In a way, the life and death of Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a metaphor for modern Israel and its tangled relationship with its Arab neighbors. The Christian who takes the Bible seriously often looks with confusion at the unfolding of this relationship in modern times. Yet, biblical narratives put these contemporary relationships into right perspective, and they help us understand the meaning of the fallen Rabin.

Rabin was a soldier, the young brigade commander who helped conquer Jerusalem in the 1948 War of Independence, the chief of staff who masterminded the 1967 Six Day War when Israel conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, and the defense minister who helped Israel withdraw from its morass in southern Lebanon.

He was a tough commander and politician. Palestinians used to say that they preferred working with the conservative Likud party, which was much more resistant to any sacrifice of land to the Arabs than Rabin's Labor party. "At least we know what we're dealing with when we deal with the Likud," they would say. During the Intifada, an uprising of Palestinians in the early 1990s, Rabin, then defense minister, responded with harsh measures, and many Palestinians died. As a result, Rabin, the man of war, had credibility with the other Israelis because of his fearlessness in protecting Israel's security and sovereignty when he began to evolve into a man of peace.

In some respects, Rabin was parallel to the late U.S. President Richard Nixon, whose early notoriety as a hater of communism enabled him during his presidency to open the door to mainland China. In other ways, compare Rabin with the biblical King David. David used his first years as king to solidify Israel's borders (though never to the limits that God promised Abraham) at such a heavy cost of life that God refused him his desire to build the temple in Jerusalem. Yet David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, spoke more movingly about shalom and righteousness than almost any other scriptural writer.

Another man of faith who predated David also helps us understand how Rabin could fight the wars of Israel, and then offer to turn back some of the land in exchange for peace. Genesis 21 tells of the patriarch Abraham and Abimelech, a local Philistine king. Abraham, even though he had heard God's promise of land to him, made a covenant with Abimelech for the two of them to live together in peace. Abraham knew that a treaty with Abimelech did not countermand God's promise that would be fulfilled in his own timing. In turn, Rabin knew that a treaty to coexist with the Palestinians would not deny the Israelis their own homeland and self-rule.

Rabin epitomized the spirit of a remark I once heard an Israeli general make when an eager Christian asked whether the general believed God had been responsible for Israel's rebirth. The general replied that he preferred to believe the Israeli army had something to do with it. As a commanding officer, Rabin remained close to his troops. I remember him, in khaki, his short-sleeved shirt open at the neck, walking in his plodding style among the Israeli defense forces who were occupying southern Lebanon in the mid-1980s.

Rabin's determined pilgrimage from warrior to peacemaker affirms one of the deepest held beliefs of Christians and Jews: that all human life is sacred, and that God's imperative for us to dwell in peace will challenge every temporal political inflexibility.


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