Paul writing

Another Letter from the Outside

I have heard a lot of anti-Israel sentiment from my friends who support the Palestinians. A good client of mine questions the validity of Israel’s existence, saying: “How do you justify inhabiting an already populated land through force? How can you contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust and then inflict such suffering on the Arabs?” Some of these people say they respect Judaism, but question why it is acceptable to “steal” land from a people and keep it yourself.

I am not attacking Israel, just trying to investigate the issue. Do the Jews have a valid claim on Israel? From the times of Abraham and Moses, how many years was the land ours? I could also use some info on the history of U.N. declarations, etc. Thank you.

-A question from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at
Aish.com

I know I said I didn’t want to make this debate the center of my life, but reading the various articles at Aish this morning made a few things line up. I still don’t have the time to read large blocks of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other prophets to continue to search for substantiation (or lack thereof as some people are trying to convince me) that God gave Israel exclusively to the Jewish people, but I don’t think it would hurt to take a look at how Jewish people see their own connection to the Land.

The question framed above apparently comes from a Jewish person who is having doubts about the Biblical and historical right of Jews to claim Israel as their own nation.

The Aish Rabbi started his reply with:

The Jewish people are not stealing anything. They were granted the Land of Israel by God, as is stated in Genesis 15:7 and 21:12.

In fact, the very first thing that God said to Abraham was: “Go from your land of your birth… to the land that I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:1). When Abraham and Sarah got to Israel, God promised them, “To your descendants have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River.” In God’s eyes the deal was considered set in stone, which is why He said “I have given this land” in the past tense, as if the thing were already done and impossible to undo. (Genesis 15:18, Rashi)

Of course all this is from the point of view of the “Old Testament” and so Christians often write off Jewish exclusivity to possession of Israel based on later, New Testament scriptures.

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…

Ephesians 3:1-6 (NASB)

lightSpecifically the portions of verses 4 and 5 which say “mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men,” are used to derive the “fact” that Gentile inclusion into Israeli citizenship was not revealed to the prophets of the Tanakh but only to Paul and the “holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” thus, by definition, most Christians believe that there was never supposed to be evidence of Gentile inclusion into Israel in the Old Testament.

But continuing with Ephesians 3, let’s see what else Paul has to say:

…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the ekklesia to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (emph. mine)

Ephesians 3:6-13 (NASB)

I took the liberty of emphasizing certain words and phrases in the above-quoted scripture (I also changed “Church” to “ekklesia” for clarity) to illustrate what Paul says that our faith in Jesus (Yeshua) makes us “fellow heirs” to. To Israel? It doesn’t say so. It says to the body. The body of what?

…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12:5

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1 Corinthians 12:20

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

So we are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body of Messiah, fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua.

What did he promise, that everyone who believed in him would become citizens of national Israel?

Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…

Acts 16:31

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

2 Peter 1:4

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

John 14:27

This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

1 John 2:25

everybodyThat’s only a partial list but it seems as if we were promised salvation from our sins, to be able to share in his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption, to have all of our needs satisfied, to have peace of mind and heart, and of course, eternal life in the resurrection.

In a comment I read recently, someone rendered part of Ephesians 2:11 as “You who were formerly Gentiles…” as if faith in Jesus changed us from being Gentiles to being, if not Jewish, then citizens of Israel or somehow “naturalized Israelites”. But the New American Standard Bible translates that same verse as:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh…

Biblical Greek comes without punctuation, so depending on the translator, the text can be made to read “you former Gentiles” or “remember that formally you, the Gentiles of the flesh…were at that time separate from Christ.”

In other words, “You Gentiles were formerly separated from Christ but through faith, have been brought near.”

…excluded from the commonwealth of Israel…But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:12-13

I truncated these verses to emphasize the point of what is being said. Formerly, the pagan Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel but in Messiah, we who were formerly far off, have been brought near. Near to what? The commonwealth of Israel and Jesus Christ.

I still have a lot of homework to do, but based on this and my recent reviews (see Part 1 and Part 2) of one of J.K McKee’s books, I’m still not seeing God using Paul to rewrite or negate the older portions of scripture that promise the Land of Israel in perpetuity to the Jewish people. Nor do I think that being “brought near” to the “commonwealth of Israel” equates “being brought into national Israel”.

Our “co-heirness,” so to speak, is in the resurrection and the other New Covenant promises of the forgiveness of sins, having our hearts changed from stone to flesh, having God’s Word written on our hearts so we will not sin, having eternal life in the Messianic Kingdom of peace.

