Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Modern State of Israel: An Adventist Interpretation

The modern, liberal-democratic Jewish nation-state of Israel does not resume the covenantal status God established with the ancient Davidic dynasty of the theocratic United Monarchy of Israel for three reasons:

1. Israel’s post-exilic, geopolitical mission of bringing about the messianic age was accomplished in the events surrounding the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Daniel 9:24–27).

2. There is no inspired revelation of God renewing his covenant with any modern nation, including Israel, nor would God need to because

3. Between the first and second comings of the Messiah, God’s kingdom is not geopolitical but spiritual-only (John 18:36), and his temple is not earthly but heavenly (Hebrews 9:11–12).

Yet because God continues and will continue to have a particular love for the people of Israel (Romans 11:2, 28–29), how much more has God providentially guided the subsequent history of the Jews given that he does so for every other nation (Acts 17:26)?

In the providential interpretation of human history, we recognize that God has accomplished his goals through past or current events based on patterns in the prophetic record of his previous interactions with groups of humans, his enduring characteristics, and his revealed plans. While discerning divine action in history is necessarily speculative, it is, I argue, necessary for us to align our approach to changing circumstances with divine action in history. The study and experience of history is one way God pushes back on our wrongly cherished views of reality, reforming our character. In the wake of recent events, let us briefly consider the history of Jews after the ascension of Jesus with an eye toward discerning God’s purposes for the State of Israel today.
A series of Jewish revolts against Roman imperium based on messianic expectation of a restored geopolitical kingdom resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple (AD 70) and the eventual complete expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem (AD 135). These disasters caused the Jews to turn away from messianic expectation altogether and allowed the politically ascendent Christians in the Roman Empire to distinguish themselves from the Jews via antisemitism. God then allowed the Jews to suffer persecution in Europe under the rule of the established churches and divided kingdoms that oppressed Jewish and Christian Sabbath-keepers in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. (The Jews who remained in Judea, Galilee, and elsewhere in the Middle East suffered dhimmitude under Muslim rule during roughly the same period.) After Martin Luther’s religious antisemitism was secularized in the philosophy of the German Enlightenment, this antisemitic strain in Christendom culminated in the Shoah under the Nazis. Then, in his mercy, God raised up and protected the State of Israel where persecuted Jews may seek shelter on their ancestral lands.

This does not imply that we ought to reflexively side with the Jewish State of Israel and in its conflicts any more than we ought to reflexively side with the United States just because we recognize that God raised it up to provide a bastion of religious liberty with separation of church and state for his church (more on that here). The interests of God cannot be wholly identified with one side of a human conflict (Joshua 5:13–14). For example, as Ellen White saw in a vision and Abraham Lincoln later understood, although the Union's war against the Confederacy was just, God was also judging the Union states for compromising too long with the sin of slavery. Thus, to seek a swift victory for the Union because it was on ‘God's side’ would have been to oppose another purpose of God in the US Civil War.

The rise and fall of nations and the shifting of their borders are determined by God so that we might seek him and be saved (Acts 17:27). It follows that according to God’s particular purpose of saving all Israel (Romans 11:26), God raised up the modern State of Israel. But Israel, like every other human polity, is on probation to determine what it will do with the blessings God has given it. Will it govern so that Jews, Muslims, and Christians can shelter in it together in peace (Daniel 4:21)? Will it be a nation of which it is said that Jews love Arabs as much they love themselves (Leviticus 19:34)? Will it be a nation where the stranger, the widow, and the orphan can find justice, or will it be cursed for unnecessarily making more and more of the strangers who dwell in its land widows and orphans (Deuteronomy 27:19)? If the State of Israel, or any other nation, does what is just, its prosperity may be prolonged (Daniel 4:27).

Along with the other kingdoms of this world, the State of Israel will eventually be judged for its sins and destroyed, if not before, then at the Second Advent of Israel’s Messiah, who alone can rescue Israel from its enemies and sins. Jesus will then set up God’s everlasting kingdom (Daniel 2:44), and, together with the saved and all creation, Israel will receive its ultimate geopolitical inheritance, its never-ending Promised Land and eternal dwelling place with God (Acts 13:32–39; Romans 8:21; Hebrews 11:13–16, 39–40; Revelation 21:3).

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