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
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)
Specifically 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.
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…
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.
“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.
This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.
–1 John 2:25
That’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.
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!
As 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.