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Netanyahu's Tragic Speech

True Peace Was On His Own Lips, And He Missed It

I work at a hotel part-time, and yesterday when cleaning up our breakfast room I had the opportunity to listen to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations. While wiping tables and cleaning dishes (Erin would be proud of me!!) I listened to him passionately make the case that Israel’s security needed to be addressed before the Palestinians achieve full recognition as a UN member state.

What struck me during his speech was a line at the end, where he quoted from Isaiah 9:2. He said:

“Let us realize the vision of Isaiah… ‘The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.’ Let that light be the light of peace.”

I’ll give Netanyahu full marks for rhetorical effect – it was a stirring turn of phrase. But it was ironic and sad to hear it on the lips of a Jewish Israeli politician, invoking it in a context of strategic and political maneuvering. See, that is a beautiful text, and not just because it gives a generic and undefined sense of hope. Rather, Isaiah goes on to give reason for hope. He tells Israel what the light they will see is. He goes on to say:

…those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor,  you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2b-7)

The very reason Netanyahu was speaking was because of the long-simmering strife between his people and the Palestinian Arabs who live in territories controlled by Israel. Netanyahu wanted to show the world that Israel is interested in peace, and to call his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table. Netanyahu and the Israeli people are looking to peace agreements and security guarantees and land swaps and, most of all, military might and strategic depth, as the path to peace. Abbas and the Palestinians, for their part, speak about the end of Israeli settlements and a seat at the United Nations and look to world opinion and international pressure on Israel as the path to their desired end.

Each side looks to the things of this world. Much like the kings Isaiah criticized, like Hezekiah, who placed his trust in an alliance with Babylon to counter the Assyrian threat.

What’s ironic is that Netanyahu’s quotation, while rhetorically impressive in the context of his speech, belies the entire approach he, and the people of Israel (and everyone else) have been taking to the “peace process.” Netanyahu rightly pointed out that peace was unattainable by way of UN resolutions. But it is equally unattainable by the means Netanyahu prefers. Sinful men making deals with sinful men will not attain peace. The very passage he quoted, in context, makes clear that peace is the work of “the zeal of Yahweh of hosts.” But he didn’t quote the context.

What’s sad is that the text in Isaiah makes clear the means that this Yahweh has appointed to bring this peace about: a child, a son, given to Israel. One called Wonderful Counselor. One called Mighty God. One called Everlasting Father. One who is, truly and uniquely, the Prince of Peace. And this text has been fulfilled in the very experience and history of Netanyahu’s people, in the birth and life and sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Jewish people, as a whole, continue to reject their Messiah, except for a small remnant. And certainly their Palestinian counterparts, except for a minority in their own midst, do the same. The entire project of the State of Israel, in one sense, is an attempt to reclaim a glory and a promise that belong rightly to Jesus Christ, and apart from whom have no ultimate meaning or hope of success. This is not to deny the very real need for security and a homeland for the Jewish people, or the legitimacy of Israel among the nations. But I do have to point out that on this side of the Cross, the relationship of Israel to her Messiah and her God is a much more urgent crisis than her problems with her earthly neighbors. Without Christ, there is no hope of real peace; instead, anyone rejecting Christ remains in their sin and at war with God. This estrangement from the God of heaven and earth is a far more deadly crisis than the troubles in the Middle East.

Apart from faith in this Jesus, there is no hope at all. And I wish Benjamin Netanyahu, who knows all too well the life and death stakes of the game he is playing, really understood the actual meaning of the text he used yesterday. He was right: that light is the “light of peace.” But not a peace of man’s own making. If Netanyahu really wants to realize the vision of Isaiah, he and his people, and the Palestinians too, should look to something greater, and something available even now: the precious Savior Jesus Christ. As it stands now, he rests his hope on the work of soldiers and diplomats. He need only look at the ancient seal he talked about in his speech, that sits in his office, which dates from before the Babylonian exile, and ask: “Back then, did the work of Israel’s diplomats and soldiers endure?” And if not, why not?

If not for Christ, the light of peace is but an illusion. Illusions pass away. What a hollow hope that is