Israel: Between Promises and Reality 4

Western-Wall-Jerusalem-Day-3

By David Zadok

Presented in Germany, October, 2015

 

Session 4: The Reality of Israel

Introduction

 

In the last three sessions we have seen the patterns in which God in his great wisdom deals with us. We concentrated particularly on the line of the seed of woman through Israel and the promises God made and the covenants that he cut with them. That pattern shows us that God is always faithful to his promises and covenants and that his faithfulness does not depend on our faithfulness to him. We saw this pattern both in the Old and New Testament. But while we saw the pattern, we also saw the reality, though we did not mention it specifically. The reality in Biblical history is that since Genesis Three, sin has been spreading and impacting nature and every area of human life. It has destroyed much of the good that God created in the world and has impacted every area of life. We see the cruelty of people and governments through horrible wars, and the murdering and raping of innocent people. Even in our day we see how dictators destroy their own people. Think of the North Korea, Syria and Iraq. We see how the lust for money causes people to enslave small children and abuse women and men only for a bigger profit. All of these examples are the result of sin, originating in Genesis Three. But also we see the reality in which nations and individuals tried and continue to try to annihilate Israel so many times, and in so many ways and through different means. It suffices to mention the Egyptians, the Canaanites, and the Philistines, Haman in the book of Esther, the Crusaders, the Russian Pogroms, the Nazis, and today, the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. And this is only a partial list. And even in these very days in Israel we are witnessing another round of terror. Since the beginning of the month in the last three weeks, 10 Israelis have been killed and 120 injured. Some are in critical condition. But thankfully this is not the only reality.

 

Of course, there is so much that needs and can be said about reality in Israel, both in the spiritual realm as well as the political, security and international realms. I will touch briefly on each of these and conclude with the reality of the fulfillment of the promises of our faithful God.

 

Israel Is-Real

Despite all the attempts mentioned, Israel still exists and is thriving. While many of the nations and peoples that we read about in the Old Testament are long gone, Israel is still standing tall. Israel continues to contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world. Many Israeli inventions in various areas of agricultural, medicine, science and high tech, as well as the unproportioned number of Nobel Prizes won by Jews and Israelis, has made life more productive and saved many lives. The Israeli government is one of the few countries that often helps when disaster strikes in areas like Turkey, Haiti, Malawi, Japan, Myanmar and many others. The NGO organizations like Israeaid has aided some 29 countries, reached more than a million people, distributed over 1,000 tons of relief and medical supplies, and trained more than 5,000 local professionals.[1] Today, they and many Israelis are helping with the Syrian refugees in various ways.

 

So, the challenge for many people is not that Israel exists, but that it is a world power and impacts the world. Israel is making the world a better place to live, and it is doing so in the midst of all the hostility around it. George Gilder in his book The Israel Test argues that the reason much of the world hates Israel is because of envy. He then goes on to write “Israel today concentrates the genius of the Jews. Obscured by the usual media coverage of the “war-torn” Middle East, Israel’s rarely celebrated feats of commercial, scientific, and technological creativity, climax the Jews’ twentieth-century saga of triumph over tragedy. Today tiny Israel, with its population of 7.23 million, five and half million Jewish, stands behind only the United States in technological contributions.[2]

 

That is a reality that makes many people envious and very nervous, causing them and others to see Israel as the source of all evil in Middle East, if not beyond it.

 

Political

Israel has become an island of stability in the midst of a raging sea. It is surrounded by war torn countries like Syria with more than 2.5 million refugees, Iraq is being torn to pieces by ISIS. Lebanon is being choked by Hezbollah, Egypt  has been changing hands between the Islamic Brotherhood, and secular government with little stability, and Jordan though is somewhat quiet, is very much concerned with the influence of ISIS and the many Syrian refugees. We know of the situation of the Palestinians and Hamas, and the list can go on.

