Tag Archives: promises

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

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.

Sharing with Abraham

The Land of Israel is central to Judaism. It is an intrinsic part of the covenant that God promised to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12), and most events recorded in the Bible took place in Israel.

The mitzvah to live in Israel is based on the verse, “You shall possess the Land and dwell in it” (Numbers 33:53). The Talmud states that “every 4 amot (about 7 feet) that a person walks in Israel is another mitzvah.”

The question, however, is whether this mitzvah is compulsory in our times when the Holy Temple is not standing. This is the basis of a dispute between two great Talmudic commentators, Maimonides and Nachmanides. A leading 20th century sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, concludes that living in Israel is a “mitzvah kiyuma” – while it is a great mitzvah, there is no absolute obligation to do so.

from Ask the Rabbi
“Mitzvah to Live in Israel”

I used to want to live in Israel. I gathered together various reading materials related to making aliyah. I often imagined what it would be like to permanently move to the Holy Land. It was a rather romantic notion and it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. I’m not Jewish, but my wife is. If she made aliyah, it’s not like the state of Israel would deny her just because she was married to a goy. I’d “go along for the ride,” so to speak.

As the years passed, my passion cooled and reality settled in for the long haul. I realized that my wife had no desire to actually live in Israel (though she and my daughter have visited). According to the Ask the Rabbi quote from above, there’s not an absolute obligation for a Jew to live in the Land, so I guess Jews can still choose to live where ever it pleases them.

But reading the article about the mitzvah of living in Israel reminded me of what I wrote yesterday about Abraham, Jews, and Christians. (I decided not to make this blog post part of The Jesus Covenant series since it’s more of a “side note” on the covenant than a direct investigation, however the relationship between this and the “covenant” series is obvious) The giving of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity is part and parcel of the Abrahamic covenant (see Genesis 12). As I outlined in my previous blog post, while one of the conditions of said-covenant provides a blessing to the nations through Abraham’s seed; through the Messiah, that is the only condition of the covenant that applies to Christianity.

In other words, the Land is promised to Israel through the Abrahamic covenant, but that doesn’t translate into Israel also “belonging” to Christians. My wife, as a Jew, has the perfect right to request and receive legal citizenship in Israel while I, a non-Jew, do not, even if I really, really want to live there.

This is sort of a metaphor for a larger set of obligations and permissions vs. human desires that I experience in my little corner of the blogosphere. As much as I may have wanted to live in the Land of Israel at one point in time, that would only have been accomplished in my case, if I accompanied my Jewish wife when she made aliyah. If she never makes aliyah, then I’m staying in the good ol’ U.S. of A. with her. She has the right to make aliyah to Israel. I can only live in Israel because of her being Jewish.

That covers so many other things. We Christians may see the many advantages the Jews have (see Romans 3:1-2) and we tend to want them for ourselves. That’s probably the desire that is at the heart of supersessionism in Christianity. We’ve been taught that every promise God made to the Jewish people has been taken from them and transferred to us, so when we see the beauty of the various aspects of Judaism, the lighting of the shabbos candles, praying the Shema, reading from the Torah scroll in the synagogue (another form of aliyah), we, or at least some of us, want them, too.

Nevermind that a “want” is not a “deserve,” we still want, much like a child in pre-school sees a playmate who has a cool toy, we want it for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if that toy belongs to our playmate. At that age, kids don’t have a terrific understanding of empathy, boundaries, and distinctions. They are very egocentric. If they want something, they take it. It doesn’t matter that the toy belongs to someone else. That’s why pre-school age children need adults to remind them that they can’t have everything they want, even when they see other kids playing with a really cool toy.

When you’re a small child, you think and feel like a small child and there are many things that you don’t understand. We adults are tolerant of this in our children and grandchildren because we know this behavior is a normal stage of development. We gently provide correction and eventually, the child grows and learns. The problem is when people grow up and they don’t learn, and they still keep thinking like children.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)

If we don’t develop properly and we cling to childish ideas, we grow up continually mistaking wants for needs and privileges for rights. In the western nations, we are taught to stand up for our rights, and then we believe that everything is a right. Our Constitution guarantees the right to pursue happiness but that’s no promise that we’ll actually attain it. There are a million things in the world we can have and a million things we can’t. It’s no fun facing that fact, but that is the reality of our existence. Some Christians may want all of the advantages of being a Jew, but it is not our right to take them. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is called stealing.

The Land of Promise was given to the direct, physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and those tribes eventually became the Jewish people. The promises were handed down like a baton in a relay race, from older to younger, down, down across the long generations and to this present day. But each of those runners is a Jew, not a Christian.

That does not mean, in an ultimate sense, that if a Christian finds beauty in Judaism, they are barred from any of the Jewish practices. Many Christians visit their local synagogues and respectfully worship with the Jewish congregation. Many classes are available at those synagogues and anyone, Jew or Gentile, is allowed to attend. No one will object if you choose to light the Shabbos candles on Friday night, or construct a small sukkah in your backyard at this time of year.

It’s like the two metaphorical pre-school children I was talking about before. We can’t just reach out and take what belongs to the other child and pretend that it is ours by right. But we can say something like, “Cool toy. Can I play with it for a little bit?” There is much beauty and joy in the mitzvot of the Jews that can also belong to us. We can feed the hungry, give a thirsty person a drink of water, visit the sick and the prisoner, give to worthy charitable causes, stand out of respect when an elderly person enters the room, and many other things. For those things that belong only to the Jews, some would be ridiculous for a Christian to perform, such as referring to ourselves as “Israel” while davening with a siddur. But there are many others that, even if they don’t belong to us, we can politely ask to share.

I will never live in Israel as a citizen, but someday before I die, I hope to visit and perhaps share in the experience of praying at the Kotel.