Posted by: Hugh Griffiths | July 31, 2006

The Identity of Israel

Particularly with the current situation in the Middle East, it is important that Christians distinguish between spiritual Israel and the secular (albeit religious) nation which is currently perpetrating further violence on Lebanon.

A single post doesn’t allow a detailed treatment, but perhaps this quotation posted on  the Imperishable Inheritance blog offers some definition.

Who then is Israel? The answer is never simply a matter of ancestry. Consequently, the central issue is the New Testament is not really Jew versus Gentile. Instead, Israel is the people chosen by God and called to respond in faith and obedience. Israel is the People on whom the Lord sets his love (Deuteronomy 7:7).

Such also is Matthew’s teaching. Jesus, a literal descendant of Abraham, himself a Jew, is the Israel who is the object of God’s love. He is chosen by God and responds in perfect obedience, fulfilling the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) and all righteousness (3:15). Since Jesus is the corporate representative of Israel, God now recognizes as Israel all who respond in faith and obedience to the presence and will of God revealed in Jesus. Of course, the first to so respond are in fact Jews. Jesus’ condemnation of Israel is not a blanket condemnation of all Jews but only of those who do not believe. The crowds that follow him do not receive from him the same radical judgement as is pronounced on the leaders of the nation. Instead, Jesus has compassion on the crowds as “sheep without a shepherd” and declares his disciples that “the harvest is plentiful” (Matthew 9:36-38). So long as they do not reject Jesus, the possibility of becoming Jesus’ disciples remains open to the people. Will they accept the definition of Israel and the fulfillment of the promises revealed in Jesus? Will they comprehend the mystery of the kingdom? That was and continues to be the only question that decides the identity of Israel: Not ancestry but faith, not human achievement but God’s gift, calling, and election, acknowledged in Jesus, son of Abraham, son of David, Son of God.

David Holwerda, Jesus & Israel: One Covenant or Two?

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Responses

  1. Good quote, Hugh

  2. I personally find it completely inconcievable that Christians can claim that a nation that recently bombed a building killing over 30 children can in any way be viewed as having God’s divine backing.

    The arguments that they were warned are not a good enough excuse. The lines of communication are severely damaged and these people, even if they knew were simply to terrified to move.

    Equally the claims Hezbollah are using innocent civilians as human shields is an equally poor excuse. It may very well be true. It’s an effective albeit completely monstrous and despicable tactic. The fact it works is that no civilized country that cares about human life would risk harming innocent civilians. Israel seems to believe that just because Hezbollah are using these people as shields it means they have a right to kill them. Innocent human life should be protected at all costs.

    750 Lebanese dead so far, the fast majority innocent civilians. It infuriates me that some Christians endorse Israels action. In no way shape or form can they be endorsed by the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament which does quite the opposite, it unequivocally condemns such actions and goes against every principle of New Testament Law.

  3. I am having a thought, Hugh…Instead of “O.K.-ing” the current violence and proclaiming that it is under the favor of God, maybe we as Christians should see it this way: Israel is a nation in need of Jesus…just like China, or Chile, or Kenya, or Namibia, or Romania, or India…or…or…or…So…instead of excusing things and pronouncing Divine favor over it all, maybe we, the Church, should be sending missionaries there. You know, if the whole government got born again and Spirit-filled, and recognized Lord Jesus as the nation’s Messiah and God – and then sought His wisdom in the entire mess – then that would truly solve everything.

    I’m not trying to be simplistic.

    Even in this: Lots of Christians go to Israel to walk in Lord Jesus’ Footsteps…and those Christians make lots of contacts in the course of those trips. Instead of being infatuated with the fact that they share a natural heritage with our Lord…if we not only loved them, but also made sure that we told them the truth about Messiah…who knows what might happen.

  4. Like you, I am not naive enough to believe there is an easy solution to the problems in the Middle East, but you are right – it is only the gospel that can ultimately bring peace to a nation.

    This is why it is so crucial that the church has its theology straight. Unless Christians are absolutely clear that Israel has the same need for Jesus Christ as other nations, their evangelism will not take place. Palestinian and Jew alike need to become ‘new creations’ in Christ. The gospel is never just an ‘upgrade’ or modifcation to the Jewish religion or any other belief system – it is a completely new birth.

    The gospels tell us much about Jesus’ views on the state of Jewish religion in his era. He was certainly not sentimental about it and (particularly in the current climate!) neither should we. After all, Muslims too share the natural heritage of Abraham and now also have the opportunity to become ‘children of promise’ through Christ.

  5. A great subject of discussion. The “secular” or “natural” state of Israel enjoy the same common grace as every nation on earth. They do not possess a national covenant with God.

    However, I do believe Israel has the right to defend itself. (like every nation on earth). If Guatemala vowed to distroy Mexico and acted towards Mexico as Hezbolah has acted towards Israel I would support their right to defend themselves.

    War is repulsive and must be avoided at all cost. Christian leaders must stand up and give Godly councel and not just condemnation. If you (the reader) believe Israel is wrong, then how should they deal with the nations and people who have vowed to wipe them of the map.

    There are many things that should infuriate Christians. My support of “secular” Israel should’nt be one of them. Your taxes paying for the murder of thousands of unborn children would be a good start.

  6. It’s worth remembering that taxes are also spent on giving aid to Israel (particularly in the USA) which is then used to buy the bombs that caused the weekends horrendous loss of life. I’m not making an accusation there just a point. Providing Israel the ability to defend itself (and that’s where my view on what constitutes as fair and viable defence probably differs from yours) is very important. I agree that there are many other things that infuriate me and I treat them all with equal concern.

