Struggling With and Against Israel


This article will attempt to show the lingering anti-Jewish bias among certain well known and well received Christian teachers who, at the same time, do take a pro-Israel stand and recognize the unique place of Israel as the people of God.

Three passages will be highlighted in this article: The first passage will be taken from the Book of Jonah, where the prophet has often been described as a “Jewish racist,” one who is actually used to represent the people of Israel as those who have a “distaste for the Gentiles’ participation in salvation.” We will attempt to demonstrate other more plausible reasons for Jonah’s actions, thereby omitting the unnecessary need to drag Israel into this story.  The second passage we will tackle is found in Exodus 3:22. We will look at the Hebrew word, natzal, which has, for most translations, been rendered into English as “plunder,” instead of keeping to its most often used meaning, “to deliver or preserve.” By choosing to use “plunder,” the reader may find himself accusing Israel of lying and stealing, and missing out on the true message of grace which the Lord intended to convey. The third passage is Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 where the greater majority of Bible commentators see “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are asynagogue of Satan,”1 being Jews who have rejected Jesus as their Messiah. This article will argue that “those who say they are Jews, and are not,” are simply not Jews at all, but rather those who want to become them and replace them.

Israel in Diaspora: Living, Despite Her Fame

After forty years in the desert, as the Israelites stood at the doors of the Promised Land, Moses already prophesied that their new found home would eventually be invaded and that they would be scattered among the nations. Moses used three words to describe how Israel would be seen among the nations during the time of her Diaspora: “And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you” (Deut. 28:37).

The first word, “astonishment” (shammah), speaks of desolation and points to Israel being an object of scorn. This word, however, goes further and describes a state of fear.2 Israel has, in fact, lived under these conditions for much of her difficult history.

The second word is “proverb” (mashal), which describes something enveloped in a mystery, like a parable which needs to be deciphered in order to be understood. It also implies something which “assumes a contrast that is in its nuance derogatory and belittling.”3   This word describes the enigma surrounding Israel’s continued existence in spite of being continually persecuted and chased by the nations around her. The third word, byword” (sh’ninah), is derived from a word meaning, “tooth,” or “sharp as a tooth,” describing those who find it hard to tolerate her existence.

Thesewords trulydo describethe attitude and perspectivethatmanynations of the world haveadopted, concerningIsrael.Jews, andespeciallyMessianicJews,should alwaysbe able to find refuge within the evangelical Christian community who purport to love them, as God does. However, it is this writer’s opinion that many in the evangelical community have subtly inherited a bias which is seen in their various interpretations of Scripture, and oddly enough, even in the theology of some of the most ardent premillenialists.

This article, while written with muchcare and concern, willhighlightvarious comments which havebeen left unchecked withinevangelical circles,comments which mayvery welllead to an antiJewish bias. This writer does recognize the excellent teachingand contributionsthese commentators haveotherwisemade towardtheKingdom of God, including theirongoingsupport forthe biblical right ofIsrael’s existence.

Jonah, a Whale of an Evangelist

Why did Jonah run westward to Tarshishand not heed the command of God to go east to Nineveh?Manyproposals havesurfacedconcerninghis decision.Did hisown prejudice prevail, not wantingto sharethe Wordofsalvation withtheseGentiles? Was this event inspired into the Scriptures in order to highlightIsraels own policyof exclusive ethnicity (i.e.,Israel did not want to shareher exclusive rights to God withanyother nation)?Coulditbe that Jonah, out oflove forhisown people,did notwantthem to appear unrighteous,whencompared with the righteousness of thesetobe converted Ninevites?Or could it be thatJonah deliberatelyavoided Nineveh in order to delaythe Assyrian invasion ofIsrael?

Some Jewish Christian commentators, as wellasmostrabbinicalinterpreters view Jonahs disobedience asan actiontaken on behalfofIsraeland not as onedriven byan anti– Gentile sentiment. Sam Nadler (Word of MessiahMinistries)understandsJonahs detour as an attemptto show thatIsrael would look comparativelyfiendish4onceNineveh repented.Arnold 

Fruchtenbaum makes itapointto mention thatJonahs departurewas notbecause hewasan “antiGentile bigot.”Rather, Jonah did notwantto be theinstrument that God would use to bringNineveh to repentance.5This would makeJonah look like atraitortohis own people.The rabbisheld a similar position. Accordingto M. Avrum Ehrlich, manyrabbisconcluded that their actions (Ninevehsrepentance)would show theHebrews to bestiff-neckedand stubborn. Another Midrash explains that Jonah…choseto disobeyGod so as to savehis own people.6The majorityof Gentile Christian commentatorshowever, interpret thebook ofJonah as an illustration of the prophet’s antiGentile bias as wellas a pictureofIsrael’sown disobedience and exclusive ethnocentricity. Theassociation made between Jonahs actions andIsrael’s characteris difficulttoaccept, in light of thefact thatthe text does not makesuchalink.In fact, Israel’s name is notmentioned at all in this book.

