Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bible Road Trips: A Highway of International Peace

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

A Vision of Peace
Isaiah 19:23-25

My father and his cousins traveled the difficult roads of war, Dad to the Pacific and his cousins to Europe. All but one cousin returned. Years later, I mused a little about the ways international relationships change, as my wife and I sipped coffee in an outdoor cafe in Dresden, such a terrible casualty of Allied bombing in the war, and as our daughter embarked on a years’ study in Japan, the hatred and violence of the war long before her time.

Thank the Lord that international relationships do change and improve! I can’t help but think of the foolishness and waste of war, once hostile nations achieve peace and reinstate good relationships.

The Israelite Kingdom, and later the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, faced war and hostilities during different times. The first king, Saul, was at war for most of his reign, and David was renowned for his skill in war. The land of the Israelites were, after all, desirable in themselves and were also on international trade routes.

The Romans were the expert road-builders, but before them, roads that were worn-down paths or built-up and maintained roads crisscrossed the landscape. If you look on a Bible map, you can find one of the most important highways of the ancient near east was the Great Trunk Road. Its southern terminus was Memphis on the Nile delta, then it went up to Gaza. Gaza was a strategic place for Egyptian forces when they began military campaigns into Canaan and up to Syria. The road went up, near the coast and through Philistine land, to Megiddo, and from there it branched into at least three related roads: one up to coast to Antioch and into Asia Minor, another toward the Sea of Gailee and to Gennesaret, and another that went north toward the area of Nazareth before it turned east to eventually connect Babylon and the Persian Gulf.

This international highway explains why Israel and later Judah experienced threats from strong neighboring nations; the land was desirable in itself and also was in the midst of major trade and military routes.

Our scripture is a "don't blink or you'll miss it" passage among bleaker verses in Isaiah:

On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage."

One of my div school professors, B. Davie Napier, called this one of the most remarkable passages in Scripture. It is a powerful message of God’s peace; God’s people are no longer threatened by the major kingdoms around it (themselves enemies of one anotherr), and both those kingdoms are blessed of God and in a state of peace with Israel. The highway between them in one of concord

Plug in the names of three international enemies. When I was a kid, it would’ve been America, the Soviet Union, and Red China.  You might think of Israel, Syria, and Iran. You can see the force of Isaiah’s words if you juxtapose mortal opponents and depict them as examples of everlasting concord.

I don’t want to stray too far from the text, because it’s Israel’s well-being that Isaiah considered, not just any trio of international enemies. In a way, the text is a challenge to God’s people, for God includes these Gentile kingdoms in a closeness and possession that nearly rivals Israel’s. When Jesus discussed another, similar Isaiah text of God’s promises to the Gentiles, the people got so angry at him they wanted to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:11-30). They were an occupied people, after all. But God, most of all, sees the ultimate futility of human conflict and warfare.

Jesus, the son of David, is the king of peace. But what kind of peace does Jesus bring? Inner peace, you might say, or spiritual peace that is a right relationship with God. But we also talk about "peace on earth," at Christmas time but certainly other times as well. How does King Jesus bring international peace?

A text like Isaiah’s reminds us that international peace is certainly an aspect of the prophetic vision of the future. But only God can bring about this peace; left to ourselves, we’ll mess it up or achieve it only temporarily. So praying for peace is one of the best things we can do.

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