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God's Plan for the Middle East

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God's Plan for the Middle East

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When I saw a recent news headline of a tragic terror attack in Jerusalem I was shocked and saddened. A 3-year-old girl, an American citizen by birth, was killed when an Arab terrorist drove his car into a crowd of people at a Jerusalem metro train station.

The crime was senseless. Even more senseless was the praise given by Hamas officials for this terrorist, who was later shot by Israeli soldiers. Hamas is the radical Islamist group dedicated to eliminating the Jewish state. The senseless cycle of violence continues.

The little girl had just come from the Western Wall in Jerusalem with her parents who took her there for her first look at the revered site—the remnant of the wall supporting the immense platform on which Israel's temples once stood. Her grandfather was quoted as saying, "They held her up to face the Temple Mount, and they told her this is the holy place, this is the Temple Mount . . ."

This story brings home the continuing tragedy of everyday life for many across the Middle East. Religious and ethnic division continues to sow the seeds of a bitter harvest that disrupts lives on all sides of the conflict.

Will a solution to the strife in this region be found—and from where? Thankfully there is an answer to this question. It's revealed in the Bible, and the solution is the Kingdom of God being established here on the earth.

Not yet how it's meant to be

Notice what the Bible says Jerusalem will one day look like: "Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets'" (Zechariah 8:4-5).

This is a prophecy that promises a time when young and old will be safe while walking and playing in the streets of Jerusalem. We are not there yet. But imagine the time and contrast it with what things are like now.

You can go to Jerusalem today and see it as a busy, vibrant city rich with history and culturally diverse, with multiple nationalities living side by side. Jerusalem is an international city once called the center of the world.

You can safely walk its streets as I have done. Yet you sense an ongoing tension over the fact that something could happen at any moment. Armed Israeli soldiers are everywhere, and you're also aware that many citizens carry concealed weapons. Jerusalem is the only city I've been to where buying a hamburger at a fast food restaurant required passing through a metal detector.

Jerusalem is also a city of contrasts. It's a place that holds the key to understanding much of the larger problems in the Middle East. One of those problems is the fate of the Arab populations displaced from the wars between Israel and its neighbors.

Ongoing fallout from prior conflict

The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 by the United Nations led to many Arabs in the land siding with surrounding Arab states that attempted to destroy the new Jewish nation. When Israel won the resulting war, those people fled with their families to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and for many years they lived in temporary settlements hoping to one day return to the home they knew as Palestine. The same thing happened later when other wars to destroy Israel failed.

The unresolved refugee issue is often cited as a major reason behind the terror attacks and ongoing simmering resentment and hatred. In spite of the creation of a Palestinian Authority and billions of dollars in aid to the region, no one has found a permanent solution to this critical humanitarian issue.

No one has been able to implement a just solution to this decades-old problem at the heart of much of the ill will and conflict. The result is gridlock and an ongoing problem impacting the everyday life of men, women and children who walk the streets of its cities, towns and villages.

Let me illustrate with a personal observation. A few years ago I led a tour of Americans to Jerusalem. We used a Jordanian tour company that supplied us with an Arab guide. While in Jerusalem the Arab guide from Jordan left our group for a few hours one afternoon. When I later asked him where he had been, he told me he had gone to visit his aged mother in the Old City of Jerusalem. He had been uprooted to Jordan in an earlier conflict, and his mother remained in Jerusalem. He could not go back, and she could not come to him. Theirs was a divided family separated by politics and war.

This problem has been going on for decades. From where will a solution come? Will any nation's diplomats be able to create a treaty that is just and addresses past wrongs? Will they be able to ensure security for everyone?

God desires to rescue everyone

Here is what God's Word says will bring the solution: "Thus says the Lord: 'I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth . . . Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; I will bring them back,and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness'" (Zechariah 8:3, 7-8).

God's plan to resolve the problems of the Middle East begins and ends in Jerusalem. Today, the focus of the Middle East conflict has spread to Iraq, Iran, Syria and Egypt. God's focus is on a much bigger picture. His interest—His love and compassion—is for everyone in the streets of the Middle East, whether they be Jew or Christian or Muslim, Sunni or Shia, religious or secular.

Depth of desperation across the region

The road to the solutions Bible prophecy spells out will be a difficult one. The world must pass through a time of ever-increasing trouble and peril. Many other prophecies foretell events that will bring this age of human conflict in the Middle East to a close.

There was another street scene in the Middle East that illustrates the depth of the problem of human government and rule in the region. You may remember it from the news.

It began on Dec. 17, 2010, in a small, poor Tunisian village. A street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi sparked an uprising that set in motion revolutions across the Middle East—what was called the "Arab Spring."

Bouazizi refused to pay the $7 bribe demanded by the corrupt local government. That's a day's wage for such a merchant. A petty government clerk stole his scales and fruit wagon. Desperate, the young man sought a hearing from the town offices.

No one paid any attention to his pleas for justice. Finally, he stood in the street, poured paint thinner on his clothes and set himself on fire. The flames seared third-degree burns onto his flesh. He was taken to the hospital where he survived for a few weeks before dying. But the story was not over.

His family, friends and supporters took to the street in protest against the corruption. Social media picked it up, and the unrest spread to the capital of Tunis. Thousands of people were drawn into the unfolding drama that grew bigger each day. The streets swelled with thousands within 24 hours. What became known as the Jasmine Revolution began.