 

Being in this situation is not easy for government leaders, citizens, military personnel, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Knowing that government officials and military leaders are not perfect and are not yet believers, means at times they do make bad and wrong decisions. In such cases we need to criticize them and help them to see the errors. Often, the consequences of those decisions are not only painful to Jewish Israeli citizens, but too often also to Arab citizens and particularly to the Palestinians. At the same time, we also need to acknowledge that many of the decisions are complicated and are not always as black and white as they might seem. One such example is how to respond to the missiles being shot at Israeli civilians from Gaza. Since 2005 when Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip more than 15,000 missiles have been fired at Israel. Is it right to shoot and even kill a terrorist who is stabbing people in the street? These are moral issues and the answer to them is not always easy.

As a retired major in the Israeli army, I can say that compared to most militaries of the world, the IDF behaves in far better and more moralistic ways in combat situations.

 

Economical

For the first time in almost two thousand years, there are more Jewish people who live in Israel than in any other country in the world. This has many ramifications for a small and tiny country like Israel. Among other things it means that it has to be very efficient and effective in providing for the social needs of its growing population, which includes housing, food, education, health and above all security.

 

Unfortunately, there is corruption in various levels of society and particularly in some of the high levels of government and other officials. So often society pays the price for corruption. In addition, Israel continues to spend much of its resources in defending itself. If for a moment any of the Arab or extreme Islamic countries, believed they could defeat us, they would not hesitate to start a war or take up any action needed to try and defeat us, just as they did in the past. Israel has to keep its superiority in the region, otherwise there will be no peace in the region. All of this puts a huge financial burden on citizens. And unlike some of the rich Emirate counties, we don’t have natural resources, although now gas has been found in the Mediterranean. All of these economic challenges make the cost of living in Israel high and the citizens are the ones who carry that burden.

 

These are some of the political and economic realities in Israel. There is of course, much more to be said about reality in Israel, but our time is limited, and we need to talk also about the spiritual aspects of reality.      

 

The Spiritual Reality

The number of Jewish believers in Israel is on the rise and the same is true about the number of congregations. But more than the numbers, the involvement and impact of Jewish believers in the society is increasing. More and more believers are involved in various outreaches in the society. Though the number of believers who are in influential positions in society, including the military is still very small, it is increasing. We are seeing younger and more capable people taking leadership roles. And finally we see an increase in the desire to share the gospel with others. More young people are studying at the Israel College of the Bible, where I have the privilege of being chairman.

 

Of course, there are many reason for these increases, reasons that the faithful God uses to accomplish his good will. The main one is due to the prayer of faithful men and women for centuries. The other is the missionary work that was carried out and still is being carried out by many in the land. And also the tensions in Israel, where sudden death as the result of a terror attack is a reality, causes people to ask the hard questions of life.

 

But I believe there are two more reasons used by God to bring about the fulfillment of his promises in Romans 9, 10 and 11. The two are restoration of the Hebrew language and restoration of the land.

 

 

Restoration of Language and Land

Restoration of the Hebrew Language 

Our God is a God of speech. He communicates with us through words. In this day and age we have become an image society, but for many millennia we were a society of spoken and written language. Biblical history is about God acting and speaking to his people.  He called Abraham and Moses by speaking to them, and He revealed himself to the people through His Word. In fact, one component of His blessing to His people was His communication with them.  Furthermore, when God desired to describe his close relationship to Moses, He said these words in Ex. 33: 11: “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”  The ultimate in the relationship between the Creator God and his creation was found in his speaking with them face to face. Again and again we read how God called his prophets and spoke to them. When God was angry with his people, he communicated that to them through harsh words, and when he was pleased, he let them know. God spoke with his people, and he spoke with them in a language they could understand.

