Friday, May 27, 2011

Father Abraham Had Many Sons

President Obama is reaping the animosity of the pro-Israel wing of the Evangelical community for suggesting that the pre-1967 Palestinian-Israeli borders should be the basis for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Time will tell if the proposal has any effect at all upon the relations between the Jews and Arabs involved. Certainly, it will cost the President the support of some Jews who voted for him in 2008. He does not stand to lose any support from most pro-Israel Evangelicals. They had written him off before he even became a candidate for President. He cannot lose what he never had.

Consequently, the negative electoral fallout from Obama’s proposal will not be great. In that light, it is reasonable to view the President’s actions as expressing a sincere belief that it serves the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians to make peace with each other. Further, his suggestion recognizes that the only way to provide the land necessary to create a viable state for the Palestinians, is to give them back the territory taken from them in the 1967 war, or, as the President suggested, make mutually agreed “swaps” to accommodate the status quo. Certainly, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, nor Egypt will donate land for a Palestinian nation. Either it will come from restoring territory taken from the Palestinians or there can be no two-state solution.

The broader question that concerns pro-Israeli Evangelicals is, what, exactly, did God promise to the Jews regarding the ownership of Palestine; do modern developments in that region reflect a fulfillment of that promise? Or, specifically, is it God’s will to reestablish a Jewish state in the “end times”? Is it the obligation of the Christian Church to support a modern, secular, state of Israel regardless of its policies or its treatment of its Arab neighbors and citizens?

In the opinion of many sincere and competent Christian scholars, the New Testament offers not a shred of support for the idea that a reestablished Jewish nation is essential to God’s redemptive plan for mankind. The belief that a “national Israel” is essential to God’s “end time purposes” may, in fact, be a dangerous distraction, turning the attention of large parts of the Evangelical church away from its central mission, into a fruitless and destructive debate that alienates millions of Abraham’s Ishmaelite sons, to whom God has called it to witness, and giving a false hope to other millions of his sons through Isaac, who need to see that their salvation is in the acceptance of the Messiah, not the building of an earthly kingdom.

A careful and honest reading of the Genesis account shows that Yahweh gave Abraham the promise of a land for his descendents to inhabit. When Ishmael was Abraham’s only son, Yahweh specifically directed Abraham to circumcise him, bringing him under Yahweh’s covenant. Abraham and Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, were specifically promised that Ishmael’s line would be “fruitful” and would encompass many (twelve to be exact) nations. Abraham was renamed – from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many) – to confirm the promise that his descendants would encompass many nations; that many “kings” would be among them. Isaac, on the other hand, was the “son of promise.” Through Isaac’s line, and through the line of  Jacob (Israel), all mankind, would be blessed. Ultimately it was to be Isaac’s line through which the Messiah would come, and through which the Gospel would go out to the whole world.

The Apostle Paul – the Christian Church’s first theologian – concluded that all the promises given to Abraham and his descendents found their fulfillment in Jesus, the Messiah. Neither he, nor any other first century Christian writer suggests that the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan requires the reestablishment of a national identity for the Jews. Paul goes so far as to call the first century believers – Jews and gentiles alike – the “Israel of God.”

So, political events happening in our time, in the old Jewish territories of Palestine, are irrelevant to the Christian’s Church’s message of salvation in Christ. Whatever territory there is to be divided up, will ultimately be divided between sons of Abraham. The ideal solution would be a one-state national home for all the sons of Abraham, with the “sons of Ishmael” and the “sons of Isaac” living side by side as neighbors and brothers. That is not likely to happen anytime soon, but the theological underpinning of the President’s proposal1 is more Biblically sound, and no less conducive to the Christian mission of bringing every “tribe and tongue” into the fold of God, than that of the pro-Israel wing of Evangelicalism.

Regardless of what kind of state, or states, are established in the region of Palestine, the Christian Church has an obligation to bring the truth of Christ’s Messiahship to all who live there. If the Christian Gospel is true, then both the Jews (Isaac’s descendents) and the Muslims (Ishmael’s descendents) have lost their way and need to be pointed to the Messiah, the Son of Abraham, through whom “all nations will be blessed.”
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1I am not suggesting that the President has theological motives for his proposal, only that there are, in our present situation, theological implications of any proposal dealing with the disposition of the former Palestinian territories.

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