In the fourth generation after God had promised the Holy Land to Abraham (Genesis 12), his descendants were still nomads, moving from place to place to find water and food for their families and their animals. At one point, jealousy between brothers resulted in Joseph being sold as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 37). Making the best of a bad situation, he emerged as a trusted steward to Emperor Pharoah. Years later, a severe famine drove his brothers to seek help in Egypt, where, ironically, they found themselves face to face with their estranged brother. He had risen to the place where he had the authority to give or to withhold the emergency help they needed. They bowed prostrate before him, anticipating the likelihood that he would take revenge by having them arrested and taken into slavery (Genesis 50:15-21).
Instead, Joseph surprised them by forgiving them and pledging to help their families through the crisis. His explanation was,
“Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21)
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” If only we could see this truth in the conflict in Israel today! Ever since Jesus walked over its roads, The Land has been under the control of people who don’t live there: the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, various Islamic dynasties, the Christian Crusaders and, most recently, the Ottoman Turks. After the First World War, the victorious Allied nations tried to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by establishing “protectorates,” in which a major Allied power accepted a “mandate” to help a particular territory develop an identity in the Twentieth Century world. Great Britain was assigned the Protectorate of “Palestine,” the modern name given to the ancient Land of Israel.
Through the turmoil of the reshuffling of nations and alliances in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Arabs had settled in Palestine; some were refugees from war and some had previously lived as nomads. At the same time, there was an increasing migration into Palestine of Jews from Europe and the Middle East, as they were escaping from more and more blatant antisemiticism. The Zionist movement emerged as a strong expression of an increasing longing for the establishment of a Jewish Nation. All of this was negotiated by one of the most dominant world leaders of that time, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. As the climax of these years of preparation, the modern Nation Israel was born in 1948!
Years later, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, accused Lloyd George of “Selling the same horse twice.” In his view, the British negotiator had promised the same piece of historic Land to the Jews to be their homeland Israel and to the Arab residents to be their homeland Palestine.* Maybe that’s true, and it could be the underlying root cause behind all the strife in the Holy Land has suffered since. But what can we do about this in our day? Most rational world leaders believe that there ultimately has to be a creative Two State Solution for peace to finally come to the Land, but radicals on both sides are strongly resisting this.
I recently read a post on Facebook that gave me some hope:
A crusty old farmer sat down with his family to eat the breakfast muffins his wife had cooked. She usually led in the prayer of thanks before meals, but this time, she sat quietly with her head bowed. After an awkward silence, he started to pray:
“Lord, I hate buttermilk”, the farmer began. His wife opened one eye to glance at her husband, wondering where this was going.
The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now his wife glanced at the kids with growing concern.
Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, “And Lord, you know I don’t much care for raw white flour.” His wife was beginning to take this personally. Again she opened an eye to glance around the room, and she saw that she wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable.
Then the farmer added, “But Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So Lord, when things come up in our lives that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits. Amen.”
I don’t know if I have as much faith as that farmer when I pray about Israel. Do you think God could be cooking up something good? As the Biblical Joseph found out,
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
– – Pastor George Van Alstine
* For an excellent article on selling the same horse twice, click here