War has always been a truly terrible thing. But, for thousands of years, its horrors were kept somewhat limited to the regions in which it was being waged. This is no longer the case: today, we have only to click a button, and its dreadful realities are right there in front of our eyes. A few weeks ago, journalists were confronted with shocking footage of the Hamas attacks in Israel. Now, they are recording the pummelling effects of Israeli raids in Gaza, and the appalling suffering of its people.
The majority of the world’s Christians are of the opinion that the Church has replaced Israel under the New Covenant, and that modern Israel is therefore to be regarded as being just like any other nation state. Many other believers, however, are equally convinced that God has by no means finished with His original chosen people, and that in some mysterious way, Israel remains the apple of His eye despite their great estrangement from Him. They believe that He not only has plans for this small nation that have yet to be fully fulfilled, but that the outworking of these plans extends way beyond its boundaries, and that it plays a vital role in paving the way for the return of the Lord Jesus. (See Rom. 11:11)
Most of us will have long since been clear as to which of these two positions we subscribe. But now, however much we might agree on the need to deal with Hamas, we must face the moral offence we feel concerning the effects of Israel’s military action on innocent civilians. And this presents us with a dilemma: are we meant to support one side over the other? Should we pray exactly the same prayers for both Israel and Gaza? Or simply limit our prayers to purely humanitarian issues and leave the outcome strictly to the Lord?
A non-partisan approach is clearly the less divisive and, in public at least, this is the stance many churches have chosen to adopt. But does that not risk dulling and blunting our prayers to such an extent that they lose any prophetic edge?
One immediate problem is that, whatever moral high ground Israel might have been able to lay claim to in the immediate aftermath of the October 7th massacre, it has now, by its own hand, squandered almost completely. (Although behind the scenes, we hear that the IDF, in complete contradistinction to Hamas’ massacres, have made numerous phone calls to warn some specific citizens and businesses to evacuate certain regions or apartments).
Inevitably, as the world watches the smoke going up from its relentless bombing in Gaza, hearts ache for the deep distress suffered by those mourning the loss of loved ones, and deprived of sufficient food, water and medication. This dismay is amplified still more by the oppressive sight of armed Israeli settlers in the West Bank taking advantage of the violence in Gaza to pressurise, frighten and in many cases, dispossess Palestinians.
Given that there are already something like 500,000 Israeli settlers who have plans in place to construct many more settlements, is this really in keeping with God’s will – or just the cruel and unscrupulous action of an apartheid-type regime?
As if all that was not concerning enough, videos have now emerged of the IDF torturing Gazan workers, who found themselves trapped in Israel at the time of the attacks. Many of the reports I have seen are really hard to watch. This report from CNN, for example, is one amongst several available online. It is explicit and sickening. I was going to add, ‘If you can bear to watch it,’ but I think perhaps it would be important for most of us that we do view it – both for the sake of objectivity, and because it is an opportunity to invite the Lord Jesus to share His heart with us over these things as we watch.  And this is a really harrowing report of a settler beating up a local Palestinian.
Dror Sadot, a spokesperson for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, an NGO, warned that the October 7 attacks by Hamas have led to a huge spike of aggression towards Palestinians in Israel. She told CNN that “the dehumanization of Palestinians is coming from the very top,” with public figures referring to Palestinians “not as human beings.”
Such statements should alarm those who love Israel. How much more comforting it would be just to assume these are isolated exceptions to their fairer rule (by comparison with the iron fist of Hamas). Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is true that a few IDF soldiers have been disciplined for their actions (as a result of filming some of their acts of abuse), and two dismissed from the service, but the problem is systemic.
Such a response seems pitifully inadequate, given the great damage that has been done to people who will now bear the psychological and physical scars for the rest of their lives. It is right to grieve with and for, all who have been abused – right, too, to express righteous indignation that it is happening at all.
For this is Israel, a nation whom God purposed to be a light and a blessing to every other nation on Earth. Yes, the Lord chose them to be His own people, but that in no way means the largely secular modern state is being led by His Spirit or displaying God’s own qualities.
I find myself calling to mind what the Lord said to Israel in Amos 3:1-2:
Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the Lord has spoken against you
against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt:
“You only have I chosen
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your sins.”
Lord, have mercy.
