Israel vs Palestine – a Christian view

Posted on November 18, 2014 at 10:42 am,

This is the latest in my series of blog posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. I’m in the middle of chapter 12 on Foreign Policy, this time looking at the thorny issue of Israel and Palestine.

The History

Grudem begins with a history of the conflict which is very one-sided. He says that the root cause of the conflict is that Palestinian Arabs (he is reluctant to use the term Palestinian) and other Arab nations refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist as a nation. He views Israel’s actions as the only way of defending its citizens, and his only criticism of Israel is that Israel does not to enough to protect religious freedom – particularly with regards to Palestinian Christians. There is no indication anywhere in the chapter that some of Israel’s actions may have been disproportionate, or that the Palestinians might have legitimate grievances with Israel. He believes that the first step in any solution must be demanding that the Arab states give up claiming that Israel has no right to exist, and that no other negotiations should take place until that happens. He also thinks that the US should continue to be a close ally of Israel.

It should be fairly obvious that I think that Grudem’s analysis of the situation in Israel is somewhat skewed. But then most accounts of this conflict are skewed to one side or the other. What is most interesting here is his attempt to apply theology to the situation.

The Theology

He begins by bringing up the dispensational system of interpreting the Bible. On the question of Israel, dispensationalists (tend to) believe that God’s promise in the Old Testament to give land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still applies, and is yet to be completely fulfilled. Grudem does not belong to this school, and points to a number of New Testament passages that describe some of these promises being fulfilled in the church, rather than the nation of Israel. He particularly mentions Hebrews 8:8-13, and 1 Peter 2:1-10.

He then goes on to mention some points that both dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists can agree on. Firstly, he brings up the issue of salvation – Jewish people will not be saved apart from Jesus. Secondly, that God still regards them as “a special ethnic group out of all the people of the Earth”, citing various verses from Romans 11. Grudem then goes on to say that he thinks this means that God has “a special favor and care for the people of Israel”.

Grudem brings up a number of reasons why he thinks the USA (and, presumably, other Western nations) should support Israel. The theological ones are as follows:

1) Moral values.

Grudem paints Israel as a contrast to moral relativism and confusion, and also to harsh, totalitarian governments in strict Islamic states. He maintains that Israel has similar convictions to the moral standards of both Christians and the Bible, tracing both Christian and Jewish morality to the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). He appears to be assuming that the state of Israel holds to a (religious) Jewish morality.

2) God’s plan

This point is that, because God is sovereign over the affairs of nations, and because of Bible passages saying that, at some point, large numbers of Jewish people will be saved (Romans 11), “it seems right to see the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 and the present gathering of 5.5 million Jews there as a significant preparation that God has made”. Grudem believes that supporting Israel’s continued existence and well-being will contribute to the “full inclusion” of the Jewish people into the people of God at some point in the future. Whilst he goes into a bit more detail than I have quoted, I am still unsure how he came to that conclusion.

3) Promises to Abraham

Whilst Grudem believes that many of the promises to Israel in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in the church, he believes that it is uncertain whether the promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 is one of those promises. The passage reads:

And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. (emphasis from Grudem)

He points out that it is only God’s covenant (or agreement) with Moses that is explicitly said to be the “old covenant” in the New Testament. And it is the old covenant with Israel that is the one said to be superseded by the new covenant of Jesus.

Of the various arguments Grudem gives for supporting Israel, this is the one I think is strongest. It is not overwhelming (the fact that the Jews did not rule any part of the holy land between 73AD and 1948AD is a problem for this interpretation). But it’s certainly possible that the creation of the modern state of Israel is a fulfilment of Biblical promises and prophecy.

4) Spiritual Warfare

Grudem goes on to suggest that anti-Semitism may have been partially caused by spiritual sources, both historically and today. He suggests that demonic hatred is “the most likely source behind the inhuman evil of the suicide bombers” who attack Jewish civilians. Because he sees the actions of some Palestinian groups as demonic, he is obviously more inclined to support Israel.

Whilst I don’t rule out the possibility that some of the suicide bombers may be influenced by demons, I think Grudem is overselling the case that this is the main cause. Palestinians see the conflict as one of Israeli oppression. They often believe that Israelis are all involved in the military (and the fact that Israel has compulsory conscription makes this easier to believe – even if most conscripts do not serve in the military). And suicide bombings are often the only weapon they have in the conflict.

Whilst I agree with Grudem that suicide bombings in civilian areas are a despicable tactic, I can see how some Palestinians might come to the conclusion that it is worth the sacrifice without having to assume that the cause is demonic.

One final note, Grudem accepts that the USAs strong support of Israel will cause some Islamic Jihadists to attack them as well. This is in contrast to his claims in the chapter on Defence policy that US actions in the Islamic world have nothing to do with the reasons the US is a target for Islamic terrorism.

One Comment

  1. Jim
    Posted January 31, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I prefer to stay neutral on the Israel/Palestine issue – I think both sides have done bad things, and both sides have justifiable reasons to be aggrieved. On the point of the covenant, however, it would seem to me that regardless of whether or not it is fulfilled in the church, it was *conditional* on the behaviour of the Israelite people – hence the Babylonian exile and the various other misfortunes that God allowed to come on the Jews when they did not keep his commands. With regards to the commands regarding the treatment of foreigners in the land and so forth at least, it does not seem to me that Israel is presently doing a very good job of things.

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