Originally posted July 2005. Since that time we’ve had a war in Gaza, so my optimism about relinquishing that may have been premature. But the whole system of settlements and how the State of Israel administers the West Bank continues to be a source of difficulty in its own right.
Back in the late 1970’s, I attended for a bit Robert Tilton’s Word of Faith Outreach in Farmers Branch, Texas. Tilton was then one of the most prominent “prosperity gospel” preachers, and he hammered away Sunday after Sunday that his congregation needed to have the “God kind of faith” to become prosperous and powerful, and to ultimately “take the city.” Sitting there listening to this, I thought, “If they’re right (and I had my doubts,) they’ll control this city in short order.” That’s what they were thinking too.
Today of course Tilton is gone from the scene, undone by scandal, and his congregation scattered, probably packing the many charismatic churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With more than a quarter century of “God kind of faith” behind them, they haven’t taken the city either, as a lesbian Dallas County sheriff will attest to. Not even the great (and well respected) T.D. Jakes can make that claim. Many will say that their objective was unrealistic. But why, with all of those Scriptures behind them?
To answer this question we need to turn to a far more important issue, namely that of the State of Israel and its own return to “the land.” One of the greatest doctrinal reversals Christianity has ever experienced has been the attitude of evangelicals towards the Jews. Starting in the early nineteenth century with the likes of J.N. Darby, evangelicals have come to see that the Jews do in fact have a place in present salvation history (as opposed to the idea that the Christian church completely replaced Judaism after Christ’s work on earth) and their actions are key for Christians and Jesus Christ’s second coming. With the Holocaust a fading memory (especially in Europe, where it took place) and anti-Semitism becoming fashionable again, the Jews have found evangelical Christians to be a friend in a world where friends are in short supply. They have also found that their presence in the Holy Land is essential to their survival, an interesting by-product of anti-Semitism.
Part of this friendship is an insistence by many evangelicals that Israel has an absolute right to all of the land which God gave the Jews in the Old Testament. This squares with Orthodox Judaism’s view of the matter. Togther the two lament the loss of settlements being implemented by the Sharon government. Under this is a fear that prophecy will be undone by the act of weak men.
Prophecy cannot be undone by the act of men. The Jews’ claim to the land is Biblical. But we must look at the whole picture, and the best way to do this is to relate this to the first conquest of the land. Before they entered, the Israelites were charged with the following command:
When Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations from before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou, and when Jehovah thy God shall give them up before thee and thou shalt smite them, then shalt thou utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them. And thou shalt make no marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor take his daughter for thy son; for he will turn away thy son from following me, and they will serve other gods, and the anger of Jehovah will be kindled against you, and he will destroy thee quickly. But thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and shatter their statues, and hew down their Asherahs, and burn their graven images with fire. For a holy people art thou unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be unto him a people for a possession, above all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth. (Deut. 7:1-6, Darby)
This command is simple: the Jews were to take the land to the exclusion and destruction of everyone else. If their claim to the land is valid, then the method and thoroughness of taking it is also. Unfortunately the original invasion did not fulfil this charge. In some cases the Israelites were tricked by the locals, as was the case with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9.) In others it was complacency. In either case the result was the same:
And Jehovah was with Judah; and he took possession of the hill-country, for he did not dispossess the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. And they gave to Caleb Hebron, as Moses had said; and he dispossessed from thence the three sons of Anak. And the children of Benjamin did not dispossess the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel; and Jehovah was with them. And the house of Joseph sent to search out Bethel; now the name of the city before was Luz. And the guards saw a man come forth out of the city, and said unto him, Shew us, we pray thee, how we may enter into the city, and we will shew thee kindness. And he shewed them how to enter into the city. And they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let go the man and all his family. And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called its name Luz, which is its name to this day. And Manasseh did not dispossess Beth-shean and its dependent villages, nor Taanach and its dependent villages, nor the inhabitants of Dor and its dependent villages, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and its dependent villages, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and its dependent villages; and the Canaanites would dwell in that land. And it came to pass when Israel became strong, that they made the Canaanites tributary; but they did not utterly dispossess them. And Ephraim did not dispossess the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt among them in Gezer. Zebulun did not dispossess the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries. Asher did not dispossess the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor Ahlab, nor Achzib, nor Helbah, nor Aphik, nor Rehob; and the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not dispossess them. Naphtali did not dispossess the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, nor the inhabitants of Beth-anath; and he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, but the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became tributaries to them. And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill-country, for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley. And the Amorites would dwell on mount Heres, in Ajalon and in Shaalbim; but the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, and they became tributaries. And the border of the Amorites was from the ascent of Akrabbim, from the rock, and upwards. (Judges 1:19-36, Darby)
The Israelites suffered the consequences of that failure through the time of the judges and the kings. It is important to note, however, that this failure did not end God’s plan for the Jews or the Gentiles.
