2. COVENANTALISTS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

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boatfinal Lake Galilee – the traditional fishing boat

2. COVENANTALISTS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

In the book I have made the case for recognising that the return of the Jews to the land of Palestine in the twentieth century is a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. On the way I have raised the objections made by those who do not share this view and attempted to answer them, both from scripture and by reasoned argument. In this chapter I intend to analyse some of their views in more detail and turn the spotlight on what I believe are their mistaken arguments and conclusions. I will deal with Covenantalists’ views under the following headings:

1. Failure to understand or appreciate God’s love for his people Israel
2. Unwarranted systems for interpreting Old Testament prophecy
3.
The objective of invalidating Israel’s right to the land
4. Ignoring large numbers of prophecies which speak of a widespread
    return of the Jews to the land
5. The belief by a few Covenantalists that all prophecies of a return 
     
of the Jews relate only to the return from Babylon
6. Allowing sympathy for the Palestinians to mask a clear understanding
    of both Old and New Testament scriptures

1. Failure to appreciate God’s love for his people

When I read the Old Testament prophets especially Isaiah, I am astounded by the love that God has for his people Israel. He is passionate about them – he is both passionate and exasperated with them. He can wax furious and lyrical in the same passage. We looked at this in Chapter 5, under the heading ‘Israel will return to the Lord’. We saw how the relationship between God and Israel is sometimes described as a marriage. I will repeat here this moving passage from Isaiah:

For your maker is your husband…. for the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off…. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:5-6 and 7-8

In Jeremiah he says:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Jeremiah 31:3-4

Later in the chapter he says:

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord…. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? Jeremiah 31:20-22

Israel is variously described as wife, son and daughter. To my mind it is impossible not to sense the feeling in God’s heart. It is a love story between God and a people he has chosen.

However, one never senses this in the writings of the Covenantalists. They seem to miss it. In their view God once loved Israel as a nation, but its people became a bitter disappointment to him. He gave them up and instituted the Church. The Church was and is to encompass all peoples who believe in Jesus. Jews are welcome on the same terms as Gentiles, but gone is God’s special relationship with the nation of Israel. Covenantalists see the nation of Israel as a functional entity. It served to give us the moral law of God through the Ten Commandments and it birthed the Saviour of the whole world, but it is no longer seen as an object of God’s love. The implications of this view are serious.

This is the God of the universe instituting the covenant of marriage in the Old Testament which is further strengthened by Jesus in the New Testament, declaring his love for a partner whom he respectively calls his wife, son and daughter: what does he do? He then abandons her very publicly as a spectacle to be observed by the rest of humanity throughout history.

Many times God calls Israel faithless in the prophetic scriptures, but what kind of example is he setting of his own faithfulness if he deserts Israel? What can we say of his role as a husband or a father? Surely we have a right to expect him to set an example. He also has his name to protect: before the Mosaic covenant was enacted on Mount Sinai, God’s anger understandably waxed hot at the sin of the golden calf and he threatened to destroy the people except for Moses and his family. Moses appealed to God’s reputation with the Egyptians and to his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not to proceed, and God did indeed relent (Exodus Chapter 32). Elsewhere we learn that God declared that in bringing the Jews back to the land of Israel he is acting for the sake of his holy name (Ezekiel 36:22-32).

I think we can conclude both from our knowledge of God and what he specifically declares in the Bible, that whatever his feelings, he is always very careful to guard his reputation and that reputation is one of faithfulness. Just as we can rely on it for our personal salvation, so the Jews can rely on it for the future of their nation.

2. Unwarranted systems for interpreting Old Testament prophecy

We have already seen that Covenantalists employ various means of assessing scripture which result in an interpretation of Old Testament passages, rather than their literal understanding. Colin Chapman has two approaches. The first is to say that the prophecies must be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ teaching and the second is to offer a more structured approach for understanding prophecy. I will give an example of each. In his chapter headedThe Land after Christ”, he is comparing Old Testament prophecies such as Isaiah 43:5-7 and Psalm 107:2-3 with Matthew 8:10-12:

