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Is Israel Still God’s Chosen People

February 14, 2013

In the theological circles where I grew up a great deal of importance was placed on the nation of Israel. That perspective still has great dominance today in many places. “Evangelical” Christians in the U.S. are some of the strongest and least critical supporters of the Zionist cause in the world and they exert great political influence in that direction. But, the question deserves a hearing as to whether or not Israel today deserves that kind of blind support. My own position on this question, which I will try to explain and support, has been evolving for a long time and has only really started to solidify fairly recently.
First, I think that we must define just exactly what we mean when we are talking about Israel. Rather quickly I came up with six different understandings of Israel. There was the individual in the Old Testament who had his name changed from Jacob to Israel. Then there is the genetic people of Israel, who are the biological descendants of Jacob. Next, there is the Old Testament nation of Israel that exited Egypt under Moses leadership and established their Kingdom in Canaan. That nation existed from around the 12th century B.C. until it divided after King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. Around 721 B.C. the northern kingdom was conquered and around 521 B.C. the southern kingdom was conquered. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah there was a return to the land that lasted until about 71 A.D. though most of that time was spent under the control of larger powers. Then there is the land of Israel. It has come and gone and the boundaries have changed from time to time, but there in the middle east there is a geographical area that has been sometimes called Israel. Then there is the modern political entity known as the modern nation of Israel.
It is very clear in the Old Testament that God established a very special relationship with Israel known as a covenant. That special relationship began with Abraham and was reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob. It was also reaffirmed with Moses. That covenant relationship between God and Israel forms the basis for the support of many Christians for the modern political nation of Israel. Along with that covenant God made many promises to Israel. Those promises included the land and a promise of continuity and national prosperity. Those Christians who most stridently support modern political Israel, see the establishment of the modern state as fulfillment of that promise and prophecy. Along with that they will cite also God’s promise to “bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel”. Their eschatology demands that there be a political Israel to play a role in the “last days”. The commitment to modern political Israel is absolute and unquestioning. This Israel can do no wrong in dealing with neighboring nations or with those who were displaced by the creation of their state.
The ultimate theological questions that must be considered surround whether or not modern political Israel is God’s people in the world today. Was the establishment of the Jewish state a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and a confirmation of God’s will? Do Christians have a responsibility to support and endorse everything that Israel does? I have come to the conclusion that the answer to both of those question is no. Let me try to explain why I have come to believe this. Start by understanding that God’s covenant with Israel was always stated with two sides usually stated something like, “If you follow Me and do my will then I will bless you…, BUT if you turn away from Me and become like the other nations I will curse you…” The turning away and disobedience brought about the destructions in 721 B.C. and 586 B.C. This is clear from the Old Testament prophets. The return from exile under Ezra and Nehemiah was brought about by repentance of those in captivity and reestablishment of a right relationship with God went hand in hand with the physical return to the land. IF the return to the land had been in response to divine intervention one would have expected the foundation to have been set in repentance, contrition, and prayer instead of terrorism and guerilla warfare. IF, the return to the land after World War II had been under the covenant it should have produced a nation that was preeminently concerned with living as God’s people under His Law. In brief, I believe it would be a nation that looks far different from what exists.
If you counted you would have noticed that I said that there were six Israels and then I only named five. That is because I believe that the sixth Israel is the Church. As the apostle Paul put it, the Gentile believers have been grafted in. It seems very reasonable that this new Israel, the spiritual Israel, has now assumed the role of God’s representative people on earth. We now are a part of the New Covenant that Jesus spoke of at the Last Supper.
This is what I have come to believe after many years of study and consideration. I fully acknowledge that the whole realm of eschatology is a somewhat sketchy business. I know that there are many who believe that they have it all down pat in neat charts and graphs. I don’t think much of the rest of their theology either. There are a number of matters of doctrine on which I am quite confident of my position. Eschatology is far less certain. This is what I have come to believe at this point in time. I remain open to being convinced that I am wrong tomorrow.


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