An article by Steve Carpenter
Having served in a variety of ministry capacities for over two decades, we had never been on a trip to Israel, or even come close to the Middle East. It was a part of the world that our circles didn’t talk about much, let alone a place where we would travel. We had a heart for outreach and we had led many small groups to over forty countries, engaging in all types of effective and focused efforts, but Israel just wasn't on our radar screen. One day, in early 2003, all that changed.
It’s a major game changer when you can see God’s word in scripture correlating with God’s work in history. In early 2003, while living in Seattle, a biblical passage from Isaiah chapter nineteen began to capture our attention. This chapter is primarily about Egypt, but in verses 23-25, Isaiah speaks of a highway being raised up from Egypt to Assyria (which includes the modern nations of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and parts of Iran). This prophetic highway also goes through Israel, and the text indicates that these three regions and people groups will, one day, begin to serve together, resulting in a blessing in the midst of the land.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq (March 19 – May 1, 2003), was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War or Operation Iraqi Freedom in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom and smaller contingents from Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in twenty-one days of major combat operations. Iraq is located at the northern part of this highway that Isaiah is prophesying about in Isaiah 19:23-25: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ”Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.” NASB
As we began to prayerfully consider a trip to the Middle East, we felt a divine directive to come to Israel first. It was as though the Lord was indicating, “If you want to effectively participate in what I am doing in that part of the world, you first have to capture My heart for Israel.”
In the summer of 2003, our family came to Israel for the first time. We spent a full month traveling throughout the land of Israel, meeting with many people, and visiting the very places that the pages of scripture so eloquently describe and equally define. It was an incredible experience for our family.
Our personal mandate to “capture God’s heart for Israel” took a major leap forward when we arrived at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem. My wife, Taffy, who was pregnant with our daughter, stood beside me and our two young sons in the large open plaza adjacent to the Temple Mount and in front of the Western Wall. As we stood there, a myriad of thoughts flooded my mind and emotions stirred my soul.
At that time, I didn’t realize that we were actually standing on Mount Moriah. Mount Moriah is the mount on which Abraham offered Isaac in Genesis 22. In 1 Chronicles 21, it is identified as the location of Arunah's (or, Ornan's) threshing floor that David purchased for six hundred shekels of gold. Mount Moriah is where Solomon built his Temple, according to 2 Chronicles 3:1. This is the very place of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever.” 2 Chronicles 33:7b
For the Jewish people, the Western Wall is a place of mixed emotions. It is a place of deep despair for what they have lost, and profound hope for what they long to regain. As I stood there that day, I also felt this mix of emotions as I tried to understand the sights and sounds coming forth from this significant place. In my mind, I was a bit confused and in my heart, I felt an intense sadness.
These thoughts and emotions were interrupted as the Lord began to engage me in a conversational way. I wasn’t hearing audible words, it was more like a prayerful dialogue with God in my spirit. It started with a question. “Do you love your son, Samuel, more than you love your son, Elliot?” My response was ,“No, I love them both the same.” The next question was similar. “When your daughter, Caitlin, arrives in a few months, will you love her more than the boys?” I wasn’t sure if this was a trick question, as there is a unique and special connection between father and daughter. After a few moments, I had to conclude that I will love all my children equally. I actually said, “I will love all of my children with all of my heart.” It doesn’t really make logical sense to say it that way, but every parent knows that this is the profound mystery of parental love.
The conversation continued. “Although you love all of your children equally, Samuel holds a special place, as he is your firstborn.” Instinctively, I understood that in every family with multiple children, there is a firstborn. With that place as firstborn, there comes a responsibility to help model the vision and values of the father and mother to the entire family. It was at this point that the “eyes of my heart” began to open. It was as though the Lord was saying, “I don’t love Israel more than Iraq, or the United States more than the United Kingdom or Korea more than Japan, but among My children of nations, I also have a firstborn and My firstborn is Israel.”
For me, this was a profound moment of revelation and the beginning of my journey to see Israel and the nations from a heavenly and more biblically accurate perspective. Something from God’s heart that transcends politics, policies and prophecies was planted in my heart that day at the Western Wall and before I left, I could feel a heavenly hope beginning to surge in my soul.
For thus says the Lord: "Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, 'Oh Lord, save Your people, the remnant of Israel!' Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the ends of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and the one who labors with child, together; a great throng shall return there. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.” Jeremiah 31:7-9 NKJV