(Washington, D.C.) — Terribly sad news out of Egypt this morning: terrorists “attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt, killing at least 26 people and wounding 25 others,” reports the BBC.
I’ll post updates on Twitter as more news becomes available. In the meantime, please pray for the victims and their families. Please pray for our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt to be strong and brave and bold witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ despite such these evil attacks by the Islamic State and other jihadi groups. Please pray, too, for President el-Sisi and the leaders of Egypt, including the police and security forces, that the Lord will grant favor to their efforts to establish lasting security and calm throughout the entire country for Christians and for all Egyptians.
As it happens, yesterday morning I met with Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda at the Embassy here in Washington. We discussed a wide range of issues, including President el-Sisi’s recent visit to Washington, the important efforts Cairo is making to protect Christians, and the government’s efforts to reach out to Christian leaders — Coptic, Catholic and Protestant — to build better relations. I greatly appreciated my time with the Ambassador, and I believe that the government there is making progress, though clearly there is much more that needs to be done.
Earlier this month, as readers of this blog know, I visited Egyptian Christian leaders in Cairo to stand in solidarity with them, get an update on their situation, and pray together. Indeed, I am praying the Lord will open the door for me to return to Egypt later this year to deepen these relationships. Eleven years ago, Lynn and our four sons and I lived in Cairo for several months while I was working on a book. We have a great love for Egypt, and we grieve for the persecution the Christians have been going through and all the political and economic troubles the nation has endured in recent years.
The Bible is clear: God loves the people of Egypt. Much Biblical history happened in Egypt. Many major Biblical leaders lived in Egypt at one point in their lives — Joseph, the patriarchs, the entire nation of Israel, Moses, and the prophet Jeremiah, to name a few. Even the Lord Jesus lived there for a time with his parents when He was young. John Mark took the Gospel to Egypt in the First Century, and Egypt became a great center of discipleship early on. The prophet Isaiah indicates a very difficult but also very blessed future for Egypt (see Isaiah 19), so it’s important that we pray faithfully for the Christians of Egypt, and all Egyptians in these challenging and tumultuous times and find ways to stand with them and help them.
Gunmen have attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt, killing at least 26 people and wounding 25 others, state media report.
The bus was heading towards the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, 220km (140 miles) south of Cairo, when it came under fire.
No group immediately said it was behind the attack.
But Islamic State (IS) militants have targeted Copts several times in recent months, and vowed to do so again.
Two suicide bombings at Palm Sunday services at churches in the northern cities of Alexandria and Tanta on 9 April left 46 people dead.
Another suicide bombing at a church in the capital in December killed 29 people, while a Christian community was forced to flee the town of el-Arish in the northern Sinai peninsula after a series of gun attacks in February.
(Washington, D.C.) — Let’s be honest. The cynics and haters won’t be able to say one good thing about it. But the only fair analysis is that the President’s two-day visit to Israel was the most successful visit by an American leader to the Jewish State in decades.
It was meticulously planned, remarkably well executed, safe from start to finish, and it accomplished just what it had to. What’s more, the visit didn’t get derailed by unforced errors or unnecessary controversies.
Above all, President Trump’s visit projected the image of a reengaged American superpower in the region, profoundly reset and immensely strengthened the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, so badly strained after the eight years of the Obama administration. This is a very good and highly welcomed development.
The President had four clear objectives for the visit. He came:
To show his love for the State of Israel and reaffirm the U.S.-Israeli alliance
To stand in solidarity with the Israeli people against radical Islamist terrorism — especially the threat of Iran and ISIS — and in solidarity with the Jewish people who suffered catastrophically in the Holocaust
To visit Jewish and Christian holy and historic sites and show respect for both faiths
To meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss next steps towards peace
He accomplished all this in spades. Indeed, to his credit, Mr. Trump is now:
The first U.S. President ever to visit Israel on his first official trip abroad.
The first U.S. President to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site in modern Judaism, and spend time in prayer and reflection there.
The first U.S. President to fly directly from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Tel Aviv, Israel (prompting Prime Minister Netanyahu to say he hopes that a regional peace can be established that would allow him to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.)
These firsts — plus his clearly warm and personal interactions with Israeli leaders and his equally warm and encouraging official words reaffirming the U.S.-Israeli alliance in all of his prepared remarks — were deeply appreciated by the Israeli people.
As the Times of Israelnoted, this was a “reference to the salaries paid by the [Palestinian Authority] to jailed Palestinian terrorists and to the families of Palestinian prisoners killed while committing terror attacks.”
The President should be commended for raising this immensely important issue. As I’ve written, “It is impossible to move forward with any kind of peace process if the Palestinian government is paying more than $300 million a year to reward terrorists and their families. The Israeli government has called for an immediate repeal of this PA law and practice. The U.S. and other Arab governments should do so, as well, in order to truly move the prospects for real and lasting peace forward.”
