Saturday, June 09, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 25: Towards a balanced biblical perspective on the Six Day War and its context

About a week ago, one evening I turned on my bedside shortwave receiver, which happened to be tuned to TBN's Radio Paradise [AM 820 in the EC].

Just then, self-confessed former Palestinian Arab terrorist Walid Shoebat was on-air, speaking (I believe, with Matthew Crouch). He was speaking of his experience some years ago when he set out to convert his wife to Islam, in 1993; for, in so doing he began to read the Bible. As he did so, he came across the desperate prayer for relief we now known as Psalm 83:
PS 83:1 O God, do not keep silent;
be not quiet, O God, be not still.

PS 83:2 See how your enemies are astir,
how your foes rear their heads.

PS 83:3 With cunning they conspire against your people;
they plot against those you cherish.

PS 83:4 "Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation,
that the name of Israel be remembered no more."

PS 83:5 With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you--

PS 83:6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
of Moab and the Hagrites,

PS 83:7 Gebal, Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia, with the people of Tyre.

PS 83:8 Even Assyria has joined them
to lend strength to the descendants of Lot . . . .

PS 83:13 Make them like tumbleweed, O my God,
like chaff before the wind.

PS 83:14 As fire consumes the forest
or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,

PS 83:15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.

PS 83:16 Cover their faces with shame
so that men will seek your name, O LORD.

PS 83:17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed;
may they perish in disgrace.

PS 83:18 Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD--
that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
He spoke of his shock: why were "the good guys" -- the descendants of the surviving peoples of these nations are now Arabised peoples -- the bad guys here? And why were "the bad guys" -- the Jews -- the good guys?

Giving more details, he wrote in the October 2006 Jerusalem Post, as cited here:
The Psalms of David, especially Psalm 83, reminded me of the Six Day War I had lived through. 'They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from the being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.' 'They' are a confederacy of Ishmaelites (Arabs), inhabitants of Tyre (Lebanese), Philistines (Gazans / Palestinians), and Assyrians (Syrians, Iraqis, Turks).

[NB: Elsewhere, he notes: "in a Zola Levit Television program, Mr. Husseni bluntly claims that the Palestinians originated from the Jebusites before Abraham moved to Israel, he clearly changed the historic fact to an American audience who lacks in Eastern History to the [falsely claimed] fact that today's Palestinians are immigrants from the surrounding nations. I grew up well knowing the history and origins of today's Palestinians as being from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Christian from Greece, Muslim Sherkas from Russia, Muslims from Bosnia, and the Jordanians next door . . . . In my city I remember everyone able to give his/her origin, a family with the last name Bolous knows that he is originally from Greece, Khresto (Greek), Roza (Latino), Mughrabi (Maghreb), Bannurah (Egyptian), Tio (Latino), Qumsieh (Greek), Hourani (Syria), Hilal (Turkey), Batarseh (Greek), Shoebat (Jordan). This example is typical of all the Palestinian Arabs. All these people came no [more?] than 150 years ago and even the Arab immigrant families like Al-Nashasheebi, Al-Khalidi, and Al-Husseini settled in Palestine in the same period and were given the status of "Efendi" which made them an upper class taking over the lands while the rest of the lower class "Falaheen" were exploited . . . The city I lived in was desolate until my great grand father with 6 other families settled in our village which is now inhabited by 40,000 people . . ."]

The outcome of this battle? The prophet says God will rebuke Israel's enemies, and 'fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O Lord' (Psalm 83:15-16). For the first time, I began to recognize that in this world we have two cups to choose between: one that is filled by th forces of evil, and the other by the God of Israel. I knew if I chose the second cup I would be declared a traitor by the people I had grown up with, and would have to run from an angry family. But I also knew that I would be appointed as a watchman to speak all over the world, declaring the Jews' right to Jerusalem and Israel. From that moment, I changed from being a terrorist to being an ambassador for the coming Messiah . . .
That is, Shoebat saw the Six Day War as an example of precisely the sort of situation envisioned in that Psalm of desperate plea for deliverance, a plea answered by an amazing and generally unexpected victory. Such a view is of course highly controversial (especially among Arabs who are "Christian"), and so it is no surprise to see his further words in response to his critics, on the web site
I am an Arab, and a Palestinian, and I'd rather stick with saying that I am a Christian when speaking on The Bible. I do not like this idea of Arab Christian point of view at all. I'd rather use the best of my ability to say and write exactly what I see and understand as to what God said and regardless to whose point of view I hurt. Truth should be truth, it does not matter if it fits or pleases certain political points of view, I do not seek to be politically correct at all, and on the contrary I seek to be absolutely politically wrong when politics disagrees with scripture. As far as I am concerned when the human point of view does not agree with the Bible it belongs in the trash. And if we take that there is an "Arab Christian" point of view, I would imagine that the majority of what call themselves "Christian Arabs" would hold the point of view on Israel that it should be destroyed. Just look at The Palestinian Charter for yourself and see. Ask Palestinian Christian Arab leaders like Hanan A'ashrawi and George Habash who claim to be Christians and holders of the so called "Palestinian Christian" point of view, as to what is the Christian Arab point of view is, and if you were a Bible believing Christian, you will be amazed at the response you will get from such individuals, and I'll bet that the majority of the Palestinian masses Muslims and Christians alike would agree with the[ir] point of view which is purely full of hate and is anti-Semitic which is evident in The Palestinian charter as well as the Palestinian actions Christians and Muslims alike . . . .

