Is Genesis a Blueprint for U.S. Policy in the Middle East?


If Genesis 15:8 is read literally, does it mean the United States should urge Israel to liberate the territories occupied by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq? (www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook)
The Bible speaks to all of life, teaching us about moral character and giving us guidelines for discerning social relations. But the Bible offers no literal blueprint for American foreign policy in the Middle East.

They believe the Bible is a literal blueprint for the nation's Middle East policy. They have announced plans to mobilize 100,000 churches and one million American Christians to support Israel. Their leaders include Jerry Falwell, Oliver North, Ralph Reed and many less notable Southern Baptists.

 

"God gave the land to the Jew," Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, told Beliefnet.com. "I didn't give it to them. It wasn't my land, it was God's land. He gave it to the Jews."

 

Another proponent is Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who told his Senate colleagues, "I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel; that it has a right to the land." Israel is entitled to the West Bank "because God said so."

 

"Look it up in the book of Genesis," Inhofe said.

 

Indeed, what does Genesis say?

 

God directed Abram to "the land of Canaan," according to Genesis 12:1-5. In another verse, God said, "To your descendants I will give this land" (Gen 12:7). In yet another passage, God said, "For all the land which you see I will give to you and your descendants forever" (Gen 13:15). Still another text records, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur … to give you this land to possess" (Gen 15:7).

 

Based mostly on these passages, fundamentalists conclude that the United States should advance God's promise of land to Abram, better know as Abraham, and support Israel.

 

So, what's the problem? The problem is biblical literalism. Fundamentalists read selective passages literally. And yet, the Bible literally does not map out the geography of the land of Canaan.

 

Does the land include only what the human eye can see? Genesis 13:15 reads, "For all the land which you see." If one interprets the larger passage literally to be "the land," then shouldn't the reference to eyesight be read literally? If this is the case, Israel's current boundaries exceed the capacity of human eyesight.

 

Or does the land include the geographical references in another biblical passage? Genesis 15:18 reads, "the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.'"

 

These boundaries would define Canaan as all the land between Egypt's Nile River and Iraq's Euphrates River. If this passage is read literally, does it mean the United States should urge Israel to liberate the territories occupied by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq? 

 

And what does one do with the Jordan Valley? Genesis 13:11 records that Lot, Abram's nephew, "chose for himself all the Jordan Valley." God's promise of land is to Abram and his descendants, not to Lot and his family. The Bible provides no reference to the land reverting to Abram after Lot's death. To whom does this valley now belong?

 

The Bible speaks to all of life, teaching us about moral character and giving us guidelines for discerning social relations. But the Bible offers no literal blueprint for American foreign policy in the Middle East.

 

Thankfully, a number of noted evangelical scholars and leaders have challenged fundamentalism's misuse of the Bible to justify their narrow theo-political agenda.

 

These mainstream leaders have said, "Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions—of both Israelis and Palestinians—on the basis of biblical standards of justice."

 

In a letter to President Bush, they said, "An even-handed policy towards Israelis and Palestinians does not give a blank check to either side, nor does it bless violence by either side."

 

Congregational leaders can counterbalance fundamentalism's distortions with clear teachings about what the Bible really says about "the land." And truthfulness about the Bible may lead to more peace and security for all who live in the land.

 

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.

 

Also read:

 

Evangelical Leaders Ask Bush for Even-Handed Policy in Middle East

Evangelical Theology Drives American Attitudes toward Israel and Middle East

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