How do I pray? That is the question I asked myself when, together with the whole State of Israel, I was shocked and dismayed by the murder of four teenagers. I could hear gunshots, sirens, helicopters, and shouting from my bedroom. I knew I had to pray but didn’t know how.
The Lord fulfills all his promises and he brought the Jewish people to live in this land, for which they fight to keep ownership. Throughout history, and even today, Jews fight for the right to exist and to live in the land God chose for them and miraculously brought them back to as fulfillment of prophecy (Gen. 28:14-15). The Jews have suffered more than any other race or people group. Between 597 and 582 BCE, the Jews were forcibly exiled from the kingdom of Judah: Jerusalem was pillaged, the temple was utterly destroyed, the peop
le were scattered and subjected to captivity under the Babylonians from 587-537 BCE. In 1096, the Crusaders brought a new wave of assaults lasting well into the 14th century: Jews were attacked, killed, and violently forced to undergo conversion to Christianity. The abominations of the 20th century further demonstrate some of the most intense human malevolence in history. And why? Because this is God’s chosen people. Because God foretold that there would be hardship and persecution if they disobeyed him. And because the enemy strives to destroy God’s people, using human will and actions to exact suffering on God’s people.
Along with the promises to gather the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth, there are also promises that the situation would become increasingly intense and difficult. Daniel’s visions speak of kings rising up to “vent [their] fury” against the covenant between the God of Israel and his people (Dan. 11:30-31). The Lord also warns that he “will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it.” We should expect opposition to Israel and the Jews. Last night, when the sirens sounded over Jerusalem warning people to take shelter from incoming rockets, I was reminded that this is true, and, in
some way, maybe this is also the will of God. It was a reminder for me that man is fickle: we cannot depend on governments or nations alone for security. Support from men comes and goes. For example, even though the British Balfour Declaration (1917) initially promoted Israel (then Palestine) as a home for Jews, opinion turned around and three years later it was verbally revoked. It is therefore important to remember not to put our trust in earthly “chariots and horses” but to “trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7). Ultimately, the Lord will deliver the nation of Israel and “fight against those nations” which oppose his people (Zech. 14:3).
As someone coming from the “nations,” I have found it hard to know how to pray, how to understand this situation where terrorism is part of everyday life. Terrorism is something of a permanent backdrop to Israeli life and culture; it is a potential threat hovering in the background. The events of the last weeks have brought this threat into reality – a reality that has stunned the world afresh with the brutal murders and calls from both Jewish and Arab youths for violent revenge. The grief of Israel’s Jewish citizens results not only from the snatching of three young lives, but also from outrage and shock at the behavior of their fellow citizens against the Arab community. This tension is not new, yet it never fails to sadden us and reawaken the underlying differences between two people groups. These events are once again causing the onlooking nations to slowly turn against Israel. While not all of the Israeli government’s decisions are condonable, this is another example of God’s promises being fulfilled. There is a veil covering the nations and inciting them against Israel; the nations’ aim is to “destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more” (Ps. 83:3-4).
In the midst of all this balagan (Hebrew for chaos or mayhem), I knew I had to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6). However, knowing that the Lord has determined that Israel will suffer, how could I pray for peace while knowing there will be no peace until God brings his perfect peace at the end of time? It seemed difficult to imagine that there could be peace in this city of constant tension. Nonetheless, I found I could pray that God would have mercy on both Jewish and Arab perpetrators, for protection for innocent lives, and for comfort for all the people in this land. I learned that it is possible to pray for peace over Jerusalem: that neighbors would love each other and live in peace with each other (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31), and that we as individuals would bear the fruit of the Spirit, keeping our thoughts and actions pleasing to God (Gal. 5:22-23). Above all, I pray that the suffering parties would seek God, who is the ultimate source of peace (1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Thess. 3:16; Isa. 26:12).
So, in the midst of distress and danger, it is vital to remember to pray for Israel and for the Jews and Arabs living here. We are strengthened by knowing that God will restore what he has promised to restore (Zeph. 3:16-17) and that there will be a new, holy Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2-4).