This is the final post from guest writer Chris Chamberlain. See the whole series list here.
We must be careful how we read Scripture
What I would call a ‘Zionist’ reading of Scripture seems to take a verse with no regard for its context, and apply it to the modern State of Israel. This is to be violent with the text in my view.
It also labels what I might call a ‘steady’ attitude to scripture as ‘Replacement Theology’- this I have learnt is a derogatory term that is aimed at any Christian who questions modern Israel. So, at the risk of throwing texts back at those who have thrown texts already, here are a few that give cause for pause:
2 ‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
If Israel has a right to exist, when will they take this to heart and become a blessing to Palestinians?
In fact, about 70% of Israelis are not interested in what their scriptures say because they are ‘secular’. A Zionist position will say “they are God’s chosen people,” implying that this is a special people, regardless of how they behave, or what they do or do not believe.
Leviticus 19:33-34 is damning of the apartheid currently occurring in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. It needs no unpacking.
“Do not ill-treat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would a fellow-Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Jeremiah 22:3 similarly is an indictment on the current political state of Israel:
“I, the LORD, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place.”
And of course, Micah:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Justice is at the core of the scriptures. The prophets often remind us of God’s concern for the underdog and the weak. Where is the call for and concern about justice in the current stories of Israeli treatment of Palestinians? Where is the voice of the Church for those who are oppressed?
A Zionist reading of the prophets appears to cherry-pick the lines that work, and to ignore the lines that do not work. It seems to take a literalist, recent, time-specific attitude, trampling on the original recipients and hearers of the prophet. It also carries the risk of by-passing the new covenant of Jesus, who is the fulfilment of the old covenant.
Lastly, these words of Jesus might serve as a New Testament critique of Zionism:
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.
The final thing to make a comment on in relation to the reading of scripture is that we Western Christians can be a very superstitious lot!
A superstitious reading of the Bible, combined with conspiracy theories and escapist end-times predictions are marks of too many Christians who should know better.
Is it because of laziness, or the abdication of responsibility for our brothers and sisters? Is it seated in fear and an inability to face the hard task of engaging with a world around us that is not simple to deal with? Is it based in selfish materialistic comfort that we prefer to maintain control over? Do we want the ‘end’ to come quickly in order to transition from our comfortable lifestyle to a comfortable heaven? These questions are not going to get a decent airing in this post, but they are questions I’m still left with.
What else can we do?
As we met with Palestinian Christians, the final question was often this one: “we are leaving you, and going home… what can we do?”
Certain words rang in my ears at this point:
“I will not become bitter.”
“I refuse to become the enemy.”
“We are the only ones called to forgive.”
“His ministry we must continue, and people of faith must persist in the Holy Land or it will only be a theme park!”
The piercing look from the man with the PhD, a man who could easily choose to live anywhere, but knows and obeys the call to stay, his was the gaze that accompanied these four requests:
- Pray for us! It was an impassioned request.
- Pilgrimages: Come and see all of it.
- Politics: We need you to advocate for us because we have been forgotten.
- Projects: Hearts and minds change and soften when investment in lives occurs.
These requests for help came with the knowledge that 55% of Palestinians are aged under 18. 25% of children are in Christian schools.
As Brooke Fraser sings, ‘now that I have seen, I am responsible.’
These are our family in this place.
These ones are the hope of the world in this place, the Church. If we do not believe that then we need to pause, and re-read the gospel of Jesus, and ask who and what we are about.
Chris grew up in Timaru and West Auckland. He has been in Baptist church pastoral leadership roles for over 20 years in exciting places like the South Island’s West Coast and central Christchurch. Experiencing the destructive forces of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes has introduced him to new layers of care, community response, and recovery red tape. He currently owns four old Fiats, some of which are drivable, and secretly wishes he was in Dave Dobbyn’s band as the fiddle player. He is learning to share the Fiats with Julie and their three children.
This is the final part of his guest series on his recent visit to Palestine and Israel with World Vision. You can read the other posts here:
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