Violence and war seem to be in the DNA of human beings as far back as Cain and Abel. Practically from the beginning, the soil of earth is tainted with the blood of both guilt and innocence.
Ultimately, there was a people who made lawlessness and violence a sport: The Philistines. The most famous Philistine, of course, was Goliath the giant, who foolishly confronted the shepherd of Israel, David. When Rome desecrated and decimated Jerusalem 1,900 years ago, its final insult against Israel was to impose the name of Palestina, recalling Israel’s arch enemy, the Philistines.
On October 7, the spirit of the Philistines rose through the Iranian proxy of Hamas, which means “violence” in the Hebrew Scriptures.
There have been attempts to explain away the attacks. Some cite Israel’s “occupation” of Gaza. But Israel left Gaza in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan. Of course, Gaza is, indeed, occupied — not by Israel, but by the terrorist organization Hamas. And the massacre of October 7 was created in its image and likeness.
Once Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, it set its sights fully upon Israel. Let us be clear: Hamas’ goal is not just to remove the Jewish people from the land of Israel, but to remove them from the earth. Hamas is made up of killers wholly committed to the genocide of the Jewish people.
A simple example of a difference between Israel and Hamas is that hospitals of Israel serve all Israelis, including 2 million Israeli Arabs. Palestinians even routinely cross into Israel to be treated in Israeli hospitals. In contrast, some hospitals in Gaza are used to covertly store arms and ammunition, and as headquarters for Hamas soldiers and leaders, who hide behind children and people who are sick and ravaged by violence. It’s not a new tactic; Hamas has been using it for years.
No one can deny the massacre of October 7, especially since the murderers themselves recorded the atrocities. Yes, Hamas is so committed to its barbarism that its members took video of their invasion of a sovereign territory. They filmed its rage, which they took out on not only against the military, but innocent civilians. They bludgeoned, burned, beheaded babies. They raped women before murdering them. They wrenched an 85-year-old woman, a grandmother, from her home and took her to be held hostage in Gaza along with more than 200 others.
These are not the acts of an “enemy combatant.” Hamas is a plague. There’s lot of talk about ceasefire. But as long as Hamas is firing weapons and holding hostages, as long a germ of that contagion exists, a ceasefire is entirely incongruent with reality.
Many have asked the question of these videos taken by the murderers, “Is there value to watching such slaughter?” It is a reasonable question to ask. For me, the answer is: there is no value to any of it. But there is a responsibility for those of us who remain to look and listen. To step into the ruins, redemptively, and bear witness to the cruelty.
So, days ago I sat in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and watched those videos. Fourty-five minutes of Hell. It was as vile and violent as I had heard, and so much more. Was it too much? Of course. Do I still see it in my sleep? Yes.
But something would be horribly wrong with me if I was not troubled. To tell you the truth, if we took the maddening masses and mobs of the streets celebrating Hamas and forced them to watch the same 45 minutes, I don’t believe it would change them at all. But my prayer is, “O God! Let it change me, the pulpit, and the pew.”
Perhaps you’ve heard, “All we can do now is pray,” as if prayer is the final, failed response. But as I told the gathered crowd at the Embassy event, some of the most significant moments in history occurred when the Jewish people were being held under illegitimate authority, just as they are being held hostage by Hamas today. And I ask: If God can reveal an angel to Daniel in the lion’s den, then is it asking too much for the hostages to hold testimonies of angelic intervention?
If God can bring down Haman, surely He can bring down Hamas. And He will.
Bishop Paul Francis Lanier serves as Chairman of the U.S. Board of Directors for The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship). He founded Hope Community Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1990 with his wife, Debbie.