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On Blessing & Cursing Israel
Israel - Middle East
Friday, December 19, 2014
Alf Cengia

Most premillennial prophecy buffs are interested in Israel. After all, significant portions of prophecy are devoted to Israel's future redemption at Christ's return. They are also familiar, and often quote, the famous edict in Gen 12:3.

I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

However, many theologians aren't premillennialists and don't see a future for Israel. They take these Abrahamic blessings and apply them to the church. So when these biblical scholars read Gen 12:3 they are forced to re-interpret it in light of these presuppositions. They believe that prophecy is fulfilled in the church, which they view as the New Spiritual Israel.

This is what Wheaton College New Testament Professor Gary Burge did during an interview with partial preterist Hank Hanegraaff. Burge noted the inclination of some evangelicals to find a biblical mandate in supporting Israel, and sees this as an error.

When his host asked about Gen 12, Burge talked about context. He asked - how could that verse possibly be lifted out of Genesis, moved about 3000 years into the future and then applied to secular Israel?

"No", he asserted, "the blessing was intended for Abraham and his children." The blessings of the covenant are not anchored to a "bloodline" - they are anchored to "faith." Hence no blessings apply to modern, secular Israel who is out of covenant with God.

Dr. Burge took it further. He noted that Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah often had very hard things to say about Israel. He then argues - on that logic one would have to say that Isaiah has to be cursed by God as well. Burge corrects this "error" by saying that, on the contrary, to bless Israel is to be a "truth teller." He then claims that this is what he's doing - blessing Israel by telling the truth.

Did you catch the sleight of hand?

If blessings and curses cannot be contextually carried 3000 years into the future to a secular Israel, then Burge's "truth telling" argument becomes redundant. Secondly, prophets like Isaiah were specially ordained and used by God. They weren't cursing Israel on their own initiative, they were delivering God's message.

Unlike Isaiah, Dr. Gary Burge isn't God's appointed prophet to Israel. More problematic, the charges he and his colleagues accuse Israel of are often spurious. We should remember that God used Assyria to punish Israel, but that He still held the former accountable for it (Isaiah 10:5).

Yet if modern scholars miss the obvious bloodline context of Gen 12:3, the patriarch Isaac did not. In Gen 27:29 Isaac applies the same blessing and curse to Abraham's bloodline-descendant Jacob-Israel. The verse is quite clear and perhaps shocking to modern, easily offended sensibilities:

May peoples serve you and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brothers; may your mother's sons bow down to you. Those who curse you will be cursed, and those who bless you will be blessed.

But that's not all. Even "truth-teller" Isaiah was inspired to write of Israel in a future kingdom context:

For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. Isa 60:12

It's no wonder that sensitive anti-Israel activists Michael Prior and Naim Ateek shunned large chunks of the Old Testament. In contrast, Dr. Burge informs us that we should now think "Christianly" and therefore we should re-interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.

Likewise, in attempting to explain away the future prophetic relevance of Zechariah 14, partial preterist Gary DeMar tortured the texts by allegorizing the events. Motivated by his presuppositions, Philip Mauro employed the same scriptural gymnastics and concluded:

"Enough has been said, however, to make evident that the prophecies of Zechariah referred to above, and hence other prophecies of like character as well, relate to things spiritual and have their fulfillment in this present era of grace." (Emphasis mine)

However, the New Testament Apostle Peter didn't appear to have re-interpretation in mind when he addressed unbelieving Israel in Acts 3:25.

You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your forefathers, saying to Abraham, and in your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Just in case there's any confusion, the Apostle Paul also comes to our rescue:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them, when I take away their sins. Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of their forefathers, since God's gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable. Rom 11:26-29

The New Testament therefore confirms what the "truth-telling" prophets wrote about Israel in the Old Testament. These prophets affirmed that Israel will ultimately seek God because of its afflictions (Deut 4:30-31; Hos 5:15); that God will act to restore and cleanse Israel for His name's sake (Ezek 36:22-38); that they would possess the land forever (Jer 7:7, 25:5; Amos 9:14-15) and that God would never reject Israel's descendants for what they have done (Jer 31:31-37).

This being the case, the Blessings and Curses are still applicable to national Israel today.

So while it would be fair for someone to point out Israel's errors, as someone might do for any other nation - it would be quite another situation if one were to unfairly and regularly demonize it. That would be tantamount to cursing Israel.

And we all know what that means.

About Alf Cengia

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