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Zionism, new enemy for angry Christians

The Moslems seem to stay in a state of rage about Zionism, the Zionist entity, and Zion the Root of World Conflict.  Usually they can’t bring themselves to say “Israel.”  Lately, some Christians have taken to writing similar hair-on-fire internet harangues against Zionism.  Israel is seen as the new Satan on the world scene, raping, pillaging, doing that conspiratorial banker thing, nefariously manipulating the public through the “Zionist media,” and so on and so forth and et cetera continued.  And lately, this is Christians saying and writing these things.  There is a certain kind of mind that is eager to believe the worst about whatever is Jewish.  I had hoped that such a mind would not be found in the body of Christ.

The Role of Dispensational Bible Interpretation in Forming Israel

The core principle of dispensational interpretation is that the words of Scripture mean what they say in their plain, normal, literary sense.  This might not seem terribly revolutionary nowadays, but in the 1800s when this principle first began to be applied to Old Testament prophecy, Bible students quickly saw a pattern emerge involving the events of the end times.

Truman accepts menorah from Ben Gurion

Israel was to be at the center of the action, so even in the late 1800s, prophetic students began to say that there would someday be an Israel comprised of Jews regathered from the nations of the world into Palestine with Jerusalem as its principal city.  It’s not hard to see how this affected people’s political opinions about the Middle East.  After the events of World War Two, politicians who wanted to establish a homeland for the Jews in Palestine found many people in Christian lands already strongly influenced to favor the creation of Israel.  In my opinion, it’s no accident that Harry Truman, a man of  Baptist background, played a key role in the formation of Israel.  The Truman Library website says, “When President Harry S. Truman took office, he made clear that his sympathies were with the Jews and he accepted the Balfour Declaration.”

Where Do They Get This Stuff?

Dispensational interpreters have noted quite a few statements in the Old Testament that the ancient land of Israel belongs to the Jews in perpetuity and that God would eventually bring Israel back there. For example:

And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.  Gen 13:14-15

This promise about the land is repeated multiple times (Gen 12:1, 12:7, 13:15, 15:18), worded in various ways and in various contexts.  Reading these statements in their plain, normal literary sense, there can be no doubt that God intended the children of Abraham to possess the land.  This is important because it establishes the context of subsequent promises that God would bring the Jews back into their land.  Here’s one from the law of Moses which — and don’t miss the significance of this — was written before Israel entered their land the first time:

And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, 2 And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; 3 That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. 4 If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: 5 And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.  (Dt 30:1-5)

You can find similar promises in various prophets, most emphatically in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  For example:

And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  (Ez 34:13)

Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:  22 And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel…  (Ez 37:21-22a)

So the notion of a prophecy of Israel returning to Palestine is not the fantasy of wild-eyed dreamers consulting Nostradamus or Miss Cleo.  It’s the result of reading Old Testament prophecies in a straightfoward way using the plain, normal, literary sense.

Common Sense Limitations

It’s an open question, of course, whether our time is the time when God will establish Israel.  The existing nation of Israel might be a premature flash, a sort of reverse anachronism brought about by the confluence of a great tragedy (the Holocaust), misguided politics, aggressive Zionists in Europe, and overzealous students of Bible prophecy in America.  The real deal might have to wait another 2600 years, or 26,000.  We just don’t know for certain, and as Jesus told the disciples, the times and seasons are in the Father’s hand.  The best we can do is to walk with Christ as we wait for the Son from heaven.  And that’s really about as far as good Bible interpretation can take the matter.  The further one goes beyond this, the more it morphs into speculation and opinion and less actual Bible study.

The limits are important because dispensational interpreters have been falsely accused of teaching that Jews are saved by virtue of being Jews and need not believe in Jesus.  I’ve actually never heard of a dispensational preacher who says this, but the accusation has been made, so it has to be shot down anyhow.  Maybe this will do: It was a Jew who preached, “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Ac 4:12) John the Baptist emphatically denied that eternal life runs in the bloodline. (Mt 3:8-10)

Once again, using the plain, normal, literary sense of the language, this means everybody needs Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile.  So let it be agreed upon by every Christian, “he that has the Son has life, and he that does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  Jesus came to save souls, and he will save whosoever receives Him as Savior and Lord, whether Jew, Greek, Scythian, male or female, bond or free.  So a true, biblical view of Zion and Israel does not mean we have another Gospel.