John MacArthur wrote concerningJonah: “This was forthe salvation of that cityand forthe shameand jealousyofIsrael, as wellasa rebuketo the reluctanceofthe Jews to bring Gentiles to thetrueGod.7MacArthuris, of course, agreatlyadmired pastorand teacher,and rightlyso, forallthe contributions hehas madetothe Bodyof Christ.  Andwhile this writer does citefrom MacArthurs StudyBible(which is commended byour congregation), a conclusion likethis, mayserveto enhancean antiSemitic response. Another wellrespected commentator,John Sailhamer, wrote : Jonahs pettyconcern forthe vinethat shielded him from thesun was a picture of Israel’s own self pityand lack of concern forthe nations.”8Othercommentators even saw in Jonah’s actions anAugustinian justificationforIsrael’s suffering:“Jonah was but the reflection ofIsrael’s backslidingfrom God, and so must bear the righteouspunishment.”9

Let us ask, in allfairness,two questions. Whywasthis prophet of God so poorly esteemed, andwhydid his actionsdirectlyinfluenceIsrael’s own integrity?Infact, Jonah had accomplished agreat work in his own generation and wasgivenaposition of respect in theNew Testament. This prophetwasinstrumental in triggeringoneofgreatestconversionsin Bible history, with thousands comingto repentance10. Yeshua,Himself, used Jonah as an illustration of His own resurrection (Matt 12:4041).Jonah is alsomentioned amongtheprophetsin Hebrews 11:32.

Some commentatorsgo the extramile to tainthischaractereven further.Forinstance, when Jonah was on theboat, and the storm hit, wearetold in Jonah 1:5that he“had lain down, and was fast asleep.”C. F. KeilandFranzDelitzsch rightlyobserve: Thisact of Jonahs is regarded bymostcommentators as asign of anevilconscience.11But was itreallythat?The Hebrew word for sleep,(radam)is thesamewordusedto describe Daniel’sresponse when he stood beforeatheophany(Daniel 8:18, 10:9) and the reaction ofthe Egyptian armyas thewaters ofthe RedSea closed onthem (Psalm76:6).

Certainly neither Daniel’s response, nor that of the Egyptian army, reflects a state of careless indifference or a seared conscience. The use of this word (radam) describes Jonah as being in a state of turmoil, perhaps even in prayer, understanding the predicament he had brought upon the people in the boat.

Consider another verse, where Jonah is, once again, the target of character defamation. Jonah 4:1, 3 reads: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry . . . . Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” Many interpret Jonah as being displeased and even angry at the conversion of so many souls, so much so that he wanted to die. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, otherwise considered by this writer to be outstanding, shows no compassion for Jonah: “Perhaps now he was embarrassed that his threat was not carried out. Because God relented of His wrath and did not destroy the city, Jonah was so emotionally disappointed that he lost all reason for living.God was concerned about the city (4:11) but Jonah was not.”12  Did Jonah really want to die because so many Gentiles came to believe in the God of Israel? Did this anger drive him to request his own death?

Jonah 4:1, 3 may be understood as a statement made by a compassionate prophet of God who realized the extent of the judgment coming against his people Israel. These words echo Paul’s own words in Romans 9:1–3  when speaking of the salvation of his people: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.” Even Moses uttered this same desire, that somehow his death may be the propitiation for his people when he said in Exodus 32:32: “If You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book.”

Could it be that Jonah shared with Paul and Moses, the same sacrificial love for their people? Jonah did lack compassion for the Ninevites and was disobedient to God’s call, but considering the work he accomplished and how he is so positively considered in the New Testament, it would be hard to explain his actions as a refusal to share the Good News with unsaved people.

This writer proposes that Jonah’s disobedience was perhaps an attempt to delay the upcoming judgment on Israel, by the Assyrians. Jonah must surely have known the prophecies of Amos (3:11) and Isaiah (7:17), about the upcoming Assyrian invasion. They were after all, his contemporaries. He also knew that these Ninevites would repent as a result of this missionary

trip (Jonah 4:2). He must also have been keenly aware that the generation which would invade Israel would be a generation who would have returned to its wickedness whom God would punish (Isaiah 14:25). This would mean that the generation which heard Jonah’s message would not be the generation which would invade Israel, because Israel is not invaded by a righteous nation, but rather by an evil nation. This means that the Assyrian invasion would happen, at its earliest with the succeeding generation. This would therefore buy Jonah some time and would give his own people perhaps another 40-100 years (the time of a generation) to repent before their God. Again, this writer does recognize Jonah’s mistake in not following God’s directive, but balance is a grace that we must sometimes employ, especially as we desire to highlight the acts of grace our Lord displayed so often in the course of Israel’s history.