Hopefully we will soon learn that the President and his aides pressed this point even more in private discussions with Mr. Abbas.
On a separate note, I found it encouraging to see an American leader praying and meditating at the Western Wall. It was also encouraging to see him bring his family — including his Jewish daughter and son-in-law — to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, to show their respects to the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis.
What’s more, consider what the President did not do on this trip. He:
Did not unveil an American-imposed peace plan and pressure Israel to accept it
Did not even use the words “two state solution” during his entire visit
Did not criticize Israeli settlements, or mention them publicly at all
Did not criticize Israeli policies of any kind
Did not surprise the Israelis with major announcements of any kind, much less any policies that weren’t carefully discussed in advance
Did not go off message, either in his public remarks or on Twitter
Given the train wreck of the last eight years, and the tumultuous nature of the President’s first 100 days, these are not small matters. Coming on the heels of a very successful — and impressive — visit to Saudi Arabia, they suggest Mr. Trump’s seriousness about rebuilding U.S. alliances in the epicenter and creating a united front against the forces of Iran and ISIS.
True, the President did not announce that he was moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he has repeatedly promised to do so, and which he should do. That said, most Israelis won’t be bothered by this. The reset of the alliance is what matters most, and this was advanced beautifully.
What does the future hold? That’s a great question. Even while saying countering Iran and eradicating the Islamic State are his top regional priorities, the President seems determined to get a comprehensive peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. Most experts see very little chance of a breakthrough any time soon. Indeed, there’s a very real risk that such efforts could distract from efforts to deal with Iran and ISIS. I’ll analyze this in the weeks ahead.
For now, it’s enough to be grateful for a successful presidential visit to the epicenter. Finally we have an administration that wants to project American leadership in the region. Finally we have an administration that wants to reset and strengthen the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Finally we have an administration willing to call out radical Islamist terrorism. Indeed, finally we have an administration willing and able to recognize — and determined to capitalize on — the historic strategic alignment underway in the region between Israel and the Sunni Arabs.
Let’s be grateful that some of our prayers have been answered. And as we continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem, and for stability and security for everyone in the region, let’s keep praying for U.S., Israeli and Arab leaders to have the wisdom to make continued progress, despite so many obstacles, challenges and enemies.
(Washington, D.C.) — Wow. Readers of this blog know I have never been shy about expressing my concerns about Mr. Trump when necessary. But the President deserves a great deal of credit for going to meet with our Sunni Arab allies in the Mideast and for the speech he delivered yesterday in Saudi Arabia to the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority countries.
Finally we have an American President who wants to project American leadership — that of the world’s only superpower — in the Middle East.
The address was well-crafted and respectful, even nuanced, at times. But it was also clear, honest, and bold. Indeed, it was unlike any speech any American President has ever delivered face to face to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan and other Muslim countries. Below, you’ll find key excerpts, a link to the full transcript and a link to the video of the full 34 minute speech. I would encourage you to both watch and read the address in full.
A few first impressions:
The President rightly thanked America’s Sunni Muslim allies for their friendship and hospitality, he honored their historic achievements, rich culture and heritage, and he reached out a hand of friendship and support against common enemies.
The President made it clear that the U.S. seeks “partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals” — he thanked specific countries by name for working with the U.S. to fight terrorism.
It was good to see the President be so respectful of the vast majority of Muslims who are not jihadists and want to fight terrorism — this was particularly notable given that as a candidate he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. (though he has since rightly modified that position).
At the same time, the President was commendably clear and refreshingly honest that the region must confront “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.” I was stunned but pleased to see the President dramatically warn that the souls of the radicals who kill innocents will be “condemned.” It was a line that echoed the brilliant and courageous speech given by Egyptian President el-Sisi at Al-Azhar University several years ago. This is no small matter. No other American President has ever made such direct statements on “Islamist extremism” in the heart of the Muslim world.
The President rightly called out Iran and ISIS as the most dangerous and destabilizing forces in the region — he called for “eradicating ISIS,” then put special emphasis on working closely with the Sunnis to counter the Iranian threat. This was a sharp and very welcome contrast to President Obama’s approach of appeasing Iran.
The President rightly noted the history of coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews in the region’s past, and urged the Muslim world to make peace with Israel — then explained he was headed to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to advance between the Israelis and Palestinians. He offered no specifics. Perhaps he can create a breakthrough in the peace process — he certainly believes he can — though I concede I’m somewhat skeptical for reasons I’ll write about soon.
