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How Should We Think About What's Going on with Israel?
Hamas, Politics, Humility & Dispensationalism
A few days ago a Palestinian terrorist group called Hamas—a group which presently rules the Gaza Strip (a territory of Palestine) attacked Israel, murdering and kidnapping innocent civilians. The attack was calculated, brutal, and wicked. The photos and videos coming out from the attack are horrific.
Now, who exactly is Hamas? We know that the group won the elections in 2006 against Fatah, but forcefully took control of the Gaza Strip from their rival, Fatah shortly after in 2007. Over the years, however, Fatah and Hamas reached a deal to end the divide between the two groups. According to Al Jazeera, they are the two dominant groups in the “Palestine political sense”. Historically Fatah is more secular, recognizes Israel, and sought negotiations with Israel. Hamas on the other hand is Islamic, does not recognize Israel, and has a sworn commitment to destroy Israel. In fact, the name Hamas, “is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, or "Islamic Resistance Movement", and means "zeal" in Arabic.” Their mission—the reason they exist is literally one of Islamic resistance and by “resistance” they mean through war, not peaceful measures.
To accomplish this, Hamas, over time has aligned itself more with other Arab countries specifically with anti-Israel agendas/commitments including Iran.
Now, why am I writing a short article on this? That is a good question, and I’ll let you be the judge on whether or not my answer is legitimate. The reason for my writing is pastoral.
Israel is significant not just for Jewish people, but for Christians as well. It is where our Lord came in his first advent. It is where the head of the serpent was crushed.
Israel should matter to us as Christians. Over the last few days, I have seen a lot of opinions online as we all seek to collectively process what we see. So the aim of this article is to help my fellow Christians process this present moment in history Christianly.
President Biden has called the attacks by Hamas “sheer evil”. Now, it is well worth considering how we must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to call evil, “evil”. In other words, on what basis, does President Biden look at what Hamas is doing and deem it “sheer evil”? This is an important question. In order to call something “evil” or “good” there must be a standard. For Christians, the standard is the Bible. We look at these atrocities happening against image bearers and we say, “that’s evil” and we are right to do so.
Sufficient to say, that President Biden is right to call these atrocities evil and I am glad that he did, but I am curious as to what he thinks makes these acts so atrocious.
The current administration has placed our allies in a compromised position. Unfreezing 6 billion dollars and in effect paying a ransom to Iran is not good news for Israel (or for America). Leaving weapons in Afghanistan in our hasty departure was not good for Israel, for Americans, or for those in Afghanistan. American weapons that have been sent to Ukraine, have a high probability of getting into the hands of terrorists, like Hamas. Collectively these are not good things and will complicate this conflict going forward. We shouldn’t be naive to that.
On Foreign Policy and the Call for Humility
This does, however, get us into the topic of foreign policy. I am nowhere close to having a handle on US Foreign Policy and my guess is that you don’t have a handle on it either. How much or how little the United States should or should not be involved is wildly complex. It is easy for us to criticize when we aren’t the ones making the hard calls. It is easy to think you see clearly when you’re not fielding phone calls from around the world, and responsible for sending soldiers into combat and thinking through civilian casualties, our own national security, and the prospect of another long war in the Middle East.
We need to take on the posture of prayerful humility. We should pray for our President and those surrounding him to make wise decisions. We should pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu and those around him to make wise decisions too. Israel has a right to exist. Israel has a right to defend its borders. At the same time, we should be slow to speak about how this should all be accomplished. We do not have all the information. God has not put us in the position to make these calls. God has not given you nor me the grace to make the hard decisions that will need to be made in the coming days/weeks/months/years. All the rhetoric does is foster pride in our hearts.
Call Wickedness “Wicked” “Evil” “Sin”
As Christians, we should have clarity on right and wrong. There is absolutely no justifiable reason to call Hamas “freedom fighters”. I am shocked by how morally confused our society is. I’ve seen organizations like the “Black Lives Matter” Chicago Chapter promote Hamas as rebels fighting back against oppression. I’ve seen our Ivy League schools lack the clarity to call terrorism, terrorism. This is immoral.
The only category Hamas and its actions fall into is that of being terrorists. Women and children being massacred and their bodies desecrated and filmed for the world to see is wicked. Taking hostages and threatening filmed beheadings is wicked. It’s strange that I have to write this or say this. It goes to show you how morally confused we are. We live in a society that doesn’t know the difference between men and women, so of course we live in a society in which women and children can be butchered and labeled as “freedom fighting”. If we as Christians can’t have clarity on these matters, then who can? We don’t nuance evil. We don’t speak about all the different ways those who committed these atrocities are oppressed. We call it evil—full stop. And this type of evil warrants a response. It is unjust for these evils to not be punished.