I don’t have a single problem with any of those promises.

Another part of the Aish Rabbi’s response is:

Although Abraham knew that God had given him the land, he nevertheless chose peaceful measures and paid exorbitant amounts for a field in Hebron (Genesis 23:4, Rashi). This became the Jewish holy site, the Tomb of the patriarchs, 4,000 years ago. Similarly, Jacob purchased Shechem (Genesis 33:19), and King David bought Jerusalem (2-Samuel 24:24). Note that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for more than twice as many centuries as Islam has even existed!

puzzleAs I’ve said, I still have a lot of reading to do, but as I also said, I’m not going to be able to drop everything and pursue this. It’s just that stuff turns up in my field of view and it helps complete part of the puzzle, so I share those puzzle pieces here.

I try to be an honest researcher and yes I do have a bias. Everyone has biases. As stuff comes up, I’ll write more.

In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondered why Israel is considered so special from a Jewish point of view, try reading The Centrality of the Land of Israel.

Also, I’ve explored some of this before in Sampling Ephesians and Stealing a Conversation About Ephesians, Jesus, and Being a Christian.

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9 thoughts on “Another Letter from the Outside”

  1. You know the more you write and the more we read the more questions we all have!?
    Though what you write makes sense, it is difficult for someone, anyone, who had thought they would be going to heaven/New Jerusalem/Israel to realize they aren’t going to be going to any of those places. And if I understand correctly, that is what you are saying.

    If Israel, only Israel, the physical descendants, are the only ones who are going to be in the land of Israel, what happens to the people who have converted to Judaism? Where will they be?

    And, Paul wrote: 2Co 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
    So a lot of people consider the church/ekklesia to be the bride of Christ. Is the “bride” not going to be living with the groom?

    And thank you for your posts, James. I’ve been reading them with much interest!

  2. I never said that Gentile believers could never visit Israel. Some will probably even live there such as Gentiles married to Jews, and there may be other reasons for some of us to live in the Land. I just said that it’s my belief that we all aren’t automatically made citizens of national Israel all with our little plots of land in the Land due to our faith in Messiah.

    And I’m pretty certain that the streets of Jerusalem will be flooded with Gentile disciples during the various festival holidays, particularly Sukkot.

    I’ve been meaning to write a small piece about the rapture. I saw a video once where he described the rapture as us meeting Messiah in the air and going to…Jerusalem. No, we don’t go to Heaven, rather Heaven, in a sense, comes to us on Earth. God started out dwelling with people in the Garden of Eden and reading the end of John’s Revelation it seems He ends up where He and we started…living among us.

    I’m concerned that my emphasis for Jewish/Gentile distinction, particularly in the current age, is giving the impression of Israel as a gated community with all of the Gentile disciples locked outside. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that the whole Earth will be turned into a paradise, our entire planet and the expanse of Creation will be redeemed and perfected, just as it was all dragged into the mud, so to speak, by the fall. My opinion is that the majority of non-Jews will still be living in their own nations in Messianic days and that we will be saving up our vacation money for trips to Israel (just as some people do today).

    I heard an interesting interpretation of the “bride” being Israel and the Gentile believers being the wedding guests. That’s pretty radical from the Church’s point of view and I don’t have the time to explore that “midrash” along with my intent to search through the prophets for more on the relationship between Israel and the nations. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life searching through these mysteries and will still be baffled, investigating, and exploring when I expire. Fortunately, I will ‘Know God’ in the resurrection.

