In our ongoing conversation about the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, I’ve noticed that God’s promise– to bless those who bless Abram, and to curse those who curse Abram– is a defining factor in how many of us relate to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
The promise is so important that I want to make sure that we don’t run by it too quickly. The issue isn’t just about whether we can win God’s favor by supporting one side of the conflict. There are implications here for both Jewish and Palestinian families who are directly impacted by how followers of Christ relate to them.
I’ve talked, for instance, to Arab people who feel hurt by Christians who support Israel, just as I’ve talked to Jewish people who feel harmed by those parts of the church that are more inclined to sympathize with the Palestinian struggle. How the church relates to both sides may very likely have an effect on how much consideration people on either side give to Christ. So let’s think carefully about whether we are too quick to accept or dismiss God’s promise to bless those who bless “Abraham.”
Although the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 11 show that God has a plan for Israel in the future (the foreshadowing of which we might be seeing in the present return to the land), he also makes it clear that the promise to bless the world through Abraham and his seed (Gen 12:1-3) was not meant to refer to all of the physical descendants of Israel.
In Romans 9:6 Paul writes, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, in Isaac your seed shall be called.” Then, Paul goes on to explain, “That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise and are counted as the seed” Rom 9:6-8).
Now because the distinction Paul made has strong implications as to how we view and treat the families on both sides of this conflict, please stay with me to test the point for yourself. In another letter to the Galatians Paul gives us more insight about what he means when he says, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.”
In his letter to the Galatians Paul explains that the original blessing to bless the world through Abraham was meant to be through those who are both physical and spiritual descendants of Abraham. Even more importantly, Paul explains that the promise of blessing is fulfilled in Israel’s Messiah (the Christ) and in all who are in Christ. You can read this for yourself in the third and 4th chapters of Galatians. 3:16 specifically says, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” (3:16).
Then Paul adds in chapter 4 that Jerusalem in her present spiritual condition does not correspond to the child of Promise (4:25). Paul’s point is that those who are in the Messiah (Christ) can now be identified with Abraham and Abraham’s God. Those in Christ rather Jewish, Arab, or any other nation are the children of promise– who are now meant to be a blessing to the whole world.
For these reasons, I’m convinced God never meant for his promise to “bless those who bless” with the intent that we would forget the needs of Palestinian families– while supporting the national, political, or religious policies of Israel. In fact, if we take our cues from the God and prophets of Israel, we cannot bless the merely physical descendants of Abraham by blindly supporting their side of the conflict. Neither to we bless them by supporting their attempt to protect themselves through the use of superior military strength. We bless them by wishing and hoping and praying for the real peace of Jerusalem. We bless them by longing for them (and their enemies) to be reconciled to the God who alone is their security and source of peace. We honor them by remembering that in their Messiah and in their spiritual restoration they will bring peace rather than conflict to the world. We bless them by praying that they would realize that their present security issues are meant to show the whole world what happens when we try to live by our own strength and ingenuity rather than by our trust and confidence in God.
This kind of distinction is what the God of Israel has always made. Listen to what he said to Israel prior to their exile to Babylon. Through the Jewish prophet Ezekiel, God said to Jerusalem, “Your older sister was Samaria, who lived with her daughters in the north. Your younger sister was Sodom, who lived with her daughters in the south. But you have not merely sinned as they did. You quickly surpassed them in corruption. As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, Sodom and her daughters were never as wicked as you and your daughters. Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen. “Even Samaria did not commit half your sins. You have done far more detestable things than your sisters ever did. They seem righteous compared to you. Shame on you! Your sins are so terrible that you make your sisters seem righteous, even virtuous.” (Ezekiel 16:46-52 NLT)
Acknowledging God’s own view of his people, however, does not mean that we have reason to sympathize or collaborate with the enemies of Israel in their attempt to terrorize Jewish citizens and push them into the Sea. Instead, what I think we need to see is that God’s promise to Abram: “to bless those who bless you, and to curse those who curse you” was never intended to cause us to love one ethnic group at the expense of another. Today we know that it was for both, and for all of us that Christ died.
Yes, the problems in the Middle East are inexpressibly complex. They also, however, have on them the fingerprints of a God who is using his chosen people– not to ignore their wrongs– but to ultimately and eventually bring the whole world to its knees.
As followers of Christ I’m convinced that we cannot afford to do any less than to pray for and seek the peace of both Jewish and Palestinian families. Judgment, and condemnation, belong to God– not to us.
But if you think I’m missing something– please take this opportunity to respond.