Christians, I want to reveal that I have met a new Jesus, that in my nearly six decades of life, I’ve never known before. This is the Jesus who says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” but really means “bomb your enemies, their children, their grandparents, and anyone within striking distance, as long as your enemies did something really bad to you.”
Not only that, but I have met a new Moses! I always thought that when the great Jewish lawgiver Moses said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, a gored ox for a gored ox,” and so on, he meant, vengeance must be proportionate. But I’ve been introduced to a new Moses who really meant, “if someone takes out your eye, burn down his village,” and “if he gores your ox, cut off electricity, water, food, and internet service to 2.2 million people, so they die in indiscriminate bombing or else go out to a desert to die of thirst in tents.”
This is your host, José Vargas Vasco, and you’re listening to Old-Fashioned Democrat on the Freedom First Network. Today we’re going to talk about all the Bible-thumping we hear around us in the heated conflict between Israel and Gaza.
We should not be surprised that people drag God into this discussion. For all that Friedrich Nietsche could creep a person out, he had this bruising critique of Christianity. It was so on point. He said iChristian people drag God into their disputes, no matter how petty, rather than just admit their own ambitions.
I don’t know anything about the Koran other than what I studied on Sundays when I was in the Army. My battle buddy and I would look forward to Sundays when people went to religious services. Religious soldiers were given a break from barracks maintenance. He was Catholic and I was born again but we went to the Muslim lessons out of curiosity. Also we knew if we got deployed we would end up dealing with Muslim populations. I used to love those Sundays but I never became a Muslim. I am a Christian to the core.
As a Christian, I know the Old and New Testaments. I worry about what I hear from Christians and Jews on both sides of the divide. I am sure that there are Muslims distorting the Koran and misrepresenting the Prophet’s teaching, but I will take my 20 minutes to stick with what I know.
Let’s talk about the statements by Jewish leaders and intellectuals first. Then we get to the craziness of Christians.
The Jewish Misuse of Scripture
The worst Bible-bending comes from Benjamin Netanyahu. He quoted Solomon’s line from Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for peace and a time for war,” to justify a sadistic rampage in Gaza that’s murdering children by the thousands. He quoted the historical books of the Jewish scriptures and compared the Palestinians to the Amalekites, people whom the Hebrews were told by God to annihilate including women, children, and livestock.
Benjamin Netanyahu is in his 70s. He seems permanently stuck in who he was in the 1980s and early 1990s, his heyday.
I found a 1986 hour-long Firing Line episode where William F Buckley fawns all over Bibi; this was when Netanyahu served as ambassador for Israel to the United Nations. He wrote a book on terrorism and how the West could beat it. His endless refrain was, “I am not going to be afraid, I am not going to concede, in fact I will fight back all the way.”
The conservatives who had power in the US and the Democrats loved his tough stance. He had this deep macho voice. I wish I had a voice like that. His swarthy look played greatly on television, sort of like a Jewish Joe Namath. He would constantly say he would not “negotiate with terrorists.” He could convince you that he had the key of wisdom and knew something you didn’t know about human nature.
The idea is: don’t compromise, you must be swift and terrible in your response, or else you are encouraging more terrorism. He echoed the kind of talk that came from Golda Meir.
Back then his audience lacked a prophetic vision. We had no way of knowing whether his philosophy was as wise as it seemed, because we couldn’t look forty years in the future.
Now we are looking back at him from forty years in the future.
His hardline response, which he learned in the Yom Kippur War, didn’t solve anything. Israel has only multiplied the number and intensity of terrorists; they have more enemies with greater platforms and stronger allies than ever before, which is why October 7 happened.
But here he is. It’s 2023, and he is a man completely stuck in time. He’s got a global Jewish generation, the Millenials and Gen Z, split between the Haredi, extremely religious, who are growing rapidly and set to double by 2040, although they are still only about 14% of Jews in the world. These Orthodox people don’t want to fight wars. They don’t serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and they often form a large share of antiwar Jews. They are largely not Zionist. So the fastest growing segment, the ultra-religious, do not connect with Bibi’s argument.
