Author Archives: Stephen Sizer

Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Walter Brueggemann: A Review

066426154X-2In his short but passionate little book, Chosen? Walter Brueggemann addresses some of the important questions regarding God’s purposes for Israel and the Church. For example, are contemporary Israeli citizens the descendants of the Israelites in the Bible whom God called chosen? Was the promise of land to Abraham permanent and irrevocable? What about others living in the promised land? Who are the Zionists, and what do they believe? The subtitle of the book tells us where he intends to look for answers, “Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” His publisher, Westminster John Knox, promises,

“The reader will get answers to their key questions about how to understand God’s promises to the biblical people often called Israel and the conflict between Israel and Palestine today.”

Chosen? comprises 59 pages of scripture commentary in four short chapters, a Q&A with the author, a glossary and 20-page study guide to facilitate group discussion around each of the chapters. The four chapters are:

  1. Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  2. God’s Chosen People, Claim and Problem
  3. Holy Land?
  4. Zionism and Israel

The book also contains very helpful guidelines for respectful dialogue first published by the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1992.  Significantly, the title includes a question mark.  I added a question mark to the titles of two of my own books: Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.[i]  Walter is recognising, as I did, that views differ on whether the Jews are God’s chosen people, even though, unlike me, he personally concludes that they are.

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The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Jonathan Schneer

8253107A Summary by Colin Chapman

The late Tony Judt described this book as ‘the best modern history of the Balfour Declaration,’ and Eugene Rogan of Oxford sees it as ‘the most original exposition of the Balfour Declaration to date.’ It deserves a wide circulation as we live through the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on 2 November, 2017. The author, Jonathan Schneer, is an American historian who specialises in modern British history and teaches at Georgia Tech’s School of History, Technology, and Society.

This is an attempt simply to summarise the contents of the book with a number of quotations. If it were a review, my only criticism of the book would be that, in concentrating so much on the politics behind the Declaration, there is no discussion of the religious beliefs of key players like Lord Balfour and David Lloyd George which made them so open to supporting Zionism.

The Balfour Declaration (BD) needs to be understood in the context of World War I

 By the time the BD was issued on 2 November 1917, Britain and Germany had been at war for over three years. Millions had been slaughtered in the trenches and neither side seemed to be winning. The Battle of the Somme had been fought between 1 July and 1 November, 1916, and Passchendale between July and November, 1917. The British government was seeking for ways to turn the tide in the war. Some in the cabinet believed that all their energies should be concentrated on the western front on the continent (‘the westerners’), while others believed that new initiatives in the Middle East could break the deadlock and give Britain the advantage (‘the easterners’). After the fall of the Asquith government in December 1916, Lloyd George, an easterner, became Prime Minister.

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Are you desperate enough for Jesus?

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When you find yourself in deep trouble, when the rubber has hit the fan, it really does not matter whose fault it was or what caused it. All you really want is someone to help, someone to understand, someone to get you out of trouble. You see dying people, broken people, hurt people, used and abused people, don’t need theological explanations, or self-help tutorials, they need practical help, not next month, not next week, but today, right now, this very minute.

In Matthew 15 we meet a mother. A desperate mother. A mother with a sick child.  Imagine that you’ve carried this baby in your womb for nine long months. You’ve been through the excruciating pain of childbirth. You’ve nursed her, fed her, washed her, changed her. Watched her grow, take her first step, say her first word. You can still remember her first day of school. How pretty she looked in that dress. The first time you let her out of your sight. She’s your little girl.  Your little girl. And this was her little girl. Maybe she had been sick before. A cold here. A headache there, maybe a bruise or bump from time to time. But nothing ever like this before. In the daytime she screams and shouts constantly. You can’t put clothes on her because she’ll tear them off. Her hair is no longer washed and tidy with sweet little pig-tails.  Her hair is all pulled out at the roots and the remaining ones are left sticking up. Strange voices come out of her mouth. She can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t play. But one thing is constant, those eyes. There’s a strange look in her eyes. Eyes that tell you that this is no ordinary sickness, no ordinary problem, no ordinary trouble. She is …. and you don’t want to even say the word… possessed.

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Who do you say I am?

20604521_1646465512039360_7727253128629454740_nOn my first visit to Palestine, about 25 years ago, our tour guide was a Messianic Jew called Zvi. One day, someone in the group asked him a question about the Palestinians. He was prepared. He gave each of us a piece of paper with a quote by Golda Meir,

“It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”

We didn’t ask any more questions until we got to Nazareth and met one of the local pastors. He gave us a short talk about why he was an Arab, a Palestinian, an Israeli and a Christian. I learnt that day that it was wiser and safer to let people self-identify and not presume to tell them who they are or are not.

Who am I? The world out there has plenty of ideas. Some would say I am who I was – the quest to trace our family tree, to know who are ancestors were can define us. My ancestors were here before yours were. Others insist I am what I achieve. What university did you go to? For others, I am what I drive.  For some it is all about where I live. In a Settlement or an unregistered village? For some I am what I eat. For many I am what I do.  For some I am who I love. For some I am what I know.  For others I am who I know. For lots of people I am what I possess.   But many people just don’t know. They are searching for meaning and purpose. They are trapped not knowing who they really are.  Who am I? The Bible says, we will never know who we are until we decide who Jesus is. Because Jesus says, “I am who I follow”.

