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What would biblical reconciliation in the Middle East entail? Is it possible in Israel, too? What steps can we already take today, regardless of where we stand? Read on for some helpful tips and insight. 

Is Racial Reconciliation Possible?

When addressing reconciliation, race is inevitable. When ethnicity is addressed, it is unfortunately far too typical to dismiss others who come from a different ethnic, cultural, or religious experience. 

This dismissal manifests itself in responses like: “You can’t understand me and my history.” “We are a different color.” “You could never relate to my suffering.” “What do you know about what happened to me and my family?” And most of all: “You just don’t get it”.

These statements are usually triggered as a result of deep pain and gross misunderstanding. But they ultimately limit the honest conversation and dialogue that is required in reconciliation’s difficult work. The fact is, we all need to be better listeners.

The Painful Reality of Division

The horrors of hatred, bigotry, abuse and human suffering are beyond description. Tribal wars, ethnic cleansing, and systemic racism have cut deep wounds in the human heart. They are not restricted to one region, or one people group alone.

The tentacles of racism and division have reached around the world in many different forms. As such, they have perpetuated more pain and promoted more division for generations.

These complex realities have severely impacted millions of lives. And I, in no way, want to minimize their impact or delegitimize the suffering.

green hills of jerusalem

The Road to Understanding

We must move beyond shallow or inappropriate approaches to human suffering and discrimination. Instead, we need to treat these issues with much more grace and humility.

No doubt, we all have a lot to learn from one another, and indeed, we should. Respectful dialogue is always a good start.

Having stated that, it must also be said that the highway toward biblical reconciliation has already been paved by humanity’s Creator. It was paid for by humanity’s Savior. It is up to each one of us to choose to walk it.

From Debate to Biblical Reconciliation

Rather than getting stuck in the fruitless debate over which ethnicity is more deserving of attention, my hope is to turn our attention toward some biblically based perspectives. Which, hopefully, can lead toward authentic healing and genuine reconciliation.

Our starting point must always acknowledge racial inequity. But it must, more importantly, precede the pain caused by human abuse and injustice and anchor itself in the higher reality of timeless truth, divine design, and eternal purpose.

To be clear, I believe in social justice, racial reconciliation, and cultural diversity as long as it is based upon biblical justice, reconciliation and diversity. To that end, I’m going to refer to a few scriptures and introduce a few statements that I believe can help move us toward the hope and promise of biblical restoration.

An Encounter with a Man with a Drawn Sword

Let’s start with an event that happened around 1400 BCE, near the border between Jordan and the land of Canaan. The account is recorded in the Book of Joshua. A man appeared to Joshua with his sword drawn in His hand, and Joshua asked, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13).

In this biblical account, Joshua began with a question of distinction. He asks this man of apparent authority, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”

That’s how we humans tend to think. Are you one of us or one of them? Are you this or are you that? History has proven over and over again that those in positions of power tend to first categorize and then marginalize those who are different.

Drawing a Distinction

This same mindset showed up again in the first century church around 50 CE. 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 states,

Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The Apostle Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 3:3-4,

For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

border and fence between israel and Palestine

Putting Israel People Groups in a Box

If Joshua’s question was asked today in Israel, in a religious context, it might sound something like this: “Are you a Christian, a Muslim, a Druze or a Jew?”

That is the human way of thinking, analyzing and processing. We generally prefer to put people in the boxes of our own understanding.

Although Joshua’s question is understandable, it exposes the limitation and inadequacy of carnal thinking. And it’s the answer from the “Man with a drawn sword” that is most compelling. He simply says, “No”.

Remember the question – are you for us or for our adversaries? His answer is an emphatic “No”. In other words, “I’m not for you, nor am I for them.”

Then, He introduces Himself. “As Commander of the Army of the Lord I have now come. Take your shoes off, you’re on holy ground” (Joshua 5:15). Apparently, heaven is less concerned with taking sides and much more concerned about fulfilling divine purpose.

The Reality on the Ground

Some have said that the situation in the Middle East can be described as the longest running family feud in human history.

