The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, November 30, 2023

It’s Thursday, November 30, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Focus on the Hostages: The Moral Importance of Getting the Vocabulary and Priorities Right

If you rewind history just a matter of a couple of years, you go back, say, to 2020 or 2021, the big topic of discussion was COVID-19. What wasn’t being discussed is open warfare involving, for instance, European states. But now, of course, we are settled into the fact that the Russian invasion of Ukraine now more than a year ago has turned into a protracted war. It is the first European war of this scale since World War II. It is exactly what many people in the West did not think could happen.

Of course, we now have a second war, and this one is actually gaining a lot more attention than the Ukraine and Russia conflict, and that has to do with the Hamas attack upon Israel that took place on October the 7th, and the consequent war with Israel pressing to defend itself against Hamas, even in the territory of Gaza.

You look at this and you recognize we’re living in a different world than the world in which we inhabited, at least the moral world, at least the awareness world of just a matter of a couple of years ago. We are now in a situation in which the question is, “Which of these two wars is going to earn more of the space on the front page of the daily newspaper?” The question is, “Which of these two wars is going to have primary concern when it comes to the military support and consultation of the United States? Which one is considered the larger diplomatic challenge? Which one is the greater focus of attention on the part of the American people”

Right now, it’s really clear that the attention of the American people is predominantly directed towards the war that involves Israel defending itself against Hamas. Of course, that’s easy to understand, particularly in recent days when we have the exchange of hostages on one side with prisoners on the other side.

Now, we need to talk about that for a moment, because the math continues to change. And now into a sixth day, there’s been a cessation of active hostilities with Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, pressing against Hamas and, frankly, a very deeply entrenched Hamas there in Gaza. There have been several days of very significant warfare. You’re also looking at the displacement of many people, but there has been a pause in terms of the active hostilities for a period of time for there to be this exchange.

Now, we talked about the fact that language really matters. Christians have to give great attention to language, because when we say something, when we name something, we’re actually committing a moral act. There is a distinction that simply has to be maintained between the hostages held by Hamas and the prisoners that are being held by and, in this exchange, released by Israel. Those are not two equal terms. They’re two very, very different terms.

You also have two very different sets of pictures, and it’s really important that we keep this in mind. When you look at the hostages that are being released by Hamas, remember that at this point we are primarily talking about women and children and, not only predominantly, basically no men. That means males above the age of, say, the teenage years have been released. They’re still being held and remember a very significant number still being held. The release of those particular hostages is far more problematic in political terms than the women and children who’ve been exchanged.

But the horrifying stories that have come out just the last 24 hours have to do with very young children, for instance, kept in dark boxes. Some of them shown images, some of them very graphic images of the violence undertaken against some of their own family members by Hamas. We have other accounts, very credible. The Western press is very confident in these reports and that tells you something of the kinds of atrocities that have been carried out.

We have children as young as four and there is still a baby to be accounted for. We are really dealing with very, very deep evil here. We have to keep the category straight. We have to keep the numbers straight. We have to keep the language straight. The most important language clarification we have to demand here is that when we are talking about the Israeli hostages who are being released, we have to use the word hostages. We need to make very clear that they were taken against their will. They were taken by force. They were taken in the midst of a murderous attack. They have been held illegitimately as hostages to be traded as trading cards, trading chips in terms of a moral exchange of immoral, incalculable scale.

We need to hope and pray and, of course, morally demand the entire moral authority. The United States needs to be added to the moral authority of Israel and, frankly, the moral authority of all civilized nations in calling for the release of all of the hostages, all of them, all of them as quickly as possible. And then, of course, there’s the question of, “What happens after that?” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear Israel intends to continue its struggle against Hamas with the intention supposedly of eliminating Hamas. That is frankly unlikely, but at least significantly mitigating and reducing its threat to Israel at least for a time.

Israel is in a horrible moral bind here, and that is that if it takes no adequate action against Hamas, Hamas just gets stronger. The danger is, of course, given the calculation there in the Palestinian territories, the danger is that opposing Hamas and indeed uprooting Hamas will in some way make Hamas even more popular among so many of the Palestinian people. It is a very, very difficult calculation. But here’s something else. Many other nations will move on to other concerns very quickly. Israel cannot do that. It will not survive if it does that. Honestly, it’s not about to do that.

Part II

Women and Children First: Note the Lack of Gender Confusion as the Hostages Are Released to Israel

In coming days, we’ll be talking about the moral realities on the ground there and the larger issues we ought to be concerned about. But I want to go back to the situation of the hostages, the many hostages taken so violently by Hamas and taken into the Palestinian occupied territories there in Gaza. I want us to understand that there is something that is very much in the news and is very much in this discussion that frankly is not being discussed adequately. We are talking here about the hostages released at this point being women and children. Some of the women are rather aged. A lot of them are actually girls, but we’re talking about boys and girls and women being released. Men, and that includes boys of a certain age not being released.

