The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called evangelical Christians one of Israel’s “two solid friends in the world.” A few years ago, former Israeli Prime Minister and now Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at a conference attended mostly by evangelical believers, “We have no greater friends and allies than the people sitting in this room.” And then just this past fall at the Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, we heard Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tell us that we are “some of Israel’s best friends.”
These three leaders were polite enough not to mention that not all Bible-believing Christians are such great friends of Israel.
Just recently, two of the largest international Christian organizations, both of which trace their roots to evangelical Protestantism, are now taking steps to become advocates of the Palestinian cause. A vice president of one of those organizations contacted me, asking if the ministry I represent would give “any consideration regarding advocacy on behalf of Palestinians.”
We may have made a good impression upon the leaders of Israel in recent years. But I am afraid that even many among our evangelical ranks are ready to abandon the clear Biblical mandate to love and defend the nation of Israel. I need to share something from God’s Word, so that we will be both encouraged and challenged to be more faithful followers of Yeshua.
If we are going to be Israel’s best friends, then we must understand what true friendship is all about. I could give you a Webster’s Dictionary definition of friendship, but I prefer to take you to the Bible. In the Bible there’s no concise definition, but when we open up our Bibles to 1 Samuel 18, there before our eyes we see a picture of what true friendship is like. The picture of true friendship is the picture of the relationship between Jonathan and David.
It’s tempting to view the story of Jonathan and David as an allegory—to imagine that the author intended us to see every detail as pointing to some deeper meaning. Preachers of old did that, and it led to a number of serious heresies—one of the worst being what we now refer to as “replacement theology.”
But although I’m sure the writer of 1 Samuel did not have Christians and Jews in mind in recounting the story of Jonathan and David, there are actually some amazing parallels that are worth examining and that offer important spiritual principles we can apply to our unique friendship with Israel.
Imagine with me that Jonathan’s character demonstrates the kind of role Bible-believing Christians should play in relation to Israel. And imagine that David represents the people of Israel, whom we should have as our “best friend.”
OK, now let’s take King Saul, the archenemy of David. Now let’s see how Saul is so typical of the many enemies that Israel has faced throughout their history—whether their surrounding neighbors, or many of the nations to which the Jews have been scattered, or even the historic Church, which has too often been a willing accomplice in bringing harm to the Jewish race.
Again, I don’t believe that the writer originally had these parallels in mind, but we do believe, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” So I think that we should be able to find timeless spiritual principles in this story that can apply to Christians and their “friendship” with the Jewish people.
Now let’s highlight some of this story. When we arrive at 1 Samuel 18:1, we see that a momentous event has just happened that will now forever alter the destinies of prince Jonathan, son of Saul the king, and that seemingly insignificant shepherd lad named David. The event was David’s slaying of the Philistine giant Goliath.
It was the classic epic of the underdog defeating the invincible foe. With just one small stone slung from David’s sling, Goliath was shot dead and the Philistines were defeated. And now, David the shepherd boy suddenly became David a man of war.
It is immediately following this event that Jonathan and David became “best friends.” This is what we read in 1 Samuel 17: 57-18:3:
57 “Then, as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58 And Saul said to him, ?Whose son are you, young man?’ So David answered, ?I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.’ 1 Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day, and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.”
1. Best friends manifest a deep love and their lives are knit together.
So here we discover the first spiritual principle concerning true friendship. Here we see that best friends have a deep love. To make the claim that we are Israel’s best friends, we must prove that we have a deep and genuine love for Israel.
But what characterizes genuine love? It says above in verse 1 that that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”
In Hebrew it says that Jonathan’s “nefesh,” or soul, was “niksh’rah b’nefesh David.” The word “nefesh” refers to a person’s self, his essence, his very life. And the word “niksh’rah” can mean “knit together” or even “chained together.”
