Jerusalem’s importance in the the Old Testament simply cannot be overstated. It’s the “City of David”, conquered by the man himself (2 Samuel 5). It’s the location of the first permanent Temple (1 Kings 6). It’s the subject of an entire Psalm (122, quoted above). Jerusalem – and the land of Israel in its entirety – was a gift from God to the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12). Against all odds, God fulfilled his promise to his people to give them a home (Deuteronomy 30). It’s no wonder, then, that the ransacking of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25) was so devastating.
Jerusalem is also incredibly significant in the New Testament. It was still considered the city of David, and faithful Israelites looked forward to the day when the Messiah would deliver God’s people from Roman oppression and restore them to rightful power over their land (Matthew 21). It’s the place Jesus walked, taught, and ultimately died (Mark 15). At one point Jesus lamented over Jerusalem (Luke 13). Somewhere around Jerusalem there’s an empty tomb (John 20). And in the Book of Revelation, God’s eternal reign with his people on earth as in heaven – after sin, death, and Satan are defeated once and for all – is described as a sort of “new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21).
With all of this in mind, it’s not hard to see why the events of the war in Israel over the past several weeks have been so emotionally, politically, and theologically charged. Because of our shared faith heritage, Jews and Christians in particular feel uniquely invested in what happens in the land of Israel, even if we have no friends or relatives there and have never visited. We would do well to follow the guidance of Psalm 122 and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and the land of Israel in its entirety in the midst of the current conflict with Hamas.
But we may ask: “How exactly should we pray?” We recognize that there are a number of complexities involved with the debate over who “really” should get to call Israel home – and if anyone you meet on the street pretends to have a simple solution to the ethnic, cultural, religious, and political tensions in the Middle East, you should probably think twice before taking their advice. On top of that, there’s endless (and often heated) debate about the role Israel might play within certain streams of eschatology. In the face of all these wrinkles and nuances, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and simply not pray at all.
But if we cut through the various ideological weeds, here are a few suggestions about how we can pray for Israel:
- Pray that Israeli forces would bring the war to a swift and decisive end, and that the loss of human life – all of which is created by God – would cease.
- Pray that those guilty of the atrocities we’ve seen on the news would be brought to justice by God (I’m looking especially at you, Hamas).
- Pray that those guilty of the atrocities we’ve seen on the news would repent of sin and be saved by God (still looking at you, Hamas).
- Pray that innocent civilians caught in the middle of the conflict – both Israeli and Palestinian – would be protected.
- Pray that Christians in the land would be strong and courageous witnesses to Jesus amidst the rubble.
- Pray that the land of Israel itself – which, regardless of one’s eschatological leanings, must be acknowledged as the unique location of so much of God’s work in history – would be spared.
- Pray that Israeli forces defending their homeland would practice discernment and restraint in their use of force, rather than sink to the same levels of evil practiced by those who started the war.
Pray for Jerusalem. Pray for Israel. For the sake of all in and around the City of David – Jew and Gentile, believer and unbeliever – pray for peace.