The blessing and the cursing
Early in the book of Genesis, God delivers certain promises to Abram (who would later become Abraham) and in Genesis 12:3 He says, I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. The premise is straightforward. However, due to the fact that the leaders of most nations do not take the Word of God seriously, they completely reject the certainty of God’s declaration in this passage. For Australian Christian supporters of Israel, we look back fondly at an event in which God used the people of this nation to bless His chosen people. It was 31 October 1917 and as daylight faded across the Negev Desert, the Australian Light Horse Division celebrated a momentous and somewhat miraculous victory. In you are unfamiliar with the story, let’s recap the events leading up to this decisive charge.
The stronghold which the Australians secured is known as Beersheba, located in the south of the modern State of Israel. Just to the south of Beersheba is the Negev Desert, which therefore means that Beersheba marked the southernmost boundary of arable land in Israel. In fact, the Bible uses the proverbial phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” nine times in the Old Testament to describe the length of the Promised Land (being approximately 270 miles) – from Dan (in the north) to Beersheba (in the south) (see Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 3:10; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:15; 1 Kings 4:25; 1 Chronicles 21:2 and 2 Chronicles 30:5).
The name “Beersheba” (Be’er Sheva in Hebrew) means “well of the seven” or “well of the treaty” and this name is derived from a treaty between Abraham and Abimelech involving seven lambs. Genesis 21:30-31: And he said, “You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.” Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there. Later, Isaac’s clan moved to Beersheba and there the Lord appeared to him confirming the promise of a multitude of descendants. Genesis 26:23-24: Then he went up from there to Beersheba. And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake. Genesis 26:32-33 also reads: It came to pass the same day that Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” So he called it Shebah. Therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day. (Note: the digging of these wells is important in the context of the Australian Light Horse charge, so take note of it and I will explain in further detail shortly.)
Over time, Beersheba came to be a place where several people came into contact with God. In addition to Isaac (as noted above), Jacob also heard from God in a dream (Genesis 46:1). Hagar (Genesis 21:17) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:5) were also in the wilderness of Beersheba when God spoke to them. But sadly, over time, Beersheba came to be associated with unrighteousness. It was the place where Samuel’s two wicked sons served as leaders (1 Samuel 8:1-3) and it was this perversion of the judgeship that led Israel to demand a king. Further, by the time of the prophet Amos (during the reign of King Uzziah), Beersheba seems to have become a centre of false worship. In Amos 5:5 God issues a warning and call to repentance to the house of Israel. The places named - Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba - were once places associated with great privilege and spiritual heritage, but now they were places of vain, empty worship. In that passage God warns them not to “pass over to Beersheba”.
Fast forward to 1917 and the Ottoman Empire was in possession of Beersheba. In addition to its obvious Biblical importance, the city was of strategic importance to the success of the British-led campaign against the Ottoman Empire and therefore had to be taken. The force tasked with taking the stronghold was running on overextended supply lines and water, a precious resource in the desert, was exceedingly low. What water the troops did have, they prioritised the need of their horses. Still, to get within striking distance of the town, they had to endure an arduous ride across the desert and the horses hadn’t had water for 36 hours. Capturing the wells of Beersheba was critical. The trouble was that the Turks were dug in and forcing them out would be incredibly difficult. But there was one option. The town was protected by a system of trenches, but there was no barbed wire on the east side, reflecting the Turks’ belief that no enemy would approach through the desert. As history proves, they were wrong.
The light horsemen (numbering 800) began the charge more than six kilometres from the town, accelerating to full gallop over two kilometres out. The riders were not armed with swords, so they used the bayonets off their rifles instead. The Turkish garrison had 28 artillery guns, nine machine guns, two aircraft and 4400 men, including 1000 experienced riflemen. Yet, the horsemen galloped on – a shock and awe campaign would have to do. And it certainly did. As the thirsty horses smelled the water from the wells available just ahead, they put their head down and galloped fearlessly towards the stronghold. The Turks were caught so off guard that they forgot to lower the sights on their weapons and kept shooting straight over the head of the horsemen.
On 31 October 1917, the Australian Light Horse Divisions secured Beersheba, bringing to a close a crucial battle in the Sinai Palestine Campaign. So important was the Battle of Beersheba, that it was a pivot upon which turned the fortunes of Allied efforts against the Ottoman and German Empires in the Middle Eastern Theatre of the war. Just days later, on 2 November 1917, then-British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour had reached out to Baron Rothschild with the famed Balfour Declaration, declaring that the British government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” As we know, this declaration was pivotal in the eventual establishment of the modern State of Israel. Recognising Australia’s crucial role, at the 100-year anniversary of the battle, Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Nearly 4,000 years ago Abraham came to Beersheba, the city of seven wells. Exactly 100 years ago brave ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers liberated Beersheba for the sons and daughters of Abraham and opened the gateway for the Jewish people to re-enter the stage of history.”
But despite our shared history with Israel and the Jewish people, anti-Israel sentiment is sweeping through Australian political parties. The determination to liberate the Promised Land for the Jews has now turned into a determination to remove Jews from the Promised Land. But instead of horsemen, this charge is led by men in suits and instead of bayonets, the mighty pen is their weapon. In Australia, we have a number of political parties and the third largest is simply referred to as the Australian Greens. Their political platform is supposedly built upon four key principles: ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice and peace/non-violence. As you are able to see from their core principles, they are a far-left party and they have much to say about Israel. In fact, the Greens have recently adopted a new policy position which expresses concern that Israel’s “ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land” is eroding the potential for a two-state solution and states that “Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid”. Of course, this is a reference to the apartheid experienced in South Africa some years ago.
Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa. As David Ben-Gurion told Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934: We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland. Although the term “apartheid” is thrown around by ignorant politicians, it is clear that Israel cannot be accused of it. Under apartheid, black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Laws dictated where they could live, work and travel. Any who protested against the government’s policies were killed. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Israeli Arabs are also permitted to be members of the Knesset, under normal democratic processes of course. But Israel must act to protect its citizens against ongoing violence. That is one of the key responsibilities of any government. Yet, most Western politicians continue to make the outlandish claim that the Israeli government should be compared to South Africa’s darkest time because they dare to protect Jews from violence. Let it not be forgotten that the principal impediment to any supposed Palestinian independence is not Israeli policy – it is the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to give up terrorism and agree to live in peace.
King David knew the frustration of his enemies’ attempts to undermine and defeat him through false accusations. In Psalm 109:2 his words aptly describe Israel’s situation then and now: For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful have opened against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue. They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause. Because of the lies of our politicians, Australia is going to fall on the wrong side of the Genesis 12:3 ledger. The trouble is, very few believe it.