Recovering Evangelicalism – Seeking a Justice-based peace in the Middle East –

Mistaken Identity

Well here it is, my new book. It feels odd writing that, as if it’s not the first. It is, available here in print and here on kindle – quite why they don’t show up in the same place I don’t know, but getting all the formatting details right has been an exercise in endurance. If you decide to buy it and read it comments and corrections will be appreciated.

What’s it about?

Much or the discussion about Israel has had as a background the notion that the Jews are ‘God’s Chosen People’. Given my experience in Israel-Palestine I wanted to explore the ‘chosen people’ idea without, as far as I could, preconceptions. I have tried, within my limited ability, to write the story of God’s people from the Bible, seeing how it links in to the kingdom good news that Jesus brings. It challenges the system of Christian Zionism, but also I believe challenges Christians to think seriously about our place and our mission in God’s world.

P.S. Sorry you have to pay for it; kindle-Amazon is a business, and the print version has to be printed, packaged and sent. In the unlikely event I become rich – we’ll have a party!  Be blessed.

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I don’t get it

It will be obvious to my many readers, (or ‘my reader’), that there are many things I don’t understand. For instance, ‘eschatology’; lots of Christians today seem to think it’s a recent invention. “Hey Folks, Look Out, we’re in the Last Days; didn’t see that coming did you?”

But the NT writers  know about eschatology, including Paul if his answer to the Thessalonian Christians is anything to go by. But it’s also there in the gospels, “be ready” (Matt 25). So, then, if Paul wanted us to be ready for ‘the End Times’; and there’s lots of evidence he expected it soon; why don’t we hear him saying to the Jews, “hurry up and get back to Israel so Jesus can come back”. If the NT record is anything to go by the idea never crossed his mind. “Jesus is the Messiah, follow him”, time and again, but never, “haste ye back to Jerusalem”.

If having Jews back in the land of the holy one was that important we’d expect to see a mention of it in the writings of the Christian New Testament. But there’s not even a whisper of a hint. Get it?

Balfour blog link

The Protestant Romance with Zionism HERE

The Ryle justification

Humility is essential when addressing one such as J.C. Ryle, first bishop of Liverpool and beacon of 19th century Anglican Evangelicalism, and I am sure there will be those who suggest that humility is not my strong point.

In his book ‘Are You Ready for the End of Time’ Ryle claims that Christians have taken literally the biblical condemnations – and applied them to the Jews – and taken spiritually the promises – and applied them to the church. There is a deal of truth in his warning, and much that he writes to which we should pay attention, even 150 years after he published. If he is correct in diagnosing a problem, he is wrong in identifying the treatment; seriously mistaken in his understanding of how the prophetic works. Ryle insists that, whether for the first or second advent, (and his direct concern is of the Second), our interpretation of prophecy must be literal and exact. If only scripture were that straightforward. As a beginning example, not of prophecy but of God’s direct word, we have the flood story. In Genesis chapter 6, to himself God says, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, people together with animals…”. Then to Noah,

“I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth… I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy it from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.”

Sounds fairly straightforward, especially if we take it literally and exactly, ‘but Noah found favour in God’s sight’. Taken literally and exactly as Ryle wants involves a literal and exact contradiction. The problem isn’t God’s; it is Ryle’s, and ours. The ancient peoples of Israel would have understood. Here is a relatively simple example of how paradox is used to create tension in a story. God will destroy: God will destroy utterly: but grace is present, if faith can be found.

Ryle, in his book, demands that we speak to ‘the Jew’ as literally about the Second Coming as we do about Christ’s first; that we are as exact with Isaiah 11 as we are with Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is clearly understood by Christians as referring to Jesus, see for example Acts 8: 26-39. Yet even here there is paradox. The one who was “despised and rejected by others”, the one who had “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” was so undesirable that – paradoxically to spell it out – he attracted hundreds to hear his words and feel his healing touch. Some even thought he might be Messiah. If there is paradox here then try reading Isaiah 53 in the context of chapters 48 onwards (noting, perhaps especially in this context, chapter 49 verses five and six).

