Darkness descends as I drive alone through the desert of southern Israel, vast terrain where ancient Hebrews wandered for forty years. Eager to see a moonless sky in the desert, I pull off the road and wait for my eyes to adjust. Innumerable pinpoints of light appear, and planets blaze against the coal-black canopy. The heavens declare the glory of God!
The Milky Way—our own galaxy seen from within—rises in the east, its billions of stars so distant they look like a cloud. My pocket camera strains to capture the splendor, and a time exposure reveals light trails created by modern satellites! Our galaxy alone is so big it takes 100,000 years for light to travel from one side to the other. There are billions of galaxies!
Abraham saw that sea of stars when God said, “I will bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. . . and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22). God also made promises to Abraham’s sons including Ishmael, traditionally viewed as ancestor of Muhammad and Arab nations. “I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous . . . and I will make him a great nation,” God says (Genesis 17). Isaac gets special blessing, but God also will care for Ishmael.
All nations will be blessed through Abraham and descendants. But how blessed did Canaanites whom Israel conquered feel? How blessed do Palestinians pushed off their land by modern Israel today feel? Is the blessing of all nations through Israel just for some eschatological future?
God instructed Joshua and Israelites to conquer Canaan and, if necessary, destroy. But that’s not where Hebrew scriptures end. There follows a long saga of judges, monarchy, corruption, division, idolatry, and finally defeat in exile.
Along the way there also were faithful and fair-minded people. Some kings honored God. Prophets called for justice to “roll down like waters” (Amos 5). Others foresaw a time when many peoples will say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . that he may teach us his ways,” when nations will beat swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2, Micah 4).
As a Christian, I expect universal justice and peace to come through Jesus and the kingdom of God. That kingdom is a visible reality of reconciliation already breaking into our present by power of the Holy Spirit. God seeks restored relationships with and among Jews, Palestinians and everyone on the planet—a healing of the nations.
I cannot expect politicians of modern Israel to act on my theology of history. But I can point to the demand for justice in Jewish scriptures and to the Hebrew prophets’ vision of just relations between nations. On those grounds I protest Israel’s current treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and the disregard for international law as Jewish settlements expand. I also protest anyone, Palestinian or otherwise, doing violence against Israel. Both Jews and Palestinians are children of Abraham, and both are part of “all nations” whom God intends to bless.
© 2020 J. Nelson Kraybill ************************************
I would love to have you join me on a pilgrimage to Bible lands: “Journey of Hope” tour to Jordan, Palestine and Israel on June 10-21, 2020. See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/ You can arrange with TourMagination to pair this tour with “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference in Bethlehem (I plan to attend; see https://christatthecheckpoint.bethbc.edu/ ) or a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberammergau ).
You also are welcome to join one of two tours in 2021: “Bread for the Journey” (Egypt and Jordan, April 9-21, 2021). See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2021-egypt/ or “Your Kingdom Come” (Jordan, Israel and Palestine, September 12-23, 2021). See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2021-jordan-israel-palestine/