The idea of ignoring Bible Prophecy concerning The Jews and Israel since it is offensive to certain groups is forgetting that the cross itself is offense as well? Why not blot it also to serve certain other groups? What these groups argue is that it is not essential for salvation, so we must drop this subject altogether, that we must use wisdom, when in reality they are using human smarts and flesh . . . It was God himself that spoke in prophecy in Psalm 83: "Fill their faces with shame, That they may seek Your name, O Lord." addressing the Muslim Arabs who tried to destroy the state of Israel as a nation right from it's birth; "Come let us cut them off from being a Nation that the name of Israel be remembered no more" (Psalm 83:4). God was laying down His plan and also telling these masses who oppose the creation of the state of Israel as to why they have lost the wars. One of God's reasons for allowing these people to [lose] is to show them that He is God and that He desires them to know Him. This is His method whether I like it or not. It is His way of proving His point of view, and I will be very frank with everyone, the hell with any point of view that opposes God's and I say it without any apology, fear, or guilt. [Bold emphasis added.]
A provocative answer indeed!

Perhaps, though, we can and should broaden and balance the issue by making reference to a presentation at the 2003 Caribbean Conference on Islam, the Gospel and the Caribbean, in discussing the three-way quarrel across the three Great Faiths that look to Abraham for spiritual ancestry.

There, we may first of all note:
Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the world’s three great (but mutually quarrelling) Monotheistic Faiths -- are sometimes viewed as the “Abrahamic Faiths.” This is because each is traditionally held to derive from Abraham’s relationship with God, more or less as described in Genesis. Thus, the debate among the three may be characterized as a family quarrel; naturally this raises the question: can it be amicably resolved?

Given the current Arab/Palestinian-Israeli dispute and the wider resurgence of the 1400-year long clash between Islamic and Western Civilisations, this is not just an academic or theological question, but one with significant geopolitical overtones for the prospects for peace in the emerging global world of the 21st century. It is therefore of great interest to the Caribbean church as it seeks to fulfill the Great Commission in the Caribbean and the wider world in the 21st Century.

The thesis of this paper and presentation is that the key to the answer lies in Paul’s Epistle to Galatians:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith . . . . Christ redeemed us . . . in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit . . . .

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ . . . . if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” [Gal 3:6 – 22.]

In short, the biblical teaching is that the way to reconciliation is through Jesus, the crucified and risen seed of Abraham by whom all nations may access the blessing of the Father of the Faithful. How that blessing can be practically achieved in the nations of the Caribbean and beyond in our time is therefore the proper focus for our considerations.

Now of course, this immediately raises major theological disputes and questions about theological exclusivism, religious bigotry, and attempts to use deceptive "evangelistic" tactics to recruit people to a different view. This, we can address right away, by making reference to Paul in Romans 2:
6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger . . . 11 For God does not show favoritism . . . . 14 . . . when Gentiles . . . do by nature things required by the law . . .15 . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
In short, the central issue is not "doctrine" and debates, but the truth and the right, and living towards the truth and the right by whatever light one may have. That light starts with core morality written on our hearts, aptly highlighted later in the same epistle [13:8 - 10] where we see that neighbour-love does no harm and so fulfills the requirements of the decalogue. So, if we would all first pause and look at the planks in our own eyes [instead of being so finger-pointing over sawdust in our neighbours' eyes], and penitently, humbly and persistently turn to God however much or little we may know of him, then we can all start afresh on a better footing. (My suspicion is that as we do so, we would all meet at the feet of the Cross, but that is a matter of how I see it by the best light I have. So, why not dialogue with me to see why?)

