From time to time I am asked to review a book or a musical project. This has occasionally led to some pleasant discoveries. Recently some acquaintances have asked me to analyze and respond to the teachings of Dalton Lifsey’s recent “The Controversy of Zion and the Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Maskilim Publishing, 2011). The author himself had asked for my feedback just prior to the publishing, but since the book was already at the printer’s, initially I was only able to give a cursory response.
Lifsey’s book raises some important issues. In my mind one of the most important is his forceful attempt to get believers to consider those prophetic passages in Scripture which describe military invasion of the land of Israel, subsequent havoc, and Israel’s cry to Messiah Yeshua for deliverance. I am confident that some beneficial debate will result from these discussions.
However, along with this, some of the book’s teaching has the potential to create prophetic confusion, weaken intercessory passion for Israel, estrange the hearts of believers from what God is doing today in restoring the Jewish people, and even possibly catalyze a pathological fixation, an unbalanced fascination and a cold-hearted attitude about Israel’s most intense period of suffering in history future.
A summary of three main points
Lifsey expounds on three main themes:
- A denial that the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land in our day is the second return of Israel described in such prophetic Scriptures as Isaiah 11:11, Jeremiah 31:10 etc. (“One of the principle burdens upon which this book rests is the idea that the modern re-established State of Israel did not and does not constitute the great and glorious final regathering and restoration of the Nation of Israel that prophets such as Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and Ezekiel described” (p. 137); “We are not witnessing the materializing of the ancient promise that the Lord will recover the remnant of survivors a second time” (p. 164)
- A declaration that the present regathering of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is simply a probationary rounding up of Jacob’s children in order to bring God’s heavy hand of judgment down on that people (“A large-scale return of Jews to the Land of Israel… is a providential prerequisite that makes possible a yet future time of trouble, trampling, shattering, flight, sifting, desolation, devastation, scattering, captivity, exile and judgment” (p. 123)
- An assertion that the State of Israel will be totally destroyed. This event will satisfy God’s wrath, fulfill prophecy and force Israel to repent (“A comprehensive purgation precedes the final and ultimate restoration. We are foolish to expect that the modern State will somehow evolve into the redeemed and restored Nation … A future period of Jewish devastation … The modern State will be leveled like a tree being chopped down and the population will be reduced to a ‘stump’” (p. 160).
An initial response to these three points
A full response to this book’s arguments would require at least half a book. Here are my responses in capsule form:
Though the book quotes many biblical passages, it does not present a balanced weighing of both negative and positive passages. There is nearly an exclusive focus on passages of destruction.
- Many of the amazing descriptions of God’s passionate love and heart for Israel as shown in Scriptural passages describing the regathering are eisegeted out of the discussion, or simply not discussed (eisogesis means inserting a foreign meaning into a text). The result is a picture of a vengeful and violent Father who has no problem striking Israel with a second Holocaust – yea, who may even get prophetic satisfaction out of it. (“Jesus …took personal responsibility for the invasion that culminated in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of a million Jews … when the divine ‘vengeance’ and ‘wrath’ against the Jewish people would be finally satisfied” (p. 24).
- Such a scenario can have a chilling effect on passionate intercession for Israel today, as well as fracture loving identification with the people who are close to His heart (Psalm 148:14). If the Jewish State is to be destroyed, why pay too much concern to its ‘present rebellious manifestation?’ If believers need to show love to Israel in the future, why stick out our necks now when Israel is being attacked, delegitimized, and thrown under the bus? God is going to ‘take them down’ in any case…
- The whole Weltanschauung (world view) described in this book shows a surprising lack of awareness of Jewish history, and of the historical and potentially damaging language and actions of Christian triumphalist anti-Semitic teaching. Its treatment of the Jewish people (conceptually, linguistically and culturally) comes across to me as often ignorant and boorish, and certainly cold-hearted. Prophecy about Israel needs to be mixed with the tears of God; anything less is less than the heart of God.
The rest of this newsletter examines various aspects of this book’s teaching in greater detail.
Horsing around with a balanced gospel
Many years ago Martin Luther described the world as a drunken peasant. “If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side.” The history of the Christian Church has often illustrated Luther’s proverb with sad accuracy.