Overall, the speech will likely be very well received in the region — in addition with the President’s individual meetings with Arab leaders at the White House, the visit and speech will help re-set America’s alliances in the Arab Muslim world, which were terribly strained and dishonored during the Obama years. Indeed, the President’s visit is highlighting an increasingly unified U.S.-Sunni-Israeli alliance against Iran’s Shia apocalypticism and regional aggression. These are important and positive developments. Let’s pray the administration can carefully and wisely build on what was accomplished.
UPDATE: I commend to your attention this analysis by Amos Yadlin, a former senior intelligence chief in Israel. “The royal welcome the President received in Saudi Arabia and his meetings with a long list of Arab and Muslim leaders provide him with numerous accomplishments, [including] the image of the authoritative leader of a superpower [and] the demonstration of a united front against Iran and the Islamic State….”
I stand before you as a representative of the American People, to deliver a message of friendship and hope. That is why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic Faith. In my inaugural address to the American People, I pledged to strengthen America’s oldest friendships, and to build new partnerships in pursuit of peace. I also promised that America will not seek to impose our way of life on others, but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust….
To the leaders and citizens of every country assembled here today, I want you to know that the United States is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce….
There can be no coexistence with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it…..
If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing—then not only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by history, but we will be judged by God.
This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between Good and Evil….
America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH….
[T]here is…much work to do. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians. Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED….
We must seek partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals….
From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room….
Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region….
Today, billions of faces are now looking at us, waiting for us to act on the great question of our time. Will we be indifferent in the presence of evil? Will we protect our citizens from its violent ideology? Will we let its venom spread through our societies? Will we let it destroy the most holy sites on earth?
If we do not confront this deadly terror, we know what the future will bring—more suffering and despair. But if we act—if we leave this magnificent room unified and determined to do what it takes to destroy the terror that threatens the world—then there is no limit to the great future our citizens will have.
(Washington, D.C.) — No one would have predicted that the candidate who called for a “Muslim ban” would, upon becoming President of the United States, make Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first international trip. Or that he would turn the trip into an opportunity to meet with dozens of Arab and Muslim leaders from all over the world.
That said, the President is absolutely right to work hard on building American relationships and alliances throughout the Muslim world. He’s also right to deliver a major address on the threat posed by radical Islamism and the need for all Muslims to strongly oppose and counter the radicals.
To his credit, he will then travel to Israel — and specifically to Jerusalem — to strengthen U.S.-Israeli ties, and explore ways of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Then he heads to Rome to meet with the Pope, and onward to meet with NATO leaders.
No other President has specifically designed a foreign trip — especially his first — to reach out to Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. In the days ahead, I hope to provide analysis of his trip, his meetings and his speeches. For now, let’s be praying for the President’s safety and for the trip to have a positive impact.
Here’s what we know so far.
Friday: President departed Washington
Saturday: Arrive in Saudi Arabia, meet with the King, dinner with royal family
Sunday: President to meet with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; meet with Islamic leaders from all over the world, including the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Indonesia; and deliver major address on threats to the region from radical Islamists
Monday: President arrives in Israel, meets with President Reuven Rivlin, meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu, visits the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, has dinner with the Netanyahus
Tuesday: President meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, lays a wreath at Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, and delivers a major address at the Israel Museum
Wednesday: President meets with Pope Francis in Rome, then flies to Brussels
Thursday: President participates in NATO Summit.
Friday: President is in Sicily, Italy, participating in G7 Summit
This month, Israelis are celebrating — and Palestinians are mourning — the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, which set into motion the reunification of Jerusalem, as well as Judea and Samaria (i.e., the “West Bank” of the Jordan River), under Jewish control for the first time in more than 2,000 years.
The Christian Broadcasting Network asked me to discuss these historic and controversial events with two specific questions in mind:
How close did the Soviet Union come to actively intervening militarily in the Six Day War on the side of Egypt, Jordan and Syria and against the State of Israel?
How significant was the war and its aftermath in terms of Biblical prophecy?
JERUSALEM, Israel – The 1967 Six-Day War pitted a relatively young Israel against five established Arab armies. One of the world’s superpowers also came dangerously close to entering the war, which led to fears of a potential Armageddon.
June 5, 1967. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a cable to President Lyndon Johnson informing him the war had begun.
“Israel’s existence and integrity have been endangered,” he wrote, adding a request: “Prevent the Soviet Union from exploiting and enlarging the conflict … [at Israel’s] greatest hour of danger.”
“What most people don’t realize is that the actor that was perhaps the most dangerous, but operating sort of behind the scenes, was the Soviet Union,” Middle East expert Joel Rosenberg told CBN News.
While Israel faced the combined might of Arab countries, it was the Soviet Union casting a giant shadow over the war.
