A Time for War
A Time for War
Rodney Gehman – October 23, 2023 – Psalm 83
Well, good morning River City – it is good to be with you this morning. My name is Rodney and I’m one of the pastors around here. If you’re joining us for the first time today, we are in the process of studying the book of Acts verse by verse, chapter by chapter, having just finished up chapter 2 last week.
And back when we started into this series, I told you I wanted to try something new with this series, which is that every couple of weeks, we push pause on the series itself and either circle back to something we talked about a little bit that we could cover a lot more, or answer some questions that you have asked.
I didn’t get any questions from the book of Acts this week, but I also didn’t really do a good job of reminding you that this was an option either, so it’s okay. Today is our first one of those weeks, and as you can tell by the scripture that was read this morning, we’re going to step out of Acts for today and address current events in Israel.
I know it’s all over the news, and some of you could probably preach this sermon for me because you know a lot more than I do. I also realize some of you are probably sick of hearing about it, and look forward to the day it’s all over and we can get on with our lives. And this time around, there is a very real possibility that you might not have that option. The things that are happening could very much affect your life today, and we’ll get to that.
I’m not going to lie or pretend that I am smart enough to present all of this today without help. A lot of what I’m presenting today are from things I’ve read and other pastors I’ve watched. So we’re going to begin with prayer, and then dive in.
I think one of the main questions floating around today is this one: Why does this whole thing matter so much? Israel has been getting attacked for a long time, and then it’s always a big deal who is with them or against them… why does it matter? There are a lot of wars happening that you don’t talk about… why this one? There are a lot of different theories out there on the news today, but I believe you could trace this whole thing back to Genesis 3.
Humanity was created in the image of God, as you know, and Adam and Eve as our first parents rebelled against that image. Under the deception of the serpent, they rebelled against God’s wisdom, against his will, and set themselves up to be little gods. We really don’t know a whole lot about Satan or the serpent. Scripture never answers the question why the serpent was allowed into the garden in the first place, but it’s obvious that when he was, he was already dead set over against God’s people as an enemy, an accuser, a deceiver.
As God was calling out the consequences for Adam and Eve’s sin, he told the serpent (Gen 3:15), I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
So right there, just 70 verses into the Bible, you find the ignition of a hostility between Satan and his followers and the children of Eve, with God’s promise that one day a male offspring of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. Someone from the line of Eve will defeat the serpent one day. And if you are the serpent, and you know you are going to get your head crushed one day, what are you going to do about it? Make war, right? Stop the plan! And that’s what he set out to do.
Then in Genesis chapter 12, God came to a 75 year old man named Abram living in what is modern day Iraq, and chose him and his wife to be the family from which the serpent crusher would come. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, made a covenant with him and essentially, the elements of the covenant promise were:
- Land (a specific piece of real estate in the world, the land we now know as Israel)
- Lineage (Abraham’s offspring will become a great nation – the people known as Jews, and a descendent who blesses the world by crushing the serpent)
- Lord (God established a permanent covenant to be Abraham’s God and the God of his offspring). So it’s also about who is the Lord.
God wrapped up that covenant by saying, I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt.
The only problem so far was that Abraham and his wife were not able to have children. 10 years went by and still no child. So Abraham’s wife got tired of waiting, and gave Abraham permission to marry one of her servants in an attempt to get the whole “offspring becoming a great nation” part of the covenant kicked off.
The servant, named Hagar, got pregnant like they all hoped would happen, and gave birth to a son they named Ishmael. And here’s what God said about this son:
Genesis 16:12: this man will be like a wild donkey. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him. Ishmael is going to be untamed, dangerous and wild. And then God also promised that he will be fruitful and multiply even to the point of fathering 12 tribal leaders and becoming a great nation himself.
