Unless you are completely off line and unplugged you have likely heard something about Israel and Hamas. If you are that off the grid you probably aren’t reading this anyway!
I recently came across an incredibly thorough and well thought out analysis of both the ancient and modern considerations for Israel and Christianity. The article is titled “Understanding Israel”.
It was so good, I felt like I would not be able to add anything. The original was long, so I am giving you a summary.
I take no credit for this work, but I do believe it is a fantastic explanation! The article was written by James Emery White. He is a current pastor, former professor, and seminary president.
My hope is the article helps you to think through the lens of the Bible and apply your faith to what you see happening in the world around us.
The nation of Israel is always in the news, but with the recent conflict with Hamas resulting in the worst violence in nearly a decade they are front and center.
Many Christians don’t know what to think about Israel. Few have more than a superficial understanding of the Israel of the Old Testament, and things become less clear with modern-day Israel.
It is a big topic but the starting point is to understand Israel as a nation in the Old Testament, and then understand Israel as a modern-day nation-state.
Old Testament Israel
In Exodus, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and toward the Promised Land. He then handed the leadership baton off to a man named Joshua, who led the people to possess the land.
They were then ruled by various judges until the time they appointed their first king, Saul, who was followed by one of the greatest leaders in all of history, King David. David established Israel as the premiere force in that part of the world.
David’s son Solomon followed and through God give wisdom, built Israel to such prominence that kings and queens came from around the world just to marvel and learn. This was a golden age for Israel.
When Solomon died his son, Rehoboam (David’s grandson), came to the throne, standing in the line of kings ready to lead Israel forward to even greater heights. Unfortunately, his pride led him to take advantage of the people and they were miserable under his leadership.
Civil war broke out. Ten of the 12 tribes of Israel revolted and formed the Northern Kingdom; only two stayed loyal to Rehoboam, forming the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
This led to ever-increasing levels of political, cultural, and spiritual breakdown in both the North and the South, ushering in the prophetic era where God sent prophet after prophet to call the people back to God. The words of the prophets fell on deaf ears.
A 350-year decline was set in motion, culminating in exile for both the Northern and Southern kingdoms. The North fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the South to the Babylonians in 586 B.C., with the Temple
The Northern Kingdom was lost forever, and only a remnant from the Southern Kingdom was able to return from their exile to reestablish the Jewish homeland and wait for the Messiah. That ends the history of the Old Testament.
The story of the Bible picks up again in the time of Jesus. The Israel He inhabited was populated by the remnant from the Southern Kingdom allowed to return from Babylon. By this time, the area was ruled by Rome.
Modern Day Israel
Why is there so much tension in the Middle East surrounding Israel? As Richard Haass writes in The World: A Brief Introduction, the history of the Middle East since World War II is more often described in terms of various wars than anything else:
“Even a partial list would include the 1948 war between the Arab countries and the newly created state of Israel, the 1956 war in which Israel, the United Kingdom, and France joined forces against Egypt following its nationalization of the Suez Canal, the 1967 (Six-Day) and October 1973 wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the war between Israel and Lebanon that began in 1982, the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the 1990-1991 Gulf War between an international coalition led by the United States against Iraq followings its invasion and subsequent absorption of Kuwait, and the 2003 Iraq War initiated by the United States.”
So why so much conflict, and specifically related to Israel, and Jerusalem?
From your history class in school, you may remember the Crusades. The Crusades were instigated by Islamic military aggression and expansion. Jerusalem was forced to surrender to a Muslim Army in the year 638. They immediately began construction of a mosque on Temple Mount—the most offensive thing they could do to the Jews and Christians who lived there. By the year 711, they controlled all North Africa. By the year 846, they were attacking the outer areas of Rome, which was followed by horrific persecution of Christians.
Appeals for help came to the Pope to help and save the Christians being killed. From this, the first Crusade was announced by Pope Urban in 1095. By 1099, Christians recaptured Jerusalem. It was back under Islamic rule by 1291 and stayed that way until the end of the first World War.
The state of Israel, which included Jerusalem, came into being immediately following the end of World War II in 1948. Again, Haass:
“Israel was created in 1948, the culmination of the Zionist movement that gained traction in the first half of the twentieth century and came to fruition in the aftermath of the Holocaust, which saw six million Jews murdered at the hands of Nazi Germany. Jews came to believe that the only way to ensure such a tragedy did not happen again would be to have a country of their own. Many governments in the world agreed, and a vote at the UN established the state of Israel. At the same time, most in the Arab world resent or reject Israel as a Western creation imposed on them.”
The 1967 war between Israel and surrounding Arab states shifted the dispute away from Israel’s existence to its territorial reach. Often called the “Six-Day War,” Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip (both controlled by Egypt), the Golan Heights (controlled by Syria), and the West Bank and East Jerusalem (then under Jordanian authority).
Today, Palestinians remain “stateless” with some living on land Israel gained from Jordan in the 1967 war, others living in Gaza… and still others who were forced out or voluntarily left during the 1948 war and decades later remain as refugees in neighboring countries, especially Lebanon and Jordan.”
Over the decades both Israelis and Palestinians have come to live in the disputed territories. Beyond territorial disputes lies the religious dynamic. Jerusalem cannot help but be a flashpoint. It’s at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because both groups consider it their capital and, in terms of religious faith, it contains Judaism’s holiest site, Islam’s third holiest site, and arguably Christianity’s most sacred site.
For Jews, Jerusalem is the site of the Temple that was built where Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was destroyed, then rebuilt—again on the sacred ground of Abraham. The Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall” is the surviving remnant of that second Temple and is Judaism’s most holy site.
To Christians, Jerusalem is the site where the Last Supper took place, and the the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is said to be built on the site where those events took place.
Jerusalem is also sacred to Muslims because Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven from the stone that is now enclosed by the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The Mosque there is considered the third holiest Mosque in the Muslim world, after the ones at Mecca and Medina.
Many Christians who have a biblical understanding of the nation of Israel fail to have a modern, socio-political understanding of the current state of Israel created in 1948. Modern day Israel and Old Testament Israel are not the same. Many would suggest they should not be confused with one another. Regardless, it helps to understand both biblical Israel and modern-day Israel to grasp the never-ending news cycle of events that happen in the Middle East.
Wow, that is a great deal to process! You can see why the area so consistently faces protests, anger, and violence.
Many have different thoughts about the role Israel is to play in the future when it comes to the return of Jesus and the last days. It would take several books to explore them all!
I do know this, Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies, to be peacemakers, and to distinguish ourselves by how well we love each other and love our neighbors.
I invite you to join in me praying for peace (In Israel and in the Ukraine) and for Jesus to be made known to everyone who lives in that part of the world.
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