October 14, 1997
A few months ago, an unusual picture showed up in a daily paper. It was a boy reaching out to shake hands with an adult, not so unique in itself except that the boy was Palestinian and the solder was an Israeli.
People living in this Middle East hot spot have experienced hatred and animosity for centuries. How odd to see that picture. We cannot help but wonder if a child can reach out in peace and touch the “enemy,” why can’t all people establish a lasting peace?
The root of this particular conflict goes back to the ancients, to a man named Abram who was given a promise by God: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
At the same time God made this covenant promise, He also told Abram to leave home and go to his new land, a land that now includes all or parts of Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
This covenant later included the promise of a son. However, when Abram was eighty-six years old, he agreed with his wife Sarai to follow the custom of the pagan nations around them and took Sarai’s maid, Hagar as his wife. She became pregnant with Ishmael but this was not God’s promised son. Thirteen years later, He reaffirmed his promise, but Sarai was ninety years old and just laughed. Yet God had the final chuckle a year later — Sarai gave birth to Isaac.
God gave new names to Abraham and Sarah, and blessed them just as He promised. Their true son became the father of the Israelites. However, God also honored the other son, Ishmael. His descendants increased until they were “too numerous to count.” He also said Ishmael would have “his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand would be against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
Thus the sons of Abraham have been in conflict. Islam traces its lineage from Abraham through Ishmael. Jews trace their lineage through Isaac. Because of their connection to Abraham, the Muslims, Jews and Christians all claim to be spiritual “children of Abraham” but each do not agree that the others have a lawful claim. Jews and Arabs have been in conflict for years over the land and this issue. Some who claim to be “Christian” also enter the conflict.
As the Jews fight for their promised land and the Islamic people legitimize force to spread their beliefs, Christians need to remember the many exhortations in the Bible to be at peace with one another and as much as possible, at peace even with their enemies. We can do this because Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
The peace Jesus gives is first a peace with God. With faith in Him, the enmity between ourselves and God is over. We enter into a new covenant that gives us new hearts and promises us a lifetime of relationship with God and an eternal inheritance in heaven.
Secondly, Jesus gives us the peace of God, a deep and settled assurance that God is in control of all things. Even if our enemies overwhelm us, in His time He will win our battles and establish His eternal kingdom. We are responsible to believe His promises and live accordingly. That means abandoning any battle for our so-called rights. It means loving one another, even loving our enemies. It means ceasing to add fuel to the feuds that arise from time to time and instead applying the mercy, compassion and forgiveness that Christ has given us.
The third peace is coming. It is the external peace of heaven where there will be none of the sin that now so easily entangles us and draws us into conflict.
With God’s peace, we can regain a childlike response to people and hold our hands out without fear, even reach out and touch those who threaten our external comfort. They can never take from us what God has put in our hearts.