13 years later, when Abraham was nearly 100 years old, God fulfilled the covenant promise and allowed Abraham and Sarah to give birth to their son Isaac. He grew up and his wife gave birth to twins. Jacob and Esau. Just like he had with Abraham, God chose Jacob to carry on the promise and changed his name to Israel. He also had 12 sons, and they would become the 12 tribes of a nation that would be named after their dad. Israel.
So what you have there in the middle of Genesis is the family of God’s covenant promise (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) with 12 tribes that will become the nation of Israel, also referred to today as the Jews, and you have Ishmael, the child of flesh, who also has 12 tribes and they became the Arab nations. One true line of the promise, and one counterfeit. One who received the covenant promise, and one who becomes hostile to it. One who lived closely with his father, and one who lived away from his father.
If you read the book of Exodus, you’ll see Jacob’’s family quickly became a great nation. The people part of the covenant is fulfilled there in Egypt. Then, through a miraculous deliverance, God fulfills the second part of the covenant – the land. He leads them out of Egypt, and into the land that we currently know as the State of Israel. And that third part of the covenant, where Yahweh would always be their God, has never changed. He has always been faithful to them even though they haven’t always been faithful to him.
Throughout biblical history, He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to remind Israel of the covenant, call them to repentance, and to turn their hearts back to Yahweh, and warn them that if they don’t, it would mean destruction for them at the hands of their enemies. And many times, invading armies from the Philistines, Assyria, Babylon, and many others were allowed victories over Israel because of Israel’s sin. And guess who many of those nations were? Descendants of Ishmael.
But God is a God who does not break his covenant. He continued to rescue and redeem and restore, and put all the pieces together until at exactly the right time in human history, he sent God the Son Jesus to live, die and rise again for the sins of Israel. And there at the cross, Genesis 3:15 happened – even though Satan struck Jesus at the cross, ultimately Jesus crushed Satan’s head when he rose from the grave. He defeated sin, hell, death, and Satan in a single blow.
Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who fulfills Genesis 3:15. He’s the offspring of Eve, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who will bring blessing to the whole world. And this is true about Jesus: Anyone who blesses him will be blessed, and everyone who curses him will be cursed.
Around 500 years later, one of Ishmael’s descendants was born. An Arabic man named Mohammad was visited by an angel and given a new book of scriptures. He was instructed to teach a new revelation that hinged on one main idea: that God is not three, rather he is one. And that any partnership with God is a major sin. His book was called the Quran, and the people who believe it are known as the nation of Islam. Ishmael did become a great nation. As Christians, we know that the angel who visited Mohammad in the cave was not one of the angels on our team, for no other reason than how that angel taught Mohommed to think about the person of Jesus Christ.
The inscription inside Islam’s holy site, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem says, you cannot say God is Three – he is only one. It is impossible for him to have an associate, and it is not for God to take a son. God cannot have a son.
For that very reason, Christianity and Islam are not two slightly different religions that speak of the same God with just a little different way to get to the same place. The God of Islam is not the God of the Bible. Even though the Quran speaks of Jesus as a special prophet, to change God from three persons down to one changes the whole picture of sin and salvation and a Savior, and gives us a totally different God than the one the Bible speaks of. It is a completely different gospel altogether, and at its core, it insists that there is no such thing as God the Son. It is anti-Christ.
Obviously, not all Arab people are Muslim. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are Arabs in many of the countries around Israel, and their lives are often in danger for that reason. Additionally, not all Muslims are as dangerous as groups like Hamas. So, there is absolutely no place for violence or hatred against all Muslims, just because some from their religion insist on violence. In fact, God has proven himself merciful enough to reveal himself to Muslims and bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus! As Christians, we should be merciful and kind and eager for their salvation as well.
But my point is this: When you see Arab nations rising up against Israel, like we’ve watched happen these last two weeks, or a hatred of the Jews of any kind anywhere in the world, you have to understand that at its core, this is not just an old family feud between two brothers, Isaac and Ishmael – this is a spiritual war between the offspring of Eve and the offspring of the serpent. And it all revolves around God’s covenant promise which is centered around a) the Jewish people b) in the land of Israel, and c) about who is really the lord of all.
