–We have no better friends in the world than our Christian friends. I want to thank each of you for your friendship. And it’s no accident that in Israel that’s the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to practice their faith, complete religious freedom for all, and especially for Christians who are constantly under attack in the Middle East.
That was one of the key statements of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the participants of the 3rd Christian Media Summit at its opening ceremony in Jerusalem in early November.
The Summit, organized by the Government Press Office and hosted by its Director Nitzan Chen, was kicked off at the Friends of Zion Museum with speeches delivered by PM Netanyahu, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, and Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion who also leads the incredible 67 million-member Jerusalem Prayer Team, one of the largest Facebook groups.
I had a privilege to attend this prestigious conference which gathered 150 Christian media professionals from more than 30 countries, including bestselling author Joel Rosenberg, White House correspondent William Koenig, God TV CEO Ward Simpson, international TV hosts Erick Stakelbeck (The Watchman), Chris Mitchell (CBN Jerusalem), Laurie Cardoza Moore (Proclaiming Justice to the Nations), Katherine Inocencio (CBN Asia), Victoria Nikitina-Shin (TBN Russia) and Simon Barrett (The Middle East Report) along with many others.
The program of our four-day conference was no less than breathtaking, consisting of updates and presentations by top level experts from various areas of the Israeli society. The most eye-opening moment – at least for me – was our tour to the Golan Heights where we received an in-depth briefing on Israel’s security in the area from Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, IDF international spokesperson.
I already had an opinion about Israel’s presence in the area, but it was strengthened. The consequences, if given back to Syria, would be so obvious and extremely disastrous. You cannot expect anything less than what has happened in and from Gaza after Israel’s pull-out in 2005.
A brief stop at the sign of Trump Heights captured my thoughts. Although I’m not a fan of his tweets, I highly appreciate what he has done for Israel: first recognizing Jerusalem, then the Golan Heights and, just recently, the settlements in the West Bank. In my opinion, there are only two true presidents when it comes to Israel in American history: my hero, Harry S. Truman and Donald J. Trump. If there is something that they share in common, it is their Bible-based decisions related to Israel.
The conference was concluded with a reception at the Residence of the President of Israel, H.E. Reuven Rivlin, who also stressed the importance of friendship between Christians and the Jewish state. To my huge surprise, I was given an opportunity to give a short address and sing to the full crowd (see the video below) while we were waiting for the President’s speech.
The Jerusalem Post reported the President’s speech on Nov. 6:
“Our neighbors have to understand that the Children of Israel have returned home to the land of their ancestors,” he declared. “We are not doomed to live together; it is our destiny to live together. We have returned to our homeland. We didn’t take away their homeland. We are ready to share.”
As he always does with foreign visitors, Rivlin welcomed his guests “to Jerusalem, our eternal united capital,” but the reaction was different to the usual polite silence. Instead there were loud cheers of approval, to which Rivlin responded: “The obvious should be said from time to time.”
But, unfortunately not all Christians are friends of Israel. Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Christian world has been divided into two camps in terms of how they see the Jewish state, land and her people.
While the Christian Media Summit participants were heavily pro-Israel and recognize the Jewish State as a fulfilment of many prophecies, there are still many Christians and churches who don’t share the same understanding and excitement about Israel but think the land belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel is an occupying power. Given that both camps read the same Bible, they couldn’t be any further apart.
One recent example of this comes from a church operating in the Old City of Jerusalem, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. On Nov. 20, its bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar released the following statement condemning the U.S. announcement related to West Bank settlements:
The Evangelical Lutheran in Jordan and the Holy Land is deeply concerned with the United States Administration’s recent announcement, reversing its position on the building of settlements on Palestinian land. This reversal of a long-held commitment and understanding is in opposition to international law and consensus.
This change in U.S. policy endangers future negotiations toward a two-state solution and a Jerusalem shared by the three Abrahamic faiths. Furthermore, the ELCJHL worries that a U.S. declaration in support of Israeli settlements will lead to more expansion into already dwindling Palestinian territory, further displacing Palestinians.