“Now June 5, 1967, the morning Eshkol orders Israeli bombers into action and they’re successful, Soviet Premier Kosygin dials the hotline right into the White House and demands to talk to President Johnson,” Rosenberg continued. “Now the hotline was rarely used except in the most extreme crisis. And the message that Kosygin sent heavily implied that if the United States didn’t force Israel back down, that the Soviets were going to take direct military action. And this took the conflict to an entirely different level.”
President Johnson had told Eshkol the U.S. might cut off political and military assistance to Israel in case of a preemptive strike.
“So the Israeli leadership was already taking a huge risk that Johnson would keep his word. Once the Soviets got involved, a dynamic changed. Suddenly the Johnson White House saw the conflict not simply in terms of Israeli Egyptian-Syrian terms but in U.S.-Soviet terms,” Rosenberg explained.
That led Johnson to send the Sixth Fleet steaming toward Israel as a show of support.
Rosenberg believes the fact that the Soviets never got involved was part of the Six-Day War miracle.
“I think it’s one of the untold stories – or rarely told stories – of God’s protection of Israel is the fact that the Soviets seemed to come so close that they were threatening at the to the Americans, to the Israelis directly,” he said. “They were promising their Arab allies that they would do more, and they were actually moving military forces closer and closer to Israel.”
Rosenberg also sees the war as a prophetic milestone.
“The Bible does say that Jerusalem will come back under Jewish control and it happened in June 1967. The Bible does say that Judea and Samaria – what the world calls the West Bank – will be in Jewish hands,” he said. “It’s part of the biblical heartland and God says He will restore the land and restore people to the land. And I think you also see God giving this land back to the Jewish people – not because we deserve it but because God had promised it.” The Six-Day War became a turning point for Jewish immigration to the land of Israel.
“Throughout the Old Testament, God says that He is going to draw the Jewish people back to the land. But what is interesting is at that moment when Mordecai Gur, the Israeli general, said on the radio, ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands.’ When that was broadcast, not just through Israel but worldwide, it electrified Jewish communities all over the planet.”
“The level of aliyah – Jews leaving their exile countries and coming back to the land of their forefathers – skyrocketed in the years ahead,” Rosenberg said.
“In fact famously we know that Natan Sharansky, the hero of the Soviet Refusniks – you know Jews were refused being allowed to leave for such a long time – Natan Sharansky, who is now the head of the Jewish Agency in charge of helping Jews come back to Israel, said that when – he didn’t even identify himself as a Jew in 1967 – but when he heard that radio broadcast that Mordecai Gur had said, ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands,’ something lit up in him. It’s like a frequency had turned on inside of him. ‘I’m Jewish. This is important. I need to think about helping my Jewish brothers and sisters get back to the land of our forefathers.'”
Although Israel survived one of its darkest moments, Rosenberg says it still faces threats from the north, backed by a familiar interloper.
“I see that the Russians are very actively moving into this region,” he continued. “They have made Iran their primary ally. They are selling the most advanced weaponry, including the most advanced anti-aircraft missiles. They’re selling nuclear technology to Iran, the worst terror state in the region. And now they are working hand in glove with Iran to prop up [President] Bashar al-Assad, who has slaughtered some 500,000 people in Syria. So you now have Russian forces, Iranian forces helping Syrian forces just a few miles north of Israel.”
Fifty years since the battle for Jerusalem took place, Rosenberg says Israel and its capital remain on the front lines.
“Jerusalem was reunited 50 years ago, but the battle for Jerusalem remains. It’s a political battle. It’s an economic battle, with people trying to isolate Israel politically around the world,” he said. “People are trying to boycott, divest and sanction Israel in part because Israel has Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is the flash point. Jerusalem is the epicenter. You know for 4,000 years people have wanted this city and they have fought hard to get it. And so, the fact that Israel controls it today is biblical, it’s prophetic, but it’s also complicated and we need to be praying for the peace of Jerusalem and praying for Israel to be secure,” he concluded.
Cairo, Egypt) — Marhaba — hello in Arabic — from the capital of Egypt.
It has been such a joy to be here and meet with Egyptian Christian leaders over the past several days. By God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to step behind the headlines and hear what the Lord is doing in Egypt, discuss the recent terrorist attacks and other challenges facing Christians here, and pray with and for our brothers and sisters.
Among the leaders I met with were Rev. Andrea Zaki Stephanous, the President of the Protestant Churches of Egypt; and Rev. Dr. Atef Gendy, President of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. These and the other leaders I met with were so helpful and encouraging and I am deeply grateful for my time with them.
