“They Shall Seek Peace”

“Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth ever forever.” —Isaiah 9:7

THE long-turbulent Mideast is again the top news of the day. The recent overthrow of the autocratic monarchy headed by the Shah of Iran and the establishment in its place of a de facto religious revolutionary government has caused great concern in the capitals of the Western nations as they weigh its longer term implications. The Shah was considered to be strongly pro-Western in his attitude and actions, while it is as yet unclear just what position Iran’s new government will take toward the Western powers, who depend so heavily on oil from that and other Arab nations.

The loss by the West of a strong ally in that disturbed part of the world no doubt greatly increased the desires of the Western community of nations for Israel and Egypt to come quickly to some kind of accommodation for peace, lest communist influence in the area should make further headway, with possible serious consequences for the West. Thus there was general rejoicing at Mr. Carter’s recent success in cutting through great obstacles, antipathies, and fears, and persuading Egypt and Israel to agree to sit down together and sign a peace treaty, nebulous and troublesome though many of the terms and conditions presently appear to be.

The relationship between Jews and Arabs has been bitter and contentious from the beginning. Both peoples are descendants of their revered patriarch Abraham, and both proudly affirm that lineage—the Jews through Isaac, and the Arabs through Ishmael.

The Jews claim the land of Palestine as their own, as promised some 4,000 years ago to Abraham by Jehovah God. By faith, and in obedience to God’s instructions, Abraham had led forth his wife Sarah and the other members of their little band from Haran and entered the land of Canaan, then occupied by the Canaanites. “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.”—Gen. 12:7

Sometime later this wonderful promise was repeated to Abraham. “Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan. … And the Lord said unto Abram, … Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.”—Gen. 13:12,14,15

It is interesting to note that this promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham and to his seed as an everlasting possession was made before Abraham had any seed whatever. Then Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, from whom the Arabs claim descent, was born of Hagar, Sarah’s maid. Subsequently, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and when Ishmael was still his only seed, the promise was reconfirmed by God. He said: “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”—Gen. 17:7,8

Scripturally, this would seem to give the Arabs more right to the land of Palestine than that claimed by the Jews, whose progenitor had not yet even been born. But this circumstance is clarified by the Lord following the subsequent birth of a son, Isaac, to Abraham’s wife Sarah. The baby Isaac was hardly weaned when contention arose between the infant Isaac and his half-brother Ishmael, now about fourteen years old. And the child grew, and was weaned. … And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian [Ishmael], which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir [to the promises] with my son, even with Isaac.”—Gen. 21:8-10

Seeing that Abraham was deeply troubled by Sarah’s request, Jehovah God spoke to Abraham: “And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Gen. 21:12) Thus it appears plain that God’s promises for Abraham’s seed to inherit the land were to flow through Isaac, the progenitor of the Jews, and not through Ishmael, from whom the Arabs claim to be descended.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their families successively dwelt in the land, until a famine forced Jacob and his family to join Joseph in the land of Egypt. When life under a new pharaoh became intolerable, they were led by God’s arrangements from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. After wandering forty years in the wilderness they returned to the land that had been given to Abraham and dwelt there.

Through the prophets, God promised Israel (Jacob’s descendants) that he would be their God and would bless them in the land if they were faithful and obedient. If not, he would drive them from the land and scatter them throughout the nations. (Lev. 26:1-34; Deut. 4:23-28; Jer. 16:13; Ezek. 20:23,24) Time and again they were disobedient, and in A.D. 70 Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman power, and the Jews were subsequently scattered to the ends of the earth.

Since that time the land has been occupied principally by people of Arabic descent, who since the 7th century have been strongly united by ties to Islam. This religion was founded by the Prophet Mohammed, who was born about A.D. 570 and who believed he was chosen of God to be the Arab prophet of true religion. Their sacred book, the Koran, accepted by followers of Islam as a revelation from God, is written in Arabic.

Islam has proved to be popular, and although it is the most recently founded of all the great religions, it presently numbers some 700 million followers and has proved to be a powerful unifying force among all Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael. Significantly, although Mohammed was born in Mecca, the city of Jerusalem in Palestine is especially holy to Mohammedans, for they believe it was from Jerusalem that the prophet ascended to heaven.

