The holiness of Israel

Written by Stan Goodenough

Posted on Thursday 6 January 2011

Some Christians are so bugged by Israel that they suffer in their health.

They are bugged at the Jews being “God’s Chosen People.” It irks them no end that their God calls Israel His “special treasure.” And as for Him referring to them as “a holy nation!” Well!

Also hard to stomach is the Almighty’s affixing of the name of their founding fathers to His own great and holy Name: He is forever “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He is “The God of Israel” and “The LORD God of the armies of Israel.”

He is not “The God of George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.” He is not known as “The God of England or the God of France.” And He most certainly does not go by the title “The God of the armies of NATO.”

Man! That really gets under some people’s skin – under some CHRISTIANS’ skin!

Apparently such Christians struggle with a sense of inferiority, lacking an understanding of what it means to have received “the spirit of adoption.” Israel being “the chosen” means they – these gentiles – must somehow be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.

Instead of recognizing and confronting their own fears, these Christians – who sadly are not few in number – look for reasons to discredit Israel: Today’s Jews surely cannot be the true physical descendants of those who were driven from the land 2000 years ago. They are fakes; their claim to having an ancient history in the Land of Israel is fraudulent.

Proof is to be found in the spiritual state of the nation today. Somehow forgetting the often-depraved state of their own countrymen – many of who likewise claim to be “Christian” – they point with shaking fingers at the immorality and corruption in Israel and declare with conviction:

“There’s nothing holy about them!”

Wrong, dear gentile onlooker and critic: Israel is holy. She is a holy nation. She is holy because God designated her as holy.

Because, simply put, there are two ways to be holy: The first is being holy by divine designation. That is, a vessel, object, person or nation is holy if it has been set-apart, or sanctified by God; has been given a God-ordained special and specific purpose.

The second meaning of being holy is as a verb. This way can exclusively be acted out by human beings: A person is holy if he behaves in a way that reflects the holiness of the Lord. “Be holy as I am holy.”

Israel is a holy nation first in the first sense of the word. From the calling out of Abraham Israel has been set apart by God; sanctified by His act and will, for His purposes. It’s entirely a God thing.

Israel’s holiness in this sense has to do with her calling, not her behavior. She is holy by dint of her designation.

Her behavior – the behavior of Jewish individuals and the behavior of the nation – where unholy, has never affected the nation’s set-apartness. It cannot. Her set-apartness is set in stone. God made it everlasting.

What her unholy behavior has and does affect is: a) how Israel reflects God to the world and, b) how God treats her and deals with her: Will she enjoy His blessing and dwell peaceably in the land He gave her forever, or will she labor under His curse far away in exile from it?

I am not, and never have been, blinded on the issue of national Israel’s spiritual state. Yes, the people who comprise this nation are sinners, just like the people who make up the South African nation and the American nation and every other nation on earth are sinners.

As in every other country, we have organized crime, murders, prostitution, burglary, drug peddling and abuse, cases of violent assault. The prisons are full. There is an aggressive homosexual movement here; abortion is widespread. And successive governments in Israel have been plagued (it seems increasingly) like “normal” democratic governments elsewhere. In all layers of the political echelon there has been corruption, abuse of office, immoral activity and cronyism.

However, there is also the other side. Millions of Israel’s Jews are truly God-fearing men, women and children. Their lives exhibit high standards of holy behavior often far exceeding those of great numbers of professing Christians ‘out there.’

Take the settlers. Yes, you heard me right. The settlers: those universally despised and hated Israelis who are portrayed as the worst villains of the piece; those “obstacles to peace” with the effrontery to build their homes and communities on “occupied Arab lands.”

Please note – I do not put this behavior in with Israel’s “sins.” And do you know why? Because the settlements are not an expression of sinfulness; they’re an expression of holiness, of faith.

Why? What do I mean?