The original and entirely Jewish apostolic community of faith in the Book of Acts spoke to their own Hebrew people with a heart of tenderness and compassion (see Isaiah 40:1-2). Yet within less than two hundred years an in-house argument between Jews had given way to the strident accents of baptized anti-Semitism. The good news of Israel’s Messiah had become the bad news of condemnation, legal discrimination and murderous riot – those were now the definitive voice of Christian theology.
The gospel is a binary message – for it to be balanced, it must contain both the crucifixion and the resurrection. Neither is complete without the other. Neither is balanced without the other. Some believers focus on the sufferings of Messiah to the exclusion or detriment of the resurrection. Other trends focus on resurrection power as if there were no call to take up one’s cross and follow Messiah. Each aspect is important, and each one must be in balance.
Over the past millennia many believers have ignored the irrevocable gifts and calling of Israel. In recent years a healthy stream is re-embracing the biblical realities of Israel as God’s firstborn son. This stream is a healthy antidote to the ‘Theology of Contempt’ (see Jules Isaac’s The Teaching of Contempt: Christian roots of anti-Semitism; (http://jcs.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/3/382.extract).
A balanced portrayal of the heart of the prophetic scriptures means that both the amazing calling and the heartrending stumbling of the Jewish people must be addressed. Last Days events regarding the Jewish people must also be subject to the same balance: some biblical passages describe Israel’s trials and troubles, others describe Israel’s mighty prophetic army, its defeat of its enemies, and its continued tenacious hold on Jerusalem even in the worst of days.
A balanced biblical perspective will not attempt to champion either Jewish victories or Jewish defeats at the expense of the other. It will attempt to create a synthesis – a systematic theology – which allows both streams to flow in one mighty river.
Such a book which manages to discuss these subjects in a balanced way is needed, and it could be of real help to the body of Messiah. Unfortunately, this is not that book. Lifsey’s book has failed to strike that necessary biblical balance.
He who does not learn from history …
George Santayana once said that he who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it. The book being considered occasionally shows a glib and careless hand as it approaches Jewish and Christian history.
The entire scope of Jewish history is described in this book as condensed into “the most significant events in two millennia of Jewish history” –
- the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD,
- the rise of the Zionist movement,
- the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 (pp.108-110)
Speaking from the perspective of one who both has a degree in Jewish History and is a life-long student of that subject, I am surprised by the unprofessional nature of Lifsey’s statements. There is a distinct lack of awareness and appreciation for all that God has done in guiding and preserving His Jewish people through the period of Exile.
The fast-food McDonald’s approach has spread across the world from Downey, California to New Zealand. But what works for hamburgers does not always carry the same weight in theology or history. The riches of Jewish history and of God’s watch care for His exiled people demand far more honor and respect than this book has managed to extend.
Lifsey’s book categorically states on a number of occasions that the return of Jewish people to the Land of Israel began in 1948. This would probably come as a surprise to the following Jewish people movements: the 300 English Tosafists of 1211; Rabbi Yehiel of Paris who moved with many followers to Acre in 1260; the Sephardic Jews of Spain led by Don Joseph Nasi after 1492; over 1,500 Polish Jews who moved to Israel in 1700 led by Rabbi Yehudah he-Hasid; the Hasidic waves in the 1770’s and the Misnaged waves in the 1830’s. Of course, one would have to include the First through Fifth Aliyahs (1882-1939), as well as the Aliyah Bet (1932-1948) which together brought nearly a half a million Jews home.
Such historical inaccuracies show that the author has not done sufficient homework to be able to speak authoritatively on significant events of Jewish history, whether past, present or future. The book has also not grasped the intimate, prayerful bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland – something that Isaiah’s mystic words convey in his description of the Land of Israel being married (beulah) to her own Jewish people – a cause of great rejoicing in Isaiah 62:1-7. The Bible sees the connection between the Jewish people and their land as something good, healthy and righteous, and not as a divine mousetrap. Exile is described in the Scriptures as “eating unclean bread among the nations” (Ezekiel 4:13) who are “the enemies of God” (Leviticus 26:41. 44; Psalm 83:1-5). Lifsey nowhere grapples with this biblical worldview.
Speaking as an Israeli Messianic Jew, I found this book lacking in at least three areas – little to no awareness of events taking place today in Israel; no expressed understanding concerning the pulse of the country and people of Israel (including what is going on among Messianic Jews here); and the use of language and thought which reflects a considerable tactlessness regarding Jewish sensitivities. The author has much to learn about how to talk to the very people he writes about.
