By John Sharpe
I have recently returned from a two week trip to Israel. I co-led a 5 man team to Nahariyya for the purpose of renovating a bomb shelter for Israeli residents, who are unable to pay for their shelter to be upgraded into habitable condition after decades of neglect. The recent Hizbollah missile attacks on northern Israel cities, including Nahariyya, precipitated a flight back to using private and public bomb shelters and sometimes for periods exceeding three weeks.
After my congregation raised the necessary funds to pay for the renovation, our team traveled there to handle the upgrades. For a week, we worked in the bomb shelter – plastering, painting, installing equipment, paint, restrooms and other upgrades. The first purpose is to love and support the Jewish people in Israel by giving them sense of mind and comfort. We also share our faith in the Messiah if they so inquire, which is normally the case, simply because they are shocked that Christians would be willing to support them in such a way. Needless to say, we establish meaningful and fruitful relationships with the local residents. We cherished our time with them and will be staying in touch. Meanwhile, as Hizbollah mobilizes near the south Lebanese border, these local residents will be able to utilize their shelter!!
A trip to Israel produces a myriad of spiritual experiences, from significant discussions to an overwhelming sense of the Lord’s presence in many holy sites located throughout the country. Discussing religion and spirituality is not taboo; in fact, it is mostly the opposite. Undoubtedly, many return with an extensive list of insightful questions that cause one to think harder and more in-depth about what they believe. During the next few weeks, I hope to write a little about some of these questions I encountered. Trust me, I don’t claim to know the answers, but I look forward to sharing my thoughts.
A litany of opinions sprouted from numerous foreigners about the recent Israeli flotilla raid. “Amid so much international media coverage and scrutiny, how could they botch something that bad?” Now, this question alone is interesting, but if we compound it with the general question of Israeli’s role in God’s broader plan, ie the End Times, etc, it always becomes an intriguing topic, right? It’s intriguing because, at least in my congregation, which is a very strong supporter of Israel and loves the Jewish people, it doesn’t help when Israel seemingly behaves poorly. I emphasize the world seemingly and here I come to my main comments. Let’s try and give a little love to our friends caught in the heap of antagonistic neighboring countries, this little country where Jesus chose to manifest on the earth, die and resurrect.
I study geopolitics as a side hobby. Essentially, geopolitics is the study of how nations behave relative to one another based on their geographic placement in the world. States take into account the geographic advantages and disadvantages in world politics and general foreign policy. In particular, geopolitical analysis is important when considering Israel – the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. For a state the size of Israel, which is about the size of New Jersey, it must operate based on strict geopolitical guidelines. To survive, it must act preemptively, ally itself with a supra-regional power (the US), and secure its borders from military and terrorist attacks. It must concentrate on three immediate issues – the Palestinians, its immediate neighbors (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon) and supra-regional enemies (Iran). I can elaborate further about each of these areas of interest, but with regards to the flotilla raid, I need focus on all three. In effect, the flotilla raid seemed to be a mixture of mistakes and intentional action. The flotilla violated the official Israeli maritime regulations. Instead of being pragmatic, the Israelis took an aggressive action. Let’s remember that there are two active terrorist groups watching Israel’s behavior – Hizbollah and Hamas. If Israel bows to international sentiment, these groups become emboldened and more apt to stage attacks against Israel. If Israel, however, remains aggressive despite UN condemnation and international outrage, these two groups will remain less aggressive. The flotilla raid was, in my opinion, an open statement directed towards Hizbollah, Hamas and Iran with the intent of inflicting fear in order to reduce weapons and arms smuggling. Could they have conducted the raid better, or even restrained themselves and inspected the flotilla in another way? Yes. But I simply want to point out that there are other factors affecting their decisions, as is always the case with international foreign policy.
My heart goes out to Israel. The media portrays it as an aggressive state actor, yet it is has exercised more military restraint than arguably any other country. It is strong, but bear in mind it is because its neighbors are relatively weaker. It is vital that the US continue its support of Israel, because the US serves as a counter-balance to the larger enemies of Israel, namely Iran.
Moreover, how can we not spiritually and materially support Israel? OK, I am going to come out and say it ya’ll – I am not a replacement theologist. I have decided that the scripture does not clearly point to the church as the replacement of Israel. Rather, I believe the church is “grafted in” to the original “root” of Israel. Paul says, “…it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you.” (Rom. 11:18). Here are some reasons why Christians should support Israel:
The Example of Jesus, his first disciples and Paul : “…to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16)
Gratitude to the Jewish People : I think we owe the Jewish people a debt of gratitude for the blessings we have received from them. “salvation is from the Jews…” (John 4:22).
Trust in God’s faithfulness: His covenant with Israel is an everlasting covenant. Paul states concerning ethnic Israel, “regarding the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake; but regarding election, they are beloved for the sake of fathers” (Rom 11:28).
Israel’s Central Place in Prophecy : God promises to restore Israel in the last days (Amos 8:14-15).
The World to Come : The names of the 12 tribes will be inscribed on the city gates of Jerusalem (Rev 21:12).
Honoring God’s Promises : God promises to bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse him (Gen. 12:3)
Prayer : We are told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Pslams 122:6).
Over time, I have realized that God has put a love in my heart for the Jewish people. My hope is that the Christian community can begin to go deeper and learn about the Hebraic roots of Christianity. There is so, so much to learn and grow from. Such research only invigorates the Gospel message and illuminates further our Messiah, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ, in Hebrew).
Shalom to everyone out there. I look forward to posting again soon. Next time I will cover more spiritual and theological points.
*Big shout out to Hebrew4christians.com for some references above!