Eyes on Israel

November 20th, 2012

Last week, Kim Kardashian found out just how fired up people can get when someone dares to bring up the subject of Israel. On Friday, she tweeted to her 16+ million followers, “Praying for everyone in Israel.” She was deluged with responses, mostly negative, including some death threats. Although she tried to calm the waters with a follow-up tweet, the vitriol kept coming. Eventually she deleted both tweets. Kim Kardashian isn’t an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, so her naïveté is understandable. But how could a tweet about prayer create such a firestorm?

Well, for one, just recognizing Israel’s existence is enough to push many people over the edge. At around 8,000 square miles, the state of Israel has roughly the same land area as the state of New Jersey, and since it came into existence in 1948, Israel has been a hot spot of tension and conflict for political and religious groups worldwide. Almost no one is neutral when it comes to Israel. Or so it seems.

Israel’s existence has created unusual alliances. Both religious and secular Jews who are pro-Israel have been joined by many American evangelicals and other Christian groups in the United States in building a political climate in America that, for all practical purposes, strongly supports the Jewish state unconditionally. On the other side, there are other Christian groups, often mainline and progressive, that have been more critical of a no-holds-barred pro-Israeli stance.

Then there’s the whole end times thing. Many Christians, especially evangelical dispensationalists, believe that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and its subsequent capture of Jerusalem in 1967 are signs that we’re living in the last days. (Of course, when you’re talking about almost two thousand years since the Roman Siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple, “last days” is a relative term.) Some argue that people who hold rigidly to this “we’re in the last days” eschatology have created such a formidable movement that some unfolding events may really be self-fulfilling prophecies. As these end times “experts” have gained influence over the years, some have compared them to spectators at a football game who decided to join the game and influence the outcome.

On the other side there are believers who have rightly pointed out the plight of Arab citizens of Israel, including many Palestinian Christians who feel trapped in the middle of all the tension. War and conflict always have their costs, and innocent people sometimes suffer and die. When that happens, no matter how great the cause may be, it’s a tragedy.

Unfortunately, many people think they have to be pro-Israel or anti-Israel, no qualification, end of discussion. Others recognize the need for a third point-of-view (the seeing gray approach) that recognizes valid claims on both sides. But I believe it’s hard to be completely impartial on this. So I won’t be.

I generally support Israel for a number of reasons, but not without exception. Israel gets things wrong sometimes. And at the end of the day, it’s largely a secular nation (although it’s officially a “Jewish and Democratic state”). But it’s America's most loyal ally in the Middle East, and although it’s not one and the same with ancient Israel and Judah, we can’t overlook the fact that its very existence is extraordinary. It’s the world’s only Jewish state—over 75% of its population claims a Jewish identity. And most Jews in the world live either in Israel or the United States in almost equal numbers (5.3 million in the U.S., 5.7 million in Israel). Even if we don’t consider the significance of its geographical boundaries, the fact that Israel is the world’s only Jewish nation with a plurality of the world’s Jews living there is a big deal.

In Genesis 12:3, God told Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of earth will be blessed because of you.” Christians, of course, read this verse through the lens of the cross. But it’s undeniable that God blessed the world through the Jewish people with a Jewish Messiah. And although Christians are the children of a new covenant, we should maintain a special respect for the Jewish people because God still has a special relationship with them. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to share Christ with Jews, but it does mean that we should take God’s covenant with Abraham seriously. I believe that extreme replacement theology (i.e. the church is Israel now) has been responsible (at least indirectly) for much anti-semitism in the church throughout history.

The current headline at the ABC News website reads “Hopes Rise for Gaza Ceasefire”. Let’s pray for peace in Israel. For such a small piece of real estate, it sure does get a lot of the world’s attention. And deep down, we know there’s something very special about this little country.

Keep watching, and keep praying.

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