This piece was originally part of the Bowyer response to the Theopolis series surrounding Professor McDermott’s essay, “Rethinking Israel.” For the sake of brevity, it was removed from the initial response, to be published as a standalone piece.
As we’ve argued previously, we are strongly supportive of the right of the state of Israel to exist and to defend itself against its many aggressors. However, we think that general biblical principles of international relations offer a far firmer foundation than the recent and idiosyncratic tendency among some Christians to base this right on the idea that the land promises given to Abraham apply to modern day ethnic Israel.
It is often taken for granted, in certain pop evangelical theological circles (not any of the participants in the discussion here), that the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis concerning the Promised Land is meant as an eternal gift to ethnic Israel, a land-grant they are to have actual political sovereignty over, stretching “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18).
Any theology that takes the promises God made to Abraham about land tenure and applies them to ethnic or national Israel runs into an immediate problem. The political implications of such blunt exegesis are far more drastic than most proponents of this view are likely to advocate.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The area from the Nile to the Euphrates covers most of populated Egypt, the entirety of Israel, and the West Bank and Lebanon, most of Syria, and swaths of both Turkey and Iraq A state encompassing this area would be a contemporary empire, putting different peoples with their own languages, ethnicities, histories, religions, and cultures under the authority of a single state. Imperialism of this type seems to stand in tension with the general international relations message of Scripture, which affirms the right to national self-determination and self-governance.
If we are to understand God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 to mean that the Jewish state is permanently entitled to the land God gave to the Hebrews, would that not logically entail that all the territory from the Nile to the Euphrates should be under Israeli control? Are we to believe that God intends the post-1949 political state of Israel to be sovereign over Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Syria, and much of Iraq and Turkey? Over the Kurds? Over the Yazidis?
This would include not just Muslims, but Christians as well. There are major Christian communities in Egypt, the West Bank, and Syria. Is it God’s will that the Jewish state be the dominant political entity over Muslims and Christians in the West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Egypt? Could Israel claim that promise if it decided to annex Lebanon or Syria? Would Christians living in these areas be obligated to support this, to surrender to Israeli occupation or risk being in violation of God’s promises to Abraham?
Remember, God didn’t merely say “this land will be your land.” He gave the nation of Israel specific commands to conquer the Promised Land. In the Book of Joshua, God commands the conquest of Canaan and the destruction of the Canaanite civilization. Atheists, of course, misinterpret this event almost as a matter of principle, but it was a violent conquest regardless of Richard Dawkins’ exaggerations.
God gave Israel land and commanded the Hebrews to conquer the neighboring tribes to secure that land. What of the neighboring “tribes” of Israel today? Should the state of Israel be conquering the nations around them in order to follow God’s will? If not, why not?
In his final response in the “Rethinking Israel” series, Professor McDermott argues that Israel was granted the Promised Land by God in “title—not possession.” That is certainly a more defensible position than saying that the entire stretch of Land is Israel’s in reality, but it leaves you with the conclusion that Israel has de jure but not de facto ownership over almost the entire Middle East. What does it mean for God to give the Land to them in “title” if that doesn’t entail the right to possess it? That’s what owning something in title means, legally: the right of possession.
It is important to note here that the idea of Israel conquering virtually the entire Middle East to establish “Greater Israel” is, in fact, a feature of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, pushed by Israel’s enemies to justify violence. It should go without saying: no Israeli leader believes or advocates for this. We need not add any fuel to that fire by advocating interpretations of the Bible that could reasonably be used to justify the sort of imperial ambitions that Israel’s enemies wrongly attribute to her.
Of course, no serious theologian—and certainly that includes Professor McDermott—advocates for some kind of biblical imperialism. But if we start from the premise that God’s promise of land to Abraham and ancient national Israel extends to modern day Israel that conclusion seems difficult to escape.
Jerry Bowyer is Editor of Town Hall Finance, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, is Resident Economist with Kingdom Advisors and President of Bowyer Research. He holds a Sacred Theology Licentiate from the Collegium Augustinianum and a Bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris University
Charles is a risk analyst for Bowyer Research and a writer for Townhall Finance, has been published on Affluent Investor, RealClearMarkets, RealClearPolitics, Asia Times, and has been a guest on The Glen Meakem Radio Program.
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