Often in the routine of our daily lives we do not notice many things that happen round about us. We are so busy; there are so many places to go, so many things to do; there are church activities, school functions, entertainment opportunities, obligations to friends and relatives, the press of work. Often we are blithely ignorant of what is taking place in the world at large. As long as our own world is not disturbed or upset, we continue on our way with little or no thought of the events of history. If we notice them at all, it is but to pause a moment and then to resume the hectic pace of life.
But every now and then something happens to make us sit up and take notice. An event so startling and so unusual occurs that we cannot help but notice it, especially if we are bombarded with accounts of that event in the newspapers, radio, magazines, and television. Then we come out of our own little world and say in effect, “Something is happening!” But even then, do we really pause to consider what this “something” means? Do we as the people of God relate the events of history to our lives as His saints in the midst of the world? Do we carefully evaluate this event in the light of Scripture, and apply it to ourselves in the context of the end of the ages in which we live? Do we ask what God is saying to us in the events of history?
Just such an event has recently taken place. I refer to the course of history in the Middle East, particularly the prospects for peace between the nations of Israel and Egypt. A great deal has been written and said about the events of recent weeks, far too much to summarize here. The news magazines have been full of stories and pictures of the historic trip by the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, to visit his Israeli counterpart in Jerusalem, Menachem Begin. The events before, during, and after this visit have been headline material for the daily newspapers. Virtually every radio broadcast contains some reference to the Middle East. And television, which itself played a part in bringing together the two leaders, has capitalized on the situation on the nightly news almost ad nauseam. All of this media coverage has made it almost impossible for anyone not to know what is happening on the stage of history from moment to moment. Also we as the people of God are touched, some more, some less, by these things, for we live also in the world and are part of its history. And when something so completely unanticipated takes place, then we, too, pause and take notice.
But what is it that we notice? Does the full significance of that to which we are witnesses strike us? While a case can surely be made for the necessity of the passage of time for the correct perspective on history, this does not preclude evaluation in the present time. We must have clearly before our minds what has happened in all its significance. With the events themselves we are (or should be) well acquainted. What will come of all of this we do not know. The very suddenness of the current peace initiative should tell us as much as that. Peace is likely; peace is possible; peace is still remote; peace will include only Israel and Egypt; peace will include all the Arab nations and Israel; peace will come in Cairo or Jerusalem; peace will come in Geneva; or peace will not come at all. The choices are as varied as the situation is complicated. But what does it mean?
Pause and consider with me the impact of Sadat’s trip to Israel and its implications and connected events. This peace initiative has broken 30 years of uninterrupted hostility and hatred. The state of Israel was born soon after World War II in the midst of war, bloodshed, and hatred, so much so that it required the superpowers of the world just to carve out Israel in the midst of Arab lands. Think of the fighting in 1956 in the Sinai. Recall the stunning victory of Israel that electrified the world in 1967; in six short days the beleaguered nation all but destroyed its enemies. Think of the 1973 war, with heavy casualties and losses on both sides, a war which nevertheless strengthened Israel’s position once more. Think about the implacable hatred, the overblown rhetoric to which we have perhaps become callous, the hardship, death, suffering, sorrow, and loss that have been a part of everyday life for the past 30 years. Think of black and white, of oil and water, of east and west.
And then remember, if you can, the pictures you saw and the descriptions you heard and read about Sadat’s mission to Israel. See the two leaders, in obvious friendship, shaking the hand of one another, embracing one another, eating and drinking and talking together. Think of the welcome given by the people of Israel to the leader of their bitterest enemies. See the flags of Egypt flying in Jerusalem. Hear the two leaders praising one another. And then recall that all of this happened virtually overnight. One day the situation was the same as it had been for 30 years. The next day the lines of communication had been opened and peace appeared at last on the horizon of history as a real possibility.
Or think back, as people of God, to your background of Biblical knowledge. If you do, then you will recall that the enmity between Egypt and Israel goes back much further than the past 30 years of war and bloodshed. It begins really at Babel with the division of the nations by the sovereign God. It continues with the oppression of the covenant people in the land of Egypt for many long years. Even Begin himself alluded to this by saying that he wanted to see the pyramids of Egypt. “After all,” he said, “we helped to build them.” The history continues with the record of God’s mighty deliverance of His people from the land of bondage through the ten plagues. The history reaches its climax in Christ, Who with His parents fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt have I called ,my son.” Indeed, the history of Egypt and Israel goes back many centuries, and is of central significance for God’s plan of redemption.
And then consider again the age-old enemies meeting and greeting one another in the spirit of brotherhood. Watch the amicable embraces, hear the words of praise and congratulation spoken to each other by the two leaders. And then consider what it all means, what it says to us, and what we must say about this.
What must we say? Should we join in the praises of the world for these two men? Should we engage in the adulation and exaltation of man, of his boldness, of his cleverness of his statesmanship? Should we in the spirit of humanistic brotherhood envision vistas of peace over the Sinai desert? Should we enthrone the central figures in this drama of history upon the pedestal of popular acclaim and reckon them to be world saviors? You know better than that.
Or should we perhaps join with many who see all of this as a fulfillment of the prophecies of Scripture, especially the book of Revelation? Must we take the stand of the premillennialists who expect the restoration of the nation of Israel as an entity in the earthly sense of the word as a necessary condition to the second coming of Christ? Do we look for a restoration of the throne of David in Jerusalem, a conversion of the Jews, a coming of Christ followed by a one thousand year reign in the city of David, followed by the salvation of the church? If we have such an idea, as many do today, then surely the events of the past weeks are very reassuring. They confirm the establishment and security of the state of Israel and imply the imminence of the return of our Lord. But from a Biblical perspective this also cannot be our interpretation of these events.
What then do we say? It is impossible here to refute the theory of pre-millennialism, nor is that our purpose. Neither is it our purpose to try to fit these events into the scheme of the book of Revelation and therefore to make some predictions concerning the coming of Christ and the time of His return. But if nothing else, surely we are taught that the events of history are fast-moving. They move so fast that we can hardly keep up with them; almost every day there is a new development, so that the attention of the whole world is focused on two tiny countries. When we interpret this in the light of Scripture, then we see here a sign of the times. We are instructed in the book of Revelation that as the end of all things draws ever closer, the world rushes with increasing speed towards its destruction under the judgment of God, that events take place more and more rapidly, until in the course of development all things are ready for the advent of the Savior the second time. The recent events are a perfect illustration of this truth. They tell us, therefore, that we do indeed live in the end times, for the signs of the end are all about us, so that anyone who has spiritual eyes can see.
But all of these things tell us also that our God is sovereign. It is clear that the rulers of the world do not really control the course of history, for even world leaders were caught off their guard. But our God is working in history, causing all things to move forward in His own way and His own time, but yet with such rapidity that we are startled by it all. And in this thought there is comfort for God’s people, too. Not just in the knowledge that our sovereign God controls all things, but also in the faith that he directs them in such a way that they must bring the coming of Christ, and bring it soon. In this consciousness we are encouraged to live as citizens of the kingdom which is from above, redeeming the time even unto the end.