Here again, therefore, Jesus takes expressions which, in their original context, speak of the ingathering of Jewish exiles to the land, and uses them to speak of the future ingathering of people from all over the world into the kingdom of God…. It was not that Jesus was simply ‘spiritualizing’ Old Testament prophecies and thereby leaving open the possibility that they might one day be interpreted literally. Rather, according to him, the gathering of believers into the kingdom of God was the true fulfilment of these prophecies. Some Christian writers have pointed out that the prophets predicted the return of the exiles from all countries – from north, south, east and west. Moreover, they say, some of the prophets (notably Zechariah) specifically predicted that exiles of the northern kingdom of Israel would return to the land as well as exiles from the southern kingdom of Judah. They go on to ask: has anything happened in history which fits this description – except the recent return of Jews to the land? The question at first sight seems unanswerable; it sounds a convincing ‘knock-down’ argument. But if the Christian is to interpret Old Testament prophecy in the light of the teaching of Jesus, the question simply does not arise. Why? Because in the perspective of Jesus, the ingathering of the exiles – from the north, south, east and west – takes place when people of all races are gathered into the kingdom of God. This is the true, the real, the intended fulfilment of the prophecy.1

Chapman himself describes the question posed by some Christian writers as a “knock-down” argument, but still manages to circumvent it. There are several weaknesses in his argument:

(1)

If the Christian is to interpret Old Testament prophecy in the light of the teaching of Jesus ….” I have already explained (Chapter 6) that this style of interpretation is a presumption. It is not necessarily right and there is no evidence that Jesus himself indicates that this should be done.

 

(2)

Even if it were true, it does not follow that the particular teaching of Jesus (in this case Matthew 8:10-12) applied to the Old Testament passages in question.

 

(3)

Since he has not established his point he is not justified in finishing the passage with this definitive statement: “This is the true, the real, the intended fulfilment of the prophecy.”


As we shall see in this second example, Chapman is fond of such definitive statements. He has devised a system for interpreting Old Testament prophecy. He approaches prophecy with three questions and three possible fulfilments (F1, F2 etc.) which in themselves are perfectly reasonable. It is how he applies them that is questionable.
 

F1

Were these words fulfilled in any way during the time of the prophet?

F2

Were these words fulfilled in any way in the first coming of Jesus Christ? Is there any indication that Jesus regarded himself, or that his disciples regarded him, as the fulfilment of this prophecy?

F3

Are these words to be fulfilled in the future at the second coming of Jesus Christ? Is there any indication that either Jesus himself or the disciples related these prophecies to the end of the world?

He does not specifically allow for a fulfilment between the First and Second Advents of Jesus Christ, such as the present time, but recognises that the time gap is significant.2

He applies these questions to five Old Testament prophecies. I will examine the first of them in order to demonstrate what I consider to be his faulty application of these principles.

The passage from Amos (Amos 9:8-15)

We have already seen part of this passage from Amos in Chapter 5. It is clearly a passage about Israel and Chapman calls it ‘The planting of Israel in the land’

v.8 Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face  of the earth – yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the Lord.
 
v.9 For I will give the command, and I will shake the house of Israel among all the nations as corn is shaken in a sieve, but not an ear will fall to the ground.
v.10 All the sinners among the people will die by the sword, all those who say, “Disaster will not overtake or meet us.”
v.11 In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be. 
v.12 So that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,’ declares the Lord, who will do these things.
v.13 The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.
v.14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel: they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
v.15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God.


This scripture, taken from the New English Bible, is quoted as used by Chapman. I have emphasised the portion which he relates to the New Testament scripture (see Acts 15:16-17).

In answer to F1 he agrees that most commentators do not see a connection to the first return from exile. In answer to F2 he points out that verses 11 and 12 are quoted by James, the brother of Jesus in Acts 15:16-17 as a vindication for accepting Gentiles in the Church. James uses just one verse (12) from this prophecy of Amos to justify this inclusion, which says “… and all the nations [Gentiles] who are called by my name …”

And yet Chapman then justifies this quotation by James to say that the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Church is:

a fulfilment – or should we not rather say the fulfilment? – of the prophecies of Amos.

