Typically on the first Sunday of the new year I preach a sermon corresponding to that topic. I look forward to the coming year and speak about future plans and New Year’s Resolutions for our church family. As I considered and prayed about the message this year, however, God pointed me in a different direction. The resolution that kept coming to mind mind was not one for the coming year, but rather one passed by the United Nations a few days before Christmas. I felt that God was directing me to speak about this instead.
Today I begin my third year at Calvary Baptist Church as your pastor. Over this time, I have not dealt much with political issues. Such topics tend to be divisive and can be quite detrimental to the church. In addition, the Church is not a political organization but rather the Body of Christ. The Kingdom of God is not of this world, but rather it is a spiritual kingdom. By becoming overly focused upon political issues, we as God’s children can forget the true purpose of the Church.
That said, because I feel God stirring me to do so, this morning I am going to begin the new year with a sermon about the Israel/Palestine Conflict, the UN and US position towards it, and the Biblical responsibility of the Church as it relates to it. Let me say from the outset that there are varying views, even among Christians, regarding this topic - my conviction is not the only one out there…
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE ISRAEL/PALESTINE DISPUTE
Much of the turmoil in the world today can be attributed to the tension between Israel and Palestine. As Christians, it is important that we have a basic understanding of the nature of the conflict. The history of the modern state Israel traces back just over a hundred years.
After its collapse as detailed in the Old Testament, the area of land that had formerly been the nation of Israel existed under the rule of foreign governments and powers for many centuries. During this time the population of the region became more diverse and the its national identity was lost. The area became known as Palestine, a name first used by the Romans which was derived from the same Hebrew root as the word Philistines. Immediately prior to World War I, the Ottoman Empire ruled over the area. When they were defeated during the war, the British government took control over the region. The British declared their intention to create a state for the Jews in this newly conquered territory of Palestine, while not displacing the current residents. As troubles increased prior to and during World War II, thousands of Jews fled from Europe to the region. Tension rose between the growing Jewish population, the existing Arab residents, and the British occupiers. Seeing no easy solution and wishing to rid itself of the problem altogether, Britain turned the problem over to the newly created United Nations. In an effort to strike a compromise and honor the conflicting promises made to both the Jews and the Arabs, the UN proposed a plan defining the borders for Palestine that included partitions for both groups.
Immediately after the British military withdrew, Israel declared its independence in 1948. The very next day a confederation of several Arab nations invaded it in an effort to conquer the fledgling nation. Israel successfully defended itself from the invaders and took control of some of the area that had been designated as Palestine. Since that time, various conflicts and wars have taken place and the geographical borders of Israel have changed. At times they have increased to include territories in the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and even the Sinai Peninsula. At other times they have decreased, as Israel ceded land back to the Arab states in exchange for peace. Regardless of these gains and losses over the past hundred years, conflict continues in the region.
While there are numerous factors that contribute to the tension between Israel and Palestine, the fundamental issue is that both claim ownership of the same plot of land. The political division of the region is the source of great dispute and the two sides have been unable and, some would say unwilling, to come to a peaceful compromise.
THE RECENT UN RESOLUTION
Just over a week ago the United Nations passed a controversial resolution regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In no uncertain terms the UN strongly condemned Israel’s growing presence in the disputed Palestinian territory. The UN called the settlements illegal, a flagrant violation of international law, and demanded that Israel stop its occupation of the Palestinian land immediately. Though this was a non-binding resolution that carried with it no actions or sanctions other than a verbal rebuke, there has been a sharp reaction to its passage. Coverage of this fallout has dominated much of the news cycle in recent days.
Of note, the United States - who has been a long-time ally and staunch supporter of Israel since its inception - abstained from voting on this resolution. As a member of the UN Security Council, the United States could have unilaterally vetoed the measure thereby preventing its passage. Instead, the US remained silent and allowed the resolution to pass. While the United States did not explicitly vote to condemn Israel’s actions, they passively allowed the remaining UN members to do so. Any fair and partial evaluation of the UN’s stance on this conflict will show that it has been extremely sympathetic to the Palestinians while very critical of the Israelis.
The United States of America, along with most of the other Western Nations, has long supported a two-state solution for achieving peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Obama administration explained that Israel’s continued settlements in the West Bank jeopardize this plan. This was their stated motivation for abstaining from the vote. By making this statement, the US joined the UN by rebuking the actions of Israel.
THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION
The two-state solution harkens back to the original UN plan proposed following WWII. It would establish clear and agreed upon borders to distinguish Israel from Palestine. Such an agreement would create two separate and independent states adjacent to one another. The goal would be that both groups would live side-by-side in harmony with one another. While it sounds ideal, coming to agreement on this plan has been all but impossible.
Palestine, along with other Arab nations in the Middle East, have repeatedly refused to accept a two-state solution because they reject Israel’s right to exist. The Palestinians have stated their intention is to destroy Israel completely. In the meantime, they have for decades waged guerilla-type warfare and launched terroristic attacks against Israel. They have thwarted the peace process repeatedly and have no desire to agree with any peace plan that allows Israel to continue.
Israel, on the other hand, has encroached upon land that was originally allocated to Palestine. They maintain that such actions have been necessary for self-defense and security. Furthermore, the nation of Israel has not treated its Palestinian citizens very well (kind of like the way the Jews treated the Samaritans in the Bible). Israel’s actions, whether you consider them just or unjust, have further served to provoke the Palestinians.
In short, if you disregard the rhetoric and actually look at their behaviors, neither side seems to want a two-state solution imposed upon them. As such the UN and US position, though they continue to pursue it, appears foolhardy and unrealistic. There seems to be no easy solution to this problem.
THE BIBLICAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH REGARDING ISRAEL
God’s position towards Israel is clearly stated in Scripture. God has given the land to Israel as an everlasting possession and has warned that He will judge any nation or nations that seek to divide it. For this reason, I believe that the UN and the US will someday answer for their efforts to split Israel into two states. God will bless the nations that bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. Israel has every right to exist, and despite its many flaws, it remains God’s chosen nation. As such, I believe that God will sustain and protect Israel.
As far as the church is concerned, it is our Biblical responsibility to pray for the peace of Israel. But we must not forget that we are also commanded to pray for our enemies. We are to love all people, including those with whom we disagree, and to treat everyone with kindness and mercy. The primary role of the church is to share the love of Christ with all people - including both the Israelis and the Palestinians. While there are some Christians living among the population on both sides, most of them are lost. Our chief concern as the Church must be to win these unsaved people to Jesus. The souls of both the Israelis and the Palestinians are precious to God.
The political conflict between Israel and Palestine will not be resolved by the Church - nor should it be. The Church is a spiritual entity whose purpose is to increase the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to seek and save the lost - and His church is to continue this mission of reconciliation. The LORD will, in His time and in His way, use secular governments and powers - as He has done throughout history - to bring about His divine will regarding Israel. So while we as God’s church should support Israel, we should not do so at the expense of others for whom Christ died. This is a delicate balance.