History is Theology
Fifty-one years ago today (June 5), Israel — deserted by her few friends and completely surrounded by five enemy nations poised to destroy the 19-year-old state — was compelled to fly solo and strike preemptively. By 7:30 A.M. nearly 200 Magister, Mystère, Mirage, and Vatour jets (virtually the entire Israeli air force) were airborne. Barely. They flew less than 50 feet over the Mediterranean to avoid detection by Egypt’s 82 radar installations. The element of surprise was complete. Within three hours the Egyptian air force, almost all of it on the ground at the time, had ceased to exist.
Egypt’s response was, in retrospect, stunning. “Our airplanes and missiles,” Radio Cairo reported, “are at this moment shelling all Israel’s towns and villages.” But they had no planes. Anwar Sadat later described the “crowds . . . chanting, dancing, and applauding the faked-up victory reports which our mass media put out hourly.” It was 4 P.M. that afternoon before even Egypt’s President Nasser became aware of what actually happened “because no one in the army or the government dared enlighten him” (Michael Oren, Six Days of War, 178, 209). Such mass propaganda broadcasts became standard fare for the Egyptian populace almost throughout the war. The human capacity for self-deception, even on a national scale, is astonishing and instructive.
By June 10, it was over. Outnumbered nearly 2 to 1 in troops and nearly 5 to 1 in both combat aircraft and tanks, Israel tripled her territory in just 135 hours. Those gains included capturing the entire oil-rich Sinai peninsula from Egypt, which it later eagerly traded back to Egypt in exchange for peace (a deal for which Sadat was later assassinated). The story is riveting and well-told by historian and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren in his profusely documented Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. It was a David-and-Goliath confrontation of international proportions.
The outcome also marked a gradual turn of the tide of international sympathy away from Israel. The tiny teenaged David-of-a-country came to be depicted and condemned almost univocally by most nations as the bully Goliath of the Middle East. (Joshua Muravchik has amply documented and explained this metamorphosis of public opinion in Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.) For decades now, Israel has faced a tsunami of international disdain fed by a relentless, revisionist, anti-Semitic narrative — so much so that Reagan’s U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick once famously observed that she had always believed the holocaust could never happen again . . . until she went to the U.N.
So why am I talking about all this? This is not a political blog site. But politics is ultimately theological, because all history is theological. “Secular history” is a misnomer, an oxymoron. There is no such thing as “secular” history, as though some history were outside the realm of the providential rule and purposes of God. Even the most apparently secular historical events are rooted in theological realities and susceptible of theological explanation. History is simply a branch of theology, a means whereby God makes himself known to anyone with eyes to see and a Bible for a lens.
Every political opinion is informed by a theological presupposition (though, admittedly, sometimes our political opinions hang skewwhiff, in wonky inconsistency with our professed theological views). Likewise, our interpretation of history is informed by our theological presuppositions. If our theology is askew, our interpretation of history will be, too. To many Arabs, the events of June 1967 were a temporary humbling from Allah, who hates Israel just as much as they do. To many Jews, they were fortuitous but inexplicable. Reflecting on the various theories about Israel’s 1967 victory, Michael Oren writes,
Such analyses perhaps explained how Israel won the war; they could not account for its outcome. Beyond the goals of eliminating the Egyptian threat and destroying Nasser’s army, no other stage of the conflict was planned or even contemplated, not the seizure of the entire Sinai, not the conquest of the West Bank, nor the scaling of the Golan Heights. Even the “liberation” of Jerusalem, as Israelis call it, regarding the event as the most significant of the war and assigning it almost messianic ramifications, came about largely through chance.
In a happy coincidence, that last word “chance” falls on a margin, leaving me space to pen in front of it the words “Not by.” It was anything but chance. Oren’s ambiguous and somewhat agnostic summary reminds me of Isaiah’s lament over Israel’s blindness and unbelief:
O Lord, your hand is lifted up, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people, and be ashamed. . . . Lord, you will appoint peace for us, for you also have wrought all our works in us (26:11, 12).
A day is coming when they will recognize all God has done to preserve and defend and, ultimately, save them (Rom 11:26) — not because they deserve it (Ezek 36:22, 32) any more than I do, but for the one reason that the prophets keep insisting on it: because God has sworn, insistently and repeatedly, that he would (Ezek 12:25, 28; 17:24; 22:14; 24:14; 37:14). And if God is anything, he is trustworthy in all his words (Isa 45:10-11). God is jealous for all the nations to know that he is not only a God of grace but also a God of his word (Ezek 36:23, 36).
P.S. The 1967 war might have been called something else. Chief of staff Yitzak Rabin “was given the exceptional honor of actually naming the war.” Suggestions included the War of Daring, the War of Salvation, the War of the Sons of Light. “Rabin chose the least ostentatious, the Six-Day War, evoking the days of creation” (Oren, 309). Implicit in that title is a confession, conscious or unconscious, that those six days in June were an act of God. To deny that, regardless of your political inclinations or eschatological leanings, is to deny the active and sovereign providence of the “King of the nations” (Jer 10:7) in the affairs of the nations.