It’s pretty straightforward: The Jews whose homes dot the Judean and Samarian hills are there (by and large) in obedience to the biblical command that they settle those lands. They take God at His word when He promises the territory to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s descendants forever – which they are. (How many Christians take God at His written word these days?) And they refuse to be intimidated off the land by a hysterical world accusing them of being occupiers because they know the charge to be untrue. They suffer no guilty conscience about being there because they are not guilty of anything. The accusation that they have stolen Arab land is, plainly and simply, false.

Let me tell you something: If the United States had proportionally as many truly God-fearing Christian citizens as Israel has truly God-fearing Jews that country would be unrecognizable from what it is today. America would truly be a city set on a hill.

Be that all as it may – let me make a profound statement that may shock some readers: Even if Israel, through the settlements, WAS guilty of building on Arab lands; even if Jews were stealing Arab lands, that behavior would not affect the holiness of Israel insofar as her separation for the purposes of God goes.

Get this. Israel is holy because she has a national calling. This never changed in the past when she became corrupt and even downright wicked and God drove her into exile. There were terribly painful consequences for her behavior, but that behavior did not negate her calling.

This, then, is another bedrock principle we need to keep in mind as we try and assess, understand, and seek to flow with God’s purposes for the Jewish people: Just as the Jews cannot forfeit ownership of the land of Israel by their behavior, so too can the Jews not forfeit their holy designation by their behavior.

I am thankful that the Jews in Samaria and Judea are NOT guilty of land theft; that the blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be laid at their doors. I am glad that I know the truth, that those lands have never been Arab lands; that they were illegally occupied by the Jordanians and before that they were under the British Mandate and before that they were part of the Ottoman Empire and before that they were part of different Muslim empires and Crusader kingdoms but they were NEVER Arab lands and they were never part of an Arab country called Palestine.

And way back, from time immemorial, long before the Islam-inspired Arabs came pouring out of Arabia to occupy the Middle East, these lands were Jewish.

By settling those lands today the Jews – members of that always holy nation – are living in obedience to God – are living holy lives.

This we should get straight.

Egypt: What’s happening, and where could it be headed?

Posted on Monday 31 January 2011

How quickly the world can be turned upside down. The political map of the Middle East is being revised almost more rapidly than analysts can describe what is taking place.

Most news watchers will have followed the events since the fire that Mohammed Bouazizzi ignited with his body on December 17; the desperate act that lead to the violent overthrow of Tunisia’s dictatorial regime in what became known as the Jasmine Revolution – set new fires across our region.

One month after the Tunisian’s self-immolation, four Egyptians copied him. The initial result of their attempted suicides was the same: Hundreds of thousands of Egypt’s 80 million-strong population poured into the streets, protesting and rioting in their effort to terminate with immediate effect the 30-year-long rule of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

At the time of writing, Egypt is poised for further convulsion in a seventh day of riots and protests, organizers hope will culminate in a “million man march.” Mubarak is said to now be clinging to what could be his last moments in power and could have to face off against Mohammed ElBaradei - the Nobel Prize for Peace Laureate, recognized for his work as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei stood in a crowded Cairo square Sunday evening, demanding the immediate and unconditional departure of the president and all those associated with him.

A couple of weeks ago Israelis were anxiously following developments to the north, where the Iranian-founded Hizb’allah has maneuvered to upgrade its control over Lebanon. With that situation still in flux, Israeli eyes have nervously swung around to watch the mushrooming potential for an equally threatening development on their southern doorstep.

When the protests erupted on January 25, Israeli analysts were almost dismissive, positive that Mubarak would quickly crush the dissidents. How wrong could they be?

In fact, Israel’s new chief of Military Intelligence has been hauled over the coals in the local press for his failure to foresee what has happened. In his debut appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the very day protests began in Egypt, Major-General Aviv Kochavi’s assessment was that Mubarak’s regime was not under threat.

Six days later, in both Jerusalem and Washington, everything was being revised. Statements and assessments from recent months, and policies and approaches that have been in place for years – the whole lot’s under review.

Here in Israel consternation is acute. Eager to not antagonize Mubarak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his government to keep quiet on the crisis, and has called on the international community to curb criticism of the Egyptian leader. Jerusalem has observed with unease how the tune out of Washington DC has changed, from initially defending Mubarak as “no dictator” who should be secured in power to now officially talking about the need for transition to a new leadership.