One striking example of this insensitivity to Jewish hearts is the author’s arcane use of the strange phrase “an ethnic Jew.” What exactly is an ‘ethnic Jew?’ Is it something like being ‘an ethnic Afro-American,’ an ‘ethnic Hispanic’ or an ‘ethnic Maori?’ The very phrasing shows estrangement, and it reveals a marked dislocation from interaction with living Jews, who would interpret Lifsey’s term to be a convoluted cryptic Christian buzzword best left ignored in polite company.
Those who have walked the paths of the Messianic Jewish world for the last four or five decades will probably recognize a hidden voice echoing throughout the pages of this book – that of Art Katz, who is now with the Lord. Lifsey states at one point, “I agree with Art Katz who said, ‘The State of Israel exists not for its success but for its necessary failure’” (p. 127).
Art Katz was an outspoken and courageous figure, not known to back down from an argument. His groundbreaking book Ben Israel demonstrated that he was one of the rising prophetic voices of a new Messianic generation – Messianic lions of Judah in the 20th century.
At the same time, Art was known throughout the Messianic movement for espousing some extreme positions that at times appeared to be anti-Jewish.
Art and I were acquaintances, although we did not have much common personal history. Years ago Art came to Israel, wanting to spread his message of the coming destruction of the Jewish State among the Messianic congregations. At a gathering of some of the country’s leaders (including those most sympathetic to him), his message was judged as imbalanced and doors were closed to his message. Art (unsurprisingly) saw these closed doors as another justification of his own prophetic calling.
It concerns me that a similar message to Art’s is again being propagated, this time not by a Jewish high school teacher from New York, but by other voices at the uttermost parts of the earth. But the song remains the same. A prophet who rails against the Jewish people without divine commissioning and without Jeremiah’s tears can end up polluting waters and causing good grapes to sour on the vine (see Jeremiah 31:29-30; Isaiah 5:20; James 3:11; Hebrews 12:15). Such things could poison a new generation all over again. May it never be (μὴ γένοιτο – Romans 11:1b)!
Handling the word accurately (2 Timothy 2:15)
The hypothesis of Lifsey’s book is bold – it is asking believers to reject the present return of Israel as an expression of God’s goodness, and to see it instead as a “probational gathering” of rebellious Jewish people who are being led into a divinely crafted slaughterhouse, out of which a small number alone will be saved when they turn to Jesus as a totally shattered people.
The book’s claims need to be judged on how the author uses Scripture – is he fair, is he careful, is his exegesis grounded, etc. In most of these areas the book comes out sorely lacking.
The author repeatedly refers to the importance of exegesis (drawing or leading the meaning out of the text in the original languages). Here are some quotes which indicate his appreciation for exegetical accuracy:
- “Critical distinctions that are too often overlooked by a hasty exegesis of the biblical texts” (p.5).
- “These chapters are almost entirely exegetical” (p. 15).
- “There are serious exegetical problems with this view” (p. 145).
Yet the rub is that in this book the author never conveys any exegetical argumentation which is based on the original Hebrew or Greek etymologies. He never appeals to the original meanings of biblical words in the original languages. His arguments are logical constructs based on his own understanding of the English text. This is praiseworthy in itself, but it cannot fairly be defined as exegesis. Therefore his stress on the importance of exegesis to his theologizing seems to be overstated.
Twisting on the Bed of Procrustes
In actuality, the author has made a category error, confusing the two terms ‘exegesis’ and ‘exposition.’ In one place Lifsey states that “‘Exegetical’ means ‘expository’” (p. 15). But these two terms are not synonymous, and the author’s theological teachings cannot be accurately described as based on exegesis.
Lifsey engages in the cherry picking of negative scriptures. Foreboding passages describing ‘the Time of Jacob’s Trouble’ definitely do exist. They must be reckoned with, and are sobering in the extreme. Yet simultaneously the author studiously avoids those scriptures which present a differing and positive slant on Israel in the Last Days (e.g., Psalm 110:3; Ezekiel 37:9-14; Isaiah 11:14; 41:14-16; Zechariah 12:6-9 et al). The author does not welcome or offer Middle Eastern hospitality to these positive evidences, for their presence at the table would force a drastic reconsideration of his primarily negative message. More care, accuracy and intellectual honesty are needed here on the author’s part.
