Seldom has something I have written provoked so furious and resentful a response as the piece that went up on Jerusalem Newswire last Monday morning Israel time, hours before Hurricane Katrina began to devour the Gulf Coast of the United States.
“Katrina – Fist of God?” asked whether the hurricane’s onslaught wasn’t a consequence of America’s decades-long pressure on Israel to surrender the central parts of its ancient land, and which culminated in mid-August with the expulsion of 10,000 Jews and the destruction of their homes and communities. The article was circulated widely over the Internet.
As the horror at what was wreaked by the massive storm has grown, with the enormity of the disaster impacting people across the United States and around the world, more angry readers have been lashing out at me; some deriding my belief in God. Some appear to think that I am gloating, rejoicing, in the words of one man, “that God has taken vengeance upon the gentiles in New Orleans.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. But I understand their outrage and their pain. Katrina truly lived up to the projected worst case scenarios. In fact, it is worse than anyone even imagined it would be.
I understand the pain, because I share it – an onlooker’s overwhelming, compassionate pain. Less than three weeks ago I passed days weeping and crying to the heavens at what was happening to the Jews of Gaza and northern Samaria. This week I have wept, repeatedly. And there will be more tears, I know, as I watch the terrible suffering of the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
My heart is broken for America. The situation looks almost hopeless. Nothing like this, they are saying, has ever happened before.
We were there, my family and I, just a few months ago, enjoying the hospitality and friendship of the people of Louisiana – one of 34 states we visited during a full year of traveling.
After seeing from close up for more than 10 years the dangerous direction in which Israel was heading in its desperate quest for peace, and growing increasingly concerned, alarmed in fact, at the central role America was playing in sending Israel down this road, we decided to go to the States. We went, traveling across the length and breadth of that great land, personally pleading with hundreds of its citizens – its Christian citizens – to do whatever God would enable them to do to help change their country’s position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For the sake of the United States.
In February this year, three-quarters of the way through our journey, I sent out a newsletter from Covington, LA, in which I wrote:
By the time of this writing, the president and his new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, have made it abundantly clear that the achievement of "peace" between Israel and the Arabs, at the tremendous cost to Israel of the de facto surrender of its security as it relinquishes control over its heartland, is a goal the United States will pursue.
I am sorry where my understandings on this issue hurt and anger people. I do, however, believe unshakably in this truth – in this God. So I cannot keep quiet about this.
Meanwhile, in direct accordance with the wishes of the White House, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has taken his nation in both hands and begun to rip it apart. As he moves ahead with what he calls a "disengagement" plan - but which is really Israel's finally succumbing to world pressure to dispossess thousands of Jews of their homes and allow their sworn enemies to enjoy an enormous victory over them - I find it hard to believe the Israeli leader can be fully aware of what he is doing.
The wounds Mr. Sharon has begun to inflict on his people will run very deep. Much of the nation's morale has been drained; its hope eroded. A despairing awareness is taking hold of many Jews that the 1948 rebirth of their homeland will in the end have been a failure after all.
Generally speaking, many, many Israelis today believe there is no way ahead for them; there is no price they can pay that will secure them the guarantee of living in peace and security in their land.
What is unfolding should have all of us concerned Christians on our faces before the King; especially, perhaps, American Christians. It seems to me that, unless the Lord is moved to change the course on which President Bush has now embarked, there will be much woe ahead for the United States.
He calls Himself the LORD God of the patriarchs of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. This, He says, is His name “forever” and His “memorial to all generations.”
As the God of Israel, He has set a precedent for dealing with nations that threaten to harm, or actually do harm, His nation.
He did not institute this because Israel was better than any other nation, nor because He prefers the Jews to the Gentiles.
He did it because He had chosen Israel to be separate, different and unique in its calling. Israel was to have a glorious raison d’etre. It was the nation through whom God would work out His plan of salvation for all mankind: For He loves all mankind.
And He created the nation of Israel for His glory. (Isaiah 43:7)
Anyone inflicting harm on the nation of Israel works against the realization of this plan, threatening to trample on that glory.
Down through history, God has allowed such threats, using them to strengthen and/or chastise Israel, but always intervening, for the sake of His great name, to save Israel out of them; and always dealing, eventually very harshly, with those who have dared to imperil His Plan.
