When contemplating the recurrent horrors of anti-semitism throughout history, it’s important to remember that the driving force of it all is spiritual, not natural. To give a half-way thorough description of the phenomenon is going to require quite a few words. It takes more than saying anti-semitism is evil, which it is. It takes more than saying the Jews are God’s chosen nation, which they are. It requires a describing God’s purpose for the Jews and how their ongoing history is an object lesson in the nature of God and of man.
The Jews don’t fit politically correct catergories
For the modern mind, which thinks that freedom is found in throwing off the expectations of ethnicity and tradition, the nation of Israel presents a real challenge. While we moderns embrace multiculturalism, we do so based on an understanding that all nations are interchangeable. Then along come the Jews, a people whom God set apart, whose national/ethnic identity has persisted far longer than it has any natural right to have done. Being Jewish carries with it expectations to live up to a legacy that one has not chosen. The Jewish birthright is also a birth-obligation, and although it isn’t considered polite to say so, many Jews feel the weight of that heritage.
God makes himself known
When the creator decided to call himself “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” he drew a line that separated the Jews from every other nation on earth. When he said “you will be holy, for I am holy,” he put the Jewish people under an expectation of righteousness forever.
God chose to single out Israel in order to make himself known. Israel is now, as they have always been, an object lesson for humanity. When they have kept their covenant with him, they have been blessed more than any nation on earth. And when they have forsaken God they have gone quickly into bondage and suffering. Then again, when they call on him in faith, he delivers them because he loves them.
God’s relationship with Israel throughout history makes known…
- his own holiness, in contrast with the persistent sinfulness of man;
- his power and providence, in contrast with the futile schemes of his enemies;
- his faithfulness, in contrast with the fickleness of even his own chosen people;
Choosing Israel meant not choosing, and in a sense, rejecting the other nations of the earth. It is the nature of choice that selecting one option means simultaneously rejecting the alternatives. He made Israel his favorite, and gave them a special place above that of other nations. God repeatedly chose to prosper Israel at the expense of other nations, like Egypt.
Isa 43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Isa 43:4 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.
You can see that happening explicitly with God’s rejection of Abraham’s other sons. Abraham asked for God to accept Ishmael as heir to the covenant, but God chose Isaac instead. The exclusivity of Isaac as Abraham’s heir foreshadows the exclusivity of Jesus as the son of God.
Gen 17:18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
Gen 17:19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
God chose to establish his covenant through the nation of Israel because it suited his purposes. He started with a childless couple, and a non-existent nation, in order to demonstrate his ability to bring life out of death. Everything special about the Jews is derived from their relationship with the covenant making God, Jehovah.
A two-edged covenant
The covenant God made with the Jews is unusual in that it can never end. In human law every contract eventually ends, either by being fulfilled or by being irretrievably broken. But God made a covenant with the Jews at Sinai that lasts forever, no matter what. God will never walk away from the covenant he made with the Jews.
The same covenant promises blessings for Jews who honor God and curses for Jews who do not. This is an awesome and fearful covenant.
Deu 30:15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.
Deu 30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
Deu 30:17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,
Deu 30:18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.
It would be egregiously misleading to talk of God blessing the Jews and not mention the gauranteed curse that he warned them of. The covenant at Sinai is a two-edged sword. It cuts both ways.
Out of this covenant springs the unique and tumultuous history of the Jews. Every time they were blessed and prospered it was by the hand of God. And every time their enemies triumphed over them it was punishment from the Almighty. This is intended as a lesson for the entire earth.
Deu 29:24 all the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’
Deu 29:25 Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt,
Deu 29:26 and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them.
Deu 29:27 Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book,
Deu 29:28 and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’
The judgment of God on Israel has often come by way of gentile nations wreaking havoc on them. This is a very interesting thing. God has used idolaters to punish idolaters. He has used sin to punish sin. Make no mistake, the gentiles that oppressed the Jews throughout history were no angels. The gentiles who carried out the curse of God against the Jews earned their own curse by oppressing and hating the nation over which God had set his name.
Eze 34:27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and [Israel] shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.
Eze 34:28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid.
In the extended analogy of Ezekiel 34, God promises to judge the leaders of Israel for misleading the people, the successful Jews for oppressing the weak Jews, and he promises to wipe out the gentiles who enslaved the Jews.
The takeaway here is that God is completely justified in turning the Jews over to suffer at the hands of their enemies, meanwhile their enemies are NOT justified in harming and oppressing the Jews.
The big rejection
In Luke 20:9-16 Jesus tells the parable of a leased vineyard. The owner of that vineyard made an agreement with some tenants that they would tend the vineyard and split the produce with him as rent. The owner sends a series of servants to collect the rent that is due, but each one is beaten by the tenants and sent away humiliated. Finally he sends his own son, supposing the tenants might at least respect his son, the rightful heir to the vineyard. But the tenants don’t just beat him, they kill him. Jesus asked the crowd, what will the owner do then?
Luk 20:16 [Jesus said] He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, [the crowd] said, “Surely not!”
This parable played out in real history. God sent his son, the heir to his kingdom, to his chosen people. But they killed the son, because they did not want to submit to God. Even in the face of this shameful act, God extended the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. While many Jews accepted the gospel, the nation as a whole rejected it.
This is the greatest act of betrayal Israel has ever committed and it has drawn the hardest punishment. The destruction and abandonment that Israel has endured since rejecting the gospel is heartbreaking.
