War In Israel: What do we need to know as Christians?

Pastor Jeff Struecker

November 1, 2023


Today, instead of our usual midweek worship, we will answer questions about Israel and how it may or should influence their faith. Israel has been making headlines worldwide, and as I engage with people from various corners of the globe, I’ve noticed that discussions about Israel are just as prevalent as those concerning Ukraine. 


I’m fortunate to have discussed this with two of my closest colleagues, who accepted the invitation and gave answers to the questions.


Mark Hollis
is a retired U.S. Army colonel who was sent to Israel with his family by the U.S. government to study the political and military situation in the region. During his time there, he worked with Palestinian security forces, particularly Fatah, and collaborated closely with the Israelis to enhance security in the West Bank. Mark also is one of the families who played a significant role in the founding of Two Cities Church.


Matt Davis,
a Messianic Jew whose great-great-grandfather is a rabbi, has a strong connection to Israel. He co-founded “Jewish Road,” a nonprofit emphasizing the Jewish roots of the gospel, educating both Jews and Christians on the Old and New Testaments, and leading tours to Israel for over 25 years.


So, let’s start.

 

The first question: What is going on in Israel right now?

We need to know the backstory for some of this. From what I’ve heard from many people, it feels like every few months or so, they have these recurring events. Rockets fired, Israel’s response, some houses getting bulldozed, and then things go back to normal. But the situation they are facing right now is quite different. Let’s look at a bit of history: on October 6th, which was a Friday night, Matt was with the community in Asbury, Central Kentucky, celebrating Shabbat. It was also the last day of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted for seven days.

This day holds a lot of significance. In the Book of John, chapter seven, it’s mentioned seven times. It’s a reminder of when God dwelled with His people in tents and booths in the wilderness, and it’s also prophetic, signifying a future when God will dwell with us again. So, people were all gathered under our makeshift sukkah (booth), having a great time. Later that night, they started noticing some unusual activity.

Once again, Israel was facing a crisis. It was a surprise attack, and many in Israel are calling it the Simchat Torah War, which means the Joy of the Torah. It happened on Shabbat, a day of rest. On Simchat Torah, Jewish communities finish reading the Torah and start over from Genesis 1, all while singing songs and parading the Torah.

This time, it was a unique convergence of events, including the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. It was a devastating attack where around 2,500 Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip broke through and caused a massacre. Not only Israelis but also Americans, people from Thailand, France, and Arabs living in Israel were affected. This is not just another routine conflict with a quick response from Israel.

Mark was there during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. According to him, the biggest difference this time is the level of brutality and the blatant targeting of innocent civilians. As a soldier, we are meant to protect the innocent, and this time, we saw a complete disregard for innocent lives and grotesque brutality that was shocking, regardless of which side you consider. The evil actions of those in Hamas, the deliberate targeting of innocents, stood out in a way I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Who are the good guys in this whole thing?

There are various perspectives and interpretations of history, often influenced by personal beliefs and motivations. It could be referred to an ancient biblical story to assert ownership of a piece of land bought by Abraham, while the other person simply wanted to harm the Jewish population, using the events of 1967 or 1973 and the involvement of the Arab League and Palestinians for their agenda.

This raises a critical issue: the use of Palestinians as a political tool by the broader Arab community is often overlooked. We frequently discuss solutions like a two-state or one-state resolution, but we seldom delve into the intricacies and implications of these proposals.

So, it depends on who is looking at the situation. Some people argue that Palestinians are being mistreated in the West Bank, while others say the same about Gaza. These are two distinct issues. In 2008, Hamas was elected in Gaza. While it’s true that if we consider terrorism, authoritarianism, or even think about Nazi Germany, the first country conquered by the Nazis was Germany itself, it’s essential to note that Fatah took control of the West Bank, and there are innocent Palestinians living there. However, you have an elected group in Gaza, and they’ve had control of that area since 2008. So, one might wonder why it hasn’t become a more prosperous region.

The reality is that there are other influences at play, including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and, to some extent, Iraq. The Sunni-Shia split within the Arab world also contributes to additional conflict. Moreover, differences in how Islam is perceived, particularly regarding the return of Mohammed, add to the complexities. With the removal of a common enemy, the Sunni-Shia divide is emphasized, and efforts are made to secure the region. Unfortunately, this process often involves a harsh and difficult experience, and innocent people are inevitably caught up in it.