Ryle wants his readers, including presumably those who promote the modern state of Israel by quoting him in their publicity, to pay as exact and literal attention to Isaiah 11 as to Isaiah 53. Let us see what happens when we do. The first problem is where to begin. The chapter and verse divisions so familiar to us are a relatively late development: chapter divisions from the 13th century and verses from the 16th. (Complicating matters, The Masoretic text, so I understand, is in some places divided differently).

We could begin for example in chapter 8 where is prophesied that the king of Assyria will take the spoil of Samaria’ and ‘Sweep on into Judah as a flood’ with the strange ascriptions ‘Immanu el’ ‘God is with us’. Exactitude here is problematic, for, whilst Assyria took Samaria, and, one presumes, it’s ‘spoil’, in 722 BC., it was another Empire and a different century before Judah was overtaken: by Babylon in the period 597 to 585 BC.  Does it need a ‘nod’ toward that ‘failed prophet’, Jonah, for us to understand that prophecy often foretells a future that will happen unless we change. The paradox, present from Moses onwards (read Deuteronomy) is that even when people change, as with, for example, Hezekiah, it won’t be sustained, see Manasseh (2 Chron. 29 & 33).

Moving on into chapter 9 we meet an early ‘fulfilment’ reference from Matthew’s Gospel ‘so that what has been spoken…’ (Matt 4: 13-17 referencing Isaiah 9:1-2). Chapter 9 has the verse, ‘For a child has been born for us …’ clearly: even exactly: a first Advent reference. That being said Chapter 10 verse 1 on could stand for the Israel of today,

‘Ah, you, who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice … what will you do on the day of punishment …?’

In the same chapter we read of ‘a remnant of Israel’, ‘a remnant of Jacob’ and we are told:

For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God will make a full end, as decreed in all the earth. Isa 10:22-23).

the text could indeed signify the second advent beginning as it does ‘on that day’ (v.20) but not without difficulty. If we are looking for literal exactitude we must ask when were the people of Israel even ‘like the sand of the sea’. Also, is ‘that day’ at verse 20 the same day as ‘that day’ at verse 27, a problem that extends into Chapter 11 at verses 10 and 11, and on into chapter 12 at verse one.

If these chapters speak exactly and only of the second Advent then Chapter 11, set in the middle of them, raises further problems for Bishop Ryle. Is the ‘shoot’ and ‘branch’ of verse 2 the same as the ‘root of Jesse’ at verse 10; and, if not, why, and what determines the difference? If verses 1 to 3 are clearly first advent where do we locate the subsequent verses? They seem to be both now, verse 5, but not yet, verse 6. For Bishop Ryle and those who use his writing in support of Israel, the modern nation state, problems multiply from verse 10. These verses, given as evidence for a Jewish pre-second-coming ‘restoration to their land’, are actually evidence to the contrary. Only ‘on that day’ will ‘the Lord… extend his hand… and assemble (them) from the four corners of the earth’. Taking this text literally and exactly, if it is ‘second Advent’, then the assembling of Israel and Judah takes place on that day and not before. (All of which raises important questions as to the meaning of ‘on that day’. Questions which cannot be dealt with here).

Another text put forward by Bishop Ryle, and used by Balfour ‘celebrationists’ as justifying belief in the restoration of Jews to their land before the second Advent, is Jeremiah 30: 10-11. Once again these verses, placed in their context, are far from straightforward, especially given Ryle’s insistence on a literal and exact understanding. Verse 11 for instance concludes, ‘… I will chastise you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished,’ which, when compared with the fate of ‘all the nations’ seems good until we read on into verses 12 and 13: ‘… Your hurt is incurable and your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.’ This continues into verse 15, ‘why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great…’ . But, ‘for I will restore health to you…’ in verse 17. Could it not be more evident that we are in the realm of metaphor and paradox. However much we may desire helpful literalism, scripture denies us; there is work to be done.

