Do Jews have a divine right to the land of Israel?

Louis Theroux Ultra Zionists

I watched the BBC film Ultra Zionists last night (you can watch it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/ybyxp/). Louis Theroux is brilliant in the way that he gently questions people about their beliefs and how they act them out.

It raises a number of questions but the main one is that in my post title. This is the sixth in my occasional series on Theological Questions to Which The Answer is No.
One of the most disturbing scenes is when Louis asks the vineyard owner if he can stir the wine in the vat and is told no as it is kosher wine. He then asks if the large group of Christians visiting and helping out on the vineyard is able to and again told no. He then asks the vineyard owner if her thinks that the Christians understand the impact of their helping the vineyard  on the occupied territory and again is told no that they don’t understand.

There is a large section of the Christian population (especially in the US but also parts of the UK) that support unwaveringly the line that the Jews have a divine right to the land of Israel. I want to address this from a theological point of view. Let me first point out that I am NOT advocating that the state of Israel should not exist. Nor am I anti-Jewish. I am merely addressing one part of the view that Jews have a divine right to the Greater Israel (and especially the West Bank).

I can understand why Israel occupies parts of the West Bank to create a security buffer (given the wars in the past and the fact that Israel is a very small narrow country). Even if I disagree with this I can understand it. But that is very different from wrapping it up in a theological position that says that God has ordained it for us and anyone disagreeing with us is therefore disagreeing with God.

The key that most people go back to is the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) where the Jewish people are promised the land of Israel on several occasions such as Exodus 6:8

I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’

This in isolation (along with other passages) would lead one to believe that this is the total answer. But this is to fundamentally miss the biblical view of covenant. A covenant is made by two parties. An agreement is made with two sides to it. The covenant with the Jews in the Old Testament is predicated on the Jewish people keeping the Torah or Law. Moses makes this plain in Deut. 28 and ends by saying:

The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other

So, the Jews are expelled from the land by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans as a result of not keeping Torah. If you keep the Torah you will thrive if you don’t you will be expelled. That’s the covenant.

Some of the Orthodox Jews recognise this and see that they are still in exile. That’s why some of them went to an Iranian conference and deny the state of Israel is the Jewish state.They are still waiting for the Messiah to come again and restore them.

Of course, good Christian theology recognises this and sees that Jesus changes the focus away from Temple and land onto himself. It sees that the appeal is to the covenant to Abraham that his descendants are to be a blessing to all nations. A very different and better focus than arguing and killing and dying for a piece of land.

Unfortunately, bad theology dominates. Too many equate Jews in land = promise of God fulfilled = the state of Israel and settlers can do anything they like.

This is not only a bad theology but has appalling consequences.

Thousands of innocent people denied their basic human rights.

A people penned in to smaller and smaller areas of land.

Israeli "peace" wall around Bethlehem

Israeli "peace" wall

People pushed to the brink and so hatred and anger spill over. We see two scenes of this in Louis Theroux’s programme. Firstly, a young Palestinian living next to a Kibbutz expresses his desire to drive Israel into the sea. Secondly, an Arab is killed by settlers in Jerusalem and the Israeli forces storm around late at night. The Palestinians express how frightening this is to their families and tell the Israeli’s this will end up with more suicide bombings.

The Bible is full of the need to strive for justice. To make sure justice is public, good and just. It always expects the people of God to hold to a higher standard than others. It never says that you can get away with things that wouldn’t be acceptable for others.

For too long Christians in the West have colluded with a bad theology that has allowed oppression and injustice to rule.

There is a good case for the Israeli state to exist. It just doesn’t involve a divine right. It doesn’t involve letting people be expelled from their land or treated as inferior human beings.

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8 comments on “Do Jews have a divine right to the land of Israel?

  1. rich
    February 7, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    Maybe not believing in nonsense would be a good start?

  2. Will Cookson
    February 7, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Rich, but what is nonsense to you can be coherent to others. Just because we can think our own worldview is obvious and coherent doesn’t mean that it does to others.

  3. Harvey Edser
    February 7, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    And whether it’s nonsense or not, it won’t persuade anyone or solve anything just to dismiss these beliefs.

    I don’t believe that anyone now has a divine right to the ‘Holy Land’, but I do believe that both people-groups occupying the land have a right to exist and a duty to co-exist peacefully and non-oppressively. There are complicated historical and current rights and wrongs on both sides, but I tend to see the wrongs on the occupying/oppressing side as of greater seriousness. And of course the British are at least partly culpable for wrongs done to both sides.

    • Will Cookson
      February 8, 2011 at 8:13 am #

      Always great to see that its the Brits at fault.

      • harveyedser
        February 8, 2011 at 10:23 am #

        Well, of course the Brits were/are not totally to blame but British Imperialism hasn’t always served the wider world well! The 1917 Balfour Declaration could be seen as directly responsible for much of the current situation in Israel/Palestine, and on the other side of course there has been a huge amount of British (and European) anti-semitism over the centuries.

  4. Becky
    February 7, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Glad I saw this post, very interesting especially with everything happening in Egypt. The important thing now is to find away for the Jews in Israel to tolerate the Palestinians and respect their way of life too. I’ll have to watch the Louis Theroux programme, and The Promise on Channel 4.

  5. Michael Edser (Harvey's dad)
    February 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    I think there is a serious inconsistency in the Zionist position of invoking God’s promises but not holding to all His word. For instance, Isaiah 30:15 enjoins quietness, trust, repentance and rest on God’s people as their way to strength and salvation; but the State of Israel relies heavily on military capability, not on God. Of course this is not unique to Israel. Blessing ballistic missiles is inconsistent, too!

    I also find it worrying that a not inconsiderable number of evangelicals seem to feel one should adopt Jewish customs, dietary rules, festivals, spirituality etc and be extra-blessed. They disregard clear teaching to the contrary in passages like Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 3, and so deny the all-sufficiency of Jesus.

  6. Esther Somerson
    March 29, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    The item about the 88 yr old was hilarious! To tie in with that and the above, Louis is back BBC2 Sun 21.00, revisiting the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas from his 2007 doc.’even though church members are suspicious of his motives they can’t resist opening their mouths and letting the drivel pour forth. You can almost see the dawning realisation of their own ridiculousness as Theroux interjects while handing them generous lengths of rope.’ I was pleased to see that it doesn’t clash with pt 2 of 2 Alan Yentob’s prog on Tolstoy so might give it an airing. Two interesting Jewish presenters!

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