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Doug Van Meter - 15 October 2023

War and Peace (Psalm 122:1–9)

Last Saturday, the terrorist group, Hamas, unleashed horrible violence on Israel, sparking a new war in that region, which has, to date, killed thousands of people and injured thousands more. With the outbreak of this war has come a huge wave of prophecy pundits, wresting many Scriptures from their context, including the command to pray for peace from Psalm 122. How should Christians be thinking, and praying about this horrific war? Psalm 122 provides an answer.

Scripture References: Psalms 122:1-9

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

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On Saturday, 7 October, a Sabbath to observant Jews, the terrorists group, Hamas, unleashed horrible violence on Israel, sparking a new war in that region, which has, to date, resulted in the death of thousands of people and injured thousands more. With the outbreak of this war has come a huge wave of prophecy pundits telling us that this might very well be a sign that the rapture and subsequent great tribulation are near.

I have been grieved as I have sampled some of their sensational and erroneous teaching. And I keep thinking, I wish the wider church had been ready with how to respond to these events.

Judging from the thousands of views and likes, the many positive comments—and judging from the applause some of these preachers received from their congregations as they preached—clearly many in the church are not biblically ready or scripturally prepared to respond.

In our brief time in this study, I want to remind us how to respond. I want us to be ready to interact truthfully with those with whom we engage who are wondering what all of this means and how we should respond.

One of the repeated phrases in the sermons I have sampled, and the clips from evangelical preachers on YouTube, has been, “Pray for the peace of Israel.” This line, from Psalm 122:6, has been used to lead into a prayer for God’s people, the nation of Israel. It is disturbing. It is inaccurate. It is as irresponsible as it is erroneous. Let me explain with a very brief exposition of this short, but inspired and thus important, psalm.

A Glad Destination

The psalmist begins by highlighting a glad destination: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:1–2).

Psalm 122 is the second of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (122–135). As God’s people marched to Zion for the annual festivals, they would sing in anticipation of their arrival and worship at the temple. It was this structure that undergirded the designation “the City of God.” It was for this reason that the pilgrims were glad to be heading to their destination.

It was a happy time because it was a holy time. Jerusalem was home to the temple, which was home to God! How could they not be glad!

A Glorious Description

Verses 3–5 offer a glorious description: “Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. There thrones for judgement were set, the thrones of the house of David.”

The theme of these verses is a glorious unity. They describe Jerusalem as the city designated as the gathering place of God’s tribes. Again, unity is the predominate theme, but a unity with an emphasis upon stability. And, with the mention of “thrones,” the picture is of majestic stability.

The “thrones” are s meant to point us, not to a human throne, but to God’s throne. The temple housed the ark of covenant under the mercy seat, and this mercy seat was to be seen as God’s throne.

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, Jerusalem is anything but the glorious dwelling place of God today. He abandoned Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago. Be careful about what you hear.

A Good Supplication

In this final section we read the oft repeated phrase on the lips of many evangelical leaders: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” These verses offer us a good supplication: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! ‘May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!’ For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’ For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good” (Psalm 122:6–9).

We need to ask the reason for the psalmist’s exhortation to pray for Jerusalem’s peace; that is, what was at stake in this supplication for peace?

First, we are told that, in seeking Jerusalem’s welfare, we will find our own welfare, as stated in the second half of the verse: “May they be secure who love you!” This probably references Genesis 12:1–3. By blessing Israel, people would be blessed. Hold on to that thought.

Second, this supplication was important because of what was housed in Jerusalem: the house of the Lord. “For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good” (v. 9). The reason the psalmist exhorted that “peaceful supplication” be made is because Jerusalem was the city of God.

Now we need to ask the question, does this psalm and its supplication relate to you and me who live under the new covenant?

The answer is, yes! But we need to apply it appropriately as the new covenant Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). That is, we should be praying for the new covenant city of God, the new Jerusalem, the church of the Son of God, the church of the true and full son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:1–3).

Though there is too much in these verses for me to unpack here, the point we need to grasp is that the peace for which we should be praying, and the welfare we should be pursuing, is that of God’s dwelling place, which is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amid the horrific war and violence and atrocities in Israel and in Gaza, pray for the church that is there. Prioritise praying for the well-being of the new Jerusalem, the church of Jesus Christ.

David Jeremiah, a popular prophecy preacher, recently expressed great frustration at what he calls “Replacement Theology.” According to him, preachers like myself teach that the church has replaced Israel. Perhaps some do. I don’t. Rather, the scriptures teach that the church is the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. Let me put it this way: The promises made to Israel were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and, by extension, come to fulfilment in his body, the church. In other words, whether Dr Jeremiah likes it or not, the new covenant church is the Israel of God. Why is this important?

