How much do you really know about Israel?

Tel Aviv at night (Photo: Israel Ministry of Tourism)

I’ve been in Israel for almost 16 years now and I always ended up, one way or the other, working with or around Christian pilgrims, supporters, tourists and local congregations. This varied but consistent ecosystem allowed me to see the phenomenon of Christian Zionism from many different angles and I have a few thoughts on the subject to share with whoever might be interested.

To start off, I hope it doesn’t shock or scandalize anyone too much for me to say this, but it’s my honest opinion that Christian support for Israel is a mile wide and an inch deep. That is to say, most Christians who would say they support Israel are no doubt sincere, but the fact is, they really don’t actually know much about this country. The “Israel” they support is, with all due respect, very likely to be a figment of their imagination which has very little connection to flesh and blood reality.

It is an oft-repeated phrase that you hear from Christians who visit Israel that “the Bible has become much more real to me now that I’ve seen the places it was written.”

That’s fantastic, and I absolutely believe that this is a very legitimate and important reason for Christians to visit Israel. But it’s not enough. Israel is “the Land of the Bible” but it’s not a museum. There’s a lot of things going on here in 2018 that aren’t directly connected to the Bible but if you’re not aware of them, you’re missing a big part of the picture and frankly, you’re missing a big part of the Heart of God for these people and this country.

But it is, sadly, easy for me to understand why and how this happens.

On a typical Holy Land pilgrimage tour, Christian groups land at Ben Gurion airport, get on buses and go straight to their hotel in Jerusalem where they stay for a week and go on day trips to explore the sites of interest to Christians in and around the city. Then they go to a hotel in Tiberius where they stay for another three to five days and go on day trips to visit Nazareth, Capernaum, etc. On the last morning of their visit they check out of their hotel, load up the bus and go on their final trip back to the airport so they can get on their plane and go home.

That’s what the overwhelming majority of Christians mean when they say they’ve “visited Israel” and it’s not incorrect to say that, but is it VERY incomplete.

Brothers and Sisters, please hear me.

Tel Aviv isn’t mentioned in the Bible while Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria are the “biblical heartland” and it is absolutely appropriate to visit those Biblical sites when you come here. But again, this country isn’t a museum.

The overwhelming majority of the living, dying, working, breathing, PEOPLE who call themselves Israelis live in Tel Aviv and the Coastal Plain, and if you never visit them and get to know them, you’re not getting the full picture.

If the Bible is the only book you’ve ever read about Israel, than there’s loads of highly relevant information that you need to know about this country in order to pray for and otherwise support her effectively that you won’t have. You should also read books about the history of the modern State, including the memoirs of people like David ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Chaim Weitzman, as well as more recent books written by the current generation of leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak.

Beyond that, take advantage of the many Israeli books that are published in English every year covering a wide variety of topics related to culture, political and military affairs, religion, etc. as well as works of fiction which you should read in order to get a feel for the cultural landscape here. Explore the websites of Israeli universities, think tanks, cultural institutions and, of course, Messianic congregations and ministries.

I’ll say it one more time, Israel is not a museum. If you’ve visited this country but you never got any closer to Tel Aviv then when you flew over it on your way in and out of Ben Gurion airport, come again and this time go check it out. That’s where most Israelis live, and they need  a lot of love, support and prayer.