A Response to John Piper's Article
"Israel, Palestine and the Middle East"
Part 2 (of 2)
Under his third point, Mr. Piper has no trouble quoting Scripture that speaks to terrible curses that will (have been) placed upon Israel. For example he writes,
"…in the terrible list of curses that God promised to bring on the people if they broke his covenant and forsook him was this, 'And the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you. So the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.'" (Deuteronomy 28:63)
He continues to write, "Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the land."
This is a gross misstatement of the Word of G-d. First of all Mr. Piper willfully ignores numerous Scriptures that speak to the fact that in the last days God will return the Jewish people to the land. This returning to the Land of Israel is part of the plan that will lead to masses of Jewish people accepting the Gospel. Mr. Piper's failure to see this in the Scripture is most telling. At the beginning of the article he quotes the verse from Romans, (This quotation is from Mr. Piper's article and not according to how it appears in the book of Romans)
"As regards the gospel, they (Israel) are enemies of God (as previously noted the word God does not appear in the Greek text, but was added incorrectly) for your (Gentile) sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers."
Why does his article only deal with an explanation of the consequences of Israel's rejection of the Gospel and not the second half of the verse which speaks to Israel's election and the fact they are beloved by God? Although Mr. Piper affirms that Jewish people still have human rights he writes,
"Israel still has human rights among nations even when she forfeits her present divine right to the Land."
Yes, while it is true God Himself has exiled the Jewish people from the Land, He also promises to return them to the Land. In fact Jesus will not establish His Kingdom until the Jewish people have returned to the Land. It is important to consider a few of the numerous Bible verses that speak to this point. When the context for these verses is also understood the case is made in the strongest manner.
First, Isaiah informs his listeners that the Jewish people will, in the last days, return to the land according to the commandment of the Lord. In the following passage Isaiah expressly says that the Jewish people must settle in the places where they dwelt previously.
"Spread out the place of your tent, let the curtains of your dwelling places stretch out, do not withhold; lengthen your cords and make strong your tent pegs. For you shall spread out right and left and your descendant shall inherit the nations; and the desolate cities they will settle. Fear not for you will not be shamed, for you will not be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; for the shame of your youth you will forget, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will not remember any more. For your Husband is your maker—The Lord of Hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; the God of all the earth will He be called. For as a wife is forsaken and sad, the Lord has called you and a wife of one's youth she will be despised says your God. In a brief moment I have left you and in great mercy I will gather you. In a fury I concealed My face from you for a moment and in eternal grace I am merciful to you says your Redeemer—the Lord. For like the waters of Noah, this is to Me which I have sworn, the waters of Noah will not pass over the land again, thus I have sworn not to be wrathful unto you nor to rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may collapse, but My grace will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not falter says the Lord Who shows you mercy."
This passage confirms not only God's plan to have the people resettle the land, but the fact that although Israel will suffer for her disobedience, the covenant will be maintained by God Himself. To those like Mr. Piper that present Israel as without a covenant today, this passage speaks strongly against them. It is most significant that this passage comes immediately following the famed Isaiah chapter 53. Isaiah chapter 53 speaks about the suffering Messiah and it is Messiah's suffering that ultimately will establish the covenant of peace, i.e. redemption. This is why God is spoken about in this passage from Isaiah chapter 54 as the Redeemer.
Not only does Isaiah speak about the Jewish people's return to the Land of Israel in the last days, but so does Jeremiah.
"Woe, O, Shepherds who scatter and spread the flock of My pasture, says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd My people, you scattered My flock and drove them away and will I not visit upon them; behold I will visit upon you the wickedness of your deeds, says the Lord. I will gather up the remnant of My flock from all the lands which I have dispersed them there, I will return them to their pleasant places and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will establish for them shepherds and they shall shepherd them and they shall no longer be afraid nor dismayed and they shall not be visited (by their enemies) says the Lord. Behold the days are coming says the Lord, and I will establish for David the Righteous Branch and a King will reign and be prosperous; He will execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days, Judah and Israel shall be saved; they will dwell in security and this is His name which He shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness. Therefore behold, the days are coming says the Lord, when they will no longer say, 'As the Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt; but rather, As the Lord lives, Who brought up and brought back the seed of the house of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where I scattered them there and they shall dwell on their own land.'"
