Mitch Glaser is the president of Chosen People Ministries and the founder of the Charles L. Feinberg Center in Brooklyn (Talbot’s extension center in New York). The Center offers an M.Div. in Messianic Jewish Studies. The program is designed to train those with a call to full-time Jewish ministry as Messianic congregational leaders, outreach workers, or educators.
Mitch, along with Darrell Bock (Dallas Seminary), recently published the book, The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God (Kregel). The book contains contributions from Talbot professors Mark Saucy and Michael J. Wilkins.
Mitch and his wife, Zhava, are Jewish believers in Jesus and have each labored for more than twenty years in ministry among the Jewish people. Mitch holds a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies and an M.Div. from Talbot.
How does our faith in Jesus shape our understanding of the current conflict in Israel?
Perhaps the real question our friends are asking is this: “What impact does our faith as Messianic Jews have on our support of Israel?”
This is a fair question, and it is a reasonable assumption that most Jews who believe in Jesus support the Jewish state.
Background: Belief in the Jewish People’s Right to the Land
Most Jewish believers in Jesus, like myself, line up with Evangelicals who believe God has an ongoing covenant commitment to the people of Israel (Rom. 11:25-29, etc.). Chosen People Ministries’ doctrinal statement makes the same claim.
We view these truths as our biblical conviction and not as a litmus test for partnership and fellowship, as we are focused on bringing the message of Jesus the Messiah to the Jewish people. We are more than delighted to work and worship with followers of Jesus who might differ on these matters, yet who honor the Word and worship the same Lord.
Therefore, we should all hold our views with humility and continue to learn from those who might have a different perspective on Scripture.
If someone asked, “Do you believe the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people through a covenant agreement with God?” – I would again say yes. None of us can know for certain if the current state of Israel is the fulfillment of the many Old Testament promises regarding the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. However, I and most Messianic Jews would believe that if what we see today is not the full fulfillment – then it is at least a step towards this great event, which will culminate at the Second Coming of our beloved Messiah (Zech. 12:10, Rom. 11:12, 15:25-29).
Another question we are often asked is whether or not we believe the decisions made by Israel’s leaders are faultless or somehow sanctioned by God. Let me assure that I do not know any Messianic Jews who believe this, as we all recognize man’s nature as sinful. In fact, the only time perfect decisions will come forth from Jerusalem (Isa. 2) is when Jesus reigns on His throne. All decisions made by all earthly rulers are tainted by the fall.
This naturally leads to another question: “Do you believe Israel has a right to the Land of promise if they do not ethically and morally deserve the Land and are not yet followers of Jesus the Messiah?”
I would respond this way: according to my view of God’s promise, the deed to the Land was sealed in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and further promises in Genesis to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was reaffirmed to King David (2 Sam. 7:14 ff) and through the prophets (Isa. 2:1-4, etc.). The Jewish people have a right to the Land at all times as the promise was given on the basis of grace. The Jewish people will never deserve the gift of the Land through some type of national worthiness – any more than you or I could earn God’s favor through our personal righteousness. The Land, like all good things from God, is a gift (James 1:17).
However, this does not mean that the Jewish people will enjoy the promised Shalom of the prophets until the nation turns to her Messiah (Isa. 9:6-7). At that point, the Jewish people will dwell in the Land in peace and the nations of the world will enjoy the same (Gen. 12:3).
I wanted to make these matters clear so that you can understand my position and that of many – or at least the majority – of Messianic Jews… not that I have been asked to be a spokesman! I can now address some critical and very difficult issues arising out of the current conflict that I know are on the minds and hearts of so many Messianic Jews and Christians who love the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Concern for Both Israelis and Palestinians
First of all, “Can you believe the Land belongs to the Jewish people, both by covenant and by law, and still be concerned with Palestinians?” Of course the answer is yes. This does not mean that we seek temporal mercy for terrorists or agree with those who embrace the often pro-Palestinian media coverage of the conflict. Clearly, there are “friendly” disagreements between believers regarding the Bible, which only increase in matters beyond the sacred text. After all, Christians who fought for Germany, Japan or Korea will live forever with United States military veterans in the same heaven!