Then there is the secular Jewish population which is increasingly okay with intermarrying and is more Tik-Tok than Torah. The seculars fight Israel’s wars but they are not reproducing in large numbers and are leaving Judaism by attrition, through intermarriage with Gentiles. Many secular Jews outside of Israel are liberal and drawn to anti-Zionist or anti-war activism.
The world has changed drastically. Netanyahu thinks it’s 1983. He believes he can bomb the living daylights out of a refugee camp, and his appearance being interviewed on some Western show will be the last thing people hear of it. Back in the 80s Palestinians didn’t have enough English-speaking advocates to represent the other side; they had at best Edward Said-style intellectuals cushioned in elite universities and worried about tenure and promotion, but those types didn’t get interviewed by Jane Pauley. You could be a monster and do abominable things and nobody would see the image.
The world would only see what Israel would allow the West to see. The language overflowed with distinctions between civilized and uncivilized violence. The book Netanyahu wrote in the 1980s made distinctions saying that the British were not terrorists when they bombed a school killing all these kids in Copenhagen during World War II, but the Arabs were terrorists if they did anything to fight against Israel and caused Israel to harm children in their retaliation. If you were deputed by a recognized government, it was not terrorism. If you were not part of a recognized government, it was.
Netanyahu proceeded with a masculine piety that worked back then. In the UN hanging out with Jeanne Kirkpatrick, his routine carried the day.
Now he is failing spectacularly. Everyone on earth has a cell phone with a camera and Tik Tok. Too few Israelis exist to counteract the sheer demographic magnitude of the groups that Israel has pissed off.
The Times of Israel reported on September 15, 2023, that there were 15.7 million Jews in the whole world, or 25.5 million if you count children of interfaith marriages who have at least one Jewish grandparent.
15.7 million Jews. How many are there who feel pissed off at Israel?
There are 1.7 billion Muslims. Their holy book says that they trace their religious lineage back to Ishmael. Mecca is a holy site where Hagar thought Ishmael was going to die, but a spring of water came up showing God’s mercy. Ishmael was the younger brother of Isaac, the Jews’ religious forebear. They had the same father, Abraham, but different mothers. Isaac’s mother Sarah forced Hagar to get impregnated by her husband, then cast Hagar out when Sarah found out she could conceive.
Muslims will react negatively, to say the least, when someone quotes the Torah to explain why Jews had the right to re-establish a nation-state that fell over 2,600 years ago in 586 BC, and kick out a Muslim population and force them to live as stateless pariahs.
Let’s say the Torah means a lot to Jews – of course it does. There is still a reality that we can’t escape, which is that there are 1000 times more Muslims in the world who are even more dedicated to their Koran, and they will react to the quotation about crushing the Amalekites with rage.
And then we have the entire global South across Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Caspian region. These populations are fed up with Western elites taking their rare metals, their crops, their guano, phosphorus, petroleum, natural gas and what have you, and stacking the economy against the countries that were formerly colonized by England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Right now Panamanians en masse protest about Canadians mining copper there. It’s not an old grievance by any means. The US withdrew from Vietnam about 50 years ago, but invaded Panama 34 years ago; the US withdrew from Afghanistan two years ago and still has bases in Syria’s war.
There are 627 million people who live in Latin America. There are 1 and a half billion people who live in Africa. And there are 4.8 billion people who live in Asia. Normally I’d guess that Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines would be too Western-identified to be drawn to the Palestinian cause, but alas, we’ve seen massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations in those countries as well.
Altogether the global south comprises about 6.9 billion people, dwarfing Israel’s 15 million Jews by an unimaginable magnitude.
Many of the global South populations are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, what have you. It might not be religious at all. On an ethnic level, they see reflections of themselves in the Palestinians and reflections of their own oppressors in the Israelis. Latin America, Africa, and Asia, underwent waves of colonialism by France, Spain, England, the Netherlands, and Portugal. They saw Christian missionaries come alongside armies and speculators. The Christian missionaries did some good along the way, but they gave cover to brutal exploitation, suppression, genocide, theft, and cultural erasure.
In this multimedia age, around the world people hear the nasty things that Western leaders say about them, characterizing them as oversexed, violent, primitive, unintelligent, or disorganized, all while corporations based in the West come and take their land with the help of the Western intelligence superstructure. They are familiar with the Western trick of installing puppet regimes, dividing and conquering, setting the native populations against each other, sabotaging self-governance, and the rest.