It’s been eleven years since I was last here. My wife, Lynn, and I and our four sons lived in Cairo — in the district of Heliopolis, actually — for almost three months (from November 2005 through January 2006) while I was working on a book project. So much has happened since then. The Arab Spring. The fall of the Mubarak regime. The rise of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The fall of Morsi and the Brotherhood. The election of President el-Sisi. The tensions between President Obama and the el-Sisi administration. A surge of terrorism in the Sinai. And now a new season of strengthened U.S.-Egyptian relations under the Trump-Pence administration, with President el-Sisi having been invited to visit the White House last month for the first time since he took office several years ago.
It is very special, therefore, to be back and to stand in solidarity with the Christians of Egypt who have bravely and patiently stood for the Lord and His Word through many dangers, toils and traumas. I was glad to hear from so many leaders that Christians are feeling strengthened and encouraged by the Lord of late, despite attacks by the Islamic State and other jihadists. They are not retaliating against the terrorists. They are not calling for revenge. They are loving their neighbors, and their enemies, just as our Savior commands, and they are steadily earning the respect of the Muslim majority.
With a population of some 93 million people, and a long and rich history of civilization and global significance, modern Egypt is both the most populous nation in the Arab League and the intellectual capital of the Arab and Sunni Muslim world.
Egypt is also a nation with a fascinating Biblical history and future. Indeed, Egypt is one of the most important nations in the Scriptures. It is mentioned in the Bible more than any other country except for Israel. Many important Biblical leaders lived in and served God in Egypt during ancient times — from Moses and Aaron and Joshua to Joseph and Jeremiah — and so many important Biblical events occurred here. What’s more, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself lived here for a time as a little boy, having been brought by his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, at the direction of an angel who warned that the Romans were going to try to kill Jesus.
Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that God has a great love for the people of Egypt, just as He loves all people in the world. The Apostle Mark brought the Gospel here in the First Century A.D. and Egypt became an important center of Christian preaching, teaching, discipleship and worship. It remains so today.
Please join me in praying for the Christians of Egypt, indeed for all the people of Egypt, including President el-Sisi and all the nation’s government, business and religious leaders. This is a very special place, dear to God’s heart. May it be dear to ours, as well.
(Central Israel) — President Trump made it official yesterday: his first foreign trip will begin with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican where he will meet with the Pope. From there, he will participate in a NATO Summit in Brussels, followed by the G-7 Summit in Sicily, Italy. He will depart the U.S. on May 19.
As we continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem, let’s pray that this trip to the region would help advance the cause of regional stability, security and religious freedom and an open and respectful dialogue between Jews, Muslims and followers of Jesus.
Mr. Trump made the announcement of his “historic” trip on an already big day. The House passed a bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare after months of painstaking negotiations on Capitol Hill. It was also the National Day of Prayer. The President met with Evangelical leaders and signed an Executive Order advancing religious freedom.
The President’s decision to visit Israel on his first foreign trip keeps a campaign pledge. It also further underscores the warm and close bonds this White House is intentionally building with the Israeli people and government, a sharp contrast to the last eight years. President Obama skipped Israel on his first visit to the Mideast in June of 2009.
I’m very encouraged that the President is coming here to the epicenter. He will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, visit key religious and historic sites, and outline his vision for peace. He may also meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, though that has not been confirmed. He just met with Abbas in Washington on Wednesday.
The decision to visit Rome — and meet with the Pope — will underscore the President’s efforts to strengthen ties to Christian leaders. His emphasis, so far, has been with Evangelical leaders, many of whom helped him win the presidency.
The decision to visit Saudi Arabia first was dramatic for a leader who consistently attacks “radical Islamic terrorism” and called for a “Muslim ban” during his campaign.
But Mr. Trump has been intentionally — and rightly — reaching out to Arab Muslim leaders in recent months to forge a working alliance against Iran and ISIS. He recently met with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, along with Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi and Palestinian leaders.
“Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies, to combat extremism, terrorism and violence,” Mr. Trump said, “and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries.”
“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” he said.
“Tolerance is the cornerstone of peace,” Mr. Trump said at a ceremony at the White House, in which he said he would go to “Saudi Arabia, then Israel, and then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome.”
“The Saudi stop will consist of three meetings for Mr. Trump: one with the current monarch, King Salman; a gathering of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries; and a broader meeting with Arab and Muslim countries,” reports the New York Times.
UPDATE: “The President raised concerns about the payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed acts of terror, and to their families, and emphasized the need to resolve this issue,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the White House press corps during his May 3rd briefing.
ORIGINAL POST: (Jerusalem, Israel) — Today, President Trump will meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his top advisors at the White House.
Good. The Palestinian people continue to struggle with immense poverty, unemployment, corruption, and a culture of terrorism and radicalism. They need friends in government, the church and the private sector who will show them honor and compassion. They also need friends who will “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Today’s gathering is the latest in a series of meetings Mr. Trump is having with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. I applaud him for building these relationships and strengthening vital alliances.
