The Story: Palestinian leaders have called for a “day of rage” in the West Bank today after a Gaza school being used as a United Nations shelter was hit. The Palestinian government claims the Israeli strike killed 16 people and injured more than 200. This marks the 18th consecutive day of back-and-forth violence between Israelis and Hamas militants in the Middle East, a seemingly intractable wave of conflict that has already claimed more than 800 (mostly civilian) lives.
Meanwhile, thousands of evangelical Christians flocked to Washington, D.C., for a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit earlier this week. “When you turn against Israel you have lost your moral compass,” founder John Hagee told the gathered crowd. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (in a recorded video message) and Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer also addressed the summit. With nearly 1.75 million members, CUFI claims to be the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States.
Such events in the Middle East and in America raise typical and vital questions. Does Israel possess a “divine right” to the Promised Land? What is the “Promised Land,” anyway? The interminable Israeli–Palestinian conflict has always been freighted with biblical significance; Israel, after all, didn’t dub a former anti-Hamas campaign “Operation Pillar of Cloud” for nothing.
The Background: Ten years ago John Piper, then pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, delivered a sermon from Romans 11:25–32 titled “Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East.” In it, he offered seven principles concerning the ever-contentious issue of “the Land”:
1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.
2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.
3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.
5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.
6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.
7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.
Why It Matters: Regardless of where you land theologically or politically, the events of the past two weeks mark yet another distressing development in the Israeli–Palestinian saga. This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they’d search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39–40, 46). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place—whether reconstructed temple or geographical acreage—but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21–26).
Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they’d turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.
May the Prince of Peace reveal what’s been hidden (Luke 19:41–42) and bring everlasting shalom to a Land flowing with blood and hate—with little milk and honey to be found.