You look at that and you say, “Well, I think we understand the moral calculation made there.” Well, do we? Let’s look at it honestly, because you’ll notice that no one’s complaining about this. You don’t hear the feminist going on the street saying, “Oh, there needs to be absolute equality here. Men and women are absolutely equal.” No, here, you have the Titanic principle made very, very clear priority given. It didn’t start with the Titanic, but a lot of Americans came to know it by coming to know the story of the Titanic. women and children first, men second. If the space runs out, it runs out on the men, not on the women and children.

Now, the feminist would have you to understand, and this is an argument that they’ve been making for over half century, that any discrimination between men and women is wrong. But you’ll notice that the instinct right now on the part of just about everyone is to understand the release of women and children as a priority. I actually don’t hear even people on the left complaining about the fact that a distinction is being made here between men and women, that a distinction is being made here between adults and children.

You don’t hear that because it would appear to be moral insanity. And indeed, it would not only appear to be moral insanity, it would be moral insanity. But if it’s moral insanity in this case, then it’s moral insanity wherever that argument is applied. Now, does this mean that the lives of those men and older boys are none of the same value as women and children? No, of course, it does not mean that. It does mean that men have a responsibility, a responsibility that was made clear on the Titanic. Frankly, a responsibility that was made clear for a few thousand years before the Titanic, a responsibility that’s made clear right now in Gaza. Men have a responsibility to act on behalf of women and children, and moral priority when it comes to protection should be given to women and children.

That’s a hard thing to say. It’s a hard reality to face, but frankly it is a rightful moral instinct. Right now, in the course of what’s going on there in the war between Israel and Hamas, you’ll notice that there are no major feminist groups that are putting out manifestos saying, “No, it should not be a matter of discrimination between men and women. We are absolutely the same.” Let me tell you what else isn’t showing up here, and that is the entire LGBTQ confusion. It’s just not showing up here. It just doesn’t fit here, and that’s because, frankly, it doesn’t fit in the picture altogether.

As you’re looking at this, there is no one really saying that Hamas cares one way or the other, or Israel is even defining one way or the other when it comes down to something like non-binary or transgender. No, there is a very clear, very straightforward, very understandable description of human beings as men and women and children, and those children being boys and girls. There’s absolutely no confusion here.

Now, one thing Christians need to note about this is simply something about human nature. The closer we get to matters of life and death, the less nonsense you’re likely to hear. Something like this, the unadulterated evil of what Hamas undertook against Israel and the slaughter of so many people, and then the holding of these men, women, and children hostage, they are simply acting in horrifyingly immoral ways. But the immorality of it becomes even more clear with the women and children, and the moral nonsense that so many people are promoting in the very comfortable environment of so many Western societies.

You have people who are ready to go march in an LGBTQ march. That would make no sense whatsoever in Gaza right now. That would make absolutely no sense whatsoever in Jerusalem right now, where, frankly, in normal times, there has been in recent years a rather significant LGBTQ movement. But as you look at it right now, that would make no sense. It makes no sense because the closer you get to moral urgency, the clearer the picture becomes. No sane person is going to question the reality of biological sex, meaning gender, when it comes to the situation going on in Gaza and in Israel right now.

Reality clarifies enormously. Reality clarifies undeniably. And it’s at least worth our notice that right now the word man, woman, boy, girl, it’s being made without the slightest bit of irony, even among the people who seem to be rather ironic in discussing those same terms in another context.

Part III

The Master of Chaos Sees an Opportunity: Russia’s Current Plan in Ukraine

But while we’re thinking about these issues in the international frame, we need to go back to Ukraine for a few moments. If you’ve been noticing the news coverage and listening to the conversation, and, yes, there is an ongoing conversation, one of the things we need to pick up on is that there has been a significant change in the conversation over the course of the last several weeks in particular. And that’s because it is becoming more and more evident that the Russian aggression against Ukraine is turning out to be shifting towards Russia’s favor. There are a lot of reasons for that. Napoleon could tell you about that. Adolf Hitler could tell you about that.

One of the reasons why Russia has the advantage here, it comes down to the fact that in war, the attacker has the initiative and thus has a significant advantage over the attack. Now, Russia forfeited a good deal of that after their evil invasion of Ukraine. There’s just no doubt about it. Russia appeared to be reeling and one of the things that was demonstrated was incompetent generalship. Something else that was very much indicated was very poor military planning on the part of Russia, inadequately trained troops.

One of the strange things to see in retrospect is how that Russia seemed to make so many military mistakes, even, for instance, having military caravans moving in such a way that they were exposed after there was a slowdown to basically being picked off by Ukrainian sources. Ukraine’s also been very inventive. Ukraine has been defending itself that produces a certain kind of ingenuity. Furthermore, Ukraine has turned out to be far more resourceful than even many of its allies had expected and have an even greater determination.