 

The influence and significance of language is evident in the days of the Reformation and in the work of Martin Luther and the German language. Even though I have ambivalent feelings towards Martin Luther, particularly because of his late writings about the Jewish people, we cannot deny what he accomplished. Eric Metaxas in his 2010 Biography of Bonhoeffer, which became a “New York Times” bestseller (I noticed that you have it also in Germany in the library), writes these words about the influence of Martin Luther:

 

Luther’s influence cannot be overestimated. His translation of the Bible into German was cataclysmic. Like a Medieval Paul Bunyan, Luther in a single blow shattered the edifice of European Catholicism and in the bargain created the Modern German language, which in turn effectively created the German people. … Before Luther’s Bible, there was no unified German language. It existed only in a hodgepodge of dialects.[3]

 

This is an example of how God uses language as a means of bringing his blessing and his light to the nations. By translating the Bible into German, Luther enabled the German speaking world to read to understand the Bible without a mediator.

 

I believe that God has done something even more amazing with the Hebrew language. In fact, the Hebrew language is a modern-day phenomenon! It is one of the oldest languages in the world, and for almost two millennia it was considered a dead language. The scattered Jewish people did not use the “holy” language for daily conversation. They were in the “Diaspora”, displaced throughout many countries, and in order to survive they had to speak the language of the country that they were living in. Hebrew was used in the synagogue for prayer and for reading the Hebrew Scriptures, and since it was considered a holy language, it was not used for daily conversation.

 

However, this state of affairs began to change towards the end of the 18th century with the renewal of settlement in the Promised Land. As Jews slowly repopulated the land of their fathers, the need for a common language in which to communicate became evident.  Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who was living in Jerusalem, is considered the Father of the Modern Hebrew language. He determined to revive the Hebrew as a daily conversation. His vision “caught on” with many of the Zionist settlers who chose not to continue to use Yiddish or other languages now that they had finally arrived home. Thus, Hebrew evolved into the common language of the people, and eventually was decreed the official language of the new state. Interestingly enough, the first Hebrew language school, Ulpan (in Hebrew) was opened in Rishon LeTsion, which means “the first to Zion.” This is the same town where the offices of HaGefen Publishing are located.

 

Soon, Hebrew was taught to all new immigrants. The fact that the alphabet and many of the words were the same as the biblical Hebrew, made it somewhat easy to learn and use. As a result, modern spoken Hebrew today is similar to, yet different from, biblical Hebrew. While the average Israeli can read both, he finds it difficult to understand much of what he reads in the Bible. So we see that God in his wisdom and sovereignty has restored the Hebrew language.

 

Restoration of the Land of Israel

Land plays an important role in today’s media and in the politics of the Middle East. It is the source of much of the conflict in the region. From both biblical history and extra-biblical history we can learn much about land in general and the land of Israel in particular. The main thing that can be said is that throughout the past five millennia the land of Israel has gone through many changes. Scores of world powers have fought for it, claimed it as theirs and lived in it, and in the meantime have destroyed and rebuilt it.

 

When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in a specific place, a beautiful land. This choice territory was described by four specifically named rivers that flowed through the Garden of Eden and was filled with all kinds of trees, including the Tree of Life. After blessing Adam and Eve, God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen.1:28). But when Adam and Eve sinned, God graciously made garments of skin to clothe them but then drove them out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:21-24).

 

Land played an important part of God’s promise to Abraham. In the very first sentence of God’s call to Abraham, he tells him to leave his land and go to a land that he will show him (Gen 12:1). The call of Abraham was tied to a land. And after the people of Israel were well settled in the land and did not follow the ordinances and the laws of God, the land was taken from them, and they were driven out. Just as it was the case with Adam and Eve. The significance of land is seen not only through Adam, Abraham and the people of Israel, but also in God himself, who chose an earthly dwelling for himself. In 1 Kings 11:36  we read, “Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name.” When we come to Revelation, the final book of the scriptures, we read the words of the Angel of Philadelphia to the church in Revelation 3:12: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name”. We saw also how through the seed of the woman, Christ came down from heaven, lived in the land of Israel, and was crucified in the city that carried the name of God, the city of Jerusalem.

 

In his sovereignty God also restored the people of Israel to the land after almost 2,000 years of exile. While there has always been a remnant of people who have lived in the land, it was only when God allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland, the land of Israel in 1948 that the nation in a sense was resurrected, out of the ashes of Auschwitz.

