Israel’s enemies have many goals—but so does God!
“I felt so alone,” my Israeli friend said with tears in her eyes.
We had just finished a delicious Shabbat meal in her home with her family when the discussion turned to Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 military incursion into the Gaza Strip to stop the incessant barrage of Hamas rockets being fired into Israel’s heartland. Astonishingly, almost the whole world turned against Israel for defending itself.
My heart ached for my friend Yael. I tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to understand her feeling of isolation. Years later, I still ask myself, How can I begin to imagine what it’s like to be surrounded by enemies and live every day under the constant threat of annihilation?
Even as I write this article, terrorists have fired some 450 rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the last three days, broadcasting again the blaring reality that Israel is a perpetual target.
But this fact is nothing new. Israel and the Jewish people have been targets for destruction since biblical days, and their enemies’ attacks have always taken the form of dispossession (cf. 2 Chr. 20:10–11; Ps. 83:12) to deprive them of their identity, their land, their lives, or all three.
These evil machinations run throughout the Scriptures. First the Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel, then attempted infanticide (Ex. 1). Later, they pursued the Israelites at the Red Sea to either destroy or, at the very least, re-enslave them (chap. 14). As God’s people journeyed toward the land God promised them, other enemies, such as the Amalekites, tried to prevent them from taking possession (Dt. 25:17–18).
Before they reached the Promised Land, Balak, king of Moab, sought to curse the Israelites so that he might defeat them and drive them away (Num. 22:6). Through the counsel of the devious prophet-for-hire Balaam, the Moabites nearly ruined the nation, not with might, but with spiritual adultery and compromise (Num. 25:1–3; 31:16; Rev. 2:14).
Later in Israel’s history, God occasionally permitted Israel’s enemies to triumph: the Mesopotamians (Jud. 3:8), Moabites (v. 12), Canaanites (4:2), Midianites (6:1), Philistines and Ammonites (10:7), Assyrians (2 Ki. 17:6), and Babylonians (2 Chr. 36:17–20). During the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC), the Edomites (relatives of Israel, Gen. 36:8) helped the Babylonians assault Judah (Obad. 11–14).
Even while Israel was in exile, its enemies did not stop. Persia’s evil chief minister, Haman (an Amalekite, 1 Sam. 15:8; Est. 3:1), schemed to eradicate all the Jewish people from the Persian empire (Est. 3:6, 8–9), becoming the prototype of anti-Semites for centuries to come.
When the Jewish exiles returned to Judah, their enemies tried to stop them from rebuilding their Temple (Ezra 4) and Jerusalem’s walls (Neh. 2:5–10; 4:1). In 168 BC, Syrian ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) used torture and persecution to force Jewish people to abandon Judaism and adopt Greek gods and culture, directly assaulting Israel’s God-given identity.
In AD 70, in the midst of a Jewish revolt, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the second Temple, killing thousands of Jewish people and expelling thousands more. In AD 135, after a second Jewish revolt against Rome, Emperor Hadrian tried to wipe out all Jewish identification with the land of Judea by expelling even more Jewish people, renaming Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina, and renaming Judea Palaestinia.
A series of Gentile powers took control of the land God promised Israel for the next 1,800 years. During that time, particularly in the Diaspora (outside Israel), Jewish people experienced forced conversions, church-sanctioned crusades and inquisitions, confinement to ghettos, forced expulsions, scapegoating, libelous accusations, and persecutions beyond description. Many of these actions were perpetrated by people within the Christian church and Islam who believed they had permanently superseded or dispossessed Israel as the true Chosen People of God.
More recently, when the Jewish people struggled to return to Zion and reestablish their homeland there, many people, especially the Arabs, fought them all along the way. In 1947, the United Nations approved a misguided plan to partition the Holy Land into two separate states: one Arab, one Jewish. Israel’s portion was a tiny fraction of the historical, biblical, and divine allowance. Even today, after all the wars the Israelis have had to fight, Israel’s landmass remains 464 times smaller than the total landmass of the Arab League states.
The ultimate attempt at a “final solution” to dispossess the Jewish people resulted in the systematic extermination of 6 million European Jews during World War II, an atrocity known as the Holocaust. The Nazis, who were primarily responsible, were not original in seeking the destruction of the children of Jacob. They merely tried to complete it.
In his book The Destruction of the European Jews, famed political scientist Dr. Raul Hilberg rightly reduced the intent of Israel’s enemies to three components: “You have no right to live among us as Jews. . . . You have no right to live among us. . . . You have no right to live.”1
In 2001, a British newspaper reported that French Ambassador Daniel Bernard at a private dinner party blamed all the world’s troubles on “that [expletive] little country Israel.” He then asked, “Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?”2 Bernard never apologized for the remark and insisted it had been distorted. Still, his comments encapsulate an attitude that many countries increasingly hold today.
When it comes to Israel and its enemies, nothing has really changed since the days of King David: “Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; they are mighty who would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully; though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore it” (Ps. 69:4).
Survive and Thrive
After considering Israel’s beleaguered history, we could ask, “How can a people so decimated and dispossessed have survived—and even thrived?”
There is only one answer. Jewish people around the world remind themselves of that answer every year at Passover seders: “Not one only has risen up against us, but in every generation some have arisen against us to annihilate us, but the Most Holy, blessed be He, always delivered us out of their hands.”
Israel’s enemies are relentless. Psalm 83:3–4 describes their thought processes: “They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones. They have said, ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.’”
But, ultimately, they are also failures: “For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You [God]” (v. 5). The point is, when you go against Israel, you go against God; and you will fail.
God is relentless too, and He is on Israel’s side (Ps. 124). His goal is for Israel to survive and thrive. He has eternal covenants and promises that He has bestowed on the Jewish people (Gen. 12:1–3; Ezek. 36). And He will keep His word that Israel will be a nation before Him forever (Jer. 31:35–36).
That Shabbat night at Yael’s home, I tried to express to her and her family how we at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry love Israel and the Jewish people and that many besides us feel the same.
At the end of the evening, as I got ready to leave, Yael’s husband said to me, “Your support helps to make us feel strong.” As much as I appreciated his words, I knew in my heart that my support mattered little. What matters is the promise God gave Israel in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you.”
As the apostle Paul confirmed, “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2). No, Yael, you and your people are not alone. The Lord is with you because He loves you.
- Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York, NY: New Viewpoints, 1973), 3–4.
- “Daniel Bernard,” Obituaries, The Telegraph, May 3, 2004.