A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton, 6th ed., (Westview Press, 2016).
This history does as the title promises, focusing more on the modern period of the Middle East, especially from the Ottoman Empire through 2015. The book covers the rise of ISIS but was written before the downfall of ISIS. It includes the Arab Spring of 2011, which Cleveland prefers to call the “Arab Uprisings.” It includes balanced discussions of areas from Turkey to Iran to the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt. It does not include neighboring countries such as the Sudan, North Africa or Afghanistan in the discussion, except where events there affect the Middle East proper, such as the Egyptian war in Sudan, the harboring of Osama bin Laden by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia and led to the downfall of Libya’s dictator, too.
The book gives much attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is appropriate, as well as thorough coverage of the Kurdish problem of being a people without a homeland.
Perhaps due to his focus on the modern period, Cleveland passes over the Crusades with barely a mention, which I found peculiar, since modern Arabs like Osama bin Laden referred to Christians as the “Crusaders.”
While Cleveland strives to present a balanced report of both the positive and negative traits of each people and each personality, he appears to have certain biases. He clearly is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians verses the Jews, and is favorable to the Muslim worldview (for example, he blames Islam’s low view of women on the influences of the cultures neighboring the Arabs, and refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate”). Nevertheless, he does a good job of explaining the various sectarian and ethnic groups, such as the Sunni and Shi’a, and minority groups like Arab Christians, Assyrians, Yazidis, Druze, Alawites, etc.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
There are more Jews in the United States than live in Israel, and more Jews in New York City than Jerusalem. Thus many American Christians have Jewish friends, and wonder about their eternal destiny. Many people believe that Jews will be saved just because they are God’s chosen people, but a study of Romans almost seems to say the opposite.
In Romans 9:6, the apostle Paul said, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” He said in 9:30-31 that the Gentiles had obtained a righteousness by faith, but Israel pursued a righteousness by the law and failed to obtain it.
In Romans 10, Paul said that the Jews had heard and understood, but failed to believe.
So he comes to Romans 11:1, and asks, “Did God reject his people?” His answer in verse 2: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” So what does God say will happen to the Jews? Will the Jews be saved?
In Romans 11, Paul answers this question in the present, and in the future.
1. At the present time, only a few Jews are saved (Rom. 11:1-24)
In the first part of the chapter, Paul discusses the situation of the Jews during his time, a situation that we still observe today. The key statement is in verse 5: “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” They are saved by grace, not race.
Paul himself was a Jew. He stresses this in verse 1, saying, “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul reminds his readers that there are still Jews like himself who follow Jesus, and that is true to this day, although they are a small percentage of the Jewish population (by some estimates, about 100,000 Jewish people are “Messianic Jews” who follow Jesus as their Messiah.)
Paul senses a danger here, and he issues two warnings to his Gentile readers. He says in verse 13, “I am talking to you Gentiles.” Then he proceeds to use an analogy of an olive tree to explain the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the story of salvation. This is an appropriate illustration, because an olive tree was often used in scripture as a symbol for Israel. Paul says that the olive tree has some branches broken off, which represents the fact that many Jews have rejected the gospel, and then he says in verse 17, “and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others…”
Thus we who are Gentiles have no right to be proud. It is only by God’s grace that He has grafted us in to be part of His people. This should remind us that there is no place in the church for anti-Semitism. Throughout the years, people have persecuted Jews, forcing them to move out of their homes, calling them “Christ-killers.” While few of us would do such a hateful thing, how many Americans make jokes about Jewish people being stingy with their money? How dare we say such things about God’s chosen people?
2. In the future, the Jewish people will be saved (Rom. 11:25-32)
So will the Jews be saved? Paul finally brings this question to a climactic answer in verses 25-26. Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved…”
Matthew 24:14 says the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations, and then the end will come. Apparently this verse is referring to the same matter, that God knows how many Gentiles are going to receive Him as Savior, and when that critical mass is reached, a revival will break out among the Jews, as they turn to faith in Christ. In this way, God will fulfill His promises and covenant with Israel. This is confirmed in Revelation 7:4-8, which names the tribes of Israel before the throne of God in heaven.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, God promised that he would not reject the Jewish people. The prophet Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the sake of His great name, the Lord will not reject His people…”
So the answer to our question is yes! In the end times, the Jews will turn to faith in Jesus, and be saved!
The miracle of the Jews
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, asked for proof that the Bible is true, in a discussion with his court chaplain. Frederick had been influenced by the atheistic French philosopher Voltaire. The king said, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be easy to prove. So often, when I ask for proof of the Bible, people give me a large book that I have neither the time nor desire to read. If your Bible is really from God, you should be able to demonstrate it simply. Give me proof for the inspiration of the bible in a word.”
“Your Majesty, I can give you the proof you ask for in one word,” replied the chaplain.
Amazed, the king asked, “What is this magic word?”
“Israel,” replied the chaplain. Frederick the Great responded only with silence.