Plunder or Blunder?

Oursecond passageis found tucked awayin thechronicles ofIsrael’s liberation from her bondagein Egypt.Exodus 3:22 reads:But everywoman shallask of her neighbor,namely, ofher who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles ofgold,and clothing; andyou shall put them onyour sons and onyour daughters. Soyou shallplundertheEgyptians.”Thequestion is whythe useof theEnglishword plunder”in this verse?Accordingto Webster’s Dictionary, the word plunder”meansto takegoods byforceorwrongfully.It is to steal, or to loot.13

TheHebrew word usedin this passage (and inthecorrespondingpassage of Exodus12:36), natzal, is translated elsewherein Scriptureasdelivered”orpreserved” orwith other similar synonyms. Thereareother Hebrew wordsused specificallyforplunder;forinstance, malkoah, which represent objects taken byvictorafterabattle orwar”.14   Another Hebrew word isbaz, which represents what is stolen or robbed (items, animals, orpersons), especially in a militaryconflict.15A third Hebrewword issalal, which signifies objects taken byavictor afterabattle orwar, implyingdefeat of the enemy.16It is interestingthat thewordnatzalis not usedin the Biblepassages where an afterwar”plundering hastaken place.One exception does occurin 2 Chronicles 20:25. However, in this passagethe word, salal, is found in thesameverse

which mayrepresent theplunder itself, while theHebrew, natzal, which follows, mayrepresent what theypreserved from”the plunder, orwhat theytook,as the English Standard Version, the Revised StandardVersion, and the GenevaBiblehaveitrendered.

An interestingpointshould herebeadded.Manyrabbinic commentators have accepted therenderingofnatzalas plunder”in theExoduspassage,and itis not difficult to understand why. Theyseetheirtime in Egyptasatime ofwar, working asslavelaborers, and sufferingto the extent that even theirfirst born children weremurdered. This verb [wĕnitsaltem]. . .from natzal usuallymeans rescue”ordeliver, as if pluckingout of danger. But in this stem it carriesthe ideaof plunder.17Note as well, that if the stemof natzal(in the accusativeform)enhances the force behindthe word, whynot extend the rootto magnifyits original sense, rendering the sentenceas, so shallyou preservethe Egyptians.”18This would makemoresense and avoid the conclusionwhichmakesIsraelappear to be plunderers and looters ofthe Egyptians.

It is this writers opinionthat God askedthat theIsraelitesbepaid with goldand silver as a waytopreserve”ordeliver”theEgyptians from the judgement of withholdingduewages. TheIsraelites worked 400years for theEgyptiansand the Biblenowhereindicates that they received payment for this work. Byusing preserved”ordelivered”in this context,the graceof God would be more fullyrevealed asthe Egyptians would besparedfromthisparticular judgement.Because of God’s mercifulgrace,Heplanned awayto lessen thepenaltythat would otherwise be rendered against the Egyptians, since withholding wages was and still is against the Law of God and requires judgment(Leviticus19:13, James5:4).

This mistranslationfails to reflect theoriginalrootword, and portraystheIsraelites as aplunderingand moneyhungrynation, supplying onceagain illegitimategrounds for antiJewish bias.Furthermore, the word, plunder,”creates a contradiction in that the God ofthe Bible, who is full ofgrace and whoHimself hatesrobberyand stealing,would now allow and even request that this typeofplundering beundertaken byHis people.Hereitis not onlyIsrael who suffersan injustice,butas wellthe reputationof theLord Himself.

True Jew

I know your works, tribulation, and poverty(butyou arerich); andIknowthe blasphemyof thosewhosaytheyareJews and arenot, butareasynagogueof Satan” (Rev 2:9). Ofthe threemain passages cited in this article, it is this writers opinion that the misinterpretation of this particularversecarries with itthe greatest threatone that has already fortified an antiJewish bias.

In this passage, wemustdeal with the followingquestions: Who arethose who say theyareJews but arenot?To whom is the author ofRevelation referring when hespeaks of a synagogueof Satan?Themajorityof Gentile Christian commentators pointtheir finger at the unbelievingJewish people as the members ofthe synagogueof Satan,claimingthat theycan onlypretend”to beJews when, in reality, theyarenot, becausetheyarenot spiritually completed,”ortrueJews.

