The United States and Israel have a remarkable number of things in common. They are countries comprised largely of immigrants. They are democracies. They are prosperous. They have strong technology based economies. They are close allies. They have the largest Jewish communities in the world. But what makes them unique is exceptionalism. God called Israel to be a light to the nations. The founders of the American colonies saw the future United States in the same way. The future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, declared, “we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” The great historian Alexis de Tocqueville proclaimed the US as the grand experiment. Both nations have exceptional histories. Hopefully, both have exceptional futures.
Ancient Israel introduced the concept of one God to the world and a body of law (instituted by God) that became the basis of western law. Later came the Messiah from Israel and through him and his followers the world changed. The Puritan founders of the American colonies attempted to build a society based upon the ideals of ancient Israel’s existence. Through their influence and later American thinkers and politicians, the United States became the most prosperous, envied and influential nation in world history. Since the close of World War II, the United States has been a beacon of freedom throughout the world, whose example and policies have made the world more prosperous and free. Coincidentally, at the same time, the modern nation of Israel was established. Israel’s declaration of independence guarantees similar freedoms that the US has espoused:
The State of Israel … will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture;
Since the establishment of the modern nation of Israel in 1948, its development into a modern, thriving nation is absolutely miraculous. Over ½ of the Jews in Israel immigrated from over 100 other countries, speaking different languages with completely different cultures. Somehow Israel successfully integrated all these different people into an economic and military powerhouse, despite fighting multiple wars for her own survival. There is no other country in world history with such a record.
Sadly, however, both countries exceptional experiences and examples are now in jeopardy. Beginning with the last US administration, the United States began withdrawing from the world scene. The Obama Administration’s refusal to intervene in the Iraqi and Syrian calamities led to the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. In addition, US withdrawal from world affairs opened the doors to Russian militarism and Russian and Chinese adventurism. This has been further compounded by the new US administration, which challenges the very assumptions of US leadership, involvement and example to the rest of the world. The slogan, “Make America Great Again,” assumes the US has lost its greatness when it still boasts the most powerful economy, military and ideals in world history. The current US administration is undermining the very things that made America great and unique – her freedoms, her open arms to the down trodden of the world, her promotion of democracy and individual rights throughout the world.
Similarly, in Israel, her remarkable achievements in so many realms are now overshadowed by controlling a population not her own. For fifty years, 2.5 million Arabs in the West Bank have had few rights and no representation in the Israeli government, though the Israeli military controls most of the region. While much of the blame of the Palestinian plight can be laid at the feet of their so-called representatives, the Palestinian Authority, there is no excuse for Israeli intransgience on essentially refusing to realistically address the situation. The Palestinians’ status undermines Israel’s calling to be a light to the nations and threatens her continued prosperity and place in the world.
In some ways the ideas of exceptionalism can be and has been construed to mean that certain peoples have innate superior qualities. But this is not the way Yeshua defines it:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16.
Being exceptional means exhibiting traits and treating others in ways that others desire to emulate. As followers of Yeshua, when we do these things, it brings glory to God. For nations that have been called by God, it means acting in ways that lead to a better world.