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Lessons from the Land

Why Christians Care about Annexation

I have engaged with a number of reporters lately, both on and off the record, concerning the Trump peace plan. And one question keeps coming up: Why should Christians care about whether or not Israel annexes more territory in the West Bank? So for the record, here are some valid, sincere reasons why Christians should—and—do care about Israel and its current debate over whether to annex parts of Judea/Samaria in the context of the Trump plan. 

 

Standing for Fairness 

Because so many Christians were hostile to the Jewish people down through history, we view it as our moral duty as Christians today to stand with Israel and against those who are hostile to the modern Jewish state and its people. There are simply too many nations and peoples who treat Israel unfairly and even loathe its existence without just reason or cause. So we are determined to stand against the rising tide of anti-Semitism, the rampant anti-Israel media bias, the stone-hearted threats of sanctions and violence, and the outright bullying of Israel in international forums. 

 

We are simply standing for fair treatment of the Jewish nation and people in hopes it will create a more level playing field for Israel. The UN Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2334 in December 2016 is a prime example of the lopsided and prejudicial decisions routinely made against Israel. By declaring that the entire West Bank and eastern Jerusalem are “occupied Palestinian territory,” the international community ran roughshod over four millennia of Jewish claim and connection to the Land of Israel. 

 

So when Israel is debating whether to assert its rightful historic claim and title to the biblical heartland of ancient Israel, Christians are interested—and we have every right to be. 

 

Standing for Right 

Israel is a democratic state whose legitimate historic right and claim to the Jewish homeland was duly recognized by the international community not so long ago. Thus, “annexation” is not really the proper word for what Israel is considering, as it normally connotes the hostile taking of another’s property. Rather, Israel would simply be asserting sovereignty on lands it currently possesses and over which it already has a valid historic claim. Yet the world blithely treats it as an attempt to steal someone else’s lands. 

 

Admittedly, there is a rival Palestinian claim to these same areas but of such recent origin that it pales in comparison to the longstanding Jewish title over eretz Israel. The people of Israel must decide whether to compromise on their superior land claim for the sake of peace. And as Christians, we respect Israeli democracy and the right of its people to make this decision free of outside interference or threats. Thus, with great empathy and care we will be watching the annexation debate and will stand with Israel as it wrestles with this complex and consequential decision. 

 

Standing for Truth 

To build their rival nationalist claim to the historic Land of Israel, the Palestinians have found it necessary to deny any Jewish connection to the Land, and particularly, to Jerusalem. In doing so, they have decreed our Bible—both Old and New Testaments—to be full of falsehoods concerning the ancient Jewish presence in this land. This would mean King David did not rule over a large Israelite kingdom from his palace in Jerusalem, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, and that Jesus did not enter and teach in the courts of the Second Temple as the Gospels all say.  

 

That should capture Christians’ attention, and rightly so! The Palestinians also have routinely damaged and destroyed important biblical sites that bear the archaeological proof that ancient Israel once inhabited the land. So Christians are standing for truth and the preservation of history when we partake in the debate over the fate of the disputed territories. 

 

Standing for Justice 

Christians believe God made a covenant promise to Abraham to deliver the entire Land of Israel as an “everlasting possession” to his descendants. How and when God ultimately fulfills that promise is up to Him. But we do believe the modern-day return of the Jews to the Land of Israel, including the mountains of Judea and Samaria, is part of God keeping His covenant promises to the Jewish people concerning their land inheritance.  

 

Our Bible also says that God scattered them from the Land for corrective and redemptive purposes, while at the same time vowing that He would always regather them to the Land of Israel one day. Thus, we consider it a matter of historic justice that the Jews have returned to their homeland in modern times. And since Christians also serve the same God as the Jewish people, our own faith is strengthened when we see Him being faithful to His promises to Israel concerning the Land. 

 

So to answer the question, Christians have plenty of reasons for why we care so deeply about the annexation debate and how the Jewish people hope to maintain their enduring connection to their biblical homeland.   

The Strategic Importance of the Jordan Valley

President Trump’s proposed peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians allows for Israel’s annexation (extension of sovereignty) of the major settlement blocks in the “West Bank” as well as the Jordan Valley. While the overall plan has been touted as the best plan presented thus far, it does allow for an eventual Palestinian State should the Palestinians come to the table. In the meantime, indications are that Israel can go ahead and begin extending sovereignty over those areas she requires in any future agreement.

 

 

The Trump administration previously recognized Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel as well as Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, both recognitions that Israel had long-awaited. This peace plan seems to be opening another historic door for Israel to solidify the defensible borders she needs. 

 

Is Annexation the Right Word?