Back on topic, I think that "unless we first understand, acknowledge and balance three key biblical concepts – (1) our creation in the image of God, now marred by our sinful fallen state; (2) God’s sovereign election of people he calls, gifts and covenants with to carry out specific parts of his redemptive plan for mankind; and, (3) the loving Fatherhood of God that energises his work of saving us through Christ – we will be unable to make sound sense of the sometimes strange and yet unfolding story of the fractured family of Abraham; the man elected by God so that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed."

1] Creation: "it is our creation in the image of God that gives us the dignity, rights and worth that are our due as human beings. When we look at a fellow human, apart from our finitude and sinfulness, God is like that. [cf. Gen 1:26, Jas 3:9.] "

2] Election, Calling and Gifting: "At the same time, through God’s Election, he has sovereignly made us diverse: as individuals, sexes, families, tribes, peoples. This reflects his calling placed on each of us, and the resulting multifaceted talents and gifts he has given us to fulfill these varied callings and roles in the whole world; towards the achievement of his overarching purpose for creation." In particular:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight . . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins . . . And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ . . . . God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. [Eph 1:3 – 23.]
3] God as Loving Father: "But most of all, God is our common, loving Father; whom we should trust, respect, love and obey. Thus, in love, God sent Jesus to be our Saviour so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life . . . . that they may know . . . the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [he has] sent.” [Jn 3:16, 17:3.]"
In that context, we can plainly see through the Scriptures, generally:

The God who made the world and everything in it . . . from one man . . . made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times [Gk. kairous] set for them and the exact places where they should live . . . so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . . For in him we live and move and have our being . . . . we are God’s offspring. [Ac 17:24 – 28; cf. Deut. 32:8 - 9.]
Thus, regarding Abraham and his seed:

Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you . . . all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. [Gen 12:1 – 3.]

. . . a son coming from your own body will be your heir . . I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it . . . . your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions . . . In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. [Gen 15:4 – 16.]

You will be the father of many nations . . . and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant . . . to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God . . . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year. [Gen 17:4 – 8, 19 - 21.]

Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. [Gen 18:18 – 19.]

I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have . . . not withheld your son, your only son [i.e. the son of covenant, Isaac; cf. vv. 2 - 12], I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. [Gen 22:16 – 18, contextual note added.]

Much of this is of course not exactly politically correct today, but if it is what God has to say onteh matter, as authenticated through His Son whom he raised from the dead, it will stand above all the opinions and machinations of angry men who reject it. Indeed, even beyond the sins of Israel which have brought it under his regretted but necessary and just judgements time and again. For, we may read in Ezekiel:

O mountains of Israel, . . . This is what the Sovereign LORD says: The enemy said of you, "Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession.” . . . Because they ravaged and hounded you from every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations and the object of people's malicious talk and slander, therefore, O mountains of Israel . . . In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland.' . . . .

But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home . . . you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel . . . and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the LORD. I will cause people, my people Israel, to walk upon you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children . . .

[W]hen the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions [Cf. Deut. 31:14 – 32:47] . . . So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries . . . And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the Lord's people, and yet they had to leave his land.'

I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone . . . It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations . . . Then the nations will know that I am the LORD . . . For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean . . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees . . . You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God . . . . I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel! [Ezekiel 36:1 – 32, emphases added; cf Chs 35 - 39.]

Nor should we Gentiles look on with gloating. As Paul warns us in no uncertain terms:
I am talking to you Gentiles . . . . If some branches have been broken off [through judgement on unbelief and rebellion against God], and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap . . . do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you . . . . Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For is God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. [Rom 11:11 – 21; NB: cf. 22 – 31.]
Sadly, this warning has too often gone utterly unheeded -- I for one tremble when I think of how often we in our region have walked in willful disobedience to God; especially my homeland, Jamaica.

I also think it is a rebuke to an attitude of resentment and even contempt to Israel and to Jews that is creeping in among many Bible-believing Christians. For, to whom should we look for our understanding of the things that God has his hands on -- his Word, or those who walk in open defiance of God even as they boast of their learning, knowledge and wisdom?

So, let us all soberly think, and let us repent and set out to do the right and the truth in love and purity by the power of God's Holy Spirit.

Food for thought, I believe, and for discussion. So, why not let's talk this over? END

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