Pastoral Perspectives

How do we pray for the Israel-Hamas conflict?

As we hear the news about the war between Israel and Hamas, we may be wondering how to pray.

Do we pray that Israel will be successful in obliterating Hamas for massacring so many of her civilians in a surprise and well-executed attack on 7 October?

Exactly 50 years and a day after Israel was taken completely off-guard by a coordinated military attack by its neighbours Egypt and Syria, the nation was again caught by surprise!

Both wars began on Jewish holy days. In 1973, it was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews. This time it was Simchat Torah, held on the last day of Sukkot (Festival of Booths), when Jews celebrated the reading of the Torah.

Do we therefore pray for Hamas to face judgment for such a heinous act, for the terror they have lashed out on Israel, which is nothing less than sheer evil?

Or are we more sympathetic towards the Palestinians who occupy both Gaza and the West Bank?

This attack comes after months of worsening tensions over violence at al-Aqsa Mosque — a sacred Muslim site in the heart of Jerusalem located on the same spot as the Temple Mount revered by Jews.

Palestinians barricaded themselves in the mosque after the evening Ramadan prayer earlier in April, amid reports that Jewish extremists wanted to try to sacrifice a goat at the site for Passover, as Jews did in Biblical times before the Romans destroyed their temple there.

Israeli police and religious authorities had said they would not allow such an act to take place.

Israeli police therefore raided the mosque to break up the barricade in order to restore public order. In the process, 50 people were hurt.

Palestinians also resent Israel for imposing a punishing blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007. The blockade restricted imports and the movement of civilians in a strategy of collective punishment. The blockade and recurring Israeli strikes have contributed to Gaza’s poor infrastructure and living conditions. 

In retaliation for the attack on 7 October, Israel imposed a total blockade on the Gaza strip!

We read in the papers that Israel is very much united in wanting to eradicate Hamas. The ruling government managed to join hands with their chief political rival to form an emergency unity government just to focus on fighting the war against Hamas and other possible allies of Hamas who want to interfere.

Many see Hamas as another terrorist group, like the ISIS, operating in Gaza. Though they may be Palestinians, they do not represent the rest of the population who are just trying to survive the very harsh environment they are in – a very densely populated area where there is a high unemployment rate. Many are living below the poverty level.

If Israel were to embark on a ground attack, many Palestinian civilians will perish, and there are Christians among the Palestinians too.

Do we therefore pray that Israel will relent, and even if they have to attack Hamas, they will respect international humanitarian law so that non-combatant casualties will be minimised?

Should we not also pray that aid in terms of food, water, fuel and medicines will be made available to those in Gaza who are in dire need?

Have you wondered if today’s Israel is the same as the Israel in the Bible?

There is this on-going debate whether Israel has taken over Palestinian land. Many Jews will say that the Palestinians do not have land of their own in the first place. If Israel were to trace back their roots, and based on archaeological findings, the whole area including Gaza and the West Bank would have belonged to Israel because it was land given to them by God who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the OT, we see God disciplining Israel when she went astray by worshipping idols. He allowed foreign powers to conquer her and there was much bloodshed. I won’t be surprised by the extent of the atrocities inflicted by Israel’s enemies then as compared to now since “there is nothing new under the sun.”

However, God through his prophets would promise deliverance when Israel humbled herself and turned back to him. If she put her trust solely on God, there would be hope for restoration.

1Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
    The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
    and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
    as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
    the splendour of our God.
With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.”  (Isaiah 35:1-4)

A poem like Isaiah 35 can refer to the return of the exile; it can also refer to the second coming of Christ who will usher in the new heaven and the new earth. Can there be other layers of fulfilment in between where God will once again come and save Israel?

There are those who distinguish between an Israelite (OT) and an Israeli (present day citizen of Israel). Not all the citizens of Israel are Jews. In fact, Islam is the second largest religion in Israel, constituting 18.1% of the country’s population. The ethnic Arab citizens of Israel make up the majority of its Muslim population.

Some Christians are of the view that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people. The Jews too must put their faith in Jesus before they can be saved.

Perhaps the old covenant is therefore not relevant anymore since the temple is non-existent, as are the priests and Levites. The author of Hebrew says in 8:13, “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.”

Yet according to Romans 11, the broken-off branches (Jews) will be grafted in one day to the people of God, the bride of Christ, his Church. Does God save all elect Jews as they respond in faith to his grace throughout history? Or will he save a significant number of Jews at the end of history?

Based on the Book of Revelation, world events like wars (and earthquakes) should not surprise us as we anticipate the return of the King. How the salvation of Israel fits into the whole picture is a mystery. Different interpretations arise depending whether you are an amillennialist or a postmillennialist.

Are you confused already? So how should we pray?

We pray for peace to triumph and lives to be spared even though we recognise that sufferings will continue to take place.

We pray for the justice and the mercy of God to prevail. We pray that God in his sovereignty will work out his good purposes in this very difficult situation.

We pray that the Gospel will continue to advance. It is under such extenuating circumstances that the hearts of the people (including the Jews and Palestinians) will become even more receptive to the good news of salvation.

We pray especially for the Jews that their eyes would be opened, that they would see Jesus as their Messiah and join the church of Christ so that they too may they be grafted into salvation.

We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is determined in heaven.