One Biblical Story, Two Political Visions

Israel is planning to annex an important piece of the West Bank—the entire Jordan Valley. This will please a great host of American Christians, the same population that cheered when the U S embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, that ignored the decision by the current administration to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in support to the Palestinian people.

 

These policy decisions further tilt the United States toward Israel and away from all the other peoples of the Middle East; and that is just fine with millions of American Christians—those who measure the righteousness of their own country by how fervently it supports another country: Israel.

 

This uncritical, unwavering endorsement of Israel is part of a larger political-religious understanding of the times: the last times, to be exact. The end of the age is upon us, some contend, and the details of that end focus squarely upon that little piece of land known as Israel.
This modern frenzy about the end of all things has been driven by the religious vision of J. N. Darby, the Scofield Reference Bible, Dallas Theological Seminary, Hal Lindsey, John Hagee, and the cast of characters in the “Left Behind” fantasy.

 

In our day, it is a large piece of the Christian Nationalism that has gripped the imagination of the white Evangelical community in America. Other elements include the public assertion that America is a Christian nation, the defense of those Christian people who want to put their religious convictions above the civil rights of others, the resistance to people of color who want to immigrate to the United States, and of course, the legal availability of abortion and gay marriage.

 

But at the center of this collection of convictions is the notion of Israel as a most-favored-nation. And this comes from two verses in the biblical book of Genesis imbedded in the narrative that runs from chapter 11 verse 31 through chapter 12 verse 10.
The LORD said to Abram, according to this text, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse….”

 

It is easy to see how these two ancient verses, taken alone, could justify such a profound and uncritical endorsement of a contemporary nation state, nestled in the middle of the eastern Mediterranean world, surrounded by miles of sand and millions of Muslims.
But that same Genesis narrative has a second focus; and it is this other emphasis in this text that forms the foundation of an even larger voting block in the United States—not the white Evangelicals, but the black Evangelicals and the mainline Protestants.

 

It reads like this: “Terah took his son Abram … and went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans … to Haran…. And Abram departed Haran … and passed through the land to the place at Shechem…. From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel …and journeyed on … toward the Negev…. Now there was a famine in the land. So, Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land” (Genesis 11:31-12:10).

 

Before and after Abram received the promise of blessing and greatness, he was on the road seeking a new home. From one end of the ancient Fertile Crescent—in the Euphrates Valley—to the other end of the Fertile Crescent—along the Nile Valley, this itinerant herder moved, from one city to another, from one lonely site to another. Until, driven by economic hardship, he moved all the way south and west, into Egypt. He began this journey as an emigrant and ended up as a refugee.

 

This first story of immigration is but a preface to a Bible full of people looking for some place to live: not just the Patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the man Joseph, finding a new home in Egypt, the Hebrew people desperately finding their way out of Egypt, David running from Saul, the Israelites forcibly removed from their homes around Jerusalem all the way to Babylon, the Holy Family fleeing certain death at the hands of Herod, Paul and his multi-faced entourage traveling the entire Mediterranean world, and finally John exiled on the Isle of Patmos seeing visions of the eventual triumph of God.

 

Reading the Bible like this changes the way you see the world and creates a very different strategy for Christian mission and ministry. While others are cheering the opening of a new embassy, these folk are welcoming strangers to a new land, feeding families what they need to survive, and advocating for them before a judge.

 

What we see in the Bible—either this or that—shapes what we see in the world and where we see our ministry as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Another illustration of the fundamental principle of Bible reading: it is not what we affirm about the Bible but what we emphasize in the Bible that shapes our moral vision and spiritual direction.