God’s justice includes a safe and secure home for all people. During generations of exile in Babylon, the people of God turned to the words of Isaiah to comfort them with promises of home. Isaiah spoke of home not only as something from the past that was lost but also as a future reality, grounded in justice, righteousness, and peace. Home is a human right and something people around the world hold sacred. As Palestinians cry out for a homeland and for safe and secure homes, this study will reflect on God’s promises of home in every place, for every people.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
At the entrance to the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem is a large open gate topped with the sculpture of a simple house key. The key has become a symbol for many Palestinians of a central component of the struggle for justice and human rights: the right to return home.
When the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel and the subsequent 1967 war forced thousands of Palestinians from their own homes, many took their house keys with them, assuming they would be able to return home after the violence ended. Instead, decades later, many Palestinians live in diaspora. Their former houses and businesses are now occupied by others, on streets and in villages renamed as part of Israel. For these Palestinian families, the key symbolizes not only the home that has been lost but the fact that this land remains their home. There may yet be a joyous homecoming one day.
Today, the promise of a safe and secure home is still distant for many Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank. In neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem like Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, forced displacement and home demolitions deny many Palestinian families the right to call their homes their own and even the right to remain in homes that have been theirs for generations. Palestinians who live in the West Bank witness the ongoing construction of illegal Israeli settlements deep within areas that international law has set aside for a future Palestinian homeland, carving up the map of the land and ensuring that any future Palestinian state would be a tattered remnant of what once was promised. The violation of home and homeland for Palestinians also creates a further division between Palestinians and Israelis, threatening the potential for Israel and Palestine to become a peaceful home for the two peoples and three religions who call this land holy.
Isaiah’s words to the exiles in Babylon reflect a deep understanding of the grief and trauma of being forcibly separated from one’s home and the longing to return home. Yet before the peace and security of home can be possible, something else is needed: justice. First, Isaiah says justice and righteousness must dwell and abide. Only then will peace, quietness, and trust be possible. Only then will home truly be possible. Isaiah is clear that God’s justice and peace are not limited to one group of people. For justice and peace to exist at all, they must exist between peoples. The promises of God are not only for the people of ancient Israel but for people of all times and all nations. Beyond the faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, who all recognize the God of Isaiah as our God, scientists echo the truth that our planet is our only home—and it can only be safe and secure for all if we share it.
Whether in ancient or current times, Palestine is far from the only land where people experience exile, forced displacement, and the loss of home. Christians recognize that in Jesus, God stands in solidarity with those who are separated from home. After all, Jesus once said of himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58). Yet the Christian scriptures also continue to echo Isaiah’s promise that God will restore a safe and secure home to all people—and that “the home of God [will be] among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3).
Jerusalem is a spiritual home for Jews, Christians, and Muslims from around the world. Yet the Holy Land is more than a place of pilgrimage. It is the literal home of Palestinians and Israelis—a place of work, worship, recreation, celebration, family, community, and every aspect of human life. The struggle is ongoing to create a just and lasting peace where home is sacred for all. Together with the Palestinians who hold their keys aloft in hope and endurance, we join in prayer and action to make this possibility a reality.
1. What does “home” mean to you?
2. In your community, how can you be an advocate for those who lack a safe and secure home?
Gracious God, you are our true home, for “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We pray for refugees, asylees, and all those forced to leave their homes or to live without homes. Inspire us with your justice and righteousness to work for safe and secure homes for our neighbours, in Palestine and around the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.