That determination, by the way, in Ukraine seems to be so genuine that, if anything, it is just as firm among the majority of Ukrainian citizens as it is with the military and political leadership. That’s something to watch, because if there is a fall off in the determination and the willingness to fight of the Ukrainian people, then there will be a significant change in what’s taking place. But we are talking about an incommensurate military situation.

Russia’s vast. Its population is about six times that of Ukraine. Russia’s armaments, well, let’s just say that Russia has nuclear weapons, which Ukraine forfeited, by the way, under the assurance of Western protection. That’s a part of our moral responsibility to Ukraine. But honesty compels us to say that, on the ground, there isn’t much optimism right now for Ukraine being able to dislodge Russians from the entirety of its territory going back to January of 2022. It’s just unlikely that that’s going to happen. That is just a fact. That is not really a matter of debate.

Russia has not been able to accomplish all of its aims. It certainly is not in a position to take over all of Ukraine. But on the other hand, Ukraine is not in a position, quite frankly, to dislodge Russia from all of the Russian speaking territory that is a part of Ukrainian territory that it is currently occupying. Now, we are settling down not only for the Russian-Ukrainian winter, just asking Napoleon and Hitler about that, but we are also settling in for a situation in which Russia can afford to last and wait a lot longer than Ukraine can last.

This leads us to wonder why there is not a more honest and open conversation about the future of Ukraine. One of the reasons is because there is so much, and understandably, there is so much of the direction of attention now to Israel and Hamas rather than to Russia and Ukraine. But when it comes to the future of Western civilization, when it comes to the future of Europe, we’re not going to be able to get past the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Remember, we should really speak here of Russia’s very brutal invasion of Ukraine. We also have a situation in which the American and European allies that have been arming Ukraine and encouraging Ukraine and giving Ukraine ammunition and weaponry and support, particularly logistic support and technology, that has not come without benefits to those very same allies.

The United States has invested now massive amounts of money in the defense of Ukraine. It has not gone without benefits to the United States, and some of those are very tangible and understandable right upfront, which is it is in the American interest that Russia be stopped without being able to simply devour Ukraine. It’s of importance not only to the United States and to Europe; it’s of importance to Ukraine. It is a common concern. The Russian bear, if unrestrained, won’t stop with Ukraine. I think just about everybody knows that.

The other thing is, and this is something most Americans don’t think about, most of the dollars that are being spent by the United States when it comes to the military support of Ukraine are not, in a financial sense, leaving the United States. They’re staying in the United States. That is because an awful lot of the armaments and the manufacturers and the people who are providing logistics are actually in the United States, so it is something of a circular amount of money.

That doesn’t mean that the U.S. government is not spending that money for Ukraine. It does mean that an awful lot of that money isn’t going to Ukraine. It’s going to defense manufacturers, it’s going to weapons makers, it is going to the defense industrial complex. That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

As you’re looking at asking the question, “How long will America keep this up?” Well, there is an interest in making certain that Russia is not victorious in Ukraine. There’s a great moral interest, a geopolitical interest in that, but there is also just the reality that the money is more circular than you might imagine. An awful lot of Americans just see all those dollars going to Ukraine. No, they’ve been going on behalf of Ukraine, an awful lot of those dollars. By some military estimates, far more than half of those dollars have actually stayed in the United States.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the United States is not paying a big price. The biggest price right now that the United States is paying is in the amount of military material that is to say the weaponry, the bullets, the armor, and all the rest that has been going to Ukraine that is actually depleting American defense supplies. It’s going to be very interesting to see how long the Biden administration keeps up the argument that the settlement of all this is entirely in the discretion of Ukraine.I don’t believe that President Biden actually believes that. I don’t believe that the United States Congress believes that.

That’s why right now you have a political debate and the media wants to say it is Republicans who are threatening to cut off military aid to Ukraine and it’s Democrats… Especially the most important Democrat in this picture, Joe Biden, the president of the United States, that he is on the other side of this wanting to help Ukraine. The reality is that if you look at the entire political picture, everyone, basically every honest person knows this is not going to end. It’s not likely to end by any military estimation with Ukraine being totally victorious and Russia being completely expelled from what had been in the beginning of 2022 Ukrainian territory.

But one of the things Christians need to watch is how what is true on the ground becomes increasingly articulated, say, in American political circles. We’re reaching some of the deadlines when some of that is likely to become a part of our national conversation and we need to be watching for it. We do need to understand that if evil is not checked, it simply spreads. It becomes an even more powerful evil. The United States has a real national interest in dissuading Russia from these kinds of ambitions, not only in Ukraine but elsewhere.

