Biblical Parallels to Israel Tragedies Call for Lamentation
**Editor’s note: The following article contains graphic descriptions of violence that may be inappropriate for children. Parental and reader discretion is advised.
Enough time has elapsed since Hamas’s coordinated strike against Israeli civilians to uncover some of the horrific deeds they perpetrated. As of Wednesday morning, Israeli casualties exceeded 1,200 killed and 3,000 injured, most of which were civilians, according to Israel’s U.S. embassy. While tragic, this gruesome carnage is not entirely unprecedented; parallels are recorded even in Israel’s own history.
As more details emerge, so do more biblical parallels. Hamas slaughtered hundreds of young people gathered at a desert music festival near the border, leaving behind “bodies cut in half, heads, hands, arms,” according to one volunteer assisting with the cleanup. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have discovered 40 babies, some of which were beheaded, among the dead at a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. Terrorists raped women, kidnapped children and the elderly, and posted videos of the captives to taunt Israelis.
It’s tempting to look away from such horrific barbarity, but we must call evil for what it is.
The Bible is honest about such horrors as they have occurred in Israel’s past. The prophet Elisha mourned that a Syrian general would “kill [Israel’s] young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women” (2 Kings 8:12). Isaiah described generally, “The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth” (Isaiah 9:12). Asaph mourned, “We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us” (Psalm 79:4). Jeremiah prophesied, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15, quoted in Matthew 2:18).
Jeremiah later mourned:
“My young women and my young men have gone into captivity. … Women are raped in Zion, young women in the towns of Judah. Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. Young men are compelled to grind at the mill, and boys stagger under loads of wood. The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music. The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning” (Lamentations 1:18, 5:11-15).
The parallels are too plentiful to miss.
In fact, the most frequent enemy of Israel were the Philistines, whose land included the present-day Gaza Strip. From the time of Samson to the time of Hezekiah, the Philistine city-states raided, invaded, or fought against Israel more than 20 times. Gaza’s current inhabitants seem to be continuing that 3,000-year-old animosity.
Scripture gives several reasons God allowed foreign nations, particularly those living along Israel’s coastline around Gaza, to invade them repeatedly. At first, God left several nations, including the Philistines, “to test Israel by them … in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:1-2).
But Israel failed that test, turning to pagan idols and a seeking a worldly king instead of the one true God and his anointed savior. So, God sent foreign nations against them for judgment. During the time of the judges, “they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites” (Judges 10:6-7). And during the time of the kings, “the Philistines had made raids on … Judah,” took their cities, and “settled there. For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had made Judah act sinfully and had been very unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:18-19).
God had forewarned Israel about this exact consequence as part of the Mosaic covenant. “If you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins,” he warned them (Leviticus 26:21). “Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless” (Deuteronomy 28:32). Jeremiah confessed this after the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, speaking for the city, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (Lamentations 1:18).
Does it follow, then, that the recent Hamas attacks on Israel are a direct consequence of the nation’s sin, and God’s discipline for that sin? It’s not that simple.
For one thing, the covenant to which those consequences pertained is “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). God had promised a new covenant through Jeremiah (31:31-34), and that new covenant was established in Jesus’s blood (Luke 22:20). The author of Hebrews explained, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). The most prominent observance of the old covenant was the daily routine of animal sacrifices in the temple, which perished for good when the Romans destroyed the temple in A.D. 70.
That said, God judges even gentile and pagan nations for their sins. Without a clear explanation from God, it’s difficult to rule out judgment or discipline as a cause for any national calamity. If it were judgment for a particular sin, Scripture does not give specific guidance. Perhaps someone with more expertise in Israeli politics and culture can give more insight than I.
There is one sin of which the Jewish nation is guilty — has been guilty for nearly 2,000 years — and to which Scripture speaks clearly: they have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah. “You denied the Holy and Righteous One,” Peter and John charged their fellow Jews, “and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:14-15). Jesus himself established that, if a physical descendant of Abraham rejected him and his Word, that person was really a child of the devil (John 8:39-47).
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, the one promised Messiah to which the entire Old Testament points. Some Jews understood and believed. As to the rest, “their minds were hardened,” said Paul, another Jew. “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). He wrote that “Christ crucified” was “a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Corinthians 1:23), who were still pursuing righteousness “as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:32). Consequently, “they are enemies” of the gospel, wrote Paul (Romans 11:28).
At this point, it’s worth noting that some Christians have historically misapplied the Jew’s rejection of Jesus to justify anti-Semitism, an absurd leap of logic. Still other Christians have reacted to this error by deemphasizing the fact that Jews need the gospel, too — the opposite error. The point is, everyone — Jew or Gentile — has rejected Jesus as Lord and can only come to him by his grace.
Even while condemning the Jews’ rejection of their Savior, Paul does not give up hope for them. “A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26), he said. The post-exilic prophet Zechariah foresaw this ultimate repentance of the Jewish nation, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). Paul clarified how Jews stand in relation to Christians, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29).
A third Scriptural reason why other nations attack Israel is that those nations hate God. “Behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads,” confessed Asaph. “They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!’” (Psalm 83:2-4).
God used these nations as instruments of discipline for his people, even as they themselves acted out of enmity toward God and plotted Israel’s destruction. Scripture teaches both ideas in multiple places, but Jeremiah combined these two ideas in one verse, “the Lord has commanded against Jacob that his neighbors should be his foes” (Lamentations 1:18).
God also promised to judge these foreign nations for their enmity against Israel. Using the Philistines as an example again, God promised, “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom” (Amos 1:6). “Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity, therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines” (Ezekiel 25:15-16).
As Israel faces fighting on nearly every side and worldwide displays of hostility, it’s worth noting how broadly God’s judgment will extend. “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples,” said the Lord. “The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it” (Zechariah 12:2-4).
Recent events in Israel certainly echo those recorded in the Bible, though they don’t correspond exactly. Nations hostile to God still plot the destruction of his chosen people, even as that people has rejected him as their only Savior. No effort of ours can resolve this tension; we must wait until God chooses to restore his people and vindicate himself against his adversaries.
In our waiting, God commands us to pray, and a prayer of lamentation is certainly appropriate here. Taking many psalms for a model, let us call on God to hear our cry. Let us complain to him of the terrible violence and bloodshed, that cruel men do evil with impunity, that many people have set themselves against enemies of God and his people, that much of the world continues to reject God and does not give glory to his name.
Let us acknowledge that God presides over the affairs of nations, that he is good, that he accomplishes all his sovereign and wise purposes for the glory of his name, and that he will vindicate himself by judging his enemies.
Let us pray that God would arise and judge the wicked of the earth, that he would preserve the righteous, that he would establish wise rulers who bless those seeking to live peaceful and quiet lives.
Let us confess our confidence that God does hear prayer, that the cries of the helpless do rise to him, and that he will act for the glory of his name. And then let us wait on him.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.