Throughout history, no conflict has been free from the involvement of innocent civilians. However, when innocent civilians are deliberately targeted, as has happened in some cases, the perpetrators are widely condemned, regardless of the arguments related to occupied land, settlements, and other issues, particularly in the West Bank. The level of brutality and atrocities committed takes precedence in such situations.

From an American perspective, if we consider the situation where military action is taken, let’s say, in a hypothetical scenario, Tijuana decided to launch rockets into San Diego and sent a military force across the border, engaging in destructive activities like murder, rape, and pillaging, all of which are documented and shared publicly. In such a situation, one can reasonably assume that the United States would respond decisively.

The response would likely involve a swift and forceful intervention to address the threat on the border. The priorities would be to restore order and security. In this scenario, the concerns of international opinion might take a back seat to the immediate need to protect American citizens and interests.

Can Israel or should Israel have done something different that might have mitigated or at least minimized the attacks before the first rocket and the first Hamas fighter went across and started shooting?

It’s a bit hard to say exactly what happened and how things unfolded in that situation. I’m not an expert on military matters, but from what I’ve heard, there’s been less reliance on digital communication, like texting, and more face-to-face meetings. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s more to this situation than what might initially come to mind. Back in 2005, Ariel Sharon, who was the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, decided to withdraw from Gaza. This meant moving Israelis who were living in settlements there, even though there had been a Jewish presence in the area for a long time.

This move was quite controversial within Israel itself, as many Israelis didn’t want to leave Gaza. However, they were ultimately forced to leave, and Gaza was handed over to the Palestinians. Gaza is relatively small, but it’s a significant piece of land with a beautiful coastline and agricultural potential. After the Israeli withdrawal, the Palestinians elected Hamas as their leader in 2006. This initially seemed like a step towards progress, but things got complicated.

To address the question of what Israel could have done differently, it’s essential to recognize that Israel has, at times, been willing to exchange land for peace. However, opinions on this approach vary, and Israel’s political landscape is just as divided as that of the United States. There have been multiple elections, and it’s a complex parliamentary system. Leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu have been tough on military matters but also faced allegations of corruption.

Gaza had an opportunity to make something positive out of the land they received in 2005. It’s a tiny area with a highly dense population, and despite its challenges, there are also a notable number of millionaires. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the aid and funding received by Gaza seems to be directed towards activities aimed at harming Israel rather than improving the lives of its residents. This has been a longstanding issue, and it’s one of the factors that have contributed to the current situation.

So, to summarize, the situation is quite complex, and there’s a wide range of opinions on the matter. The decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005 had both supporters and critics, and the ongoing conflict involves a web of political, military, and humanitarian factors.

Why do so many left-wing people in the United States support Palestine and so many right-wing people in the United States seem to support Israel?

I don’t believe it’s that simple, as there are individuals who identify with one side or the other based on their ideologies. And I do think that a lot of it comes from people’s religious and cultural backgrounds.

Why does it seem like most of the world sides with Israel?

Brutality. It’s difficult for people who don’t understand the situation to comprehend the brutality of it all. When you look at what Hamas did in the IBO and the details that were described earlier, it’s hard not to sympathize with that group. While settlements and other topics can be discussed, when it comes down to picking sides in this conflict, the level of brutality cannot be ignored. This wasn’t just a matter of sending rockets or being a nuisance; there were forces filming, and the violence was extreme.

I would like to address the perception that the entire world is on the side of Israel. In the first few days, I observed a sense of compassion. However, we anticipated that the situation might change as Israel mobilized its troops, initiated ground operations, and potentially used civilians as shields for their actions. We have even heard reports of Americans being unable to leave Gaza due to restrictions imposed by Hamas.

The narrative has already begun to evolve. I have a friend in London, near Brighton, who mentioned that Jewish schools in Brighton had to close, and gatherings became challenging due to the escalating situation. Piers Morgan, known for his varying stances, shared an experience from London on October 7th. He initially believed people were paying their respects in front of the Israeli Embassy but realized that it was a pro-Palestine gathering celebrating the success of their cause.

I believe that Israel’s current sympathy and support will likely be short-lived. If you’ve read the end of the book, specifically Zachariah 14, you’ll notice that all nations will eventually gather against Jerusalem. This is the point at which it’s believed that Jesus will return. While there are still pockets of support for Israel, they are becoming increasingly rare and are not likely to be long-lasting.