On the other hand, it is also clear that a major realignment of the entire world political picture is taking place. All of this right now has meant that Russia and China and other nations, very dangerous nations, including Iran, are now in a much closer, closer relationship than they had been in the past. Russia right now is actually surreptitiously buying armaments from Iran, and that leads to a certain kind of political closeness, which is morally very, very dangerous.

By the time that we reach, say, a few months from now, it’s likely that the map of the world in which we say, “Well, these are friendly nations and these are unfriendly nations,” it might actually change and all of this bears watching. But in a fallen world, people with evil intent seize the opportunity. That’s actually a biblical category: sin seizing the opportunity. Putin knows that America places a very high premium on our alliance with Israel, and thus there’s a great shift of interest in the United States from what’s going on in Ukraine to what’s going on in Israel.

I’m just going to suggest that’s not likely to reverse itself anytime soon. It has to do with a lot of reasons, but the fact is that most Americans have a better, closer, more urgent understanding of what’s going on in Israel than what’s going on in Ukraine. It doesn’t make Ukraine unimportant. It simply is a reminder to us that when you have this kind of disorder breaking out all over the globe, no nation can actually be everywhere all at once in the way that there might even be some military rationale that would call for it.

One last complication here for us to consider. The Republican leadership in the House is calling for a separation of American support for Israel and American support for Ukraine. The President, remember, a Democrat, and the Democrats and the Senate and in the House want to keep Ukraine and Israel bundled when it comes to military assistance.

But there’s another wrinkle here, and we’re going to turn to look at this specifically next week. And that is the fact that, on the democratic side, on the progressive liberal side, there really is not unanimity about the measure of our support for Israel or the extent of our support for Israel or the morality of our support for Israel. Right now, some of the most proximate threat to Israel is not there in Gaza. It is in the United States Senate and frankly in America’s higher educational circles, where great animosity to Israel has been building for years and is now becoming more and more evident, very troublingly so.

Part IV

There’s a Cherry Tree Vandal on the Loose in DC: A Hungry Beaver Has Been Very Busy

But finally for today, we need to consider the fact that vandalism is a very serious issue and vandalism in the nation’s capital is a very, very serious issue. Vandalism, when it comes to the cherry trees there in Washington, DC has to be taken very seriously. Someone is desecrating those cherry trees in Washington DC. Remember that they were a gift from the Japanese government as a sign of peace to the United States. Those cherry trees and the blossoming of the cherry trees has become a very, very important part of the culture of our nation’s capital.

At least 15 of those trees have been attacked and desecrated, their bark removed from the trees in recent weeks. Now, the National Park Service and officials there in Washington have a suspect, and the suspect is a single desecrate of these cherry trees. It turns out it is suspected that it is one beaver. That is to say one beaver who is the criminal who has been attacking these cherry trees in Washington, DC. Evidently, this particular beaver has a very strong preference for the bark of cherry trees. He’s not going at the entire tree. It appears at this point that he is not going all the way towards building a dam, but beaver specialists think that that might be what is coming next. But the Tidal Basin is going to mean an awful lot for one beaver to conquer.

Mike Litterst, identified as communications chief for the National Mall and Memorial Parks at the National Park Service, said that the beaver is, quote, “just doing what comes naturally,” end quote, which means using the beaver’s infamous teeth in order to remove the bark from the tree and then gnaw right through the tree itself. At this point, this beaver has not moved to the entire tree, but he evidently really does have a taste for cherry tree bark.

According to the Washington Post reporter, Kevin Ambrose, the Park Service at this point does not plan to remove the beaver. Quote, “Trapping would be an absolute last resort,” Mr. Litter said, quote, “and we lose an average of 90 trees or so a year due to old age disease, et cetera, and beavers are just another reason for that loss,” end quote. It is reported that one desecrating beaver back in April of 1999 killed nine trees, and that beaver was very serious about trying to use those trees to build a dam at the Tidal Basin.

It was a little bit too much of a challenge for one beaver. Now, get this. The damaged trees are in a part of the collection of cherry trees, again, given by Japan in the year 1911 as a sign of friendship. They are in a part of the Tidal Basin area, which by the way is being built up. It is being built up so that there will be a higher wall, which is partly to control the water in the basin, but might have the additional benefit of making the area less accessible to beavers. Maybe the beavers know about this and maybe that’s why the word is spreading. If you want to eat the cherry trees, you better get at it now.

By the way, the report says that the beaver that tried to use the nine filled trees in order to build a dam in the Tidal Basin in 1999 was stopped by Park Service officials. It’s not exactly explained how they dissuaded the beaver from the building of the dam.

One final note, it turns out that the trees nod upon by this beaver who’s gone at 15 of them are very close to the Jefferson Memorial, the memorial to President Thomas Jefferson. I guess President Jefferson just has to be thankful that beavers don’t chew on stone.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at

You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).