When you think about the history of the people of Israel, it is a miracle of God that they still exist. The descendants of Jacob, or Israel, went down to live in Egypt, and were made into slaves there. But God brought them out of slavery and settled them in the Promised Land. They were conquered again and again, but each time God delivered them from their invaders. Finally, the empire of Assyria destroyed the northern part of Israel, and deported the lost tribes of Israel to other lands, and the empire of Babylon destroyed the southern part of Israel, burned down Jerusalem and the temple, and deported the Jews to Babylon. But after the exile, once again God brought the Jews back to the land. The Greeks tried to exterminate Jewish faith and culture, sacrificing a pig on the altar in the temple, and trying to force the Jews to only speak Greek and adopt Greek culture, but the Jews fought a war for independence under the Maccabees, and restored their land and cleansed the temple. A few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Jews fought a war with Rome in A.D. 70. Again the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed, millions of Jews died, and millions of Jews scattered all over the world. Despite all this, for centuries they maintained their language, faith and culture. They continued to be hounded out of nations, called “Christ-killers,” and persecuted wherever they lived. Then the communists tried to expel them from Russia, and Nazi Germany murdered six million of them in the holocaust. Did that eliminate the Jews? No! Instead, in 1948, the United Nations established Israel as a nation again. Surrounded by millions of Arabs who hate the Jews, Israel has had to fight war after war with their Arab neighbors, but Israel has won each war. In 1967, Israel fought a war simultaneously against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and defeated them all in just six days, taking the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the west bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Today over 5 million Jews live in Israel, along with about 2 million Arabs, and every year more and more Jews are returning to their homeland.
The only explanation for all these events is the grace of God. Or, as Romans 11:29 says, “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
This same God who has an amazing plan for his Chosen People has a plan for you. We who are Gentiles are only wild shoots, but God in His grace calls us, as well, to be grafted in to His spiritual tree. You can only come in by faith. One day the full number of Gentiles will come in, and it will be too late for us. As more and more Jews are beginning to turn to Christ, and more unreached people groups are reached, we do not know how long that will be, but one day it will be too late for us. How about you? Will you come to Him by faith while the door remains open?
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, country singer Alan Jackson wrote a hit song, asking, “Where were you when the world stopped turnin’ that September day?” One line in that song expressed how little most Americans understand the Middle East:
“I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The diff’rence in Iraq and Iran.”
So how does one piece together the puzzle of the Middle East? There are four important pieces to the puzzle that are key. Fit these four pieces in place, and you will get a good picture of why there is conflict in the Middle East:
1. Muslims are not all alike. Most Americans assume that all Muslims are the same. In fact, there are two major branches of Islam: Sunni and Shiite. They have different doctrines, and a long history of bitter conflict. On the Shiite side is Iran, southern Iraq, rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Bashar al-Assad, dictator of Syria. On the Sunni side is most of the rest of the Muslim world, including northern and western Iraq, the government in Yemen, the Islamic State (ISIS), the majority of Syria, and such large nations as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. Now take a look at the map above. See the two geographical giants, Saudi Arabia and Iran? Saudi Arabia is Sunni, and Iran is Shi’a, and the two nations are in constant struggle against one another. See Iraq between them? As Iran seeks to extend it’s influence, Saudi Arabia opposes Iran, and places like Iraq and Yemen are the battleground.
2. Middle Easterners are not all Arabs. Most Americans assume all Middle Easterners are either Arabs or Jews. In fact, there are three other major ethnic groups in the Middle East that speak different languages and have different cultures: Turks, Kurds and Persians. Jews dominate Israel, and most of the southern part of the Middle East is Arab, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but as one goes north, there are other ethnicities. Turks are the majority in Turkey, but some 20% of Turkey are Kurds, and Kurds are concentrated in southeastern Turkey. Kurds have a semi-autonomous self-rule in northern Iraq, and Kurds in northern Syria have dominated that region as they defeated ISIS during Syria’s Civil War. Iran is primarily Persian, but has Kurds in its western region. There are also ethnic groups in the Middle East like the Coptic Christians of Egypt, Druze in Lebanon, Assyrian Christians in Iraq, and Yazidis in Iraq (who speak the Kurdish language but have their own religion that blends Islam with Christianity and Zoroastrianism. ISIS considers the Yazidis to be demon-worshipers.).
3. Many of their national boundaries were forced on the Middle East. Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire ruled a vast area that included what is now Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia (even Egypt was subject to the Ottoman Empire). The Ottomans sided with Germany in WWI, and lost everything but Turkey after the war. Europeans, who didn’t understand the region, drew new national boundaries to create many of the nations we now have in that region, most notably splitting up the region inhabited by 25 million Kurds into parts of Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Thus the Kurds have been a mistreated minority in their own homeland. What is more, the Europeans created a new nation called Iraq, out of three former Ottoman provinces that had no natural commonality, with Kurds in the north, Sunni Arabs in the middle, and Shi’a Arabs in the south. No wonder Iraq is in constant conflict.
4. There are two sides to the story in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before World War I, the population of Palestine was about 90% Arab. The Ottoman Empire turned over Palestine to British rule after WWI, and the British encouraged Jews, who had no homeland, to move to Palestine. Jews immigrated there in such massive numbers, buying up the best land, that by World War II, the Jews were nearly equal in number to Arabs. Palestinians deeply resented this, which they saw as an invasion of their homeland. After the Nazi holocaust of World War II, many more Jews fled to Palestine. Britain tried to divide the nation between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews, but this just led to war, which the Jews won, establishing the state of Israel in 1948. Feeling disenfranchised, Palestinians have resorted to riots and terrorism ever since then.
This is only a simplified summary of the Middle East. There are many other pieces to the puzzle, and other complicating factors. But if you understand these four key pieces above, you will have a much clearer picture of the Middle East puzzle.
(Dr. Bob Rogers has a Th.D. in Church History, and has taught History of the Middle East at The Baptist College of Florida.)