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I just completed my third trip to Israel in the past six months. Where ever I have gone during these trips, and the many I have made in the previous 44 years, I hear people say, “I am here to bless Israel!” If they get a chance to explain what they mean, the most common answer is, “ God says that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed,” and they often know that it has something to do with God’s promise to Abraham. In other words, this is some way of being sure that God will bless me. Is that right?
Others will apply this way of thinking more broadly and find direct connections with the well-being or decline of entire nations. In one interpretation, this means that the nations that vote with Israel in the UN will thrive and the nations that vote against Israel will experience hardship and disaster. (By the way, there is no doubt that the United Nations has some sort of obsession with condemning Israel. In light of all the abuses of human rights by so many nations, the General Assembly spends an inordinate amount of time accusing Israel.)
On this particular trip, I was part of the leadership of a large event in Jerusalem. There were about 3,500 people from many nations with nearly half of them being Chinese who have a passion for Jews and Arabs. It was an amazing few days of worship, prayer and unity between nations and peoples and that included Jews and Arabs. In fact believers from both backgrounds joyfully made a public covenant to walk together as “one new man”, as Paul describes in Ephesians 2:15. However, when various individuals and delegations spoke about “blessing Israel”, I think they often did not mean the same thing as others; there were important misunderstandings associated with that phrase.
There is a simple question that can help clear up the misunderstanding. Do we mean we intend to bless the nation-state of Israel, or do we mean we intend to bless the people who have historically been known as Israel? There is a big difference.
The nation-state of Israel is, like all other nations, a mix of good and bad. There is no doubt that God intended its resurrection in 1948 and that its birth and survival until today has been nothing short of Providential. The scriptures make it clear that God ordains the nations and their boundaries so, in that sense, every nation is ordained of God, but Israel is unique among the nations. There has never been an occasion in history in which people were able to return to their historical home after 1900 years of exile. That is simply, amazingly miraculous.
That does not mean that Israel is a uniquely righteous nation, though. Actually, it’s founding philosophies had much more to do with Eastern European Socialism from the 1930s and 40s than any desire to return to the God of the Bible. In the past few decades, the number of religious Jews has grown dramatically, but they are mostly of the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox persuasions and, as such, they are fiercely opposed to anything to do with Jesus Christ. From a political perspective, Israel is like any other nation with a whole range of ideologies and dozens of political parties. They oppose one another on nearly every subject, sometimes violently. So, which of them do we support if “blessing Israel” means political support?
That subject is not so complicated if we just think about the Old Testament prophetic scriptures. None of the prophets ever unconditionally supported the government and military of Israel. They loved the nation but, because they loved it, had to speak against the godlessness, the idolatry and their trust in their own wealth and might. When we read Jeremiah and the other prophets, it seems that only the false prophets offered unconditional support.
So, we must bless what is good and upright in a nation, but never call evil good, as the false prophets did. But that is exactly what we do when we offer unconditional support to a nation. Of course that principle applies to any nation. When “the church” of any nation aligns itself with the ambitions of its government and military it ends up strengthening the Principalities and Powers that drive nations to evil.
Yet, I am convinced that God wants us to bless Israel because anyone who reads and understands the message of the New Testament will know that God is not finished with the people who are called Israel—the Jewish people. In Romans, Paul writes about them being branches that have been broken off, temporarily, from an olive tree. Then he describes the believers of all the other nations as branches that were grafted into the tree. And then he says that the breaking off was a blessing to all the other nations, but they will be grafted back in and that will be a MUCH greater blessing.
So, that is not really complicated: We maintain a prophetic stance to any and every nation and that includes the nation-state of Israel. We simply cannot offer unconditional support because we would end up calling evil good. Jeremiah and other prophets lost their lives because they refused to do exactly that. But we can pray for and bless the Jewish people. That means we long for the day when they will see their hope for a Messiah fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We also work toward that end by supporting mission to the Jewish people and take every opportunity to extend love and kindness to them.
If that is clear, let me make one more thing completely clear: I BLESS ISRAEL!