This passage is as well Messianic, and it likewise speaks to the fact that in the last days there will be a great return of the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel. Why is it so hard for individuals like John Piper to read these Scriptures and understand that part of Israel's coming to faith in Messiah Jesus is inherently linked to the Jewish people returning to the Land? For one to stand against Israel and her borders like Mr. Piper does, is to stand against God's prophesied plan for the Jewish people's salvation experience in the last days. His failure to grasp this when so many Biblical verses speak to this point seems most puzzling.
The prophet Ezekiel makes this same point concerning the Jewish people's return to the Land and likewise links this to the Messiah.
"And say unto them, 'Thus says the Lord God, behold, I am taking the children of Israel from among the nations, where they have gone, and I will gather them from all around and I will bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, in the mountains of Israel, and one King shall be for them for a king and they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms any longer. And they shall not be contaminated any longer with their idols, or with their abominations, or in their transgressions; but I will save them from all their dwelling places which they have sinned in them. I will purify them and they shall be for Me for a people. And I will be for them (their) God. And my Servant David will be a King over them and one Shepherd shall be over them and in My judgments they shall walk and My laws they shall keep. And they shall do them. And they shall dwell upon the land which I gave to my servant Jacob, in which their fathers dwelt, and they shall dwell upon it, they and their sons and their sons' sons forever, and David My Servant, shall be Prince over them forever. And I will establish for them a covenant of peace, an eternal covenant will be with them and I shall set them and increase them and place My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place shall be among them and I will be for them (their) God and they shall be for me a people, and the nations shall know that I am the Lord that sanctifies Israel when My sanctuary is in their midst.'"
This is perhaps one of the strongest sections in the Bible that speaks to how God will gather up the Jewish people, not because of any merit on their part (And they shall not be contaminated any longer with their idols, or with their abominations, or in their transgressions), but because of the Lord's grace and His faithfulness to His covenant, which although John Piper sees as broken beyond repair, the Prophets do not. In this passage as well the Jewish people's return to the Land is linked to their coming to Messiah. Once again although David is mentioned, this is clearly a reference to the Son of David, Messiah Jesus.
Another very important part of this prophecy is that when the Gentiles see God's faithfulness to the Jewish people, they too will come to the knowledge that the God of Israel is the true living God (See verse 28). From the very first time God spoke to Abraham in Genesis Chapter 12, it was clear that Israel being right with God and walking in His ways will bring about a blessing upon the Gentiles.
"And the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father, to the land which I will show you. I will make you a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great, and it shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse the one that curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'"
In other words Gentiles, especially Christian Gentiles, should not speak against Israel's divine right to the Land, one that the Prophets clearly maintain is in force in the last days. Israel's return to the Land is an integral part of God's divine plan to bless all people. Those who stand against this plan place themselves on the side of the enemies of God. The prophet Joel speaks about the nations coming to make war with the Jewish people in the last days. He writes,
"For behold in those days and in that time I will return the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem. I will gather the nations and I will bring them down to the valley of Jehoshafat (the Lord Judges) and I will be judged with them there concerning My people and My inheritance Israel which they scattered among the nations and My Land which they divided."
Joel 4:1-2 (Hebrew Bible and Joel 3:1-2 English Bible)
Time after time the Prophets echo the fact that God will return the people to the Land and those who contend with this will be judged. Notice in this section that the Lord will punish those who divide the Land of Israel. This foreshadows a deal that will cause the State of Israel to make concessions of Land for a false peace agreement. It will only lead to war as Joel declares. According to the Word of God, it is wrong to divide the Land. Mr. Piper advocating a position based upon what international leaders would deem as a "just" settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a position that calls for the division of the Land of Israel.
Mr. Piper's fourth point is JESUS CHRIST HAS COME INTO THE WORLD AS THE JEWISH MESSIAH AND HIS OWN PEOPLE REJECTED HIM AND BROKE COVENANT WITH THEIR GOD. This is certainly an overstatement. In the first century there were numerous Jewish people who accepted Jesus. One reads in the book of Acts that there were numerous thousands of Jews who believed in Jesus. The New Testament uses the phrase πόσαι μυριάδες which means many sets of ten thousands. (See Acts 21:20). These Jewish believers were persecuted by the Roman Empire like their non-believing relatives. In fact, many atrocities have been done to the Jewish people by those professing to be "christians" for nearly the last two thousand years. Today there are as many as a half million Jewish believers in the world. For Mr. Piper to say "…nevertheless the people of Israel as a whole rejected him" is simply not correct. While it is true that the majority of Jewish people have not accepted Jesus, for him to use the word "whole" as in Israel as a whole rejected Jesus, is ignorant of the facts.