Since May, 1948, by action of the United Nations, Israel has been an independent state occupying portions of the ancient land of Palestine, with a population composed mainly of some 3,000,000 Jews and about 750,000 Palestinian Arabs. It is surrounded virtually on all sides by Moslem Arabs, most of whom are fanatically hostile to the Jews. On the same day that Israel proclaimed her independence she was attacked by her neighbors—Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia—the rallying cry being “to throw the Jew into the sea.” Since that time these bitter antagonists have fought three more wars, the last one (1973) resulting in a worldwide fuel crisis when the Arab producing countries cut off oil shipments for six months to the United States, Japan, and other nations because they had aided Israel in the war.

Israel still holds substantial areas of the territory it captured in those wars, mainly the Sinai from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and part of the formerly divided city of Jerusalem. The continued retention and exploitation of these lands by Israel is bitterly resented and openly opposed by her Arab enemies, who, indeed, have not to this day accepted as proper even the original division of the land of Palestine arranged in 1948 by the United Nations and who maintain that Israel was unjustly established on land that had been owned and occupied by Arabs for virtually eighteen centuries. The Arabs are determined to regain the land lost to Israel in the wars, and many still want Israel out of the area altogether, by one means or another. The entire world is aware, however, that another war between Israel and the Arabs could disastrously draw in the two superpowers on opposing sides.

The interest of the United States in this witch’s brew of conflicting interests is the vital need for a continued flow of Mideast oil, both for itself and for the Western world. It is convinced that Russia would like to see that source of supply nullified and so render the West helpless to thwart Russian aims at world domination. The United States thus feels that a militarily and economically strong Israel is needed in the area to counter Russian moves to interrupt the essential supply of oil. But moves by the United States to support and strengthen Israel arouse deep resentment against the United States by the Arab nations—nations that control the flow of oil so essential to the free world. And these Arab nations have already shown they are capable (as in 1973) of denying oil to nations who gain their disfavor by supporting their arch enemy, the nation of Israel.

So much for history, which sketchily brings us down to the recent past and the present. The Western industrial nations are still heavily (indeed, crucially) dependent on Arabian oil for their economic and political well-being. Iran, heretofore an important supplier of oil to the West, is even now struggling to emerge from a revolution and has already put the West on notice that they can expect an important reduction in oil shipments. The Soviet Union is clearly (and watchfully) aware of the West’s heavy dependence on Mideast oil. Thus, it is believed that a militarily strong and friendly Israel is of vital importance to the Western world, in order to forestall any Soviet effort at cutting off the already lessened supply of oil.

Indeed, the implications of a prolonged curtailment of the flow of oil from the Mideast are awesome, going far beyond mere domestic deprivations and inconveniences. It could threaten the industrial, economic, and political existence of many nations, and possibly the peace of the entire world. Moreover, bold attempts to correct the situation could quite possibly develop into a confrontation between the two great superpowers, the results of which are terrible to contemplate.

Therefore, in view of the need to keep oil flowing to the West, while recognizing the danger to the peace of the world should another Israeli-Arab conflict erupt, the President of the United States, Mr. Carter, courageously assumed a prominent but risky role in the negotiations to bring about a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that had been initiated by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in the fall of 1977. These negotiations had already broken down on several previous occasions, involving many sticking points.

But the chief stumblingblocks to agreement have been the same ones that have existed from the beginning—what to do about the Israeli-occupied areas of the Palestinian West Bank and the Gaza Strip—shall this land be turned back to the Palestinian Arabs to form an independent Palestinian State? or shall Israel retain possession of this land as its own? or shall Israel retain the land but grant the inhabitants a measure of autonomy, or complete self-rule? And what about Jerusalem, that shrine that has for so long been sacred, not only to Jews, but also to every Arab follower of the Prophet Mohammed—shall it remain the undivided possession of Israel as it has been since its capture? or will the Arabs insist on regaining possession of that part which they formerly held, and which is so holy to them? or all of it?