Another striking example affects one of the author’s main hypotheses. Lifsey posits a total destruction of the Jewish State and of its capitol city Jerusalem, as well as a near total abandonment of Jerusalem. He bases his hypotheses on Zechariah 14. Yet a more careful reading of that passage reveals that Lifsey is not reflecting all that Zechariah is saying.
While Zechariah 14:1, 2a describe Jews being exiled from half of Jerusalem, verse 2b states that Jewish people will continue to live in the other half of Jerusalem. The author downplays this and other scriptures which do not fit into his larger eschatological scheme. The literary term for this hermeneutical process is “Procrustes’ bed” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes).
The author twists scripture frequently in order to avoid clear biblical statements which would cause his hypotheses to disintegrate. Coming to Joel, Isaiah and Jeremiah (some examples) with his own preconceptions (that God cannot initiate an ultimate Jewish restoration to the Land before Israel repents), he twists the clear words of Scripture to mean the opposite of what they actually say (Isaiah 11:11 – pp. 161-65; Amos 9:15 – pp. 144-46 and 113-14; Jeremiah 30-31 – pp.191-202; Joel 3:1 – pp.203-6).
In these above examples Lifsey is using the opposite of exegesis (leading the correct meaning out of the text). What he is doing is actually called eisegesis (leading a non-original meaning into the text, which overwhelms and blocks what the text itself is communicating).
Weakness in interfacing with a biblical theology of Israel’s calling
Lifsey’s book does not base its theological constructions on the solid foundation of biblical teaching regarding Israel’s priority calling (as revealed in such scriptures as Genesis 12:3; Deuteronomy 21:15-17; Number 23:7-9; Romans 1:16 and 2:5-11 etc.). One could call this the heart of the matter, for what is being discussed is not a game of Russian chess but the heart of God. Years ago I taught a series at the Anaheim Vineyard titled “Touching the Father’s Heart for Israel.” I have found that apart from a revelation about God’s tender heart for His people, all theologizing on Israel ends up losing the stamp of passion and authority.
It would be accurate to say that this book views the Jewish people’s history and destiny not through the primary lens of God’s loving strategy and heart attitudes, but through the monolithic prism of the covenantal judgments and curses of Deuteronomy 28.
Were the biblical foundations of God’s bridegroom love for Israel in proper place in this book, its superstructure might have had a better chance of standing firm.
An obsessive-compulsive hermeneutic
Four of the book’s philosophical underpinnings are:
- Any passage which prophesies a divine return of Israel to their land cannot be fulfilled until Israel repents. (“The final political restoration is synonymous with the final spiritual restoration and the two cannot be separated prophetically”; p. 141)
- There is no such thing as partial or gradual process of fulfillment in prophetic promises given to Israel
- All (or nearly all) of the passages which deal with judgment on Israel must be seen as applying only to the Last Days
- God cannot allow Himself to be loving, kind or gracious to Israel as long as they have not fully repented
These strongly asserted philosophical presuppositions are all slightly off kilter. Let’s consider the matter.
- The Exodus from Egypt was a gracious, loving and emotional response from God’s heart, based on His covenant of love with Abraham. Though many Israelites in Goshen had not entered into full repentance, and though many hearts were filled with unbelief, rebellion and fear, God nevertheless delivered the entire people from slavery.
- The restoration in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day was not the result of full repentance. Some of this restoration was based on Jeremiah’s prophetic time-line of seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10; Daniel 9), while some of it was based on intercession (Daniel 9:2-4). The whole return lasted over many decades, in stages as part of a process. Even the construction of Jerusalem’s walls materialized in staggered fashion, in dribs and drabs, and often with trowel and sword shifting hands.
- The prophecy of Isaiah 53 was only partially fulfilled at Yeshua’s death and resurrection (verses 1-9). In the year 2012 we still await the ultimate fulfillment of verses 10-12. Today we still know only in part, see only in part, prophesy only in part, and even write books about prophecy only in part!
Theology makes for strange bedfellows
Lifsey has adopted an “all or nothing” approach to Last Days’ prophetic scriptures. From his perspective, no return to the Land has the imprimatur of God unless Israel repents before that return.