Now we turn to the modern State of Israel, as great a miracle in its own right as those the Israelites in their departure from Egypt those many years ago. Their “taking the land” has been as compromised as that of their fathers.
To start with, they were forced to accept the partition of the land forced on them by the U.N.. The partition would have been worse except that the Palestinians decided to attempt to drive the Israelis into the sea. The result of this decision was to increase Israel’s share of the land, one of many similar decisions on the part of the Palestinians.
From there they allowed the “Israeli Arabs” to stay within Israel. This was certainly the humanitarian thing to do, but did not square with the Biblical mandate. But the Bible is a better guide to the Middle East than most realise, as now Islamic radicals are getting traction with voting Israeli Arabs.
After they overran the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the Israelis had their best chance to “finish the job,” as we would say. Instead they resorted to a combination of using the Palestinians as labour (setting themselves up for the same situation as they faced with the Gibeonites) and scattering the settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The settlers believed that they were fulfilling the Scriptures, but the government was using them to make it more difficult to force the Israelis to leave, which would strip the country of the security buffer it acquired in the Six Day War. None of this, however, really amounted to “taking the land” as the original Biblical mandate directed.
Now we have the spectacle of the Israelis evicting their own people from their own land which the government had encouraged them to settle in the first place. Many have characterised the Sharon government’s actions as an attempt to appease the Palestinians, but in reality it is a calculated response to two factors. The first is world opinion. The second is the need for the State of Israel to have strong, defensible frontiers. Forcing the IDF to defend scattered, insular settlements is an expensive and militarily trying process. Setting up the fence (which has worked) and getting rid of places such as Gaza (the original land of the Philistines, the original Palestinians) gives the IDF a shot at really keeping terrorists out of places where most of the Jews live.
The one group of people who understand “taking the land” in its original meaning is the Palestinians. Their objective of driving the Israelis into the sea (they would prefer genocide so the Jews wouldn’t come back) and eliminating their presence in the land altogether has been their objective from the start and remains their goal. This does lead to one question to secularlists and liberals: why is it that an opinion that is considered reprehensible if held by Christians and Jews becomes acceptable when it is held by Muslims?
In any case, the result is clear: once the State of Israel decided to abandon the Biblical standard of “taking the land,” compromises such as we are seeing in Gaza and the West Bank are inevitable. These compromises are personally painful to those who are evicted and theologically painful to many Christians and Jews, but they are as unavoidable as those which the Israelites of old made in the wake of their entry into the land those many years ago.
Now we can consider the matter of Christians “taking the city” and “taking the land.” We hear so much in the US about evangelists and pastors who want to “take the city for Jesus.” But no US city has really been taken in this way. Christian involvement in politics has as its objective “taking America back for God.” But the methods used virtually guarantee non-achievement of the stated objective. Like the Israelis–who in a worldly sense have far more going for them as they are Jewish–the Christians state an absolute goal but are headed for compromise.
There are places in the world where the cause of Christ is making great strides and benefiting nations in important ways. But this is being done principally through conversion, education and prayer, one believer at a time. The principal territory in this case is the human soul, and, for the Christian, once God reigns in this territory the land will take care of itself.
So the lessons for Christians and Jews alike is similar: if you’re going to “take the land,” take it, because the alternative is half-measures and compromise. The alternative is to create unrealistic expectations. For the Jews, the land is “the deal,” and they must do what they can. For the Christians, territory comes in another sense, and once we focus on that we will find ourselves with more “land” than we anticipated.