    I do fully believe Israel has a right to defend itself. It’s just that I don’t believe it has a right to do it in the way it has been. The vast majority of the Lebanese casulties are civilians. Most commentators (many of a purely analytical and neutral stand point) believe that Israel’s actions have had little to no effect on Hezbollah. Some even believe that, quite the opposite, it’s boosted not only Hezbollah’s support, but the support of other extreme Islamic groups as well.

    Purely from an analytical view regardless of a view of right it would be very hard to conclude that Israel’s actions are coming anywhere near achieving their purpose. If anything as a supporter of Israel there should be deep concern that what they are doing (or more importantly, the methods they are using to achieve it) at the moment could well, however unintentionally, place them at greater risk than ever before.

    As closing comment on the subject I’d like to point out something a friend told me recently. Many years ago he toured the middle east particularly Israel and Palestine. He is neither a Christian, Islamist, or anyone with a vested interest in either country. His comments he said about his visit were enlightening to me. He said both peoples of the countries he visited were lovely people. Warm, hospitable, caring. However he said peace will always be a hard if not impossible thing to find.

    On speaking with people in both countries he found that the animosity was not hugely based on land, religious sites, religion, freedoms, nationality, status, security or even desire for revenge. They may come up in when debates and rhetoric occur but he said it was obvious from speaking directly to the everyday people of both countries it was not the underlying problem. He said it became obvious that the true problem boiled down to one very sad and perhaps impossible point to get round. Both sides hate each other. A hatred that may well can never be healed even if some sort of miracle happened and both sides genuinly renounced violence and laid down all arms. A hatred that it’s root is purely a dislike for someone of another race.

    When I spoke to him recently about the current situation he said it was almost heartbreaking to see two such wonderful nations contiuing to perpetuate a circle of violence that has no hope of ending. That the actions of both sides are achieving nothing and offer no hope to an end to the cycle of violence.

    I don’t know what the correct answer is for Israel’s response to being attacked. I only know their current one isn’t it and someone more skilled and intelligent than me needs to try and find the answer. I’m sorry if that’s not a good enough answer but it’s the best I can give.

  7. Two Israelis soldiers were kidnapped by the Hezbollah, which was an outrageous act of provocation and the Israelis acted because they are a nation who cherish their soldiers deeply. Even our Prime Minister Mr Blair has said that the “root cause” of violence in Lebanon was not Israel’s conduct or Palestinians suffering. real as that remains but it’s the growth of Islamic extremism. The Israel are not fighting a noble freedom fighting force, in fact they are defending themselves from terrorists, they are trying to disable their attackers military machine, they are fighting for their very existence and if they are forced to give up more of their land it will make self defence a practical impossibility.

    Those of us who believe that the secular, carnal state if Israel still holds a part of God’s plan because we have read in the Bible that God identifies Himself as the God of Israel 203 times, the God of Jacob 28 times, the God of Abraham 17 times and the God of Isaac 13 times. Never is He called the God of any other ethnic group. That’s all we are saying brother’s that these designations must be significant.

    I am personally frighten to hold any prejedice against God’s chosen people, the Jews or against Israel. If the nation of Israel is dead or has been replaced by the Church and does not have an eternal future, then the very term “God of Israel” questions God’s promise that Israel would never cease to exist.

  8. 750 Lebanese dead so far, the fast majority innocent civilians

    And you know this to be true because you interviewed all of these people. it is easy for you to ignore the hundreds of missiles that rain down upon Israel each day. They are sent off without a care for where they land in the hope that they kill.

    Israel goes to extreme measures to avoid civilian casualties and is held to a different standard. You don’t understand what terror is. You don’t understand what the bombings do. Take a look at this video and tell me that you do not feel sick and angry.

    I feel terribly guilty about the loss of life, but these terrorists must learn that the price that they pay for their actions is too high.

  9. Did you get this from my blog?

    [Hugh] Chris, – yes, the quotation is the one posted on your blog entry. David Holwerda’s material is excellent and the quotation you chose was very timely to follow up a post I made a few days earlier. Apologies if you would have preferred a link or trackback of some sort.

    If you liked this book you may also like O Palmer Robertson’s ‘The Israel of God’ which has a superb treatment of Romans 11 – careful exegesis and insightful elimination of alternative interpretations make it very helpful.

    I notice your front page currently has as aside on the Ugliest Dog. If you came across this link from me perhaps we’re now even? 🙂

  10. Hugh
    I would like to thank Ozymandias for providing the video link, it showed the human loss and carnage that terrorism causes. Ozymandia’s contribution has brought a sobering balance to these discussions. However Ozymandia should realise that our discussions here are between Christian brothers that believe with all their heart that Jesus Christ is the only answer. We have been talking about the Nation of Israel, and not the Jewish people in general.

    The Israelis unintentioonal killing of a few hundred Lebanese civilians behind whom hides Hezbollah —- the terror group that intentionally send missles at Israel’s cities and whose announced goals are the annihilation of Israel.

    It seems that the opinion of some Christians are livid over Israel’s defence and even here in Britian some people are upset at the Americans abuse of some Iraqi prisoner at the Abu Ghraid prison in Bagdad. Yet America and Israel, two of the most decent countries on Earth are slammed for their actions, yet there is silence about the World’s cruelest countries.

  11. Thanks for the link Hugh!


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