The world has become savvier to the tricks that colonizers have pulled in the past.
Many of them read the Gaza conflict as a metaphor for their own suppressed rage. They are the Palestinians, being penned into an embattled little stretch of pavement, bombed out of existence, and then stereotyped to get blamed for it all. Israel is whoever screwed over their people: the English, the Americans, the Canadian mining company, the telecommunications concern, the French Jesuits, what have you.
And Israel quoting their Jewish text to say, “we have the right from God to obliterate every man, woman, child, and animal in Gaza” is just about the worst image you can project to a Global South, especially in the current environment where they have social media. It brings back memories of being dehumanized and exploited.
Finally there are the Christian nations in the developing West, mostly white. They know that they created the problems Israel is in. These white countries like England and Germany were behind the upheavals in World War II and didn’t want to admit the Jews into their countries. They rigged the UN to give the Jews a homeland in Palestine because they couldn’t give Jews their lives back in Europe, much less the property, real estate, art works, and bank accounts they stole during the frenzy of the world wars. If you include Russia, Europe has a population of 742 million; without Russia it stands at 600 million.
What of Europe and its relationship to the Jews? They have a guilty conscience but have no problem transforming their guilt into enmity to make themselves feel better. And nothing makes them feel more exonerated than seeing Jewish horrify the world with atrocities against another oppressed group.
It’s like you have this white person sitting in Seville, Spain, thinking, “look at what Israel is doing, now I don’t have to feel bad about the Inquisition, this is exactly what Ferdinand and Isabel were reacting to.” And if you’re in France you justify the abuses of the fourteenth century. If you’re in England you justify the abuses of the thirteenth century. Let’s not even think of what a guilt-ridden German or Polish person might do with this. They see Netanyahu quoting his Bible to justify total genocide, and boom! There’s an exit route out of their guilt about the Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust, and ghettos. “Look!” They say. “We weren’t the fanatical genocidal religious ones–they were!”
That’s what Netanyahu is up against. It is an extremely multilateral, multidimensional, communication-heavy war terrain. You have 15 million Jews in the whole world, less than half of those living in Israel, and they have this holy text that says they are supposed to have this piece of land based on the reign of King David roughly 3,000 years ago. And then you have 1.7 billion Muslims, 600 million guilt-ridden European whites, and 7 billion people in the global south; all engaged in a furious backlash against that 15 million.
Many reasons but a singular outcome. They will pick up the Palestinian cause and denounce Israel vehemently.
But Netanyahu thinks he only has to win over the Pat Robertsons and George Bushes of the world. He quotes the Bible to keep a sliver of the globe happy, not realizing that things have changed. When he lashes out after an attack, everything he does ends up on TikTok, edited to make him look like a demonic monster.
He drops cluster bombs and white phosphorus on kids and repeats a weak justification about human shields. On top of it he quotes the Torah, which triggers Muslim indignation, European guilt, and the global South’s PTSD over missionaries who helped colonizers rape their continents.
Netanyahu’s audience when he quotes the Torah is really the United States, which has a unique exception to what I have just described. You have 44% of the US identifying as white Christians. You have about a third who are Catholic. Some Black Christians like Cornel West interpret the Israel conundrum as a social justice matter akin to Black Lives Matter while other Black pastors preach about supporting Israel because that’s scriptural in an apocalyptic theology.
There’s some room there for Netanyahu to win people over with scripture; I will talk about that soon. But while that seems like a lot of people to us here, that’s a small crowd in the global context. These breathtaking rallies denounce Israel across the globe. You see these frightening scenes coming out of Dagestan, Russia, where thousands mobbed an airport hunting down Jewish airline passengers.
Still, does Jewish scripture uphold what Israel is doing?
I don’t see a Biblically sound connection between the kingdom that fell at the end of Second Kings – here I mean the southern kingdom of Judah– and what the UN founded in 1948. It’s much too strained and the only reason David Ben Gurion and the Zionists were able to carry this out had to do with Holocaust guilt.
