As the US turns over control of the Green Zone to Iraqi authorities, and as another powerful earthquake shakes Indonesia, the eyes of the world have shifted once again to a small strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
Around the world, in London, Paris, and New York, shouting crowds have taken to the streets to protest for and against Israel’s air and ground response to the Hamas Gaza-based strategy of firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel.
The breaking news in Gaza has ancient roots. A quick software search of the Bible shows that Gaza is mentioned for the first time in the 10th chapter of Genesis. There Gaza is said to be the southern border of the Canaanites (10:19).
Later in the 16th chapter of Judges we find the sordid story of a Jewish born strong-man by the name of Samson. The God-empowered man goes to Gaza, uses a harlot, and appears to be trapped by the local citizens who plan to wait for “the Jewish occupier” at the gates of the city and kill him when he leaves on the morning. Instead, Samson leaves the harlot’s bed at midnight, finds the city gates locked, and then escapes by using the God-given strength that he has just profaned by his visit to the prostitute. He rips out the city gates, and then carries them on his shoulders to a hill overlooking the city of Hebron (Judges 16:1-3).
The last time Gaza mentioned in the Bible shows up in the New Testament book of Acts (8:26). On the road to Gaza a follower of Christ by the name of Phillip encounters an Ethiopian official who is reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Turns out that the African official is reading from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah and is confused by what he is reading about a mysterious suffering servant who was led “as a sheep to the slaughter” as a sacrifice for “our sins” (Acts 8:26-39; Isaiah 53). Phillip has an opportunity to explain to the Ethiopian how this ancient prophecy had been fulfilled in the terrible suffering and wonderful resurrection of Jesus.
As we bring the mega-story of the Bible to current events of modern Israel, and our own lives, these connections to the ancient history of Gaza are important. The self-corrupting, sexually inflamed Samson fighting with the idol worshiping Canaanites is a picture not only of what we are watching in Gaza, but all too often in ourselves.
Even though human enemies all too often treat one another like animals, and even though there are, undoubtedly, demonic influences behind the conflicts we are watching in the Middle East, and in our own communities, the children who are suffering are not animals or demons. Gun bearing Palestinian and Jewish fighters, together with the rest of us, bear the fallen likeness of our God.
If, as followers of Christ, we allow ourselves to be politicized or nationalized to the point that we speak of either Palestinians or Israelis as if they were animals or devils, we have become a part of the problem. If we find ourselves thinking that the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza is only about “them,” we are missing the real story.
Without a change of hearts, evil will continue to be the response to evil in the Middle East, and in our own homes, churches, businesses, and communities.
Does that mean that nothing can be done and that there is no need for good political and humanistic wisdom in international crises? Am not saying that. Just seems to me that when it comes to the influence of followers of Christ, our Teacher reminded us that if salt loses its saltiness, it becomes useless.