I’ve been watching the happenings in the Middle East as closely as I can through articles, videos, reports, and messages from friends and co-workers in Israel. It’s clear that we have entered a time where the temperature is rising, and I’m not referring to ‘climate change.’ Since the start of Israel’s defensive operation to put a halt to the onslaught of Hamas rockets upon its citizenry in early July, the world seems to have gone mad. So many people, especially in the West, have used the Israel-Hamas conflict as an excuse to vent their deep-seated antisemitism. A recent study revealed that there has been a 383% increase in antisemitic acts worldwide since the conflict began. Yes, three-hundred and eighty-three percent. The regions surveyed in the study weren’t even “Muslim” or “Arab” nations. They were Europe, Canada, the U.S., South America, South Africa, Oceania, Central America, and Mexico. We’re seeing that in many cases, behind the veneer of anti-Zionism, antisemitism is found.
I’ve encountered a bit of this attitude myself, as have others in NYC. I was verbally castigated by an irate woman–a complete stranger–who only described herself as “Catholic” at Brooklyn Bridge Park last week because I had the gall to suggest that Israel was surrounded by those who sought its destruction. There was no reasoning with her. Facts didn’t matter. Anger had taken her. I ended the conversation with a “God bless you,” and turned away.
This brief encounter pales in comparison with the brutal manifestations of this hatred. A rabbi murdered while walking to shul on Shabbat in Miami. A swastika etched onto a mourner’s car during his funeral. Similar vandalism taking place near New York. Marches and riots in France calling for the expulsion and murder of Jews. And it is spilling over into Germany as well. All of Europe seems to be under the same spell. And all of these are just examples, a microcosm of what is taking place.
Simultaneously what we are witnessing with ISIS is a pursuit of the reestablishment of the Caliphate in Iraq. The Islamic State (or ISIS/ISIL) has been systematically making its way through Syria and Iraq, filling the power vacuum that has been left in the region since the U.S. pulled out. Their conquest has been characterized by murder in the name of their god. It is a holy conquest. A holy conquest that leaves death and destruction in its wake. Anyone and everyone who does not accept their god and their god’s law must die–especially Christians and Jews (although some actually make this ridiculous claim). Right now in Iraq, since there are no longer any Jews there, the Christians are receiving the full brunt of this army’s merciless force. Are Christian women suffering? Yes. Are Christian children suffering? Yes. Being beheaded. Being buried alive. Being cut in half. This is really happening. Stop and think about that. This is really happening–right now–as you read this.
I can’t help but recall an excerpt from a book I read a number of years ago: “The Israelis,” by Donna Rosenthal (2003). An amazing glimpse into the complexity of life in Israel, she includes a chapter on Christians who live in Israel. At one point an unnamed Palestinian Christian woman in Jerusalem shared her true feelings about the radical Islamists. She said:
“[L]ook at that wall.”. . .[she] translates the Arabic on it: ” ‘After Saturday comes Sunday.‘ Do you know what that means? It means ‘After we are finished with the Jews, it’s the Christians’ turn.’ ” With muted anger, she continues, “They hate our religion. They call us infidel dogs. Heretics. They want us out.” (p. 320)
I remember when I first read those words–after Saturday comes Sunday–they struck me. Maybe it was their simplicity. Maybe it was their succinctness. Perhaps the moment I read them was the moment I realized just how inextricably intertwined the fates of both Jews and Christians are. What I believe is becoming clearer now is that these words are real.
The temperature is rising and we are watching it happen. There is a very real force that seeks the destruction of the followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We see it in Iraq and Syria, in Iran, in Gaza, in France, in Germany, in the UK. We see it in Miami, in Mozul, and in New York.
As a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish Messiah, I find myself increasingly compelled to take some sort of action in the face of this force and I believe other believers ought to do the same. It’s no secret that Israel’s greatest supporters are found in some evangelical Christian circles, as Robert Nicholson brilliantly explains here. As such, we must be realistic about what may lie before us. There may be suffering, persecution, arrest, torture, death. Of course, I pray that this will not take place here, but is that something any of us can guarantee? Whatever happens we must stand for truth and justice; for the oppressed and not the oppressors.
This is not sensationalistic fear-mongering. This is a simple reminder that we may come to the point in Western evangelicalism where there is no longer safety sitting in the pews. This is a simple reminder that in the absence of strong leadership in the West, we must believe that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. This is a simple reminder that we may be called upon to follow in the footsteps of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and the Corrie ten Boom’s who have gone before us. This is a simple reminder that through it all, we will be neither abandoned nor forsaken. That in the end there is a promised time of “the restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” (Acts 3:21) It appears that ‘Saturday’ and ‘Sunday’ are upon us. What will we be found doing in their midst?
Please comment below with your suggestions, insights, or wisdom.