He then goes on to say:

The restoration of Israel is not understood as something still in the future, but as something that has already taken place. And the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church is described as a result of the restoration of Israel … 3

This is quite remarkable. The reader can see that the portion quoted by James in Acts 15 is a small part of the total scripture and yet Chapman dismisses the rest of the scripture as being covered by this quotation from Acts. He implies that somehow at the time of Christ Israel has already been restored and that the fulfilment of this prophecy is completed by the inclusion of the Gentiles. To do this he has to ignore completely the very specific prediction that God’s exiled people Israel will be brought back “never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.” He does not begin to untangle what this means in terms of his interpretation.

Why should God make it so complicated? I accept that verse 12 can have a further meaning, because I believe James would have been inspired by the Holy Spirit when he said this, but that does not give us the liberty to extend that further meaning to the rest of the scripture, which James did not quote. Verse 14 is not quoted by James and it says: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel”.

Summary

I have spent some time on these examples of Colin Chapman’s interpretation of scripture because I want to illustrate how plain meaning can be turned on its head. A system like the “Three Questions and Three Fulfilments” may seem impressive, the process may at first sight appear rigorous, but the results can be plain wrong. The moral is to stick to the literal meaning of what is written, unless and only unless, this makes a nonsense of the text.

We have had two passages Isaiah 43:5-7 and Amos 9:8-15 which speak clearly about Israel and on both occasions we have ended up, without any grounds in the text, with the kingdom of God and the Church! It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Covenantalist writers, for whatever reason, do not want to put “Israel” where Scripture puts it. Chapman himself expressed it clearly 4 when he said we have to make a choice between a literal understanding of prophecy or an alternative interpretation of it. I urge the reader to be on their guard against this type of lax exegesis of Scripture. They will find it with some overzealous Christian Zionists, but they will also find it time and again with the Covenantalists.

3. Invalidating Israel’s right to the land

A major objective of Christian anti-Zionist writing is to come to a conclusion that the land of Canaan promised to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob no longer applies to the land now occupied by the modern state of Israel. If one succeeds in establishing this, then one takes away the justification for the Jews both returning to their ancient land and then continuing to live in it. The obverse of this view is that if the land is still given to Israel, then it has a right to be there.

A dramatic example of this approach is given by WT Davies:

In the last resort this study drives us to one point: the person of a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord only to die accursed on a cross and so to pollute the land, and by that act and its consequences to shatter the geographic dimension of the religion of his fathers. Like everything else, the land also in the New Testament drives us to ponder the mystery of Jesus, the Christ, who by his cross and resurrection broke not only the bonds of death for early Christians but also the bonds of the land.5[emphasis added]

Many Christians would consider that Jesus had cleansed the land, not polluted it, by the shedding of his blood! Either way the presumption that his death on the Cross in any way invalidated Israel’s entitlement to the land is completely unwarranted and is a revealing example of Covenantalist reasoning.

This undermining of Israel’s claim to the land is done in two ways:

1)

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and therefore led to a change in meaning. This change would include the meaning of the land

2)

The words for ever and everlasting are used frequently in the Old Testament, but they cannot always mean “for ever”. They sometimes mean “for a long time”. Thus the promise about the land does not literally mean for ever.

We have covered much of this material in the previous text, but I propose to bring it together here to highlight a major weakness in anti-Zionist writing. I deliberately use ‘anti-Zionist’ here because the hallmark of this view is that Israel should not be in the land. It is more than simply the belief that Israel is not fulfilling prophecy.

 (a) Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus

The Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus, so there are no grounds to expect them to be fulfilled literally. We saw examples of the interpretations made by individual writers in Chapter 6 and I will now give a resumé.

 Israel is no longer the nation of Israel – it is Jesus and/or the Church

The Land is no longer the physical land of Israel, because if the biblical nation of Israel no longer exists, it no longer needs a land to live in! The land that was, is now considered to be the whole earth as this is the domain of the Church.

Jerusalem may still exist physically, but it no longer has significance as the capital city of a nation that no longer serves a purpose in God’s plans. Reference to a future Jerusalem in the New Testament can only refer to the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Temple no longer exists because Jesus’ atonement has dispensed with the need for a physical temple.

I hope I have already demonstrated in the preceding chapters that this exegesis of Scripture is unsound. The only subject for which this exegesis could be valid is the Temple. It is true that believers are now called a temple since Christ indwells each believer (Ephesians 2:21-22). However, the prophet Ezekiel talks of a physical temple, different from previous temples, which may yet be built in the Millennial period.

