We will continue our series on practically integrating children into Church next week. Current events have prompted a pastoral desire to assist Christians in their consideration of world events.
With our news feeds and TV screens being absolutely plastered with reports about the latest Israel-Gaza conflict Christians everywhere are wondering how to feel about the whole affair. I’m not here going to give you a big theological walk through to explain all the ins and outs of how Israel (the ethnic group) fits into God’s long term unfolding of history, but there are a few brief points to mention to give you some “coat hooks” to hang your thoughts on as you mull things over.
The modern state of Isarael is not the same thing as the Israel who entered into a covenant with God at Sinai. The modern secular state of Israel is a geopolitical entity that has a lot of Jewish people in it, but also includes many Muslims and Christians. It may be that God uses this modern state in his unfolding plan, but don’t get confused between the two. Back in the medieval times, there was this thing called the Holy Roman Empire. It was neither Roman nor Holy, but they called it by that name to try and create a link to the past. Same goes for modern Israel; there are historical connections, but it’s not the same thing.
The only way of Salvation is through Jesus Christ – for the Jew and the Gentile. Reformed Christians have generally held that although the majority of Jews have rejected Jesus for now, there will be a time when a large part of ethnic Israel will turn to the LORD:
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
‘The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’;
‘and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.’ “ (Ro 11:25–27).
Jews do have a place of honour as being part of the people who received the covenant and Christ, but Jew and Gentile stand on equal footing before the LORD. Gentiles have been grafted into God’s people as inheritors of the same promises, and many unfruitful Jewish branches have been pruned off the tree that is God’s kingdom (Romans 11:11–24).
Do not be sucked into the trap of thinking about Jews or Israel as a separate thing from the Church. Although we may yet see ethnic Israelites receiving the promises given to their forefathers and being grafted back in, it will not be outside Jesus or disconnected from the rest of Christ’s one Bride.
Christian hope is not centred on the earthly City of Jerusalem which has been overthrown and destroyed many times in human history, even since Jesus’ day. Our hope and desires reach to a better and higher city of which the earthly Jerusalem was a shadow (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22–24). What happened around Jerusalem with the advent of Islam did not signal the end of the age, nor during the crusades, and military conflict in the region now is nothing unusual in the scope of history.
Sure, Jerusalem and surrounds are unique as the stage for the unfolding of salvation history, and so they do hold a special place in the hearts of Christians, but we ought not be superstitious about the place as if it has some inherit holiness or value beyond this honour. Holy Ground is wherever God is, and God lives in His Church through His Holy Spirit. We should care much more deeply about holiness in our own heart and homes than about the defence of the “Holy” Land.
By the way, if you’re reading your Bible in such a way that it you can only interpret it with news reports, then you’re doing it wrong. Revelation and the rest of the Bible are a blessing and encouragement to Christians in every age, whether there be strife in geographic Israel or peace.
God deals with humanity through covenant heads. The first of which was Adam, who plunged our race into sin and death. Now all who were under his headship (the whole race) are in the same boat because of someone else’s choices.
Abraham, Moses and David all performed similar functions for God’s people. They represented God’s people and they were the leader that God used as an intermediary between God and His Kingdom. Some of their choices had terrible consequences for others, but their faithfulness also left great blessing for God’s People.
Jesus is the Covenant Head par-excellence. Jesus is the second Adam who had the right to stand as our King before God and reconcile us. Through his faithfulness God’s people are saved. So there are upsides and downsides to covenant heads in a fallen world; a good one leads to blessing for many, a bad one leads to curses.
In everyday life we all live under some kind of headship that we do not control. And we are affected, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively by the choices others make on our behalf. This can be on the level of household leaders, church leaders, or it can be on the level of local, state and federal Government.
This means that when the government of Australia makes a declaration of war, Australia as a whole country is at war, even if you and I want no part of it. Because the government is our civil head, we are brought along with them into their choices. However, democracies have greater culpability that lies in individuals, because we were the ones (collectively speaking) who installed the government of the day.
In the case of Gaza, their leadership (their heads) are the ones who has led their small state into the situation they’re in. Without minimising the complexities of the situation, we can stand back and understand that the leaders of Gaza have materially caused the problems all Gazans face by attacking Israel. Many innocent people have been plunged into war on the basis of the choices of others. But remember also, the Hamas leadership of Gaza was chosen by the people. There is a shared culpability between the people and the Hamas leadership.
Gaza chose this war with Isarael (through their leaders), and they cannot act the victim when war comes to their doorstep.
Now, even though Gaza has chosen war, that does not make everybody there a party to the conflict, nor guilty by association. There are plenty of examples of people throughout history who rightly dissociated themselves from the evil of their leadership, and defected (or tried to remain impartial). Rahab is an example. There were many good Germans in WWII who would not go along with the evil. They are caught between loyalties so to speak, and often they will have to make a decision that definitively cuts them off from their roots.
Many Gazans are in dire circumstances because of the choices of their leaders. And while they are now at war, I presume many would like to be completely removed from the situation and uninvolved. Now while these people are likely to suffer because of their leadership’s choices, it does not therefore follow that they should or must suffer for their leader’s choices.
Each Gazan is an Image Bearer of God, and of equal worth as an Israeli life. Unless they materially participate in the war, they should not be considered a target. Every life on both sides is important, and the lives of non-combatants should be protected.
God designed Civil Governments to wield the sword. They are to defend justice in their nation, and to defend people from external threats. In the case of Israel, they have just cause to defend their people from Hamas violence and to go rescue the hostages that were taken.
We can trace back generational grievances between Gaza and Israel, but I think we can both agree that past grievances do not validate future evil like murder, rape, and other violence toward innocents. Whatever we may think of the history of Gaza and Israel, this present war has very clear lines – Hamas is the aggressor and Israel the defender and victim.
I feel for Israel who are fighting an enemy who uses non-combatants as a shield. Their task is made harder by this evil of their enemy, but they still have a just cause to prosecute and so they are stuck. If Israel seeks out their enemy who hides behind non-combatants, then non-combatants get caught in the crossfire. If they pull back and leave the enemy alone for fear of hurting innocents, then their own citizens are hurt as hostages and at high risk of future attacks.
They’re caught between a rock and a hard place: risk the lives of Gazans or risk the lives of Israelis?
The sad reality is that justice doesn’t stop at a geographic border. Some imply that the Israelis should not push beyond the border of Gaza. I wonder if the same people thought the Allies should have stopped at the border of Germany instead of freeing the prisoners and completely dismantling the enemy?
This reminds me of how the LORD himself does not respect our human boundaries, but entered enemy territory to defeat the leadership of this world and bring his Salvation (2 Corinthians 4:4, John 8:44, Colossians 2:15, John 1:14).
Need I say more than that? The hurt and violence of this age will one day be overcome. All of God’s people will dwell securely in God’s Land. True Justice will one day be finally and fully metered out. Those promises will be fulfilled, yet we live in the here and now in expectation.
Pray for the people in this conflict, pray for true justice, pray for mercy, pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom where war will be no more.