So we see that Jonathan’s love for David meant that his whole life became wrapped up with the life of David. From this we can make an interesting application concerning our friendship with Israel. As Christians, the very soul or essence of our life and identity is actually “knit together” with Israel and her destiny in God. We know that the first Church in Jerusalem was innately knitted to Judaism. And even as Gentiles began to gain entry into the Church, they entered by way of a Jewish book, they met a Jewish Savior, they were grafted into a Jewish people, and they were built upon Jewish apostles and prophets, with a Jewish Messiah as their chief cornerstone. In the words of the great Biblical scholar W. D. Davies, “The very matrix of Christianity is Judaism: Christianity is the very bone of Judaism.”
Gentile Christians share Israel’s God. And we also share in the New Covenant that was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31—not first to Gentiles, but first to “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah.”
As Christians, then, our most natural affinity is with the Jewish people. So it is perfectly natural to be Israel’s best friends. We are even more knitted together than Jonathan was to David. We might say that we have come from the same spiritual womb. Marvin Wilson said, “…As a mother gives birth to and nourishes a child, so Hebrew culture and language gave birth to and nourished Christianity.”
So how strange it is that the great majority of so-called “Bible-believing” Christians are so separated from those who should naturally be their best friends.
Because of this tragic separation evangelical Christianity is spiritually underdeveloped and undernourished. According to Paul in Romans 11:17, if the Church would not be arrogant, it would experience rich spiritual nourishment by becoming “a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”
So if any of your Christian colleagues wonder why you’re such a staunch friend of Israel, just tell them, “We’re soul mates.” Indeed we are—and naturally so. We are “knit together.”
2. Best friends are committed to each other unconditionally.
Now the problem with any friendship is that competing forces can break up our relationship. In the case of Jonathan and David, Jonathan’s father Saul became suspicious of their relationship and became the competing force that had the potential to break up their friendship.
When soulish, emotional feelings start to fade, and they can, sometimes the only thing that keeps two people together is their covenant vows. This is sometimes the only thing that keeps some marriages together.
A person with genuine integrity will simply never break his promises. If he made a contract or covenant, he will keep it, no matter how much he’d like to run away when the friendship becomes old.
So this is the second thing we discover about the kind of love Jonathan had for David: It was an unconditional, covenant love.
In 1 Samuel 18:3,4, it says: 3 “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.”
So Jonathan and David made a covenant, sealed by the giving of armor and clothing, an ancient custom for securing a friendship. Jonathan and David determined that they would be friends for life. As a constant reminder of their eternal pact, David would keep some of Jonathan’s prize possessions. It’s interesting to note that in 1 Samuel, Jonathan and David renewed their covenant of friendship on two other separate occasions.
One commentator said that Jonathan and David’s covenant of friendship “welcomed the possibility of strain.” What he meant was that such a covenant took into account the inevitable disagreements and strains that come in every relationship.
It’s also very interesting that Jonathan is the initiator of this covenant; it is Jonathan who gives his precious belongings to David as a sign of their covenant. There is no mention in their first covenant ritual that David gave Jonathan anything in return. I can’t help but find a parallel here between the kind of friendship Jonathan had with David and the friendship Bible-believing Christians should have with Israel. Like Jonathan, who discerned after David won his great victory over Goliath that David was uniquely called and anointed, so we as Christians have come to recognize Israel’s divine calling and gifts, which were manifested in Biblical times and again are being manifested today, as demonstrated in Israel’s modern-day return to the world stage.
Many of us in the Church naturally want to attach ourselves to Israel. Well-equipped armies many times more powerful than Israel should have wiped the young nation off the map during at least three of Israel’s wars. We have become attracted to the heroic, young David-like State of Israel, which has won victory after victory over the past several decades.
But Israel is older now. David is becoming more powerful and no longer the underdog. Some people, even in the Church, are now comparing Israel to Goliath, not to David. So now we are facing the first real test of the genuineness of our friendship. Will we keep our covenant of friendship with Israel, or will we abandon “David” now that he has become a world power? Clearly, the institutional Church at large is now trying to convince us that Israel is no longer in desperate need and worthy of our support.