In this context, it is critical that Mr. Trump uses today’s meeting to tell Mr. Abbas in no uncertain terms that the PA must stop paying Palestinian terrorists who injure and kill Americans and Israelis, and paying their families.
Indeed, Mr. Trump should tell Mr. Abbas that Congress will pass — and he will sign — the “Taylor Force Act,” legislation that specifically forbids the PA from rewarding Palestinian terrorists, and prevents the U.S. from providing foreign aid to the PA if they continue funding terrorism.
A reportby the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israel-based research center run by former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dore Gold, found that “overall, the PA pays about 1.152 billion shekels ($303 million) in the 2016 budget as terror-related salaries and allowances. This equals about seven percent of the overall budget.”
“The PA payment of salaries to the imprisoned terrorists and to the families of the dead terrorists is anchored in a series of Palestinian laws and government decrees, chiefly Laws No. 14 and No. 19 of 2004, and Law No. 1 of 2013,” noted the report.
It is impossible to move forward with any kind of peace process if the Palestinian government is paying more than $300 million a year to reward terrorists and their families. The Israeli government has called for an immediate repeal of this PA law and practice. The U.S. and other Arab governments should do so, as well, in order to truly move the prospects for real and lasting peace forward.
“I think the first test of peace is to say to them, ‘Hey, you want peace? Prove it. Confront terrorism, stop rewarding terrorism, stop paying it terrorists,’” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently said during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Unfortunately, a senior PA cabinet minister says the PA will continue to pay incarcerated terrorists.
“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ‘outright rejects’ Israeli demands to halt payments to prisoners held by Israel, Palestinian Authority Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe said Saturday,” reported the Times of Israel.
This is unacceptable. The Palestinian people have it hard enough. They need better leadership than this. The Palestinian government should be nurturing an environment to create jobs and economic growth, not terrorism.
Let us pray — and press — for real change. Starting now.
[Note: These comments are made in my personal capacity as a US-Israeli citizen and author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of The Joshua Fund, which is a non-profit organization that takes no position on legislative issues.]
UPDATED: (Central Israel) — Today marks 69 years since the dramatic rebirth of the modern State of Israel in May of 1948. Israelis are joyfully celebrating independence, security and growing prosperity, but not everyone is happy. Sadly, there are many people in this region and around the world who despise Israel and seek her isolation, demise, and even annihilation.
Rather than address these (very important) geopolitical issues today, however, I’d like to address a question that many people ask me when I travel and speak around the world: Are there really ancient propheciesin the Bible that promised the rebirth of Israelin the last days, despite all the wars and rumors of wars and controversy this would ignite?
Yes, there are — I’ll walk you through a number of the Biblical passages in a moment.
But first some context: according to studies by Pew Research, only 40 percent of American Jews believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people in the first place. That means that six in ten American Jews don’t believe this, or are not sure. More Israeli Jews believe that God gave the land of Israel to them, but the number is still only 61 percent. That means that four in ten Israelis don’t believe God gave them the land they are currently living on, or are not sure. [click here for link to Pew study, scroll to page 106.]
By contrast, a majority of Americans (52 percent) agree with the following statement: “The rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948 and the return of millions of Jews to the Holy Land after centuries of exile represent the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies.”What’s more, 70 percent of Evangelical Christians agree that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people and that the current State of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy. (see the results of an exclusive pollI commissioned by McLaughlin & Associates, a leading polling firm in the U.S., published in my non-fiction book, Epicenter, p. 301-303.)
Now, let’s explore the prophecies themselves.
The most famous of these, perhaps, are found in the book of Ezekiel, chapters 36 through 39. Here, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel, writing more than 2,500 years ago, describes in great detail, in chapter after chapter, how “in the last days” (Ezekiel 38:16) the Lord will remember the Jewish people, resurrect the “dry bones” of the Jewish people who seemed left for dead (Ezekiel 37:1-14), remember the land of Israel, bring the Jewish people back to the land, cause the land of Israel to flourish again, and help the Jewish people rebuild the ancient ruins of Israel.
The prophet also describes how the Lord would help the Jewish people survive and multiply and be blessed again in a resurrected land of Israel—which Ezekiel describes as “the center of the world” (Ezekiel 38:12)—even though their enemies would repeatedly seek to destroy them.
Consider a few excerpts from these important passages:
Ezekiel 36:8-10—“But you, O mountains of Israel, you will put forth your branches and bear your fruit for My people Israel; for they will soon come. For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you will be cultivated and sown. I will multiply men on you, all the house of Israel, all of it; and the cities will be inhabited and the waste places will be rebuilt.”