Here, again we have ‘that day’ in verses 7 and 8 and ‘the days’ in verse 3. Whichever way we read these verses, if they refer to a nation of Jacob returning to Palestine that event must be post-second Advent. If the attempt is made to locate verse 8 in the events 1947-9, we are required to make a biblically unjustifiable separation from verse 9, ‘they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, who I will raise up for them’. In any case verse 8 depends on the action of ‘the Lord of hosts’, on that day’. There is a clear indication of an event that is Righteous, and completed with an identified individual about whom there can be no doubt, by contrast with a wholly human, and heavily unrighteous, series of events which began before 1948 and continue to this day.

Ryle’s use of Daniel chapter 12 verse 1, I find particularly odd. To be sure, Michael is identified as ‘the protector of your people’ but there is nothing here about restoration to the land. Taken as literally as possible ‘your people shall be delivered’ is not to land but to judgement. Christians believe that Jesus will return for the final judgement. Daniel writes ‘many shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ . There is nothing here to justify belief in the restoration of Jews to Palestine (on the assumption – unproven and unprovable – that Jews are the ethnic descendents of Jacob-Israel and sole inheritors of the land promises to Abraham and Jacob).

Richard Spencer, as reported in Ha’aretz, makes clear what has been evident to many of us for years, Zionism is racist nationalism. Uncomfortably, Israel’s nationalism is compromised by Jewry’s ethnic diversity; uncomfortable, not least, because of historic parallels. Israel invites Jews anywhere and everywhere to ‘come to Israel’, but they’d better be religious and orthodox at that. Spencer wants to protect white Americans. Black ones, many of whose families came under duress (polite way of not mentioning ‘slavery’) hundreds of years before Mr.Trump’s family, can go back where they came from. Not that that is always easy to work out – black people can be ‘mixed heritage’ too.  The parallels Spencer draws are not liked by Zionists, which doesn’t mean they aren’t accurate. Nationalism is nationalism whatever other label is attached: alt-Right (=white supremacist) for America, Zionist for Israel; I don’t know what term Mugabe uses for black Zimbabwean’s but I’m pretty sure he’s got one.

Spencer is probably happy to call himself a ‘white zionist’ as long as the real ones go to Israel and stay there. Nationalists can unite – as long as they do so at a distance. At the period in history when we are most inter-connected fear of ‘the Other’ causes many to look for simplistic solutions. Simple solutions are available; typically they are ones used by bullies. They are short-sighted and therefore short-term. We need wise people as leaders – where are they?

 

 

Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann took a dim view of some of their fellow Jews; that is apparent from their writings.

Herzl and Weizmann may be regarded as key architects of Zionism, without them it may not have happened; would not have happened at the time and in the way it did. Herzl, in his writing and lobbying for ‘the Jewish State’ could be said to be substantially responsible for bringing form to a fairly vague hope. Even so, his ‘centre of gravity’ seems to have changed depending on which national leader he had been speaking to or was about to meet: the Kaiser, the Sultan, the French Prime Minister. Later, following Herzl’s early death,  it was Weizmann use of his wartime contacts with members of the British Cabinet who brought ‘the dream’ closer to reality with the declaration that has gone down in history associated with the name of Arthur Balfour.

There was much that Herzl and Weizmann disagreed about, but we don’t have to read between the lines to work out one area of agreement that ought to be quite worrying. Discounting ‘assimilated Jews’ who, for Weizmann at least, were either not ‘real Jews’ or were close to being traitrous, both seem to believe that Jews were incapable of living in harmony with any other group of people for any length of time. (In this regard it should be noted they seemed entirely ignorant of the experience of that body of Jewry that existed in the Middle East.)  Herzl was more upfront about this -in his diary he records that he and Max Nordau agreed that Jews were the cause of antisemitism, (this could, of course, be a circular argument), more background in my 100 day blog

Weizmann may have been more nuanced, recognising the contribution of such powerful advocates and financial supporters as Justice Brandeis in America and Samuel and Rothschild in Britain. Nevertheless it is there implicitly in his counter arguments to anti-zionist Jews who were concerned that Zionism put them in the position of ‘serving two masters’.  It is also there, almost explicitly, in the positions taken by successive Israeli governments, and especially in the language of Ben Netanyahu, who, following the Paris attacks, visited France and told the Jewish community in effect, ‘you can only be safe in Israel’. And the financial and political support given to Israel by Jews in Britain and America looks rather like ‘hedging their bets’.