Why so concerned?

For more than 30 years, a peace agreement has been in place between Israel and Egypt.
Israelis have called it a “cold peace,” at least from the Egyptian side, where Mubarak himself has helped keep alive the deeply rooted hostility towards the Jewish state.

Despite this, the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty has worked to maintain a state of quiet along their common border even as tensions have ebbed and flowed between Israel and nations to the north, and east – Lebanon, Syria, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Jordan, until the peace agreement with that state in 1994.

For Israel, which has had to fight a war at least once every decade and is constantly anticipating the next one, not having to spend its strung out military resources in the south has been a big deal.

More than this, the Egyptians have been richly rewarded for signing that peace treaty: The United States has poured billions of dollars worth of military equipment and know-how into the country, transforming the Egyptian army into the mightiest Arab force in existence today.

The fear is that if Mubarak is taken down, the peace treaty will be swept away. The long-suppressed but well entrenched Muslim Brotherhood may ascend to some level of power – possibly as part of a new coalition government. And everything will change.

According to Fox News Monday evening, a source “at the highest level of government in Israel” said “they are terrified that Egypt will become another Iran on the southern border.” Israel could suddenly find itself facing an Arab version of the its Persian foe – a powerfully armed (by America!) and well-trained Islamist state eager to ally with – even once again lead – Syria and Lebanon into war against the Jewish state. And all backed by Turkey, Iraq and an, about-to-go-nuclear, Iran.

The transformation is happening as we speak. Israel’s news media has already reported that a regime change in Cairo may force the IDF to boost its forces in the south.

And the latest news: Israel has agreed to allow Egyptian troops to enter the Sinai for the first time since 1979. By helping the Egyptian leader secure himself against the popular uprising it appears Israel has decided to take a stand on Mubarak’s side.

No one seems to know how things are going to turn out. Some experts say Mubarak will manage to hold on until his term expires at the end of this year and then hand over the reins to the man he swore in as Vice President – former spy chief Omar Suleiman.

Others, knowing how volatile the Arab world can be, are bracing for the worst-case scenario described above.

It could suddenly become the new reality facing Israel and the West.

The burden against Egypt

From the Website Jerusalem Watchman: click on the link above to go directly to his website.

Posted on Sunday 20 February 2011

Politicians and journalists have not been alone in scrambling to respond to the Egyptian revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak a week ago. Leading Christian voices, too, have been throwing their understandings into the ring, directing their constituents to pray into the situation as Egypt moves towards the establishment of a new political reality for its people.

Thank God for those who are praying at this hour. The more believers who comprehend that the first battle is in the spiritual realm, the better. Action almost always beats apathy or disinterest.

At the same time, as a soldier trained to fire mortars will tell you, there is little to be gained by lobbing rounds in the general area of the enemy; even less by firing in the completely wrong direction. Unless guided by his spotter, who in turn is following his commander’s orders, the gunner will waste his ammunition and even endanger his own comrades with friendly fire.

How much more is this the case when manning the gap as watchmen, and conveying what we see and understand to the intercessors, who are eager to take aim as the battle rages before us.

Virtually without exception, all the prayer leaders I know have been instructing their intercessors to pray in three primary directions.

First – For the Christian believers in Egypt: their security, for provision for their needs, for their ability to continue to share the Gospel so that more and more Egyptians can be brought into the kingdom.

Second – For the nation of Egypt: its transition to a new form of government based on righteousness and justice after years of despotic and corrupt rule; that they will emerge from this turbulent time with greater freedoms than ever before; that this unrest would not lead to the radicalization of the Egyptian people; that God in His mercy will not let the Muslim Brotherhood come into power; and (this from inside Egypt) for the establishment of “a new ‘constitution’ based on the principles of the Word of God, to establish a ‘new foundation’ for His kingdom to come.”

