The dedication of the new US embassy in Jerusalem has been called a historic moment. Middle East experts and political pundits on all sides have and will continue to offer their interpretations about the short and long term repercussions of this decision.
Some will say the president’s intention was to fulfill a campaign promise and that the ceremony itself was a pure partisan show veiled as diplomacy.
Others will acclaim this action as an important step and a long overdue decision towards affirming Israel’s right to choose its own location for its capital.
Then we have Hamas callously stoking its population to penetrate or overrun Israel’s border fence thereby using their citizens’s human life as sacrificial offerings for political gain against Israel.
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The recent death and injury totals will be used in the world’s ongoing propaganda wars to discredit Israel and the United States. What nation has to go through so much just to have the world recognize the capital they choose to represent their own nation?
In the Bible there is another moment when a world leader recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people. In the book of Ezra, chapter one describes another historic moment when the Jewish were allowed to return to Jerusalem and resettle their homeland after being 70 years in exile. The Babylonians, under the leadership of their king Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem and took Judea’s population and leadership into exile. Yet, the Persians defeated the Babylonians decades later and thanks to Cyrus (538 BCE), the Persian king, ultimately brought the Jewish people back to the holy land.
In chapter one “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth, the G-d of heaven, has given me; and He has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” At that moment Cyrus gives legitimacy to the principal that Jerusalem is both the political and spiritual capital of the Jewish people.
Then the decree in chapter one verse two continues by Cyrus, “Whosoever there is among you of all His people--his God be with him--let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of God, the God of Israel, He is the God who is in Jerusalem.”
Cyrus recognizes that Jerusalem is both the political and religious capital of the Jewish people. Later on in chapters three and four and five of the Book of Ezra the political intrigue continued just like today with neighboring tribes protesting against the Persian king’s decree and his successors who followed Cyrus and who continued to support the restoration project of Judea’s capital in Jerusalem. Those tribes promised that they would not recognize the Jewish capital and the Holy Temple. Sound familiar?
Finally, in chapters six and seven both Persian Kings Darius and Artaxerxes each issued decrees reaffirming the right for the Jewish people to have Jerusalem as their eternal capital which meant to build both the house of God-the Holy Temple and to reestablish the political leadership of the David monarchy.
All of this biblical history goes to show that whether we are speaking in ancient times about the Persian kings or the American Presidents, the recognition of Israel as a state and Jerusalem as its capital has depended in large part on the recognition by the world’s dominant power of the day which was Persia then or today the United States. Similarly, we see that even though these leaders from ancient times to today gave recognition to the Jewish people that Jerusalem is the capital there were always those who opposed it. In that sense nothing has changed since ancient times.
Long after the political storm has subsided, the US embassy in Jerusalem will remain. No one knows how that decision this week will impact Israel’s standing in the world community or its relationships with the Palestinians and potential peacenegotiations leading to a two state solution. Time will answer these questions.
We should not, however, ignore history and the continuing saga that Israel never gains recognition whether regarding its sovereignty or affirming its capital without paying a price. That is the sad aspect of this current controversy over building a US embassy in Jerusalem.
On the other hand the embassy is now a fact and one I support but one which I hope will lead in the long term with wise American leadership, no matter how improbable peace might appear to be at this moment, to striking an agreement between Israel the Palestinians.
Abba Eban, one of Israel’s great diplomats is reported to have said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
I pray that that observation no matter how true will one day change and that both Israel and the Palestinians will capture that elusive opportunity for peace. The Psalmist said, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you!” Please join me in that prayer.
We need it now more than ever.