Blessing and Cursing Israel


Is It True That God Blesses Those Who Bless Israel and Curses Those Who Curse Israel? (original source here)

It must be true, because this is what God says, isn’t it? Well, actually God says this, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

When God makes a promise we can know that it is certain, and that He will not change. The problem is, however, when we hear Him saying what He did not say. This text does say that God will bless those who bless Israel, but rather those who bless Abraham, to whom God is speaking. Later, however, in Numbers 24, it gets a little more clear. There Balaam, clearly speaking about the nation of Israel says, “Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you.”

That should settle the matter, should it not? The difficulty is still, however, answering about whom this promise is made. Does not Paul himself say, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). Here it is all too easy to get confused. What could it mean that not all Israel is of Israel?

If there are some who are Israel that are called Israel, and some that are not Israel that are called Israel, which of these are the ones that fit the promise? My dispensational friends suggest that the Israel to whom this promise is made matches up with the nation of Israel founded in 1948 in the Middle East. They hear in this promise that those who bless that nation of Israel will be blessed and those who curse that same nation will be cursed. This, in part, informs the politics of American foreign policy. As long as America sees this Israel as a friend, the reasoning seems to go, God will bless America. When America turns its back on that nation, God will curse this nation.

The Reformed perspective takes a different tack. It affirms that that Israel which is actually Israel, just as with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, applies to those who are in Christ, who trust in His finished work. Though we deny the moniker, this is what our dispensational friends call “replacement theology.” The Reformed, however, see this is as the outworking of the truth of Galatians 3:7- “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” We who are Reformed do not believe God replaced Israel with the church. We believe instead that there has always been only one people of God, those who believe.

Israel is the sons of Abraham. Those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham. Those who are of faith are therefore Israel. And in turn, those who bless those who are of faith will be blessed, and those who curse those who are of faith will be cursed. It is how we treat the church that matters. What of ethnic Israel? What of that country in the Middle East? Many in the Reformed camp hold out hope that there will be one day a mass conversion of those who are not today the sons of Abraham, that virtually all of Israel will once again become Israel. That said, many of these likewise hold out hope that there will be a mass conversion of Arabs, and Persians, of every tongue and every tribe. All of the promises of God belong to the children of Abraham, those who are of faith, including the promise that through Abraham, all the world will be blessed.

The Church, the true Israel of God?

stormsDr. Sam Storms’ article, “IS THE CHURCH THE TRUE ISRAEL OF GOD?” – (original source “Is the Church the True Israel of God?” is found at the close of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians (among other places in the NT). He pronounces a blessing that has been the source of seemingly endless controversy.

The ESV renders the passage this way:

“And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

The NIV renders it slightly differently:

“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.”

Those who embrace the first (ESV) translation typically recognize two groups: (1) “all who walk by this rule,” a reference either to Gentile believers or all who are in the Church, whether Jew or Gentile, and (2) all believing Jews or elect ethnic Israelites. According to the second (NIV) translation, Paul has in view only one group. The Greek conjunction kai, most often translated simply as “and,” is taken as explanatory (or the more technical term, “epexegetical”) and is rendered “even,” or in some translations is simply omitted altogether. Most commentators acknowledge that kai can be rendered in either way and that grammar alone cannot decide the interpretive outcome. Context must be the deciding factor.

Thus, a somewhat expanded paraphrase would be, “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, which is to say, to the Israel of God.” Thus in the NIV Paul identifies those “who follow this rule” with “the Israel of God.” They are one and the same.

Some have suggested that by “the Israel of God” Paul has in view all ethnic Jews, the nation as a whole, whether they believe in Jesus or not. But this is highly unlikely, if not altogether impossible. It is simply inconceivable that Paul would have considered those who reject Christ as being “of God” on whom a spiritual blessing is pronounced. We must not forget that Paul earlier in Galatians pronounced a curse (or “anathema”; Gal. 1:8-9) on those who corrupt the gospel by insisting on circumcision or any other ritual or work as a condition for acceptance with God. There is simply no way that Paul would now reverse himself and pronounce on them both “peace and mercy.” Thus, when it comes to “the Israel of God,” the two options available to us are (1) Jewish believers, or (2) Jewish and Gentile believers alike, together who constitute the Church, the one true Israel of God.

The first task in bringing us to a responsible conclusion is to define what Paul means by “this rule.” The “rule” by which Paul calls upon all to live may well be the entirety of what he has written in the letter. But more likely the reference is closer at hand. Continue reading