Salvation is from the Jews – but that in no way makes Israel automatically right in all it does
As I was pondering these things, I was reminded of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed, of whom only one returned to say thank You to Him. Imagine if one of the remaining nine went on to become ruler of the nation! No question but that this man had been touched by God as a result of that memorable encounter – but that is a far cry from going on to build a relationship with Jesus in which he is revered and obeyed as Lord and Saviour.
As we have seen repeatedly over the years, the fact that someone receives a blessing from the Lord is no guarantee that they will live forever in the good of it and do what is right and just as a result. But they will be liable before Him for their actions in just the same way as anyone else. Indeed, we will all be judged according to the light – and the opportunities – we have received.
The Scriptures speak of Israel being the apple of God’s eye, whom He will go to great lengths to protect. (See Deut. 32:10; Zech. 2:8) Salvation has gone out from the Jews to the rest of the world (John 4:22b) as discussed in this article from Chosen People Ministries. Paul is very clear, however, that ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile . . . since we are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal. 3:28) No-one born a Jew us granted an automatic pass into Heaven: salvation comes only come through repentance and faith in Christ. (Rom 11:17-24)
Satan has spread a veil across the eyes of all peoples everywhere, both Gentile and Jew, but it is God’s firm intention – indeed His delight – to share His heaven with people from every tribe and race and nation.
We must be fervent in prayer therefore, asking the Lord to remove the veil from the eyes of all. And as Gentile believers, we recognise with humility that we are wild olive shoots grafted into a Jewish olive tree by grace and faith. (Rom. 11:17-18) It behoves us to acknowledge our great indebtedness to our Hebrew forefathers, and to pray that people in Israel, and Jews all around the world come to faith in Yeshua, whom they have resisted and even persecuted for so long, so that they may be fully restored into their own tree – which itself reminds us of the tree of life. (See 2 Cor. 3:14-16)
Praise God for the growing numbers of Jewish believers! I love the story David Pawson tells of a young Jewish girl who once asked him if he was telling her that his Jesus was the Messiah that her people had so long been waiting for. When David said ‘Yes!’ she said that she could believe that if He was still alive. David promptly invited her to spend a few moments in conversation with Jesus. Barely ten minutes later she cried out, “He’s alive, He’s alive!” – and promptly began teaching him the Scriptures!
Paul longed and prayed with all his heart for the Jews to meet the risen Christ, and it is His work to bring them to Himself. It is not without cost. (Rom. 9:1-5, 10:1-4, 11:11) Indeed, Scriptures such as Zechariah 12 warn us that their full awakening will only come about as the result of a period of intense loss and suffering, before the Lord pours out a spirit of grace and supplication on them. (Zech. 12:10)
Let’s not forget that Christians in Israel have been under attack as never before in recent times, discovering to their cost that governmental opposition to the gospel has fostered a culture of impunity.
The whole question of Israel is a hard one to face for many people
For many, Israel is a stumbling stone. It comes as no surprise to find that among Arab and Muslim nations in particular, embracing the Jewish Messiah is all too often regarded as embracing a pro-Zionist political stance – which makes giving their allegiance to the Lion of Judah an incredibly courageous and dangerous thing to do. Hamas, Hezbollah and the top Iranian leadership desire nothing less than the obliteration of Israel, loudly proclaiming that it does not deserve to exist as a nation.
Many of the protesters around the world are doubtless inclined to believe the same thing, whether explicitly stated or not. (We witnessed a parallel example of this recently, when, on the eve of his invasion of Ukraine, Putin viciously declared that it did not deserve nationhood in its own right.)
On the other hand, ultra pro-Zionist Christians, in all their eagerness to prove that the nation of Israel remains central to God’s purposes in the end times – together with sheaves of neatly drawn up charts, maps and timescales – can come across as unnecessarily prescriptive (and often mutually contradictory) rather than truly prophetic, as well as promoting an unhealthy degree of partisanship.
It was such a joy when I was in Dresden many years ago to find people who had a really deep passion and heart to pray for Israel – but who were equally fervent in praying for other nations. The balance felt very healthy.
For many people, the thought that God would single out one people group out of all the tribes in the world, and choose one land as His own, is an offence. To declare that Israel might remain ‘chosen’ even under the New Covenant all too often incites envy and resentment from nations and peoples who resent being not so chosen – or who actually believe that they are still more unique.
