Q&A: UNDERSTANDING ISLAM
How Should Christians View the Israeli-Palestinian Situation?
CBN.com - If ever there
was a classic case of an irresistable force pitted against an immovable
object this is it: two peoples both insist that the same piece of
land is rightfully theirs, and have been fighting over it for nearly
fifty years. What are we as Christians to think of their claims?
And how should we respond? And now that the two sides are in process
of working out a peace agreement, what are we to think of this effort?
But, with so many issues to sort through and so much at stake, who
can claim to have the solution? It would be helpful however for
us to take a fresh look at one of those issues: Do the Palestinians
have any right at all to the Land? Or does it belong by divine promise
to the Jews as an eternal possession, as the Israelis claim and
many Christians firmly believe?
The answer is not as simple as you might think. It is often said
or implied, for example, that the Palestinians have no claim to
the land since they have only been there since the seventh century
AD. This assumes, however, that they entered Palestine during the
Arab conquests (c. 636/7), and ignores the known facts of history.
When the Arabs swept out of Arabia and conquered the Middle East,
Palestine was not vacant. It was inhabited by an ethnic "meld" made
up mainly of the descendants of the peoples whom the Hebrews had
only partially displaced, and a few Jews. The terms "Palestine"
and "Palestinian" actually derive from the word "Philistine," the
most powerful non-Jewish ethnic group in the land in the Old Testament
era (Philistines were already there in Abraham's day; see e.g. Gen.
20:1-17; 21:22-34). It was only after many of them had Islamized,
and some had intermarried with Arabs, that they adopted the Arabic
language and came to be called Arabs (that is why "Arab" is more
a linguistic than an ethnic designation). Intermarriage had also
taken place during the Greek, Roman and Byzantine occupations. So
the Palestinians are a mixed race. And if length of settlement is
the criterion, then certainly they have a case.
What do the Scriptures say, however? It is interesting that those
who insist it belongs to the Jews fix on God's promises to Abraham
in Genesis, and on the prophecies about Israel in the latter days.
Intentionally or not, they skip over what Judges 1 to 3 have to
say on the subject. In all my years, I have never heard one sermon
linking this passage to the subject, and have often wondered why.
To set the stage, look at Joshua 13:1-5 where God tells Joshua, shortly
before his death, which areas are yet to be possessed, from the
"region of the Philistines" in the south to "Lebo Hamath" in the
north. Judges opens, however, with the statement that Israel had
failed to drive these people out. Because of this, the Angel of
the Lord tells them, "I will no longer drive them out before you;
they will be thorns in your sides. ... I will use them to test Israel
and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord" (2:3, 22; 3:4).
This explains why the Philistines especially were a thorn in the
side of the Children of Israel then, and why the Palestinians are
in exactly the same position today.
The Word of God clearly teaches then that although God had promised
the land to the seed of Abraham, and although it will one day be
the seat of the coming Messianic Kingdom, the Palestinians will
remain in the land as long as it suits His purposes. Clearly, Israel
has failed miserably in keeping the way of the Lord, and God continues
to use the Palestinians to test them. It is recognized that good
Christians differ considerably over important issues concerning
prophecy and eschatology, including the role God has reserved for
Israel in the future. These questions do not however do not affect
the clear teaching of this passage.
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