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November 2014

Peace, Peace and the Middle East


From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 8:10-11

Today, Americans are enjoying the holiday, Veterans Day.  While many will connect this public observance to honoring the armed services, not many will know the origin of its date, Nov. 11th.  This day is observed throughout much of the Western world as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day because the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marked the end of World War One in 1918.  More than half of all soldiers who participated in this infamous war were wounded, killed, or disappeared.  One hundred years later, few realize how the results of that devastating war and its peace agreements continue on in our 21st century and the modern Middle East.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the Turkish Ottoman Empire had ruled much of what we call the Middle East for 400 years.  With the defeat of the Central Powers, which included the Turks, the Ottoman Empire was carved up by the victorious Allied Powers.  Because this war involved so many nations, ethnicities, and religious sects, the peace negotiations of 1919 involved a plethora of “people” problems—who should rule whom, and how. 

The American party at those Paris peace negotiations was led by President Woodrow Wilson, who strongly advocated democratic, self-rule for the world’s assorted peoples, in contradistinction to the colonialist agendas of the British and French.  At the conclusion of those negotiations, the world map and its boundaries were radically redrawn, with mandates created for future nation states. New borders were conceived for much of the Middle East, including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine (part of which later became Israel).  As a result of the violence and bloodshed that soon followed the “peace agreements,” many of these Middle Eastern mandates became countries sooner than expected.  Field Marshal Archibald Wavell later dryly noted, “After ‘the war to end war’ they seem to have been pretty successful in Paris at making a ‘Peace to end Peace.’”[1]

These new borders for the Middle East had been conceived prior to the end of the war by the British and the French in a secret agreement to divide up the former Ottoman Empire for themselves.  This 1916 pact, known as the Sykes–Picot Agreement, has had lasting ramifications upon the Middle East till this day.  Arbitrary lines were drawn in the Middle Eastern sand, creating new countries with an unequal and volatile mix of populations previously ruled by one Islamic empire.  During the last century, these Middle Eastern countries have often been a stage for corrupt, strongman tyrannies which some have declared a necessary evil for maintaining some sort of forced peace within this region’s boiling cauldron of ethnicities and sects.  The recent 2010 Arab Spring, though, was a popular protest movement against this dysfunctional autocratic legacy.  The Sykes–Picot Agreement has been accused by some of bequeathing today’s tumult.  In fact, the goals of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) are to reunite these former Middle Eastern provinces under one Islamic caliphate, and erase Sykes-Picot once and for all.  This includes ISIS’s aim to liberate “Palestine” as well.

Palestine was birthed as a mandate in the aftermath of World War One, under the auspices of the British Empire.  Mandatory Palestine was famously preceded by the Balfour Declaration (1917), which expressed the British government’s support for a Jewish state in Palestine.  Over the next 30 years, competing Jewish and Arab interests resulted in this small strip of land being ravaged by ethnic, religious, and political violence.  After the Arab rejection of the United Nations’ 1947 Partition Plan of Palestine, which recommended a division of the land between Arabs and Jews, and with the withdrawal of British forces in 1948, Mandatory Palestine became a winner-take-all contest between the surrounding Arab nations and the Jewish militias.  Even with numerous battlefield victories over the decades, the Jewish state of Israel’s existence for the last 66 years has witnessed one conflict followed by another.  Peace has rarely been a bilateral agreement but a temporal acquiescence to international demands. 

Peace is not always a solution.  And conflict is not always wrong.  History is filled with examples when countries and peoples entered into deceptive and destructive peace pacts. Good politics requires backbone and street smarts in the pursuit of peace.  Likewise, there are many conflicts in the past which we could debate were justified, whether defending against an aggressor, squelching a threat, or standing up to an oppressor.  The real world rarely defers to idealistic rules of “fair play”.  Both conflict and peace can be complicated.

In the past few months, with the rising of tensions, attacks, and discontent, the Holy Land faces an all too familiar situation.  Often, we talk about “praying for the peace of Jerusalem,” but how should we pray?  With hope and a little imagination.  To pray with purpose, we have to believe there is hope, that what we do not have, we believe one day we will.  And imagination perceives something that our senses do not.  Imagination is an important component for solving problems, so how much more is it required for conceiving of and making peace?  As followers of Jesus, as pursuers of peace, let’s pray for the peoples of this land believing that there is hope and there is a way. 

[1] Fromkin, David (1989), A Peace to End All Peace, New York: Henry Holt. pg 5.


A Good Land

Israel’s Seven Species: Fig


Deuteronomy is a book of expectations. In this final book of the Pentateuch, God stokes the Israelites’ expectations concerning their entrance into the long-awaited “Promised Land”, while at the same time, He explains the rules that they are expected to follow.  One of these expectations is the agricultural bounty of the land of Canaan, often summed up by the so-called seven species.  During the time of Jesus, only these seven varieties[1] were presented in the Temple at Jerusalem as offerings of the first fruits festival (Ex 34:26).

“For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates, of olive oil and honey (Dt 8:7-8).”

The FIG is a large tenacious tree which bears a fragile, highly sweet fruit in the hot summer months.  The fig, or te’ena in Hebrew, is native to Israel and the Ancient Near East and is well known in many biblical accounts.  It is one of the first trees mentioned in the Bible when Adam and Eve used its large, uniquely shaped leaves to sew for themselves coverings.[2]  The fig tree’s huge leaves fall away with winter and slowly begin budding forth in spring time.  