We have the earliest example in Egypt, when Israel was a young nation, a family really – slaves all, with no land of their own. God was about to set them apart in order to reveal Himself and His glory to the gentile nations and so to begin to implement His Plan.
Pharaoh resisted God’s command to let His people go. He got in the way of The Plan – threatening to prevent it – by first hardening his own heart.
God struck him and his people with plagues. He did not simply erase Pharaoh. Rather, He chose to inflict increasingly painful punishment on the Egyptian people, and time and again relented, giving the monarch another opportunity to get out of the way.
Reading the account, we see that when God sent plagues He struck a whole nation, not just the leader whose actions were to blame. Thus all the Egyptians – barring those who put their trust in Israel’s God – got hit. (Likewise, later, when God plagued Israel in response to David’s sin of pride and disobedience, He struck the ordinary people because of what their leader had done – killing 70,000 of David’s subjects.)
The buck stopped with the leader.
Another principle: When Pharaoh turned and promised to consider his ways, God lifted the plague.
And another: After the man kept hardening his heart, God hardened it for him, making it impossible for Pharaoh to relent.
Four years ago next week, just hours after President Bush planned to announce his country’s commitment to helping create a Palestinian Arab state on Israel’s land, America experienced the worst attack ever on the continental United States.
Now, within hours of Israel carrying out its “disengagement” plan, during which Secretary Rice announces that this is just the first step the Bush administration expects Israel to take, the worst-ever natural disaster in the country’s history strikes the United States.
The land-for-peace process, while God may use it to bring about the continued outworking of His Plan, is in and of itself working to oppose that Plan. It seeks to reverse or roll back Israel’s return to its land. And its goal is the creation of an enemy Muslim state that will work to destroy Israel altogether.
For me it seems clear that God is resorting to “a strong hand and an outstretched arm” to change the direction of the United States vis-à-vis Israel.
After all that has already happened, will He still have to “multiply His signs and wonders” in the Land of America?
Will the President fail to hear, hardening his heart against the ludicrous suggestion that his policies in the Middle East are hurting his own people?
It must have seemed preposterous to Pharaoh too. What a mighty nation his was. And here were these slaves – masses of them, aliens in Egypt for over 400 years. Why on earth should he, Pharaoh, “god on earth” disrupt (possibly ruin) his economy and endanger the Egypt-centered world order by letting these people go?
Why should the United States give a fig about this scrap of land that fits 54 times into the state of Texas, with a population smaller than the population of greater New York? And how preposterous, (in the words of one critic of mine, how “imbecilic”) to think that God would judge America because of her dealings with this small country.
There’s a whole world out there; great and mighty nations, influential, up-and-coming superpowers. Surely it makes good common sense to go along with them, to agree with them and ensure that Israel bows to the will of the international community by making it America’s will too?
An unbelieving president might well fail to hear. But in this way any comparison between President Bush and Pharaoh, and between ancient Egypt and the USA today ends:
For the president of the United States believes in the God of Israel. Millions of American citizens believe in the God of Israel. They have access to a merciful Father that Pharaoh and his followers never had.
Will they see it? I know it is hard now. The temptation will be there to scream at me to “lay off! Can’t you see we’re looking at dead grandmothers in wheelchairs, dead people lying on the ground?!”
Tragically it seems we only recognize our error and consider changing direction when things get really tough. When the disaster passes, the mind rationalizes and finds reasons to believe that this was anything but the consequences of our actions.
In this way the heart is hardened, and with each additional hardening it becomes more and more difficult to make the right choice.
Ominously, at the end, with his kingdom in tatters, his land in ruins and death widespread throughout his land, when Pharaoh finally gave in, he drove out the Israelites; but his chance of saving himself and his nation was lost to him. Egypt never regained its glory again.
Will the US fail to hear so that, in the end, He will save Israel out from under the pressure and influence of the United States by more “great judgments”?
Or will someone warn the President, reach his ears with this truth, that for the sake of America, and to ensure that something worse than Hurricane Katrina does not happen to his people, his administration needs to change its policy – supporting Israel’s right to all of the little land that God gave her, and determining to defend this land and this nation, God’s land and God’s nation, from the unrelenting efforts to wipe them out?
May this word reach President Bush. He may not have much time.