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Israel Through a Middle Eastern Lens

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Rediscovering Israel Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Pg. 11-50
Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a child of the late 1980s, early 1990s, I remember that every doctor’s office waiting room would have a stack of Highlights magazine for kids to entertain themselves while they waited their turn.  I prided myself in being able to find the hidden images in the graphic quicker than my younger brother.  

He’d often complain it was because I was older and could read better.  But the instructions mainly consisted of a list of the individual images we were searching for within the cartoon graphic.  

He just needed to know where to look.

Now today, I feel that many Christians often approach reading Scripture in the same fashion as my brother did.  They feel cheated or that it is only for those who are more “mature” in their faith.

However, much like finding the hidden image in the graphic, reading the Bible has less to do with “maturity” and so much more to do with knowing where and how to look for the message God wants us to see. 

In this week’s reading of Rediscovering Israel, Kristi McLelland has done a wonderful job of pointing us in the right direction to look by providing us with our Middle Eastern Lens so we can see the beautiful treasures that are hidden in plain sight, on every page of our Bibles. 

Israel: Name. Nation. Place

As we embark on this beautiful adventure of rediscovering Israel, let’s take a few moments and consider a couple of the important questions Kristi presents.

Why that Land?

“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you, I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”
Genesis 12:1-3, NIV

We know that God is in the details, and He always has a reason from His decisions and actions. When God told Abram to leave his father’s household, in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, and go to a land, He would show him; that God had a very specific place in mind. He placed Abram right in the middle of a multicultural mix of humanity along the International Coastal Highway. 

Canaan is strategically located where three continents intersect: Africa, Europe, and Asia. In order to trade commerce, all of the nations traveled along the International Coastal Highway and went directly through the land God promised to Abram. 

It’s from this strategic location that Abram earns his title as the first missionary. But instead of missions as we think of them today, traveling to other areas of the world to share the Word of God, Abram was to stay in one place and God brought the world to him.

“This is missions in reverse. Avram stays, and he and his descendants fill the land of Canaan. These descendants go on to demonstrate to the world what it looks like to be a tribe committed to justice and righteousness. They leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor and the stranger, the fatherless and the widow can find something to eat. They welcome the alien, the foreigner among them, because they remember what it was like being slaves in Egypt. They are meant to inhabit the land and display the kingdom of God ethic to the nations as they pass through the International Coastal Highway for commerce. Foreign nations are bearing witness to a holy people living under the rule and reign of a holy God. They demonstrate to the world what it is to know and walk with the living God.”

Krist McLelland, Rediscovering Israel, pg. 23

Why that Name?

The Bible first introduces us to the word Israel (Read: What is the meaning of the name Israel?), not as a place or nation but as a name. Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham, had a grandson, Jacob, who also underwent a change of name. 

In Genesis 32, we learn of an extraordinary wrestling match between Jacob and God, where God gives Jacob another chance to be honest when asked his name. In His matchless mercy, God changed the whole trajectory of Jacob’s destiny when He changed his name. 

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel. Because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28, NIV

As we read through Scripture, the term Israel travels and transforms. First, Israel is a name, then becomes a nation, and finally is known as a place, the land that serves as the stage for most of the Biblical narrative.

Middle Eastern Lens

Early in 2021, Intentional Filling was first introduced to Kristi McLelland through her book Jesus and Women and her concept of using a Middle Eastern Lens while reading Scripture. This week, in her book Rediscovering Israel, she further explains and unpacks this frame of mind and thought process, revealing more about how to read the Bible in context. 

Like so many Christians here in the West, while reading the Bible, I was taught to ask, “What does this teach me about me?” In our culture, we are conditioned to search for applications. Most of our devotionals and Sunday sermons focus on teaching us to live better based on the different verses and stories in the Bible. 

While we can learn many valuable lessons through the Bible, the purpose and point of the Bible is not all about us! 

God is the point of every biblical story! The narrative of Scripture reveals who He is as He interacts with humankind. We are seeking to discover the heart of God. Doing so will drastically change our interaction with the Bible. Instead of reading it and immediately trying to find our application, let us instead choose to look up, gaze at God, and let Him breathe on us.”

Kristi McLelland, Rediscovering Israel, pg. 34-35

The best way to discover the heart of God is by reading Scripture within its geographical, cultural, historical, and linguistic context. After all, the Bible is an ancient, Middle Eastern, Jewish document and should be read as such.

When we read the Bible understanding who the biblical authors were writing to, as well as the culture of the places, cities, and regions, it transforms the bible from black and white to color.”

Kristi McLelland, Rediscovering Israel, pg. 37

On Every Page

Just like my younger brother just needed to know where to look to find the hidden pictures in the Highlights magazines, we need to remember where and how to read the Bible in context and what an honor and blessing it is to hold our Bibles like eager young children searching to better know the heart of God.  

The Bible is not a mirror in which we stare at ourselves. It is a map that helps us find Jesus, and if we know where to look, we’ll find Him on every page! 

Looking at Scripture through a different cultural lens invites us to ask different questions. What questions come to your mind?

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Rediscovering Israel | Kristi McLelland

A 7-week study to experience Scripture as a timeless, transformational Story demonstrating God’s love and faithfulness. String the Biblical pearls to encounter the Bible as one cohesive storyline, rather than a book of stand-alone accounts.

Rediscovering Israel by Kristi McLelland - Exclusive Spring Study for Annual Members Only | Intentionalfilling.com

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  1. Some questions to consider now while reading:
    Who is this passage for?
    Where is the geographic setting?
    What did a particular thing/theme mean to a first century person when dealing with New Testament things?
    Am I reading narrative, poetry, history, prophecy, etc…?

  2. Learning about the International Coastal Highway was fascinating to me! I loved learning that names and locations are vital to deeper understanding!

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