Likewise, the biblical view does not mean Israel is exempt from doing what’s right, not even in war.  It’s been said by anti-Zionists that the Jews are dealing dirty, bombing schools and blowing up stuff, killing innocents on purpose.  Some of that may indeed be true, and to the extent that it is true, Israel is in the wrong.  No committed Christian will defend or excuse criminal conduct, not even in war.  Nothing about the dispensational system of Bible interpretation means Israel’s favored status gives Jews a free rein to do evil.

How It’s Playing Out in Our Time

The anti-Zion camp has been silent for years while Hamas has been launching thousands of rockets toward Israel and boasting about it.  Even anti-Zionists expect Israel to be civilized and expect Hamas not to be.  It is a backhanded way of admiring what they despise and debasing the Palestinians they claim to be defending.  It’s too far off the subject to explain in detail that what’s going on over there is what happens in every war and that this is a good reason to go to war only if war is impossible to avoid.  Suffice to say people kill one another, atrocities happen on both sides, neither side looks civilized.  This excuses nobody of anything; it’s just what war is.  As things stand on the situation right now (1/10/2009), Israel has turned out to be far stronger and more willing to fight for its security than the Moslems expected.  For the first time in a long time, the Moslems are afraid of them.

Back here in America where armchair theologians and bloggers haggle with one another, the geopolitical and religious threads have gotten all tangled with each other.  While Israel is fighting for its life and peace amidst neighbors that daily announce their desire to annihilate all the Jews, anti-Zionist Christians have become obsessed with the question of whether Israel has a right to exist.  Strangely, they have no similar misgivings about America’s divine right to exist, or Namibia’s, or whatever.  Only Israel is obliged to show angry, skeptical Christians a chapter-and-verse justification for its existence.  It seems to me that answering them is a sort of sanctified fool’s errand since you’d be trying to convince people who have already made up their minds.  So, like everything else about the Middle East, this ends up in a muddle.

Since the dispensational understanding of the Bible played a role in Israel’s formation, the recent decline in the influence of this kind of Bible interpretation is also playing a role in a shift in attitudes toward Israel.  This explains the surprising number of Christians who have lately begun publishing furious invectives against Israel.  That instantly prompts one obvious question: If, as you claim, Israel is nothing to you, then why are you launching so much bile in their direction?

On the political scene, pro-Israel George Bush is leaving.  An unknown and desperately inexperienced Barack Obama is entering.  Hillary Clinton whose husband has accepted millions of dollars from Arab states, will be installed in the State Department.  People who have long opposed Israel have become more vociferous, accusing Israel  and her supporters of racism, committing or excusing war crimes, turning Gaza into a giant concentration camp, and so on.  I have a hunch that this is just a power vacuum being filled.  Along with the general decline of Christianity in the West, the particular form of Christianity which helped give rise to Israel has also receded from political influence.  That power vacuum has been filled by a particularly vitriolic anti-Zion thought.  It’s not hard to see the day coming when America will bring a halt to her historical support for Israel.  This is sheer guesswork about future policy, but just as a religious movement helped form America’s pro-Israel attitude, so a religious movement in the other direction could help move America to side with Israel’s enemies.

America and Israel Going Forward

The Bible foretells a day when “all nations” will be gathered against Jerusalem to battle.  (Zech 14:2)  Reading this in its plain, normal, literary sense, you could conclude that the day will come when Israel will have no support from anyone.  “Anyone” would include whatever nations exist at the time.  If indeed our time is that time, then you’d also draw the conclusion that America will eventually stop supporting Israel.  If and when that happens, we may find new respect for the plain, normal, literary sense of biblical language once again, because God has said He will curse those who curse Israel.  Being an American, I’d hate to see that happen.

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