For sake of comparison, in the time of the Babylonian captivity, Israel was without a temple for around seventy years. The rebuilt temple stood for hundreds of years until the Romans destroyed it in AD 70. This time it has been more than one thousand nine hundred forty-eight years without being rebuilt.
One estimate is that the holocaust killed over 40% of the Jewish population of the world at the time.
Since the holocaust many people have asked the question, “Why would God allow this to happen?” The answer is found in the revelation given to Moses, to the Jewish prophets and in the teachings of Jesus. The holocaust was a devastation of biblical proportion, and it happened for biblical reasons.
Since the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, the blessing of God has moved from the nation of the Jews to the Christian church. The vineyard has been given to others. But even so, God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and will not allow them to be entirely annihilated. Eventually he will turn their hearts back to himself in repentance and fulfill all his promises to them.
Anti-semitism is not natural
The driving force of anti-semitism throughout history is the spiritual reality that God chose the Jews and that the devil hates them for it. To be sure, the devil hates all men, but he especially hates the Jews.
The devil, a spiritual being, uses natural hooks to stir up hatred of the Jews. That is to say, there is a real, spiritual force, “the prince of the power of the air,” which encourages and foments anti-semitism by appealing to the natural sinfulness of man. That’s why if you look into the depths of anti-semitism you’ll soon find it is crazy town. It is spiritual darkness.
But don’t think you’ll keep yourself safe by avoiding satanic rituals. The devil uses the weaknesses of human nature to snare the unwary. These natural hooks are things like the temptation to envy, and pride and a certain natural suspicion of foreigners. It is no more right to hate a foreigner than to hate your fellow citizen, but it is much easier to fall into it. It is more natural to hate the foreigner. But these natural tendencies to sin are the devil’s playground.
There’s nothing Christian about hating Jews
Israel has been in many ways a foreshadowing of Christ. God made himself known to the world through Israel, much as he has now made himself known through his son, Jesus. This makes anti-semitism a gross hypocrisy for those who profess to believe in Jesus. It is in no way “Christian” to hate Jews. Such hypocrisy is the common thread that unites murderous anti-semites with the Christ-killing Jews of the first century. Both profess to know God, but deny him with their deeds. To hate the Israel by which God makes himself known is tantamount to hating the Christ by which God makes himself known.
The Christian view of those Jews who still reject Christ is that they are simultaneously:
- enemies of the gospel
- loved by God
Because the Jews (excepting those who have trusted in Christ) are enemies of the gospel, Christians can not accept Jews as brothers. To do that would mean relegating faith in Christ to a place of secondary importance. If we somehow allow our point of view to drift from a Christ-centered one to a “Judeo-Christian” or “people of the book” mentality, all we have done is to join the Jews in their unbelief.
All Jews who continue to reject Christ will be rejected by him in the final hour. They will be shut out, denied entrance to the eternal kingdom. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is true despite the fact that they are cherished for the legacy of faith left to them by the patriarchs. In a sense, the legacy of the patriarchs makes the unbelief of the Jews that much worse a betrayal. Of all people, the Jews should have accepted Christ.
If any Jew would enter into the rest prepared for the people of God, – a rest he was taught by the law of Sabbath-keeping to seek and rejoice in – If any Jew would enter into that rest, he must do so through faith in Christ Jesus. Only by putting his faith in Christ can a Jew truly follow in the footsteps of the great patriarchs. After all, it is faith in the promise of Christ’s coming that was imputed to Abraham for righteousness.
Jewish unbelief is typical of all mankind
In their betrayal of Christ, the Jews are not an aberration. They are a typical example of mankind’s treachery and fickleness. Recall that throughout their history the Jews repeatedly forsook God and turned to idols. And when they did, who was waiting to welcome them? The gentiles.
If some gentile thinks that he is better by nature than the Jews, it is certain that he has not learned the lesson God has been using Israel to teach us. It was always the idolatry of the gentiles that was a snare to the Jews. And the faithlessness of the Jews has been a frequent occasion of blasphemy among the gentiles. The sinful nature of man is the same in every nation. None are righteous, no, not one.
God has determined to deal with all men according to the same standard. He rewards every man according to that man’s own evil works, except that he grants mercy to those who put their trust in Christ. The judgement of God comes to the unbelieving Jew first, then to the unbelieving gentile. The blessing of God comes to the faithful Jew first, then to the faithful out of every nation.
Because true faith is the only means by which men may enter into righteousness, scripture warns those gentiles who profess faith in Christ not to think they are by nature better than the Jews. That would be pride in one’s own flesh, and it is incompatible with trusting in Christ. The fact that even the flesh and blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are rejected if they do not live in faith should stand as a warning to all of us.
The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 11 using an analogy of the people of God as an olive tree. Here the Christ-professing gentiles are like branches of a wild olive tree that has been grafted on to a domesticated olive tree.
Rom 11:17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,
Rom 11:18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Rom 11:19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
Rom 11:20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.
Rom 11:21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
Whether Jew or gentile, the people of God shall live, must live, may only live by faith. The works of the law are a dead end, and ethnic pride is a death trap. Trust in Jesus. Only he is the living root that can sustain and nourish us.
Christians should think biblically about Jews and gentiles and be good to every kind of people. The history of the Jewish people is an object lesson in both the goodness and severity of God. That lesson is worth learning.