“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” Matther 5:9, ESV
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” James 1:22, NLT
There is a great tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. Regardless of who is justified, who is wrong, who is right, what you believe about eschatology, or your political convictions, what is happening in Israel and Gaza is a tragedy. All war is.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Israel and Gaza have been involved in a war. The area is a tinder box. Gaza is a small strip of land that lies between Israel and Egypt, and circumstances have made it what it is. Most of its native Arabic population has lived in peace with Israel since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the establishment of the independent State of Israel in 1948. But because of its location, and the political circumstances of attempting to create separate Arabic and Jewish states in Palestine, Gaza has become a place where militants, extremist Islamics, and refugees have blended into the population.
The extremism of the militant Islamic groups in the Middle East is dangerous, no doubt, not just for Israel, but for the native Arabic populations whose ancestry and ownership of the land in the area goes back to the fourth century. It’s like attempting to figure out a Byzantine maze. Three of the world’s major religions have their origins in the small piece of desert that is now primarily occupied by Israel. There’s a long history of war and conflict between all three, and a long history of intolerance, and the inability of the adherents of any of those religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, to share control of the region. Christians were eventually relegated to second class status, and became a small minority of the population. Likewise, the Roman conquest and destruction of Jerusalem ended the political presence of Jews, scattering most of those who survived into Asia Minor and Europe. Muslims conquered an empire, and then divided over religious and political control, fragmenting into warring factions that are almost as hostile to each other as they are to those of other religions.
The interference of European imperialism further complicated the situation. Modern “colonialism”, which has taken the form of political alliances with various sheiks and political dictators in order to gain access to the area’s mineral wealth, primarily the oil, has contributed to the rise of militant Islam. International politics, with the great powers choosing sides and helping one or the other, in the hopes of getting their hands on the mineral wealth of the region and having a dominant political influence, only makes things worse.
Think about it in terms of how you would feel, if your family lived in a particular region, with ancestry that goes back for centuries, under the political control of people whose religious beliefs, language and culture is similar to yours, and suddenly, by a decree forced by a foreign power, you are deprived of your property, and forced to move into an unfamiliar city or area, with no compensation for the life you and your family have built. And in the new place were you are forced to move, you are treated as a refugee, and an unwelcome guest because the presence of your family, and thousands of others who have also been forced to move, has created overcrowding and shortages of food and goods. Would you be resentful of your circumstances? Would you be susceptible to a militant movement that tells you their aim is to get what is rightfully theirs?
It’s presumptive to take the view that what transpires in the Middle East is all part of the plan of Biblical eschatology from a premillennial, dispensational perspective. First of all, that would be claiming to know a future that Jesus plainly told us he doesn’t even know. Second, it would be stepping out of our position as redeemed, forgiven sinners and into the role of self-appointed prophet. Prophecy doesn’t just involve predicting the future, it involves proclamation of God’s word, and the prophetic voices that are needed in this situation are the peacemakers, not the self-proclaimed eschatologists. Prophets are called by God, not by those who assume that their interpretation of scripture is superior to other interpretations of it.
We only get the perspective of what is going on from brief sound bytes and video clips provided by news media, so it is impossible to make a judgment about who is right and who is wrong. The militants in Gaza claim that they’ve been wronged by Israel, who dictates where they can live, who have taken homes and businesses away, limited access to their communities, in their process of building a nation. The Israelis claim they are defending themselves from unprovoked attack. Knowing the history of the Middle East, including the steps leading up to the establishment of the independent Jewish state, I don’t think anything in the Middle East can be called “unprovoked.” And I doubt whether any news media report we get is objective.
The people of Gaza, most of them natives who aren’t Hamas, or militant Islamics of any kind, are caught in the middle. It seems like this is a great place for the peace of Jesus and his gospel to speak. These are two groups of people caught in a religious conflict that is outside of the will of God, and both religions, all three if you want to consider that most Israelis are not practicing Jews, but are generally agnostics and atheists, have rejected Jesus. The way I read and interpret scripture, the most effective ministry Christians can have is the one that we’ve been charged with from the beginning, to love others the way Jesus did, and to look past the labels. Do our actions and words related to this conflict reflect Christ? Think about it.
What does God’s word say about how to treat people? Then do it!