Christians should not believe those parts of Scripture where God promised that a virgin would conceive: Isaiah 7:14 didn't really refer to a promised messiah: it was just about a general plan of salvation. And he wasn't born in the long-promised Bethlehem either - that's just a metaphor for anywhere, like Slough. And he didn't have to be a 'he' either - that's just a metaphor for all humankind. And his name didn't have to be Jesus (Mt 2:21) - meaning 'The Lord saves', because it could have been Brian or Steve: there's no real promise that the Lord will save us from our sins (Zech 3:9). He is not 'God with us' (Mt 1:23), and he didn't need to suffer (Is 53:7) because there's no real reward for obeying the word of God (Lk 11:27). Jesus isn't the visible image of the invisible God through whom all things were created (Col 1:15f) - that's just silly. He didn't reconcile us to himself through the cross (v20), and he's not the glory of the nations (Ps 96:3; 39:21). And when God promises that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35), he didn't really mean 'nothing' - he meant God's love is completely dependent on the which side of the bed he gets out of in a morning.
Oh, hang on. His Grace has got it wrong.
It's only the Jews
who shouldn't take God's promises literally.
That's alright, then.
And neither should Christians when they relate to Jews and Israel
. Ah, now it's becoming clearer.
If God makes a promise to Jews, it's a metaphor. If He makes a promise to Christians, it's literal except where it refers to the Jews and Israel.
Yes, that's right. According to a report by the Church of Scotland, 'Israel' and the 'Promised Land' is all just one big mushy metaphor for... well, something like the fuzziness of promises that aren't promises. God's promises are just pictures, without precise meaning, and certainly could never apply to matters of geography. The 'Promised Land' in Scripture is not a literal land - it's more 'a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This "promised land" can be found, or built, anywhere'.
Except, of course, in Israel.
This astonishing Church of Scotland report is entitled The Inheritance of Abraham? The 'Promised Land'
, and the scare quotes say it all. It is supposed to be a 'discussion document' for debate, but its tone is consistent with the anti-Israel pro-Palestine narrative we have come to expect from some quarters. This once fervently Zionist Church of Scotland - which enthusiastically supported the right of Jews to return to their ancient homeland - now says Israel does not belong to the Jewish people. If it is adopted later this month by the 700 Church members who constitute the General Assembly, it may become the official position of the Church.
Unsurprisingly, Jewish leaders are somewhat irked by this.
Quoted in the Jewish Chronicle
, Ephraim Borowski, Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director, said: "The document is an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory, and closes the door on meaningful dialogue. On behalf of the Jewish community of Scotland, we call upon the Church to withdraw it from the forthcoming general assembly. If the Church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?"
In the same newspaper, the Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush said: “I am at a loss for words that the Church of Scotland should have delivered such a slap in the face to the Jewish community. The document is deeply troubling on many levels. It appears to have been produced with no consultation with the Scottish or national Jewish community. It is littered with misrepresentations of Jewish history, values and beliefs as well as basic factual errors.
“It is an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement. The Church has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based.”
Please read the report for yourselves (hyperlink above), but its reasoning essentially turns on: 'Would the Jewish people today have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?' It adds that from some Christian perspectives 'the desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong'.
And the report urges the Church to consider backing 'economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements'.
The chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews the Reverend David Gifford said the report was ill-considered, regressive and insensitive to Jewish anxieties and the range of Israeli public opinion: “The at times unfortunate words and phrases reflect sadly on the authors and smacks of Christian superiority over Judaism,” he said.
“While few would disagree that serious issues need to be addressed by the state of Israel, instead of offering fresh opportunities and an openness to engage with the Jewish community in a joint response to the worrying trends in the Israel/Palestine conflict, this report runs the risk of further alienating our own Jewish community and increasing its fear and anxiety.”
He's not wrong. The assertion that God's promises to Christians are somehow of a different theological order to those He made to Jews is verging on the anti-Semitic. If the Church of Scotland wants some facts, here are a few:
Israel is central to Jewish religious and national identity. It is the one piece of land historically promised to the Jewish people as recorded in Genesis. It is the only land where the Jewish nation has ever experienced self rule. In
contrast, there has never been an autonomous Palestinian state in the
area. It was ruled by a succession of empires until the Ottoman Empire
fell in 1917 and the League of Nations granted the British a Mandate in
Archaeology confirms the Bible record of a land promised to the Jews, who spoke
and wrote Hebrew, and worshiped Israel’s God in what is now Israel at
least 1,000 years before Jesus was born. Jews are the only people who
have ever had an autonomous state on this tiny piece of land. They
governed themselves as a national entity,producing kings, visionary
prophets and writers from whose pens flowed some of the most treasured
writings in the history of the world. Archaeological support for these
✡ an ancient Hebrew alphabet, from 10th century BC discovered at Tel Zayit in 2005;
✡ Israel is named in ancient Hebrew on the 9th Century BC ‘Moabite Stone’;
✡ An inscription at Tel Dan dating from the time of King Ahab names the ‘House of David’ and ‘Israel’.