Hitler taught Germany to consider itself a chosen nation; America regards itself as specially chosen of God, just as many in Russia also believe the same of themselves and their land. In its heyday, plenty of people in England would have said the same about their right to rule an Empire.
Yet, it is only to Israel that God said, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will place a curse on those who harm [or curse] you. And all the people [families; clans] on earth will be blessed through you [ the promises of the Abrahamic covenant].” (Gen. 12:3 EXB)
Although this verse is taken from the Abrahamic covenant which has long been superseded, it is worth taking seriously to heart. It behoves people, and nations, to be careful about cursing and harming Israel. But where spiritual support for Israel becomes infused and infected by the spirit of nationalism, much harm can come.
In the face of the ever soaring rises of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim episodes across cities in so many nations, I was impressed by the Chief Rabbi of New York calling for ‘disambiguation:’ that is, making it clear that what Hamas did was utterly wrong, but also accepting that the Palestinian people deserve better treatment from both their Arab neighbours and from Israel itself. He went on to express surprise that so many feminists are taking to the streets in support of the Palestinian cause when Hamas have been guilty of such terrible atrocities against women.
Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize winning author, has written a powerful article in the Daily Mail from which I quote an extract:
For anyone for whom anti-Semitism is an insoluble mystery — is the definition they have been waiting for. It chills me to the bone to say this, but anti-Semitism is the passion dead Jews arouse in their killers to kill more.
Not for being too rich, or too strong, or too weak, or too clever, or too arrogant, or too influential, not for being circumcised, or for fathering Christianity, or for controlling the world’s media, not even for voting for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are the Jews detestable.
They are detestable because of the drum beat of communality; they are detestable because there is a history of someone detesting them.
What astonished and dismayed the friends and families of the murdered Jews in southern Israel was that they’d called many Gazans friends, supported them in their struggles and regularly driven some of the more infirm of them to hospitals in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
They lived close to Gaza precisely in the hope of furthering peace and, in the meantime, making the lives of Gazans easier.
This same story was told again and again during the pogroms of Eastern Europe: seeming friends were suddenly swept into the hysteria of destruction and enthusiastically set about murdering Jewish neighbours they’d once loved.
Let the carnival of hate begin and the kindly day-to-day present of actual human relations gives way to animosities learnt long ago and never banished from the human heart.
The question frequently asked of German civilians in the 1940s — how could you stand idly by and do nothing? — seems barely more than a casual enquiry compared to what we must ask today: how can people not merely stand idly by, but actually applaud?
As Howard goes on to explore the horrifying tidal wave of anti Semitism in the universities, all of us should surely check our own hearts to see if we are harbouring attitudes that keep us from the Lord’s longing to make disciples of all nations. May He lead us in repentance and prayer.
Looking beyond the present regime
To return to more immediate matters: the war with Hamas has meant that Benjamin Netanyahu, who was set on an anti-democratic and provocative path in the months leading up to the conflict, has resumed his place at the centre of the nation, with bitterly opposed opponents (and deeply divided believers too) rallying to put aside their differences for the time being. History teaches us, however, that when Israel was taken by surprise by the events of the Yom Kippur war, the shock of it led to the downfall of its leader.
In days to come, therefore, when Boards of Inquiry examine the conduct and actions of Israel’s government – Netanyahu’s position, concerning his failure to either anticipate the attacks or to deploy a swift military response – will his long standing tenure-ship in government prove untenable? It is never too soon to pray for the shape of the future government of both Israel and Gaza, whatever that may look like in the aftermath of this conflict.
So, as we come before the Lord in prayer for what is going on in Israel and Gaza, are we praying through rose-coloured lenses as we pray for the Israel-Gaza conflict? May we have the humility and wisdom, and if need be repentance for our rose-coloured or blinkered attitudes, and a desire to see the Lord’s will being done rather than assuming that we automatically know what that will is.
Praise God that Jesus Himself is the Will of God! To help us enter into prayer, see also Praying with Jesus in the olive trees of Gethsemane# and Storm verses
 See also this brief resume in The Guardian.
 For further pointers for prayer, you may find the following resources helpful starting points:
From the Evangelical Alliance, a prayer for Israel and Palestine.
From the Salvation Army, a prayer for the conflict.
And from Crosswalk, a prayer addressing God’s purposes for Israel.