Some analysts argue it is incorrect to use the term “annex” for territory to which Israel already has a legitimate claim. It is even dangerous because the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines “annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State of part thereof” as “constituting the grave Crime of Aggression.” To describe Israel’s extension of sovereignty as “annexation” implies the territory belonged to another State and Israel is committing an illegal act, making her vulnerable to claims and legal rulings by the ICC. 

 

 

Neither the settlement blocks nor the Jordan Valley were territories of another State. They were Ottoman Empire territories that the British mandate, ratified by the San Remo conference in 1920, designated for a Jewish state. Jordan illegally occupied them from 1948–1967 when Israel took control of them. It is therefore disputed territory belonging to Israel that the Trump plan allows Israel to “extend sovereignty” over.

 

 

Last month’s Israel Answers article discussed this issue as it relates to the settlement blocs, and in this article, we will discuss the importance of the Jordan Valley specifically.

 

Jordan Valley

The “Jordan Valley” is used here to include the lower course of the Jordan River, from the spot where it exits the Sea of Galilee in the north, to the end of its course, where it flows into the Dead Sea in the south. The valley is a long and narrow trough roughly 65 miles long. This valley includes the lowest elevation in the world, and on both sides—to the east and west—it is bordered by steep cliffs rising as high as 3,900–5,600 feet high. 

 

 

The majority of the Jordan Valley is already administered by Israel, as it forms part of the West Bank’s “Area C” as outlined in the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s. Eighty-six percent of the land is Israeli farmland due to its year-round agricultural climate, fertile soils, and water supply. It is strategic militarily because it forms the border between Jordan to the east and Israel (and the West Bank) to the west and is regulated by the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994. 

 

Israeli Security

The Jordan Valley has long been considered Israel’s preferred eastern border, and sovereign control over it will ensure Israel’s ability to respond to security threats from both Jordan to its east and the Palestinians to its west. Strategic positioning of this kind will prove far more effective and peaceful in the long run than the intervention of foreign military assistance or military technology used in conflicts in the past.

 

Keeping the Palestinians Demilitarized

Israel’s requirement that a prospective Palestinian state be demilitarized has been known since the 1993 Oslo process and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The requirement is a means of safeguarding Israel’s security by preventing the development of military threats against Israel—including conventional warfare, terrorism and guerilla warfare—from and via the Palestinian territories. The only way to keep illegal weapons from entering the demilitarized Palestinian zone is for Israel to maintain control of its borders. 

 

Jordan’s Security

Jordan gave lip service to cutting ties with Israel in response to the “annexation” but has no interest in conflict with Israel. It is Israel and the United States, not the Palestinian Authority, that bring peace and stability to Jordan. One senior Jordanian official reporting to Israel Hayom newspaper asserted:

 

 

We prefer an IDF presence west of the kingdom in the Jordan Valley over any other alternative. Contrary to the poor diplomatic relations with Israel, the security relationship is excellent. We have no interest or intention of damaging our security relations with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

 

 

As expected, Jordan will beat its chest loudly in support of the Palestinian people while treasuring its strategic ties with Israel in a quiet manner. 

 

 

In conclusion, the chance to extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and major settlements is a unique opportunity. Everything, at least momentarily, is in place for such a move: the strong support of the White House; developing security and economic ties with Sunni Arab countries that will prevent legitimate pushback; and a strong Israeli security presence that is capable of deterring Palestinian unrest. This stated, Israel’s local friendships are not guaranteed tomorrow, and American support for such action rests on a shaky reelection bid for President Trump. If Israel desires to obtain defensible borders for the future, now is the time to act swiftly.

Does Israel Have the Right to Annex Settlements?

The Trump administration unveiled the long-awaited peace plan between Israel and the Palestinian people in January 2020. Perhaps the most realistic and balanced of any peace plan to date, it was rejected by the Palestinian Authority in less than two hours. 

One of the most controversial pieces of the so-called “Deal of the Century” included the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, recognizing the land as part of the State of Israel. Thus the quagmire brings old questions to light regarding the legality of the settlements and Israel’s right to annex them.

Biblical Foundation

The book of Genesis records God’s promise of the land of Canaan as an “everlasting possession” to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Several hundred years later, the law was given at Sinai, and one of the conditions of disobedience would be exile from that land—however, exile with the hope of return. After centuries of exile, the Jewish people saw that hope realized and returned to reestablish sovereignty in their God-given land in 1948.

International Legal Foundation

The ancient land of Canaan, referred to as Judea under Roman occupation, had been renamed Palestine in AD 135 and then occupied by one foreign entity after another until the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WWI. Leaders of the Allied nations and their German counterparts divided up the Empire, not for occupation but to set up self-rule. 