Christreferred to theirenemies as thesynagogueof Satan(cf. 2:9). TheywereJews who opposed the believers’Christian testimony.19   Another well respectedevangelical Christian commentarywrites: TheJews, who might havebeen the Church of God,”had now, bytheir opposition and unbelief, become thesynagogueof Satan.20   JohnMacArthur writes:Although theywereJews physically,theywerenot trueJews but spiritual pagans (cf.Romans 2:28).”21

Warren Wiersbe, whomI consider to be amongthebest Bibleexpositors,says:TheJewish synagoguewasactuallyasynagogueof Satan. AtrueJew is not onephysicallyor racially, but spiritually(Romans 2:17–29).22

How areweleft to explain allthese comments?Should wethink of everyJewish synagogue as a meeting place for Satanists everytime wepass one by?Concerningthe Greek word, synagogue, at thetime ofthefirst century, this word did notdesignate an exclusively Jewish gathering, but rather was used to designatemanydifferent kinds of gatherings,23and even Christian gatherings,as in James 2:2.  ByinterpretingRevelation 2:9 &3:9in the context of modern times, todays Jews arethen depictedas veryevil. This interpretation is erroneous when the context in which the passagewas written is taken into account.

But who are those then, who say they are Jews, but are not? Throughout the Scriptures, the only ones called Jews are those who are “descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”24  In the Scriptures, Gentiles were never referred to as Jews nor were they ever called Israel. In the N.T. those Gentiles who came into the fold of Israel were not called Jews, but rather proselytes. A quick look at the Old Testament gives the same result. Ruth, even after her spiritual conversion to the God of Israel (“your God shall be my God”) was still always referred to as Ruth the Moabitess.

While Gentiles may become “children of Abraham by faith”, it does not make them “spiritual Jews”, a term that is non-existent in the Bible. Furthermore, since the physical descendants of Abraham comprise both Jews and many Arab nations, a child of Abraham by faith does not make him any more a spiritual Jew, than it makes him a spiritual Arab.

The occupants of the Synagogue of Satan could not be Jews but rather Gentiles who, as the text reads, “say they are Jews and are not.” But who then are these people who say that they are Jews but are not? Let’s take a very common synonym for the name Jew: Israel.  In the Scriptures, both the name Israel and Jew exclusively designate the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To no other people were these names attributed.

Let’s now replace the name, “Jew” for “Israel” in Revelation 2:9: “They say that they are Israel but are not.” Who, then and today, says that they are Israel when they are not? This teaching that Israel can and has been replaced by Gentiles is found in all “Christian” cults as well as within different branches of mainstream Christianity. This false teaching is found at the root of Christian anti-Semitism throughout the last 2000 years.

And thisdoes not go unnoticed bysecular Jews either. TheEncyclopedia Judaica, speaking ofreplacement theology, under theheadingofantiSemitism, writes this:

Theyoung church, therefore, which declareditselfto be thetrueIsrael, or »Israel accordingto thespirit,« heir to thedivinepromises, found itessential to discreditthe « Israel accordingto the flesh, »to provethat God had cast awayHis peopleand transferred His loveto theChristians.25

This position concerning Israel is alreadypresent and growingin manyevangelical churches.Iam notsayingthat allthose who saythat the church has replacedIsrael are antiSemitic – but historydraws adefinite link between the replacement position andthose who were antiSemitic.

AntiSemitism has no placein biblical Christianity – itis a belief that finds its roots in evil. This is whythe words of ourLord areso strongin theseverses: andI know theblasphemy ofthose who saytheyare Jews and arenot, butareasynagogueof Satan” (Revelation 2:9).

Iwillconclude this articlewith this last citation, from a man who in myopinion was used by God to do an excellent work forHis Kingdom.Louis Sperry Chafer,wrote the followingin an editorial published in Bibliotheca Sacra, in January1949, calledThe Christmas Problem:

The whole countryis in thegrip of a commercial effort, largelyin the hands of Jewish merchants whoat heart hate thename of Jesus and who usethe nameand the coming of the Savior into the world, which Savior they personally reject, to promote a spasm of commercial sales.26

How can itbethat mybrothers in the faith maystillhold onto this antiJewish bias? As a Messianic Jew, I have resolved to accept this fact, but I will not let it pass without objection.

J. Isaac Gabizon

Director, Ariel Ministries Canada

Pastor/Teacher Beth Ariel, Montreal QC