As tensions and violence continue in the Middle East with both Palestinians and Israelis hardening their hearts, disciples of Jesus Christ who understand Israel’s unique place in biblical prophecy, must align their thinking with God’s by taking every thought captive to Christ.[i] First and foremost we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven,[ii] so must see the conflict through God’s eyes, not ours. As ambassadors for this kingdom, in all matters pertaining to political-religious conflict, we must seek first the wisdom of our King. Attempting to make sense of the Arab-Israeli conflict through man’s eye is destined only to confuse, divide and cause trouble.
To understand what’s happening in this aged dispute we must turn to God’s word. For it is an aged dispute, one that goes back over four thousand years to the first disputes about land, water and inheritance.
“The Lord blessed Issac…the man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous.; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him.”
Genesis 26 12-14.
When one reads the name ‘Philistine’ in the Bible one must think Palestine. ‘Filisteen’ is simply the Arabic pronunciation of our word Philistine, from which derives the modern pronunciation Palestine.
The early ‘Filisteens’/Philistines/Palestinians envied the early Israelites much as they do today. Abimelech, the Philistine king, said to Isaac “go away from us, for you are much mightier than us” (Gen 26:16). Later in verse 20, we read how Isaac’s herdsmen clashed with the Philistine herdsmen over water (much as they do today). “The land is ours,” claimed the Philistines. So Isaac left it and dug another, “and they quarrelled over that one also” (v21). In v15 we read that the Philistines actually filled in the wells Isaac’s men had dug. Against this backdrop of ancient envy and squabbling over land and water we must also recognise God’s position, for actually the earth is His and everything in it! Therefore he can apportion it to whomever he wishes.
God stated to Issac; “I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father, and I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands, and in your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 26:3-4). Why did God say this to Isaac? “Because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept my charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (v5). Yet only a short time later, despite God saying to Isaac I will give you all these lands, the early Philistines were saying “the land is ours.” And herein lay the seeds of what we observe today.
Gaza is still a ‘Philistine’ stronghold much as it has been since the days of Abraham. For it is written that the sons of Ishmael settled there, ‘east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria.’
But if we go further back in time we read how God ‘brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give him the land (of Canaan) to inherit it’, what we know today as Israel and much more – more you ask?
‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt (Nile) to the great river, the River Euphrates’ (E.Turkey & Iraq – Gen 15:18).
The geography of Israel today is a mere shadow of its former glory, of what it was in the days of Abraham to king David. Yet still, as then, the descendants of those early Philistines continue to claim “the land is ours, the water is ours.” So where did this jealousy, envy and claim originate?
In Middle Eastern culture the first-born son normally inherits the bulk of the father’s estate. In Abraham’s case, the first born was Ishmael, not Issac. Ishmael was born of Hagar, Abraham and Sarah’s servant. Hagar was subsequently evicted from the family home by a jealous Sarah because she’d been able to give Abraham the son he had always wanted – Sarah at that time could not conceive. Distraught and alone, this pregnant mum sat in the desert whereupon the Lord sent her an angel, telling her to go back to Abraham’s house and submit again to her mistress, which she duly did.
The angel then told her some very significant things: (Genesis 16:11-12)
- You shall call his name Ishmael because the Lord has heard your affliction.
- He shall be a wild man.
- His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him
- He shall dwell in the presence of his brethren.
Significantly, the angel told her he would grow up to be a wild man, a fighter, fighting with everyone and everyone fighting against him. Is this not exactly what we see playing out in the Arab world today, with tribe against tribe, nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom? The only difference now is that it’s exacerbated by Islamic sectarianism. However, the underlying nature of conflict inherent in the ‘sons of Ishmael’ is still clear to see with violence, oppression and infighting the norm – just as God said.
‘And he shall dwell in the presence of his brethren.’ Who was his brother? Issac. The sons of Ishmael, the father of the Arab people, have indeed grown up over four millennia in the presence of their brethren, the sons of Issac. In Genesis chapter 21:10, we read how Hagar and Ishmael were rejected a second time and sent out into the desert where again, God heard her cries. It is written that God was with the lad, and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness (like a Bedouin) and became a skilful archer.[iii]
So what might happen when a first-born son is overlooked and his inheritance passed to his younger sibling? Jealousy, rivalry, envy? Is this not what we see today? Is it not what appears in the early scriptures, ‘the land is ours, the water is ours’?
A people who inherited rejection through their ancient father, have grown up rejected, angry and in accordance with Gods word, are wild men who have fought against one another throughout history. This rejected people, envious of their ‘brethren,’ were also prime candidates to receive a replacement theology called Islam, which arrived some 600 years after Jesus, satisfying and justifying their feelings and insecurities.
The presence of Israel today remains an inconvenient and perhaps painful reminder, to the Philistine people of the promises of God, to do what He said He would, for God does not change; He does not make promises and not fulful them for He cannot lie. So Israel will remain as a thorn in the side of the sons of Ishmael, in a sense reminding them of what happened when their great father was overlooked in favour of the younger son, Isaac.
Therefore do not expect to see peace in the Middle East yet, for it will not come until Yeshua comes to rule and reign, as He will, from Jerusalem. We will see more conflict, more fighting and more claims over the ultimate seat of power on the temple mount, Zion. We may well see the UN or some other military coalition imposed upon Jerusalem. We may see things that distress us, indeed the bible tells us Jerusalem’s last days will be terrible. But, most of all know this, the prophetic promises of God will be fulfilled, for His word does not return void but will accomplish what he wills in the thing He purposes. (Isaiah 54:17)
What we observe playing out on the geo-political chessboard of the Middle-East, with claims and counter claims over the land and the great city Jerusalem, is a reflection of a conflict in the spiritual realm – the ongoing battle between the god of this age: Satan, and the King of Kings.
So do not be troubled by what you see or hear, simply do as the bible commands and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for those who as yet, do not know the Lord, that hearts and minds might see the way, the truth, and the life. For there is only one way to the Father – through Jesus Christ – the Jewish Messiah.
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it….who may ascend the mountain of the Lord, who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol, or swear by a false god… Psalm 24
[i] 2 Cor 10:5
[ii] Phil 3:20
[iii] Genesis 21:20