In Deuteronomy, the last book of the Pentateuch, Moses delivers a second iteration of the law to the Israelites, just before they enter the Holy Land and take it. This would be occurring somewhere around 1,400 years before Christ, some 40 years after the Jews escaped from Egypt. An entire generation has passed because God willed it so–as they wandered through the desert, everyone who grew up under slavery in Egypt has died, and what remains is roughly 2 million Hebrews born and raised in the wilderness, toughened up and ready for independence. Ironically this is roughly the population of the people of Gaza.
Some key passages come in the 10th and 11th chapters of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 10:17 God says:
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
So here’s the thing. Yes, God has told the Hebrews that He will give them a holy land, and they will be able to move into houses they did not build and reap harvests they did not sow, etc., but they were not supposed to be crude toward foreigners living among them.
In the context of Deuteronomy they are being told that they have to push out the Canaanites, Jebusites, Hivites, Gergashites, and other tribes living there. But except for the specific nations mentioned by God that had to be destroyed in this one instance, the Jews are supposed to treat outsiders with grace and provide for them. The law is supposed to apply to foreigners living among the Israelites, which means their rights are largely equivalent in matters of civil or social disagreements. This is repeated several times alongside the lines about taking care of the fatherless and the widows.
More importantly, at many points throughout the Old Testament the sentiments of Deuteronomy 11 are repeated: The law and the land are given simultaneously. The law and the land are interconnected. They are both a blessing. They are also both a curse. How can they be a blessing and a curse? As Deuteronomy explains, if they can keep the law, they can keep the land. If they break the law, the land will vomit them out.
Deuteronomy, or the second reading of the law, is delivered just as Joshua is about the lead the Hebrews across the Jordan to take the land the Lord has promised them. Remember that Moses, who delivered the law, is only allowed to see the land but cannot go with them to live there. Why? Because he displeased God. The transgression of not waiting upon God, but rather striking a rock with a rod to see if water could come out, was enough to deny Moses the land. This is all happening before the Hebrews enter Canaan. So you can see that this promise of the land was not something that God meant for the Jews to have unconditionally.
After Moses dies and Joshua goes into the land, the Hebrews have the land. For over 400 years they have a system of judges, a loose network of decision makers based on a decentralized government, in which the main governing action, the thing the civil government does, is interpret the complex laws of Moses and apply them. Repeatedly the people of Israel stray from God and earn his displeasure, then get attacked, and have to have another savior sent by God. Thus we have Jephthah, Gideon, Samson, Ehud, Barack, Deborah, and the like.
The monarchy does not begin until the end of these four centuries of the judges. When Israel demands to have a government mirroring the countries around it, the prophet Samuel serves as the go-between God and the Israelites. It is clear in 1 Samuel 8 that God does not take kindly to the Israelites’ demand that they form a government similar to surrounding nations of the time.
8 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.[a]2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”
Later in the Old Testament it is clear that Samuel’s words in 1 Samuel 8 indeed comprise a prophecy. The kings of Israel are notoriously terrible, in both the North and the South. The Southern Kingdom has a few good kings but they are few, far between, and incapable of reversing Israel’s rapid descent into violence and abuse. By the time of King Josiah, 640-609 BC, during about 20 years before the final end of the kingdom, Israel has gone so far from its origins that the king’s ministers are shocked to discover the Torah in a back room. They rummage there because the king tells them to sum the silver and gold and account for what is in storage.
3 In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: 4 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. 5 Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord— 6 the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. 7 But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. 9 Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lordand have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.”10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
As you can see from this passage in 2 Kings 22, the entire idea of Jews forming a civil government to perpetuate the customs of the Torah is predicted and proved to FAIL.
The prophets all promise that the Jews will return to Jerusalem. We see that happen in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. But in those books, the Jews return to Jerusalem under the auspices of a larger empire or at least a civil government that’s not Jewish.
So in sum, I take the Jewish case modern Israel as exceedingly anti-scriptural. The Jewish scriptures make the case for a Jewish community that passes on the Torah and rallies together to make sure the Torah is followed. But they do not make the case for a Jewish nation-state with an army, a tax collectors’ office, departments of parks, etc. The Torah is clear that Jews are supposed to allow non-Jews into their society and treat them fairly under the rights of the Torah.
