Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem
A Bit to Read
You have in your hands Issue 1 of an unofficial publication of the Canadian Reformed Church of Yarrow. I’d like to use this forum to pass on bits and pieces of information, together with analysis and food for thought, concerning the world in which we live. I envision that matters of church life, family life, national life, etc, will be written about on this page. Frequency? I’ll try for once every two weeks (the Sunday when there is no Church News), but retain the liberty to skip an issue or two. It’ll depend on what else is on my plate, and perhaps what I had for breakfast. :)
Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem
Today’s topic interacts with an email I received a week ago. It was addressed to “co-laborers in Ministry”, and came to me from a leader of the local Salvation Army. It reads, “Christian leaders across Canada are answering Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The email then makes reference to Psalm 122:6, “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”, and continues: “We are calling on all Christians to set aside 18 minutes on Sunday, August 20th, to pray for peace in the Middle East. Eighteen in Hebrew is ‘chai’ and means life. We expect that hundreds of thousands of Christians from numerous denominations will pray to the God of Israel for the peace of Jerusalem.” The request comes from “Dr Charles McVety, National Chair, Christians United for Israel, Canada.”
Should we heed this request to pray this Sunday “to the God of Israel for the peace of Jerusalem”? The answer, in my judgment, is both Yes and No. Allow me to explain. (I’ll say nothing about the 18 minute part.)
Behind McVety’s request lies an underlying thought about Israel, the nation that features so much in today’s news. The thought is that today’s Israel is the same people, with the same promises, as the Israel of the Old Testament. Similarly, ‘Jerusalem’ today is the same thing as the ‘Jerusalem’ of the Old Testament so that instruction and promises about Jerusalem in the Old Testament can be vaulted straight into the 21st century AD. That equation is evident from the appeal to Ps 122:6, as if the instruction of the text to pray for the peace of Jerusalem requires us to pray today for the peace of that particular city (and land) in the Middle East over which Jews and Arabs today fight so bitterly.
Yet that equation is not Biblically based. As one considers David’s instruction to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, one needs to recall what was so special about Jerusalem in David’s day. It was this: within this city stood the ark of God (2 Samuel 6), and that’s to say that the dwelling place of God amongst His covenant people was set in Jerusalem. The fact that holy God dwelt among His people spelled out the gospel of reconciliation between God and His covenant children, and was possible only because the sacrifices in Jerusalem proclaimed how the Lord Jesus Christ would one day die in place of man.
But the dwelling place of God did not remain in Jerusalem, and therefore Jerusalem did not retain its favored status. In fact, Israel as a people rejected the God who chose to dwell in their midst. The Son of God came from heaven to earth and dwelt among His people, writes John (1:14). But the people of Israel rejected Him. Though He showed them the works of God for three years they nailed Him to the cross. More, though the apostles taught them the gospel of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death on Calvary, the Jews persistently despised this good news. I refer you to Acts 3-8, and specifically to Acts 13:45-48; 18:6; 26:20-23; 28:25-28. In consequence the apostles turned their attention to the Gentiles, the non-Jews of the world. The Gentiles-who-came-to-faith are the true Israel of the New Testament dispensation. As Paul writes: Abraham “is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised” (Romans 4:11). And again, concerning the ‘tree’ of Israel: “…some of the branches have been broken off” –that’s the unbelieving Jews– “and you, though a wild olive shoot” –that is, a Gentile– “have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Romans 11:17). Branches broken off a tree die and disappear, while foreign branches grafted in become the new and real tree.
So it is with Israel. Because of unbelief Israel as a nation no longer forms the special people of God. That blessed distinction today belongs to peoples of any tribe or language who love and serve God. These believers are God’s people by covenant (together with their children), and God dwells in these people through His Holy Spirit. These people, assembled together by the Word and Spirit, form the Church of God. This is the spiritual ‘Jerusalem’ of today.
When David instructs his readers to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, New Testament saints understand this not as an instruction to pray for physical peace in that city on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, but understand this to be instruction to pray for peace within the church of Jesus Christ. When MeVety, then, appeals to Ps 122 to urge prayer for the cessation of war between Israel and Hezbollah, he misses the Lord’s intent in Ps 122.
My criticism of McVety’s request does not mean that we should not pray for the Middle East. In fact, we should and we must. How? Not just for physical peace amongst the peoples living there today. That’s far too limited, for the Lord Jesus Christ is King of all peoples of today’s world – including Israelis and Arabs alike. All men are created for God’s glory, and therefore all are intended to serve this God. The good news of Who God is and what He did for sinners in Jesus Christ needs to come to the ears of all the people of the Middle East (just as much as it must come to the ears of all Canadians), and their hearts must be open to receive the gospel. That is what we pray for – and trust that even a war can help to make people receptive to the gospel. So we pray not so much for physical peace as for circumstances that will make sinners hunger of the gospel of redemption.
Are the Israelis special before God today? Only those with faith, irrespective of nation or race or language, are special to God (as are their children). Meanwhile, the gospel is for today’s Jews as much as it is for today’s Arabs.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem? Yes, we should. But not as McVety intends. Rather, we shall pray that the gospel abound in the Middle East, and Jews and Arabs alike (and all others living there) turn to the living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of the day, we pray for repentance, and circumstances that lead to repentance.
After all, only belief in Jesus Christ gives peace in one’s heart, today and forever.
August 17, 2006