  3. As an Israeli citizen, I couldn’t help but to bristle at the questions being presented to the Aish.com rabbi, because of the utter lies built into those questions as presuppositions. You addressed part of one of them, in citing the biblical land grant and Avraham’s example of purchasing the very first Jewishly-owned plot within it. But, equally important is the modern history of the Jewish return to the land that was stolen from us, whereby we also purchased the land we settled and restored to fruitfulness from people living under the Ottoman Empire. We didn’t steal anything, and modern Israel has been scrupulous about respecting property ownership by non-Jews whenever it is properly documented and thereby provable. Regrettably, there are a great many claims made by Arabs which are not at all truthful. One of them is represented in the phrase “inhabiting an already populated land”. As Mark Twain observed in his book “Innocents Abroad”, the land was very sparsely populated before Jews began to return and restore the land with farms and businesses. Many Arabs from surrounding territories then migrated to seek work where it was now to be found with these new Jewish enterprises. It was never a Jewish intention to displace Arab landowners or any indigenous population. However, we were attacked many times by local rioting Arabs, stirred up by Islamic sentiment against Jews. When a majority of the world’s nations finally recognized us as the sovereign Jewish state that had long been promised to us, we were attacked by all the surrounding Arab nations with an aim to destroy us and “throw us into the sea”. Did we have any choice but to defend ourselves “through force”? Of course not, because after the Nazi Holocaust we were determined that never again would we submit passively while greater forces were arrayed against us to destroy us. Many Arabs fled from the territory of this new Jewish state during the Arab wars against it, and became refugees who were never granted asylum in the surrounding Arab nations where they fled. Meanwhile, a similar number of Jews were fleeing increased Arab persecution in these Muslim nations and they found refuge in Israel. The Arabs who remained in Israel became Israeli citizens with all ordinary rights of citizenship, such as voting, property ownership, access to healthcare and government services, and the like. No Holocaust horrors or suffering were inflicted upon them. Even the Arabs in the disputed territories of which the legal status is not yet resolved do not suffer any suffering comparable either to the Nazi Holocaust or its Nuremberg Laws or even to South African Apartheid. Regrettably, these Arabs do not accept Israeli citizenship or benefits, nor do they provide for themselves comparable benefits even when Israel grants them full autonomy over their municipal affairs. Even more regrettable is that Israel is forced to maintain heavily-armed security measures surrounding Arab enclaves in the disputed territories, because these enclaves have become breeding grounds for continual violent terroristic attacks against Israeli children and innocent civilians in general. In a territory like the Gaza strip, from which Israel withdrew completely almost a decade ago, rocket bombing against Israeli civilians has been a common continual form of attack, lessened only on three occasions now when Israel has exercised carefully-limited military force to remove these weapons and their infrastructure. It has been entirely counterproductive for Israel to cede territory in the name of a peace that these Arabs are entirely unwilling to reciprocate. The real horrors arise only when organizations like Hamas prevent their own people from responding to specific advance Israeli warnings to get away from combat zones and weapons installations installed in private homes, schools, hospitals, and other civilian locations. Even humanitarian offerings and services provided by Israel are spurned. In such circumstances it is impossible both to protect innocent Israeli lives and to prevent all casualties of defensive warfare. In the Israeli vision, Arabs also would benefit from living “each under his own vine and fig tree” (olive trees, too), just as do Jews; but this can only occur when “Hamas” (i.e., “violence”) is no longer heard of in the land (cif: Is.60:18).

    Now, many of your readers already know this information, but I thought it nonetheless worthwhile to reiterate it. Perhaps it will help some of them to counter the all-too-common false propaganda being disseminated by anti-Israel Palestinian Arabs and their frequently-ignorant supporters.

  4. What I’m about to say (type) will probably make some people unhappy PL, but I can’t help but see a sort of association between those folks who believe the “Palestinians” have some claim to parts of (or all of) Israel and non-Jewish Christians who also believe they have a claim. Both viewpoints challenge the essential promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and their descendants) about possessing the Land of Israel as their inheritance. Using the “Ephesians mystery” to explain why God didn’t tell the Jewish people about the Gentiles also being grafted in to Israeli citizenship makes God seem duplicitous on the order of how Evangelical believe God gave the Torah to the Jewish people only temporarily to teach them that no one could keep God’s Law and that instead, they *really* needed the grace of Jesus. I could never swallow God as the master of the “bait-and-switch”.

  5. For Paul, our exclusion as gentiles, included more than the Messiah, and salvation. It included Israel, the promises, the covenants, no hope, etc. If it was all simply about salvation, why waste it on things that are irrelevant? Doesn’t make much sense.

    When we think of how this mystery affects our understanding as gentiles, we can’t just say it is the way that Judaism has always envisioned it, as then it is no longer a mystery or revelation. The idea that gentiles in the Messiah would be brought near to Israel, or in another place, where Paul says “grafted in”, is definitely a mystery. Something which Judaism then and today still does not acknowledge or accept what this mystery implies, that was revealed to Paul and the Apostles. The mystery was not that gentiles are simply Noahides, as Judaism teaches. It was much more. Paul uses language in Ephesians 2, such as, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints,

    There is no real point in saying these things, if the only point being made, is that we have salvation as you seem to imply, just like gentiles before Messiah. Was it a mystery that gentiles might be saved, or that they would take part in the promises made to Israel through the Messiah. Paul is clearly speaking to the latter, thus all the details. I don’t understand how this is all written off as a metaphor in your interpretation…

  6. I don’t know if the author of the original question was Jewish or not. But I don’t have that problem, in that anyone who speaks antagonistically about Israel is not my friend. If I had to work with someone, I suppose there would be no choice.

