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Abraham’s Offspring: The Blessing (and Curse) of the Land

The old warriors Sharon and Arafat have played a personal and petty game of killer cat and murderous mouse for more than a quarter of a century with no evident concern for the massacres of innocents and the instability that they have perpetrated on their own people and on the world.

There was a time when I supported Israel without equivocation. In recent years, however, my mind has changed, and my support now extends no further than Israel’s right to exist. The administrations of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, in collusion with their perennial playmate in atrocity Yasser Arafat, have turned the land into a curse on the offspring of Abraham—Jews, Christians and Muslims alike—and on all the families of the earth.

It is a biblical principle that a blessing can become a curse. Malachi 2:2 reads, “If you will not listen … I will curse your blessings.” In other words, something God intended as a blessing can become its opposite. According to Jeremiah 18:16, the land can become “a horror, a thing to be hissed at. … All who pass by it are horrified and shake their heads.” Deuteronomy 28 catalogues blessings becoming curses.

Three tests are implicit in every blessing, and the land is no exception. The first is the test of mission. The land was promised in the context of the mission of Abraham’s offspring to “be a blessing … to all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3).

The second test is memory. Deuteronomy 6 reads, “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land … take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (vv. 10–12).

The third test is means. In chapter 5 of his new book, When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball identifies the pathology that develops when people become so fixated on a particular end that they will use any means available to accomplish it, even means that violate basic tenets of their religion.

No longer part of a godly mission to “all the families of the earth,” the land has deteriorated into an obsession of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism. Neither Sharon nor Arafat is the moral equal of the prostitute in 1 Kings 3 who begged King Solomon to spare her child, even if it meant that he would belong to another. Both are behaving as though they would rather see the land and its people destroyed than see their opponent gain so much as a square inch of it.

The administrations of Netanyahu and Sharon have exhibited no evidence of having heard Scripture’s repeated calls to remember what it was like to be a people oppressed and murdered and to always act therefore in a manner consistent with justice and mercy. Instead, Israel has become like the worst of the surrounding nations by pursuing a policy of state-sponsored assassinations that pervert the biblical principle of reciprocity into “a life before a life, an eye before an eye, a tooth before a tooth.”

In attempting to advance their respective causes by any available means, moral or immoral, the old warriors Sharon and Arafat have played a personal and petty game of killer cat and murderous mouse for more than a quarter of a century with no evident concern for the massacres of innocents and the instability that they have perpetrated on their own people and on the world. The only peace their current policies will bring is the peace that comes from the silence after the extermination of all that lives.

What are we to do with such hard words? First, we must recognize that this is no time for unreflective political posturing in support of either the state of Israel or the Palestinian Authority. Both are pursuing policies that are morally bankrupt and politically pathological. Until they reform their behavior, neither should receive the support of Christians in the United States.

Second, we must categorically reject the Israeli model for dealing with terrorism. If by becoming “pre-emptive,” our leaders mean engaging in aggressive international law enforcement to put suspected international criminals under surveillance and subjecting them to search and seizure, indictment, trial, conviction and incarceration, then our leaders should have our full support. But nothing about the gospel is consistent with unilateral military action that violates international law and runs roughshod over human and civil rights, as Israel has done under Netanyahu and Sharon.

Finally, the curse that the land has become should be an object lesson for reflecting on our own blessings. We should consider prayerfully and critically whether or not our blessings have become obsessions, such that we have begun to fail the tests of mission, memory and means that come with each of them.

Jeffrey S. Rogers is senior minister of First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C. This column was adapted from his sermon, Abraham’s Offspring: The Blessing (and the Curse) of the Land, now housed in EthicsDaily.com’s sermon library.