Pick up a Bible and start reading--most anywhere in the Old Testament will do. It won't be long until what you read sounds like the evening news. The Middle East is heating up as never before--and the God of Israel is fully responsible.
The situation is extremely complicated and multi-faceted. Some of the ancient family feuds raging over there go all the way back 4000 years to Abraham and his descendants. Beginning with King David, 3000 years ago, one can read in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles details of numerous conflicts between Israel and her neighbors: Syria, Persia, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Arabia. A good many of these old animosities are being revived in our day. This means it can be very naïve to get involved in Middle Eastern affairs unless you are well-read and well-informed--and on God's side to boot.
The main conflict in the region is over land--and the main conflict is a religious conflict.
The God who Makes Covenants
There is but one true and living God. This is the God who called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees (now in Iraq). God had dealt with mankind for several thousand years prior to Abraham of course--Genesis Chapters 1-11 traces this earlier history of our race.
"For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth --as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge" (1 Corinthians 8:5-7)
In Genesis Chapter 12ff we see clearly that God deals with individuals and peoples by means of "covenants." Most of these covenants are "unconditional" in that a failure or lapse on the part of one party to the covenant does not nullify the covenant. In Genesis God promised the land that is now Israel to the patriarch Abraham, permanently and perpetually. Abraham was far from a perfect man, but to be clear about this covenant, God confirmed that the covenant was passed on to Abraham's son Isaac, and then from Isaac's son Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). The entire Old Testament is a record of God's faithfulness to this covenant in spite of Israel's general unfaithfulness.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly. Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year." (Genesis 17:1-21 excerpts)
The Jews were subsequently in Egypt for 400 years, but then delivered by Yahweh. God used Moses to bring the Jews back to their Land. At the time of the Exodus the LORD put in place what is called the "Old Covenant" -- the Law of Moses -- which included a priesthood and system of sacrifices to cover sin. This covenant was also unconditional because provision for human failures was included.
The Covenant of the Land
Just prior to the entry of the Jews back into the land under Joshua, there came another important covenant from God. This so-called "Covenant of the Land" is a partially conditional covenant between God and the newly formed nation of Israel. God owns the Promised Land--Eretz Israel--forever. He has given the land to Abraham and his descendants forever (specifically to the line of Isaac, Jacob, David and finally, Jesus). However, the right of the Jews to live in their land is dependent upon the their obedience. Prolonged disobedience would cause God to temporarily revoke the privilege of the Jews to live in their land. The blessings for obedience under this covenant were very great, and the punishments for disobedience were very severe as can be seen from Deuteronomy 27-30. Much of Israel's subsequent history shows that disobedience was the choice of the people most of the time. If one reviews the history of the Jews in the Old Testament, as the great prophets do, one sees immediately that most of the Jews, most of the time, were rebellious, idolatrous, and disobedient. For this they have paid a big price for many centuries.
Two Exiles for Disobedience
As the Bible reveals, the Jews temporarily forfeited the right to live in the land of Israel on two occasions. The first forfeit came with the Babylonian captivity, which lasted for 70 years. The Exile began with raids by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon. The destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's temple came in 586 BC--accompanied by horrendous loss of life and great suffering. Only a small remnant of the Jews survived.
After 70 years, the Jews were allowed back into their land by the Persians. The Persians had by then succeeded the Babylonians as the greatest gentile world power of the time. A small Second temple was built, and a modest nation restored. But Israel remained a second-rate power under foreign control by the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans.
John the Baptist arrived on the scene in Israel some 400 years after the close of the canon of the Old Testament. John announced that the long-awaited messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived on the scene. John urged Israel to come back to the God of their forefathers in national repentance. A few of the people responded. Then Jesus began to teach throughout the land. At the end of about three years Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday before Passover (Palm Sunday c. 33 AD). Riding on a donkey Jesus was fulfilling several ancient prophecies. The date of his entry as rightful king had been foretold 500 years earlier by the prophet Daniel.
Yet Jesus was rejected by the people and put to death rather than being honored as Israel's true King. Soon after, for the second time, the God of Israel invoked the conditional part of the Land Covenant. Yahweh banished the Jews from the land once again. This time their exile ("the diaspora") would last nearly 2000 years.
Through his ancient prophets--especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel--God had promised He would bring His people Israel back from exile and finally fulfill His ancient promises to their forefathers. They would be drawn back in general unbelief. (e.g., see Ezekiel 37) Finally God said He would bring the entire nation into a New and better covenant and elevate Israel to be the head over all the nations under Messiah's reign.
Jews from all over the world began returning to the land in the late 19th Century. In 1948 they declared themselves to be an independent state living again on their ancient lands. (About a third of the Jews in the world now live back in the Land. The rest will be called back there when Jesus the Messiah returns--Matthew 24:31).
But the right of the Jews to live in their own land is still conditional. Will God send them out of the land again because of their continuing disobedience? Apparently not. But a major problem remains. How does God get the Jews back to their God?
Who is a Jew?
The Bible is clear that God considers a true Jew to be a person who has the same faith as Abraham did. Jesus explained that the faith which Abraham had included believing and knowing Him (John 8:56-58). The Pharisees of Jesus' day were outraged when Jesus told them plainly that they were not true Jews, not children of Abraham at all. The Apostles also clearly taught that real Jews were those who acknowledged Jesus as rightful Messiah, King, and Lord. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me." (John 5:46) This does not mean that the Church has replaced Israel as some have wrongly supposed. It simply means that Jews who expect to continuing living in God's land, Eretz Israel, must know the God of Israel in the same way their forefathers did.
