As Israelis mark their 72nd Independence Day on Wednesday (29 April), many Christians see this as a time to celebrate the faithfulness of God to His promises. Meantime, other Christians join with the Palestinians in remembering the day of Israel’s national rebirth as the Nakba (Arabic for “disaster”).
Indeed, much of the Christian world still struggles with the theological significance of Israel’s stunning re-emergence as a nation on May 14, 1948. Some churches have slowly come to terms with the extensive biblical credentials behind the promised ‘restoration of Zion,’ but others still cling to antiquated doctrines about the Jews being cursed to endless wandering, and Israel being totally replaced by the Church as God’s redemptive instrument in the world.
We were given a recent reminder of these lingering antisemitic attitudes within Christian circles when headlines appeared last week reporting that the Danish Bible Society has just published a new translation of the Bible which removes dozens of mentions of “Israel” throughout the Old and New Testaments. In many places, the “Land of Israel” becomes the “land of the Jews.” Elsewhere, the word “Israel” is replaced with “us”, such as in Psalm 121:4: “He who watches over us [Israel in the original] will neither slumber nor sleep.”
In the face of criticism, the Danish Bible Society has offered as its defense that the costly and time-consuming translation was necessary to meet the demands of many Danish Christians who were uncomfortable in reading a version of Scripture which might lead some to confuse Biblical Israel with the modern state of Israel. In other words, they do not want to be confronted by God’s word in their political views, so they change the sacred to protect their secularized beliefs.
In all the Bible, the calling and election of the nation and people of Israel for the purpose of world redemption is presented as an enduring truth. Further, the modern-day Jewish return to the land of their fathers testifies to the faithfulness of our covenant-keeping God.
In Genesis, the Patriarch Abraham was promised not only a “seed” to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3, 22:18), but also the physical land of Israel as an “everlasting possession” for his natural descendants (Genesis 17:8). Thus, both the land and people of Israel were irrevocably chosen for the purpose of world redemption (Romans 11:29).
Although most Christians rightly focus on the promise of a “Seed” to redeem the world (Galatians 3:16), the land promise is equally vouched for in Scripture. For instance, the Psalmist refers to it as a sworn “statute” – using a Hebrew word meaning a decree carved in stone, like the Ten Commandments (Psalm 105:10).
So even though the Lord exiled the Jewish people from their land for predetermined seasons as a corrective measure, they never forfeited their underlying title deed to the Land of Israel. And He has vowed to deliver the entire land to them one day in abiding rest and peace (Exodus 33:14; Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 46:27; Hebrews 4:1, 9).
The Hebrew prophets were servants of God’s sworn covenants with Israel, revealing how the Lord would use the relationship between the land and the people of Israel to carry out His salvation purposes for all nations. When one reads the writings of the Old Testament prophets – with their odd mix of poetry, fury, compassion and despair – the key to understanding their ministry is to realize that every prophetic utterance has to fit within the terms and conditions of the covenants already established by divine oath with Israel’s Patriarchs – Abraham, Moses and David.
Thus, the words of warning flowed from the prophets’ anguish that Israel was in breach of the conditions God placed on their right to reside in the land. Yet their accompanying joy was in realization that God nevertheless was duty bound to return them to the land again one day.
Even so, some Christians contend that the two prophesied Jewish exiles and returns were completed in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and that Old Testament promises of an end-day ingathering and exaltation of Israel back in her land were fulfilled in the birth and ‘triumph’ of the Church. In challenging Christian Zionists, they argue that the New Testament is basically silent regarding the ‘land,’ and thus Christians have scant biblical basis to support the secular State of Israel.
Yet there are numerous clear references to the Land of Israel in the New Testament – as the Danish Bible Society has apparently discovered to their chagrin. This goes beyond just mentions of the “land,” and includes every reference to the covenants or ‘promises made to the fathers’ – meaning the Patriarchs – because they necessarily include the land. It is not implied or inferred, it is intrinsic, since the land is subsumed or embedded into the terms of God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses and David.
In Romans 15:8, the Apostle Paul says that even Jesus came “to confirm the promises made to the fathers” – which inescapably includes the land promise. Then in Hebrews chapter six, New Testament believers are urged to take “strong encouragement” that God will always keep His promises to us, simply by observing His faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant. Thus, if we see the Almighty bringing the Jews back to their promised land, we can rejoice in God’s faithful character and trust Him to keep His every promise to us as well under the New Covenant.
In addition, New Testament writers and figures, including Jesus, repeatedly invoked the Jewish hope of a future ‘restoration’ of their sovereignty in the land, a widely held concept drawn from numerous promises in Scripture about restoring the “fortunes” (or “captivity”) of Jacob/Israel. This Jewish hope was so prevalent in those days that the words “for the redemption of Zion” or “the freedom of Zion” were even imprinted on many Judean coins in the First Century.
It was these times of favor or ‘restoration’ for Israel that the Apostle Peter alludes to when he boldly declares that the “times of restoration of all things” spoken of “by the mouth of His holy prophets” will indeed come before Messiah returns (Acts 3:21).
Isaiah 66:8 ponders, “shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” The modern-day restoration of Zion indeed has proven painful thus far for many – Jews and Arabs alike – and more has yet to be birthed. But the reappearance of a sovereign Jewish nation in their ancient homeland is truly cause for Christians to rejoice in a God who is ever faithful to His promises.
This article originally appeared on ICEJ, April 28, 2020, and reposted with permission.