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 supporting the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was endorsed by the leading world powers at the San Remo Conference in 1920 and affirmed by the League of Nations in 1922. Israel had a right to the land just as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq—all created out of the same legal agreements—had rights to theirs. This legal foundation has not been annulled and is still in place today. 

The Defunct UN Partition Plan

After 25 years of conflict between the Jews and Arabs living in the land, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181 in 1947, calling for the partition of the land and the establishment of both a Jewish State and an Arab State. The Jews immediately accepted the plan and established their state, but the Arab world rejected it and instead attacked the newborn Jewish State in an attempt to take all of the land. The UN Partition Plan was never implemented because the Arabs had rejected it just as they have rejected numerous other offers of statehood. 

The Failed Peace Process

Since the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, various initiatives and peace plans have offered more and more to the Palestinians and seemed to validate the claims by Israel’s antagonists that the Jews were giving back illegally occupied land owned by the Palestinians. But Israel’s willingness to negotiate and possibly even give away land did not mean the international legal claims to the land were now not applicable. Instead, Israel was negotiating with the land that rightfully belonged to her to obtain a peace agreement.

Palestinian Obstinance  

The increasingly generous offers of various peace initiatives under four US Presidents since 1991 were all rejected by the Palestinian leaders who seemed to be holding out for a better deal. What Western negotiators failed to recognize was Palestinian rejection is not about the details of any one offer but a refusal to sign an agreement with the Jewish State. 

Signing an agreement with Israel means recognizing Israel exists, and that would be a betrayal of the Palestinian dream of return to all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It would also be a betrayal of the Islamic world that refuses to accept Jewish sovereignty on land that was once Islamic. Thirty years of Palestinian obstinance has created facts on the ground that need resolving, such as that of the Jewish communities in the West Bank.

Time to Annex the Settlements

Israel’s annexation of the settlements as allowed by the Trump peace plan is entirely legal. It recognizes the rulings of the San Remo Conference and League of Nations some 100 years ago. It should also be a wake-up call to Palestinian leaders that their continued rejection of peace agreements with Israel will mean less for them in the end—not more. 

Outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Caesarea

The city of Caesarea is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament. It is the setting of several critical events recorded in the book of Acts including the Roman Centurion Cornelius’ receiving of the Holy Spirit. This watershed moment in the history of Christianity took place not in the holy city of Jerusalem but in the pagan city of Caesarea.


Setting in a Pagan City

Known as Caesarea Maritima, or “Caesarea on the Sea”—to differentiate it from Caesarea Philippi in the northern part of Israel and also mentioned in Acts—this expansive port city on the Mediterranean Sea was built by King Herod. Named in honor of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, Caesarea Maritima contained a prominent temple to the emperor that stood some 100 feet high.

King Herod was known as Herod the Great due to his large and ambitious building projects such as Masada, the Herodium, and the temple in Jerusalem—a portion of which remains today as the Western Wall. He made Caesarea one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire, and the provincial capital for some 500 years.

Herod built Caesarea’s expansive harbor using cutting-edge technology that allowed concrete to harden under water. He then built a ten-mile-long aqueduct to transport fresh water from springs at the base of Mount Carmel. In order for the water to flow by the pull of gravity, the aqueduct was built on arches and the gradient carefully measured. Herod’s summer palace was designed to jut out into the sea with an Olympic-size pool of fresh water. A Hippodrome (a stadium for horse and chariot racing) that could seat 20,000 people paralleled the beach.

He also constructed a theater with a seating capacity of 3,500. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, this was where Herod’s grandson, King Herod Agrippa I, died. As recounted in Acts 12, Agrippa was sitting on his throne and addressing the people when they proclaimed him to be a god. Because he did not rebuke them and direct their praise to God, he was struck down by an angel and died.

Visitors to Caesarea today can sit amongst the ruins of these magnificent structures and imagine the lifestyle of the Roman people in Herod’s day. We can also review the biblical story of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius.

In this opulent city of extravagance and excesses, rife with pagan worship of emperors and mythical gods, lived a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. He was a “devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Hence, he had a “good reputation among all the nation of the Jews” (10:22).

This Roman Centurion, a gentile of the Italian Regiment, feared and prayed to the God of the Jews and gave alms according to the Jewish practice. Cornelius, therefore, was held in good standing with the Jewish people. It was this particular man God chose to be the first gentile blessed with salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This choice was explained by an angel who appeared to Cornelius and said his prayers and alms had come before God. Cornelius’ prayers to the God of Israel and his generosity toward the Jewish people had captured God’s attention, and he was top of the list when the God of Israel was ready to reach the gentile world.

The lesson here is a simple one: when God established His covenant with the Jewish people through Abraham, He promised to bless those who blessed them. Cornelius was doing just that and in return, he was blessed. His entire family received the Lord and was baptized that day, and he has gone down in history as the first gentile to receive the Holy Spirit.

