Recently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered a virtual case study on the incredibly complicated world of diplomacy: The same week he met with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the peace process, he also praised dictator Hugo Chavez as one who struggled for freedom. Chavez, however, was extremely anti-US in his statements and his policies. So the same week Abbas shook hands with the top US diplomat, he eulogized a man who repeatedly assailed the US and all that it stood for.
Of course, the real question is not why Abbas found it so easy to be friendly with the US and with a vocal US enemy—money and power are easy answers for that. Rather, the more important question is why the US continues to treat Abbas as friendly when he keeps doing things that betray that friendship. The Bible offers good wisdom on choosing friends; wisdom the US would be smart to heed.
In the Bible, we learn that G-d specifically warns the Israelites against making a covenant with their enemies in Canaan. The nationalities in Canaan were a wild, debauched and idolatrous group, and G-d wisely warned Israel that making a deal with the devil would be a trap for them and their children. Within one generation, at most, Israel would watch as their well-trained kids went romping after pagan idols.
Sadly, as seen in the book of Judges, that’s essentially what happened. For generations, Israel would embark on a religious roller-coaster ride, all because they let pagans into their sphere of influence.
Many centuries later, Israel’s leaders learned this lesson and implemented it. When the foreigners of the region offered to help the Jews build the Temple, as seen in the Book of Ezra, the Jewish leadership refused their help. At first glance, this seems rude, but clearly the Jews saw or knew something that showed them these hands of friendship were given from enemies at heart.
Perhaps it was that the pagans around them waited to help them and didn’t take the initiative of King Cyrus’ decree to rebuild the Temple to jump on board right away. Perhaps it was the lifestyle of these foreigners.
Regardless, the Jews were proven right when the foreign groups actively opposed Israel’s rebuilding of the Temple—taking great diplomatic lengths to encourage the ruling authorities in the world of that day to stop the Jews.
Similarly, the Book of Proverbs repeatedly warns against building friendships with people who plot and scheme evil, those who are prone to anger and rage, and the adulteress. In short, one shouldn’t bring into one’s close circle people whose evil actions and behavior will influence you to do the same.
That doesn’t mean that people with troubling backgrounds or dark pasts can’t be forgiven. In fact, we see that Ruth and Rahab, both of whom came from pagan nations, ended up being heroines of the faith. But it was their righteous actions, their willingness to do good at personal sacrifice, that proved they were worthy of trust and friendship.
In other words, whether it’s dealing with other nations or next-door neighbors, one should be careful about letting people get too close who are actively opposed to your beliefs and lifestyle. The Bible does command us to love our enemies, to pray for them and even to help them. Similarly, the Bible over and again encourages us to speak truth into darkened lives and encourage the wicked to repent via our example.
So, as a diplomatic example, there’s nothing wrong with the US or Israel finding out Palestinians who want to enact genuine reconciliation with the Jews and working together. In fact, presuming the cooperating activity is itself moral and good, such teamwork with those who act like friends and share common beliefs is a wise approach. Such ground-level peacemaking in areas such as science, medicine, education and business, could end up laying the groundwork for real peace.
By way of contrast, treating someone like a friend who generally doesn’t act like one is not only a mistake, it’s asking for trouble. The old adage that one keeps his friends close and his enemies closer is foolishness if one gives the house key to a thief.
On a personal level, you too can reach common ground with people from different backgrounds. The key is what are they doing today. Are they hot-tempered types? Are they prone to immoral jokes and profane language? Are they people who are staunchly opposed to your religious beliefs? Then those are the types of people you can serve and help, but keep your distance.
By way of contrast, the people who speak truth, who seek peace, who discuss ways to serve the true G-d of the Bible more—those are the people with whom you should seek to share more time.
You can’t pick your family, and you can’t always pick your coworkers and the people around you. But you can pick your friends. Choose those friends wisely—look at the way they act, not just what they say to you. Don’t make a modern Brutus your best friend; don’t be fooled by the handshake if there’s a knife in the other hand.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 13, 2013)