In attempting to justify his assertions, he uses passages from Matthew 21 and Matthew 8. In the former, Jesus is not addressing the Jewish people at large, but only Israel's leaders— the chief priest and the elders (See verse 23). Why does Mr. Piper continually lump the Jewish people at large with the narrow and specific group that Jesus is addressing in the Biblical text? In the Matthew 8 passage, it is also clear that Jesus is not condemning all Jews, but simply warning that, as Mr. Piper stated under his third point, that being Jewish alone is not a guarantee to being part of the Kingdom of God. Mr. Piper's use of Matthew 8:11-12 is twisted in order to affirm his belief that the Jewish people are the enemies of God and have no divine right to the Land of Israel; while a simple reading of these verses, in the proper context reveal something quite different. The emphasis of the passage is the importance of faith. Jesus is warning that without faith even Jewish individuals who are called to be leaders in the Kingdom will be banished from this Kingdom and punished. However, to twist these verses as proof text that says Jews as a whole are enemies of God and therefore God has no purpose for them living in the Land of Israel, causes a great deal of Biblical prophecy to be null and void. Mr. Piper concludes his fourth point with his favorite statement in the article, "…they are enemies of God."
The major fallacy of Mr. Piper in regard to the Jewish people and a divine right to the Land is seen when he writes,
"Through the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the Land."
It is most interesting that Mr. Piper sites Daniel 9:4-7. While it is true that Israel's sin caused her to be taken into exile, the punishment was to seventy years only. Daniel chapter nine is an excellent example of the exact opposite of what Mr. Piper believes. For Daniel reveals that God is restoring the people back to the Land, not because of any merit on the part of Israel, but solely because of God's faithfulness to His Covenant. Mr. Piper needed to take into consideration all the verses that appear at the beginning of his article. It is most telling that he chose to ignore Romans 11:29,
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."
This means that no other people may assert a divine right to the Land nor does Israel ever forfeit her divine right. Yes God may remove them for a period of time, but He will bring them back to the Land, not because of an acceptance of Jesus, but for the purpose of them accepting their Savior. This is a most significant part of Biblical prophecy.
Mr. Piper's fifth point is 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.
What is most shocking is his lack of knowledge of history. The modern State of Israel was founded primarily by secular Jews. Israel does not thump the Bible to justify her existence. Rather it became clear to most people after the holocaust that the world needed to recognize a modern Jewish State of Israel (See UN General Assembly Resolution 181, November 29, 1947). Since Mr. Piper is not calling for a disbanding of the Nation of Israel and feels that justice, mercy and practical feasibility should be the basis for settling the problem in the Middle East concerning the Israelis and Palestinians, let's consider the issue from this point of view. In 2000, Israel's then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, offered the Palestinian Authority nearly all the land that Jordan possessed before attacking Israel in 1967. The exceptions to this had to do with the large Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, highway 90 in the Jordan valley and a small area on the Temple Mount for Jewish prayers. Certainly most people would see this as a reasonable settlement. In exchange Israel demanded one thing, an end of violence. It is significant that the then-head of the PA, Yasser Arafat, refused this offer. Due to the unreasonableness of the Palestinian Authority, the United States then ended all dialogues with Arafat, as they felt there was not a true partner for Israel with which to negotiate.
It needs to be pointed out that over the next three years the worst uprising occurred as Palestinian terrorism soared. Who was not practicing mercy and justice? Here are the facts: The Palestinian people were a problem for the Jordanian government. After losing the war with Israel, Jordan was very happy to pass this problem on to Israel. Although one should not minimize the suffering of the Palestinians, it is most significant that Israel has contributed more money and assistance to them than the Arab world in general. In actuality, the Arab world simply uses the suffering of the Palestinian people as a way to condemn the nation and people of Israel. But what is the cause of their suffering and who is to blame?
