The Conflict in Israel and Our Response

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By Family Minister, Dr. Brandon Steenbock

“What should I think about what’s happening in Israel?” I get this question almost weekly. Do we root for Israel because they are “God’s Chosen People?” Has their time passed, and we shouldn’t care? I’ve been to Israel, and it’s a beautiful place. My heart breaks to think of the bloodshed and destruction I see on the news. But my emotions are beside the point when it comes to how we should think of this conflict.

I’ll confess that there are aspects to where Israel fits in God’s overall plan that I still wrestle with. I believe well-meaning Christians are free to wrestle with and disagree over these issues. But there are things that God has made clear, which will help us see clearly through the current conflict.


There is a lot of history behind this current conflict, but I’ll just note three need-to-know events that provide some important perspective. The Bible tells us that God chose Abraham and his family and gave them the land we call Israel. It also describes all the ups and downs of their history in the land up to the time of Jesus. From that point, there are three historical events that will give us some helpful context:

  • From “Israel” to “Palestine.” In 70 AD, the Roman Empire forced the Jews out of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. The Jews continued to resist Roman rule, but in 135 AD, a large Jewish uprising was squashed by the Romans. To erase Jewish identity, they renamed the land “Palestine” after the Jews’ ancient enemies, the Philistines. 
  • Muslim Control. The Islamic religion formed in the 600s AD, and in 629 AD, Muslims took control of Palestine. In 692 AD, they finished building the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. They claim this was where Abraham offered his son (who Muslims believe was Ishmael, not Isaac), and where Mohammed was brought to heaven so he could reveal its wonders to his followers. Despite shifts in power and attempts to reclaim the land by both Jews and Christians, the land was mostly controlled by Muslims until the mid-1900s.
  • The State of Israel and the “Nakba.” After WWII, with support from world powers, the Jews renewed their claim to the land and established the State of Israel. In order to do so, though, many of the people living there were displaced. These were mostly Arabs and descendants of the various Muslim empires that had controlled the land. These displaced people call it the “Nakba,” which is Arabic for “disaster” or “calamity.” From this time, they began calling themselves “Palestinians” to establish a national identity.

Biblical Perspective on Israel

There are two leading schools of thought among Christians when it comes to Israel today, but I believe both fall short.

One is that Israel is and always will be God’s Chosen Nation, and that as Christians if we love God, we will support Israel because they are God’s people. The other is what is sometimes called “Replacement Theology,” which says that the Christian Church has replaced the people of Israel as God’s Chosen Nation.

They both fall short of the nuance that Scripture gives on the relationship between God, Israel, Christians, and all believers of all time. If you want to fully understand this, read Paul’s letter to the Romans. There, Paul lays out the relationship between the Law and the Gospel, Jews and Gentiles, faith, and what it means to be God’s chosen people. But here I’ll give a brief summary:

God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 was an expansion on the promise of a Savior that God made to Adam and Eve when they first fell into sin. His promise to Abraham was that his descendants would outnumber the stars, that they would have a land to call their own, and that all people would be blessed through his family line. “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). True faith is nothing more or less than to believe God’s promises. 

Paul explains that the righteousness of God comes through faith, and more specifically, through faith in Christ Jesus, who is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. God said all people would be blessed through Abraham’s family – he meant through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus, the Savior of the world. All who believe in Jesus have the righteousness that comes through faith (Romans 3:21-24). This is true for Jews and non-Jews alike.

So what was the point of the Old Testament Law, of God’s Promised Land, and the rules and regulations for the Jewish people?

I find two pictures helpful. One is what Jesus says in John 5:39, that the Scriptures testify about him, and in Matthew 5:17, that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The Law given to Israel, the writings of the Jewish prophets speaking to Israel, all of it was a series of signposts pointing forward to the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham. Israel was given a job: to reveal God through his Word, to prepare the way for the Savior, and to proclaim him to the world when he came. The Law gave them the parameters of the job, and the land gave them a place to carry it out.

The other helpful picture is the one Paul uses in Galatians 3. First, Paul points out that the Law does not set aside the promise given to Abraham. Rather, the Law was given as a guardian. The word Paul uses is like a tutor or a nanny. It’s as if “the Faith” were a child, needing to be shown how to live. But once Christ came, the Faith is no longer a child, and God now expects his people to trust him and do his work and his will. Paul concludes that by saying that whether you are Jew or non-Jew, through faith in Jesus you are all heirs of the promise given to Abraham.

The point, then, is that Abraham was chosen to receive the promise of the Savior, his descendants were chosen to preserve the family line and prepare for the coming of the Savior, and now all who trust in that Savior have been brought into the family of God. Israel is not exclusively God’s Chosen People – all people who trust in Jesus are God’s Chosen People. But the Church doesn’t replace Israel as God’s Chosen People – it expands God’s Chosen People beyond Israel. 

Once again, you can read Romans (and Galatians with it) for a full understanding. But it’s important to grasp this as we consider the conflict today and our response to it. Does the modern nation of Israel hold a special place in God’s designs for history? No, but all believers do, whether Jew or non-Jew. 

Biblical Perspective on Conflict

God still cares about what’s happening in Israel. First of all, he hates violence and injustice (Psalm 11:5, Proverbs 6:16-19). It’s pretty clear that there is someone guilty of violence and injustice in this whole conflict. And when innocent lives are harmed because of it, God’s heart is grieved. 

It’s also worth noting that Jesus, when he became human, became a Jewish human. After his death, he rose to life in that same human body, now glorified. This means that Jesus lives eternally as a glorified Jewish human who is also God. And just as we would care about our own people, I believe Jesus still cares about his people. Of course, he cares about and loves all people – but I believe he does not want to see the Jewish people suffering. But let’s not forget that for many who call themselves Palestinian, their family lines probably intersect with Jewish families at some point in the past. Culturally, there are many similarities. It may be that if you sat down with a Jewish family and a Palestinian family and talked about what matters to them, you’d find few differences.

The trouble really comes from leaders who won’t be satisfied until one side or the other is eradicated. Sadly, we see many nations outside the conflict contributing to the problem, many of whom want nothing more than to see Israel wiped off the map. Those leaders are the ones to pray against.

Personally, I’m in support of Israel because they are our allies, I love their people, and I believe they want to live in peace. But I also pray for their leadership to make decisions that work for peace, and I think it’s good for us to encourage mercy for the Palestinian people, as much as possible. You may decide that you see other priorities and come to other conclusions. 

But in the end, our hearts should be attuned to God’s heart. We should care about the suffering of the innocent on both sides. We should pray for the leaders who are trying to work for peace, and for the armed forces who are trying to protect their citizenry. Above all, we should pray for both Jews and Palestinians alike to come to know Jesus as the true Messiah and Savior. In the meantime, may God keep Israeli and Palestinian families safe from harm.