Hamas freed seventeen more hostages yesterday; thirty-nine Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons in exchange. Among the hostages Hamas released was Abigail Edan, a four-year-old Israeli-American citizen who witnessed her parents being murdered on October 7. President Biden said at a news conference, “What she endured is unthinkable.”
NOTE: I have written a book on the Israel–Hamas war which we are releasing as a free digital download. I invite you to get your copy here.
Emily Hand is another hostage released over the weekend by Hamas. She was at a sleepover at a friend’s house when Hamas invaded and was initially reported killed, but it was later announced that she was among those held hostage. She turned nine while in captivity.
Yaffa Adar is another. The eighty-five-year-old Holocaust survivor and mother of three, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of eight was kidnapped from her kibbutz. Her eldest grandson was also taken hostage and remains in Hamas custody.
Amid the elation over receiving some of the hostages, the Wall Street Journal editorial board reminded us that “the cost is a short-term cease-fire that Hamas will exploit, and three-quarters of the 236 hostages will remain in terrorist hands.” They added:
The deal again shows the moral gulf between the two sides. Hamas kidnapped Israeli children as young as nine months to use as hostages and spring its jihadists who have been arrested or convicted in a fair trial for their crimes. Israel takes military risks to save its citizens. Hamas risks Palestinian civilians to save itself.
This “moral gulf” is worth exploring on an even more fundamental level today.
“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”
John Gray is an emeritus professor of European thought at the London School of Economics and a prolific author. His latest book, The New Leviathans, uses Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 classic Leviathan to explore the rise of totalitarianism in our generation.
In an article for Time, Gray explains Hobbes’ central thesis: humans can achieve a civilized life of peace, prosperity, and culture through a social contract that empowers a ruler whom all will obey. This sovereign power (which Hobbes called a “leviathan” after the sea monster in the book of Job), whether a king or a governing assembly, would be unbounded in its powers, but its authority would be limited to maintaining peace.
Hobbes believed that humans need such a ruler because we live in a state of nature he described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” However, in Gray’s view, such “leviathans” as we are seeing in Putin’s Russia, China’s Xi, and Western “woke” ideologies fail the people they are empowered to protect.
The reason is both simple and catastrophic: rulers are as subject to fallen human nature as those they rule. They are as tempted to be their own gods (Genesis 3:5) as the people they theoretically serve. More so, in fact: the “will to power” that Nietzsche so powerfully identifies becomes even more tempting as power becomes more available.
As the British historian Lord Acton observed, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“Nobody should blame us for the things we do”
Gray’s analysis explains why there will be “wars and rumors of war” until the Lord returns (Matthew 24:6). The ongoing exchange of hostages for prisoners will not end the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
To the contrary: Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad, when asked if his goal was the annihilation of Israel, replied, “Yes, of course. We must remove that country.” He added: “We are the victims of the occupation. Full stop. Therefore, nobody should blame us for the things we do. On October 7, October 10, October million, everything we do is justified.” The fact that Gaza has not been “occupied” by Israel since 2005 makes no difference, apparently.
The only remedy for the sinful human heart is one illustrated by the hostages-for-prisoners exchanges over the weekend: trading the innocent for the guilty to free the latter through the suffering of the former.
Here is the solution we need: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20–21). At the cross, the Father transferred your sins and mine onto his sinless Son, who then paid our debt with his life: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny”
As the Christmas season begins, I want to urge us to remember that we were guilty prisoners exchanged for an innocent Savior. Jesus came “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, fulfilling Isaiah 61:1). The One born in a Bethlehem manger died on a Jerusalem cross. Your cross. My cross.
One of the symptoms of human fallenness is the delusion that we can save ourselves. Our secularized society assures us that we can be our own Leviathan, that we are the customers and consumers of our culture. In this calculus, holy days become holidays; Christmas is about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and nonstop consumption until we “ring in the New Year” not with prayer and fasting but with parties and feasting.
Maya Rudolph encouraged us to “create your own destiny.” William Faulkner similarly opined, “Man is indestructible because of his simple will to freedom.” Shakespeare was adamant: “It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
To whom will you entrust your destiny today?
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