Jews have inhabited the Holy Land continuously for 3000 years. Despite
attempts by successive occupying powers to expel them, communities of
Jews have lived in the Holy Land continuously since the time of Abraham
until the present in, for example, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron. Jews
returned to the Holy Land throughout the Diaspora period, notably from
Spain and other Mediterranean countries in the late 13th and 14th
In Jerusalem Jews have been the largest ethnic group
since the 1840s. During the Mandate many Jewish communities in Arab
towns such as Nazareth and Gaza were forced out by Arab neighbours and
their members joined kibbutzim or moved to predominantly Jewish towns.
Since the Babylonian exile, the Jewish diaspora has spread as far as
South America, China and Australia. But Jewish ethnic identity,
recognised by the countries in which they lived as minority communities,
was based on Jewish affinity with the land of Israel and the Jews
At the 1920
San Remo conference, the League of Nations granted Britain a Mandate
over Palestine. It committed Britain to the creation of a Jewish
homeland in Palestine west of the Jordan River. Recognition of ancient
Jewish links with the land was foundational to the Mandate. A
Palestinian state was to be established east of the Jordan River
(present day Jordan). Jews could not settle or buy land there.
The assertion that the Jewish homeland was stolen from Palestinians is false. In the early 19th century more than 10,000 Jews lived
throughout what is today Israel. In 1880 Jews made up about 6 per cent of
Palestine’s population. The land was then a run-down colonial outpost of
the Ottoman Empire. Jews purchased much land from Arab owners legally
during the late 19th and early 20th century and by dint of huge effort,
turned it from rocky hillsides and malarial swamps into productive and
By World War One, the Jewish population of
Palestine was around 85,000 out of 700,000 (roughly 12 per cent). It rapidly
became the most dynamic economic centre in the Middle East attracting
people from all over the region eager for a share in the growing
prosperity of Palestine. In contrast, no independent Palestinian entity
or identity has existed until the 20th Century.
29 November 1947, the United Nations voted to create an Arab and a
Jewish State alongside each other in what is now Israel and the West
Bank. It was accepted that Israel would have a sizeable Arab minority.
The Jewish State was allotted 56 per cent of Mandate Palestine, since the UN
correctly predicted heavy Jewish immigration from Europe after the
creation of the Jewish State. Perhaps they also guessed that large
numbers of Jewish refugees from Arab nations would also need a home.
Jewish Agency, led by David Ben Gurion, accepted the plan. Arab leaders
rejected it, and Arab attacks on Jewish communities began at once.
Britain announced that her troops would be withdrawn from Palestine on
15 May 1948. Aware that Arab countries had vowed to destroy any Jewish
state, David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel
on 14 May 1948, with borders as stipulated in the UN Partition Plan.
Significantly, the Declaration of Independence stated: '
appeal ... to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve
peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of
full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional
and permanent institutions..' Within days of the British
withdrawal, 35,000 Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian troops (led by
British officers) invaded Israel. Despite overwhelming odds, and the
loss of 1 per cent of the population of Israel, Israeli forces decisively
defeated the Arab armies. Israel took territory beyond the UN allocated
borders because their territory could not be defended against further
6-800,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced as a result of the Arab war
on Israel in 1948. Some were compelled to leave their homes by IDF
forces. But many left voluntarily before the 1948 war because local and
national leaders advised or compelled them to do so. Palestinians
who heeded this advice could not return to their homes after the Arabs
lost the war. Unsurprisingly, given repeated Arab threats to annihilate
Israel, Israeli leaders feared an Arab ‘fifth column’. However, most
Arabs who had remained in Israel became Israeli citizens. Jews were also
expelled from their homes by Arab forces, for example from Gush Etzion
and K’far Darom in Gaza, all built on land purchased legally. And of
course Jews were expelled from the Old City of Jerusalem. In addition,
800,000 Jews were forced to abandon homes and businesses in Arab
countries. They arrived in Israel with nothing.
These are the
forgotten refugees of 1948. Both sides committed atrocities. Women and
children were murdered by Jewish fighters of the Stern gang and Irgun in
the peaceful Arab village of Deir Yassin. Arab fighters took revenge by
murdering Jewish women and children in K’far Etzion and members of a
convoy taking medical supplies to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital.
Modern Israel combines the
best ideals of the west – democracy, openness to debate and criticism as
well as new ideas in technology and the arts. Such ideals are much
needed in the region. Given the ferocity of comment in the Israeli press
and the intensity of debate and moral self-criticism which so
characterises discussion in Israel – so rare in public life today – the
attacks on Israel are profoundly depressing and disturbing.
God promised Abraham that his descendents would have a land, and would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Israel is a fulfilment of that promise. We thank the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for the restoration of the Jewish people to their land, because it was a promise that He would so. And if that was not a promise, then Jesus is not the long-promised Messiah, and our promised salvation is nullified in a myriad of meaningless metaphors.