Is there a theological perspective on this? One such might be the Ezra-Nehemiah-Haggai restoration ‘angle’, which is so anxious about assimilation that even talking to neighbours looks like treachery. Cooperation is impossible, and intermarriage is a cause for community remorse and penitence. Not much has changed in two-and-a-half thousand years. We are wise to notice that many of those neighbours would have had as good right to call themselves ‘Israelite’ as did the returnees.  But the message from the patriarchs was not so much ‘beware of foreigners’ as ‘beware those foreign gods’. Ancient Israel was not the only people to falter in making the distinction, it persists today. Israel’s ethnic mix is certain evidence that God is not concerned with ‘pure DNA’, (which we know today to be impossible).

The message to the patriarchs also contained indications often ignored, “and you shall spread abroad …” (Gen 28). Couple this with the covenanted expectation that, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession … you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex 19), and we face an interesting and vital question: what could it, must it, mean to be a kingdom of priests? Word given to Jacob-Israel and to Moses must be taken seriously by God’s people; of any era. Surely a kingdom of priests is a mediating kingdom, since priests function as intermediaries between God and humankind. It is equally surely impossible to act as mediator whilst remaining utterly separated. The ‘separatedness’ of the Levitical priesthood did not cut them off from their fellow Israelites.

Jews, if they truly are inheritors of the promises to Abraham and Israel, must be dispersed, at least until their messiah comes. How can they fulfill this commission while they live in physical and spiritual ghettos. And a nationalistic ghetto can have no place in God’s ‘creation-economy’. This is an insurmountable problem for Zionism and its Christian manifestation. Not only do they misunderstand the prophets, not only do they, almost certainly unintentionally, sidestep the gospel; they fail to function according to the mandate to which they claim heritage. The genuinely religious Jews at least see the point and reject Zionism. They continue to wait for the Messiah who, for Christians, has already come.

The politically religious make selective use of the faith to justify a political outcome that suits their purpose; Jews are, or appear to be, safer. They have a point. Secular Jews make a claim, that logically should be rejected, based on a gift from a god in which they don’t believe.

The Christian Zionist claim is as disturbing as is Herzl’s belief that Jews are the cause of antisemitism. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, Christian Zionists believe that the presence of large numbers of Jews outside Israel delays the ‘Second Coming’, a term that has to be qualified because many of them seem to believe that the 2nd will actually be a Third. It seems that God’s timetable is subject to the travel arrangements of several million Jews who show little inclination to leave their homes and jobs in Britain and America to go the Palestine.

Strangely, especially for the Christian version of Zionism, the Jews at the time of Jesus had no difficulty in accepting dispersion, although it took the leadership, the Rabbis, a hundred years to catch up. Once the early church, almost wholly Jewish, got into its stride, it accepted the challenge to ‘go’, and went and told the world the good news of Jesus.  That good news was of righteousness and justice for all, especially the poor, the weak, the powerless, and this was exactly the mandate given to Abraham and to Jacob. It was exactly as anticipated by Israel’s prophets, although previously poorly understood. If religious Jews want to build a temple, Christian Zionism wants to help them – so that it can be destroyed.

Have they not understood that the temple was Messiah, and that his body was destroyed on a cross and was rebuilt after three days, exactly as Jesus prophecied, (John 2:13-22, cp Mk 9;31). If the Jerusalem temple, modelled on the tabernacle, was a teaching aid to earth the faith of Israel in the certainty of God’s presence, so the new temple of Jesus Christ exists to earth His Spirit through His people throughout the whole earth as testimony to God’s Great Love. That temple cannot be destroyed.

Zionism thinks that Jews cannot live alongside others and survive. God said, ‘spread out, sing the songs of zion, teach the world’. Christian Zionism is equally out of step with God’s timetable and plan. It is a Macabbean response two millennia after the failure of the first attempt. It was mistaken then and more of a mistake today since the Messiah has come and shown us the different way, the ‘Way of The Lord’. Both Zionisms are redundant, worse, they are counter-productive and undermine the gospel.

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