Does Israel Have The Right To Exist?
Posted by Job on January 7, 2009
That was the question posed to the Jerusalem Post columnist and Jewish intellectual David Forman by a liberal Christian group. As Forman is also liberal, they were expecting the usual apologies, defensive postures, and equivocations that the modern left makes regarding Israel. This is in contrast with, say, 60 years ago, when the position of the left was to defend a much more liberal – indeed socialist – Israel government from amillennial conservative mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics (this was before the rise of the religious right and its alliance with the conservatives that now in large part control Israel, even when the Labor Party is in power … the modern Israeli Labor Party is not the Labor Party of Golda Meir).
Well these liberal Christians were shocked when Forman launched into a vigorous stance on Israel that could have just as easily come from the conservative Jews (and Christians) that these liberal Christians obviously do not dialogue with. Forman’s strongest argument was that modern Israel has as much right to exist as any other nation, including the United States, and furthermore that Israel was created by the United Nations (the only nation that I am aware of that has that designation). Unfortunately, Forman went on to use some much weaker arguments, including some that amount to little more than Jewish propaganda.
This is my personal answer to the question that was posed to Forman and is often asked, especially in times such as this when Israel finds itself using military action. Iin a true or absolute sense, what we mean when we use the term “rights” is something that only comes from God. In that context, the only nation (and by that I mean nation – state, a sovereign political entity associated with a general area of land) that ever had the right to exist was Old Testament Israel.
As for other nations in other places and times, well we know from Romans 13 and 14 that they are good things, gifts to humankind from God’s common place. We also know that other nations have been used by God to accomplish His purposes. God used Egypt, for instance, to make Israel into a people. He used Babylon and Assyria to judge Judah and Israel. The Roman Empire’s vast network of roads, political stability, and common Greek language facilitated the speedy spread of the gospel and the preservation of the New Testament. (God also used the Roman Empire to judge the Jewish people for their rejection of Jesus Christ: read Matthew 24 and then consider the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the destruction of Jerusalem and scattering of the Jews in 132 AD). And our current nation, America, has been very important in A) strengthening the vital free church tradition, B) global missions, and C) protecting Jews, including but not limited to taking in refugees and supporting the modern state of Israel.
But the much good that many nations have done before the eyes of the Lord throughout history does not mean that any particular one had or a right to exist. That would imply that A) such a nation was created by an act of God as was Old Testament Israel and B) that God mediated either through prophets or His Son Jesus Christ a covenant with that nation. In other words, such a nation would have been a function of special grace and not common grace. It is my contention that only Old Testament Israel met either the conditions A) or B), let alone both of them. As such, no other nation has had a “right'” to exist.
As I have stated earlier, it is my proposal that Old Testament Israel’s right to exist as a unique sovereign political entity tied to the land that was formerly Canaan ended by virtue of their breaking the Sinai covenant, and such happened just as the book of Deuteronomy and the classical prophets that warned Israel’s kings and people largely based on Deuteronomy said that it would, first in 721 BC and then in 586 BC. For this nation – state to be re – established with a similar right to exist, whether in Canaan or anywhere else, would have required A) another miraculous act of God, B) another covenant of God, C) another prophet to mediate this covenant, and D) another purpose. Those who assert that this is the case, well the burden is on them to provide evidence of A, B, C, and D. Or failing that, Biblical evidence predicting that such a thing would happen.
I am aware of the many Bible passages that predict that the Jews would return to Israel. But none of those passages to my knowledge predicted that Israel would be re – established to the position that it held before, as a special nation with a special status by virtue of God’s special grace, and in particular with a specific role in human redemption or salvation history. As a matter of fact, the idea that Israel would be re – established in something closely resembling the form or character of the Sinai covenant nation – state caused the Jews much confusion and consternation, and was the cause of the belief that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom. Jesus Christ’s refusal to even aspire to such a thing was a key reason why He was rejected, and is still rejected by all but Messianic Jews to this day. But my reading of the Bible, especially Hebrews 1:1-4, would seem to preclude the idea that God would have created or had a use for a covenant nation in the last days, a period or dispensation that the New Testament made clear began with the ending of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right Hand of the Father.
