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

Posts tagged ‘Israel’

Moving Blog

But not far. My blog is moving to my updated website. Nothing else will change, and I’ll copy posts here for a time till I get used to it. I hope you will too. To make it easy for you go to my Blog

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Little Town of Bethlehem

“How can we sing the songs of the kingdom as strangers in our own land?” The Israelites in exile refused to sing the songs of Zion, they should be sung in Zion’s land. Half a millennium later Zion’s Messiah told his ambassadors to sing the song of the kingdom throughout the world and when they came to Europe we were glad.

We too sing the songs of the kingdom. But the people of the place from which that song came, sing their songs of joy and praise tinged with sadness and hopeless hopefulness.

The ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ is surrounded by barbed wire, concrete and guns. From Incarnation to Incarceration, the place of Jesus’ birth a prison, the shepherds fields cut of by ‘the Wall’. Venture there and you too may be ‘cut off’.

What will you sing this Christmas time? How will you sing of Bethlehem? Will we be mindless of the pain of those who live there, or, shall we sing with a heartfelt commitment to justice for the persecuted, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew or other? Will we honour the incarnation; Jesus among us; through living the kingdom, challenging power, speaking truth, demanding justice and peace?

Or shall we just sing —  of shepherds, angels, lambs, and a baby —  of father Xmas, reindeer and presents —  but nothing of the greater gift:  of crucifixion, of resurrection, of rejection of earthly empires, of the kingdom of God ‘on earth as in heaven’.

Our choice:  no-one is watching …

Deceit, Terror, Racism – and hope?

The State of Israel was founded and has been sustained on deceit, terror and racism, (I expect many will disagree but the facts are well established). With ‘Balfour’ round the corner, what is there to celebrate?

Are Jews safer? Than what – Bergen-Belsen? Of course they are; but, if their own reports are to be believed, they are not safe. They don’t seem to feel safe; in London, Paris, not even in Jerusalem. That they are better protected than 80 to 150 years ago is beyond question and is right. But, in establishing a Jewish state on another people’s land, in the process killing many, expelling a multitude and producing the largest and longest refugee crisis in modern times, ‘Jewsishness’ lost its soul. In becoming Zionism, as Zionists insist, Judaism became a contradiction.

Atheistic men used a promise from a god in whom they didn’t believe to justify Judaism’s right to land occupied and possessed by Arabs, the Palestinians. They claimed a messianic ‘right of return’ in the absence of the ‘messiah’ contrary to Rabbinic teaching that had sustained the community for over 1700 years.

The part played by Christians in this disaster cannot be under-stated. Evangelical Christian support for Zionism and Zionists was crucial in moving it from being a tiny and rejected minority view to becoming what is now the centre ground. Many Jews at the time suspected that what has happened would happen. That Jews outside of Israel would be suspected of favouring the ‘Jewish’ state over their own home nation. Oddly too, considering that Christians are supposedly ‘Gospel’ (good news) people, a version of Zionism is now ‘mainstream’ for many Christians. Criticize Israel and you are likely to land in hot water with the leadership.

What is to be done?

Despite the seeming negative tone above, let’s look at the positives.  Whatever we may think about its beginnings, the state of Israel exists. Similarly, many of our modern nation states seem to have been put together rather in the manner of a three-year old playing with his older brothers’ left-over Lego bricks.

What we need is a more just, a more even-handed approach, and that cannot be left to our leaders, whether in government or church. A solution is needed that brings justice for Palestinians, including the many millions of refugees, without creating further injustice for innocent Jews. There will be some; there are; who claim that there are “no innocents on the other side”. That won’t do. It will be wiser, more generous, more hopeful, more truthful, more just, for all to accept some of the blame. There are some, no doubt, who must be held to account, although how that should happen must be carefully thought through. There is no point laying up more trouble for the future.

And it does mean that we should demand from the media and from our leaders, whether in church or government, that they be less one-sidedly strident in criticism of Palestinians, and more functionally critical of Israel, which is by far the more powerful agency in the situation. By ‘functional’ I mean not just talking the talk. We have been quick enough to punish the weaker party when they seem to support terror, but we have done nothing when the stronger party acts provocatively.

Hearteningly there are people of peace on both, (or is it all) sides, and their voices need to be heard. Let us find them, make space for them, and give them the support they need. The centenary of Balfour should be a time for reflection, not celebration, a time to determine to work with what is best in Judaism, in Christianity, in Humanity, for peace with justice.

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.

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?

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).

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