Theology of land questioned
With an introduction and 12 chapters by five authors, Under Vine and Fig Tree explores and explains the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict in relation to biblical theologies and practical concerns. The book includes helpful resources such as maps, conflict timeline, glossary of terms, a Scripture index, and a list of further resources.
I read the book in preparation for a trip to Israel-Palestine – and re-read it after returning from that eye-opening and theologically stretching experience. On my journey, I met a number of the people mentioned in the book, saw many of the places described, and observed the conflict.
The authors cause readers to agonize over many Old Testament texts and then harmonize those texts in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. “The Word of God incarnate in Jesus the Christ interprets for us the word of God in the Bible,” Timothy Seidel quotes Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest and theologian. Does Old Testament genocide justify present day genocide?
Another question relates to God’s covenant with the Jewish people and how or if this covenant involves an unconditional land deal. Does the covenant mean only Jews can enjoy the vines and fig trees of the land? Though addressed by the authors, these questions still seem to loom.
I appreciated the emphasis on the fact that the land belongs to the Lord. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1). Whether Jews or Christians, we are all called to be stewards of the land.
Today most Jews are secular and are not living in covenant with God nor practicing justice and righteousness. The same can be said for many Palestinians. Weapons are used and walls are built (and being built) to obtain security, but still there is increasing insecurity and decreasing peace.
The book describes how Jews and Palestinians lived together peacefully in the land prior to 1948 when Israel became a nation. After 1948, a great deal of emphasis was put on land ownership, resulting in conflicts and ethnic cleansings. The motivation that resulted in these catastrophes was not to cleanse the land from sin but to take possession of the land.
Despite these observations, the authors do not deny the special place Jews have had and continue to have in God’s heart. The Jews have not been rejected by God nor have they been replaced by the church. We need to submit to God as he unfolds his plans for the land, for the people of the world, and for the end times. The moment we try to “help” him we create a mess.
Our focus must be on living righteously and in peace. Our focus must not be on earthly possessions but on our spiritual inheritance.
The book ends with a beautiful description of Jews and Palestinians who are working together to help the people of the land live in peace. It was my privilege to meet a number of these folks and I admire them for their courageous efforts.
This book will challenge readers to rethink some of the end-time theological moorings that have guided us for decades. Alex Awad, instructor at Bethlehem Bible College, told our tour group that “this topic might just be an exercise in Christian theology for us but it is a life and death situation for the Palestinians.” To that end, this book does not merely take us through a theological exercise but challenges us to do our part to help people sit together – in the words of Micah 4:4 – under vine and fig tree.