Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

A podcast listener named Melinda writes in to ask: “Pastor John, what is the proper response of the Christian to all that is going on in Israel and Gaza? I have Christian friends praising Israel because they are God’s people defeating their long-time enemies, saying that all their offensives are justified and sanctioned by God because they are defending the land he gave them. I have other Christian friends who are outraged over Israel’s slaughter of innocent civilians and children in Gaza, and the support they are receiving from the United States. Which is the right response?”

Let’s start with an overarching position on the conflict and then I will try to put some Bible underneath it and explain. And when I say conflict, I mean between the Jewish people or Israel the state and Jews as a body and the Palestinians.

There are Jewish Christians and there are Palestinian Christians and these Christians are the meek who will inherit the earth including the land of Israel some day. Jesus died to make peace between Jews and the nations. That is the point of Ephesians 2:11, following. And therefore our prayers and our labors should be devoted especially to heralding the gospel of Messiah Jesus as the only hope for long-term peace and justice among Jews and Palestinians. That is the most important thing to say, I believe.

And then I would say: The Bible does not teach that we should be partial to Israel or to the Palestinians in the present Christ rejecting rebellion that both of them have against God, as if either of them had a divine right to the land of Israel in spite of their rebellion and unbelief against their maker and their covenant God, which carries this implication. Both sides, Palestinians and Israel, should be treated with compassionate public justice in the same way that disputes are settled between nations generally, with a wise mingling of justice and mercy. So that is my overarching position. Neither Jews or Palestinians can justify anything they do or be treated any particular way by virtue of claiming a present day divine right to the land while they are living in rebellion against the one who made the land a gift of covenant keeping.

Now here is some biblical foundation for that. Israel was chosen by God from all the peoples of the world to be the focus of his blessing in history, in the history of redemption. Every... we amen to that. This history climaxed in the coming and the death and the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6. Amen. Israel is God’s chosen people.

And not only that, God promised to Israel the present disputed land from the time of Abraham onward. God said—Deuteronomy 34:4—This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob I will give it to your offspring. And it is repeated many times to that effect. But neither of those two facts—Israel’s election and God’s covenant promise of the land—neither of those two facts means that Israel today has a present day divine right to the land.

Now why do I say that? Because a non covenant keeping people does not have a divine right to hold the land of promise which was given by covenant. Covenant breaking forfeits covenant privileges. God said to Israel: If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples. Today Israel is a covenant breaking people. There are thousands. I know. There are thousands of Messiah trusting Jews. They are not covenant breaking. They enjoy God’s saving favor. But as a whole, as an ethnic unity, as a state, they are defined by rejecting Messiah Jesus. They are... because they be Christian and they don’t want to define themselves as Christian. That would make them Christian if they embraced Messiah Jesus as Messiah and Savior they would be Christian. They are self consciously not Christian. They are in a state of treason against their King who sent his Son to save them. A people in treason against her King cannot lay legitimate claim on the King’s promises to a covenant-keeping people.

For example, when Israel was driven from the land of promise under God’s judgment with the Babylonians, Daniel prayed like this. Oh, Lord, we have sinned and done wrong. To you, oh Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame to all Israel in all the lands to which you have driven them because of the treachery that they have committed against you. In other words, that is Daniel 9:4-7. In other words God is righteous. He says righteous to deny Israel her divine right to the land when she is a treacherous, a treasonous people against God.

Jesus stood with tears looking out over Jerusalem and said: Would that you had know the day of peace. But now they are hidden. These things are hidden from your eyes. You did not know the time of your visitation. So they had rejected the cornerstone. They still do. And when they did that Jesus said: The kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. Matthew 21:43. And then he explained like this. Matthew 8:11. Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. For now a hardening has come upon Israel. These are the times of the Gentiles, the times of the nations. So 21:24. But this hardening of Israel is not God’s last word. He has a saving purpose for Israel. All Israel will someday turn to the Lord Christ as a group. This is my deep understanding and belief of Romans 11. The broken off branches will be grafted in one day to the people of God, the bride of Christ, his Church. I think we should pray for that day. I do. I pray: Lord, bring the day when the hardening will be lifted form Israel. Grant, oh God, that their eyes would be open, they would see Jesus as their Messiah and join the Church of Jesus Christ and with... in one great tree of covenant love may they be grafted in to salvation.

And we must be careful... this is maybe a closing qualification here. Careful not to draw false and unbiblical inferences from anything I have said, like: Well, Israel’s present rebellion against God means that the other nations have the right to molest her.

No, they don’t. She still has human rights among nations when she has no rights before God. Just like all the nations do. We don’t think any nation, because it is a pagan and unbelieving nation, should be treated unjustly. Neither should Israel. In the Old Testament the nations that gloated over her divine discipline were punished by God. Isaiah 10. So our plea as Christians to Palestinians and Jews is to believer on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. And until that day when both Jewish and Gentile followers of King Jesus inherit the earth, not just the land. Until that day when we together inherit the earth without lifting a sword and without lifting a gun, the rights of nations should be decided by principles of compassionate public justice, not claims to divine right or divine status.

Excellent, thank you Pastor John. For an even fuller, biblical and theological exploration of these themes see Pastor John’s sermon, “Israel, Palestine and the Middle East,” preached on March 7, 2004. You can find the sermon and 1,200 others in the sermon archive at desiringGod.org. … Well on this podcast we talk a lot about sexual temptation and sexual sin. But what exactly is lust? Tomorrow on the podcast Pastor John will give us a foundational definition to help us understand the sin … and what’s underneath it. I’m your host Tony Reinke, we’ll see you tomorrow on the Ask Pastor John podcast.

Related Resource:

Israel, Palestine and the Middle East