Of course, there are a few logical problems with this position. Do the Jews repent first in Exile and only then return to Israel? But if they have to repent before they can return to Israel, what do we make of the biblical passages that talk about a Last Days’ repentance in Israel? That means that Jews are living in Israel and also repent in Israel.
And what about the biblical passages that describe a Jewish repentance in the Diaspora? Evidently the matter has various shades of subtlety here, many more than Lifsey might have led us to believe. One must be careful to avoid the temptation which an Old Testament professor of world renown once described for me, “Cutting the baloney so thin that there is only one side!” For more help, read chapter 17 in my book “Israel the Key to World Revival” (available at www.davidstent.com), especially the sub-section titled “Which comes first – the chicken or the Teshuvah”
Interestingly, and for the purposes of this discussion, two groups can be considered in this regard which insist on a dogmatic “all or nothing” approach to the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. One group is Rabbinic Judaism, which refuses to accept a process of fulfillment in Isaiah 53 (especially as it pertains to Yeshua). A second group is the ultra-Orthodox sect Neturei Karta (“the guardians of the city” of Jerusalem, in Aramaic), which refuses to accept the theological validity of the modern State of Israel (for most of the same reasons as Katz and Lifsey, by the way!).
- It might be worth considering if one could accurately call the Katz-Lifsey hypothesis a Messianic permutation of the Neturei Karta hermeneutic.
Nothing less than a Messianic kingdom descending deus ex machina would be acceptable to these rigid guardians. Neturei Karta refuse to acknowledge the authority of secular Jews in the State of Israel, but are quite willing to accept the oversight of cruel and murderous terror taskmasters like Yasser Arafat and his PLO/PA, Hamas and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Neturei Karta believe that Islamic and Arab hatred of Israel is deserved, and is due to the Jewish people’s lack of repentance. According to their own beliefs, they strongly believe that the Jewish people should never have set up a secular state. They should have instead become ultra-Orthodox Jews. They refuse to accept the validity of the State of Israel due to the same reasoning.
Note the similarities between Neturei Karta’s views and Lifsey’s positions:
- Lifsey skates close to the Neturei Karta ice in the following quote, where he blames Zionism for murderous manifestations of Iraqi anti-Jewish hatred: “Iraq’s extreme anti-Semitism …was galvanized by the establishment of the State of Israel” (p. 149).
- In this next quote the author seems to cast aspersions on Israel’s moral right to possess the Land, for the same reasons as do Neturei Karta: “Israel’s tenure in the Land is marked by iniquity rebellion, unbelief, and sin” (p. 262).
To sum up, this book invalidates the modern Jewish State as a positive work of God because, according to the author’s logic, secular Israel refuses to wholeheartedly embrace Yeshua.
However, most secular Jews in Israel do not often think about Yeshua, and are not even sure that there is a God, or if He cares. Most have never heard the gospel, and some are quite open to the claims of Yeshua’s Messiahship. It is actually the followers of Rabbinic Judaism who live for the most part in a cloistered community hermetically sealed (mostly!) against the Good News.
Ironically, it seems that Lifsey is proclaiming that secular Israel is guilty because the Rabbinic community refuses to accept Yeshua! This is another significant category error.
One of the book’s endorsers writes, “With the two-fold danger of replacement theology and what I would call ‘un-sanctified Zionism’ in the Church we need voices of truth to emerge” (p. iii). The position advocated by this man is that simple-minded lovers of Israel are as much of a danger to the cause of Christ and His kingdom, as are those Christians who deny the Jewish people’s gifts, calling and election. This is a skewed emphasis of significant proportions.
Double standards lead to double vision
Lifsey’s book harps vociferously on Israel’s sin and rebellion, while the ungodly nations of the world are referred to in far less strident terms. Lifsey nowhere proclaims the burning judgments of God on New Zealand or America with the same passion as he targets Israel. This is what is known as a double standard. Jewish people would label it an anti-Semitic tendency.