It is important because, once we understand this, we will stop focusing on Israel and will start focusing on the church and its well-being. It is important because once we understand this, we will more carefully listen to what Jesus actually said in the Olivet Discourse and what he revealed to the apostle John in the book of Revelation.

It has been sad—and frustrating—to hear multiple pastors this week reference Luke 21:20 (“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near”) and Luke 21:28 (“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”) with reference to current events. In a couple of videos of church services where these Scriptures were cited, congregations applauded as pastors assured them that the return of Christ was near.

In fact, Jesus was warning the first-century church in Jerusalem to flee when they saw the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem. The redemption that was drawing nigh was the supernatural act of God moving Vespasian to withdraw his Roman army of 50,000 soldiers from Jerusalem back to beleaguered Rome, thus affording those who believed the words of Jesus the opportunity to flee to Pella where they found safety. History records that all the Christians in Jerusalem at that time survived the final siege of Jerusalem.

Here is why all of this matters—why a correct interpretation of what were prophetic passages matters: Because truth matters. And when Scripture is made to say something that it does not really say, people are misled, moved to unjustified fear, or to misguided hope.

How many failed predictions by “prophecy preachers” will have to occur before they stop this? How many false hopes will fade before congregations demand accurate exposition? Perhaps most importantly, how long will the church (particularly in the West) continue to claim that Jews, who reject Messiah, are God’s special people, while Muslims who reject Messiah are unbelievers under divine wrath? In fact, both groups are under divine wrath!

It is because of this incoherent position that Christians broad brush Palestinians as godless villains while embracing Christ-rejecting Jews as our “brothers.” God help us!

Jesus told the woman in Samaria that the day was coming when Jerusalem would no longer be the place where Jews—or anyone—would have to come to worship (John 4). Why was this? Because the temple was going to be destroyed. With the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the new covenant was inaugurated and the old covenant came to an end. The destruction of the temple was God’s final declaration that the old covenant had passed away. It was a great encouragement to the church, which was fast becoming Gentile, that they are now the dwelling place of God. In fact, they were now the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). The church, according to the book of Revelation, is the new Jerusalem. And we should therefore pray for her peace.

This is so important for us to remember. Psalm 22 applies to us, but not in the way too many are accustomed and wrongly taught. Let me say some important things about this.

First, Psalm 122, particularly v. 6, has nothing to say about a nation’s foreign policy. Dr David Jeremiah is completely wrong about this. I heard him decrying past US presidential administrations for not doing a better job of supporting the nation of Israel. Therefore, he argues, America is not being blessed, for she is not blessing Israel. Supposedly Genesis 12:3 teaches this. Hint: It doesn’t.

Second, we should not assume God is on the side of Jerusalem or Israel. To speak of Israel as God’s people, to pray and expect God to bless and protect Israel in all she does because of a supposed special relationship with him, is extremely wrongheaded. In fact, in far too many responses to matters pertaining to Israel, evangelicals—including conservative evangelicals—have compromised and even jettisoned the gospel. There is a not-so-subtle proclamation of salvation by race rather than salvation by grace.

A Gospel Conclusion

Though this psalm is frequently misused to motivate Christians, and even nations, to give Christ-rejecting Jews a pass, nevertheless Christians should pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Christians should pray for the peace of Israel. Christians should also pray for the peace of Gaza. Christians should pray for peace in Iran, in Ukraine, and in South Africa.

We should pray for justice in all nations. We should pray for the welfare of all nations. We should pray for righteousness to reign in all the nations of the world.

But we know that the only way there will be true peace among any peoples is if they bow the knee to the Prince of Peace. Jesus Christ is our peace. Through the gospel, he comes and preaches peace to his people—to his chosen ones whether Jewish or Gentile (Ephesians 2:14–17). Whether living in Jerusalem or in Gaza.

Brothers and sisters, when we pray about the war in Israel, we should pray for the advancement of the gospel. We should pray for Christians to witness to Jesus Christ who came to save sinners through his perfect life, his sacrificial death, his all-powerful resurrection, and his all-sufficient intercession.

Pray for the Grace and Truth Christian Congregation in Tel Aviv as they preach the gospel and demonstrate hope-filled peace before unbelievers. Pray for Palestinian Christians as they minister to the suffering and the fearful. Pray that people living in that region, having experienced this expression of the wrath of God (Romans 1:18–20), will be moved to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can deliver sinners from the wrath of God to come.

In other words, let us pray that more and more people will be ready to face God’s tribunal upon their death (Hebrews 9:27).