This reaction of the institutional Church reminds me too much of King Saul. There was a time when King Saul had also received a special calling and anointing. At the beginning, he was a humble and meek young man. Saul was just the kind of person God could make into a great leader and a mighty warrior. But as we all know, he eventually let his anointing go to his head. In one battle against the Amalekites, in violation of the clear command of the Lord, Saul spared their king Agag; he retained the best of the cattle, purportedly to offer them up to God as a great sacrifice. And so prideful was Saul, he even arranged that a monument be built in his honor. And we recall how from that point on, God removed Saul’s kingly anointing. He remained on the throne, but he was beginning to lose his kingdom.
With his anointing gone, Saul became overwhelmed with insecurities—so much so, that even young David from Bethlehem, the new “whiz kid” on the block, scared him half to death. Much of Saul’s remaining years were now going to be devoted to trying to eliminate David, believing that he was a rival to his throne.
Saul became so threatened that he not only sought to liquidate David, but he even threw spears at his own son Jonathan because of his friendship with David. Jonathan’s covenant bond to David was threatened time and time again as Jonathan’s loyalties were being torn—torn between his loyalty to David and his loyalty to his father Saul.
Continuing this parallel between Saul and the institutional Church, we know that the Church, just like Saul, also had very humble beginnings. Then, similar to Saul, God graced the Church with a powerful spiritual anointing (at Pentecost). Without silver and gold or expensive equipment, the Church stepped out in faith and expanded its kingdom from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria unto the uttermost parts of the earth until, according to Acts 17:6, it had “turned the world upside down.”
The early Church began like the early Saul—humble and anointed by the Holy Spirit. But as the centuries have passed, the institutional, visible Church has grown in size and power, to the point where the Church can no longer say, “Silver and gold I do not have” (Acts 3:5). Parts of the institutional Church are now like the Laodicean Church, which said, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17).
But the most frightening parallel between Saul and the institutional Church is this: If, like Saul, the institutional Church has grown powerful in size, but is dwindling in its anointing, what will happen if little Israel suddenly becomes a new, powerful spiritual force as well?. And surely that day will come. The disciples asked Jesus just before His ascension, in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” I want to remind you that Jesus did not question their theology here. He was in full agreement that a day would indeed come when Israel would arise and become a great kingdom—a David-style kingdom that would dominant the whole spiritual map. Indeed, a day will come when “David” will arise. No longer will the spiritual capital of the world be in Rome, but the seat of power will move to Jerusalem.
It’s hard to believe now, but it says in Zechariah 8:22-23:
22 “‘Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.” 23 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ ”
The miraculous end-time rise of Israel is unfolding before our eyes. And in spite of its smallness, Israel has the religions of this world very worried. Its rise is a threat to Islam’s legitimacy as the one true religion. But the rise of Israel will increasingly also become a threat to the historic, institutional church.
There is coming a day when Israel will no longer be the tail; but the head. Just as Saul was threatened by little David, so will the restoration of the kingdom to Israel be a grave threat to that part of the Church that has a form of godliness but is increasingly losing spiritual power.
So I have said all this to say: We who claim to believe the Bible, who understand God’s final purposes for Israel, who have a natural affinity with Israel, and who recognize that our spiritual destiny is wrapped up with Israel’s destiny must not allow the pressures from the institutional Church to break our covenant bond of friendship with Israel. Proverbs 17:7 says, “A friend loves at all times….”
I wonder how many of us, when push comes to shove, will still be counted as Israel’s best friends. I would hate to disappoint then Israeli Cabinet Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who said these words at a recent Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles: “It is precisely when your faith is put to the test that you find out who your true friends are, who is willing to stand up and be counted. Your unbreakable commitment to the people of Israel, to the cause of the Jewish homeland, gives us the strength to face the challenges of the hour.”
