By Shane Kastler
America isn't Israel. In fact, Israel isn't even Israel in the Biblical sense. Modern day American Christians frequently get themselves into trouble by taking Old Testament, Old Covenant promises made by God to the nation of Israel and applying them to the modern day United States. Incidentally, it is equally incorrect to take promises made in the Old Testament to Israel and apply them to modern day Israel. Such errors result in mistaken notions being made in areas of foreign policy, law, and war. A proper hermeneutical approach is necessary to understand the Bible; and much of this is rooted in understanding the “covenant”that God made with Israel (which is no longer in effect according to Jesus, see Matthew 26:28). And the “New Covenant” God made with followers of Christ (which is not primarily about an “earthly” kingdom according to Jesus, see John 18:36). In fact, when the New Testament teachings of Christ are understood they have a tendency to offend both those on the political left and the political right. Liberals are often offended by Jesus' notion that all religions are not included in his “New Covenant” but only those “in Christ.” While conservatives are often offended by the notion that the New Covenant was not made with the nation of Israel. As is the case with many things in life, the true teaching of Scripture doesn't reside with the political left, political right, or even the middle. It's in an entirely different realm, just as Jesus said his kingdom was. While some may be well intentioned, many American Christians misinterpret the Bible, then draw erroneous political conclusions as a result of their flawed interpretations. Let me explain.
The “Old Covenant” was a covenant that God made in the Old Testament with Abraham, promising that God would make him a mighty nation. Abraham's descendants did become a mighty nation. Consequently this covenant has been fulfilled in a physical sense. Furthermore, the true fulfillment, according to the New Testament, is spiritual in nature anyway. The Apostle Paul taught that the true sons of Abraham are those who have Abraham's faith, rather than Abraham's bloodlines (see Galatians 3:7). John the Baptist taught the same thing (see Luke 3:8). As did Jesus....repeatedly (see Matthew 12:25-28; Luke 16:19-31, John 8:36).
As a part of the Old Covenant, the “Law” was given to Moses to govern the conduct of the children of Israel. This “Law” was quite heavy-handed in many ways and is often quoted by modern day naysayers of religion as an example of how ridiculous the Bible is. The Law included such things as the stoning of adulterers and disobedient children, dietary rules banning the consumption of pork and shellfish, and even restrictions on what kinds of material could be used in the clothing an Israelite wore. Theological debates have flourished for centuries over why certain laws were handed down by God to Moses, but the New Testament sheds much light on the issue in the book of Galatians. According to the Apostle Paul, the Law was given to the children of Israel to serve as a “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to drive them to Christ (see Galatians 3:24). In other words the “heaviness” of the Law was intended to lead Israel to despair of their ability to keep it – so that they would cry out to God for mercy. Then “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his son” (Galatians 4:4) who lived a life of sinless perfection, fulfilling the Law and granting spiritual salvation to all who trust in him. Under the New Covenant, all (regardless of nationality) are granted salvation, if they are believers in Jesus Christ. One of the primary teachings of Christianity is that Christ's life of sinless perfection is credited to the account of the believer; while the punishment for the believer's sin is poured out on Jesus as he was crucified; commonly called 'the atonement' (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). These basic Christian axioms are often misunderstood by modern Christians who fail to see what covenant they are living under. Then use Old Testament (and Old Covenant) teachings designated for Israel to justify some of their modern day political positions. Here are a few examples.
Often times, the example of Old Testament Israel's conquering of nations is used to justify American attempts to conquer nations in modern times. While there is no denying God commanded “Old Covenant” Israel to conquer certain peoples, this has absolutely nothing to do with 21st century America. Any attempt to take a commandment specifically given to Israel under the Old Covenant and apply it to America is a blatant misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Not only would the Old Testament passages in question not apply to America; they wouldn't even apply to modern day Israel. Since the Old Covenant is no more, having been replaced with a “new and better covenant” that is spiritual in nature, according to New Testament teaching (see Hebrews 8:4). Which leads to another common misinterpretation of Biblical teaching.
While the Old Covenant was made with a specific ethnic nation (Israel) the New Covenant was also specific in that it was NOT made with a particular ethnic nation. To the contrary, the New Covenant initiated by Christ includes those “from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). This doesn't mean that every individual on the planet is included in this covenant, but it does mean that there will be representatives from every nation (or people group) on the earth. The nation of Israel is not the focus of the New Covenant. And certainly America is not the focus of the New Covenant; though there will be some from both Israel and America included in it. While the condition for the Old Covenant was simply physical birth (i.e, if you were born a Jew you were a part of the covenant community), the condition for the New Covenant is “spiritual” birth; which is where we get that famous phrase from Jesus “you must be born again” (John 3:3). This leads to one final point.
Regarding matters of ethical conduct, members of the New Covenant do not live according to the letter of Old Testament Law; but rather they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Rather than looking to the heavy-handed law of Moses which was meant to drive the Jews to Christ; Christians look to the ethical instructions of Jesus and the New Testament Scriptures to guide their lives. Loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself, as the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers, is the governing factor for those in the New Covenant.
In conclusion, 21st century America is not the same thing as “Old Covenant” Israel; therefore passages from the Old Testament delivered to Israel cannot be legitimately used by Americans to justify wars of conquest. The Old Covenant “Law” delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai is not the ethical standard for members of the New Covenant; since that Law was intended for the nation of Israel and had a temporary purpose, being fulfilled by the earthly life of Christ (Matthew 5:17). And consequently, no ethnic nation on earth can claim a divine right as the “people of God” since Christ established his “New Covenant” with those from every nation who exercise faith in Him. Jesus declared that his kingdom “is not of this world.” So while we strive to live at peace in this temporal world, Christians are also to recognize that their ultimate reality will be consummated in Christ in his eternal, heavenly kingdom. Things will eventually play out on earth according to God's plan; but the Christian's greatest joy is not in being “American” or “Israeli” or “Canadian” or any other nationality. The Christian's greatest joy is in being a “citizen of Heaven” (Philippians 3:20) and in living their life with that in view, rather than the establishment of an earthly kingdom that is destined to come to an end.