitude to these Assyrians was expressed in His answer to Jonah:
Jon 3:11 “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
God pitied the Ninevites and responded to their wholehearted repentance by cancelling the punishment that was due. A future generation of Assyrians would forget this resolve to obey God and would brutally invade Israel, but the generation of Assyrians in Jonah’s day gained great favour from God.
God’s dealings with Sodom and the Canaanites
There have been examples where whole peoples have rebelled so wholeheartedly against God that He had to abandon them to their evil ways, bringing punishment on them in due course. Even these cases illustrate God’s love for all people. For example, His treatment of Sodom was set forth as a warning to all peoples the terrible consequences of rebellion against God. He destroyed Sodom both as a warning, and so their intense evil would not spread to the whole earth. He was acting for the good of all.
In the case of the Canaanite peoples, God knew that their evil was so intense that if they were allowed to co-exist with the Israelites, the Israelites would be polluted and led astray to worship other gods, as actually happened. Again, in his commands, He was acting for the benefit of all peoples.
God’s love for all peoples
So far we have considered two categories of people who found God’s favour in Old Testament times. The first category, including Melchizedek and Job, found grace with God quite independently from Israel. The second category found grace from God by discerning the Israelites were God’s special people and joining themselves to Israel. We have seen this happen in the lives of Caleb, Rahab, Othniel, Jael and Namaan. We can see in these examples that even though God during that era commanded the destruction of various peoples, individuals who were part of those peoples were able to go their own way of faith and virtue and escape the punishment of the crowd. Above all we have proved that God’s blessings were not limited to ethnic Israelites. True it is that Abraham and his descendants were the recipients of great and enduring blessings. However, they were not the only ones to be blessed by God.
© Robin Corner 12/11/2020
Next article – to be published 19/11/2020
We have seen that not all who were blessed by God in Old Testament times were ethnic Israelites. But in the 2nd article in the series we will look at the other side of the question – Were all ethnic Israelites blessed by God?
 See James 2:15-17