Has not God Himself made an eternal covenant of friendship with the Jewish people? Can we do any less? Isaiah 41:8 says, “ ‘But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend.’ ”
So if we want to be counted as one of Israel’s friends, then let’s make and keep a covenant of friendship; let’s decide to be Israel’s friends for life.
It won’t always be easy to keep this kind of friendship. Israel has good reason to doubt our sincerity. Two thousand years of unhappy Jewish-Christian relations should make any Jew a little nervous when we offer our embrace. (It might be a good idea to be like Jonathan and hand David our weapons first before we hug.) And don’t expect Israel to reach out first. Remember, at the beginning Jonathan had to take the initiative.
3. Best friends come to each other’s defense.
I want to point out one more principle of friendship that we discover in the relationship between Jonathan and David. Not only should we have an unbreakable bond of love with Israel, but also, as Israel’s best friends, we must fulfill our responsibility to come to Israel’s defense.
It says in 1 Samuel 19:2: “So Jonathan told David, saying, ‘My father Saul seeks to kill you. Therefore please be on your guard….’ ” Then we read in verse 4, “Thus Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father, and said to him, ‘Let not the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works have been very good toward you.’ ”
King Saul was so demonized by now that he was imagining all kinds of evil plots that David was scheming. He believed every lie of the devil and would not rest until he had proven that David was indeed out to steal his throne.
But here again, we see that David’s best friend, Jonathan, was right there to come to his defense. “Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father,” our text says.
Let me get straight to my application and say that Israel right now is facing an onslaught of demonically inspired, libelous fabrications. Some of them would be utterly laughable, if it weren’t for the fact that when such lies are told enough times, people come to believe them.
Here are just a few of those lies:
- There is the lie that keeps surfacing in Arab communities that the Holocaust did not happen.
- On February 15, 2001, the Palestinian Authority called on the international community to help ascertain the type of nerve gas that Israeli occupation troops had been using against Palestinian protesters, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
- Yasser Arafat at Camp David in the year 2000 said that there is actually no authentic Jewish attachment historically and religiously to Jerusalem. Other Palestinian leaders have claimed that a Jewish temple never existed. Prominent Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi regularly speaks about the so-called “Judaizing” of Jerusalem.
Why are Israel’s “best friends” not raising their voices louder against such lies? Isn’t that what friends are for? Best friends come to each other’s defense in their time of need.
There was an article in the October 30, 2000, edition of The Wall Street Journal that justifiably incriminates Israel’s so-called “best friends” for not defending Israel against such libel more loudly. I quote the writer, Cynthia Ozick: “So far, no mainstream Christian voices have been raised against these moral and historical depredations, and one wonders why. Why has there been no Christian protest over Muslim rioting when a Jew walks upon a historic Jewish site?…Why has there been no audible Christian protest over the burning of a synagogue in Palestinian-ruled Jericho, or a mob’s razing of Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish shrine supposedly under the protection of the Palestinian Authority? (Its surviving dome has now been painted Islamic green.)
“Half a century ago, when the Jews of Europe were besieged and defenseless, Christian silence was infamous. Since then, some Jews are no longer defenseless, and Christian understanding, conscience, and remorse have expiated that unforgotten and dire omission. But what of now? Where is the Christian outcry when profound hatred of Jews is once again being unleashed? When Mr. Arafat, last month’s peace partner, gleefully consigns the prime minister of the Jewish state to hell? When Jewish history and faith are pronounced barren of any bond with Jerusalem, then Palestinians can justify their exclusionary ideology by means of unrestrained rioting, the closing of schools, the use and abuse of the young.