    Most people with these sentiments are just looking for an excuse to hate Jews and have no desire to actually look at the facts, so that is why dialogue with the vast majority is useless.

  7. @PL and Chaya: I often wonder if all of the questions in Ask the Rabbi or FAQ documentation are authentic questions or if some are manufactured so that the person writing the FAQ can relate specific information to their audience. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s possible the Aish Rabbi was answering a question a lot of non-Jews (and probably some Jews) have been asking.

    @Zion: Don’t give salvation and resurrection such a bum rap, they’re pretty important stuff.

    For me, if I get permanent atonement for all my sins, the ability to talk to God and have Him listen and respond with care and compassion, consideration not just as a guest in His Presence, but as an adopted son with the associated level of intimacy, the ability to ‘know God’ with an apprehension equal to the greatest of all the prophets, having my human nature changed so that it is natural for me to NOT sin, resurrection from the dead and an immortal life in what would have to be an indestructible body in an age of permanent peace and tranquility in a world ruled by King Messiah, and all I didn’t get was citizenship in and ownership of national Israel which was promised specifically to the descendants of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob (which I am not), I don’t think I’d call it such a bad deal.

  8. Don’t give salvation and resurrection such a bum rap, they’re pretty important stuff.

    That was definitely not my intent. My point was to say the context of Paul’s message was not only concerning salvation, not to say salvation is a side issue, not in the least, walk it out in fear and trembling, nothing to take lightly… 😀

    For me, if I get permanent atonement for all my sins, the ability to talk to God and have Him listen and respond with care and compassion, consideration not just as a guest in His Presence, but as an adopted son with the associated level of intimacy, the ability to ‘know God’ with an apprehension equal to the greatest of all the prophets, having my human nature changed so that it is natural for me to NOT sin, resurrection from the dead and an immortal life in what would have to be an indestructible body in an age of permanent peace and tranquility in a world ruled by King Messiah, and all I didn’t get was citizenship in and ownership of national Israel which was promised specifically to the descendants of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob (which I am not), I don’t think I’d call it such a bad deal.

    Me neither, I completely agree. I am a lover of truth, and if my understanding of Paul is wrong, no problem, I would be willing to change my view in a heart beat, because I would much rather believe the truth. This is not some power grab or trying to get something that is not mine, it is simply how I understand Paul to be identifying gentiles in the Messiah, I think you approach those who hold a view similar to mine, that when we believe we are part of Israel, “we are up in arms ready to fight for what we so rightfully deserve” and “kick the Jews out of their rightful places”, as if we are some crazy lunatics, demanding “God give us more!!!!”, “it’s not fair!!!”, instead it is simply a view of where we fit in and trying to make sense of it all, not some crazy complex. If I am appointed to live on the Fiji Islands during the Millennium, I won’t be upset in the slightest :P, if my understanding of gentile relationship to Israel is dead wrong, I will change my beliefs, simple as that, I won’t throw down a fight, however, I definitely will seek understanding…

  9. Agreed…all Believers in Yehoshua, if Gentile, get everything promised to the Jews EXCEPT the land of Israel.

    Some Believers of Gentile blood will even have higher rank or status than the Jews in the Kingdom of God, but it will be up to Yehoshua if any Gentile Believer actually owns land in Israel, as opposed to having a permanent residency visa.

    It is sad, but those Believers that think that all Believers in Yehoshua must be Christian, and not only Christian, but of necessity abandoning their claim to the Land of Israel by forsaking all things Jewish are suggesting that they are the ones that are entitled to the Covenant Promises, and not only co-heirs with Yehoshua to the Kingdom of G-d, but favoured co-heirs as well. There is a lot of unacknowledged hubris among the Churches, which since humility has to be worked at, is a very natural human quality…one I wish some of my brothers would abandon as soon as possible.

    I would love to visit Israel when Yehoshua is on the planet, but I’m just fine with living in the SoCal Mountains…I would just like a little more rain on a regular basis, something Yehoshua will be giving those that are obedient in the Kingdom. Of course, being one of the Incorrupt might get me an unpaid job in the Icelandic DMV…one cannot tell what Yehoshua might want us to do, particularly in the beginning of the Millenium, when everything is totally chaotic.

    One oddity though…very few people seem to realize that Yehoshua reigns with an iron fist during the Millenium, and that Torah will be the Civic Law for everyone on the planet. If you do not obey, at least on the surface, you don’t get rain.

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