The question as to whether or not Arab and Israeli believers can get along is really not the issue at hand. I do not expect to agree with my Palestinian Christian brethren on every political issue, but this does not mean I do not care about them or the difficulties that they and their families experience.
The opposite is also true, as many Evangelical Palestinian believers care deeply for Israel and the Jewish people. There is no question that there are true believers in Jesus on all sides of this conflict and that if allowed the unity of believers could be shattered by war.
As in every war, believers are torn between love of the brethren and national loyalty.
We are all profoundly disturbed by the loss of life on both sides – especially of innocent bystanders and children, by those who will now endure irreparable lifelong injuries, debilitating post-traumatic stress and destruction of property that has and will continue to be caused by the current war in Israel. There are already a multitude of Israeli and Palestinian children, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers whose lives will never be the same because of the ravages of the recent conflict. And the pain will only intensify as Israel does what is necessary to shut down as many Hamas tunnels and terrorists in Gaza and elsewhere.
The final question, then, has to do with the accusation that Israel is immoral in its activities; politically, militarily and in its treatment of Palestinians. I would argue that Israel’s actions are focused on security. This does not excuse any misuse of power, but rather views the state-sanctioned actions of Israel as defensive.
Israel, as demonstrated in its arrest of those responsible for the murder of the Palestinian teenager, is self-policing. Though flawed like every other modern state, the Jewish state still punishes those who commit crimes. I would hope to see the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do the same – but so far, this has not been the case.
Hamas at the Heart of the Conflict
Palestinian parents and Israeli parents all have the same concerns for the welfare and safety of their children. Yet we know that ever since the formation of the state of Israel there has been opposition to the existence of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Remember, there have been at least four wars initiated by Arab countries with the aim of destroying the Jewish state.
I believe the real heart of the conflict does not lie with the average Palestinian – but instead with extremists determined to destroy the Jewish state. This is Jihad!
In the midst of the madness of war, murder and mayhem there is a deep and unsolvable territorial disagreement that will not go away until the Jewish state is accepted by the Arab world. At present Hamas will not recognize any existence or boundaries whatsoever for the Jewish state – and the Palestinian Authority, by establishing a unity government, has seemingly moved further away from recognizing Israel’s right to exist. The real issue is not the “territories” but the entirety of the state of Israel.
Hamas does not want a settlement – they openly seek the destruction of the Jewish state. They have waged a war of terrorism and rocket fire against civilians, demonstrating their position. Israel’s responses have been defensive. The morality of the conflict cannot easily be understood by outsiders; it requires a deep understanding of the foundation issues – land ownership, religion, nationalism, Middle Eastern culture, global politics and the personal stories of both Jews and Arabs.
However, at this moment – Israel must be viewed as defending herself against the numerous attacks on their citizens.
In a recent article that appeared in the digital version of the modern Orthodox publication, The Jewish Press, the writer takes up the question of moral parity in the midst of the conflict – and I agree with the sentiments and sound reasoning:
There is a famous and truthful saying that if Israel disarmed tomorrow it would be eradicated by the Palestinian Arabs, while if the Palestinian Arabs disarmed tomorrow they would lose no land and live happy, peaceful lives.
When missiles are fired from Gaza indiscriminately at civilians there is no outrage. Israel rightfully tries to protect its people by attacking the missile sites – and then we hear about “stopping the cycle of violence” and “restraint.” This has been the world’s consistent, and morally bankrupt, response.
Commenting on Israel’s restraint during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Bill Maher writes,
If the Hamas people had the opportunity, they would kill the maximum number of Israelis, which would be all. And Israel has the opportunity to kill way more and they do not. It seems like they are the victim of the soft bigotry of high expectations.
At this point I believe it is time for those accusing Israel of immorality in the midst of the conflict to look in the mirror, and for believers to meditate on the sobering promise God gave to Abram so many years ago:
And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 112:6), which includes all of her inhabitants, and pray that the Lord will have mercy on both Jews and Arabs… and that the conflict will end soon.
I hope you will do all you can to encourage both Christians and non-Christians to pray for and support Israel and the Jewish people. And to also pray for the innocent suffering in Gaza, especially the Christians, that real peace would come soon and the political and military power of Hamas would be broken.
Sincerely in the Messiah
Dr. Mitch Glaser
President, Chosen People Ministries