The Beginning of Our Story

Up until this time, the gospel of Christ’s death for the remission of sins had only been preached amongst His Jewish brethren. While the Hebrew prophets foretold of a day when the gentiles would worship the God of Israel, these first-century Jewish believers in Jesus were not expecting it to begin in their lifetime.

Peter immediately went to Jerusalem where he had to convince church leaders that the Holy Spirit was falling on people outside of the nation of Israel and outside of the Jewish faith. From the pagan city of Caesarea word came to the apostles and believers in Jesus that God had “also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).

Gentiles were “strangers and aliens” from the “covenants of promise,” but had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12–13). The price was paid for all people on the cross, but when it was time for the Holy Spirit to break into the gentile world, it began in the pagan city of Caesarea, in the home of a Roman Centurion who prayed to the God of the Jews.

- by Susan Michael, ICEJ US Director

THE GOSPEL SPREADS FROM CAESAREA TO ROME

The ancient city of Caesarea Maritima nestled along the Mediterranean coast was one of the most significant seaports in the world during the time of Herod the Great and the events of the book of Acts. Named “Caesarea” in honor of Caesar Augustus, this urban center was a hub of commercial importance known for wine, olives, oil, fruit syrups, and nails. It was a city of splendor—white limestone was its principal building material. Mosaic sidewalks with long rows of pink granite and marble columns led from the city center to a distinguished amphitheater. Thousands more columns stood in parallel rows along the streets.

Today, Caesarea is also known for the remains of a ten-mile-long Roman aqueduct which runs along the beach to the north of the city, just as it did in the first century—reflecting the architectural genius of Herod the Great. This aqueduct supplied the city’s drinking water, as well as water for public baths. The restored Roman amphitheater is used today for concerts and the remains of Herod’s hippodrome and palace, or the “praetorium,” are viewed by tourists.

It was in this praetorium in Caesarea that the apostle Paul was kept a prisoner for two years. It is also from here that Paul took the gospel to the heart of the Roman world—first through the Roman rulers he met with in Caesarea, and then in Rome itself.

Prison Was His Pulpit

In the fall of AD 57, Paul was being attacked by an angry mob outside of the temple in Jerusalem when the Romans took him into protective custody and then sent him to Caesarea to await trial. Felix, the Roman governor, heard Paul’s case and delayed his decision—but a few days later brought his Jewish wife, Drusilla, to hear the curious prisoner. Paul proceeded to preach to the two about the righteousness of Christ, self-control, and judgment to come. Felix responded to the gospel in fear, deferred his verdict, and put Paul in prison. However, he often brought Paul before him so they could speak further.

After two years, Festus succeeded Felix as governor and called for Paul to appear before him. When Festus suggested that perhaps he should be taken to his accusers in Jerusalem, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11–12). Festus was left puzzled by this, because he knew Paul was innocent. But this would be the way Paul would take the gospel to Rome as the Lord had told him he would.

Festus then brought Paul before King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, who happened to be visiting Caesarea. According to Festus, Paul wouldn’t stop talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus; this intrigued Agrippa, who said, “I also would like to hear the man myself” (Acts 25:22).

The next day, in the auditorium in the city of Caesarea, Paul once again embraced the opportunity to preach the gospel to not only Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice, but to the commanders of the Roman Legion, and all the prominent men of Caesarea (Acts 25:23).

In front of these rulers and dignitaries Paul declared: “I stand, witnessing … That the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22–23).

Scripture indicates Agrippa nearly believed, saying, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Admitting Paul’s innocence, Agrippa shipped Paul off to Rome to appeal to Caesar.

The Gospel Goes to Rome

Once in Rome, Paul presented his case to the Jewish leaders who announced they had heard nothing bad about Paul from the Jews in Judea. Growing numbers of Jews assembled to hear Paul teach about the kingdom of God and preach from the Law of Moses and the prophets, “persuading them concerning Jesus” (Acts 28:23).

During this two-year period, Paul—a Roman citizen—lived in his own rented house under guard. He “received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” with boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:30–31). It was from there that he wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

Though Luke leaves readers hanging (we aren’t told if Paul ever went before Caesar in Rome), Paul’s letter to the Philippians reveals he became known throughout the whole palace guard, a body of 10,000 elite soldiers in Rome. His influence went beyond this group “and to all the rest” (Philippians 1:13) which suggests Paul was well-known throughout the entire city. There is even reference in Philippians 4:22 to “saints” in Caesar’s household.

Paul did not allow house arrest or even prison to stop him but taught and preached to anyone who would listen. In this way, the gospel spread not only to the Jewish community in Rome but even to the household of the Roman Emperor—the result of a providential two-year hold in a prison cell in Caesarea and a bold request to come before Caesar in Rome.

