Christ-followers are eager to serve and obey God to the best of our ability and knowledge. When there are gaps in our understanding, it behooves us to “grow in wisdom.” For example, what does the Bible say about the Promised Land and God’s chosen people?
Nothing matters more to a Christian than aligning with the heart of God; to do this, we must read Scripture with discernment and learn from preachers and teachers who are trustworthy, ethical, and without ulterior motives. A rule of thumb is “Scripture interprets Scripture” – let the Bible itself tell us what it means.
When it comes to the subject of Israel, two verses are often quoted:
I will make you [Abraham] into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1–3)
May those who bless you [Israel] be blessed, and those who curse you be cursed! (Numbers 24:9)
Many American Christians apply these statements to the modern state of Israel. They believe that God will bless those who say good things about Israel, and curse those who criticize Israel.
Regarding this belief, these Christians often announce, “That’s what the Bible says, so I believe it.”
But in reality, that’s not what the Bible says – that’s how they interpret what the Bible says.
To be responsible and informed, we must search the Scriptures and find out what else God has to say on the subjects of “blessing and cursing” and “the Promised Land.”
Blessing and cursing
The idea of blessing implies calling upon God to make the object of the blessing successful in fulfilling God’s best intentions for them, while cursing involves pronouncing ill fortune on one who opposes God.
Think about it: when we turn a blind eye on Israel’s unjust actions toward Palestinians, we are complicit in Israel’s disobedience to God. Conversely, when we criticize Israel (which is not identical to cursing), it is for Israel’s betterment.
Old Testament verses relevant to the covenant
- God’s covenant with Abraham was not for the sake of the Israelites, but for the sake of God’s holy name among all peoples (See Genesis 12:3).
- The blessing of the covenant – the land – was conditional. He expected His chosen people to “keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19 and elsewhere).
- While the land was a timeless gift, the privilege of living on it was not (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).
- When the Israelites went astray, God sent them into exile; when they repented, God brought them back.
- The covenant was not limited to physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: anyone of any race who “held fast” to the covenant would be blessed (Isaiah 56:3, 6-7 and elsewhere).
New Testament verses relevant to the covenant
- John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul preached that the beneficiaries of the covenant were Abraham’s spiritual descendants, not his physical descendants (see for example Matthew 3:8-9, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 9:6-9, Galatians 3:6-9 Ephesians 2:14-16)
- Jesus himself spoke to, healed, and forgave many non-Jews and untouchables (for example, John 4:1-26, Matthew 9:9-13, John 8:1-11) – demonstrating that God’s love and forgiveness are for all people, not just a “chosen” few.
- Jesus’ summed up the Law with the words “Love God…love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-40) – a practice that covenant-keepers would be expected to follow.
From a study of the Old and New Testament context, and the life and words of Jesus, we can begin to see that there has always been only one people of God: not an ethnic group, but those who believe in God and submit to His will.
The name and the location of the country, and the ethnicity of its people, are irrelevant to chosen-ness and blessing.
For a more detailed discussion and a reading list that includes essential information about the Scofield Reference Bible and dispensationalism, please read this.
Kathryn Krause Shihadah is a Christian raised in the Lutheran denomination in Illinois, where her parents owned a Christian bookstore. She attended Christian schools, including college, where she received intensive Bible instruction, and has continued these studies throughout her adult life. This survey incorporates material from ChristianZionism.org (endorsed by Brian McLaren and Walter Bruggemann), Faith in the Face of Empire by Mitri Raheb, God’s Land On Loan by W. Eugene March, Whose Land? Whose Promise? by Gary Burge, and conversations with clergy from several denominations.
Her particular interest in Scripture as it relates to the Holy Land was sparked by her husband Ziyad, a Gazan refugee who asked her the simple but penetrating question, “why do Christians seem to hate Palestinians?”
Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She blogs at Palestine Home.