When you pass over the Jordan into the land of
Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from
before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their
metal images and demolish all their high places. (Bemidbar/Numbers
the past few weeks I, like many others, have been caught up with the
tragic situation between Israel and Gaza. The amount of articles and
videos is overwhelming. As you may know, if the issue includes Israel,
we end up with an inordinate amount of emotionally charged attention and
Every now and then I happen upon an article or report that, in my
opinion, is set apart from the others by how the author avoids narrow
definitions and simplistic conclusions. Why
the Arab World Is Lost in an Emotional Nakba, and How We Keep It There
by Richard Landes looks at the conflict from a worldview perspective.
Whether or not Landes's evaluation is correct, he is right that the
problem at hand is fundamentally ideological. How people see the world
controls how they live life. Failure to accept that will undermine any
attempt to resolve conflict, whether it be interpersonal or
But this is not the way many people in the West look at life, instead
preferring simplistic superficial analysis and quick thoughtless
solutions. A great example of this as it relates to the current crisis
is a three-and-half-minute animation entitled This
Land Is Mine by Nina Paley. This is a satirical retelling of the
history of the region by showing each people group being killing off by
the next people group as their cartoon representatives seamlessly lip
synch the song "This Land Is Mine" from the 1960 film,
The appeal of Paley's animation, apart from its humor, is its
simplicity. But it's a simplicity not rooted in a deep understanding of
the issues. Instead it's stripped of any historical context whatsoever.
The bigger picture that might inform and affect the behaviors of the
people involved is either neglected or deemed irrelevant. There is no
consideration whatsoever for the various factions' history, values, and
aspirations. All the viewer is offered is a story of meaningless killing
with the implied resolution being if only the fighting stopped,
everything would be okay. A cry of "why can't we all get
along!" may sound good, but is devoid of any sense of justice.
What does this have to do with this week's parasha (Torah portion)?
Everything. First, so much of the Bible is taken up with issues
pertaining to the region in question. The backdrop of a great deal of
what is going on in Scripture can be termed "Mid-East crisis."
By the Bible's twelfth chapter who has claim to the Land of Israel is
already a key theme. While so many people are quick to derive personal
spiritual lessons from the stories of Scripture, most of the context of
both Old and New Testaments is the geo-political issues of the region.
Yet many readers of Scripture treat this context in the same way as
Paley's animation. The bigger story becomes irrelevant in our attempt to
distill the meaning we wish to derive.
The verses I quoted from this week's parsha demonstrate what the
conflict in the region is really all about. When God called the people
of Israel to take the Land, they were not only to drive out its
inhabitants, but also to destroy the objects of their religions. They
were not simply a migrant people looking for territory and annihilating
anybody who stood in their way. The goal was to establish a godly
community of truth and righteousness. At the same time displacing the
previous inhabitants was not indiscriminate, but was rather God-ordained
judgment on peoples whose evil behavior had become irreversible (see
I am not proposing that the modern State of Israel should follow the
same directions today that God gave through Moses over three thousand
years ago. I don't believe that the Bible supports that at all. Still,
through this we are reminded that all conflict is fundamentally
ideological. This is why Landes's article is so helpful. He understands
that the two sides are conflicting on how they see the world. Paley's
animation provides another way of looking at the world, but skirts the
real issues and insults the peoples involved by belittling their
The Bible is God's revelation of the way the world really is and
calls us to make that truth known in the name of the Messiah. The
players in the current conflict are caught up in this ideological battle
whether they know it or not. The only way we will ever find lasting
resolutions to this and every other conflict is by gaining a better
understanding of God's perspective through his written Word.
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