Additionally, one key argument for the modern state of Israel is the claim that Jews are safer with a country that’s exclusively Jewish. But in fact we don’t see evidence that the Jews are safer by combining their religious heritage with the compromises of civil government. Everything 1 Samuel 8 warned about has come true today. To paraphrase Samuel, modern Israel has rejected the law of Moses as it chases after the legal structure of neighboring states. And in fact Israel is behaving like the worst of the states around it, and is angering the world and endangering Jews in the process.
Combined with the reality that the reign of King David began about 1000 BC, which is literally 2,948 years before the foundation of modern Israel, the Torah’s treatment of a Jewish state argues effectively against what Israel has become. I think any of the Old Testament prophets would go to Tel Aviv and listen to Bibi Netanyahu’s ministers and say, they have rebelled against their Torah by setting that government up.
On a basic level the Torah is so clear about the sanctity of life and the importance of respecting all life, even the poor. Genesis 4 and Genesis 9 tell the stories of Cain and Abel, and Noah’s first laws, the Noahide laws. In both those early chapters of Genesis, God makes clear that the taking of life is something that displeases him immensely; in fact it fills God with righteous anger. In Leviticus the law states that people must allow the poor to glean from their fields. It states you cannot abuse someone who is too poor and has to borrow money; for instance, even if the pauper posts his cloak as collateral for a loan, you must give the pauper his cloak at night lest he be cold.
The Noahide laws come before Moses’ laws and before the Jews are singled out as a chosen people. The same goes for the story of Cain and Abel. So in those passages when we see how God hates the sight of a human taking another human’s life, God is not applying a double standard for taking a Jew’s life as opposed to a non-Jew’s life. All human life is precious. I have to believe that the God of the Torah could never accept that a chosen people claiming to govern in His name kills children indiscriminately.
Even more distressing is modern Israel’s defiance of Moses’s law of proportionality. The law under Moses restrained violent escalation. An eye for an eye or an ox for a gored ox, means that people cannot retaliate by inflicting far greater harm than they first sustained. So the idea that 200 kidnapped Jews justify the killing of 9,000 civilians is utterly anti-Jewish. The modern state of Israel cannot claim to exist as a mandate from God.
If the Jewish claim to the Modern State of Israel, far worse is the Christian case for Modern Israel
Jesus Christ said “my kingdom is not of this world.” He also said, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to the Lord what is the Lord’s.” In Romans 13, the apostle Paul writes that Christians are to live under the existing authorities of the civil government. All these passages together reaffirm what I just said about the Jewish religion’s dim view of a political entity claiming to be God’s kingdom. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, was put through a trial under the Jewish system of laws; he was treated unfairly, and then handed over to the Romans to be crucified. Until Jesus Christ returns and brings His kingdom to the earth, we are not living under any orders to pledge allegiance to a Jewish or a Christian government on earth.
And even more importantly, Jesus Christ said “blessed be the peacemakers.” Love your enemy. Love your neighbor as yourself. Paul said love keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus Christ said that the standard we use to judge others is the standard by which we will be judged. So a violent nation state claiming to represent the Jewish people, which calls other groups “enemies”, kills them en masse as collective revenge, and then excuses its own crimes by saying they are only responding to something the other people did –this is not of Christ. It does not show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The case made by people like Robert Jeffress is utterly wrong. The case made by Mike Johnson, speaker of the House, that the Bible tells us to stand by Israel, is a bold-faced lie.
As Christians we have both the New and Old Testament to guide us. The information in those texts gives us every reason to reject the claim of modern Israel to stand in for ancient Israel. Neither Jewish nor Christian law sets down standards that justify what Bibi Netanyahu is doing.
At stake here is the credibility of those who carry the gospel forward. If we sign on to what Israel is doing, which is in many cases downright evil and completely against what God told us would be pleasing to Him, then we plant the seeds for skepticism and eventually atheism. If you twist the scriptures the way slaveholders twisted the curse of Ham to justify slavery, you lead to generations of people not trusting any close interpretation of scripture. That’s bad for Christianity, bad for Christians, and bad for the world.
José Vasco can be contacted at [email protected]
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