“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” —2 Timothy 3:12
I returned home last weekend after spending two weeks in Israel, where I observed their latest elections firsthand. As you know, a coalition led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won enough seats in the Israeli parliament to form a new government.
What you may not know, however, is why this story matters to every evangelical Christian in America.
The issue above all other issues
The popular vote was evenly split with about 49 percent going to Mr. Netanyahu and 49 percent going to his opponents. However, as my Israeli friends explained to me, Mr. Netanyahu’s victory was fueled primarily by the rise of a political partnership led by two men who are unfamiliar to Americans but who are dominating the news in their country.
Bezalel Smotrich leads a political party called Religious Zionism which, as Israeli political commentator David Horovitz explains, “ultimately seeks an Israel run according to the laws of the Torah.” Itamar Ben Gvir leads Otzma Yehudit, which “advocates the annexation of the biblical Judea and Samaria for an enlarged sovereign Jewish state in which West Bank Palestinians would be denied equal rights.”
The two parties formed a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu’s secular Likud party to win a sixty-four-seat governing majority in the 120-seat parliament. This coalition, according to my Israeli friends, is fueled less by popular support for Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s actual agendas and more in response to the security threats Israel is facing. Violence in the West Bank is escalating dramatically; Iran continues to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon while pursuing nuclear capacities that pose an “existential threat” to Israel.
As last week’s election showed once again, a tiny nation surrounded by enemies will always put its defense ahead of other political issues.
Kyrie Irving’s suspension and the rise of anti-Semitism
Why is this fact relevant to you and me?
For the answer, we must explore briefly the global rise in anti-Semitism that is contributing to the political situation in Israel.
NBA star Kyrie Irving was suspended last week by the Brooklyn Nets after posting a documentary with antisemitic conspiracy theories and falsehoods on Twitter. Nike also suspended its relationship with him in the wake of the controversy. Irving later apologized to the Jewish community.
Meanwhile, the Jewish advocacy group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warns that anti-Semitism is rising on US college campuses at a time when violence against Jews in America has reached record levels. Last year, the ADL reported 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism against the Jewish people, a 34 percent increase from the year before and the highest number on record since the group began tracking anti-Semitic incidents in 1979.
Anti-Semitism has been called “history’s oldest hatred.” Many factors explain this tragic narrative, but one is especially relevant for Christians in America: the Jewish commitment throughout history to maintaining their unique religious identity.
Jews refused to worship the gods of Persia (cf. Daniel 3 and 6), Greece (thus the Maccabean revolt), and Rome (thus the revolt that led to the destruction of the temple in AD 70). They have been committed throughout their history to truth and morality as expressed in their 613 commandments (mitzvot in Hebrew) extracted from the Old Testament that govern every dimension of their lives.
Should the Bible govern morality?
Why is this commitment relevant for you and me?
George Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University have just released (PDF) a new report studying morality in the US. Here’s the good news: “Most Americans, regardless of their religious faith, champion traditional moral values.”
Here’s the bad news: 71 percent “now contend that human beings rather than God should be the judge of right and wrong.” Forty-two percent said “what you feel in your heart” is the best moral guide, followed by 29 percent who said we should base morality on majority rule. Only 29 percent said principles taught in the Bible should guide our morality.
By contrast, 66 percent of American adults who possess a biblical worldview said that the Bible should be the main source of determining right and wrong.
As the history of anti-Semitism shows, if you will not bow to the gods of your culture, you will face the wrath of your culture. Paul warned us: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, my emphasis).
We can therefore determine the degree to which we follow Jesus by the degree to which the world opposes us.
If worshiping God yesterday does not make us different from those who did not worship him, did we truly encounter God? If you and I are not living in ways that distinguish us from our secularized, post-Christian culture, how can we truly be following Jesus?
“A sense of overwhelming awe”
The more we experience Jesus, the more we will become like him (Romans 8:29) and the less we will be like those who oppose him (cf. 1 John 3:1).
Gordon Fee has been called “one of the most influential New Testament scholars who has ever lived.” A textbook he wrote with colleague Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, was the primary textbook I used in teaching biblical interpretation courses in seminary. It is now in its fourth edition and has sold around a million copies.
Fee died recently at the age of eighty-eight. In a 1988 paper reflecting on Bible study and spirituality, he concluded (PDF) that to study God’s word properly, “We must hear the words with our hearts, we must bask in God’s own glory, we must be moved to a sense of overwhelming awe at God’s riches in glory, we must think again on the incredible wonder that these riches are ours in Christ Jesus, and we must then worship the living God by singing praises to his glory.”
By this measure, did you “worship the living God” yesterday?
Will you today?