Tag Archives: Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Does Modern Israel Have the Right to Use Force to Claim the Land?

Here we must be careful to realize that any nation has a right to defend its legal borders and citizenry. At the same time, we must be careful not to confuse the modern secular state of Israel with the armies and tribes of Joshua. While God’s hand may be seen in the return of large numbers of Jewish people to the land, we must always be careful to distinguish between what God may or may not be doing with the Jewish people, and what the Jewish people are doing without God. It is not at all clear that a spiritually unrepentant state of modern Israel can claim land because of a title deed originally given to the descendants of Abraham, and then revoked until the promised last days of physical and spiritual restoration of Israel.

This distinction is important because when the children of Israel first came into the land, God commanded them to kill or drive out its inhabitants. At that time the God of Israel authorized the complete destruction of Canaanites who were living as a morally bankrupt and an idolatrous people. Their debased religion demanded human sacrifice; their social structure was brutal and dehumanizing; and their total lack of sexual decency lead to continual abuse of women, children, and animals, and, subsequently, widespread disease and death.

When Israel first entered the land under the direct command of God, it was with leaders who were specially selected by God on account of their obedience ( Joshua 1:7-9 ). The Israelites themselves had passed through 40 years of purification in the desert and were not permitted to enter Canaan until a disobedient generation had died. Unlike modern Israel, the ancient Israelites swore faithfulness to God and knew of the consequences of disobedience ( Deuteronomy 30:10,18; Joshua 24 ). Also unlike modern Israel, God miraculously prepared the way for them and supernaturally assisted them, so that they wouldn’t become arrogant and think that they had come into possession of the land by their own strength and cleverness ( Joshua 24:1-20 ).

The ideology of modern Zionism 1 is not based on religious faith. It is primarily agnostic and was founded on the ideology of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism, which is based on notions of “racial purity” and “historic rights to the land.”

As a result of this race-based ideology, the ultimate goals of Zionism didn’t favor peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, but required plans for their expulsion.
2 Over the decades, “the sins of the fathers”( Daniel 9:16 ) have clearly been found on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, the nation of Israel, like the Palestinian people, is not in a state of spiritual repentance as required by the standard of the New Covenant. Therefore we must wonder whether modern Israel has been guilty of many of the same corporate sins that led to her earlier dispersion.

Israel as a people and nation still have an important role in God’s plans. (See the ATQ article,  Does the Bible Really Call the Jews God’s Chosen People? ) However, John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the “greatest of the prophets,” warned Jewish leaders not to feel superior merely because of their racial heritage:

Do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come One who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:9-12 NIV).

God dispersed the ancient Jewish nation because of her moral and spiritual failures, and made His concern with justice and righteousness clear:

Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24 NIV).

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8 NIV).

Jesus declared that Israel would never experience God’s complete blessing until her heart had turned to repentance and obedience:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:34-35 NIV).

God’s covenant with Abraham implies that Israel will not be restored to her place of blessing in the land at the price of injustice and violence to others. (“You will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”) 3If Israel depends on violence and injustice to take control of the land, she will find herself facing the same consequences her ancestors faced.

  1. Zionism is the name of the international Jewish movement that began in the nineteenth century with the hopes of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Back To Article
  2. Although at least some Zionist leaders realized that it would be politically dangerous to make their plans for ethnic cleansing publicly known, some of their intentions have been documented, and history shows their plans for the expulsion of Palestinians have been consistently implemented. (See, for example, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem” by Israeli historian Benny Morris, Cambridge University Press; “The Iron Wall, Israel and the Arab World” by Jewish historian Avi Shlaim, W.W. Norton) Back To Article
  3. Before the 1967 War, a majority of American Jews were opposed to Zionism. Orthodox Jews tended to view it as a futile attempt to establish Israel in the absence of Messiah, and liberal Jews saw it as a violation of their commitment to freedom of religion in the context of secular representative democracy. Back To Article
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Who Are the Palestinians?

“Palestinian” is the term that identifies non-Jewish people, both Christian and Muslim, who have lived in the Holy Land for generations. During the last 150 years, many of these people found themselves displaced by Jewish settlers returning to their ancestral homeland. As Israeli immigrants returned in steadily increasing numbers, Palestinians responded in various ways. Some made peace with their new Jewish neighbors. Others passively tolerated Palestinian losses. Still others have resorted to violence and force of arms.

It is important to see that even though Palestinians are often thought of simply as “the enemies of Israel” the real Palestinian populace has a complex make-up and history.

When Israel moved into the land under Joshua, it was called the “land of milk and honey.” Because Canaan was such a hospitable and fertile land, it has been inhabited from the earliest times. Archaeology has determined that Jericho is one of the world’s oldest inhabited sites.