Protesters demanded economic, social and political reform. The autocratic leader of Tunisia, President Zine Ben Ali, tried at first to ignore the unrest. When it grew he sent in the army to restore order, which led to beatings and death. Every effort the president made failed. Hundreds of thousands of people demanded he step down. When the army finally turned against him, Ben Ali had only one option—to flee the country. On Jan. 14, 2011, he and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia.

From this small Arab land the flame of revolution spread across the Middle East—soon coopted by Islamic fundamentalists. Next to fall was the government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Unrest in other Arab states followed, and today the fires still burn in Syria.

The depth of desperation across the Arab world has been exposed by such events. No religion, government or ideology in the modern history of the region has adequately addressed the economic needs, political rage, societal failure and despair of the people.

Islam as a religion has hindered the modernization of the people under its influence. It has spawned terror that impacts people both in and far beyond the region. In time, events that start here will trigger larger movements that will drag the world's nations into massive conflict in the area.

A hope-filled vision of getting along

Let's go back to God's plan for the Middle East. The Bible gives us not only the ultimate picture of a transformed region through Christ's return, but also the keys that could improve the everyday lives of people today—if only the leaders would accept God's way.

One of those keys has to be a mutual respect for each other. Arab must respect Jew, and Jew must respect Arab. Frankly, you must cut through the centuries of religious confusion that envelops the region and look at the people—every tribe and race and ethnic group—and see them as God does.

All human beings are made in the image of God. He looks on them not according to man-made divisions of culture and religion, but as all being of one blood—and therefore one family. The God of Abraham is the God of all nations, and He is not a respecter of persons. Hate and prejudice must be removed from the heart. God will do this when He sets His hand to bring reconciliation among the people.

God's prophet Isaiah gave us a prophecy telling of this coming time of mutual respect upon Jesus' return, when ancient enemies will all cooperate and get along: "The Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day . . . In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, 'Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance'" (Isaiah 19:18-25).

God looks on Egypt, Assyria and Israel as His people. All of these nations should look on each other with the same respect and love that God does. God plans to lead these nations into an agreement that will bring peace to the streets. Little children will not be in fear of being run down by a driver who uses his car as a weapon. Young street vendors will be allowed to do business without threats from corrupt government.

Israel a blessing even now

Let's examine again part of the passage cited above. It says Israel will be "a blessing in the midst of the land" (verse 24). We should think about that and look at the situation on the ground today. There is another key to understanding God's plan for the Middle East here.

When Israel goes to extreme measures of war to protect its borders and people from rocket attacks from enemies on its northern and southern borders, it is accused in the court of world opinion of aggression and genocide. And yet God says that in the age to come Israel will be "a blessing in the land."

Could it just be that the state of Israel today is already "a blessing in the land" in various respects? It is the only country in the Middle East that comes close to offering the freedoms Western, developed nations cherish. It is a country founded by refugees from political oppression and attempted genocide. Its culture is closer to the Judeo-Christian culture of the West. Many of Israel's values, policies and culture have fostered an environment of freedom, economic prosperity and peace for its Jewish and Arab citizens.

This is controversial to say. So be it. Would you rather live in Israel or a sharia state like Saudi Arabia?

Israel is a marker placed in the Middle East by the God of Abraham as a sign and promise of His enduring faithfulness to all nations and peoples who bless and honor the example and memory of that patriarch.

God said to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you" (Genesis 12:3). That promise stands today in this example. It is a key to understanding God's plan for the Middle East. If any Arab states would take this seriously they would reap a blessing today.

God's peace will come to Jerusalem

The Jewish state's existence sets up a prophetic event foretold by Jesus Christ, who spoke of an "abomination of desolation" to be set up "in the holy place" in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15). Whatever final form this event takes, it can only be accomplished with a Jewish presence that involves religious sacrifices in Jerusalem that will be stopped shortly before Christ's return. This was not possible before 1948 when modern Israel was established.

While this prophecy foretells an end-time conflict centered on Jerusalem, we must not overlook the important fact here for mankind that God is guiding history according to His divine purpose and plan.

So what does this mean for you? Maybe you're thinking that the Middle East is far away, and it doesn't affect your life at all. But it does, and it will. The instability in the Middle East affects everyone. It affects major decisions that governments make. It determines whom they align themselves with. The spread of extremist ideology is quickly crossing borders from the Middle East to other areas. God's plan for peace in the Middle East (and the whole world) is spectacular, but difficult times will persist and grow worse before peace comes.

This is why understanding the truth about the future of the Middle East is so vital. You can have peace of mind now. You don't need to fear whatever may come. You don't need to fear what may be happening in your neighborhood, your country or even in faraway places right now.

To have that peace of mind you need to understand the mercy and kindness and love of God. To do so, you must understand who He is through Bible study. You must develop a deep relationship with Him and your Savior, Jesus Christ, through repenting of doing things your own way and turning to Him through prayer, fasting and obeying His commands.

God has a purpose in history, and this present chaotic moment is not the final chapter. Conflict in the Middle East will end after Christ returns and forcefully requires all nations to live in harmony with His laws. Peace will come to the people of the region. But it will come from God's intervention, not from efforts of human government!