 

I believe that restoration of the language and the land has an important part in fulfilling the promises of God that we saw in Romans 9-11 in regards to the future restoration of the people of Israel back to their Messiah. The restoration of the Language and Land has paved the way for the restoration of the people. It is now that God has not only brought the majority of the Jewish population into the tiny land of Israel, but we also speak a common language, our historical language and the language in which the Old Testament was written.

 

Restoration of the People

The restoration of Land and Language is already playing an important part in the restoration of the people of Israel. Since Hebrew is the common language, evangelistic material that has been published both electronically and on paper, reaches out to all the Jews who live in the land. In our office at HaGefen, we have Argentinian, Romanian, Iraqi, Georgian (Former Soviet Union) and Swedish workers. Years ago to reach all these people you needed to be in those countries and speak their languages in order to share the gospel with them. But now they are together in one country, speaking the same language.

 

Today, we are starting to see a real growth in the number of Jewish believers in the country. The younger generation, unlike the previous one, is not as antagonistic to the gospel. And the time distance from WW II and Nazi Germany, is not causing as much anger towards “Christianity.” In our congregation last month, we had three baptisms and four conversions. I visited two from this group just two days before I came to Germany. It was amazing to see the power of the gospel as it transforms people so deeply and so quickly. They have not only separated from each other, since they are not married, but have asked for separate apartments in the Kibbutz where they live, something that people don’t understand. And they are already sharing the gospel with their friends in the Kibbutz. By the way, the lady is an Ethiopian, and I was able to speak to her in Hebrew! This is another example of the importance of the restoration of land and language.

 

This is part of the reality at work in Israel. And while there is so much tension, and war goes on in the land, God is working his plan. And in that plan, God in His Sovereignty has given us the land of our forefathers and their language so he can return us to the root of the faith of our forefathers.

 

The overwhelming majority of the world, does not like us being in the land. And yet, it is being in the land that enables many Jewish people to hear the gospel and come to faith. This is the reason that I spent some 18 years of my adult life in the military as I believe that we need to defend the land, not because it is our land, though it is, and not because it is good land, it is also that, but rather because God is drawing us to himself in this land. It has a significant role in the fulfilment of the promises of God to the Jewish people, but also beyond as we saw earlier. The state of Israel is bringing good and blessings to many outside its borders. And I believe that a day will come when we can take the gospel of our Messiah to the outside world as missionaries, and to be the light that we are called to be.

 

But could God not drive us out of the land once again because of our disobedience? He certainly can and might, but it is hard to see it happening.

 

Conclusion

God has been and will be faithful to His covenant despite Israel’s failures and unbelief. Salvation has always been of God and is totally independent of our efforts or works, though when God gives us new life there will be also good works. Our good works are not the prerequisite for our salvation, but they are the result of our salvation.

 

Throughout history Jewish people have rejected their God, and yet he has never rejected them; he has bestowed on them all the blessings he promised them. Just as in the past Israel was a blessing to the world through the Messiah, also today Israel is blessing, but not yet in the spiritual arena, but only in areas of medicine, science and other realms. The restoration of the language and the land has paved the way for the restoration of the people, and will lead to the day when Israel will once again become also a light to others.

 

Israel is indeed between the promises and the reality. The reality that is the fulfillment of the promises, and we are seeing that slowly happen as we see evidence of it in the State of Israel and its reality. More than at any other time I believe that we as believers in Messiah need to put aside our theological, cultural and other differences and work together in bringing the gospel to the Jews first and then to the Greeks. The return of Jewish people to their God will carry a great blessing to the Gentile world as Paul tells us in Romans 11:12. God will fulfill his promises no matter what, and in this truth we have a great hope to continue to live our lives.

To Him alone be the glory.  Amen

[1] Source – www.Israaid.co.il

[2] The Israel Test, George Gilbert, published by Richard Vigilante Books, USA, 2009. Page 4

[3]  Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville Dallas Mexico City Rio De Janeiro, Thomas Nelson, 2010), 20

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