A more balanced treatment of the whole subject would not only refer to Israel’s sins but also refer to Israel’s victories. A more balanced treatment would not only mention the rebels within the Jewish people, but would also mention her outstanding Jewish prophets and apostles. A fair treatment would do better at honoring Israel, and would stress that being Jewish does not equal being a reprobate sinner! It would make sure to strike a balance in reminding its readers that Gentiles can also be outstanding sinners in both quality and quality. In that this book gives a quite unbalanced impression on these matters, it would be fair to ask if the tone of this work could lead readers to mistake this book for anti-Jewish propaganda.
The book’s focus on “Israel’s deserved judgment” is hard to blend with Lifsey’s declaration that believers are mandated to stand with this “disobedient” people in their suffering. I suggest that more foundational work needs to be done in this area, because the logical, ethical and emotional inconsistencies between the two above-mentioned issues create the need for exceptionally sensitive pastoral counsel. When Jews get typecast as hostile infidels, one cannot simply issue a “mandate” (p. 210) to sacrifice yourself for them, and expect people to embrace that teaching with their full heart and mind.
I dreamed I saw Saint Augustine
Some of the theological presuppositions in the book are strikingly reminiscent of Saint Augustine’s less than positive declarations about the Jewish people. Augustine of Hippo was the first who recast the Jewish people’s “chosen people” status into the status of being chosen for persecution, conquest and exile. According to this North African Church Father, the Jewish people’s present role on earth is that of an unrepentant infidel groaning under the punishment and discipline of God.
“So to the end of the seven days of time, the continued preservation of the Jews will be proof to believing Christians of the subjection merited by those who, in the pride of their kingdom, put the Lord to death” (St. Augustine, Contra Faustum, 12.12, www.newadvent.org/fathers/140601.htm)
“But of the enemies themselves what? … The Jews nevertheless remain with a mark … Not without reason is there that Cain, on whom, when he had slain his brother, God set a mark in order that no one should slay him. This is the mark which the Jews have: they hold fast by the remnant of their law, they are circumcised, they keep Sabbaths, they sacrifice the Passover; they eat unleavened bread. These are therefore Jews, they have not been slain, they are necessary to believing nations” (Homilies on the Psalms, 59, 18).
One scholar has said, “It’s difficult for a modern reader to see (Augustine’s) doctrine as anything less than dehumanizing, reducing the Jews to little more than God’s pawns for furthering Christianity” (www.patheos.com/blogs/godandthemachine/2012/05/unwilling-witnesses-st-augustine-and-the-witness-doctrine/).
“Augustine’s purpose (…was…) to remind (the Jews) of just how evil they were in their past history and that their existence at large today has nothing to do with their claims to personal virtue or religious merit … Augustine was very clear that the Jews’ present existence was tolerated by God for the purpose of authenticating the Christian religion and serving as a sign of His continuing judgment against the Jews” (Robert Sungenis, The Bellarmine Report; www.catholicintl.com/index.php/component/content/article/34-conversion/258-a-review-of-paula-fredriksens-qaugustin-and-the-jewsq).
Compare Augustine’s above-quoted words and views with selected quotes from Lifsey’s book:
- The Jewish people demonstrate a “relentless infidelity to the Covenant” (p. 21)
- “The Jewish people are hostile to their Maker” (p. 27)
- The Jewish people have an “historic unfaithfulness to the Covenant” (p. 28)
- The Jewish people demonstrate a “proven and enduring tendency toward waywardness” (from Thomas Raitt, approvingly quoted on p. 86)
- “Israel at this present time, as a national entity, by and large, resists and rejects God and His Christ” (p. 94)
- “The Covenant made to an undeserving and obstinate people…God’s Covenant with obstinate Israel…” (p. 250)
- “The modern State has made the final conflict of which the prophets spoke possible” (p. 107).
- “The birth of the present-day State of Israel (i)s a necessary prerequisite that makes the final expulsion, purgation, regathering and restoration possible” (p. 121)
- “These prophecies make it clear that … there must be a preliminary return of many Jewish people to the Land. It is a condition that must be met” (p. 80)
Note in this regard a quote from Robert Baer, former CIA case officer in the Directorate of Operations from 1976 to 1997 (www.chronogram.com/issue/2006/02/news/index.php): “I think it’s bizarre, in a very pragmatic sense, that America would be so strongly behind Israel. Simply in economic terms, it costs so much. I’m not just talking about direct aid, the billions we’ve given the military. LT: So why are we supporting Israel so strongly? RB: I just don’t know, I guess the Judeo-Christian idea. If it’s true that we have 60-90 million Evangelicals that believe that Israel has to exist at the end-times, that’s probably part of it.” Baer is aware that some Christians like Lifsey view the establishment of the Jewish State as a necessary part of prophetic strategy, though they may not have much affection for that State or for its continued existence.
