Point-counterpoint: Father Abraham's children | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Point-counterpoint: Father Abraham's children

Should evangelicals support the state of Israel because it has a divine right to the land?

Israeli youth dance with Israeli flags prior to praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day in 2011. Associated Press/Photo by Sebastian Scheiner (file)

Point-counterpoint: Father Abraham's children

I grew up in Judaism and am now a son of Abraham by both blood and belief. The New Testament makes it clear that belief is crucial, so what role do the physical descendants of Abraham have? For me, that question is both personal and theological, so I’ve looked into the debate that has raged ever since the establishment of the secular nation of Israel in 1948. Does this Israel have a divine right to the land? Should Christians support it as the fulfillment of prophecy? How are God’s covenant promises to Abraham being fulfilled? Are attacks on what’s called “replacement theology” valid, or are they unbiblical?

We’ve published below a newly written, previously unpublished column by Andrée Seu Peterson followed by much of a sermon based on Romans 11 that John Piper delivered 10 years ago. (Visit desiringGod.org to listen to or read Piper’s entire sermon text.) You’ll see some similarities but also differences in the two points of view. Let iron sharpen iron. —Marvin Olasky

Father Abraham’s children—one view

By Andrée Seu Peterson

If you had lived in 1947—or 1647 or 847—you might have been forgiven for thinking that prophecies about Israel’s future are really about the Church. There hadn’t been a place called Israel for centuries, and who has ever heard of an extinct nation springing back to life?

God has privileged us with predictions of Israel’s future that are to be taken to heart. Some of these have already happened. Many of them have not yet. The still-future events are specific and concrete, and unmistakably attributed to a nation state.

At great pains not to be ambiguous, God uses ethno-political designations when he means to refer to national Israel: “the house of Jacob … the house of Joseph” (Obadiah 18); “Judah and Jerusalem … my people and my heritage Israel” (Joel 3:1–2); “Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen” (1 Chronicles 16:13); “I am jealous for Zion” (Zechariah 8:2–3); “O house of Judah and house of Israel” (Zechariah 8:13); “clans of Judah … inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:5); “daughters of Judah” (Psalm 48:11); “my people Israel” (Ezekiel 36:8); “the cause of Zion” (Isaiah 34:8).

How much more precise could he have been?

Watching first installments unfold before our eyes in WORLDand The New York Times should be enough to make us trust that the whole of prophecy will come to pass, that “Not one of these shall be missing” (Isaiah 34:16). What country slightly larger than New Jersey dominates the news? It isn’t Latvia. Jews from every nation streaming back to the motherland? It was prophesied. Israel’s encircling neighbors breathing threats of annihilation? It was prophesied.

Some will say, “Aha! What does an unrepentant bunch of secular Jews have to do with the prophecies?” The answer is not difficult: The large-scale repentance part has not happened yet.

Nor has God yet brought all the nations down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, nor have the sun and moon darkened, nor has Jerusalem come to be called the faithful city, nor have peoples said to one another yet, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem,” nor have the Lord’s feet stood on the Mount of Olives, nor has the Mount of Olives split in two from east to west so that half of it moves northward and the other half southward, nor has the topography of Israel been altered such that the valley of the mountains reaches to Azal.

But if God’s Word is reliable thus far, I choose to believe that a revival of Israeli Jews is on its way. Because it is already evident that Jerusalem is becoming “a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples” and “a heavy stone for all the peoples,” I believe that “on that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” and “on that day [God] will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him.” God will say to them, “‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”

Why will God do all this for a handful of recalcitrant Semitic tribes? Because they deserve it? No. Because He promised. And because His Name is tied up with His promises, and that’s a big deal. And because He will not let the nations have the last laugh: “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The LORD has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight.”

God promises national Israel: “‘On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me. … I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors … for I will make you renowned and praised among all the people of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the LORD.”

“Among all the people of the earth”? That hasn’t happened yet. But watch for it.

