A NATION BORN IN STRIFE
The modern State of Israel was born over 50 years ago. The territory of Palestine had been previously administered by the British Government under a Mandate granted to them by the League of Nations in 1920. There followed increasing tension and hostility between the Arab and Jewish population until, in November 1947, the United Nations Organisation supported the partition of Palestine by the formation of two States, one Jewish and the other Arab. This plan was rejected by the Arab side and, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of 14th May, 1948, an independent State of Israel was proclaimed. This was met immediately by implacable Arab hostility and, twelve hours later, the armies of neighbouring Arab States invaded the land and attacked the Jews. The Secretary-General of the Arab League announced on Cairo radio, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre”. Although faced with the combined might of Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, the Israeli army was victorious and, in 1949, a cease-fire agreement was reached, resulting in Israel controlling more territory than had been originally allocated to them (although Israel had lost control of East Jerusalem to Jordan). The remainder of the land was divided between Jordan (known as the West Bank) and Egypt (known as the Gaza Strip).
The creation of the State of Israel encouraged Jewish immigration on a large scale, whilst hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled to neighbouring countries. In 1964, a group of these exiled Arabs formed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). There followed considerable tension and animosity between Israelis and Arabs until, in 1956, Israel (together with Britain and France) attacked Egypt following their nationalisation of the Suez Canal, thus preventing Israeli shipping passing through to its southern port on the Gulf of Aqaba. Resulting from this conflict, Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip. There then followed the amazing six-day war in June 1967, described as “a feat of arms unparalleled in modern times”, in which Israel not only survived but won a resounding victory over enemies and equipment overwhelmingly superior in numbers. Around the world, Israel’s success was hailed as “a miracle”. During this conflict Israel wrested control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsular from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Whilst the Sinai Peninsular has been returned to Egypt, Israel still retains control of the other territories, having annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, subsequently declaring the united city of Jerusalem to be “the capital of Israel for all time”, confirming General Moshe Dayan’s words at the time of the city’s capture, “We have returned to Jerusalem never to part from her again”. Other wars followed in 1973 and 1982, neither of which ended to the detriment of Israel.
THE GROWTH OF ISRAEL
We have been reviewing the birth of a small nation which, against overwhelming odds, has survived five wars in less than four decades. Throughout this period, and the years that followed, Israel has had to assimilate and accommodate thousands of immigrants, so that, from an infant State numbering 600,000 Jews, its Jewish population has grown over eight-fold to reach about 5 million in the year 2000. Despite experiencing continued antagonism from the PLO, Israel’s economy has steadily grown, until it has become the most prosperous and productive country in the Middle East. Israel sought their prosperity by cultivation of the land which had lain barren and desolate for centuries. They also developed advance science and technology-based industries, and their progress in the hi-tech field has become the envy of the world, leading observers to pronounce it “an economic and technological powerhouse”. Israel’s achievements have amazed economic experts world-wide, who were quick to recognise them as “an economic miracle”. Truly, the State of Israel has grown into a power to be reckoned with amongst the nations of the world and, although beset on every hand by enemies vowing to destroy her, the nation has become prosperous far beyond the wildest dreams of its earliest settlers.
ISRAEL AND BIBLE PROPHECY
This cameo of Israel’s past 50 years has been painted to illustrate the way in which this tiny nation has come through unimaginable and ferocious enmity from its neighbours. To many observers, the precarious fledgling state has remarkably and uncannily survived and flourished. Bible students, however, have expected such a situation to arise! Those who paid attention to the writings of the Old Testament prophets were convinced that, although the Jews had been dispersed throughout the earth for nigh on 2,000 years, a time would come when they would return to the land of Israel and grow into a rich and prosperous nation. One such Bible student wrote the following in 1848 (over 150 years ago), when there was no sign nor the slightest chance of the Jews returning to the land of their fathers which had been under the heel of the desolating Turks for 250 years. He said there would be
“a partial and primary restoration of Jews” to Palestine, and that this “colonisation of Palestine will be on purely political principles… They will emigrate thither as agriculturists and traders, in the hope of ultimately establishing their commonwealth, but more immediately of getting rich in silver and gold by commerce (abroad)… and in cattle and goods by their industry at home”.
The author of these words died in 1871 without seeing any sign whatever that these events would happen. But he fervently believed, on the basis of Bible prophecy, that they would happen, and we are privileged today to witness the truth of this prediction. Why was he so confident? It was because he possessed an unshakeable belief that the Bible is the word of God and that it outlines the purpose of God with the nation of Israel.
