Whose Land? Whose Promise?

by Gary M Burge

A Review

Why should CWI review a book with a cover so obviously anti-Israel? For the simple reason that it shows why Jews in Israel today so desperately need the gospel and how the activities of those who “love” Israel but fail to evangelise them are counter-productive. This is a thorough piece of work, drawing on the latest Israeli scholarship, and deserves careful attention. In it the author follows a path that has been trodden by an increasing number of evangelicals during the last fifty years. The initial excitement of witnessing prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes, when the modern state of Israel was established, has been replaced by a sense of deep unease due to the injustices taking place in the “Israel/Palestine” region. Burge is concerned that well-meaning Christians who support Israel should follow in his footsteps and understand the plight of the Palestinians, recognise those who are their brothers in Christ and avoid taking sides in a way that serves only to exacerbate the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. The strength of the book lies in the fact that Gary Burge pursues his goal without becoming anti-Jewish in the process. This is unusual with such literature and makes it worthy of our special attention.
The reader needs to be aware of the scope of the book. Burge’s aim is to challenge Western Christians who are Zionistic but who fail to recognise the need for fairness and justice in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. To do this, however, Burge focuses on the Palestinian Christians but in so doing he ignores the Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of the Palestinian population. Because he overlooks the Muslim hatred of Jews inspired by the Koran, Burge is unable to really communicate to his readers why Israeli Jews act as they do to defend themselves. Hence this is not a book that covers all aspects of the current situation and should not be read as such.

The book brims over with facts and is full of careful examination of relevant biblical texts. To help us assess the situation we are given some good background information on the land and its history. However, I found Burge to be weak in his analysis of the “whys” of Jewish and Arab behaviour.

Privilege and responsibility

Many authors who argue for justice for Palestinians tend to see the Jews as possessing divine privileges only in the past. Burge, however, sees them as a people of promise still. He argues that the land promise to Abraham is still relevant but stresses that the enjoyment of it requires justice and righteousness, especially towards the “alien”. This is the point he wants to get over to Christian Zionists. His exposure of the theft of some Palestinian land by the Israeli authorities is well-researched, drawing on new but not uncontested studies by Israeli historians and activists. However, the use of terms like “ethnic-cleansing” is not helpful. Burge also hopes for further gospel blessing for the Jews as per Paul’s teaching in Romans 11. He opposes Dispensationalism, not only because it fails to see the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom but also because it tends to encourage the acceptance of injustices, seeing the present situation as having parallels with Joshua’s invasion of the land under the Mosaic covenant.

Burge rightly asks if we are not expecting too much of Israel. After all, are they any different to other nations, the history of which shows similar failures? His answer is that Israel knows better, and this is why she is criticised in the world’s media. Her attempt to consistently claim the moral high ground is exposed as flawed; she and her citizens are sinful like others, and that is why Christians who view Israel as a nation returning to the Land with God’s blessing should speak to her of God’s requirements.

Towards the end of the book Burge introduces us to Palestinian Christian leaders. His interest in stirring a concern for them among Christians in the West leads him to say little about Jewish Christians and the persecution suffered by them, because it does not stem from the Israeli government. However, current attempts at fellowship between believers on either side of the political conflict are described.

Justice and peace

His concern for Palestinians who are called “Christian” – as opposed to Muslim – leads him to make common religious cause with those who are not evangelical, and this will disappoint and confuse many readers. However, his approach is not altogether surprising because his paramount concern for Palestinian Christians is that they should be treated justly by the State of Israel, and in this he can make common cause with non-evangelicals.

The book ends on a note of urgency because Burge believes that there is a growing unwillingness among people on both sides to continue seeking a peaceful solution. I was disappointed that he did not give a much greater emphasis to the need of Christians to support the work of the gospel in the land whether to Jew or Arab. There is no doubt that world peace depends on the resolution of this conflict but, without wanting to be dismissive of social and political programmes, our first priority should be to proclaim the gospel. The book did not leave me with the impression that Burge believes that.

Whose Land? Whose Promise? certainly underscores the fact that political solutions are a long way off and that harmony between Jews and Arabs is even further away. It seems to this reviewer that God is setting the stage for something only he can solve, by the power of the gospel, which alone can unite Jew and Palestinian in one new man in Messiah. The world is watching and God will surely act for his glory. To read this book is to be made more aware of the injustices on Israel’s side, of the ever-deepening animosities between Jews and Arabs, and Israel’s desperate need of the gospel.

Whose Land? Whose Promise?
Gary Burge
ISBN 9781842273845
Available from Authentic Media or Amazon

This article first appeared in the March 2004 edition of the Herald

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