Ezekiel 36:22-24—“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name. . . . For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land.”
Ezekiel 37:1, 11-14—“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. . . . Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.” Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,’ declares the Lord.”’”
Ezekiel 38:8, 12—“After many days you [Gog, a key enemy of Israel] will be summoned; in the latter years you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations, and they are living securely, all of them. . . . the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.”
That said, Ezekiel was by no means the only Hebrew prophet who foretold Israel’s miraculous rebirth and the Jews’ return to the Holy Land after centuries of exile. Consider several other key passages of Scripture:
Isaiah 66:8-9—“‘Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord. ‘Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?’ says your God.”
Jeremiah 16:14-15—“‘Therefore behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when it will no longer be said, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” but, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.” For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.’”
Jeremiah 31:3-9—“The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines, and go forth to the dances of the merrymakers. Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the planters will plant and will enjoy them. For there will be a day when watchmen on the hills of Ephraim call out, “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.” . . . Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, and I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; a great company, they will return here. With weeping they will come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel.’”
Amos 9:11-15—“‘In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,’ declares the Lord who does this. ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,’ says the Lord your God.”
In the New Testament era, Jesus of Nazareth repeatedly reaffirmed the teachings of the Hebrew prophets. Indeed, he challenged people for not having read r understood or believed the Hebrew Scriptures.
Matthew 5:17—“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
Matthew 19:4 (NLT)—“‘Haven’t you read the Scriptures?’ Jesus replied.
Matthew 22:29 (NLT)—“Jesus replied, ‘Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.’”
By reaffirming the truth and the value of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus reaffirmed the truth and the value of God’s promises to resurrect the people and the land of Israel in the last days.
What’s more, Christ specifically spoke of the rebirth of Israel in Matthew 24:32-33. “Now learn the parable from the fig tree,” he said. “When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.”
What is the “parable from the fig tree” to which Jesus referred? The fig tree repeatedly symbolizes the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 24, for example, the Lord referred to the Jewish people as figs—some good, some bad—as he promised to bring them back from captivity to the Promised Land. Hosea 9:10 says, “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season.” In Micah 4, in a passage specifically about the last days and people coming to Jerusalem to visit the Lord’s Temple, Micah writes that when it comes to the Jewish people in the last days, “each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree.”
When Jesus spoke of the “parable from the fig tree” in Matthew’s Gospel, he was referencing these and similar passages. He was saying that when you see the State of Israel reborn, and Jews coming back to the Holy Land, and the land of Israel turning green and flourishing again—and when you see this happening in the context of all the other signs, all the other “birth pangs”—then you should know we are in a special and distinctive moment in history, a moment unlike any other. At that time, while we won’t know the day or hour of Christ’s return, the Lord Jesus told us to “recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33).
The apostles certainly believed the ancient prophecies about the rebirth of Israel would one day come to pass. In Acts 1:6, they asked the Lord Jesus after his resurrection if he was now going to bring the prophetic promises to fulfillment, end the Roman occupation, and rebuild the kingdom of Israel. It is reasonable to believe they expected Israel to be reborn as a politically independent state at any moment.
“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” they asked. Jesus did not say that theirs was a stupid question. He did not say those prophecies about Israel’s future rebirth were inaccurate or irrelevant or canceled by Jewish unfaithfulness to God, or that his followers were misinterpreting those passages. Rather, he said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). For Christ and his apostles, it was not a matter of if the Father would fulfill his promises to Israel and the Jewish people, but when. And since the Lord Jesus knew the promises would not be fulfilled for more than 1,900 years, he mercifully chose not to give the disciples any details, for it may well have discouraged them.
The apostle Paul also repeatedly affirmed the truth and value of all the Hebrew prophecies in the Scriptures. In so doing he reaffirmed the rebirth of Israel and the re-gathering of the Jews in the last days.
In 2 Timothy 3:16, for example, Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching.” That certainly covers all the prophecies in the Old Testament, including those describing the future resurrection of Israel.
In Romans 9:3-4, Paul writes about his deep love for “my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” and explains that to the children of Israel “belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises.” When he speaks of “the covenants,” Paul speaks of all the covenants. He does not exclude the Abrahamic covenant, in which the Lord unconditionally promised the land of Israel to the Jews, his chosen people according to Genesis 12 and 17, among other passages.
What’s more, when Paul speaks of “the promises,” he speaks of all God’s promises to the Jewish people. He does not exclude the promises of Ezekiel 36, 37, 38, or any of the other promises of resurrecting the nation of Israel or re-gathering the Jewish people to Israel.