 (b) The meaning of for ever and everlasting

Let us now turn to the second point. I will not dispute that the words for ever or everlasting may sometimes mean “for a very long time”. Here is what Cruden’s Concordance says on the subject:

Many believe that the words for ever or everlasting are not to be taken as synonymous with eternal, as being without end, but to be understood merely as meaning a very long time, to be left indeterminate. There seems to be a considerable amount of argument in favour of this in many cases, but it is not safe to conclude that it always should be so limited.6

However, what really matters is whether God’s covenants with men are truly everlasting (eternal). For example, all born-again believers would be horrified if they thought that their salvation was not guaranteed by an everlasting covenant, namely the New Covenant instituted by Jesus. Here the evidence for the everlasting possession of the land is convincing. There are thirteen occasions where the phrase everlasting covenant is used in the King James Bible. The English Standard Version (ESV) also uses the word everlasting, except in one of them (Leviticus 24:8). We will confine ourselves to the five references which are relevant to this discussion of the land.

Genesis 17:13

describes circumcision as a sign of an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants

1 Chronicles 16:15-18

describes the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as an everlasting covenant to Israel

Psalm 105:8-11

repeats 1 Chronicles 16:15-18 word for word

Jeremiah 32:40

describes a new covenant with Israel in the land

Ezekiel 37:26

describes a new covenant with a re-united Ephraim and Judah again in the land.

The quotation from 1 Chronicles has it all, in David’s song of thanks to the Lord:

  • The covenant is an everlasting covenant to Israel
  • It is a sworn promise, in other words confirmed by an oath
  • It promises the land of Canaan
  • And for good measure it is promised for 1000 generations!

We have already examined the subject of covenants and seen how seriously God takes them. To emphasise how seriously he takes the covenant, he may swear by it. Given that the Israelites were forbidden to take oaths and that Jesus instructed us not to swear, but to say yes or no, I think we can take it that an oath is as serious as a covenant. Interestingly God did not swear to Noah when he made the covenant with him (Genesis Chapter 9). However, when it comes to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Derek Prince points out that God gives his oath in relation to the land of Canaan 46 times. In three places the oath is linked with the covenant and in three places Israel’s possession of the land is stated to be for ever or everlasting.7 Why should this be so? Maybe God was anticipating the strife that the possession of the land would cause.

The passages above in Jeremiah and Ezekiel establish this by indicating that the New Covenant (which we saw does not supersede the Abrahamic Covenant, but extends it), reinforces the promise of the land. Both of these passages talk of the Jews being back in the land as part of an everlasting covenant. The context in both passages makes it clear that the prophets are referring to the New Covenant promised by God for a time beyond the exiles.

Finally, on this point of the meaning of for ever and everlasting do we get any indication from Scripture itself? The answer is yes. We have just examined 1 Chronicles 16:15-18 where it says that the covenant was commanded for a thousand generations. As we saw in Chapter 5, if we say a generation is 20 years then that means a period of 20,000 years. Taking into account the 4000 years which have elapsed since the time of Abraham, this leaves 16,000 years. That is long enough for me! By this time we should have the new heavens and new earth and only God knows whether he will still be honouring Israel as he does now.

The other indication is in a passage we have already looked at in Jeremiah, which I repeat here:

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord of hosts is his name: If the fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus says the Lord: ‘if the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord’. Jeremiah 31:35-37

Again, this fixed order will only change when God creates new heavens and a new earth. The same sentiment is expressed in Psalm 89 when God promises that King David’s throne shall endure as long as the sun and the moon which are said to be established for ever (see Psalm 89:35-37).

What then does God mean by everlasting? I think he has made it as clear as he needs to.

4. Ignoring large numbers of prophecies concerning the return of the Jews

By now the reader should be aware that when we refer to the promises and prophecies concerning the return of the Jews, we are not referring to occasional verses which could possibly be understood to mean such a return. Instead we are referring to many passages which allude to this event. The sheer volume of text should be a challenge to anyone wishing to transform the meaning of these passages.

There are two types of passage to consider. First, there are the descriptive passages and secondly there are the certainties with which God proclaims his promises to Israel. Let us start with the second category.