The United States is giving intense military and economic aid to Ukraine to propel or repel Russia. Now, the United States is giving intense aid to Israel. Are there any similarities, or are there differences between what Russia did to Ukraine and what Hamas is doing to Israel?

Mark used to work as the course director at a Defense college up in B. So, he spent some time in Ukraine. He visited Ukraine and traveled extensively in that part of the world. Also, he had the opportunity to spend time in Israel. He doesn’t see a moral equivalency. Russia operates as an oligarchic system, if you think about it, much like how the mafia operates in some aspects. Putin seems entirely focused on returning to the days of the Soviet socialist republics as his end goal. He wants control over states, influencing them and potentially even failed states. We won’t go into that aspect in detail, but it’s clear that we’re dealing with a bully in Putin and his regime when it comes to Ukraine. They are attempting to revive the Soviet socialist sphere or what Putin views as the insult of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

In Israel, as you’ve probably heard, the level of hatred runs deep, and it’s a complex situation. In my personal opinion, it often feels like a battle of good versus evil with various shades of gray. Neither side is entirely right or wrong in this conflict. When you spend time listening to Palestinians discussing their perspective, you start to understand where they’re coming from. You can see their arguments about settlements and the control of areas A, B, and C in the West Bank. It’s possible to empathize with their point of view. But ultimately, it boils down to what Mike Matti has been saying: it’s a struggle of good versus evil, and that’s how we’re dealing with it.

What's happening in Ukraine right now? Why should I care? Why should we be involved? Why should we give military aid? Why should we give money to the Ukraine or to Israel right now?

When one sovereign country, such as Russia, invades another sovereign country like Ukraine, it’s a matter of global concern. If the world doesn’t respond, it sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to similar invasions in the future. Everyone should care about Ukraine.

Similarly, the world should also care about Israel because terrorism threatens the innocent and freedom. When freedom is under attack, it endangers the freedom of all. Terrorism needs to be eradicated globally, regardless of who the terrorists are or their targets. Failing to stand up against terrorism could result in attacks on any city tomorrow. We must unite against terrorism.

What I’m saying is we need to consider our financial and military responses carefully. There’s plenty of room for debate on this matter. However, it’s essential that we do care. Every free nation and sovereign country should be concerned about these two locations.

Is there any biblical significance to what's happening? Should it matter to my soul what's happening in Israel right now?

As a 13-year-old, Matt struggled with his identity. He faced teasing and didn’t really understand why some kids picked on him just for being Jewish. One day, feeling overwhelmed, he started scratching away at the Star of David on that Bible. He just wanted to fit in, to not stand out.

Fast forward to today, and it’s astounding to see the Jewish people back in their homeland after everything they’ve been through. The fact that they’ve returned to their native land, Israel, is a miracle in itself. It’s a reason to believe in a higher power.

One of the nicest places in Israel is Masada, a fortress built by Herod. It’s quite a journey to reach the top, but when you get there, you hear a story about never forgetting. Israel became a nation in 1948, rising from the ashes of the Holocaust. They visit places like Masada to remember that God has a unique plan for them, and they won’t be uprooted again.

It’s incredible that despite having no army and being attacked by six neighboring countries, they managed to secure their independence in 1948. Then, in 1949, they started excavating the land to reconnect with their history. In Masada, they found scrolls buried for nearly 2,000 years. The connection between what they were reading and their circumstances is incredible.

So, what can we, as Christians, learn from all of this? First, we need to move beyond just studying timelines and charts related to end times. We should empathize with the suffering of the Jewish people and not remain silent in the face of anti-Semitism, especially when it’s on the rise.

We must remember the lessons of history, such as the silence of the church during the Holocaust. We can’t let that happen again. We need to be vocal and active in standing up against hatred and discrimination. In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches us that how we treat the “least of these,” His brethren, matters.

This isn’t just about social justice. It’s about how we treat the Jewish people. Our faith in a Jewish Messiah should lead us to love and support His biological family. There will come a day when we’ll be judged, and how we treat the Jewish people will be a significant factor in that judgment. It’s a calling for us to be righteous gentiles and welcome them into our community as an act of faith and love.

The consequences are profound, leading to either eternal life or eternal suffering. This is why we, as Christians, should care deeply about the Jewish people and their well-being.