Indeed, the most definitive and conclusive sign that we are living in the era the Bible calls the “last days” was the miraculous rebirth of the State of Israelin May 1948, the return of millions of Jews to the Holy Land after centuries of exile, the wars and rumors of wars that have engulfed the Jewish state for the last half century and more, the rebuilding of the ancient ruins in Israel, and the increasing international focus on the nation of Israel as the epicenter of the momentous events that are shaking our world and shaping our future. Some Bible scholars have described the rebirth of Israel as the “super sign,” and I agree.
Many people did not see the modern resurrection of the Jewish state coming. Many thought it would never happen and shouldn’t. For centuries, world leaders had cruelly scattered and persecuted the Jewish people and denied their right to return to their ancient homeland.
Sadly, even many church leaders throughout history came to believe in a pernicious doctrine called “replacement theology,” which denied the veracity and legitimacy of Bible prophecies that said Israel would be reborn in the last days. Such replacement theologians, and the pastors and laypeople who read and followed their conclusions, said God had rejected the Jewish people and would no longer honor the ancient covenants to give the Jewish people the heretofore “Promised Land.” Unfortunately, many people in the United States and around the world also vigorously opposed the creation of the modern State of Israel. Indeed, most of the Arab and Islamic world was willing to use any means necessary, including war, to strangle the reborn infant nation in her cradle, as they demonstrated time and time again.
Yet those who were watching events through the lens of Scripture knew Israel would one day be reborn. What’s more, those who believed the ancient biblical prophecies were true and valid often did much to assist the young nation of Israel.
One last major point: There is a critically important passage of Scripture we must consider in this context of the prophetic rebirth of the State of Israel and its implications for the future of the United States.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
Later in the Bible, these promises to Abram were passed down to his grandson Jacob, who was renamed Israel.
“Then his father Isaac said to him . . . ‘Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.’” Genesis 27:26, 29
Still later in the Bible, the Lord again explicitly repeats these promises. “Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel. . . . Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him,” we are told in Numbers 24:1-2. Then the Lord spoke through Balaam:
“The oracle of him who hears the words of God. . . . How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel! . . . Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you.” “” Numbers 24:4-5, 9
The Bible’s message is clear: God promises to bless individuals and nations who bless the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and he promises to curse those who curse Jews and Israel.
The “whole counsel of Scripture” commands us to love and pray for and bless Israel’s neighbors, as well. It’s not either/or — it’s both/and. We are supposed to love and bless Israelis and Palestinians, as well as all the others in the Middle East. That said, there are specific directives to the Lord’s people to love and show mercy to Israel and the Jewish people, and we ignore these at our peril.
The good news is that America has been Israel’smost faithful friend and ally for the past seven decades, since helping to bring about the prophetic rebirth of the Jewish state. We have blessed the Jewish people here at home and around the globe. And in so many ways, the Lord has, in fact, blessed the United States of America as a result. If we remain faithful allies of Israel and continue to bless the Jewish people in real and practical ways—while we increasingly turn our hearts back to the Lord, who made this promise in the first place—then I believe God will continue to bless America and help us recover from our many challenges and our many sins. God made this wonderful promise, and we can depend upon him to be true to his Word.
But let us make no mistake: if the United States stops blessing Israel and the Jewish people and either abandons them or begins actively working against them, then we will no longer be eligible for the blessings of God. Rather, we will face God’s curse. This is a fate no nation can long endure. Certainly not ours. Indeed, given all the other enormous and existential economic, fiscal, spiritual, and moral challenges we face, I have no doubt that America will most certainly implode if we stop actively and consistently blessing Israel and the Jewish people.
That does not mean we have to agree with everything Israel says or does. That does not mean we need to turn a blind eye to mistakes, or sin or injustice. Not at all. The Hebrew prophets were often directed by the Lord to speak to the nation of Israel — to the people and the leaders — to warn them of their mistakes and urge them to turn and follow the Lord. Yet let’s remember they did this out of a deep love for the God of Israel, and the people of Israel. They weren’t trying to be hostile to Israel, even when she was on the wrong track. They were trying to help her get back on the right track. Can America — and other nations — be helpful to Israel in pointing out mistakes and encouraging her to go in the right direction? Of course.
But let’s be clear: God will not be mocked. One way or another, America will reap what she sows. So will every nation.
Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Let us study the ancient Biblical prophecies.
Let us love Israel and the Jewish people with sincere and humble and helpful hearts.
Let us love the Palestinian people and all of Israel’s neighbors in the same way.
Let us pray for U.S. and Israeli leaders, and all the leaders in the region — they face enormous and complicated challenges.
Let us pray for the Church in the epicenter to be a light in the darkness and a voice of hope for the hopeless.
Let us be faithful to knowing God’s Word and obeying it in these last days, knowing that each of us will face an accounting in due time.