Israel’s 9/11 came on 10/7/2023

Shabbat. It is the Jewish sabbath. It is a day of rest. It is a 24 hour period of time from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday when Jews do no work. They turn off their phones, close their shops, gather with family and friends and observe the Sabbath. They also sleep in. So when Hamas terrorists crossed into southeastern Israel on the morning of October 7, 2023, many of the people in the self-sustaining communal Kibbutz villages and towns were in their homes, many of them still in their beds. 

They were terrorized, humiliated, hunted, raped, murdered, mutilated. Some were left alive to tell the stories and live with the horror. Others were taken as hostages into Gaza to be paraded as trophies and held as bargaining chips. The stories being told are harrowing. The trauma is systemic. Sobs too deep for words. 

It has now been a week and we have learned about the resolve and resilience of the Jewish state of Israel. Many have learned about Hamas and are seeking to differentiate the terrorist organization that runs Gaza from the desperate Palestinian people who live there. People are also learning how the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the West Bank (east and north of Jerusalem on the East side of Israel) are different from and geographically separated from the Palestinians who live in Gaza, ruled by Hamas. People are learning too about the terrorist sister of Hamas, Hezbollah, to Israel’s north in Lebanon. And in all of this, people are learning about the role of Iran and Qatar and the other very unneighborly neighbors in the region. 

Into this complex history and context, we wonder, why this and why now? The “why” for Hamas is simple: they view Israel as the enemy. 

After WWII, the Jews had nowhere to go. No one wanted them. So the nations who won the war told those living in the land that is now Israel to get out. It was 1948. The Palestinian people essentially became—and continue to live as—refugees. A stateless people. 

Hamas exists to wipe Israel off the map, killing every man, woman and child who they view as occupying their land. Israel defends herself against this existential threat every night and day. On Saturday, October 7, 2023, she let down her guard and Hamas is now reaping the whirlwind it sowed. 

Hamas targeted civilians in the attack, and when they would not come out of their safe rooms to face execution, they burned them alive in their homes. You will hear it described as barbaric and inhuman. You will hear them referred to as beasts and animals. Resist this language. These were men, human beings doing unspeakable things to other human beings. Taking life into their own hands and meting out what they see as justice for long term systemic misery of the people of Gaza. 

So, who is right? What is right? Where is God in all of this bloodshed in the Holy Land of His Chosen People? Why do people hate the Jews? How do you process this kind of evil? What do we say to our Jewish neighbors and friends? Why would a good God allow such a thing to happen? 

Isn’t this the 21st century? Aren’t we beyond this? As Israel prepares to respond by eliminating the future threat of Hamas against its people, more than million helpless people are in the path. Where can they flee when the borders are sealed and what lies between Gaza city and the southern border with Egypt is nothing but open desert? 

To complicate matters, there are calls for demonstrations which are openly anti-Semitic. More Jews died on October 7, 2023, than on any other day since the Holocaust. Does “never again” still mean “never again?” and if so, what then must we do? These are the kinds of questions I’ve been hearing and asking and fielding all week. 

Let’s start here: 

  1. Pray. God remains God. God remains sovereign. He’s got the whole world in His hands. He has not forgotten His covenant. He has not changed His mind about the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. God has not forgotten the blessing nor his hesed love. Pray the prayers of the Old Testament with and for your Jewish neighbors and friends. Pray too for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for a way to safety for those fleeing war and pray for miraculous provision for people on all sides. Pray for justice to be executed while innocents are spared. Pray for wisdom around the world. 
  2. Incarnate the Gospel. Live as though your presence re-presents Christ to others— because it does. Assure them of your solidarity. Grieve with them. Listen to their stories. Attend to their trauma. 
  3. Prepare for war and fight it on your knees and in your prayer closet.
    • Take seriously the enemy prowling around right now. Flee from him, yes, but also prepare to enter the spiritual battle with the armor God provides.
      • Ephesians 6:18 “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert (be watchful, attentive, ready) with all perseverance”
      • 1 Peter 5:8-9 – Be sober-minded (calm and collected in Spirit, circumspect); be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…”
      • Put on the full armor of God: Ephesians 6
    • Recognize the weapons the enemy tends to use and learn to counterpunch:
      • Distortion (Know God and the Truth of His Word; Psalm 145, Exodus 34)
      • Division (Maintain unity and be an agent of reconciliation; Eph 4; 2 Cor 5:17-21)
      • Depravity (Know the difference between good and evil; cultivate the good, the beautiful and the true; Phil 4:8)
      • Distraction (Do not be tempted to turn to the left nor to the right; stay on the narrow way with Jesus; trust Him, follow Him, obey Him.)
      • Destruction (John 10:10. The devil has a plan for your life and it is death. Resist the devil. Recognize his tactics and fight back by the power of the Spirit of the living God)
      • Discouragement – sometimes dressed up as hopelessness, failure, fatigue, accusation, abandonment. See the big picture. Get God’s perspective. 2 Kings 6:14-16
      • Death. We face death all day long in our culture today. But we know the One who conquered death, along with its sting and its power. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection must be our constant focus in the days in which we now live. Jesus was able to look beyond the cross to the glory set before Him and thus He was able to endure. Do you see the glory beyond the current crisis? Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8. 
  4. Speak truth and dispel lies. Patience and grace are required in the conversations of the day. Both in person and online, Christians must be people who care about the truth, seek the truth, speak the truth and are unwilling to pass along anything but that which is true truth. That means we have to slow down and verify. And then, once we know the truth, be willing to speak it in order that lies and half truths are dispelled. Shine light in darkness. 
  5. Choose your words carefully.
    • Evil. The slaughter undertaken by Hamas terrorists against people in southern Israel on the morning of October 7, 2023 was evil. The President of the United States called it “pure unadulterated evil.” In order to understand the term evil we have to know what is good. These are theological, worldview distinctions. But if you believe there is no God, no maker of heaven and earth, then there is no Judge and no way to judge between good and evil except by your own limited experience of what “feels” right or wrong to you. So what feels right to a member of Hamas drives him to act. Is he wrong? Who rightly judges that? However if you believe there is a God, the maker of heaven and earth, the creator and giver of Life, then you have an eternal unmoving reference point for categories like good and evil, right and wrong. With God as my reference point, I can judge between the right and wrong, good and evil. But without God as a reference point, I become the arbiter. How can that possibly work? I am too small for that. My perspective is too limited and insufficient. 
    • Tragedy or atrocity? Which world should we use? Here we ask the question of moral responsibility.  A tragedy is something terrible that happened but it is no one’s fault. A terrible accident. A natural disaster. These are tragedies. Murder. Rape. Kidnapping. These are acts of individual people against other people. These are not accidents. These are intentional acts of evil. These are atrocities and we should say so. 

The questions on our minds are not simple or easy ones— they cut to the heart. And in this lifetime, we will not have all the answers. But amid the uncertainty, pain and turmoil, we remember God has told us the end from the beginning. We remember that evil may be strong, but God is stronger. We remember the Story and how He has already told us it unfolds. And we look forward with a sure hope to the day when there will be no more evil and no more pain.