Hermeneutics The Proclaimer Theology Trust In God

America: Israel or Babylon?

As one of my Bible professor’s has pointed out, there are seemingly two schools of thought regarding America among our brethren: one which portrays America as the chosen nation of the Lord (i.e. a modern day Israel), and the other which portrays America as a godless nation full of idolatry (i.e. a modern day Babylon).The first camp usually cites the religious language in America’s founding documents, and scriptures like Psalm 33:12 and Second Chronicles 7:14. The belief in this philosophy is that America had an intrinsically “Christian” founding, and this emphasis should continue. Though America may have lost its righteousness in recent years, it need only humble itself and pray, returning to the Lord before disaster strikes. The other camp simply asks us to look around: look at the abortion statistics, the marriage laws, and the ads in Times Square to realize we are living in Babylon. According to this philosophy, America is too far gone to be a nation of the Lord. We can only bunker down, enjoy our rights while we have them, and pray for release from exile. However, America is neither Israel nor Babylon; America is America.

Not Israel

Old Testament passages which are speaking of Israel are often taken out of context to apply to America. We must realize that God and the nation of Israel had a relationship unlike any relationship God has ever (or will ever) have with any physical nation of people. The nation of Israel was, in the strictest sense of the word, a theocracy. This is abundantly clear when we study the law and notice that it included both spiritual and civil guidelines (Ex. 20-23; Lev. 1-7; 12-18; Deut. 14-26). The rule of law in America is not the law of Moses, or even the New Testament; but the Constitution written by fallible men.

The Constitution has in it the provision for many things to be legal that are morally unacceptable before God (e.g. drunkenness, fornication, gambling, divorce and remarriage, etc.). It must be realized that America’s civil law is separate completely from God’s spiritual law. The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, nation, and heritage on earth. He was the farmer and Israel was his vineyard (cf. Ps.80:8; Isa. 5:1-2; Jer. 2:21). Today, God has no chosen physical nation with boarders like the United States. God’s chosen people, nation, and heritage today is the church, and this “nation” is found in nearly every country, not just America (1 Pet. 2:9-10; cf. Isa. 2:2-3). The new Israel is the only such “nation” today to receive the blessings and benefits of a relationship with God anything similar to the Israel of old.

We ought not to be surprised when the nation where we live passes laws contradictory to Christianity. While the Bible is to be man’s moral compass, it contains no provision for an establishment of a civil government outside of the Israel which was rescued out of Egypt by the hand of the Lord. Unfortunately, it can be far too easy for Christians in America to redefine parts of Old Testament narrative, law, and poetry which was applicable to the nation of Israel to themselves. A common example of this is in Second Chronicles 7:14-15 where the Lord promises Solomon, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land…” (ESV).

As Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart point out in their book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, “The context of this narrative clearly relates the promise to ‘this place’ (the temple in Jerusalem) and ‘their land’ (Israel, the land of Solomon and the Israelites). Understandably, many modern Christians yearn for it to be true of their land… so they tend to ignore the fact that God’s promise… was about the only earthly land God’s people could ever claim as ‘theirs,’ the Old Testament land of Israel” (109-110).

Christians should not see America as a type of Old Testament Israel. The only Christian country is a heavenly one (cf. Heb. 11:16).

Not Babylon

Though America was never, and never will be, a nation of God’s people akin to the Israel of old, we ought not to dismiss it altogether as a hellish Sodom and Gomorrah. There are many blessings Christians can enjoy in this country. The right of free speech, freedom of assembly, etc. are great blessings for which we should be thankful to God. There is nothing wrong with us using our civil rights to further the cause of Christ (cf. Acts 25:11-12), and we are under no moral obligation to acquiesce while these rights are eroded (as long as we maintain respect and a Christ-like attitude).  Certainly, this country is engaged in immoral practices; but such ought to be expected from a worldly nation ran by worldly people. Still, there are reasons in this country for Christians to be thankful.

Thankfulness, not idolization 

While we have reason to be thankful for the nation in which we live, Christians must not elevate America to a level that it is undeserving. At the end of the day, this nation is one of many. It rose triumphantly, and will one day cease to exist. It is not worth losing our peace of mind over. It is not worth spoiling our influence in a desire to convert others to our side of the aisle. And certainly, it is not worth losing our soul through fanatical and unyielding patriotism which turns our neighbor into our enemy and our enemy into our target. Be thankful for this nation; but do not worship it.

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