Indicative of the extreme fragility of the structure of peace that Mr. Carter has almost single-handedly erected is a statement made by Prime Minister Begin only one day before the treaty was signed, as reported by the New York Times: “Prime Minister Begin … vowed that Israel would never withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, would never permit a Palestinian state, and that Jerusalem, ‘the eternal capital of Israel’ would ‘never be divided again.’” This must have been strong medicine for Mr. Sadat to swallow at that late date, for in his speech after the actual signing of the treaty he stated in definite terms that the Palestinian problem must be settled amicably and justly.

Surely, multitudes throughout the world breathed a collective sigh of relief at Mr. Carter’s success in bringing the two adversaries to agreement, especially in view of the awesome alternatives. Every peace-loving individual in the world can but be thankful for such praiseworthy efforts. No one anywhere would wish to deny to these three earnest seekers for peace a single crumb of joy which they can glean from the results of their difficult deliberations. But in view of the deep-rooted problems and differences that still exist between Jews and Arabs, one must seriously wonder if this much-disputed document will bring peace to the Mideast area for any considerable length of time.

In a discussion of the peace treaty which has since been signed by Israel and Egypt, Newsweek magazine (March 26, 1979) asked a pointed question: “Will It Work Out?” Truly, this is a fair and pertinent question, both from a consideration of the practical aspects of this thorny problem as already noted, and also from a scriptural standpoint.

What, then, does the future hold? Although all humankind longs hungrily for a world of peace and safety, it is obvious that the basic causes of wars between nations—selfishness and iniquity—still direct the affairs of nations and men. Until these are eliminated from men’s hearts there can be no real or lasting peace, in spite of imperfect man’s best efforts to find peace. The Lord Jehovah informs us through his Word that these iniquitous conditions will culminate in a great time of trouble in the end of the Gospel Age, just prior to the establishment in the earth of Christ’s kingdom of love and righteousness.

The Prophet Ezekiel describes this trouble in vivid language. He writes: “The time is come, the day of trouble is near, and not the sounding again of the mountains. … The time is come, the day draweth near: let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn: for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. … All hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water. … They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed; their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels; because their iniquity is their stumblingblock (margin).” Then, in speaking of the efforts of man to bring peace in this terrible time, the prophet says, “Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none.”—Ezek. 7:7,12,17,19,25

The Lord further indicates that while this trouble will be universal, it will reach its culmination in the land of Palestine in an attack on regathered Israel by a powerful army “out of the north parts.”—Ezek. 38:1-23

This is the same time of trouble of which Jesus speaks in the 24th chapter of Matthew and Luke 21, where he indicates that it shortly precedes the establishment of Christ’s kingdom of peace and righteousness. After detailing certain aspects of the trouble, our Lord says: “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. … When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”—Matt. 24:21; Luke 21:28,31

The Apostle Peter also comforts us with the promise that following the destruction of this present evil social order the longed-for kingdom of truth will be set up. (II Pet. 3:10,13) This glorious new world order will be under the control and direction of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”—Isa. 9:6,7

In that new kingdom wherein dwelleth righteousness there will be no more wars, for all men will be at peace with one another. (Isa. 2:2-4) Selfishness will be removed from every heart, and every man will love his neighbor as himself. (Jer. 31:33,34; Matt. 5:43,44) The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Hab. 2:14) Even the animals will dwell together at peace! (Isa. 11:6-9) In that day all the fleshly descendants of Abraham, both Jews and Arabs, will dwell together in harmony, and together raise their voices to their Heavenly Father in everlasting praise and blessing and thanksgiving for his unspeakable love and mercy and wisdom and power.

It was from a glorious promise by Jehovah God as recorded in the Old Testament concerning the coming of this wonderful kingdom of peace that, remarkably, all three signatories to the recently arranged treaty made pointed reference, with the implied hope that their recent efforts would bring about that promised time of peace. But the Scriptures show that this longed-for day will come only with divine intervention and not through imperfect treaties made by imperfect men, however sincere. That prophecy reads, in part, as follows:

“In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.

“And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

“And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

“But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.”—Mic. 4:1-4

Dawn Bible Students Association
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