Due to the subject manner that Paul addresses in Romans 9-11, I thought it might be appropriate to speak a word of caution. Paul, of course, in Romans 9-11 is dealing with the question of whether God has been faithful to his promises to Israel. To both review and anticipate where Paul leads this argument, Paul has shown that God has indeed been faithful to Israel, but what is often misunderstood has been Israel’s role in God’s redemptive plan. Many in the past (and the present) assumed that simply because one was a physical descendant of Abraham, this automatically put one in favor with God and made them an heir to all of God’s promises. Paul has been at pains in Romans 9 to show that this simply is not the case. Being an heir of God’s promises was never simply a matter of ethnic heritage. It has always been about faith that lead to obedience. Israel had a special role in bringing God’s redemptive message to the world, but being an Israelite by blood did not automatically secure one as being in right relationship with God. The “true Israel,” if you will, has nothing to do with being an ethnic descendant of Abraham — it has everything to do with following Abraham in faith and obedience (Romans 4). This is Paul’s overall point in Romans 9-11. Having said that, because of the historical sensitivity that is present when talking about the Jewish people, one must be careful how the teaching of scripture is presented. It is important to be both accurate to what Paul teaches, but also not be misunderstood in such a way as to invoke anti-Jewish sentiment. Unfortunately, much of history has not carried such a balance, and the Jewish people have been subjected to one kind of horror after another. The Holocaust remains a horrific reminder of what can happen when hatred is allowed to go unchecked.
So when it comes to thinking about the Jewish people, and the teaching of the New Testament, there are two errors that must be avoided. The first, as already stated, is to not evoke anti-Jewish sentiment. Make no mistake about it, God loves the Jews and has a long history with them. While the promises made to Abraham are not theirs exclusively, it is true that they, as a people, played a crucial role in God’s redemptive purposes. For this reason, the Jews will forever have a special place in redemptive history. As Paul says, from them comes the law, the covenants, the patriarchs, and most importantly, the Messiah himself. It was through the Jewish people, even in their disobedience, that God worked to bring salvation from sin into the world. While it remains true that some of the Jews handed their Messiah over for execution, it is not true that blame for this can be laid upon the Jews as a whole. The Jewish religious leadership was primarily responsible for this, and one can’t help but wonder if much of the leadership of the modern church wouldn’t hand Jesus over for similar reasons today.
But with all that said, there is a second error that must be avoided when considering the Jewish people. The second error is a modern phenomenon, largely prevalent in evangelical churches. It is the error of thinking we must endorse everything the modern state of Israel does because they are “God’s people.” The assumption is made based upon what God once said to Abraham: “I will bless those that bless you, and curse those that curse you.” (Gen 12:3) From this passage, it is often surmised that we must support the modern Israeli state, no matter what they do. This is false, for the following reason. The modern secular state of Israel is not synonymous with the ancient Israelite people. As you may recall, the original Israel was composed of twelve tribes. In the modern Israeli state, only one tribe is represented — the Jews (Judah). But beyond that fact, Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11 is very relevant here. The true “Israel” is not those whose ethnic identity ties back to Abraham. The true Israel are those who have Abraham’s faith. It is to those that the statement would now be true, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” The modern Israeli state stands on its own, as all other nations of the world do. We should support them when their actions are just, and be critical where their actions are not. Anti-Semitism is a foul stench upon the earth; but so is a uncritical endorsing of the Israeli state, based upon false biblical assumptions.
We’ll return to Paul argument in Romans 9:19-29 next week. God bless!
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