Having lived in Israel for over sixteen years, I have been exposed to this reality. Also, I have personally felt the impact of these cultural, ethnic, racial and religious tensions.

I would like to offer three very clear, biblical, and powerful principles that are like the basic building blocks of the language of reconciliation. If you have ever learned a new language, you know that the first steps in learning involve understanding that language’s alphabet.

That is why I am calling it…

The ABC of Biblical Reconciliation

The first three letters are a part of a much larger and comprehensive alphabet and language. I will unpack these three with hopes that they bring some insight and wisdom, along with a desire to continue learning.

The ABCs of reconciliation are A. Acceptance of the Father’s sovereign choice, B. Being reconciled to the Father’s heart, and C. Celebrating the diversity of the Father’s family.

ACCEPTANCE OF THE FATHER’S SOVEREIGN CHOICE

I could begin with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, or Jacob and Esau, but I have chosen to begin with Abraham and his dysfunctional family.

He was promised descendants like “the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky”, but there was slight problem. His wife, Sarai, was barren and they had no children.

Confronted by this painful reality, Sarai recommends that Abram take her Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar, and obtain children through her. This decision marks the beginning of a great divide between two seed lines that are still having significant implications today.

Consider the reference in Genesis 16: 11-12:

“And the Angel of the Lord said to Hagar: Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

Ishmael and Isaac

Thirteen years after Ishmael is born, the Lord reminds Abram of His covenantal promise to make him a father of many nations. Abram responds with an attitude of, “Hey, thank you, I believe You, but I’ve already got a kid. So fulfill Your promises through him”.

Here’s the actual account from Genesis 17:18-21:

And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

God made a choice in how He will fulfill His covenantal promise and through whom He will accomplish His divine purpose. Ishmael received a blessing, but Isaac received the covenant.

The God whose Ways are Higher

God is a sovereign God. He is all knowing, all powerful, and omnipresent. He decides whom to use and for what purpose. God is the Master, the Creator, the Designer, the Father, and the Potter. He is good. He is love, He is light, and He is fire.

These are just some of His titles and divine attributes, and He has no equal.

Now you and I, with our God given gift of free choice, can choose to appreciate these divine attributes or not. We can agree or disagree with His choices. You and I can accept or reject His ways. We can agree with Him or oppose Him with our words and actions.

And yet, God remains sovereign despite our choices or regardless of how we respond to Him.

Surrendering to the sovereignty of God is the doorway into the supernatural. Just ask Job, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Esther, Joshua, David, Ruth, the Apostle Paul… and the list goes on.

A shadow of a man pointing a finger above a broken door

Where Does Biblical Reconciliation Begin

So, God heard Abram’s prayerful appeal for Ishmael, and He promised to bless him, make him fruitful, and multiply him exceedingly. But, as far as His covenant was concerned, God said, “I will establish it with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year”. (Genesis 17:21)

Acceptance of the Father’s sovereign choice is the first step toward biblical reconciliation.

God’s sovereign choice to fulfill His covenantal promise through Isaac was not a rejection of Ishmael and his seed. It must be said that it was Sarah who rejected Hagar and Ishmael, not God.

There was bitterness, resentment, anger, jealousy, and a myriad of other toxic dynamics between Sarah and Hagar. Rejection led to anger, anger led to hatred, and hatred led to hostility. This is the unfortunate narrative of these two lines, but it is not the end of the story.

The Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, prophesied of a day when God will raise up a highway of worship, service and unity throughout the Middle East. Where these two seed lines will come together, and the result will be a great blessing throughout the land (see Isaiah 19:23-25).

BEING RECONCILED TO THE FATHER’S HEART

Surrendering to the Father’s sovereign choices can be difficult. Especially when you have a different set of thoughts about something and how it should be accomplished.

In Acts 9:1-9, Saul (the Apostle Paul’s Hebrew name) was doing his thing and doing it the way he thought it should be done. In his religious zeal, he was full of threats and murder, targeting the disciples of the Lord.