- by Susan Michael, ICEJ US Director

Elijah’s Call to Pure Worship

Mount Carmel is at the tip of a beautiful 24-mile-long wooded mountain range nestled in-between the Mediterranean Sea to the West and the Jezreel Valley to the East. “Carmel” means “vineyard of God” or “garden of God” and the Bible describes it as a beautiful and fruitful region.

Most Bible students, however, associate the area with the famous confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of the Canaanite fertility god, Ba’al, found in 1 Kings 18. While there are no archeological remains to verify the exact place of this event, the Stella Maris Monastery is said to mark the place of Elijah’s altar that had been known as the “place of burning” for centuries.

From the top of the monastery is a magnificent view overlooking the Jezreel Valley where many major wars have taken place throughout history and where at least one more is predicted: the war of Armageddon. It was on high places, such as Mount Carmel, that pagan altars were built; what a more fitting site for Ba’al worship than the lush “garden of God.”

Elijah chose this place of Ba’al worship for the site of a showdown with the pagan prophets and the king who supported them. First Kings 16:29–33 tells us that King Ahab did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the kings before him because of his worship of Ba’al, and because of his marriage to the evil Queen Jezebel who had ordered the murder of the prophets of the God of Israel.

THE POWERLESSNESS OF BA’AL

Ba’al was known as the fertility god of both the people and the land, and was often depicted as a bull with a lightning strike in his hand. This god of weather was believed to provide the rain needed for crops. Therefore, when a drought set in after Elijah had declared to King Ahab there would be no rain for three years, Ba’al was proved powerless.

Recognizing the Canaanite god’s lack of power was not enough for Elijah, however. He wanted the people of Israel to return to pure worship of the God of Israel. The confrontation on Mount Carmel was ultimately directed at the people of Israel to bring them back to their God.

After three years of drought, the agrarian economy was devastated, and the people were desperate. Elijah had King Ahab gather everyone on Mount Carmel—the prophets of Ba’al as well as all the people of Israel. Elijah then implored his fellow Israelites to decide to either follow the God of Israel or follow Ba’al.

After the prophets of Ba’al were unable to call fire down from heaven, Elijah taunted them with his sarcastic remark about their god: “Either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27).

Elijah then built an altar in the name of the God of Israel, based on twelve stones to signify the twelve tribes of Israel. He drenched the altar with water and waited for the time of the evening sacrifice at which time fire came from heaven and not only consumed the burnt sacrifice, but the wood, the stones, and all the water.

The people saw this and fell on their faces before the Lord and proclaimed, “The Lord, He is God!” Ironically, this phrase, “The Lord, He is God,” is the meaning of Elijah’s name in Hebrew.

CONFRONTING OUR BA’ALS

Elijah’s generation was not the first, nor the last, to mix their worship of God with the worship of false gods. An example of this is found in the New Testament. The Samaritans were the descendants of Israelites who had inter-married with Assyrians; they incorporated the worship of pagan gods along with the worship of the God of Israel. Therefore, mainstream Judaism considered the Samaritans to be unclean and forbade contact with them.

The lesson we take away from our visit to Mount Carmel today is the importance of keeping our lives free from the influences of the godless world around us. Elijah entreated the people to choose between the true God and the false one, because the righteous and holy God of Israel required pure worship and lives dedicated solely to Him.

John echoed Elijah’s call to purity in his warning to the Laodicean church in Revelation 3. He accused the Laodiceans of being neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm (Revelation 3:16)—an impure condition that would result in their loss of relationship with God.

It is critical that we discern and turn from worldly influences infiltrating our lives, making our worship impure and our faith lukewarm, so that our conduct demonstrates, “The Lord, He is God” and we walk in the power of God as did Elijah.

- by Susan Michael, ICEJ US Director
 

The Road to Damascus

A popular mountain peak frequented by tourists in Israel is Mount Bental in the Golan Heights. From the top of this mountain, one can see into Lebanon to the northwest and into Syria to the east bringing home just how small Israel is and how close are her enemies: Hezbollah in South Lebanon, ISIS and other jihadist groups in Syria, not to mention the Syrian Assad regime.

 

Looking down into Syria, one can see a modern highway built in the general vicinity of one of the ancient roads leading into Damascus. The conversion of Saul in Acts 9 took place on just such a road, so this is a great place to review that story and act upon its lesson. Saul was an enemy of the believers in Jesus and had the authority of the High Priest in Jerusalem to capture  and bring them bound to Jerusalem.

 

The believers in Damascus were terrified and must have prayed much for Saul, because the next part of the story is nothing short of a miracle. Jesus appears to Saul before he even reaches the city and causes him to lose his sight. Ananias is then told to find Saul, lay hands on him, and pray for him to receive the Holy Spirit. Saul spends the rest of his life as: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).

