When I was young, and it was already clear that the Boston Red Sox would not offer me a contract even as a scoreboard keeper, I set my occupational sights on becoming a crackerbarrel philosopher, always ready to opine on complicated matters. Providentially, that's my status in the eyes of some who read my columns, so requests stream in for insights into a vast number of subjects, about most of which I'm ignorant.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I and lots of other journalists have a little knowledge; that makes us especially dangerous. To WORLD readers who have asked how we can be of help in that tangled west Asian web, my general response has been, "Pray very hard." We might contemplate the Middle Eastern mess while listening to a terrific Patty Griffin song: "Diamonds, roses, I need Moses, to cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain." Nothing short of a miracle will suffice.
Many U.S. journalists, unaccustomed to praying for miracles and unaware of Muslim history (see WORLD, Oct. 27, 2001, and April 27, 2002), seem to think that an advance to peace requires an Israeli retreat. Many are covering Palestinian homicide bombings and Israeli responses as morally equivalent. Some, moved by Palestinian poverty, have become Arafat apologists. Others, seeing Muslim millions and aware of Muslim oil, have become appeasers. Note, though, the declaration in chapter 23 of Exodus: "You shall not fall in with the many to do evil ... nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit." Instead of siding emotionally with rich or poor, we are to peer through a biblical lens.
So here's my first question: Does the Bible give today's Israelis clear title to the land on which they stand? For many WORLD readers such as Ken Gustafson, the answer is a clear yes. In a recent letter he quoted God's statements to Abram in Genesis 12:7 ("To your offspring I will give this land") and 13:15 ("all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever"). Mr. Gustafson also quoted God's statement to Moses in Deuteronomy 32:49: "View the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession."
Game, set, match? Not necessarily, as John Piper provocatively argues on the reverse side of this page. Are Abraham's descendants primarily defined by blood or by belief? The Bible teaches that God adopts many into His family and does not automatically reserve a spot for those who have scorned their birthright. A biblical case can certainly be made that Israelis who are atheists or Pharisees (a positive term in Jewish history) have tossed away their inheritance just as Esau did.
But whether or not today's Israelis necessarily have a God-specified right to the real estate they now possess, they certainly have a right to it in line with the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25). Through following the wisdom of Proverbs they have turned a land of sand and poverty into a country of computer chips and honey. They have formed an island of democracy within a sea of dictatorship, so that they transfer power by debate and election rather than by terrorism and assassination. Even when some of its military actions look questionable to armchair analysts, the refusal of Israel to target civilians differentiates its conduct from the terrorism that Israel's enemies praise, overtly or subtly.
And even if we don't automatically equate the biblical Israelites with today's Israelis, physical descendants of Abraham still have the status described by the Apostle Paul in chapter 3 of Romans: "Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!" God has not finished with the Jewish people; great numbers have turned to Christ over the centuries (WORLD, March 2). God has blessed mankind through the physical descendants of Abraham, and one day an abundance of Jews will also become spiritual heirs of Abraham.
God is faithful, and the United States should also be faithful to our political and cultural ally. As we continue to support Israel we should vigorously oppose those who, through government-controlled media and government-financed school textbooks, are fomenting anti-Jewish hatred. Christians and others, from President Bush on down, should condemn that bigotry, and it is terrific that some Christian groups are doing just that (see pages 48-49 in this issue).
Bottom line? I have no doubt that if Palestinians somehow came to respect and honor Israel's integrity, both peoples would prosper; if Israeli Jews had to live under Palestinian authority, most would be exiled or killed. Pray for Israel.