from our Israel Correspondent

In Israel, young men and women wearing military uniforms and carrying weapons are an ever-present sight. One quickly gets used to seeing them traveling together or waiting in line at the movies, M-16 machine guns in hand.

Though there is a constant military presence in Israel, no one would describe the modern state as a military or police state. The soldiers are young men and women fulfilling their national service or older men performing their required reserve duty. A nineteen-year-old on patrol might be teamed with a forty-year-old father. Israeli citizens accept this responsibility of military service because they realize that a strong military presence is necessary for the survival of the nation. The people are the army, and the army is known by the acronym Tzahal (Tz’va Haganah L’Yisrael), The Army for the Defense of Israel.

Tzahal is continually engaged in protecting the nation from one kind of threat or another. Even the current peace treaties have not given Israel rest. Every week Israeli soldiers are killed in combat. The nation toils under this burden. Israeli residents listen eagerly to hourly news broadcasts for potential reports of another slain or wounded soldier.

Recently, in the course of one month, there were three separate incidents that dealt with the behavior of Israeli soldiers under attack. The response in each incident reminded me of the way all believers in Yeshua are also banded together for a purpose and are under orders.

The first incident occurred in southern Lebanon where an Israeli army outpost underwent a surprise attack by terrorist forces. The attack was well planned and conducted with a military professionalism rare for the region. On a quiet Shabbat morning, the Israeli outpost came under sudden mortar fire followed by an organized charge up the hill. In response, the Israeli soldiers quickly ran to their fortified bunkers for protection from the mortar and machine-gun fire. One Israeli soldier was killed and several were wounded.

The next day it was in the newspaper. The regional commanding general announced that the soldiers who had run for cover would be brought up on charges. The officer of the unit was relieved of his post and would also be brought up on charges. The reason? The standing order for outposts in that area required that a unit under fire must counterattack immediately. They were not there to defend an outpost but to engage the enemy.

Several weeks later, a reserve soldier drove through a city in an off-limits territory. The town is a hotbed of anti-Israeli activities, and it is very dangerous for Israelis to go there alone. In fact, Israeli soldiers are forbidden to drive through it unescorted. Unfortunately, that forty-two-year-old reservist was caught in a traffic jam. His vehicle was stoned, and a mob approached with the intent of killing him. At the last minute, he was saved by a patrol of Israeli border police.

The next day’s news showed a picture of the man, his face bloodied, and the mob surrounding his vehicle. The article carried strong words from Israel’s prime minister and other military leaders against this soldier. In the heat of the attack against him, he had decided not to open fire with his army-issued machine gun. He insisted that use of the weapon would have resulted in his being killed by the mob. Yet standing orders for a soldier in a life-threatening situation are that he use his weapon. The military point of view is that a soldier under attack is obligated to fight.

The third incident occurred in the Palestinian autonomy zone of Gaza. There was a demonstration of extremist Moslems who paraded through the streets. The crowd got worked up, and the procession turned into an angry mob running down the street. They ran to an Israeli road checkpoint that controls traffic into Israel. The outpost was about to be confronted by several hundred angry people. On orders of the local commander, the squad of twelve soldiers left the checkpoint and retreated to the border.

The next day, the news carried no charges or recriminations against the Israeli soldiers or their officers because this time they had acted according to standing orders for such a situation. Instead, complaints were brought against the Palestinian police for not anticipating the actions of the mob.

The issue in each situation was the same. Soldiers must act in concert and according to regulations. Individuals must put aside their personal interests and concerns for the benefit of the group. An army must not act for the benefit of an individual but must think in terms of the group. What is best for the unit? What is best for the nation? That does not mean blindly following orders that hurt an individual or are immoral. It means doing what is right and acting differently because one is part of a group.

There is a powerful application here for believers. Too often we don’t think of a group story or witness or even of what is best for our congregation. The common denominator is reduced to the individual: What is best for me? For my family?

We don’t see victories on a broader scale because the activity is all on an individual level. Philippians 2:3-4 describes the attitude that should get us thinking of others first: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

As believers, we too are in an army marching on for Yeshua. When we realize that, we can set our sights on higher ground and accomplish more for the Lord.