During his journey, he suddenly saw a light and heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He asked, “Who are You, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

Kicking Against the Goads

To goad means to provoke or annoy so as to stimulate some action. Kicking against the goads was a common expression found in both Greek and Latin literature, understood in those days. But it may be unfamiliar to most of us today.

Goads were typically made from slender pieces of timber, blunt on one end, and pointed on the other. Farmers used the pointed end to urge a stubborn ox into motion. Occasionally, the beast would kick at the goad. The more the ox kicked, the more the goad would stab into its leg.

The point is, things get more difficult for us when we resist God’s sovereign will. The Lord was not trying to hurt Saul. Saul was hurting himself by resisting the will of God. In other words, more resistance meant more pain.

That’s what Jesus was saying to him. He said, “It’s hard for you now, but it can become much easier if you do it My way”. So, Saul surrendered. He humbled himself. He aligned his life with God’s intentions and plans.

Reconciliation in the Middle East

This is the beautiful thing I have seen countless times here in the Middle East – non-Jewish neighbors of Israel who come to this crossroads of surrender.

Many of them have grown up with a hatred for Israel and the Jewish people primarily because of the pervading narrative and mentality. It is one of rejection, replacement and hostility between the two seed lines. But when the revelation of the true gospel comes, a veil is lifted.

Accepting and surrendering to the Father’s sovereign choice allows us to be reconciled to the Father’s heart.

God’s loving and generous desire for humanity is that none should perish but that all would come to repentance. Romans 5: 6-11 says:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly… For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

Vertical Reconciliation Precedes Horizontal Reconciliation

Genuine and lasting reconciliation with our fellow man is only possible when our hearts are fully reconciled with God. It is primarily a heart issue.

To reconcile means to bring together again, and sin separates. But God’s salvation provides the solution. The closer we move toward God, the closer we can move toward others.

We can’t give what we don’t have. The more I allow the love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace of God to flow into my own heart, the more of these I am able to extend to others who are very different from me.

Street Life on the streets of Jerusalem.

CELEBRATING THE DIVERSITY OF THE FATHERS FAMILY

Diversity and inclusion have become iconic words in today’s pop culture, but they are not new. Diversity did not originate with man. The idea came out of the heart and mind of God, the Creator of the world.

When the Apostle Paul engaged the philosophers at the Areopagus in Greece, he said:

“God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”(Acts 17:26-27) 

Made from One Blood

To embrace humanity’s diversity, we must first embrace humanity’s unity. We have been made from one blood. Every man, every woman, every tongue, ethnicity, tribe, yes, every human being has been made from one blood.

There’s not much that is more unifying or humbling than that.

According to God’s divine design, there is no higher or lower class, and no race more valuable than another race. This is the unifying power of the gospel which levels the playing field for all mankind. In Christ, we become new creations, all equally loved, accepted and valued.

Consider the message encompassed in Galatians 3:26-29:

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Biblical Reconciliation Made Real

The revelation of this gospel reality is not limiting but liberating. It’s liberating because we understand that every ethnicity has a unique and valuable role in the mosaic of God’s redemptive purpose.

This understanding allows us to celebrate the diversity of the Father’s family rather than struggle against it. Differences don’t need to cause divisions. Diversity can be celebrated in the Father’s house, because it is celebrated in the Father’s heart.

The first three letters of the alphabet are simply a starting point. They open up the potential to understand a new language, creating the words that will be vital in communication, connection and collaboration leading to biblical reconciliation.

Biblical reconciliation starts with an acceptance of our Father’s choices. In this acceptance, we are joined to the Father’s heart, releasing us to joyfully celebrate the incredible diversity of the Father’s family.

God’s Perfect Plan – From Israel to You: Free PDF Download

The Bible is full of God’s promises that can encourage our faith. Together, these promises make up one master plan of God.

You’re about to discover God’s perfect plan through the lens of 25+ references throughout Scripture.

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Steve Carpenter
Steve Carpenter and his family have lived, worked and served in the Middle East for over 16 years. They are currently based in Jerusalem, Israel, and carry a burden and a passion for peace, unity and reconciliation in a region of the world that has experienced a depth of rejection, hostility and division that is unparalleled in human history. 
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