“ ‘The stones are our jewels,’ Mr. Arafat announced at the start of the intifada in 1987, and in the summer of 2000 Professor Edward Said of Columbia University, also a Christian, was photographed hurling one of those jewels from Lebanon into Israel, caught up, he explained, in the jubilation of the stone-throwers. Today, however, firebombs, guns, a lynching, and a Palestinian militia 40,000-strong have been added to Mr. Arafat’s jewel box.
“Perhaps Jews ought not to expect, or hope for, vocal Christian empathy. To speak up for the venerable Jewish kinship to Jerusalem during a stormy time of pervasive defamation might require going the extra mile. But should not Christians speak up for the history and central claims of Christianity? If Judaism has no roots in Jerusalem, then Christianity was never born. And yet no Christian theological objection has been lodged against the denial of the Temple’s historicity.
“I am a Jew who a week ago, on the holiday of Simchat Torah celebrating the ethical mandates of a 4000-year-old tradition, opened the Gospels and read of the Christian connection to the Temple Mount. If the Temple is a Jewish chimera, as Palestinian and far-flung Muslim anger affirms, it is not only Jewish history and religion that is wiped away. The heart of Christianity, too, suffers erasure, and Christian muteness in the face of the annihilation of Christian belief becomes incomprehensible.
“If there never was a Temple, then where did Jesus walk?”
I am one person who after many years of living in Jerusalem knows that Israel is not perfect. I am not blind to Israel’s foibles; but I am also not blind to my foibles and the foibles of the Church. While I don’t urge blind loyalty to Israel and its policies, I do believe it’s time for justice. And what do I mean by justice?
In a court of law, when someone is being accused of a crime, a proper justice system will provide a defense lawyer for the accused. Of course, the accuser will also have his lawyer, a prosecuting lawyer. In order to have a just trial, both the accuser and the accused deserve to have support for their case before a judge.
As I mentioned earlier, two of the largest international Christian organizations are now taking steps to become advocates of the Palestinian cause. Now I think it would be wrong for us to say that the Palestinians don’t deserve to have someone to be their advocate. Justice demands that they do. But on the other hand, it would be a terrible mishandling of justice if the Palestinians were to have a whole team of prosecutors but the Israelis were not allowed to have their team to represent them in the courtroom.
Frankly, the Palestinians have more than their share of advocates, including practically every member state of the United Nations. And I hate to say it, but the World Council of Churches and groups such as the Washington-based Churches for Middle East Peace regularly defend the Palestinian position.
I am very disturbed by one-sided judgments that institutional churches make against Israel. Yet, on the other hand, I respect their right to be advocates for the Palestinian cause.
My real concern is that both sides be allowed to have their advocates in the court. It is simply unfair to Israel if her “best friends” do not support Israel’s claims that are based upon Biblical covenant promises.
So let’s not get too uptight about the fact that the Palestinians have a powerful team of advocates working on their case. What we should be uptight about is the fact that Israel stands largely alone in the courtroom, defenseless and condemned, due to our negligence.
David tried time and again to defend himself against Saul and to prove that he wasn’t out to kill him or steal his kingdom. But Saul would not believe him. David needs Jonathan to plead his case. And similarly, Israel needs Christians who will prove that they are Israel’s “best friends” by coming to Israel’s defense.
I want you to notice what happens when David’s best friend volunteers to become his advocate: We read in 1 Samuel 19:6, “So Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan, and Saul swore, ‘As the LORD lives, he shall not be killed.’ ”
Now it may be true that Jewish lawyers are some of the best lawyers in the world, but let’s face it, the best advocates for the defense of Israel cannot be Israelis, but strangers. Proverbs 27: 2 says, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”
In conclusion, I believe that it’s time to become even better friends of Israel. The way to be better friends is for us to take the initiative. We have no right to expect the Jewish people to trust us. Historically, Christians have been fair-weather friends at best and accomplices in Israel’s destruction at worst. So it’s time that we become Jonathan to David. We need to strengthen our bonds and keep our covenant of friendship.
God has not rejected Israel (Romans 11:1). Neither should we.