This is where the current problems in the Middle East come to a focus. There are at most a few thousand "believing Jews" in Israel today (cp. 1 Kings 19:18). Israel's current believing minority is a very small remnant indeed. The nation as a whole is a secular state and most of the Orthodox religious community is only nominally religious. The great majority of the Jews openly reject Jesus--they are quite unwilling to discuss the possibility that He might have something to say about their generation today. Therefore the people now living in Israel do not have a real right to live there now in their unrepentant state.
"The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame; and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day. The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few that a child can write them down. In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean upon him that smote them, but will lean upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth." (Isaiah 10:17-23)
This is not to say that the Arabs have any real right to the land either. The God of the land is Yahweh and not the pagan god Allah (the old Babylonian moon god). The "gods of the nations" are not welcome there either. It is for good reason that Israel is called "the Holy Land." It belongs to the Holy One of Israel. Non-Jews are welcome to live in Israel as citizens of Israel, but in the end they also will need to bow to Jesus, the true Jewish messiah.
Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, `Seek me in chaos.' I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right.
"Assemble yourselves and come, draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: `To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.' "Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed, all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory." (Isaiah 45:17-25)
A few decades ago one could find many Arab Christians in the region. By virtue of their faith in Jesus (if it was genuine, believing faith) they might claim a right to live in Israel as members of the church of Jesus Christ. However at this time in history the majority of Arab Christians have left the region. The ancient churches in Jerusalem (Roman Catholic, Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, etc) have long ago apostatized from a true Biblical faith and one is hard pressed to find very many true Christians among them at this time in their history.
The Jews in Israel are in big trouble with the God of Israel right now. They are not calling on the God who owns the Land for help. They are ignoring all the great lessons the Old Testament could teach them about this. Is it any wonder then that Yahweh should be turning up the heat on them? They are God's representative nation and God expects His people to represent Yahweh as He really is. The Muslims in comparison are merely ignorant of who the true God is--they are in most cases far less accountable. (Accountability to God is based on the amount of light and knowledge from God that has been received by an individual or by a nation).
In light of the unbelief on all sides of the current disputes, it is quite appropriate for the Christian community around the world to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to all parties in the dispute. Jesus is the Savior of the world. His death on the cross was for all mankind. Anyone, anywhere, from any background, may come to Jesus and be welcomed forever into His family--"the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."
"Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 45:1-7)
What is obvious in the media lately, and from the statements of most world leaders, is that almost everyone hates the Jews and supports the Arabs and the Muslims in their not-so-subtle plans to own all the land and to drive the Jews out forever.
However, any man or nation who opposes Israel will find Himself in opposition to God. (God defends His people before the world even when they are disobedient, for example see Isaiah 37) God has His own housekeeping problems with His people Israel--He will bring them to Himself no matter what it takes. It will in fact take World War III and their near extermination. But God also judges other nations by how they treat His people Israel. This is glaringly obvious to anyone who has read the Old Testament, (e.g., Ezekiel 36, Joel 3, Matthew 25:31-45).
God has elected to save Israel and He has chosen to judge the world by how they treat His people Israel. This is the sovereign choosing of Yahweh. God may have a huge problem in bringing Israel back to Himself after millennia of rebellion, but that is His problem not ours.
An Oracle. The word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus says the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him: "Lo, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of reeling to all the peoples round about; it will be against Judah also in the siege against Jerusalem. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it shall grievously hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will come together against it." (Zechariah 12:1-3)
The Final Redemption
The world can not have peace until Israel is reconciled to their God--restored to His favor The efforts of peacemakers in the region will all fail unless Jesus the Prince of Peace is directly involved. It is very dangerous for any nation to entangle itself in God's business. Israel will become the chief of all nations. Jesus will return to Israel rule the nations from the throne of His father David. Getting from where we are now in history, to that great Day will involved terrible suffering for the Jews (what lies ahead for Israel is called the "time of Jacob's trouble" in fact). The near destruction of most all of mankind will take place between now and then as well.
"For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened." (Matthew 24:21-22)
God loves the whole world, and He desires that all men should know Him. Christians know how the story will end, but we should also take into account the unbelief of Israel today--and God's love for Arabs and Muslims when we think about the Middle East.
The ultimate reality is that most of the world hates the God of Israel and most of the world has no use for Jesus. Jesus is without doubt that most hated man who every lived. But God has already determined ahead of time. Psalm 2 is quite clear about God's intentions and long term purpose in the Middle East:
Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill." I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
World leaders are currently concerned that the present Middle East conflict will escalate. It most certainly will! No one knows the final timing of events. Any efforts by our President to reduce the hostility and subdue the violence are surely commendable. But, I believe the evidence in the Bible is that we are now moving rapidly towards the end of the age.
"I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh." (Revelation 20:17-21)
The age we live in is a time of terrible deception. Jesus said this was what we should expect. (Matthew 24-25). Everyday I am made aware of the great number of Christians who have not read the Bible and know very little about what they believe and why. When it comes to Bible prophecy (eschatology) the Internet is a zoo of wild animals and crazy prophecy nuts.
"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31)
In writing this, I started by citing passage after passage from the Bible to build my case for the above statements. I decided instead to let the reader do his or her homework. A Biblically sound world-view is something each of us needs to build for himself. Therefore I have merely sketched in brief what I believe and how I look at the world today. I believe we are very near the "time of the final redemption" which will begin with the departure of the true church of Jesus Christ, and the passing of the torch back to Israel for the final seven years of the present age. There will be a "peace treaty" in the Middle East, but it will be a false peace broken by earth's last great World War. Then Jesus Himself, Israel's King, and the Savior of all who believe, will be back to rebuild a ruined planet and to set up the kingdom on earth which He promised long ago.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so 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." As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:25-36)