Turn in your Bibles with me to Psalm 83 if you’re not there already. Here’s how it goes: God, do not keep silent. Do not be deaf, God; do not be quiet. See how your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have acted arrogantly. They devise clever schemes against your people; they conspire against your treasured ones. They say, “come, let us wipe them out as a nation so that Israel’s name will no longer be remembered.
In 1967, several Arab nations around Israel signed an agreement that they will never acknowledge Israel’s right to be a sovereign nation, they will never agree to peace, and they will never negotiate. That’s what Hamas is fighting for and fighting from. They may agree to a temporary cease fire, but they will never sign a peace treaty. Anyone who wants Israel and Palestine to just live in peace with each other, or agree to live side by side without violence is smoking something. Hamas’ official documents say that any international attempts at peace are a waste of time. They exist with one purpose: To see Israel (and every Jew in existence) wiped off the face of the earth.
But again, it’s not primarily about land. Verse 2, speaking to Yahweh: “your enemies”, “those who hate you”. Yes, the battle is against “your people”, verse 3, “your treasured ones,” which is Israel, but look at verse 5 here… They have conspired with one mind; they form an alliance against YOU….Yahweh. Against you, God. They have conspired against YOU! So when armies surround Israel and try to wipe her off the map, they are launching rockets at Israel, but their battle is really against the one true Lord of heaven and earth!
The Psalm goes on: For they have conspired with one mind; they form an alliance against you – the tents of Edom and [who?] the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, and Amalekite, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre. Even Assyria has joined them…”
A lot of names you don’t recognize, right? Those nations today are Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, those on the Sinai Peninsula. Those are all nations that Israel has been contending with these last two weeks!
So what you’re watching today on the news is something that has been several thousand years in the making, right down to the nations that are involved and their mission statement. The prayer from the rest of that Psalm 83 is that God would destroy them like a forest fire, make them like a tumbleweed, pursue them with your hurricane. Cover their faces with shame, and check this out, So that they will seek your name, LORD. May they know that you alone – whose name is the LORD – are the Most High over the whole earth.
So the question remains: Will God answer the prayers of Psalm 83? Will he destroy the nations who come against Israel so that they will seek his name and know that he is the Lord? One more scripture today. If you’re with me in Psalms, turn to the right to the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 38: The word of the LORD came to me:  "Son of man, face Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him  and say, 'This is what the Lord GOD says: Look, I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.  I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws, and bring you out with all your army, including horses and riders, who are all splendidly dressed, a huge assembly armed with large and small shields, all of them brandishing swords.  Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shields and helmets;  Gomer with all its troops; and Beth-togarmah from the remotest parts of the north along with all its troops-many peoples are with you.
And I know, there are so many weird names in there you almost want to give up. But hang in there. Again, there is a massive army assembled by Gog, who rules over Magog, Meshech and Tubal, and his allies are Persia, Cush, and Put as well as, v6, Gomer and Beth-togarmah “from the remotest parts of the north”. So – a massive army involving several countries is gathering for war. Against who? V8 In the last years you will enter a land that has been restored from war and regathered from many people to the mountains of Israel, which had long been in ruin… and now live securely.
So there you have it – IN THE LAST YEARS (meaning, this hasn’t happened yet) this massive army from North of Israel with a lot of other nations assisting is going to attack Israel. So who are they? Gog is the prince over Magog, which history also refers to as the Scythians, or what we now call Russia. His allies are Persia, now Iran, Cush is modern day Sudan and Ethiopia, Put is modern day Libya, Gomer is modern day Turkey, Beth-togarmah is Armenia… and guess who all has rattled their swords against Israel in the past 14 days? Almost all of them! For sure, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Northern Africa. Yahweh goes on…
v16 It will happen in the last days, Gog, that I will bring you against my land so that the nations may know me, when I show myself holy through you in their sight.