We have already seen that God’s oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in relation to the land of Canaan is mentioned 46 times in the Old Testament from Genesis to Ezekiel. We have seen too that 1 Chronicles 16:15-18 (King David’s song of thanks) covers every aspect of this promise.

As his created beings we ought to be satisfied with God’s oath and/or his covenant, but God, perhaps anticipating the strife over the return of the Jews in the twentieth century, goes further than this. He ties his promises in with the celestial certainties of the universe. He does this several times in Jeremiah Chapters 31 and 33. Only if the fixed order of sun, moon and stars can be changed will God reject the offspring of Israel from being a nation before him for ever! What more can Bible students reasonably expect God to do! I have rarely seen the Covenantalists refer to these crucial passages.

Let us now turn to the passages which refer to the restoration of the Jewish people to the land. The following are a list of passages which could relate to the current return of the Jews or to the future Israel once they are there. We have already met many in the preceding chapters of this book. I have excluded other passages which might be eligible but which are not definitive.
 

Deuteronomy

30:1-10

Jeremiah

30:3-11

Zechariah

8:13

     

31:1-10, 31-40

 

10:6-10

Isaiah

11:11-16

 

32:36-41

 

12:2-3, 6-9, 10-14

 

14:1-2

 

33:7-8, 17-26

 

Chapter 14

 

19:23-25

 

50:4

   
 

41:8-11

   

Joel

2:25-27

 

43:1-7

Ezekiel

11:17-21

 

3:1-2

 

49:12, 22-23

 

20:34, 41-43

   
 

60:4, 8-9, 15-22

 

28:25-26

Amos

9:14-15

 

62:1, 6-7

 

34:11-16, 28-30

   
 

66:8-10

 

36:8-15, 24-30

Zephaniah

3:20

     

37:1-14, 15-23

   

Jeremiah

3:14-18

 

26-28

   
 

16:14-18

 

39:22, 25-29

   
 

23:3-8


If these passages do not apply to the return of the Jews or the future nation of Israel, then a great deal of interpretation is required. To me it is quite bizarre to think that God would have recorded: Jew, Judah/Israel, land and Jerusalem knowing they did not mean this and then several centuries later to expect believers in Jesus to understand and be able to switch their meaning to: Christian, Jesus/the Church, the world and the heavenly Jerusalem.

It would be deceitful as it would have given the Jews a false sense of ultimate deliverance as a people, when they were not the intended recipients of this blessing.

It also begs the question as to why God needed to codify New Testament words in the Old Testament. The only certain New Testament prophecies at that time were that there would be a Messiah and that there would be a new covenant. This new covenant was specifically promised to the Jews and it was only after the time of Jesus that it was understood to include the Gentiles as well. What this would entail and how it would operate would only become clear after Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. Only then would Church and words associated with it become meaningful.

Instead of trying to find the Church in the Old Testament, we should recognise that God used the Old Testament to speak to the Jews as a people and nation and that he used the New Testament to define the Church. He did not define the Church and its domain of activities by codifying it as Israel and the land in the Old Testament.

5. All prophecies of a return of the Jews relate to the return from Babylon

This is very much a minority view. We have already examined six reasons (Chapter 5) why the second return from exile differs from the first return, namely the limited return from Babylon. This view would seem to have the merit that it recognises that scriptures describing a return of the Jews do have a literal meaning; they are not interpreted as having a quite different meaning. However, its grave disadvantage is that many of the scriptures could not fit the return from Babylon, a fact that is recognised by Covenantalists such as Colin Chapman.8 I recommend that the reader refers back to Chapters 4 and 5 to refresh the memory as to why some prophecies cannot fit the return from Babylon.

The principal exponent of this view would appear to be the late William Hendriksen. His views can be seen in an article on the Internet extracted from one of his books.9 It is worth reading this article to see how easy it is to become confused on the subject of Israel and the return of the Jews. Hendriksen was a distinguished pastor and theologian, but on this particular issue I feel he was wrong. He starts with a 12-point summary of the Christian Zionist case that the return of the Jews to Palestine is a fulfilment of prophecy. He then proceeds to demolish it point by point. This seems very fair until one realises how selective he has been in his use of scripture.

