Middle East Conflict & The Gospel
We are living during a time of tremendous conflict and within a culture that is feeling a famine that is “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). Most people know far more about what’s happening in the world through social media platforms or 24-hour news outlets than they know of what is written, explained, and predicted in the Bible. As such, many people, including Christians, are often knocked off their feet by what they see.
My desire is to help us understand God’s Word and how it applies to what we see in the world. It was said of a group of men from the tribe of Issachar that “they had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chr. 12:32). This understanding is available to us. If we grow in our understanding of God’s Word and connect that to what we see in the world, we will know how to think, pray, and respond without being emotionally knocked off our feet by what we see.
October 7, 2023
On Oct. 7, the world saw a group called, ‘Hamas,’ unleash a coordinated attack on men, women, and children in Israel, killing 1200 and taking 240+ hostages. The word, ‘Hamas,’ has a long history in language. In Arabic, it means ‘zeal or bravery.’ In Hebrew, it means ‘violence.’ In fact, Genesis 6:11 says, “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (ḥā-mās).”
Hamas is an Islamic militant terrorist group, governing the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip with a presence in the West Bank. They have used civilians, schools, and hospitals as shields for their bases of operation to carry out their charter to destroy Israel and possess the land. October 7 was the largest single-day killing of Jewish people since the Holocaust. The nation of Israel responded with strategic air strikes, a blockade, and a ground invasion. Thousands have been killed, millions are displaced, and demonstrations and protests for and against both sides have sprung up around the world.
I have been asked how the gospel would help us think, pray, and respond to this conflict. I chose to write and record this message for you to consider at your convenience if you are interested. Let me acknowledge that I have leaned on the good work of others pastors such as Greg Laurie, Aaron Brockett, Gary Hamrick, and John MacArthur to help enhance my understanding.
Deep & Dark Conflict
Before we look at the biblical history that shapes our responses, let me remind us that the conflict in the Middle East is over 4000 years old. Any conflict that old is layered with grief, anger, and vengeance, which creates another layer of grief, anger, and vengeance. Therefore, it takes patience to understand this conflict and humility to sympathize with the people who live and hurt in the midst of it.
Let me also remind us that any conflict in the physical world always has roots in the spiritual world. The Apostle Paul taught, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). There is a war in the spiritual world that splashes its muddy violence into the physical world. To ignore this makes any response short-sighted. When did this conflict begin?
In The Beginning
In the beginning, God created the world. According to Isaiah and Revelation, the angel Lucifer (later named Satan) was thrown out of heaven for leading a rebellion against God. He came to earth with intentions to tempt and destroy mankind who was created in God’s image. Man sinned and brokenness swept over creation. Peace was replaced with conflict. Our hearts that once said, “My life for your good” now say, “Your life for my good.” Life was replaced with certain death. In the darkness of this moment, God promised a Rescuer! One day, a special Son would be born of woman. Satan would bruise His heel, but this special Son would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4-5). The answer to our restoration and redemption would be a war between Satan and this Son, ultimately won by the Son.
God’s Promise To Israel
In Gen. 12, God came to Abram who was worshipping idols (Josh. 24:2). Out of pure grace, God said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). We see that there are three parts to the promise: a special land, a lineage, and a promised Lord who will bless the world.
In Gen. 15, God came to Abram who was still childless, gave him the name Abraham, and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:5-6). God then confirmed this promise with a covenant. We are more familiar with commitments; a commitment implies, “I will fulfill my promise if you fulfill yours.” On the other hand, a covenant implies, “I will fulfill my promise even if you fail to fulfill yours.” When a covenant was formed a slain lamb would be cut into pieces and the participants would walk between the pieces saying, “If I’m unfaithful, may I become like this lamb.” As Abraham woke from a deep sleep, God walked between the pieces alone to make and meet the demands of the covenant for both sides. “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land’” (Gen. 15:18).
Now, we know that whatever God creates, Satan counterfeits. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light,” (2 Cor. 11:14), and he is the father of lies. Satan has tried to distort God’s promise for ages!
In Gen. 16, Abraham and Sarah became impatient for a child. Sarah gave her servant Hagar to sleep with Abraham, and they had a son named Ishmael. God said of Ishmael, “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12). In Gen. 17, without another son, Abraham asked God if Ishmael could be the son of promise. God said, “No, but 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 offspring after him” (Gen. 17:19). Abraham and Sarah soon had a son named Isaac. Ishmael and Isaac both grew up and had children. Just as God promised, they are still fighting today over the land, lineage, and Lord.