When Israel conquered Canaan, many inhabitants were driven out, but large numbers remained. Many Israelites intermarried with Canaanites and people of nearby nations ( Judges 14:1-3; Ruth 1:1-4 ). Consequently, the land was never inhabited by Israelites alone. Further, when the leading classes of Israel and Judea were driven into Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian exile because of unbelief and non-compliance with the Mosaic Covenant, many common people remained in the land. They multiplied and were joined by colonists from other nations. When Israelite leadership returned and regained political control, they did not expel the great numbers of non-Jews or less observant Jews who lived in the land. At the time of Christ, Jews were actually a minority in large areas of the land.

Again, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersal of the Jews by the Romans in A.D. 70, many common people remained in the land. They had Israelite ancestry to some degree but hadn’t been part of the rebellion against Rome. (It was under Roman rule that the Holy Land, as a whole, was first called Palestine, a name related to the Phoenician peoples who had long populated the coastal areas.) As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, many of the descendants of these common people of the Holy Land became either nominal or genuine Christians. Then, in the seventh century, Arabic-speaking Muslim armies conquered Palestine, Egypt, and all of the nominally Christian lands of northern Africa, along with Spain.

Although Muslim armies forced Christians and Jews to submit to Islamic law and imposed taxes and other restrictions that made them “second class citizens,” they spared their lives and permitted them to stay. This included the residents of Palestine. Further, unlike many historical conquerors, the Arabs didn’t send settlers to colonize the lands they conquered, but set up military garrisons in cities established to maintain Muslim rule. Except for a brief period when the Crusaders established a beachhead in the Muslim world, Muslim rule continued in Palestine under successive regimes until the end of World War I, when it came under the control of Great Britain.

During all of this time — from the time of Roman rule into the twentieth century — life continued largely unchanged. The people worked the land, tended their herds, carried on trade, and practiced the simple professions that supported village life. Although the Muslim conquest introduced Arabic as the language of everyday life and offered significant advantages to those who were willing to convert to Islam, Christians and Jews were tolerated as “people of the book” and many Jews and Christians remained in the land, carrying on their own traditions and generally living in peace with their Muslim neighbors.

Today the vast majority of “native Palestinians” are Muslims, but a significant percentage of them are adherents to other religions, including Christianity.

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Does the Bible Really Call the Jews God’s Chosen People?

The Bible predicts a unique future role for the Jews that will eventually bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. It tells us that Israel will be “a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”(Deuteronomy 14:2) 1

An important indication of her future role is found in God’s covenant with Abraham:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIV).

The fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham involves much more than the nation of Israel (See the ATQ article, Who Are the Descendants of Abraham?). We believe that God’s promises to Israel apply most completely to the future converted nation of Israel. Israel will again be in the land and possess a new heart demonstrated by humble obedience to God, and an ethical and national consensus that is beneficial for all the nations of the world.

These are the grounds for our belief. God made a promise to Abraham:

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God (Genesis 17:7-8 NIV).

Further, God specified that the land of Canaan would be given to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac:

But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (Genesis 21:12 NIV).

However, while the passing of the title to the land to the descendants of Abraham through Isaac is eternal and unconditional, God made it clear that Israel’s actual possession and enjoyment of the land was conditioned upon her spiritual state. God made it clear that disobedience would result in Israel’s banishment from the land:

If you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all His commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please Him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other (Deuteronomy 28:15, 63-64 NIV).

God also made it clear that national repentance would result in restoration of God’s blessing and promise:

The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as He delighted in your fathers, if you obey the LORD your God and keep His commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:9-10 NIV).

Later Old Testament prophets described Israel’s sin, and its consequences ( Isaiah 1:1-24 ; Amos 3-6 ; Hosea 2:2-13 ). In the intervening centuries the people of Israel have been persecuted as no other nation in history, and yet they have been preserved as God promised (Jeremiah 33:19-26 ). Looking to the future, Scripture seems to indicate that:

  • Israel will again return to the land ( Jeremiah 23:7-8; Ezekiel 36:24-32 ). The present nation of Israel may be the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise.
  • Along with the rest of the earth, Israel’s greatest trial is still ahead ( Matthew 24:15-22; Jeremiah 30:7 ).
  • Israel will be preserved and refined through this tribulation and recognize Jesus Christ as her Messiah ( Zechariah 12:10; 13:1,8-9 ; Romans 11:25-32 ).
  • After this, Jesus Christ will rule and reign on the earth for 1,000 years ( Acts 3:19-26 ; Revelation 20:1-6 ; Zechariah 14:9-21 ).
  1. The notes of the New Scofield Reference Bible provide this concise statement regarding Israel’s unique role:
    Israel was called to be a witness to the unity of God in the midst of universal idolatry (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10-12 ); to illustrate the blessedness of serving the true God (Deuteronomy 33:26-29 ); to receive and preserve the divine revelations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Romans 3:1,2 ); and to be the human channel for the Messiah (Genesis 21:12;28:10,14; 49:10 ; 2Samuel 7:16,17 ; Isaiah 7:13-14; Matthew 1:1 ). Back To Article
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