So, there again, you see the pieces of the covenant! God says you will advance against my people. I will bring you against my land so they will know that I am the Lord!. And God implies that he is not going to pull any punches. He is going to show himself holy, just like he did with Pharaoh and his armies at the Red Sea.
So the question is: are we watching that war unfold real time or not? Well, we don’t know yet. The last I checked the news, I don’t believe we are in this prophecy yet for two main reasons:
- Nations: In Ez 38, it is actual nations with their own troops that fight Israel. Right now Israel is not defending itself against surrounding nations, they are fighting the terrorists. But we’ll know it’s Ezekiel’s war if those countries start sending their own troops against Israel, and if it is, those troops will push the battle all the way to Jerusalem. Even Jesus said – wars and rumors of wars, don’t get too worked up about that. But when you see the battle push into Jerusalem, it’s go-time for a lot of last days stuff. . So that’s one of the reasons this war is a big deal.
- Allies: As of now, The United States, Great Britain and Germany and a few others have stood with Israel pledging support, but if you keep reading the rest of Ezekiel 38 and 39, in this particular war, not a single nation will help Israel. No one comes to their rescue.
In Ezekiel’s war – God himself is the only one who helps them. Muslim extremists call Israel the Little Satan, and America is called the Great Satan. The hatred for Israel that you are seeing in the Middle East right now is paired with an intense hatred for the United States. We are all well aware that there are Islamic terrorists infiltrating the US right now. We’ve been letting them in for 20 years. It is not that far of a stretch to say we could have a war against terror here in our own backyards to the point that we have to tell Israel, you’re on your own, we have enough to worry about here at home.
This week President Biden visited Israel, and made a statement that absolutely made my skin crawl, because I was studying this scripture at the time. He said to Israel, “as long as the United States stands – and we will stand forever – you will never be alone.” And I cringed. First of all, unfortunately there are no biblical prophecies about God intervening on behalf of the US. The United States is not promised a secure future like Israel is.
Secondly, men, last week in our Saturday morning bible study, we read Isaiah 40:15 – Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust on the scales…All the nations are as nothing before him; they are considered by him as empty nothingness.
According to Isaiah 40, in God’s eyes, the US is a speck of dust that doesn’t even move the needle on the scales. That means that at any moment, in a single hour on any given day, The Creator of heaven and earth could go ‘WHOOOPH’, and in an afternoon, the great superpower, the defender of Israel is gone. Overrun. Conquered. Fallen. Given over to her enemies. Burned with fire.
I love our country, I hope that never happens, but am fully convinced that in the coming days our faith is going to be put to the test. Like this: Is our faith really in Jesus, or is it in the power of our military? Is our faith really in Jesus, or is it in technology and accessibility and all that? Is our faith really in Jesus, or in our own ability to defend ourselves? Is our faith really in Jesus to the point where we do everything we could to keep meeting together, encouraging and helping each other, even under the threat of death? Will we be like those in the book of Revelation who endure through all kinds of suffering? Or will we shrink back in fear of what’s coming?
And I don’t have time to read all of it verse by verse, but if you read the rest of Ez 38, this massive war ends when God answers the prayers of Psalm 83, and visibly reaches his hand into human history! It says (v19) he will cause an earthquake that makes such a mess of everything that these invading armies all start killing each other instead of Israelis, and then torrential rain, hailstones, fire and burning suffer start falling from the sky to wipe out the invading armies of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and whoever else is with them. Chapter 39 says it’ll take 7 months to clear the bodies v12, birds and wild animals will have plenty to eat if you know what I mean v17, and Israel will be able to live for 7 years off of the fuel that was left in their country by the invaders v9.
I mean, you have got to read your Bible! This is incredible stuff! If what we’re watching right now happens to be the Ezekiel 38 war, we are about to see God do something he hasn’t done since he took the Isrealites out of Egypt! And thanks to every single person in the world having a TV in their home or a smartphone in their pocket, guess who all is going to see God intervene in human history? EVERYONE!!!