In Gen. 22, God chose to test Abraham’s faith. He said to him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). Once God saw Abraham’s faith, He protected Isaac. God soon confirmed His covenant with Isaac, saying, “I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father…in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:3-4). To confirm the lineage, God came to Jacob, one of Isaac’s sons, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:13-14).
The History of Mt. Moriah
The mountains of Moriah where God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac have a long history. Some 1200 years later, King Solomon built the first Jewish temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1). Roughly 900 years later, Jesus would be crucified to pay for our sins just outside the gate of Jerusalem at a place called Golgotha, which was near Mt. Moriah.
Today, Mt. Moriah is home to the Muslim holy place called the Dome of the Rock. 500 years after Jesus, the promised descendant of Isaac, died for our sin and rose from the grave, a descendent of Ishmael named Mohammad was born. Mohammad claimed to receive a new gospel from an angel that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus. It would seem that Paul gave an early warning that applies when he wrote, “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). This ‘new gospel’ became the foundation of Islam.
Islam claims that the Quran is superior to the Bible, that God chose Hagar over Sarah, and Ishmael over Isaac. It says that Ishmael was the son that God rescued from Abraham’s hands-on Mt. Moriah. Therefore, Islam teaches that all the promises to Abraham, including the land, the lineage, and the promised Lord, fall to Ishmael and his descendants who are modern-day Arabs. The result is conflict. On October 7, the descendants of Ishmael attacked the descendants of Isaac in a fight over the land and lineage, shouting “Allah Akbar” or “Allah is greatest.” This war will rage until the end.
The Last War
The Bible says there is a war that will end all wars. In Ezekiel 38-39, we read of a final war where Israel, who will be living in peace, will be invaded by the nations surrounding her. Some of the names have changed but it talks about Gog and Magog, which is modern-day Russia; Persia, which is Iran; Cush, which is Sudan; Put, which is Libya; and Gomer, which is Turkey. These nations and others in the vicinity will invade Israel from the north and south. Revelation 16 calls this Armageddon.
But into this dark war, will come a great light (Rev. 19). For this is when the Lord Jesus shall emerge, bearing the name King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to put the world to rights. The first time Jesus came in humility; the next time He will come in glory. When Jesus returns, He will defeat evil and usher in an eternal kingdom of peace to be enjoyed by all who have put their trust in Him.
How shall we respond?
First, be alert but not alarmed. Jesus said, “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mt. 24:6-8). When we read the Bible, we learn it has a lot to say about the future. As we grow in our understanding of what is to come, we will be able to stay emotionally attuned to real pain in the world without being emotionally knocked off our feet at each news cycle.
Second, believe that physical conflicts have spiritual roots. We live in a culture that believes everything has a natural cause and that views Satan as a fairytale. This is tragic; for if we don’t recognize the presence of an enemy, he can destroy us while we pin the blame on others. Evil is real and must be accounted for.
Third, understand the opposition against Israel. Ever since God chose Abraham’s line to be the path to the promised Son, Satan has set his sights on destroying them. Hamas joins a long line of people in history including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Germans, who have been incited to destroy Israel. The ultimate reason for this conflict is a rebellion against God and His anointed Son whom He sent to save the lost (Psalm 2). The only final solution to this conflict will be the return of the Anointed Son, Jesus Christ, who will bring the world to rights. All other solutions, diplomatic or military, will prove to be temporary at best.
Fourth, pray with wisdom and compassion. As those who understand the roots of this conflict from God’s Word, we can balance several realities as we pray. We can pray for the conflict to end and for justice to be done. We can stand with Israel believing God’s covenant while understanding that the people, leaders, and policies may be fallible (As seen in the Old Testament). We can stand with Israel and grieve the loss of life in Israel and Palestine. We can also pray for our fellow Christians in Israel and Palestine and for unbelievers in both Israel and Palestine.
Finally, let me invite you to put your trust in Jesus. The lineage of Abraham leads to Jesus. He is the promised Lord who lived without sin, died for ours and rose from the dead to forgive us and give us eternal life. If we put our trust in Him, we will be saved.
May the Lord give you peace as you fix your eyes on Him and as you understand His Word!
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