How do we pray for Israel now?
Israel is currently experiencing the worst government crisis since its foundation. Benjamin Netanyahu and former army chief Benny Gantz represent two party blocs that do not seem so far apart after all. Nevertheless, every rapprochement has failed so far.
It is remarkable how Israel was able to maintain normality almost unimpaired during this year of government crisis. It is correct to say the stronger a democracy is, the more it can endure confrontations and divergent political currents. An Israeli lawyer recently said to me tongue-in-cheek: "We seem to function quite well without a government. Perhaps we would be better off without one?" The Israeli government crisis has lasted for almost a year now and the country seems to be heading for a third round of elections.
Political observers repeatedly make use of antisemitic stereotypes and speak of a struggle of Jewish nationalism under Benjamin Netanyahu against a liberal constitutional state under the leadership of Benny Gantz. However, it is still one of Israel's outstanding characteristics that right from the very beginning it has been able to brilliantly combine and unite religious and liberal currents. Every democracy thrives on change. Israel has shown impressively how well this can work despite crises and external attacks.
During my last trip to Israel I reviewed the past twenty years. I remembered how my wife Charlotte and I met Benjamin Netanyahu on the terrace of the King David Hotel before he ever became Prime Minister. Shortly thereafter, as head of state he became a guarantor of security, economic growth and international relations for a long time. He knows the importance of Evangelical Christians and welcomes them with their work, as he puts it, as "Israel's best friends". Christians pray for him worldwide. I am convinced that Benjamin Netanyahu was a blessing for Israel and hopefully will be in the future.
At the same time I am asking myself: Isn't it a completely normal process in a democracy to pass the baton, which we should pray for and bless? After more than 20 years of political activity and 13 successful years as Prime Minister, would a political change be reprehensible in any way? Couldn’t a successor who has made moral values an important campaign issue be a blessing for the country and thus also for the nations?
Many Christians have made Benjamin Netanyahu a messenger of God who alone can bring Israel progress, security and stability. This is unbiblical and wrong. God's covenant and promises are not tied to any politician, but belong to Israel alone. The four hundred rockets fired recently from the Gaza Strip have done comparatively little damage. They testify once more: "The Keeper of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Ps 121:4). People negotiate and form coalitions, but God alone appoints and dismisses governments (Dan 2:21). The "Iron Dome" of heaven is the truth, for "His truth is protection and shield" (Ps 91:4b).
What is the right thing to pray for Israel right now? Millions of Christian intercessors associate God's promises and blessings for Israel with the name of Benjamin Netanyahu and pray for the continuation of his government. But how about letting go of our own ideas and welcoming and affirming in prayer the possibility that God may want to establish a new government for the blessing of the country?
How good it would be if Benjamin Netanyahu, beyond all political disputes and election campaigns, had the opportunity to be relieved of the accusations, so that his successes could be honored and recognized in a worthy manner. And how sad and how inappropriate it would be, if the almost one-year stagnation in the Israeli government were finally to be reduced to selfish and all too human motives.
I am not a politician and I do not want to presume to be able to properly assess politics in Israel. Like millions of other Christians, we are like "watchmen on the wall" (Is 62:6) praying for Israel and Jerusalem. I ask myself: Are the paralysis and stagnation in Israel the reflection of a frozen and rigid church that has lost its inner compass and with it its authority in prayer? God Himself has made a commitment and promises: "I will hear from heaven and will heal their land" - if we do the right thing! (2Chronicles 7:14). Israel's paralyzed government is God's urgent call to humble ourselves before Him, to seek His face in prayer and to repent of our selfish and evil ways. Will we hear His call?
By Jobst Bittner