The first point that I would like to offer is that Israelis have no desire to rule or inflict any suffering upon any people, including the Palestinians. Prior to the Six Day War in 1967, were there Jewish individuals committing acts of terror against those who resided in Judea and Samaria? The answer is no. The facts are clear that Israel was most content with her borders and left the residents of Judea and Samaria to the Jordanians. However after the war the residents of Judea and Samaria became by default Israel's problem. Some have suggested that Israel should have simply returned the land back to Jordan with the people. Such a decision was in conflict with what many experts felt Israel needed to secure her people:
On June 29, 1967, General Earl Wheeler, Chairman of the joint Chiefs-of-Staff, submitted to President Johnson a document on "The Minimum Requirements for Israel's Defense." According to Wheeler, the historical, geographic, topographic, political and military reality of the Middle East behooves Israel to control the mountain ridges of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. In fact, the dramatic technological upgrading of Arab military forces, since 1967, has made surprise offensives (e.g. 1973, Yom Kippur War) swifter, ballistic missiles significantly more destructive and precise, population centers and IDF bases more vulnerable and the deployment of reservists (75% of Israel's military force!) much slower and problematic. Hence, there is a dramatically increasing importance of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria in blocking and delaying a surprise invasion, providing Israel's reservists with more time for deployment (Without reservists, Israel would be lethally inferior to invading Arab forces).
One hundred US retired Generals and Admirals signed a public advertisement in October 1988, contending that Israel should not withdraw from Judea and Samaria — which could not be demilitarized effectively - lest it fails to provide security to its people. The late Admiral "Bud" Nance defined Judea and Samaria's eastern mountain ridge (3,000 foot steep slope), dominating the Jordan Valley, as "the most effective tank barrier" and the western mountain ridge (2,000 foot moderate slope), over-towering Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as "a dream platform for invasion to the narrow coastal plain."
This quotation was taken from an article by Yoram Ettinger in his July- August 2009 article entitled "Judea and Samaria— A Wake Up Call"
Israel has tried to live peacefully with her neighbors since 1948, but due to the evil intentions of her neighbors she has acquired the land that most military experts see as necessary for Israel's survival. I fear that when Mr. Piper says that Israel should seek a peaceful settlement that he is implying concession of land. Perhaps this is not the case, but what is sure is that Israel has demonstrated a willingness to make unwise concessions that have brought about the deaths of more than a thousand Israelis since the infamous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Not only have Israelis suffered, but so too have the Palestinians. It is most clear that since the PA took over the day to day administration of much of Judea and Samaria, and Hamas in the Gaza strip, corruption has run rampant and the social and economic situation of the residents of these places have deteriorated greatly. Some would like to blame the Israelis for this, but as more money is pumped into these places less and less goes to the residents and more and more is put into the foreign bank accounts of its "leaders".
If Israel is guilty it, she is guilty of allowing international pressure to cause them to cease to administer these places. Let us consider Bethlehem and Gaza as examples. Many Christians have joined the international voice demanding Israel leave Judea, Samaria, and Gaza (Israel departed from Gaza in 2006). As Israel has departed, it is very important to understand what has happened to Arab Christians in these places. They have suffered persecution from their Muslim neighbors. The PA and Hamas are Muslim organizations which want to stamp out any other religious expression. I have spoken personally to Arab Christians in these areas and can attest to the lack of human rights that are now afforded to Arab Christians because of Israel's departure. In Bethlehem, Muslim militants used a Christian neighborhood to shoot at a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem called Gilo. Naturally Israel could not tolerate this assault on its citizens and returned fire. What occurred? The outcome was the destruction of this Arab Christian neighborhood. What does the world hear? Nothing about the cause of Israel's actions, just how the "evil occupier" destroyed the homes of poor Arabs. I believe that it is these misrepresentations of truth by the media that play a large role in people like John Piper being misinformed.
The sixth point that Mr. Piper makes is BY FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST, THE JEWISH MESSIAH, GENTILES BECOME HEIRS OF THE PROMISE OF ABRAHAM, INCLUDING (sic) THE PROMISE OF LAND. Mr. Piper's replacement theology is clearly seen in this statement. While it is true that Gentile believers become full members of God's covenant family, the promise that is addressed is that of the kingdom, and not the Land of Israel. Mr. Piper does not say or imply that now the Land of Israel is for Christians. Rather his theology does not place any significance on the Land of Israel any more than any other piece of real estate. His focus is seen in the following statement,
"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."