- With the establishment of the State in 1948, “the Jews were here to stay. For now at least” (p. 110)
- “The prospect of the political death of the State as we now know it isn’t a popular idea among Christians Zionists… However, it is clearly established in Scripture” (p. 115)
- “The implementation of war would be the Lord’s primary method of engaging Israel, in light of is controversy with them to ‘execute vengeance for the Covenant’” (p. 23)
- The Jewish people will be “completely shattered” (p. 65, 73 et al.)
- “Zion will be severely violated and … shattered” (p. 146)
- “A people utterly dominated and subdued to the brink of extermination” (p. 131)
- “The crisis that banishe(s the Jews) is of such gruesome impact that only a ‘remnant’ of the Jewish people will ‘remain’” (p. 148)
- “The desolation of the Land closes this long period of Jewish blindness and hardness” (p. 159)
- “The Church of Jesus Christ is to understand a certain kind of solidarity with the Jewish people, even in their present condition of blindness and rebellion” (p. 209)
- “We must prepare our hearts to affectionately identify with the Jewish people in their future sufferings” (p. 210)
- “We will all be forced to make a decision as to how we will stand in regards to the Jew in our midst” (p. 211)
- “Our identification with Israel … is intended to move unbelieving and rebellious Jews to faith in Christ” (p. 223)
- “Deliberate engagement and confrontation with the people of the Covenant” (p. 225)
- “Israel will be nourished by a prophetic Church … of great Christ-like stature” (p. 103)
- “Our affections, loyalty, and sacrificial service will shine like the sun in all its brilliance … So too will the Church of Jesus Christ in the Last Days overcome Jacob’s resistance” (pp. 226-7)
In light of the murderous consequences of anti-Semitic language on the part of the Church Fathers, every follower of Messiah Yeshua must exercise (at the very least) a modicum of discernment, gentleness, humility and love in discussing the Jewish people, their gifts and calling, and God’s unswerving heart of a Lover for them. The above quotes, while not exhaustive, show that the tenor of this book falls rather short of conveying God’s compassion and passion for Israel as described in Deuteronomy 7:7-8, in Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9 and in Hosea 14. The author has much to learn about how to engage in normal human conversation with real Jews on these subjects.
The reader of this book comes away having read precious little of God’s tender love for Israel. Au contraire, he has received a barrelful of tainted verbiage (like “gruesome judgment” and “vengeful anger”) which leave a toxic residue. The reader reads page after page of descriptions characterizing the Jews as the enemies of God, but he would be hard-pressed to find a truly tender call in this book to intercede for Jacob’s progeny with tears (though a few attempts to do so are made in passing, scattered like the occasional used tissue in a handful of places throughout the book).
As a Jew I was offended and angered by the condescending and strident tone of the book. Though I believe and have always taught that God will purify His beloved people through both wooing and judgment, reading Lifsey’s book was somewhat similar to peering through a distorted looking-glass into a hostile and unfriendly corner of a bizarre parallel universe.
Ramifications of this teaching – chilling the intercessory heart
The harsh and rebuking tone of this book has the potential to chill the hearts of intercessors who love and pray for Israel. Since (according to this book) the present State is merely a divine setup for God’s aktion against His own people, then why pray for Israel’s physical protection or spiritual benefit? If the Jews are simply a rebellious people and there is no spiritual awakening going on of any significant value with them (according to this book), then why pray for them?
The prophet Isaiah can help in restoring hope, heart and vision, “In all their (the Jewish people’s) afflictions He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). When we understand that God suffers with His people as they go through suffering, we will approach the subject of ‘the Time of Jacob’s trouble’ with far gentler hands and with more tender words (see Isaiah 40:1-2 – “Comfort, comfort My people, … Speak to the heart of Jerusalem”).
Ramifications of this teaching – jamming the watchman’s radar
The confusion set loose by some of this book’s teachings could cause doubt to enter into the spirits of some prophetic watchmen, and make them wonder if they have really heard from God regarding His love and purposes for His people Israel.
