The other day, I raised a question for evangelicals who think standing with Israel means supporting them no matter what. How do you reconcile a “never criticize Israel” mentality with the overwhelming witness of the biblical prophets?
If you’ve been told that unconditional support for Israel is the only “biblical” position, that the modern-day state enjoys the same kind of “most favored nation” status with God as ancient Israel did, then here’s another question. If Israel today is entitled to the covenant blessings spoken by the Old Testament, what about their covenant obligations?
The Bible never spoke of Israel’s covenant blessings apart from their obligations. It’s no use trying to have one without the other. And at least one of these obligations poses a bit of a problem for the modern state of Israel, if it is indeed the same nation as the one in the Bible.
Ancient Israel was not supposed to have a standing army. They weren’t supposed to stockpile weapons. There were no taxes to fund a permanent military. Israel’s rulers were forbidden from amassing large numbers of horses (Deuteronomy 17:16-17)—which was about as close as you could get to an arms race in the ancient Near East. Israel’s king was not supposed to make foreign military alliances. God stipulated that Israel should remain militarily weak so they would learn to trust him for protection.
Israel wasn’t allowed to conscript anyone into military service. If you didn’t want to fight, you didn’t have to fight. Note this remarkable command from Deuteronomy 20:
When you go to war against your enemies… the officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.”
There were times when God whittled down Israel’s fighting force to an impossibly small number—as a reminder that they were not supposed to rely on their own military strength.
Micah 5—the same passage which said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem—also said that in that day God would destroy Israel’s horses and demolish its chariots. Israel’s military implements are mentioned in the same breath as other signs of their apostasy: witchcraft, idols, sacred stones, Asherah poles. The prophets considered militarization a form of idolatry—a blatant violation of Israel’s covenant with God.
If modern Israel is the same covenant nation written about in the Old Testament, then they are under the same covenant obligations. And that covenant forbids militarization. It declares militarization a form of idolatry.
If the modern Israeli state is not bound to these covenant obligations, then they aren’t entitled to the covenant blessings, either. You cannot have one without the other. If the laws that governed Israel in the Old Testament do not apply to Israel today, then they are just another nation, and they should be held to the same standard as every other nation.
Would we stand for any other democratic nation on earth driving people off of land that’s been in their families for generations? Would we stand for any other nation building settlements on land that almost everyone agrees belongs to someone else? Would we stand for them restricting people’s freedom of movement, bulldozing their homes, and killing thousands of innocent civilians?
Of course we wouldn’t. And we shouldn’t stand for violence committed by Palestinian groups either. But evangelicals keep giving Israel a free pass. They do so because they believe it is God’s covenant nation. Yet when it comes to holding Israel to the stipulations of that covenant… silence.
So which is it? Is modern Israel bound to the covenant or not? Either way, you’ll have a hard time justifying its treatment of their Palestinian neighbors.
If you think “standing with Israel” means never criticizing them, you’re going to have to get a new Bible
When I think about my sponsored child in Gaza
The problem with using the Bible to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Note: For a helpful summary of covenant stipulations forbidding militarization in ancient Israel, see chapter 3 of Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.
Photo credit: Israeli Defense Force on Flickr (image cropped) / CC BY-SA 2.0