Third – For the relationship between Israel and Egypt: for God’s intervention to ensure that whoever wins the power struggle in Cairo will honor Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, and “not rip it up and open a new front of war.” They point to the rapid political shifting taking place throughout the Middle East, with Lebanon’s sharp swing towards Islamist radicalization that, just weeks ago, radically altered the defense situation on Israel’s northern frontier. Israel doesn’t need an Islamically-energized Egypt, which has the most powerful army in the Arab world, to suddenly be the new reality in the south.

Is this the right guidance for intercession at this time?

Certainly we can all amen the first focus – for our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt. They have been increasingly targeted for maltreatment and recent weeks have seen a sharp spike in anti-Christian aggression. We should pray for their protection against violence and other forms of persecution. We should also ask God to strengthen and equip them to victoriously endure whatever it is that HE wills and plans for their nation in the days ahead.

On the second focal point, I am less sure as to precisely how we should pray. There is “thy will be done,” which we are mandated to send up in every situation. But the question I am taking to the Lord is: what is His will? What, in His purposes, is best for Egypt today, and how does He intend for her to reach it? To effectively petition the Throne it would be helpful to have a working knowledge of what His plan is.

In this regard, many of those praying have gone to Isaiah 19, which I’d encourage you to read now, in its entirety.

The Lord has a lot to say in this chapter, which is introduced as “the burden (or prophecy) against Egypt.” He predicts massive turmoil in that country; civil strife that threatens to tear the nation apart.

In verse 2, God says He will pit “kingdom against kingdom” in Egypt. It was at the height of the protest, when anti-Mubarak crowds in Tahrir Square were crying out “Allahu akhber” (Allah is greater), and pro-Mubarak forces racing to attack them were crying out “Allahu akhber,” that the words of Jesus came strongly to me: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:23-25) Both sides were declaring their belief in the superior greatness of their god – the same god. Kingdom was pitted against kingdom. The question we’ll see answered in the coming weeks – what will the victor attain?

Back in Isaiah, God says that, when the nation is in civil strife, He will give it into the hands of “a cruel master, and a fierce king will rule over them.” (verse 4). Terrible tribulation will follow, and as it comes the prophet asks:

Where are they? Where are your wise men? Let them tell you now, and let them know what the LORD of hosts has purposed against Egypt. (verse 12)

Suffering will continue for the nation, unemployment (already rampant before the revolution) will increase and increasing terror is set to strike fear into the hearts of the Egyptians.

All this will add up to what God calls His intention to “smite (or strike) Egypt.”

And the purpose of it all? In striking Egypt, God will heal her.

Egypt’s future is foretold to be glorious. In the midst of her suffering God will send “a Savior and a Mighty One” to deliver her. And after Egypt has entreated God, the one, true God, and sought His mercy and salvation, He will restore her to health and establish a highway of peace and blessing that will extend from Egypt through Israel into Assyria.

But that glory follows a period of extreme turmoil and even suffering in order to turn the Egyptian people to the Lord.

Now, some prayer warriors believe God has directed them to pray that He will hold off on smiting Egypt; that she will be delayed from entering this extreme period so that missions work there can continue for as long as possible.

Others are saying, no, the sooner the country comes under God’s judgment to repentance, the sooner the Egyptians will be delivered from their spiritual bondage and be healed.

In this, latter, instance, the very ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood could hasten the day when God will save and redeem Egypt.

Clearly there are different ways to “argue” these positions, but of course argument is not what we should be after.

As we seek to engage the enemy, we need direction and guidance and are encouraged to pray, personally, in the name of the Commander of the army of the LORD (Joshua 5) for God’s Spirit to lead us as to how to wage this war.

Let’s not be swept along by popular, preconceived, “classically Christian” prayers.

Which brings us to the third and, as touching Israel, the most immediate and crucial question: How do we pray concerning the Israel-Egypt peace treaty?

Do we pray for it to be protected, upheld and perpetuated? Or do we pray for it to be torn up and thrown away, so that Israel is no longer bound by it? Or is there another way?

For the majority of people who desire to see Israel live in peace with her neighbors, this would seem to be a no brainer.

The next article I post will look more closely at this question.