A podcast listener named Melinda writes, “Pastor John, what is the proper, Christian response 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. When I say conflict, I mean the conflict between the Jewish people — or Israel the state and Jews as a body — and the Palestinians.
Both Christ-Rejecting Rebels
There are Jewish Christians and there are Palestinian Christians. These Christians are the meek who will inherit the earth, including the land of Israel someday. Jesus died to make peace between Jews and the nations. That is the point of Ephesians 2:11–22. Therefore, our prayers and labors should be especially devoted 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.
“A people in treason against her King cannot lay legitimate claim on the King’s promises to a covenant-keeping people.”
Then I would say this: 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 participate in against God, as if either of them have a divine right to the land of Israel in spite of their rebellion and unbelief against their Maker and their covenant God. This carries the implication that both sides, Palestinians and Israel, should be treated with compassionate, public justice in the same way that disputes are generally settled between nations, with a wise mingling of justice and mercy. That is my overarching position. Neither Jews or Palestinians can justify anything they do or be treated any particular way by 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.
The Specific Promises
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, the history of redemption. This history climaxed in the coming and death and 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.
Not only that, but God promised to Israel the presently disputed land from the time of Abraham onward. God said, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring’” (Deuteronomy 34:4). Statements to that effect are repeated many times. But neither of those two facts — Israel’s election and God’s covenant promise of the land — means that Israel has a present-day divine right to the land.
Rebels Forfeit Rights
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 peoples” (Exodus 19:5).
“Our plea as Christians to Palestinians and Jews is this: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
Today, Israel is a covenant-breaking people. There are thousands, I know, 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 don’t want to define themselves as 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 by the Babylonians, Daniel prayed like this:
O Lord . . . we have sinned and done wrong . . . To you, O 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 (Daniel 9:4-7).
In other words, God is righteous. He is righteous to deny Israel her divine right to the land when she is a treacherous, treasonous people against God.
Part of the Plan
Jesus stood looking out over Jerusalem with tears and said, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. . . . You did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41–42, 44). They had rejected the cornerstone. They still do.
“This hardening of Israel is not God’s last word. He has a saving purpose for Israel.”
When they did, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43). Then he explained like this: “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 the outer darkness” (Matthew 8:11–12). For now a hardening has come upon Israel (Romans 11:25).
These are the times of the Gentiles, the times of the nations. 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 pray, “Lord, bring the day when the hardening will be lifted from Israel. Grant, O God, that their eyes would be opened, that they would see Jesus as their Messiah and join the church of Jesus Christ. In one great tree of covenant love, may they be grafted into salvation.”
Plea to All Peoples
We must be careful — perhaps this is a closing qualification — not to draw false and unbiblical inferences from anything I have said, like: Well, Israel’s present rebellion against God means that 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).
Our plea as Christians to Palestinians and Jews is this: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. 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.