Just before Christmas in 1969, at Olympic Sound Studios, the Rolling Stones recorded “Dead Flowers.” Although the song is really about a failing relationship, amid a backdrop of drug use, it can be heard metaphorically. The now-famous lyrics illustrate this:
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
I see this as a perfect metaphor in the millennia-old conflict between Israel and her many, many enemies. Every time it seems the Jews might disappear, they emerge to survive and even thrive. It has happened so many times throughout history, it can’t be an accident. As Ariel Sharon wrote in his autobiography, Warrior, “There is something that keeps this nation.”
From Haman, to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and finally British rule, the Jewish nation formed at Sinai stepped out of the mists of history and became once again in 1948—and for all time—a sovereign nation in their ancestral homeland. See Amos 9:15.
Since that time, neighboring enemies and global anti-Semites have tried to make Israel disappear.
Into the pantheon of barbarians now steps Hamas.
Yet God promises repeatedly in Scripture that He will preserve them through all of it and bring them back from all the nations they were exiled in AD 70, when the 10th Roman Legion slaughtered Jerusalem’s population. As I tell church audiences repeatedly, according to Scripture, it isn’t Israel that’s in trouble; it’s her enemies that should quake with fear.
In Isaiah 49:26, God gives a chilling preview of what He will do to His People’s enemies:
“I will feed those who oppress you with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine. And all flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
And as Jeremiah tells us, at the time of the end, Israel will be totally alone, friendless. The purpose, as the Lord of History plainly said in Isaiah, is so that Israel and the nations will see very clearly how they win. In battle in 1948, 1967, and 1973, Israel was gifted with miracle after miracle, surviving epic threats to its survival. The 1976 hostage rescue at Entebbe was so astonishing, any thinking person must acknowledge God was with the Israel Defense Forces that night in faraway Africa.
The Jews can’t be explained away as some accident of history. That hasn’t kept many individuals and nations from marginalizing Jews, simply because they don’t like them. Sir Arnold Toynbee, the 20th century British historian, chronicled 23 civilizations that came and went in history. The Jews, however, didn’t fit his narrative, and it aggravated him. He referred to the Jews as “living fossils.”
This secular dislike of the Jews has an ally in religious communities, especially the American Church, and specifically, evangelicalism. Many are surprised when I say this, but it’s tragically true.
The ingathering, which is easily documented, began in the late 19th century, then accelerated dramatically after 1948. What began as a “dreamland” (as recorded by Mark Twain during his 1868 visit to Palestine), a barely inhabited moonscape, has become home to seven million Jews today as citizens of Israel.
This is a fulfillment of prophecy so astonishing one struggles to understand why others don’t see it.
Some people don’t want to see it.
This reality of Israel’s existence has become a thorn in the flesh of scholars and denominational leaders in the United States. What began in Europe—I believe from the German Higher Criticism, which sought to relegate the Bible to myth—traveled across the Atlantic and found a foothold in the New World. By the 1940s and 50s, even the Southern Baptist seminaries tolerated professors that called the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) myth.
If the Exodus didn’t happen, then Jewish history is on shaky ground. The desire by some to erase biblical history, particularly in the Old Testament—the Hebrew Scriptures—calls into question centuries of Jewish history, relegating it to myth or legend. Or metaphor.
When people seek to erase Jewish history, the Jews become marginalized. They become Other. This is what happened after centuries of Luther’s teachings about the Jews, reaching full, dead flower in the Holocaust. Most Nazi officers were members of good standing in the Catholic and Lutheran churches.
Now we are seeing a grotesque view of Israel and the Jews…from evangelical circles.
On Thursday, October 12, 2023, five days after Hamas raped, beheaded, murdered and kidnapped Israelis in an unprecedented security breach from Gaza, a seminary student posted on X a quote attributed to Dr. John MacArthur that linked Israel’s suffering with Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah:
“The other day, Ben Shapiro said that Hamas is about to know what the wrath of God feels like…The reality is that Israel is experiencing what the wrath of God feels like…They’ve chosen to be in the position they’re in by rejecting the Messiah.”
In a subsequent post, the student stated that MacArthur made the statement during a pastors’ Zoom call.
(MacArthur, chancellor emeritus of the Master’s Seminary in California, and pastor of Grace Community Church for almost 55 years, is perhaps the most famous conservative pastor in the U.S. He is well-known among evangelicals.)
I phoned MacArthur’s offices and emailed, asking for any kind of clarification he wanted to make, as I simply didn’t want to believe such a revered pastor could make what is really a classic anti-Semitic statement. At the very least, the remark, coming at the same time Israel fights an existential threat, was extremely insensitive.
I received no clarifying statement from MacArthur.
Here are two subsequent messages from the original poster, attempting to provide “context”:
Lol. This blew up.
There is obviously context missing…
This was not said to justify anything
Hamas did. He said their actions were evil and horrific.