However, seeing wickedness becomes difficult and complex in a society that murders children in the womb. It is quite difficult to take the moral high ground on babies being beheaded by these terrorists when the blood of 60 million children stains your hands. Perhaps this is the primary reason we are so unclear. I saw someone on social media ask how anyone can justify the execution of these children and the first words that came to my mind were “women’s healthcare”. We’ve been justifying it that way and numbing ourselves for years. Come to think of it, I am not shocked at how morally confused our society is.
Christians and Civilians On Both Sides
Hamas positions itself to hide behind civilians in this conflict with Israel. This is nothing new—they’ve been doing this since at least 2007. There are no rules of engagement on Hamas’ side of the conflict. This they know puts Israel in a very difficult position. No matter what there will be casualties in Gaza and in Israel. I saw a picture just yesterday of a Baptist church in Gaza and a Baptist church in Israel. This was a reminder that we have brothers and sisters in Christ in both places. We should remember this and pray that Hamas would be brought swiftly to justice so that these innocents caught in the crossfire on both sides can be spared.
Israel and Bible Prophecy
I am not a dispensationalist nor a premillennialist, but I have some godly brothers and sisters in Christ who are and I love them dearly. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to say that while the Bible talks about “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6-13), and while we can certainly say that historically our world goes through cycles of this, I want to caution those who read their Bibles through the lens of current events.
First, many of the passages that we point to as it relates to what we see going on in Israel are actually passages that were fulfilled in the Jewish Wars that culminated in the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. This is what Jesus prophesied about in Matthew 24 when he told his disciples “this generation shall not pass away until all this is fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). These words of Jesus came after him prophesying about the Judgement of Jerusalem and if you read it, it all sounds very end of the world like. If we’re familiar with our Old Testament and how God judges nations, we would see that Jesus is using Old Testament judgment language to speak about the judgment of Jerusalem. When Jesus prophesied it was in their future, but it is in our past.
Secondly, contrary to popular opinion, this war with Israel isn’t a sign that Jesus is coming back soon. It isn’t a conflict that you open up to the book of Revelation and see. It’s another war in a long series of wars in a sin-infested world.
Israel as God’s People
The New Testament tells us that all those in Christ are Abraham’s offspring:
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
God’s people are the Church. Christ died for the Church. And his Church is made up of Christian Jews and Gentiles. Many times when I see conflict spark in Israel, we speak about them as if Christ is the head of two bodies—the Church and Israel. While there was order as it relates to salvation —Jew first, then Gentile (Romans 1:16)—the true elect of God has always been wider than the nation of Israel. It is all those for whom Jesus shed his blood—his elect from every tribe, tongue, and nation (and that includes those Christians in Gaza, by the way).
Rebuilding of the Temple
There are those who believe that a third temple will be rebuilt and the Old Testament sacrificial system will be reinstituted. I cannot stress how blasphemous this is. When Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”(John 2:19) he was speaking about himself. Jesus’ body was crucified—it was buried, and 3 days later, it was gloriously resurrected. Furthermore, at his death, the temple of the curtain to the holy of holies was torn from the top to the bottom (Matthew 27:50-51a) signifying that the death of Jesus made our Triune God permanently accessible to us because Jesus is the sufficient sacrifice for our sin and he is our eternal high priest. The idea that the temple will be rebuilt and that the Levitical sacrificial system will be reinstituted strikes at the heart of the gospel—at the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice and his permanent fulfillment as our high priest. All Christians should reject the teaching that a third temple will be rebuilt.
There is much more that could be said. Perhaps I’ve raised more questions than I’ve given answers. However, these are some things we should be thinking about as we process what is going on in the world right now.
One final word of encouragement: Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father—ruling and reigning and making his enemies his footstool (Psalm 110:1). What we see going on in the world isn’t an indicator of God’s absence. On the contrary, it is an indicator of his involvement in our world—his involvement includes judgment. It includes divine wrath. So we shouldn’t turn on the news or look at social media and despair. We should be reminded that we serve a God who is holy and who is sovereign over all things including this.
We should also remember that Jesus really is coming back. He is coming back to make all things definitively new. One day he is coming to judge the living and the dead. And we will either be judged as those in Christ or we will be judged according to our own biographies.
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