Mr. Piper calls debates over the Land of Israel "quibbling" over real estate which is pale in comparison to the future of both Jewish and Gentile believers who will inherit a new heaven and a new earth. It is his last paragraph under his sixth point that reveals what is one of the causes of his misinterpretation of this issue. For Mr. Piper it is the end that takes precedent over all other things. While the end is the most glorious, one must take into account all the necessary steps to arrive there. Mr. Piper's oversimplification of prophecy is rooted in his failure to do the necessary diligence in considering all of Scripture. It is this oversimplification that causes him to ignore the totality of God's plan for the last days and His faithfulness to the physical offspring of Jacob.
While Abraham is a model of faith for all individuals, it is Biblically incorrect to ignore the significance of Scripture which passes the promises from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob and his offspring. A very important prophecy that was given to Jacob occurs in Genesis 28. In this well known account of Jacob and the ladder, one learns from John's Gospel that the ladder is the Messiah (See John 1:51). The ladder is used for the Messiah in order to show that it is Jesus that provides the way for man to ascend into the heavens to be with God. What is also of great importance is that together with this Biblical truth, Jacob is told by the Lord that his descendants must spread out throughout the Land of Israel as a condition for the fulfillment of Abraham's promise.
"And your (Jacob) seed shall be like the dust of the earth and you shall spread out to the west and east and north and south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 28:14
Jacob received this commandment while he was on the very piece of land that would become the Temple Mount. Hence it is the descendants of Jacob that must settle in the land in and around Jerusalem. This is a necessary part of God's plan that Mr. Piper ignores. Rather, his view is that believers will inherit the Land as a de facto result of inheriting the world. This view fails to take into account the necessary order that Scripture demands. It is most significant that the prophecy of Obadiah, which speaks about a war over the land of Israel, ends with Jews living in the land that includes the present boundaries of Israel and additionally, land in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, as a prerequisite for the Kingdom to be established.
Mr. Piper's seventh point is FINALLY, THIS INHERITANCE OF CHRIST'S PEOPLE WILL HAPPEN AT THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST TO ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM, NOT BEFORE; AND TILL THEN, WE CHRISTIANS MUST NOT TAKE UP ARMS TO CLAIM OUR INHERITANCE; BUT RATHER LAY DOWN OUR LIVES TO SHARE OUR INHERITANCE WITH AS MANY AS WE CAN. Once again Mr. Piper fails to understand that Messiah will not come back until the Jewish people are back in the land. Nor does he ever mention that in order for "Christians…to claim our inheritance," certain events must take place. His view is like a man who is expecting the joy of grandchildren, but has never married and does not have any children. In other words, he wants to jump to the end without allowing for all the intermediate steps.
Also in this seventh point there is a strong element of pacifism. In the end times the Bible is quite explicit about the fact that God's people will have to fight. In actuality God will empower the Jewish people to defeat those from the Gentiles that will attack Jerusalem.
"On that day the Lord will defend the one who dwells in Jerusalem and it shall come about the weak among them on that day will be like David …" Zechariah 12:8
Certainly the reference to David is for his fighting ability and the victory which he brought over the enemies of Israel. There is no doubt which side the Lord will be on during the last days, for He will defend the Jewish people from all those who come against them in their Land. In the same way that God will stand with the Jewish people in the end times, this is where He stands today…against those who dare ask Israel to make concessions of Land for any reason, let alone to Muslim terrorists who confess in their charter that one of their express goals is the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.
In conclusion, Mr. Piper's article does not present the revelation of Scripture in regard to this issue, but rather a distortion of Biblical verses in an attempt to advance his position for a Palestinian State. Although he never states this outright, the fact that he uses the term Palestine in the name of his article and states that he believes that Israel has forfeited her divine right to the Land, and says that he believes international standards of peace and mercy should be used to settle this conflict over the Land, clearly reveals his true beliefs, i.e., a Palestinian State.
I highly recommend one read the article by John Piper to which this article responds. It can be found at www.desiringgod.org and search "Israel".