Part of President Biden’s statement this week was correct – in a sense, it was prophetic. He was right, Israel will never be alone. But they will not be saved by the US or our allies, they will not even be saved by the strength and intelligence or technology of their own military. Yahweh himself will step onto the scene and rescue them so that Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya and Sudan and anyone with a screen in their home – and every Jew who has ever rejected Jesus as the Messiah will all know that Yahweh, the Father, Son and Spirit, is the one true God. Doesn’t mean they will serve him or Treasure him, but they will know. And at the end of Chapter 39, the Jews recognize their unfaithfulness to Yahweh, and he pours out his Holy Spirit on the Jewish people, which only happens as they recognize Jesus as the true King, the Lord of heaven and earth who lived, died, and rose again for their salvation, who ascended to the right hand of God the Father, who lives and reigns with him forever and ever, Amen.
We need to end here for the day, even though there are a lot of questions I’m sure you have that are unanswered. But the first question for all of us is what should we be doing?
- Stay prayerful - Psalm 122 encourages us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which sort of represents the whole nation. Pray for the leaders, pray for peace, pray for salvation to come to many in these days. But also, it might not be long before our faith here is really put to the test. We talked about this last week that those early believers in Acts were married to the Word of God and prayer. We would do well to follow their lead, and continue to repent where we need to repent. The days are increasingly evil and much of the American church is sound asleep.
- Stay aware – Not everyone in the world is good, and things could happen here in the US at the blink of an eye. Stay alert. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Behold Israel, and AllIsrael.com are good places for information from Jesus-following Israeli journalists. We don’t have to obsess over every detail every day, but it’s good to know what we’re dealing with here.
- Joshua 1:9: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go – This is not the time to retreat into your basement, eat canned peaches and watch FoxNews. Keep meeting together, praying for each other, eating meals together, encouraging each other to not be afraid. Luke 21:26, people will faint from fear and expectation of the things that are coming on the world, because the powers of the heavens will be shaken. There are some trying times ahead for the people of God. But 2 Timothy 1:7 says God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and a sound mind.
- He didn’t give us a sound mind and power without love. The commands to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us still stands.
- He didn’t give us power and love, without a sound mind. We are to be transformed by renewing our minds, not losing them. We are encouraged to ask God for as much wisdom as we need.
- He didn’t give us love and a sound mind without power. If you’ve been united to Christ, you have been indwelt by his Holy Spirit, to strengthen you, to give you courage, to stand in the face of evil, and to endure persecution if it ever happens in our lifetime.
- Stay encouraged – Psalm 121, I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? Not from a military power, not from a government leader, not from my own abilities – No. My help comes from the Lord: The maker of heaven and earth. Indeed the Protector of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps!
Today as we move into communion, we recall once again that there is only one death that brings peace. Only one death that brings life. Only one death that brings true joy and hope and freedom. Only one death that satisfied the wrath of God. And that was the death of God the Son – Jesus the Messiah. He has paved the way, in his life, death and resurrection, for not only Isaac’s family to be children of the promise, but for anyone who believes – from any nation on earth, with any family background, no matter how dark or evil you had been, no matter what sin you still regret – the apostle Peter’s words from Acts 2 are still true to this day, that any who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Jesus promised that no one who comes to him will ever be turned away.
So today, we once again come to Jesus in Communion – his body was broken for us, his blood was spilled out to cement in place once and for all the forgiveness of our sin, past/present/future. There is no condemnation left for anyone who is in Christ.
If you have received that gift of grace by faith in Jesus, you are welcome to participate…
As the elements come around today, I’m just going to leave you to with this to think about:
- If I’m honest, what is my faith really in? And here’s one question to ask yourself: What is that one thing, that if it was taken away, I would be very afraid? If I’m honest, what is my faith really in? I personally did not like my own answer to that question this week.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to sharpen you, to strengthen you, to remind you of what is true, and let that spill over into worship of the one true living God.