American Christians have, by-in-large, not been taught to rightly interpret Scripture. Instead of considering the historical context of a passage: the author, the recipient, the culture, the nuances, we flip open the pages of Scripture and ask ourselves, “What does this mean to you?” Scripture has one meaning. And it is not what you put into it, it is what the Holy Spirit intended to communicate at the time it was written to the intended recipient.
One of my personal favorites, with which to hear people wrestle, is the call of Abraham (then, Abram):
Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
– Gen 12.1-3
Have you ever heard someone declare that they have been called to the mission field, and reference this passage? This is the first calling and setting aside of the Jewish people. God made this calling, promise and covenant with one person, and that was Abram. He has not promised to make you into a great nation by bringing forth His chosen people from your lineage. You cannot “claim” this as your verse, unless in it you are recognizing God’s sovereignty, plan and intention to bring about salvation to the ends of the Earth.
How about the promise of God in Jeremiah?
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'”
– Jer 29.11
This is one of the most well known and quoted scriptures in all of the Bible. It does teach us a beautiful truth about God, and we can apply it to our lives to an extent. God is sovereign and He has a plan for our lives. Yes, this is a glorious truth. We also know from Romans 8 that God works all things together for good to those who love the Lord. But the context of this promise in Jeremiah is written specifically to the people of Israel. The people were in exile in Babylon because they had disobeyed and abandoned God. They, like we, turned back to cry out to God in their moment of distress, and God gave them instruction and a promise: they were to seek the best of the cities and towns where they were exiled and to trust God that at the end of seventy years in captivity, God would restore them to their land…”For I know the plans I have for you…” God promised the Hebrew people welfare, a future, and a hope – in their land. This was a physical, measurable blessing.
This promise is not ours.
We are not in exile in Babylon, waiting seventy years to be restored to our land. God has not promised us physical blessings of a land, of political presence. When Jesus came, He grafted in to the people of Israel some from every tribe, tongue and nation. There is no longer a political border to God’s people. We are now all part of Israel, by Spiritual correlation and not blood. Thus, while we understand the promises of the New Covenant that God works everything together for our Spiritual and eternal good, we have no claims to land, to financial blessings, to worldly success – as the Old Covenant did promise.
The most blatant misunderstanding of Scripture is American Christians’ misapplication of God’s promises to the nation of Israel. History teaches us that the pilgrims and American settlers left Europe in search of a New World where they could establish freedom, and primarily the freedom of religion. Because of the founding fathers’ religious convictions and the prevailing belief in Jesus Christ at the founding of our country, many people believe the United States to be a “Christian nation”. Whether or not we were founded as a Christian nation is not the argument of this article, and whether or not that is true, we are not the chosen people – the people of Israel.
God originally established the people of Israel as a theocracy. They had no king, God was their king. The judges were people who helped maintain order, and they were people appointed by God. The priests served in the temple and helped keep the peace between the people and God. When the system was obeyed, it functioned beautifully. When the people disobeyed, God brought consequences on them. God gave the people the land of Canaan, giving them political success and removing other nations from the land. But then, after generations of functioning as God had intended for them to function, the people sinned and asked for a human king. God allowed them to have a king, but it was to their demise. After only three kings, the nation split, and the downward spiral was quick – which led them to exile and captivity under foreign nations.
It is in this captivity that God made promises:
“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and 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, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
– 2 Chro 7.13-14
We, America, are not God’s people and called by His name. He has not promised us political success. If we turn to Him, He will hear us and He will forgive us, but He has not promised us that He will heal our land and restore our power. That promise is not for us. God always hears the prayers of the penitent and always forgives those who repent. But He does not promise physical blessings. Consider all of the martyrs. Consider the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Consider the Chinese Christians and the Iraqi and middle eastern Christians who are slaughtered daily because of their beliefs. Consider those who die of starvation or contaminated water. This is not a direct result of lack of faith, quite the opposite in those situations of martyrdom.
The Old Covenant chosen people of God are the Jews. And the New Testament teaches us that believers in Jesus Christ are spiritually grafted into the Jewish people. There have been many empires that have risen and fallen, and the British Empire and the Roman Empire would have considered themselves “Christian nations” too. Was their fall because of their sin? Perhaps. Will our fall be because of our sin (not that we have the power or extent of an empire…)? Perhaps. But God has no obligation to us, He has not promised to us a land or a nation. He has promised us eternity, as part of the Jewish people, as spiritual Children of Abraham.
Do pray for our nation. Jesus and Paul both clearly taught that we should submit to the governing authority over us, even if they are wicked. But we should pray for their salvation, and pray for our nation that we would make decisions that glorify God. But do not confuse yourself and think that God will spare us for the sake of ten righteous (Gen 18.32). Do not claim promises that were given to another and then consider God unfaithful when we do not see those promises fulfilled. And do not misunderstand the phrase, “One nation, under God” to oblige God to declare us as His own.