 

 

Praying for Our Enemy 

The lesson from this story is to pray for everyone – even one’s enemies who are bent on doing harm. Today, there is a great spiritual battle brewing over the region, and the same forces that want to destroy Israel and Christian communities are killing each other in the quest for control. Mount Bental is the perfect place from which to intercede for all the people caught up in this turmoil.

 

The Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, was predominantly Christian before the Islamic forces invaded in the 7th century. A thousand years ago, there were more Christians in the Middle East than in Europe. Even a century ago, more than 20% of the region’s population was Christian.

 

Today, estimates put the Christian population in the region at less than 5% and likely to become extinct. The second largest Christian community in the Middle East, after the Copts of Egypt, is the Syriac/Assyrian Christians from Iraq, Syria and surrounding areas. They are now displaced, many are refugees, and will never regain their community’s size and strength.

 

Hearts should break over the human toll and suffering this conflict has and could still potentially cause. All the peoples of the Middle East—Jew, Christian, and Muslim—are, in one way or another, victims of the spiritual stronghold over the region that causes hatred, violence, and death.

 

There needs to be much prayer for the protection of Israel and the Christians, but also for the gospel to go forth throughout the region in even greater ways than it already is. Indications are that the region is more open to the gospel than ever before. Throughout the Muslim world, Jesus is appearing to people in dreams and visions, and they are turning to Him. What began as a small trickle in the early 80s has mushroomed to now millions of Muslims who have turned to Christ.

 

God Chose Israel for Blessing 

God loves all the peoples of the Middle East as they are part of the world He loved and sent His son to die for (John 3:16). This is just as true for the Arabs, or Muslims, as it is for anyone else.

 

God’s choice of Israel was not to bless the Jewish people to the exclusion of others, but that through them He would “bless all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). In fact, it is because of God’s love for the world that He brought into existence the nation of Israel through whom He would bring about His redemptive plan.

 

Millions of people are caught in the crossfire of the forces of evil that hate God, His plan, and His people. Let’s pray for them. A “Damascus Road” revelation of the Prince of Peace is their only hope.

 


Susan M. Michael is US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem www.icejusa.organd her articles can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog

For information on the ICEJ’s tours to Israel go to www.icejusa.org/tours

Before the Rooster Crows

One of my most memorable experiences in Israel happened many years ago right outside the Old City of Jerusalem. I was living at a school on Mount Zion at the time, pursuing a master’s degree in Judeo-Christian Studies. As students often do, we came up with a bright idea that provided adventure while burning off pent-up energy from days spent in class. Our idea was to hike to the top of the Mount of Olives to watch the sunrise.

Early one morning, while it was still dark outside, a group of about six of us began the hike around Mount Zion, alongside the southern walls of the Old City, down into the Kidron Valley, and then up the Mount of Olives, passing the Garden of Gethsemane along the way. We had only just begun our trek around Mount Zion when we unexpectedly heard a rooster crow.

In the still of the night, the sound of that rooster reverberated off the stone walls and hills of Jerusalem and could be heard throughout the area. I was immediately transported back some 2,000 years. It was in this same vicinity of Jerusalem that Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times before hearing a rooster crow for the second time, just as Jesus had said would happen. I could just imagine how loud it had sounded to Peter, jolting him into the realization of what he had done and how Jesus had predicted that very moment.

A rooster crowing in the middle of Jerusalem was not something I would have expected to hear. “But then again,” I thought to myself, “it is the Middle East.” What I did not know then, but I came to learn some years later, is that we were walking right beside the church that commemorates this story in Scripture—and this church keeps a rooster on the premises. We probably woke the poor bird up!

The Beginning of Jesus’ Sufferings

The church is called St. Peter Gallicantu and is thought to be built over the remains of the High Priest Caiaphas’ palace. Peter's triple rejection of Jesus “before the rooster crows twice” took place in the courtyard outside of the High Priest’s house (Mark 14:30).

The remains of a first-century aristocratic home can be seen beneath the church, and below the home is a dungeon, chiseled out of the Jerusalem bedrock, that was used to hold prisoners. From the dungeon guards could look down into a deep, dark pit that was used to hold someone in solitary confinement.

This dungeon is always a very moving experience for Christian visitors. Whereas prisoners would have been lowered by rope into the dark pit below, tourists today can walk down a set of stairs and gather inside to pray and read Psalm 88. What a moving place to meditate on the loneliness and rejection Jesus would have felt in the pitch-black darkness of a cold stone pit.

Whether this is truly Caiaphas’ house and where Jesus was held overnight is not known. But his house would have been in this general proximity and would have included a place for holding prisoners—just like this one.

