Understanding the Middle East part 2
October 12, 2020
The Bible documents the existence of numerous tribes from the time of Noah. Many have disappeared through slaughter or absorption; however, I met someone in Jordan last year whose family name is listed in Genesis 10! Successive empires – Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, the Medes & Persians, Greece, Rome – swept through the Middle East (ME), often systematically transplanting or mixing people groups.
For six centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity spread and filled the ME; but, having cut off its Hebraic roots, it split bitterly into many denominations (Gal 6:7) often associated with ethnicity*. In the Islamic conquest after Muhammad’s death (632 AD), people groups were Islamized (forced to convert or submit to Islam as dhimmi**) and Arabized (made to adopt Arabic language, culture and names). Christian populations were decimated further by emigration, especially in the last century. The largest remnant, 10%, is in Egypt. Languages such as Coptic, Aramaic and Syriac declined significantly and are mainly preserved in liturgies. Westerners often view the ME as Muslim Arab with a Jewish anomaly in Israel; but remnants of Kurds, Chaldeans, Arameans and Copts would object to that generalization.
After WW1 and victory over the Ottomans (Turkish Muslims who ruled the ME for 500 years), Britain and France drew lines on a map and divided the ME into nations under their control or influence without considering the distribution of people groups on the ground. In doing so, they broke their promise of independence to Arab allies who had helped win the victory. Consequently, nationalist movements and strong men rose in these new nations. In 1948, Jewish Holocaust survivors seized a portion of their biblical covenantal homeland, Israel. Most Arab residents of this territory fled and/or were expelled, creating a newly defined people group, Palestinians, who have been a flashpoint between Arabs (Christian & Muslim) and Jews ever since.
Peace plans touted by Western powers have consistently failed. Even Islamic State has failed to establish its “peace plan” (i.e. submission to radical Islam). Just as in Bible times, alliances form and shift in this volatile region where people have both ancient roots and recent memory of war, instability and oppression. Currently, Shi’a Iran is funding Sunni Hamas in Gaza; Hamas’ leader has been in talks with Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon; and Sunni Arab states are alarmed by Iran’s tentacles extending to Yemen and Qatar. Although in the past, Muslims have historically been united only by their hatred of Jews and Israel, UAE has now normalized relationships with Israel, and some Arab Muslims are on record saying that Israel is a better ally than the Palestinians!
It’s as if this unpredictable, tense region highlights the failure of religion (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the folly of human plans and schemes. Where else to turn but God? Not to religion but to the Living Word.
Among Jesus’ first words to ME people were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Let all Middle Easterners hear and respond to this Gospel of the Kingdom.
- For sample prayers for traditional ME Christians who believe they are born into their religion, see https://prayercast.com/armenia.html
- Lord, take the blinders off Muslims to see Jesus crucified, died and resurrected, and a better hope than dead Muhammad, and that His righteousness alone is the Almighty’s peace plan for the Middle East.
Lord, strengthen Messianic Jews and believing Arabs as together they walk with You in a hostile place, displaying the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the efficacy of His ministry of reconciliation given to all believers.
God, give us Your love for the people we pray for and sure hope for your purposes to be fulfilled for this region.
Raise up a blood-bought kingdom and priests to serve and reign with You from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev 5:9-10). Let there be no war in the Middle East outside of Your timing and prophesied judgements.
*For example, Wikipedia lists the following Christian denominations (often called “Traditional Christians”) in Lebanon today: Maronite, Melkite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt.
**Islamic term for Jews and Christians who submit to Islamic law