In the summer, a fig tree’s leafy canopy provided a comfortable shelter from the blazing sun.  The shade of a fig tree was used by rabbis, like Akiva, when teaching their students.[3]  Perhaps, Nathaniel was studying in its shade when Jesus first saw him.[4] 

Along with grapes and pomegranates, figs were a common fruit associated with the land of Canaan.[5]  Figs were often dried and stored as “fig cakes”[6] which extended their shelf-life as food.  They were especially beneficial for tired travelers.[7]  Sitting under or eating from one’s fig tree was a biblical idiom for “peace and security,”[8] while the fig tree’s decline or destruction was an allusion to desperate, insecure times.[9]

When cultivated for its fruit, the fig required consistent care.[10]  In order to reap a bountiful harvest, some types of fig trees, like the sycamore fig (Hebrew: shikma), needed to be pierced by the farmer to allow for fertilization.[11]  During harvest season, a fig tree's unpicked fruit needed to be checked daily to prevent rot and theft.  Besides being a cattle owner, the prophet Amos was also a fig-pricker.[12]

Amos was a poet as well.  Probably, because of the fig’s summer picking season, another name for figs found in the Bible is “summer fruit” or kaytz.  This Hebrew word, kaytz, also means “summer” and shares the same root and sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for “the end” (ketz).  Like all the biblical prophets, Amos often utilized poetry and alliteration for his prophetic delivery.  He expounded a vision given to him by the Lord where a basket of figs, or summer fruit (kaytz), alluded to the end (ketz)—the destruction of Israel.

The sovereign LORD showed me this: I saw a basket of summer fruit. 
He said, “What do you see, Amos?”
I replied, “A basket of summer fruit (kaytz).”
Then the LORD said to me, “The end (ketz) has come for my people Israel!
I will no longer overlook their sins.” (Amos 8:1-2)

One of Jesus’ most famous prophetic teachings also alludes to the fig’s relationship to “the end” and judgment.  Jesus taught that when the fig tree buds, one knows that summer is approaching and its fruit will be ripe for picking.  The fig is a seasonal reminder that God’s judgment does not tarry.  

Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also you, when you see these things happening, know that it is near, right at the door.  (Mk 13:28-29)

[1] Mishna Bikkurim 1,3

[2] Gen 3:7

[3] Midrash Rabbah Ecclesiastes 5:11

[4] John 1:47-51. 

[5] Num 13:23; Neh 13:15

[6] Fig cake in Hebrew is devela (see 1 Sam 25:18; 30:12; 2 Kgs 20:7; Isa 38:21; 1 Chr 12:40)

[7] 2 Sam 16:1-2; 1 Sam 25:18-35; 1 Sam 30:11-12

[8] I Kgs 4:25; 2 Kgs18:31; Isa 36:16; Mic 4:4; Zech 3:10

[9] Jer 5:17; 8:13; 48:32; Hos 2:12; Joel 1:7, 12; Amos 4:9; Mic 7:1; Hab 3:17; Hag 2:19; Ps 105:33

[10] Pr 27:18; Lk 13:6-9

[11] In the wild, the young figs were pierced by the fig wasp.  

[12] In Amos 7:14, it says that Amos boles shikmim (Hebrew). Most English translations say Amos cared for, gathered, dressed, trimmed, grew, picked, or plucked sycamore figs.  The true meaning of boles is to prick or gash the sycamore fig to help it mature and ripen.

Charity Report: JCF Trip to Visit Syrian Refugees in Jordan (Nov 15-16)

Three families, including JCF's Danny and Eva Kopp's family plus Gary and Sharon Alley's family, will be visiting with families in northern Jordan who have fled Syria because of the civil war there.  We will report on our visit in the next JCF newsletter.  If you would like to contribute to aiding the families we meet on this trip, any funds that are specified "For Syrian Refugees" sent by Nov 13th through JCF's Paypal account will be included.  Donate here.



News in Israel and the Middle East

  • The Beginning of the Third Intifada?  Since the summer war with Hamas, Israeli security has been under attack on multiple fronts.  In particular, Jerusalem has suffered two vehicular attacks on its inner-city train (here and here), an assassination attempt on a Jewish Temple Mount activist, as well as protests and other violence in east Jerusalem.  Yesterday, a soldier in Tel Aviv was stabbed and killed, and three people were attacked while waiting for a bus.  One young woman died after being stabbed in the neck.
  • Four thousand Christians from Mosul, Iraq have fled to Amman, Jordan in the wake of ISIS's bloody advance.

JCF News: Randall Buth in San Diego

Randall Buth of the Biblical Language Center will be in San Diego (Nov 18-25) at the annual meetings for the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), where he will be presenting papers in the section, Applied Linguistics for Biblical Languages (ALBL).  For more, here.  Randall has also recently completed an interview on how he came to teach the biblical languages in a living way.  The interview is here.



Chuck and Liz Kopp in Spain

The Kopps are in Spain (Nov 1-13) attending meetings and visiting work of the Foursquare Church.


Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • Safety and Wisdom in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
  • JCF Visit to Syrian Refugees in Jordan (Nov 15-16)
  • Randall Buth in San Diego (Nov 18-25)
  • Chuck and Liz Kopp in Spain till Nov 13


JCF has been giving toward Holocaust survivors living Jerusalem.  This is an update from the International Christian Embassy which we have been partnering with.

There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.