A case in point can be illustrated by a prophetic word from Bob Jones, who in December 2006 declared that there are two issues that are holding back judgment from falling on America, and that if and when these positions change, judgment will be instant. The two issues are – standing with Israel, and love for the poor.
Yet if the central hypotheses of Lifsey’s book are true, then standing with Israel today could be potentially “arrogant” and “ignorant” (p. 69). It could even lead to “deception,” says Lifsey, because a pro-Israel position is fraught with “disastrous consequences in the generation of the Lord’s return” (p. 69).
In this matter, if Lifsey is right, then Bob Jones’ prophetic word is wrong.
But the converse is actually true here. Lifsey is off-course, and Bob Jones has delivered the word of the Lord to America.
Stop using Israel as a prophetic chess piece
- We need to focus on the fact that Israel is not some prophetic chess piece which holds the key to end-time events, but that Israel is a people close to God’s heart and passions (see Psalm 148:14; Hosea 11:9; 2:14-23; Isaiah 63:9).
- Though both purification and prophesied shakings will surely come, the ultimate fruit is God’s restoration, His plans for good and not for evil, to give Israel a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
Here is an extended quote from our February 2, 2010 newsletter. It still rings true today, and especially in this context:
“I regret to say that some believers have a detached heart regarding Israel. Their thought (and heart) processes would unfold something like this: they correctly observe that many in Israel turned away from following the Davidic dynasty (1 Kings 12:16-19), or turned away from honoring the prophets (Jeremiah 7:25-26), or again turned away from embracing King Messiah Yeshua when He came at His first appearing (Matthew 23:37-39).
As a result, these believers relate to Israel with a sense of offense, turning a cold shoulder and an even colder heart away from the Jewish people. This attitude is often blended with a false sense of spiritual superiority, ‘We Christians are not like these bad Jews. We follow Christ and we obey the truth. But as for these people, they obviously don’t!’
From this skewed perspective, when tragedies happen to the Jewish people – like the Holocaust, pogroms, or Arab wars of annihilation waged against Israel – these brothers and sisters often respond, saying that we can be assured that such evils were prophesied against Israel in Deuteronomy 28, and that these events demonstrate that Israel is still not redeemed – that we are not yet in the decisive period of God’s favor for the Jewish people.
As well, many would add that God cannot allow Himself to show any real favor to Israel until He has totally ‘broken the power’ of His own set-apart yet stubborn people (Daniel 12:7). Such believers would be hesitant about openly admitting that God is in the process of restoring His Jewish people to Zion. The present State of Israel, for these believers, might or might not have any theological significance or divine value.
For these believers it seems easier to theologically explain attacks against the Jewish people and their state, than to support the Jewish people and their state against such attacks. When anti-Semitic assaults are more easily justified than pro-Jewish restoration efforts, something is definitely wrong with this picture.”
Ramifications of this teaching – serious consequences
Any teaching that fosters a cold heart regarding the restoration of Israel in our day; any teaching that typecasts the Jewish people as calves to the slaughter awaiting divine destruction; any teaching that detaches intercessory and prophetic hearts from engaging with the Jewish people and the Jewish state in the here and now – I must confess that I have great concern for the spiritual blowback that attends such teachings, and for the spiritual wellbeing of those who disseminate such things. Let us pray for these people and about these matters!
Stirring up unbalanced controversy
As I said at the outset, the benefit of this book lies mainly in that it may get more believers to become aware of some of the deep challenges confronting Israel. This in turn could lead some into deeper intercession.
The liabilities (which potentially are many) have been explained throughout the body of this newsletter and do not need to be repeated here.
How can we pray?
- Pray for greater clarity and more of God’s heart to break through for all those developing and communicating teachings on these subjects.
- Pray for those who have been negatively affected by this book, that they would receive a deeper revelation of God’s heart and love for Israel, while keeping in balance His righteous ways and profound justice.
- Pray for the gift of tears for all who teach on the subject of Israel, that this subject would no longer be taught from an obsessive-compulsive “chess game” mentality. Instead of that, the subject of Israel should be communicated from a place close to God’s very tender heart on this matter. That alone will produce an abiding manifestation of liquid intercession. That alone will birth God’s heart purposes for His beloved Israel.
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do!
In Messiah Yeshua,
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