Sermon in English, Scripture: Deut 10:18-19
Replacementists (those who argue that the church has replaced Israel) believe the modern state of Israel bears no relationship whatsoever to biblical Israel. In support of this view, they sometimes cite the Mosaic law concerning the fair treatment of the alien.
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its treatment of the Palestinians, the argument goes, is a blatant example of how modern Israel does not uphold even the old covenant. Thus, how can anyone argue they remain God’s chosen people? They are no different from anyone else, in fact worse so because their actions belie the fact that they received the law as a gift from God.
Now it is indeed true that God loved and welcomed the alien into the house of Israel (Deut 10:18-19), and thus replacementists make an important point worthy of further consideration. In the Old Testament aliens were granted full rights and privileges, and strict instructions were laid down concerning their fair treatment. In fact, in God’s eyes there was to be no difference whatsoever between the alien and Israelite (Lev 24:22, Num 15:14-16).
But whenever I hear the alien argument, it has always been partial, that is, I have never heard the second part discussed. In short, inclusion of the alien within the house of Israel was conditional upon various requirements and religious observances. For example, the alien was expected to observe certain religious and other laws (Ex 12:19, Lev 16:29, 17:12, 17:15, 18:26, 24:16, Num 19:10, Deut 26:11, 31:12, Ezek 47:23). Moreover, if he was to become a member of the congregation and participate in the Passover feast (a key aspect of being an Israelite), he was to be circumcised (Ex 12:48-9, Num 9:14). In fact, certain religious observances were expected not just from the alien but also the sojourner (Ex 12:45, 20:10, Deut 5:1). So as we can see, biblical Israel practiced an integrationist rather than a multicultural model.
Thus, aliens who joined the congregation of Israel were to leave their people, nation, and religion and become, to all intents and purposes, an Israelite, as so eloquently expressed in those words of Ruth the Moabitess to her mother-in-law Naomi: “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). Consequently, pro-Palestinian Evangelical appeals to the Mosaic theme of treating the alien fairly to condemn modern Israel’s relationship with Palestinians are theologically problematic, even one-sided, considering how any member of the house of Israel, whether Jew or alien, not abiding by the covenant was to be excommunicated (Num 15:30). Such arguments ignore the covenantal nature of alien inclusion within biblical Israel. In other words, the alien argument against modern Israel only works if Palestinians choose to convert and become full participatory members of the congregation of Israel. Such arguments also gloss over how modern Israel’s relationship with West Bank and Gazan Palestinians differs considerably from that with its 1.4 million Israeli Arabs, who may vote, form political parties, sit in the Knesset, lobby parliament, take their grievances to the Israeli courts, like the Haredi are exempt from compulsory military service, and so on. Clearly, then, at least some of the Mosaic instructions concerning the treatment of sojourners are evident in Israel today.
Going back to Ruth, there is an important theological point here for those of us who are Gentile Christians. Replacementism suggests somehow that Israel has been (almost begrudgingly) attached to a Gentile Church, almost as an afterthought, when in fact Paul declares that it was Gentiles who were separated from the commonwealth of Israel and afar from God (Eph 2:12-13), and that God broke off some of the branches of unbelieving Israel so that we, a wild olive, might be grafted in and become partakers of the rich olive tree (Rom 11:17). The root supports us, not the other way around (Rom 11:18). This was exactly the case with Ruth, a Moabitess (and thus cursed, according to Deut 23:3) who nonetheless humbled herself, accepted the terms of alien inclusion within Israel (Ruth 1:16-17, 2:12), and was thus grafted on to Israel. It is surely theologically significant that the events in Ruth took place during the beginning of the barley harvest (1:22, 2:17). The barley harvest was marked by the festival of Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot), which in Acts 2 took place during the outpouring of God’s spirit and the inclusion of the Gentiles within the house of Israel. Thus Gentile Christians, too, have been grafted on to
Israel. That is not to say we must adopt Jewish customs etc, as some Christians do (which Galatians makes very clear is a nonsense), or that every Jew is of Israel (Rom 9:6-7), or even to take an “ Israel right or wrong” stance in our politics. Israel sinned even in biblical times, so to ignore her present injustices and sinful behaviour is theologically problematic. But the fact remains that God retains a special place in His heart for the house of Israel, on to which we have been grafted, and which one day will be saved (Zech 12:10, 13:1, Rom 11:25-6). God’s covenant with Israel is eternal (Isa 59:20-21, Jer 31:35-37) and I struggle to see how replacementism takes the stance it does in light of the warnings laid out in Romans 11:11-24.
Dr Calvin L. Smith
Editor, Evangelical Review of Society and Politics Course Director and Lecturer in Theology
The Midlands Bible College
P.O. Box 2143, Stone Staffordshire ST15 9WQ (United Kingdom)
Tel. +44 (0)8700 421 704