John MacArthur is one of the world’s leading Reformed Baptist theologians, who believes in the future salvation of Israel, and admires the IDF. I’ve highlighted his work positively and hope to continue to do so. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering this aspect of his theology, which I feel would be fruitful to discuss:
I think what we’re seeing in contemporary Israel today, with regard to Israel as a nation, is the judgement of God working out. They are vulnerable, they are in constant danger, they are a horribly abused and beleaguered people through history. But you have to keep in mind that this is judgement. This is the judgement of God for the rejection of their Messiah. So Israel today is under divine judgement. They still exist however, because God has determined a future day in which He will save that nation Israel.
Is John MacArthur right here that Israel is under judgement?
I hold to the idea that God is ultimately in control of the universe, and nothing happens without Him allowing it to. I also believe that He allows evil to happen, in a world in which wars and rumours of wars will abound before Messiah returns to establish His Kingdom, and certainly Israel is no exception to this.
In principle, I agree that suffering is a consequence of sin, that everyone is guilty of sin, and therefore we bear the burden of rejecting God’s plan for the world, including rejecting His Messiah Jesus by crucifying him on the cross with our sin. To that extent, as participants in human sin, you can say that Israel’s suffering is a form of judgement. The Old Testament highlighted the severity of disobedience to God, as Israel read out the blessings and curses that obedience and disobedience to the Torah implied respectively.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus does say to Jerusalem that “your house shall be left desolate” – it is possible then, to see the misery of Israel’s struggles as a consequence of its rejection of the Messiah,. However, I wouldn’t see this as a unique judgement on Israel in particular. God is set to judge a world that has rejected Him, and not just one nation.
Alongside Jesus’ words about Jerusalem, we must also consider his comments to his Jewish contemporaries about those Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed in with their sacrifices, and the Jews who perished in the Tower of Siloam. Jesus warns those who speculate about their deaths, not to assume that these people were worse sinners than they themselves; so this is the balance that believers today must be cautious of, when evaluating world events.
The question over whether Israel faces a particular judgement is really the relevant question here. If Israel faces judgement, then the world does too, because God no longer overlooks the world’s ignorance. I weigh Paul’s words on Mars Hill in Acts 17:
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
If in prior times the nations can be said to have been acting in ignorance; now, they cannot be. Islamists have heard of Christ, but misrepresent him as a forerunner to Mohammed who was neither put to death nor resurrected. They not only deny He is the Son of God but ascribe malice to those who do; it is difficult to see how they can be considered instruments of God’s justice.
Can Islamists who make a mockery of the Gospel in any way be considered agents of God’s particular judgement on Israel? To ask the question is to contemplate the moral preposterousness of the very idea!
When you read about the ancient nations that God allowed to wage war against the Israelites, there was a sense of them fighting not to destroy Israel, but rather because they were territorial rivals or burgeoning empires. These types of nations God allowed to bring temporary victories over Israel in order to humble her; however these were different to the sworn enemies of Israel who wanted to utterly annihilate her.
Even then, these nations that did come against Israel were still judged for opposing Israel. Furthermore, God speaks through the prophet Zechariah:
“But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster.”
These nations then veered into spite and malice. If God judged these ignorant nations for their excessive sins towards Israel, then how would He judge modern terror groups for whom malice is at the core of their purposes, as they seek to murder Israeli families in their homes and streets?
A key question for me, is whether the nations opposing Israel today can be said to be doing so in ignorance. As per Paul’s words on Mars Hill, God no longer looks upon the nations with ignorance. By persisting in murderous antisemitism then, Islamists confirm that they are wilful enemies of God seeking to destroy His people.
If we accept Paul’s wisdom on Mars Hill that God no longer views the nations of this world with ignorance, then they have moral agency as human sinners before a just God, much as Jewish people do. If we are clear-eyed and fair, then the Nazi Holocaust must be seen a Nazi moral failure not a Jewish moral failure. Similarly, Islamic terrorism today must be seen as a moral failure of antisemitic jihadists, and not an Israeli moral failure. Moral logic instructs us that the victim must be viewed as the victim, and must not be blamed retrospectively for the evil violence perpetrated against him. God is just and merciful, and these attributes are reflected in the moral standards He establishes in his Word.
We should address the ignorance of nations in former times.
The Philistines, as we read in the First Book of Samuel, stole the Ark of God in relative ignorance, and only realised the gravity of their actions when the people of Ashdod – where the Ark of God was brought to – broke out in tumours, prompting them to send the Ark back to Israel. Iconoclastic and destructive Islamic terrorists have no such respect for the concept of holiness. Were a Hamas or ISIS city to break out in tumours, I doubt they would care much, and would prefer death to any honouring of the God of Israel.
There is a clear difference between the Pagan nations who lived in ignorance of God, and the maniacal, depraved genocidal Islamists of today who wish to murder all Zionist Jews, and any Muslims who turn to Christ. Could an Islamic terrorist could simultaneously be persecuting the church of God, and acting as a proxy of God’s justice, if he murders Jews and Christians in the same terror attack?! This would seem to me a logical absurdity.
I think God makes it clear that he views any attempt to destroy his nation very dimly. He tells Abraham, before Israel has done anything right or wrong (it is still in his loins!):
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.
The judgement here is upon Egypt, rather than upon Israel. Likewise in Persia, when Haman seeks to destroy the Jews, he is defeated, and the Bible notes the foundation of the festival of Purim to celebrate the failure to destroy the Jews, and rather celebrate the destruction of their enemies:
Therefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. And because of the instructions in this letter, both what they had seen in this regard and what had happened to them, the Jews established and made a custom for themselves and for their descendants and for all those who allied themselves with them, so that they would not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants.
The Biblical pattern is such that, insofar as we meet characters in the Bible who want to destroy Israel, God opposes them. We read in Psalm 2, the Psalm of the Messianic Son of David, pointing towards Jesus Christ:
Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”
He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
Those seeking the destruction of Israel are themselves those who face judgement, rather than Israel itself. The book of Zechariah expands on similar imagery, viewing the nations as coming against Israel to attack her. God allows this, not as a punishment upon Israel, but rather to set the scene for the arrival of “He whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12) – in other words, world attention is focused on Israel allowing Jesus to return to Jerusalem.
Romans 11 reaffirms that God will use global opposition to Israel as part of His divine plan to bring blessings and redemption to the world. We read:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
There will probably be a political context to this opposition to Israel, out of which will come a glorious future for Israel. So Israel’s troubles do not necessarily point towards a future judgement, so much as a future glory, as MacArthur rightly highlights.
I disassociate with the approach of suggesting that Islamic terror attacks are part of a divine judgement upon Israel, because I think that it may lend strength to the beliefs of Islamists that their murderous actions will be interpreted theologically as divine judgement.
Keeping an awareness of the moral responsibility of all nations, and not just Israel, is therefore vital. But if you have lazy thinking on divine judgement, and you do not view Hamas primarily as depraved murderers but rather as agents of divine judgement, then you are less likely to preach the Gospel to Hamas. This line of logic ends with thinking that Hamas can’t be changed by the Gospel: they are less human sinners, and more like avenging angels with swords to take to the Jews.
So let us keep our moral compasses, following the principles established in the Word of God by our just and merciful God, and call Evil “Evil”, knowing that all – both Jew and Gentile – will give account before God’s holy throne for all our deeds.