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How Should Christians View the Israeli-Palestinian Situation? - If ever there was a classic case of an irresistable force pitted against an immovable object this is it: two peoples both insist that the same piece of land is rightfully theirs, and have been fighting over it for nearly fifty years. What are we as Christians to think of their claims? And how should we respond? And now that the two sides are in process of working out a peace agreement, what are we to think of this effort? But, with so many issues to sort through and so much at stake, who can claim to have the solution? It would be helpful however for us to take a fresh look at one of those issues: Do the Palestinians have any right at all to the Land? Or does it belong by divine promise to the Jews as an eternal possession, as the Israelis claim and many Christians firmly believe?

The answer is not as simple as you might think. It is often said or implied, for example, that the Palestinians have no claim to the land since they have only been there since the seventh century AD. This assumes, however, that they entered Palestine during the Arab conquests (c. 636/7), and ignores the known facts of history. When the Arabs swept out of Arabia and conquered the Middle East, Palestine was not vacant. It was inhabited by an ethnic "meld" made up mainly of the descendants of the peoples whom the Hebrews had only partially displaced, and a few Jews. The terms "Palestine" and "Palestinian" actually derive from the word "Philistine," the most powerful non-Jewish ethnic group in the land in the Old Testament era (Philistines were already there in Abraham's day; see e.g. Gen. 20:1-17; 21:22-34). It was only after many of them had Islamized, and some had intermarried with Arabs, that they adopted the Arabic language and came to be called Arabs (that is why "Arab" is more a linguistic than an ethnic designation). Intermarriage had also taken place during the Greek, Roman and Byzantine occupations. So the Palestinians are a mixed race. And if length of settlement is the criterion, then certainly they have a case.

What do the Scriptures say, however? It is interesting that those who insist it belongs to the Jews fix on God's promises to Abraham in Genesis, and on the prophecies about Israel in the latter days. Intentionally or not, they skip over what Judges 1 to 3 have to say on the subject. In all my years, I have never heard one sermon linking this passage to the subject, and have often wondered why. To set the stage, look at Joshua 13:1-5 where God tells Joshua, shortly before his death, which areas are yet to be possessed, from the "region of the Philistines" in the south to "Lebo Hamath" in the north. Judges opens, however, with the statement that Israel had failed to drive these people out. Because of this, the Angel of the Lord tells them, "I will no longer drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides. ... I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord" (2:3, 22; 3:4). This explains why the Philistines especially were a thorn in the side of the Children of Israel then, and why the Palestinians are in exactly the same position today.

The Word of God clearly teaches then that although God had promised the land to the seed of Abraham, and although it will one day be the seat of the coming Messianic Kingdom, the Palestinians will remain in the land as long as it suits His purposes. Clearly, Israel has failed miserably in keeping the way of the Lord, and God continues to use the Palestinians to test them. It is recognized that good Christians differ considerably over important issues concerning prophecy and eschatology, including the role God has reserved for Israel in the future. These questions do not however do not affect the clear teaching of this passage.

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