Gaza: The Ancient Conflict
Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. — Judges 1:18
Judges is a book that details the history of Israel, from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy under Saul. This chapter outlines the first land conquests of Israel after the deaths of Moses and Joshua. In this verse, the tribe of Judah successfully captured three prominent Philistine cities, "Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron," and their territories (approximately 1300 B.C.). These cities were part of the Philistine Pentapolis, a group of five city-states that were significant centers of trade, culture, and military power in the region.
In this text, I want you to see that this area has been one of ongoing conflict. After the time of the Judges and the Kings, we watch the slow deterioration of Israel. Eventually, "the land" was possessed by several enemy empires from 586 B.C. to 1948 A.D., which are listed below.
- Babylonian Empire: After the fall of the Kingdom of Judah, the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, captured Jerusalem in 586 BCE and destroyed the First Temple. Many Jews were exiled to Babylon.
- Persian Empire: In 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Persian rule was relatively lenient.
- Hellenistic Empires: Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, the land was initially part of the larger Hellenistic Empire, but after Alexander's death, it was eventually controlled by the Ptolemaic dynasty based in Egypt and later by the Seleucid Empire based in Syria.
- Hasmonean Dynasty: This was a brief period of Jewish self-rule established after the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It lasted from about 164 BCE to 63 BCE.
- Roman Empire: In 63 BCE, the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem, ending the Hasmonean Dynasty. The Romans ruled the land, albeit with various degrees of local autonomy granted to Jewish kings like Herod the Great. The Second Temple was also destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
- Byzantine Empire: After the division of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire controlled the area from the 4th to the early 7th century CE.
- Islamic Caliphates: Following the Islamic conquests, the area was controlled by various Islamic caliphates starting in the 7th century, including the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid Caliphates.
- Crusader States: Between the late 11th and late 13th centuries, European Crusaders established several Crusader States, including the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
- Mamluk Sultanate: In the late 13th century, the Mamluks defeated the Crusaders and took control.
- Ottoman Empire: From the early 16th century until the end of World War I, the land was part of the Ottoman Empire.
- The British Mandate: After World War I, the League of Nations granted Britain the mandate to govern the area until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
But in 1948, something significant happened. Britain granted a portion of the land of Israel back to the Jews. After being displaced for 2,500 years, Jews migrated home, which is something to celebrate with our Jewish brothers. But it is still essential to distinguish between the Old Testament Nation of Israel and the State of Israel as it exists today. Today, Israel is a State governed by a Parliamentary System, which functions much differently from the Nation of Israel in the time of the Judges and the Kings. Yet, in 2018, Israel passed a law declaring it principally a "Nation-State of the Jewish People," which became a significant declaration to the people and the surrounding regions.
I believe God is doing something unique in Israel today. But with this comes conflict. A conflict that has deep roots in thousands of years of animosity. In fact, the Greek or Latin name for Philistines translates to "Palestinians." While the names are linguistically related, the ancient Philistines and modern Palestinians are different groups with distinct histories and identities, but still, there are these undercurrents of animosity. What we are witnessing today in Gaza is a conflict that has deep roots in thousands of years of conflict between Israel and other nations, with a tiny caveat. The ones who initiated the conflict in the Palestinian state of Gaza were not the Palestinians but Hamas. Hamas is an Islamic Terrorist group that took control of Gaza and the Palestinian people and wants to eradicate Jews in the State of Israel. This type of terror has led to the persecution of the Jewish people for thousands of years.
Situations as hairy as this one are complicated for men to see a path through. Even the most brilliant leaders and the best military experts would find it difficult to understand and navigate this complex situation. The hand Israel is dealt is challenging on every side. And there is only one correct response when we, as God-fearing men, find ourselves in this moment. It's to get on our knees and seek God, who can see a divine path through it. So, I hope you are praying that the Nation-State of the Jewish People will get on their knees and seek divine direction from God as they defend their land. And I pray that God will use this war to display his power of divine provision to this planet.
Given the historical context and the ongoing conflict in the region, what can we learn about the nature of land and power as it relates to God's plan? How can understanding this history deepen our prayers for the area and its people today?
In situations of great complexity and difficulty, such as the conflicts in Israel and surrounding areas, how does this inform your personal understanding of the need for divine guidance? Are there challenging situations in your life where seeking divine direction has made or could make a difference?
DO THIS: Pray for God's divine intervention.
PRAY THIS: Lord, guide the hearts and minds of leaders and communities entangled in the complexities of longstanding conflicts, especially in the land of Israel. May Your divine wisdom light their path, and may Your peace and justice reign in this land and in all nations. Amen.
PLAY THIS: Battle Belongs.
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