The following resource article is the first in a series regarding the foundational issues behind the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The full series is also available as a free ebook.
Israel is a tiny country, roughly the size of New Jersey. At one point, it is just nine miles from east to west. Its Jewish residents number 7.145 million, less than half the 16.1 million Jews in the world. Altogether, Jews comprise 0.2 percent of the 8.1 billion global population.
And yet, from the dawn of history, this land has been a hinge of history.
There is evidence of humans in the region dating back 500,000 years, with settled life beginning between 12,500 and 9,500 BC. Jericho is considered one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world, with evidence of settlement dating to 9,000 BC.
As a land bridge between Egypt to the south and empires to the north, the area has always possessed enormous military significance. The ancient city of Megiddo, for example, stood guard over the Via Maris (“the way of the sea”), the major highway connecting south to north, and was destroyed and rebuilt twenty-five times over the centuries.
The Jewish nation ruled the area under their united monarchies (Saul, David, and Solomon) and then in two kingdoms, north and south. The northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC; the southern was captured by Babylon in 586 BC and enslaved for seventy years. Except for 103 years of autonomy under the Maccabeans, the land would be subjugated to the dominance of foreign powers for the next two and a half millennia.
And yet, despite its diminutive size and status, with few natural resources of significance, Israel and the Jewish people have remained a focal point of history.
In 1899, after returning from a visit to Palestine, Mark Twain wrote:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now and have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.
What is the secret of his immortality?
Now Israel is making history once again. Hamas’s invasion on October 7, 2023, shocked the world and has dominated headlines ever since.
This crisis is of deep personal interest to me. I have led more than thirty study tours to Israel, taught world religions at several graduate schools, and written books and numerous articles on Israel and Islam. Over three decades of traveling to Israel, I have come to love the land and her people. Some of my dearest friends are Jews and Palestinians who live there. I have prayed for them often for many years and they for me.
I am especially praying for them in these dark days.
I have written this volume, not to tell you all you could know about Israel and its war with Hamas, but what I think you need to know to understand this conflict and its larger significance. We are publishing it in digital form so we can update it regularly as events warrant.
My purpose here is twofold:
- To help you understand this conflict so you can “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) with biblical, historical, and cultural insight. Israel needs our intercession today more than at any time in the last fifty years. I am hoping this volume will help us pray for her Jewish and Palestinian peoples with fervency and effectiveness.
- To explore ways God could be using this war to advance his kingdom on earth. I am convinced that our Lord redeems all he allows. How could he be redeeming this conflict? What can we learn from it that can draw us closer to him? How can we know Christ and make him known more powerfully in these crucial times?
In short, how could God use this war to advance the spiritual awakening we need so desperately?
At the conclusion of each chapter, we will identify an answer to this question. At the end, we will gather these principles together as a blueprint for advancing God’s kingdom today.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the UK for many years. I found his theological observations on cultural issues to be wise and practical. Rabbi Sacks once said of Israel:
The day will come, when the story of Israel in modern times will speak not just to Jews, but to all who believe in the power of the human spirit as it reaches out to God, as an everlasting symbol of the victory of life over death, hope over despair. Israel has achieved great things. It has taken a barren land and made it bloom again. It’s taken an ancient language, the Hebrew of the Bible, and made it speak again. It’s taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young again. Israel has taken a tattered, shattered nation and made it live again. Israel is the country whose national anthem, Hatikvah, means hope. Israel is the home of hope.
May his words be true today as we serve and share “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) to the glory of God.