Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Middle East - what does God really want?

Man, that looks like a pretentious headline, doesn't it? Couldn't think of anything better ... and maybe that's exactly the headline we need here. See, as people's revolutions catch on across the Muslim world -- first Tunisia, then Egypt and now Iran is getting nervous -- it's easy to think that maybe Islam is on the verge of blowing itself up. (My daughter had just left Egypt, where she'd been staying with a Christian family for 2-1/2 months; I'd say she got out just in time.) I'm seeing some Religious Rightists who can hardly contain their glee.
But not so fast. While it's easy to return evil for evil in this case, the prophet Isaiah received a word about this that we should consider.

In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the Land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.
And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt, for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and He shall send them a Saviour, and a Great One, and He shall deliver them.
In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.
-- Isaiah 19:19-20; 23-25

"In that day" generally refers to the Jesus Era -- when God has come to deliver His people. This prophecy tells me a number of things, beginning with the fact that the One True God will be known in Egypt -- through Christians, albeit generally persecuted, unable to hold public worship meetings and having to keep their heads down. But the Saviour is promised to the Egyptians, just as much as to the Israelites and the Assyrians.

Then there's the prophecy of the "highway" between Egypt and Assyria. Assyria is modern-day Iraq, and that appears to refer to a connection, of sorts, between those two countries.

And right bang in the middle of it is Israel.

But does that mean Israel will be caught in a deadly squeeze between two sworn enemies? No: because God also declares Israel shall be "a third" with the other two countries, a blessing in the midst of the land, and that Egypt and Assyria will also be blessed.

How can that happen? Well, back in the 50s, a US diplomat said he hoped the Arabs and Israelis could settle their differences "like good Christians". That remark has been often interpreted as an example of Good Ol' American Ignorance, but he may have inadvertently hit on something.

It comes back to those three little words: "In that day ..." When Jesus is allowed to reign over that part of the world, He becomes the Great Equalizer. God declares to Isaiah that these are all His people, whether they're of the "chosen nation" or not, for as Peter writes, "[followers of Christ] are a chosen generation ... a peculiar people ... which in time past were not a people but are now the people of God ...." (1 Peter 2:9-10 KJV).

It makes sense, too. Have you ever stopped to wonder why that relatively tiny strip of the Earth -- that "highway" linking Egypt and Assyria would be barely 1,000 miles long: maybe the distance between Vancouver and Regina -- has been such a flashpoint ever since the Canaanites told Abraham and his household to leave? Why is there such persecution of Christians in the Arab world? Not because Arabs are evil -- God Himself says they're His people and the work of His hands and promised to take care of the descendants of Ishmael; but because the enemy is trying to do everything possible to prevent Christ from getting a toehold in the area and thereby foil God's plan.

The enemy loves futile battles, doesn't he?

But Christians, far from rejoicing over this internecine struggle and generally maintaining a sneering or hostile tone towards Islam, need to be praying: praying for Jesus to be revealed to Muslims and Jews alike; praying for those who are called to evangelize in that area to hear the call and be protected (because it won't be an easy job); praying for Truth to prevail.

Praying, in other words, for God's will to be done. He's already stated that will: we have to get onside.

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