As people of faith in a God of justice, peace, and equality, we must protect the rights and humanity of all people. As Palestinian Christians, we continue to stand steadfast in this land, strengthened by the hope we have through Jesus Christ.
The ELCJHL is grateful for the partnership and statements of churches, mosques and synagogues around the world who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people during this time of great disappointment and uncertainty.
What bothers me in this statement is that – being a Christian institution – the church doesn’t give a reference to the Bible. The Bible does not speak a word of a two-state solution nor Palestinian land. Instead, it tells us God has given the land to His people, the Jews. The Bible doesn’t speak either about three Abrahamic faiths, but about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God both Jews and Christians worship.
I can’t help thinking that the ELCJHL is just another political group promoting the Palestinian agenda over Israel. Having said that, if it was only a political institution, I wouldn’t weigh in on it, but when they do it in the name of Jesus Christ – the Jewish rabbi – it troubles me a lot.
Jesus says in Matthew 22:29: You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
And that’s the problem with many churches and their leaders today: they don’t know – or care about – the Scriptures. And as Christians we should understand that Jesus didn’t refer to the writings of the New Testament or Brit Chadashah but the Tanakh – the Old Testament.
Take the prophet Amos (9:14-15):
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God.”
One who understood early writings was Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), an influential London Baptist preacher, also known as the Prince of Preachers. Spurgeon, unlike his contemporaries and predecessors, presented in his sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church in London on June 16, 1864, a revolutionary interpretation of the 37th Chapter of Ezekiel. According to his interpretation, the Jews would return to Palestine and the Jewish State would be established there before the Messiah was to return.
“The hand of the Lord was upon me and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley. And, lo, they were very dry.
And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, You know. Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these Bones and say unto them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live: and I will lay sinews upon you and will bring up flesh upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you and you shall live. And you shall know that I am the Lord.
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise and behold a shaking and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
Then said He unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, Son of man and say to the wind, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O Breath and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me and the breath came into them and they lived and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”
With very great propriety, too, this passage has been used for the comforting of Believers in their dark and cloudy days. When they have lost their comforts, when their spiritual joys have drooped like withering flowers…, they have been reminded that God could return to them in Grace and mercy, that the dry bones could live and should live! Then they remember that the Spirit of God could again come upon His people—that even at the time when they were ready to give up all hope and lie down in despair, He could come and so quicken them, that the poor trembling cowards should be turned into soldiers of God and should stand upon their feet an exceeding great army!
But, mark you, this is not the first and proper interpretation of the text. First, there is to be a political restoration of the Jews. Israel is now blotted out from the map of nations. Her sons are scattered far and wide. Her daughters mourn beside all the rivers of the earth.
Her sacred song is hushed—no king reigns in Jerusalem! She brings forth no governors among her tribes. But she is to be restored! She is to be restored “as from the dead.” When her own sons have given up all hope of her, then is God to appear for her. She is to be reorganized—her scattered bones are to be brought together. There will be a native government again. There will again be the form of a political body.
A State shall be incorporated and a king shall reign. Israel has now become alienated from her own land. Her sons, though they can never forget the sacred dust of Palestine, yet die at a hopeless distance from her consecrated shores. But it shall not be so forever, for her sons shall again rejoice in her—her land shall be called Beulah—for as a young man marries a virgin so shall her sons marry her. “I will place you in your own land,” is God’s promise to them. They shall again walk upon her mountains, shall once more sit under her vines and rejoice under her fig trees!
Think about this. A 30-year-old pastor said this in 1864! Another pastor who knew the Scriptures was William Hechler, who in 1885 was appointed the chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna and became the most important colleague of Theodor Herzl. Hechler had received Herzl’s book The Jewish State in 1896, and he understood its meaning right away as a result of his own understanding of the Bible with respect to the prophetic restoration of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.
To my Arab and also many Western Christian brothers and sisters, I want to quote Gamaliel – a teacher of the law – when he addressed the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:38-39):
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”