If this house is not that of Caiaphas, then Jesus walked right beside it, because next to the church is a set of first-century stone stairs climbing Mount Zion from the Kidron Valley. We can be certain that Jesus climbed those stairs, bound and guarded by soldiers, as He was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane to be questioned by the Sanhedrin in Caiaphas’ house.

This was the beginning of Jesus’ imprisonment and sufferings leading up to His crucifixion. While Peter stood outside in the courtyard and denied knowing Him, Jesus may have been crying out to God from inside a dark pit:

You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the depths …
You have put away my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an abomination to them;
I am shut up, and I cannot get out. (Psalm 88:6, 8)

St. Peter Gallicantu is a “must” for any Christian tour group. It allows a small glimpse into the loneliness and abandonment Jesus felt on His final night when He was “despised and rejected by men,” while He bore “our griefs,” and carried “our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3–4).

The Top Eight Reasons Why Every Christian Should Go To Israel

Millions of Christians have travelled to the land of the Bible over the last four decades and had their faith and biblical knowledge enhanced in transformative ways. There are so many different reasons why Christians are blessed and inspired by travel to Israel that it is an absolute must for anyone with the time and means to go there. Below is just a sampling of what awaits you in the land of Israel!

1. You Will Never Be the Same

My first trip to Israel was in 1978, when I had the opportunity as a University student to do a summer study program in Israel. I have never been the same! Over the years since, I have heard countless Christians tell me that their trip to Israel also changed their life. For me, the change was drastic. I, who dreaded the one year of French language I had to take, returned from Israel and gladly traded it for three years of Hebrew! I, who hated history classes, returned with an excitement and an appetite for history that has still not been satisfied. I, who never knew the first thing about world affairs or current events, returned from Israel an avid student of Middle East affairs – one of the most complex regions of the world. Those are just a few of the things that changed in my life; let’s explore other ways Israel impacts lives.

2. Your Bible Will Come Alive

Before going to Israel, I read my Bible every day both devotionally and, as a Bible major in University, doctrinally. But in Israel, I began to study the Bible as a history book—an extremely accurate one backed by archeological finds. I read the Bible not just for spiritual meaning, but tracing the stories on maps and visiting the archeological remains of many of the cities. The Bible became so real that it literally stood up and took on a third dimension as an accurate, historical account from which we learn many spiritual lessons.

3. Encounter God in a New Way

God is not limited to any one location and therefore, we can pray from anywhere in the world and experience His presence in our lives. But, there is something to be said for taking a spiritual pilgrimage to get away from everyday life and seek the Lord with new fervor. A trip to Israel is the perfect getaway to seek the Lord. Walking where Jesus walked, hearing His words anew, seeing the illustrations from everyday life that He used, and understanding His teachings at new levels often leads to special encounters, even healings, that stay with the traveler when they return home.

4. Meet the True Jesus

As much as we like to think that we read the Bible as it is intended, most of us are highly influenced by our surroundings and understand the Bible in our own cultural context. That is why for centuries, European art depicted Jesus with a fair complexion, blond hair and blue eyes. Studying the life and words of Jesus in Israel puts him in the correct cultural and religious context. He was the Jewish Messiah who said of Himself that He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. His parables, teachings, and lifestyle cannot be fully understood without the Hebraic context in which He ministered.

5. Experience Prophecy Fulfilled

While traveling in Israel we are surrounded by prophecy fulfilled and the faithfulness of God to His Word. We see that the Jewish people have been gathered from the North, the South, the East and the West; from every nation to which they had been dispersed; first by ship and then by planes; and assisted by the Gentiles; all just as the Bible foretold. God is fulfilling His promises made to the Jewish people, which means Christians can also trust Him. He is a faithful God and His Word is true!

6. See a Modern Miracle

The birth and existence of Israel is nothing short of a modern miracle. Out of the ashes of the Holocaust and the dust of the desert, in just over 65 years, they have created a thriving and prosperous country that is leading the world in innovation, technology, science, medicine, security, agriculture, and water conservation and production. This little country of some 8 million people is making the world a safer and better place. What a miracle!

7. Touch the Apple of His Eye

Many Christians understand from their Bible that the Jewish people are God’s Chosen People, but may have little appreciation for what that has meant for them. The Jewish people have carried a calling that no other people group on the face of the earth carries; it is to be the vehicle of God’s redemptive plan. This calling put them directly in the line of fire and they have suffered much throughout history as a result. To meet Israelis face to face and speak blessing and encouragement to them is often the highlight of a Christian’s trip to Israel.

