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How should believers respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Weekly Q&A

How should believers respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Posted on June 8, 2021  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

As believers, how should we respond to the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The world is constantly calling out Israel for “crimes against humanity” (and to be honest, it’s hard to deal with the civilian casualties we saw on the news last month).

On the other hand, so many Christians continue ‘undisturbed’ (if that is the right word), because they ascribe whatever is happening to Biblical prophecies about God’s chosen people. Can you help put things into perspective?

First, let me say that it is wonderful news that a ceasefire has allowed the violence to stop for now. However, a ceasefire and a resolution for peace are not the same thing. The result is that there will likely continue to be more conflicts in the area for the foreseeable future.

There are a number of reasons as to why the conflicts are so intense near Jerusalem, but the foundations of the issues revolve around the Jews and Palestinians both laying claim to the land.

Historical context

The Palestinians — which include both Muslims and Christians, and even Jews — have occupied the land for many generations now. The Diaspora Jews (primarily Ashkenazi and few Sephardi) began moving back to the land in the early 1900s to escape persecution in other places.

The Zionist movement pushed for Palestine as the permanent home of the Jews pre-World War I, with Britain affirming it in the Balfour Declaration. What changed was the effect of World War II and the Holocaust on the urgency of resolving the conflict.

The British brought the matter to the UN, who approved a two-state solution. The Jews accepted it, but the Arabs rejected it. Nevertheless, the Jews immediately declared the State of Israel; they were attacked, but emerged victors in the war.

The conflict, therefore, is not merely religious; it is also ideological/political. Israel is willing — and has proposed on five separate occasions — to accept the existence of a separate Arab state. The Arabs, however, have yet to accept the existence of a Jewish state.

The conflict is not merely religious; it is also ideological/political

Today, there are several Jewish and Muslim holidays that coincide throughout the year and tend to increase chances of conflicts. Recently, a legal process resulted in some Palestinians being evicted from homes that they had occupied for many years. This was the catalyst for the most recent fighting.

The true Israel

The question we must ask ourselves is who we should support in the face of this conflict. Many Christians choose to support Israel simply because they believe that the Jews are God’s chosen people.

The problem with this idea is that, as Christians, we believe that the promise of Abraham is fulfilled in Christ. In the Hebrew Bible, it states that not all who are ethnically “Israel” are God’s people. Those who believe in Yahweh are the children of promise.

As Christians, we view Christ as the second member of the Trinity and as such, we see Christ as Yahweh. John 5:23 states that the one who honours the Father must honour the Son. As one of my pastor friends rightly observed, “One cannot have God and reject Christ.”

From the Christian perspective, to identify as God’s people, one must be in Christ. We view this in the era of the Old Testament, as believing Jews who looked forward to a Messiah who would come. Today, we view this as people from any ethnicity (including Jews), who believe that Jesus is the Messiah who came.

Both Romans 9:6ff and Galatians 3 suggest that, in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile and that all who believe in Jesus as the Christ are the ‘spiritual Israel’ of God.

In Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile. All who believe in Jesus are the ‘spiritual Israel’ of God

Furthermore, Jeremiah 18 makes a very telling statement about prophesy concerning nations and blessings and judgment:

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.

When God makes a declaration through a prophet about his intent to bless or curse a nation, if that nation changes trajectory and either repents or turns away from the Lord, then the blessing or judgment from God may change.

We cannot take passages about a return to the land as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy today, because Yahweh is the God of all lands and His promises are now fulfilled in Christ.

Prophecy involves forthtelling, not just foretelling. Forthtelling is stating that given the current trajectory of how things are going, the consequences of one’s actions will be such and such. But if a person or nation changes that trajectory, God’s dealing with that group will also be revised.

Understanding the politics

It must be noted that Hamas has made it clear that it has no interest in peace. Their charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Christians cannot stand by that, and should appeal for true national peace. This can only be achieved through negotiations, not terrorism. To desire the destruction of Israel — as explicitly stated by Hamas — is anti-Semitism.

Israel is a legally established, self-governing sovereign nation. Whether one agrees that it should be a state now or not does not change the fact that Israel exists. Whether one thinks that Palestinians should have a claim to the land or not also does not change the fact that Palestinians do live in the modern state of Israel. Most Jews and Palestinians in the area simply want to live in peace.

It is also important to understand that the root cause of the Palestinian suffering is not primarily Israeli subjugation, but the bad governance of its leaders. Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005. Instead of developing the region for the good of its citizens, the strip has been turned into a terrorist base.

Christians should not support Israel merely because they think that there is a biblical mandate to do so, seeing as God sent the Messiah through their ethnic lineage. It is also wrong to think that any other country will be blessed by God, just because they support any specific ethnic group including Israel.

Christians should not support Israel merely because God sent the Messiah through their ethnic lineage

Care for the stranger

God commands the Israelites in many passages of Scripture to treat foreigners well and to be hospitable to all. They are commanded to assimilate them into their culture and help the alien find a home.

So, while Israel can be supported as a nation, they must be held responsible for the well-being of all in their country (even the Palestinians who are now being displaced). The Jews in Israel must do what they can to aid the Palestinians in the land.

In the same way, Christians must support the care of refugees, strangers, displaced, and oppressed people. Scripture makes this abundantly clear:

  • You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
  • The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
  • ‘Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’. Deuteronomy 27:19
  • The Lord watches over the strangers; He upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin. Psalm 146:9
  • For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. Jeremiah 7:5-7 (Note here the provisional promise)
  • You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. Ezekiel 47:22 (Note here the call to provide land to others residing in the land who are part of other ethnic groups)
  • Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. Zechariah 7:9-10
  • You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44
  • Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” Acts 10:34

All people are created in God’s image and, as such, should be treated with dignity and respect

Standing for the oppressed

In short, I support Israel as a state, but do not confuse Israel as a state with Israel as the children of God. God’s spiritual Israel is made up of all those in Christ. God loves and cares for the ethnic Jews in Israel just as He loves and cares for the well-being of all humanity. All people are created in God’s image and, as such, should be treated with dignity and respect.

As Christians, we must stand for the oppressed. We must call on those in power to treat those who are suffering under their hands with justice, kindness and love.

We should not think that supporting an ethnic group is a way of ushering in the return of Christ and we should not think that we are doing God’s will by turning a blind eye to injustice for the sake of any specific people group.

There are things that can be done to bring about peace on the side of Israel and on the side of the Palestinians. Both groups need to do what they can to seek a resolution to the issue that is as fair as can be for all parties involved. There can be no room for crimes against humanity on either side in the conflict. A home must be developed for both groups in the land.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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