Zionism a Theological Complicated ReadingWhen I was in college, I was an intern at a Zionist Southern Baptist church in a suburb of Corpus Christi. I spent a few years working at this church. This church was formative in my theology in many ways, most often by opposition. I enjoy a healthy debate the same way I enjoy a good pickup game of basketball. Most of the time with a basketball I am shooting around not playing a full game. In the same way, most of my tension in theological beliefs with this church was closer to shooting around than a pickup game. That is they never quite formed into an actual debate. Perhaps because I was young, I lacked the knowledge or confidence to engage with my mentors. And most things I did not mind our difference on, but I wished I spoke about their lust over Israel. They Loved the nation of Israel. Sermons and Bible studies mentioned how God wants us to bless Israel. As a Christian, you had to vote, and only two things were needed to support a politician, pro-choice, and pro-Israel. Israeli and American flags decorated the Sanctuary. They had a deep, and they called it biblical, commitment to modern Israel. Let me say what I wanted to say back then.
When you read Israel in the bible, IT IS NOT referring to the nation formed in 1948.
In the same way, the third chapter in Revelation IS NOT referring to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania USA. When you read about Israel in the Bible, IT IS NOT referring to the nation in 1948. If a promise is given to Abraham in the book of Genesis, IT IS NOT a promise for the Israel formed in 1948. I wish I would have shouted this when I was 20 years old so instead, I all caps in blog years later.
Now there is probably a multitude of reasons this church, and many Americans, find themselves with this complex theological idea that God blesses nations that still support modern Israel. I believe the main one is they don’t read the bible more than a sentence or two at a time. A close second is a theological idea that God works primarily through nations. (I like to call it a political prosperity gospel.) Which is why there are 10 thousand God Bless America Bumper stickers for every God bless his church or God Bless my family bumper sticker.
When I say, they don’t read the bible more than a verse or two it is not literal only verse or two at a time, although sometimes that is the case. What I mean is many do not read the elements of the story found in the narrative or flow of the Bible instead limit all application in few verse digestible pieces. An example would be that when a book of the Bible is all about unity like one of Paul’s Epistles, Americans will have denominational splits over interpretations on half a chapter or a few verses from the book on unity.
Let us get into Genesis chapter 12:3. The most simple reading of the scripture, when “God says I will Bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you” that is a promise to that man there and to those nations who bless/curse him. Anything beyond this is theology, not a reading of the Bible. At this church, they frequently made mission trips to Israel. When someone would question the idea in conversation, the pastor leadership would just say the first part of Genesis 12:3. And say the Bible tells us to bless Israel.
As if Genesis 12:3 is a clear reason to support the current nation of Israel. I will list a few premises you have to make to get there.
First, you have to make the last part of the verse of 12:3 ultimately “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." hinge on how nice they are to Abraham's legacy. That makes Abraham legacy the object of blessings from the nations instead of the giver of blessing to the nations.
Second have to extend the promise of treatment of Abraham the individual to a legacy. Ultimately being the future nation from one his children.
Third, you have to extend the promise to Abraham to only one of his children not all. Of course, the Ishmael and Isaac are still a debate with the Quran, Torah, and Bible. That is also excluding Keturah kids Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. (Genesis 25:1-2). And if your conclusion of that is the promise to Abraham only applies to Isaac you must then say only by Jacob from Isaac and then the nation that forms from tribes. Also ignoring the lost tribe and exclude the distinction between Judah and Israel in the rest of the Old Testament. (Not sure if that one premise but will just say that is step ).
Fourth you have to say that nation found in step 3 is the same one formed in 1948. Which is impossible to claim with Bible verses.
Reading Genesis 12:3 as a footnote for support of Modern Day Israel is not the most straightforward reading. It is a complicated theological obstacle course.
A Biblical Reading of the Covenant
Reading the Bible only as a historical conversation is a weak way to read the Bible. The promises and curses of Genesis 12:3 demand for meaning something for us now.
I believe it does. What if I told what it means for us now doesn't need a flow chart and veteran level Sunday School Old Testament knowledge of Israel and a grasp on modern international politics to reach a conclusion. It needs less theology and more just reading Gods word. And what it means is repeated many times in the next couple books of the Bible.
At the beginning of Genesis chapter 12, just two sentences before, God asks Abram (He hasn't changed his name yet) to leave his country and go to another land he will show them. He asks Abram to be an immigrant. Then he mentions that he will bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse Abram. The implication for us now is this promise lives on in how we treat immigrants today, not Abrams future nation.
This is repeated in a nonnarrative way later in the bible multiple times. Deuteronomy 27:19, Leviticus 19:33, Exodus 22:21, to just name a few, and there are much more.
It is assumed that Genesis 12:3 blessings and cursings apply now.
The question is how should one extend the promise now. Verse 2 (Option A) mentions the blessings of the nations. Verse 3 (Option B) mentions the blessings and curses with Abram and treatment of ]
Which one is a more natural view of the Bible.
Option A) Need all of Old Testament and Modern Day political actions to fulfill God's word in the book of Genesis. For the thousands of years, Israel as a nation did not exist people were unable to fulfill God’s Word. No way of looking at the scripture to see if this is a common theme in the Bible.
Option B) Only Need the book of Genesis to reach a conclusion. God's word applies to all nations at all times. The conclusion is repeated multiple times in the bible and is a common theme.
I believe the choice is obvious which one is biblical.
The pastor would often include in his altar call that the reason the Jews missed the Messiah is they wanted a nationalist takeover of Rome and not a God for all the people. A beautiful insight that is still part of my theology today. Ironically they believe the blessings in Genesis apply to the kingdom like ancient Israel, not to those who take care of the least of these, such as immigrants.
Part of the Reason I am writing this blog series is to show that God does not work primarily through nations even in the Old Testament, it was not about the Nation of Israel. God is speaking about blessings and cursing based on the treatment of Immigrants, not on how people treat one lineage Abrams family tree.
The most Important part of Genesis 12:3 did not get enough attention in this blog. That is the “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Even if I have not convinced you that the blessing and cursing hinge on immigrants, not a particular group of Abrams decedents, the last clause stands.
The blessings are for all the people on the earth. The old Testament is not a book about why God loves Israel more than everyone else. It is how one nation needs to love all the people on the earth with the help of the one true God.
If we read Genesis 12:3 incorrectly, we will read the rest of scripture incorrectly. Every time the Bible refers to Isreal keeping its covenant the theology behind this verse emerges. This verse is not about other nations getting better when they help God's nation Isreal, but God making all nations better with the help of his nation Isreal.
The difference may lead to blessings or curses.