8. Learn How to Pray

Isaiah 62: 6-7 instructs us to be watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem and to pray day and night until God’s promises to the Jewish people, which will bless the world, are fulfilled. After visiting Israel, understanding the security situation, sensing the spiritual tension, and getting to know the people and God’s promises to them, one will be able to intercede for the peace of Jerusalem with greater effectiveness, and experience the privilege of partnering with God in prayer for the people of Israel, the region, and in fact, the world.   


This article is the first in a series to introduce Israel and various biblical sites of interest to the Christian reader. Please also read Susan's second article Going Up to Jerusalem.

Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog

The Promised Land

The first glimpse of the Promised Land that the Israelites had from the east side of the Jordan River must have elicited a range of emotions. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, eating some unknown substance called “what is it?” (mannah), they must have been extremely relieved to be entering the land of milk and honey they had been told about.

In addition, they felt fearful knowing that there were still giants living in the land they were entering. But, the children of Israel could have also been a little disappointed. Their view from the east side of the Jordan may have encompassed the occasional oasis in the Jordan valley, but they were dwarfed by the barren cliffs of the foreboding Judean Wilderness.

The Israelites were entering a land that looked just as stark, dry and barren as the desert they thought they had left behind. It is understandable that the two tribes of Reuben and Gad asked to remain on the east side of the Jordan where their cattle could graze!

Crossing Over

It is interesting to note that the place where Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land is also the place where Jesus was baptized and entered His ministry, and from where Elijah ascended into Heaven. It is a special and popular place for pilgrims to be baptized today.

At first glimpse, visitors are usually disappointed in the Jordan River. They are expecting a mighty rushing river, but it is more like a small stream, and the waters are murky. In 2 Kings 5, the leprous Syrian commander, Naaman, was also shocked when the prophet Elisha told him to bathe in the cloudy, unimpressive waters of the lower Jordan. He replied that there were much better and cleaner rivers back in his country!

This part of the Jordan valley and neighboring Judean Wilderness is the part of the land of Israel that I love the most, probably because it is so different from the lush farmland where I grew up. It is stark, majestic, and overwhelming in its contrasts.

Proving God’s Word

The air is so dry there that it preserved ancient sacred scrolls for thousands of years. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls, some dating back as far as 300 BC, were discovered in caves above Qumran where they had been stored in clay jars. It is possible some of these scrolls were from the Temple and had been hidden there from the Romans in 70 AD. When found over 1,900 years later, they matched the modern biblical text and proved that the Bible had not been corrupted or altered in any way.

It is no coincidence that the first Dead Sea Scroll was acquired by a Hebrew University professor within weeks, if not days, of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. God was beginning to both prove the authenticity of the Bible and fulfill prophecy at the same time.

Extremes and Contrasts

From the Qumran caves one can see the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, and the rocky cliffs of the Judean Wilderness (also called the Judean Desert) reaching up some 1,500 feet above. The Dead Sea (known as the Salt Sea in the Bible) is evaporating at such a rate that it is ten times saltier than ocean water. This salinity makes it too harsh for fish to live. It is also too dense for visitors to swim—they float on the surface of the water instead. The lowest point on earth is so far away from the sun that bathers do not have to worry much about burning.

A Land of Testing

While these contrasts and extremes make visiting Israel a fascinating experience, it also made the land a harsh place to live in. When Abraham first entered the Land of Canaan it was during such a severe famine that he went to Egypt for refuge. Isaac also encountered a drought but God instructed him to seek refuge among the Philistines near Gaza instead of Egypt. Similarly, Jacob encountered a famine and sent his sons to buy grain from Egypt, then ended up living there under the providential care and provision of his beloved son, Joseph.

Why would God give a land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that had such a tendency towards drought and famine, not to mention giants! He would use it as His testing ground. It was a land in which nothing came easy, and required faith and obedience to attain the fullness of what God had promised.

Israel is no different today. God has brought His people back to their ancient homeland where they cleared malaria infested swamps, made the desert bloom, and from where they have used technology and innovation to solve their water shortage. But, they also encountered hostile resistance from the Arabs who refused to live in peace with them, and who have fed successive generations with hatred and animosity so that Israel is faced with a seemingly unsolvable situation.

I once heard someone ask an Orthodox Rabbi why God would have regathered His people back to their homeland only to be faced with decades of war, waves of terrorism, and a situation that has no solution in sight. His answer was this: “It is part of the redemptive process.”

God uses difficult places and situations to test and refine His people. If we will obey His Word and step out in faith we can overcome the obstacles life puts in front of us. This is the kind of faith that pleases God, and without which, we will fail the test.

Bnei Menashe

Help Jewish Families Return to their "Promised Land" 

Aliyah (the return to Israel for a Jewish person) is a modern day miracle! Nearly all who return feel they truly have entered into the promises of God for their lives. Be a part of this miracle and help us bring the home!


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog

 

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