For example, his first point (as made by the Christian Zionists) is that the return of the Jews, “itself is even now a partial reality. It will be completed in the not too distant future”. He then quotes Jeremiah 29:14 as a verse the Christian Zionists would use to support this argument. In the refutation he rightly says that this verse refers specifically to the return from Babylon “after seventy years”. He then adds a few other verses to support this contention, but avoids mention of the many verses which tell of a widespread return of the Jews which could not apply to the return from Babylon. Any Christian Zionist worth their salt would never have used Jeremiah 29:14 to support their case – the preceding verses so obviously relate to the return from Babylon!

I will consider a few more of his arguments.

He runs into difficulty when he comes to the nature of the return from Babylon. As we have already seen this was a limited return and it was dominated by the house of Judah. His problem is that so many of the prophecies relating to a later return talk of restoring both the house of Judah and the house of Israel and then reuniting them in a single state. The number of Jews from the ten tribes returning with the house of Judah from Babylon, in no way matches the requirement of these prophecies.

He compounds this problem by arguing that the New Testament looks upon Israel as a reunited nation consisting of ‘twelve tribes’ and he quotes the apostle James (James1:1) to support this. A quick look at James will show that he was writing specifically to believers among the twelve tribes of the dispersion! These were Jews who had never come back from exile (see Chapter 4).

Hendriksen is mistaken in calling the exodus from Egypt under Moses a return from exile. To him this constitutes the first return from exile and so the return from Babylon becomes the second return from exile referred to in Isaiah 11:11-12. This same passage goes on to talk about gathering the people of both Judah and Israel from the four corners of the earth and so cannot refer to the return from Babylon. (This point was dealt with more fully in Chapter 4).

Hendriksen is baffled, as are many Covenantalists, by the idea that God could have foretold things that would happen in the twentieth century. He is very dismissive of such ideas, but I have already dealt with this at the end of Appendix 1.

He majors on the issue of ‘repentance before restoration’. I recognise that this is a significant issue for Covenantalists and have dealt with it, also in Appendix 1. It is a legitimate point, but I think I have dealt with it adequately.

Finally, he quotes Amos 9:14-15 and queries whether this passage is talking about Israel in the twentieth century. However, he ignores the most significant part of the verse, as does Colin Chapman,10 namely that God “will plant Israel on their land and they shall never again be uprooted". As I mentioned in Chapter 5, the significance of this verse is that so far this has never been true in history so it cannot apply to the return from Babylon.11 We cannot yet declare this verse to be fulfilled. Christian supporters of Israel trust that the nation will not be exiled again; that whatever its future trials and tribulations, it will survive in the land.

6. Sympathy for the Palestinians is allowed to mask a clear understanding of
Old and New Testament scripture

I have raised this subject here because replacement theology is being given a new lease of life by Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and elsewhere in the Middle East as we saw in Chapter 11. Given the situation in which the Palestinians in general and the Christians in particular find themselves, it is not surprising from a human point of view that they are antagonistic to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Neither is it surprising that they might want to invoke a theology which says that the Church has now taken the place of Israel in God’s purposes for the human race.

However, much as we may sympathise with the position of the Palestinian Christians, those of us in the Church outside of Palestine should not allow the issues to blur the truths of scripture. Above all we should not allow the present-day political situation in the Middle East to lead us to reinterpret the plain meaning of scripture. If the reader is convinced by the arguments of this book that scripture foretells a restoration of the Jews to their original homeland and a re-establishment of the nation of Israel, then that must be the starting point for the evaluation of the present political situation in the Middle East. I suspect that many Christians’ views towards Israel are formulated the other way round. They gain a negative view of Israel, and then adopt the Covenantalist view that the Bible must mean something other than its plainly declared meaning.

There are two dangers here, and one may reasonably ask the following questions:

1. Are Christians going against the declared word of God?
2. Are they basing their view on a dispassionate assessment of he recent history
    of Israel and the political events?

It seems to me that whole branches of the Church: denominations and global organisations, have gone into error for two reasons. First, they have failed to make a thorough examination of scripture. Secondly, they have accepted uncritically much of the propaganda being told about Israel by its political and religious opponents. News reporting in the West is often biased against Israel.