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Syria: A Recent History by John McHugo

512R+XAgLZL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Reflections and Summary by Colin Chapman

 This very readable review of the last hundred years of the history of Syria has helped me to make sense of the ongoing conflict in Syria. Before summarising each chapter, it may be helpful to spell out some of the most significant themes that John McHugo draws out from this history:

  1. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Faisal set himself up as king in Damascus in 1918, attempting to set up an independent Arab kingdom in accordance with promises made to him by the French and the British. This was ‘probably the best chance of Greater Syria to develop their own nationhood’; but these hopes of independence and nationhood were dashed by French and British colonial ambitions.
  1. France during the Mandate period (1920 – 1946) did little to prepare the country for independence, and some of its policies (like ‘divide and rule’ and supporting minorities) sowed the seeds of later conflict. France’s colonial rule made it difficult for Syria to develop as an independent state.

‘France had a vision of a permanent French presence in Syria … “the whole of it and for ever” … The French did their utmost to make the establishment of a successful independent Syrian state as hard as possible … It is not an exaggeration to say that the actions of the great powers in the aftermath of the Great War and over the following decades deprived the people of Syria of any chance of a normal development to nationhood.’mchugo_john

  1. Britain shares some of the responsibility along with France since many of its policies in the region were motivated by rivalry with France and a determination to limit its power in the region. The boundaries of the states they created were artificial and determined more by their own interests than by geography, history or demography.
  1. During the Cold War (later 1940s – 1989) Syria was caught up in the struggle between the US and the USSR and therefore became ‘the play thing of foreign interests.’ Syria turned to the USSR for support (and especially for arms) when it was rebuffed by the West. Many US policies in the region were intended to separate Syria (and Egypt) from the USSR, to support Israel and further American hegemony.

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The Greatest of These Is…

Weddings1 Corinthians 13 is probably the most widely read passage at weddings. True, it’s the most beautiful description there is in Scripture about love – yet the context of the passage is not about marriage. It is about serving one another and when you think about it, that is what marriage is really all about.
I’d like us to examine this passage under three headings:

The motive is Love (12:31-13:3)
The quality is Divine (13:4-8)
The purpose is maturity (13:9-13).

  1. The Motive is Love

“And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3)
Do you see how important love is? The gifts of prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, mentioned here are valuable or worthless depending on one thing: Motive. Listen to how these verses are translated in the Message translation.

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

The question I must ask myself therefore is this: Why am I serving? Why am I not serving? What is my motive?  Our motive must be love. Continue reading

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A Line in the Sand: A Summary by Colin Chapman

a-line-in-the-sand-9781849839037_hrThis book seeks to explain how many of the problems of the Middle East in the last century can be traced back to the colonial ambitions of Britain and France and in particular to the ‘venomous rivalry’ between them in their struggle for mastery of the region. It was this rivalry which lay behind the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the creation by Britain of the kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan, Britain’s support for the independence of Syria and Lebanon, and French support for the Jewish underground which was working against the British in Palestine in 1948.

What follows is a summary of the main themes of the book, combined with quotations from key passages.

The Sykes-Picot agreement (May 1916) was an attempt by Britain and France to deal with their rival ambitions in the Middle East and to define spheres of influence in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The ‘line in the sand’, which was literally drawn on the map by Mark Sykes (for Britain) and Francois Georges-Picot (for France), ran (in Sykes’ words) ‘from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk’. Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq (including Mosul) were allocated to France, while Transjordan and southern Iraq were allocated to Britain. Because Britain and France both wanted control of Palestine, it was finally agreed that it should come under international control.

‘The compromise, which neither power liked, was that the Holy Land should have an international administration.’  (2)

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Fasting for Justice

Isaiah-58.6-7At 4 a.m. on May 27 — some 90 minutes before the start of Ramadan — a hunger strike by nearly 1500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails came to an end, exactly 40 days after it was declared. They had refused food in protest at the denial of their human rights. The demands of the strike for freedom and dignity were straightforward – for the right to family visits, the ability to speak to their family by telephone, to receive medical care, not to be subject to isolation or to imprisonment without charge or trial under administrative detention.

Two prominent Christian leaders, Gregory Lahham III, former Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, and Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, joined in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners as did many other people of faith around the world. Patriarch Gregory, who is 83 years old, said in an interview with Al-Mayadeen TV, “I say to the prisoners, we are with you in your sacrifice for Palestine.” Archbishop Atallah, said the prisoners’ cause is the “issue of all Palestinian people,” stressing his support for the prisoners’ just demands.  He went on to say, “We belong to this land and we belong to this people who fights for freedom. We will always remain biased to the just Palestinian cause.” The Patriarch and Archbishop joined social activists and supporters all over the world in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Continue reading

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Zion’s Christian Soldiers

Limited edition, signed and at the special price of £15 in the UK including postage, and £20 worldwide. Worth it just for the sermon by John Stott. Also available in Arabic and Korean.Zions-christian-soldiers-2 976480_367113153390423_1636882878_o-710x1024-2 zcsarabiccover-728x1024

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Richard Bewes Commends Peacemaker Mediators

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