Israel’s War with Hamas, Let’s Talk About It
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1 (NKJV)
Times of difficulty are nothing new for those who trust in God. From the moment Adam's foot touched the ground on the outskirts of Eden, warfare, bloodshed, and unimaginable atrocities have been all too common throughout the history of mankind.
When asked by his disciples about the end of the age, Jesus said one of the signs would be war, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom. It has been that way ever since He spoke those words. In every war or conflict, innocent people have been caught in the middle and many times on the receiving end of an enemy's rage. Yet, through it all, there is a continual promise of God's divine intervention. A place of refuge, a hiding place where one receives strength and help from the overwhelming presence of Almighty God.
One of the major concerns on all our hearts at this time is the war in the Middle East that began on October 7, described by many as Israel's 9/11. No day has been like it since the Holocaust. The unimaginable scenes portraying the butchering and murder of innocent families and the diabolical torture of babies, teens, mothers and fathers, the elderly, and even the disabled are heartbreaking.
In a dialogue with Michael Utterback, director of Church of God's Ministry to Israel, I've put forth a few questions to help our readers gain insight from his perspective on the events taking place in Israel. Michael and his wife Gina have worked in Israel for the past 35 years and have a staff of Israeli believers who are now intensely working on the ground, assisting thousands impacted by this war.
Michael, describe the region called Gaza, a little of its history, the role of Hamas, and what took place there.
Thank you, Dr. Hill. Let me say at the outset that we appreciate your support for Israel and the support of our Church of God family during this tragic conflict.
Gaza is small. Only twenty-five miles long and eight miles wide. Within that space, it is estimated, 2.1 million people reside there. The largest population is in three major cities: Gaza City in the north, Kan Yunis in the south, and Rafah on its southern border with Egypt. Before 2005, approximately 9,000 Israelis lived alongside the Arab population. After the Oslo Accord, signed in 1993, the Palestinian Authority was granted self-rule there. In 2006, Hamas, a terrorist organization bent on the total annihilation of Israel, ousted the Palestinian Authority. All Israeli citizens were forced to leave Gaza by the government of Israel. In the years that followed, Hamas amassed a large terrorist army, approximately 25-30,000 strong. It began digging the 300-mile underground tunnel system the Israeli military calls Gaza Metro. From its inception, Hamas has fired tens of thousands of rockets at Israel's civilian population.
At approximately 6:30, on the Shabbat morning of October 7, a barrage of over 3,000 rockets was fired into the small Israeli villages along Gaza's border, followed by a flood of over 2,600 bloodthirsty terrorists. Without moral conscience, they murdered, raped, and tortured, not only adults and elderly, but children and babies as well. All the while screaming, Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar (god is great). The terrorists then took hostages, approximately 240, some as young as nine months old, and 30 children, ten years old and younger, leading them into a maze of tunnels under Gaza City.
What was Israel's response and where do you think this will go from here?
Frankly, Israel was caught off guard. I think there was a false sense of security because of the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Built a few years ago with deep foundations and electronic sensors to thwart the digging of underground tunnels into Israel, many felt Gaza was contained. Even with the continual firing of rockets, the fear of terrorists crashing the border was minimal. It was a tragic underestimation of Hamas' abilities.
The morning of the terrorist invasion, Israel immediately sent special forces units to the area and engaged Hamas. After days of fierce fighting, the terrorists were driven back into Gaza. Israel called up and deployed 360,000 Israeli reservists, not only in the area around Gaza, but also to the north, where Hezbollah terrorists are poised and ready for a war with Israel. Hezbollah is more formidable than Hamas, having tens of thousands of rockets, many fitted with guidance systems that can reach most of the cities of Israel. As for what will happen in the coming days, it's obvious Hezbollah is not in Lebanon for defensive purposes. It continues to arm itself with outside help for one purpose: the destruction of Israel. War with Hezbollah is inevitable.
What is the Church of God doing through our Ministry to Israel to assist those affected by this war?
From the first day, our MTI staff began purchasing aid from all over the country to assist the Israeli Defense Force and those affected by the conflict. Working with others in a benevolence command post located in a local school, the names of military units and their needs were drawn on whiteboards and placed all around a large room. Each organization, ours being one of the largest, was asked to purchase the aid and bring it to the staging point where the Israeli Defense Force took it to their camps. Our teams collected and continue to buy hundreds upon hundreds of sleeping bags and mattresses for the young men and women who are now living in desert areas. We bought thermals for the cold nights, military clothing, thousands of bottles of water, kneepads, Leatherman tools, phone chargers, protective glasses, camelbacks, and dozens of protective armored vests.
Besides the needs of the soldiers, over 130,000 civilians have been evacuated from the war zones around Gaza as well as in the north, where rockets from Hezbollah and Syria are striking Israeli towns and villages. They have been placed in hotels across the country that tourists usually occupy. Our MTI staff has been taking clothing, food, toys, blankets, and other items to assist these families away from their homes. Another unfortunate event caused by war is people can't work, yet their bills continue to mount. After previous wars, we paid utility bills, helped with food, and provided all types of aid; we will do the same once this ends.
What are the spiritual ramifications? Is there a biblical precedent for what we are seeing now?
Time won't allow a long discourse, but Revelation 12 presents a graphic word picture of Israel, portrayed as a woman with a garland of 12 stars (tribes) on her head. Then there is the description of the Devil, his fall, and the raging anger driving him to persecute the woman (Israel). This chapter reveals the extreme hatred Satan has for anyone God loves, especially Israel. Throughout Israel's history, Satan has stirred men to destroy her. Events like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and hundreds of other attempts to kill Jews were schemes of the Devil. Men are just pawns and physical cobwebs, and Satan is the spider.
Joel 3, in my estimation, is another depiction of the season we are in now. That chapter describes a moment in time when God invites the nations to come to Israel for war. "Beat your plowshares into weapons and come up," He says. What is so intriguing is, the prophet says it will happen when the Jews are returning to the promised land (verses 1 and 2). Before now, there has never been a time in Jewish history when so many Jews have immigrated to Israel. In 1948, when Israel became a nation, only 700,000 Jews lived there. Today, close to 9 million make Israel home! A final statement points to God's favor over Israel when the nations come to destroy her:
But the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. "So, you shall know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Joel 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Finally, what do you say to people who ask how they can help?
The most important thing any of us can do is pray! First, to pray for the hostages that by some miracle, they will be set free. Pray for the innocent and blameless, especially for the children, both in Israel and in Gaza. Pray for the soldiers on the front lines, who, even now, are facing a diabolical enemy. Continually pray for Israel. I think it is proven, before every great victory, there have been people crying out to the Lord for deliverance. There are people all over the world, called by the Holy Spirit, to continually intercede for His people.
Isaiah describes it this way:
"I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, And give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isaiah 62:6-7) NKJV
Finally, support for the effort to assist those impacted by the war is paramount.
Michael, thank you. I think I speak for our Church of God family, we will certainly continue to pray for a quick end to this tragic war, for the soldiers and especially for the innocent children and families, both in Israel and in Gaza.