His point was that Israel needs to repent and turn to Christ.
I deleted that because I didn’t provide enough context and it was causing confusion. My apologies.
In the conversation he said the whole situation was horrific but claiming that only Israel’s enemies are under God’s judgment is an error.
Unbelieving Israelites need to repent too
There is simply no justification, explanation, or “context” for such an odious statement. To talk about Israel’s “shortcomings” or Judaism’s differences with Christianity, in the same conversation about the Hamas barbarism is simply unconscionable.
As I said, anti-Jewish thought has been incubating in the Church for many decades.
For decades, mainline and some Catholic sources have cozied-up to enemies of Israel. United Methodist Church officials in the 1990s were meeting with Yasser Arafat when he visited Washington; from this spread the “Jesus was a Palestinian” canard. In that same time period, popular Christian author Philip Yancey wrote a column for Christianity Today in which he referred to Jesus as a “Palestinian rabbi.”
Before they retired from public life, Bill and Lynne Hybels, co-founders of the influential Willow Creek Association, helped organize and participate in conferences (Catalyst and the Justice Conference) that featured anti-Israel speakers.
In 2010, an anti-Israel film was produced by EGM Films, headquartered at Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City. One of the director’s initial meetings in the Middle East was with Hezbollah terror chief Sheik Nasrallah, in Beirut.
Over time, more erosion of biblical thought has infected the American Church. Famous Pastor Andy Stanley has in recent years attacked the Bible, and even suggested that Christians “unhitch” from the Old Testament! We know what this led to in Nazi Germany.
Since the Hamas attacks, I have seen daily anti-Semitic remarks from professing Christians on social media, such as the following:
“So you’re telling me that Israel doesn’t have an antichrist spirit? Are these not the people who crucified our messiah?”
On the same day of the Hamas attack, Russell Moore published at Christianity Today what was ostensibly a pro-Israel column. Yet notice the language he uses in the second paragraph:
“Some might assume that evangelical Protestants automatically support Israel based on eschatological views that cast the modern state of Israel in some role in biblical prophecy. For some, this is indeed the case. Many of us, though, don’t share those beliefs. We believe the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ, not in the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. Many of us are quite willing to call out Israel when we believe it is acting wrongly. We don’t believe the Israeli Knesset is somehow inerrant or infallible.”
Modern Israel has no linkage with their ancestors in the Land? This is patently untrue. If one looks at it theologically, hundreds of verses in the Bible attest to it. Scientifically, DNA absolutely links the people from the different eras. I believe Moore and others like him make a false distinction here because they do not like modern Israel. Over the last 25 years of advocacy for Israel, in the Christian community, I have come to the conclusion that many evangelical leaders do not like Jews.
It is MacArthur’s quote, however, that sends shock waves through the pro-Israel Christian community, along with their Jewish friends. We already have an epidemic of pastoral gatekeepers in America that do not like Israel. This only compounds the problem, and also proves that such thought is very much behind closed doors.
Dexter Van Zile, a Christian and a longtime defender of Israel and the Jewish people, who currently serves as editor of Focus on Western Islamism, a publication founded by the Middle East Forum in 2022, says he isn’t surprised by MacArthur’s statement and the reluctance of Christian leaders to call him out.
“The increase we are seeing in expressions of contempt toward Jews are a sign that something is deeply wrong in our civil society,” he said. “Part of it is fear of having to stand up to the crowd of leftists and Islamist who have worked assiduously to drive Jews from the public square in our cities and from the intellectual and social life of college campuses throughout the country. It is no longer just a moral and ethical problem, but a strategic threat to our republic. And if Christian leaders can’t set the example of defending their churches from anti-Jewish contempt, we can’t expect folks in the secular realm to do the same on college campuses and in city halls.”
Alex Grobman, a renowned Holocaust scholar, also isn’t surprised by MacArthur’s view. Grobman has published extensively about the Jewish experience with Christians stretching back to the Middle Ages. It isn’t a pretty picture.
“This [MacArthur’s statement] is just another misguided and ignorant canard about the Jewish people that has no basis in fact—unless he has irrefutable proof to the contrary, which we all would like to see. Perhaps he could learn from a real scholar.”
Grobman also notes the lethal threat Jews in their ancestral land face:
“The idea that the State of Israel has reduced antisemitism is mistaken. Antisemitism has intensified. Lest someone believe one can negotiate with them, Rabbi Soloveitchik declared, ‘It is always impossible to satisfy antisemites … they will find fault with whatever we do.’”
While some evangelical leaders have issued statements in support of Israel, the real threat is coming from behind closed doors. I am asking Dr. John MacArthur to apologize for the statement about Israel and Hamas.
Anti-Semitism is a spiritual disease, period.
Jew-haters will continue to send them dead flowers, but Scripture is very clear that at the end, Israel will put roses on the graves of her enemies.
Am Israel Chai!