That said, as I mentioned earlier, nations are clearly intended by God as a good thing. It is not a bad thing when nations are created, and it is a very bad thing when nations that are basically decent and moral fall. As all nations are certainly imperfect, claiming that Israel is anything but an orderly, decent and moral nation is a lie. So, Israel’s existence is a good thing that restrains evil. And yes, I do consider Israel’s existence as a work of God’s providence – if not an act of God’s special creation like Old Testament Israel and the church – because Bible passages speak of a gathering of Jews in the land of Israel having great endtimes significance. (Keep in mind, I am a millennialist, even if it is postmillennial.) I merely reject the notion that those prophecies require a sovereign Israel – especially one run by a constitutional democratic republic form of government that is the product of human paganism and philosophy – to be carried out. After all, when Jews returned to Israel the first time – a precondition for the birth of Jesus Christ – they were under Medo – Persian domination, and Jesus Christ Himself was born to an Israeli people under Roman domination. So, the fulfillment of the revelant eschatological passages, including the famous ones in Ezekiel that are so popular with dispensational premillennialists, do not require that Jews have a sovereign state in Israel. It merely requires that a large number of Jews live in Israel.
Still, this does not make Israel’s formation or existence illegitimate. Realize that nations do not have a “legitimate” way of forming in the first place. They simply exist. The idea that Israel was formed on stolen land … well name the nation that exists today on land that did not belong to some other people group or political entity in times past. Also, Israel’s existence in some form has been endorsed by the United Nations, which let us face it is the highest human authority on the planet today, and likely will be until the beast, the anti – Christ takes power. (Being millennialist, I reject amillennial notions that the anti – Christ will be an institution or body like the Roman Catholic Church, but rather that the beast will be as Daniel, Revelation, and 2 Thessalonians states: a literal human being.)
What makes a nation’s continued existence legitimate? The ability and willingness to govern and defend itself. A nation that cannot or will not govern or defend itself … well that nation will fall and either be dominated by another nation or just descend into general anarchy and with it end any question of its legitimacy. So Israel must govern and defend itself even if it means defying the international community. Governing itself means capturing, imprisoning, and killing the Palestinian criminals that are murdering its citizens. Defending itself means taking definite action against Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other nations that are funding and arming the Palestinian criminals. Is there such a thing as being excessive, cruel, or unwise in governing and defending itself? Of course, and Israel has been at times. In my opinion, the primary cause of this is relying on air strikes, knowing full well that it will both endanger innocent civilians while accomplishing relatively little, rather than ground troops and soldiers. Do not be deceived: Israel does this only because of politics and public relations. But Israel’s mistakes and unwise policies in the couse of governing and defending itself does not remove the fact that Israel has the responsibility to do so. Israel is not committing a sin against God’s common grace by governing and defending itself. Rather, it is doing so if they refuse.
So, should Christians support the state of Israel? Of course. Romans 13:1-4a reads “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good.” So Christians should support every stable, functional, basically moral government, and also support the establishment of the same where it does not exist. (Please note: this does not mean that we should be in the business of going to war with sovereign nations and occupying them in the interests of establishing a government that is more to our liking, or support such endeavors.) Israel is a stable, functional, basically decent government, and we should support it in being so and support its continuing to be so. However, this is not necessarily special with regards to Israel (the Biblical imperative to pray for the peace of Jerusalem notwithstanding) but with all nations, including our own. Which means that we should resist our own nation’s slide into corruption and lawlessness.
So in absolute terms with respect to a special position before God, Israel has no special right to exist that any Christian need respect as was the case with Old Testament Israel. But in relative terms with respect to every other nation that has ever existed, Israel does have rights that Christians should respect, and rights that Christians have an interest in seeing Israel stand up and defend. The fact that I have declared their conflict with the Palestinian population that resides within their borders to be intractable based on very legitimate considerations on the part of both the Palestinians and Israelis does not in any way alter this. Quite the contrary, living in this creation that has fallen into sin due to the sin of Adam means that just these sorts of issues will occur whether they are within nations, within families and marriages, or within an individual (please see Romans 7:7-25 for the individual conflict). I only hope and pray that Palestinians and Israelis handle this inevitable and intractable conflict with justice and dignity, and that more and more individual members of those respective populations accept salvation through Jesus Christ to aid them through their trials.