Father Abraham’s children—another view

Excerpted from John Piper’s sermon “Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East” from Romans 11,preached on March 7, 2004

Today I would like to address the issue of Israel’s relation to the “Promised Land” in the Middle East. This is not primarily an expository message from Romans 11, but an effort to draw out implications of Romans 11 and the rest of Scripture for a very vexing problem in the world today. The existence of Israel in the Middle East and the extent of her borders and her sovereignty are perhaps the most explosive factors in world terrorism and the most volatile factors in Arab-Western relations.

The Arab roots and the Jewish roots in this land go back for thousands of years. Both lay claim to the land not merely because of historical presence, but also because of divine right. I won’t try to lay out a detailed peace plan. But I will try to lay out some biblical truths that could guide all of us in thinking about peace and justice in that part of the world. What we think about this, and what we say, does matter, since politicians are influenced by their constituents in these religiously supercharged situations. And we need to know how to pray. And we need to know how to talk to others in a way that honors the truth. So for all those reasons, and for the reason that God is very much involved in this situation, we should talk about it in the context of Romans 11.

What we’ve seen in Romans 11 is that Israel as a whole, that is, as an ethnic, corporate people enduring from generation to generation, has a root in the covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants. Verse 16b: “If the root is holy so are the branches.” We interpreted that picture in the light of verse 28: “As regards the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies of God for your [Gentile] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” The “forefathers” here correspond to the root in verse 16. So the promises to the forefathers imply that someday the whole tree, with all its branches, will be saved.

Someday. Because verse 28 says, for now “they are enemies.” Verse 28a: “As regards the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies of God for your sake.” In other words, they are rejecting their Messiah and thus putting themselves against God. This is what Jesus said to Israel in John 8:42: “If God were your father you would love me.” Jesus is the litmus test whether anybody’s religion is worship of the true God. But Israel does not love Jesus as God’s son and her Messiah. So they are, for now, “enemies of God.”

So now we ask, is the so-called “Promised Land” part of the inheritance and salvation that “all Israel” (verse 26) will receive? And if so, what does that say about the rights of Israel today to the Land?

The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.

Being born Jewish does not make one an heir of the promises neither the promise of the Land nor any other promise.

Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the Land. (See also Daniel 9:4–7; Psalm 78:54–61.)

Be careful not to infer from this that Gentile nations (like Arabs) have the right to molest Israel. God’s judgments on Israel do not sanction human sin against Israel. Israel still has human rights among nations even when she forfeits her present divine right to the Land. Remember that nations which gloated over her divine discipline were punished by God (Isaiah 10:5–13; Joel 3:2).

So the promise to Abraham that his descendants will inherit the Land does not mean that all Jews inherit that promise. It will come finally to the true Israel, the Israel that keeps covenant and obeys her God.

Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and His own people rejected Him and broke covenant with their God.

But even though Jesus was the Messiah and did many mighty works and taught with great authority and fulfilled Old Testament promises, nevertheless the people of Israel as a whole rejected Him. This was the most serious covenant-breaking disobedience that Israel had ever committed in all her history.

Israel has broken covenant with her God and is living today in disobedience and unbelief in His Son and her Messiah. That is why Paul says in Romans 11:28, “As regards the gospel [the good news of the Messiah] they are enemies of God.”

Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

My aim is to put the debate on a balanced footing in this sense: Neither side should preempt the claims of international justice by the claim of present divine rights. Working out what that justice will look like is still a huge and daunting task. I have not solved that problem. But I think we will make better progress if we do not yield to the claim of either side to be ethnically or nationally sanctioned by God in their present conflict.

By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.

Therefore Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers will inherit the Land. And the easiest way to see this is to see that we will inherit the world which includes the Land. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians will not quibble over the real estate of the Promised Land because the entire new heavens and the new earth will be ours. 1 Corinthians 3:21–23, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” All followers of Christ, and only followers of Christ, will inherit the earth, including the Land.

By John Piper. © 2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org. Used with permission.

Visit the desiringGod website to read the complete transcript or listen to or download audio of this sermon.

John Piper

John contributes commentary and other pastoral reflections to WORLD. He is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. John has authored more than 50 books, including Don't Waste Your Life. John resides in Minneapolis, Minn.


An actual newsletter worth subscribing to instead of just a collection of links. —Adam

Sign up to receive The Sift email newsletter each weekday morning for the latest headlines from WORLD’s breaking news team.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...