THE GOD OF ISRAEL
Careful readers of the Bible will notice that God constantly describes Himself as “the God of Israel”. The reason for this is to be found in the words Moses addressed to the nation -
“the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6)
The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, expands upon this statement, indicating in very clear and unambiguous terms the ultimate purpose God has with this nation so special to Him. Their uniqueness in being a special nation to God meant that they had divine laws to regulate their individual and national lives.
“He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Psalm 147:19⁄20)
Consequently, the nation of Israel had a special responsibility to God which no other nation had. Speaking to Israel, God said,
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2)
The world-wide dispersion of Jews is directly attributable to their failure to obey this law from God.
“If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law… the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other” (Deuteronomy 28:58⁄64)
And so it came to pass. The Romans evicted the Jews from their land and took them captive into the four corners of their empire. So complete was this overthrow of the Jewish Commonwealth that the Romans drove a plough over the ruins of Jerusalem, exactly as predicted by God through the prophet Micah,
“Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps” (Micah 3:12)
A REVERSAL OF THE SITUATION
Notwithstanding this devastation, God immediately pronounced a future reversal of the situation. He indicated that, in the outworking of His purpose with Israel, the house (temple) of the Lord, which the Romans had destroyed by fire, would be re-established in Jerusalem to become “a house of prayer for all people” (Micah 4:1⁄4 & Isaiah 56:7). A necessary preliminary to this would be the regathering of Jews into the land from which they had been evicted.
“Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations… He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock” (Jeremiah 31:10)
“I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 34.13)
As we have seen, the nation is likened by God to sheep, and His assurance is that He will
“cause the evil beasts (their enemies who prey upon them to devour them) to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely… And they shall no more be a prey to the nations… but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34.25⁄28)
Thus, “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45.17)
TODAY AND TOMORROW
Events throughout Israel’s long history have happened exactly in accordance with Bible prophecy concerning them. Whilst most of their enemies have vanished off the scene, Israel, despite constant persecution, has survived. The reason is clear.
“I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jeremiah 30.11)
Today we are privileged to be able to see the beginnings of the process of salvation for Israel.
The word “miracle” has been freely applied by men to the achievements of Israel. With our knowledge of God’s purpose revealed in the Bible, we can be confident that the miracles are the work of God, both in the preservation of His people and in the outworking of His purpose with them. That purpose is to re-create the kingdom of God in the earth. This kingdom previously existed in the territory of modern-day Israel, Lebanon and Syria, with the nation of Israel being its subjects. This can be seen from many references in the Old Testament. For example, when Solomon was crowned as king of Israel, it is recorded that he “sat on the throne of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29.23).
Having been chosen by God, he was “to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chronicles 28.5).
The gospel preached by Jesus is often referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (eg. Mark 1.14). This gospel is good news about the restoration of the kingdom of God in Israel when Jerusalem shall be called “the throne of the Lord” (Jeremiah 3.17). It is from Jerusalem that the law of God will again go forth, this time for the blessing of all nations, bringing a time of world-wide peace for all who submit (see Micah 4.1⁄4). At that time Jesus, who was crucified because he claimed to be “the king of the Jews”, will truly be “king over all the earth” (Zechariah 14.9). The return of Jesus to the earth to accomplish these wonderful things constitutes the burden of the preaching of the apostles, as can easily be verified by the numerous recitals of this fact throughout the New Testament. He will come again and “his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east” Zechariah 14.4
In his last message in the Bible, Jesus made it clear beyond doubt, by saying, “Surely, I come quickly” - that is, suddenly (Revelation 22.20).
Jesus’ closest disciples were privileged to accompany him to the mount of Olives at the time he ascended to heaven. They had been with their resurrected Lord for forty days “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God”. After such concentration on this subject, the one thing that was uppermost in their minds was,
“Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
They had no illusions, after these wonderful conversations with Jesus, that the coming kingdom of God will be the restoration of the kingdom which previously existed in Israel. Although that was not the time, they had angelic assurance that
“this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1.1⁄11)
THE SIGN OF ISRAEL
The return of many Jews to their homeland and the establishment of the State of Israel is a certain sign that the prophetic events we have been describing are sure to happen. The preservation of the Jews throughout the centuries, and their outstanding achievements since the establishment of their State, constitute clear evidence of the hand of God in their affairs.
Christadelphians have been convinced of the truth of these matters since their inception in the early 19th century. They have never turned from proclaiming these things to be the kernel of the gospel. These are matters which affect the personal salvation of each of us for, like the apostle Paul, they recognise that the hope of a true Christian is “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20).
We invite you to hear more of these exciting events which will culminate in “the earth being filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14.21).