I have acknowledged several times in the book that Israel should be held responsible for some of the injustice that has happened in the occupied territories, but not for all of it. Israel constantly has to be alert to enemies who seek to destroy the nation. It is unrealistic to argue that if Israel acceded to all the Palestinian demands then peace would reign. It would not.12 While ordinary Palestinians want peace, organisations like Hamas do not. They want Israel to cease to exist as a nation and they will continue this struggle.13 A flavour of this threat was given recently when the former Prime Minister of Spain, José Aznar, disclosed his conversation with Iran’s supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a trip to Tehran in 2000. According to Aznar, Khamenei said “Israel was an historic cancer and an anomaly, a country to be put in flames and condemned to disappear.” When Aznar sought clarification about the phrase “to eliminate the threat Israel posed” Khamenei said: “Finish, eliminate, end their history.” 14 I note that this was in the year 2000, well before the current confrontation over Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

One wonders whether organisations such as the World Council of Churches are aware of the anti-Semitic hatred of Israel expressed in parts of the Arab media. While it is legitimate to support the Palestinians, such organisations need simultaneously to distance themselves from the anti-Semitism expressed in newspapers, cartoons and on television. This hate material is influencing attitudes to Israel, including the developing attitudes of Arab schoolchildren, and Christians need to be aware of this.15

There is also the question of balance. Compared to other much less democratic countries with proven human rights abuses, Israel has received a disproportionate amount of stricture from the United Nations and its subordinate organisations such as the ‘Durban Conferences’ on racism and human rights.16 It sometimes seems that non-governmental organisations and church bodies are quick to criticise Israel, but less willing to contemplate the context in which Israel has to operate.
 

 ——ooOoo——

NOTES:

  1. Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? P.159-160
  2. Ibid. Appendix 2. P.318. Here Chapman says: "When we have attempted to answer these questions, we will not have exhausted the meaning of these prophecies. They may have much to teach us about Christian history between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. But we shall see how difficult it is, if not impossible, to relate the prophecy to specific events in the twentieth century in the way that many are suggesting today." [emphasis added]
  3. Ibid. P.320
  4. Ibid. P.313.
  5. Ibid. P.150, quoting W.D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land
  6. Cruden's Complete Concordance Revised Ed.1954. "For Ever" P.188.
  7. Derek Prince, The Destiny of Israel and the Church Appendix II P.139.
  8. Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? P.313.
  9. William Hendriksen, Israel in prophecy P.16-31. The relevant Chapter II is reproduced in Article of the Month: Are Restoration Prophecies being Fulfilled Today?
    www.the-highway.com/articleApr04.html
  10. I dealt with this earlier in the Appendix under section 2: Unwarranted systems for interpreting Old Testament Prophecy
  11. Chapter 5. Section: A Permanent Restoration
  12. Israel finally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling all Jewish settlements. It did not bring peace. Since then several thousand rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel, causing death and injury to Israeli citizens and the destruction of property. When from time to time Israel responds in a major way to these attacks, Western media often criticize Israel's response as disproportionate, but neglect to ask how their own governments might respond to such provocation. A Google search: Rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel brings up relevant websites. See:
    www.idfblog.com/facts-figures/rocket-attacks-toward-israel
  13. See: Wikipedia, Hamas
    Hamas' original Charter in 1988 called for the replacement of Israel and the Palestinian territories with an Islamic Palestinian state. It has never withdrawn its Charter, but claimed in its election manifesto in 2006, when it decided to take part in elections, that it had dropped its call for the destruction of Israel. A Google search: Hamas will never recognise Israel brings up many websites which confirm this declaration, by different spokesmen on different occasions.
  14. See Chapter 1, Note 4.
  15. Examples of anti-Semitic cartoons are not difficult to find on the World Wide Web. Here are three websites exposing such cartoons:
    www.tomgrossmedia.com/ArabCartoons.htm
    www.adl.org/cartoon_campaign/default_slide_show.asp
    www.jcpa.org/article/major-anti-semitic-motifs-in-arab-cartoons
    Palestinian Media Watch draws attention to anti-Semitic material in the Palestinian media.
    www.palwatch.org/Pages/aboutus.aspx
  16. See Chapter 2, Note 8.