As I sit down to write this article on the eve of Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, five more “urgent warnings” pop up in my inbox concerning the situation in Syria. With Obama and Putin now ratcheting up the rhetoric over the Mideast, some are even prophesying that World War 3, Armageddon and the final Messianic Kingdom are unfolding right here in front of our eyes on our flat screen television sets.
Must we really get so agitated by just another wave of turmoil around the Mideast? Maybe I've lived in Israel too long (37 years), but it seems to me that the reoccurring turbulence in this part of the world is just like the sea. It just keeps rising and falling like the waves of an ocean. The raging passions in this region are driven by deep waters of hatred, violence and revenge and while there are winds of change blowing, they are erratic and out of control like a storm at sea. They have no aim or purpose but can only cause some turbulence.
I hear many voices passionately and confidently telling us what they think is right and what is wrong in the current turmoil surrounding Syria, voices trying to convince us with logic or moral arguments. Those of us who love Israel must remember that sometimes the only way to cross these raging and violent sea changes is to keep an even keel. Have we forgotten the wisdom of Solomon, “Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.” Casting stones, blogs or even bombs changes nothing.
It is foolish to allow the winds of wars, lies and false narratives to divert our attention away from what we need to be doing right here at home, especially during the High Holidays. “Interfering in someone else's quarrel as you pass by is like grabbing a dog by the ears,” says Proverbs 26:17, and for good reason. There are times when it is not only useless but even dangerous to try and fight someone else’s battle.
That is why the prophet Isaiah reminds us that like the sea, the wicked can never be at rest. The Hebrew is stronger than our translation. It means that there is no possibility of its being at rest; it is unable to be still. The Septuagint renders it, “But the wicked are tossed like waves, and are not able to be at rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” They will never be at peace. It is wisdom to understand that sometimes the best we can do is just ride out the storm.
If history is any indication we can be assured that the current Mideast turmoil will soon shift once again and only further Israel’s strength and presence in the Land. I remember not long ago how the Europeans were putting pressure on Israel to make a deal with Syria over the Golan Heights. Even the Americans entered the foray looking for some easy politically-correct fodder. How ridiculous peace with Syria sounds today.
Anyway, the facts on the ground and God’s purposes for Israel will determine the outcome of all of this, not all the lame attempts and deceptive rhetoric from the nations trying to calm the situation, nor for that matter every Facebook opinion, as well intended as they might be. Even the renewed push for Palestinian statehood will only further entrench Gaza and the West Bank into their own violent quagmire unless they are willing to change their ways. I should rather expect some surprising and unpredictable turn of events on that matter in the not too distant future.
I love to swim in the sea and when the waves are biggest. I put my head down and dive under where it is calm and quiet and let them roll right over. Sometimes that’s the best strategy of all. Fighting the waves only knocks me down and does absolutely nothing to change the storm.
The Psalmist says it best. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Be still and know that I am God.” Get in your Succah this week and read Psalm 46.