By: David Zadok
Presented in October 2018 in Holland.
© David Zadok
In 1933 the Germans began building concentration camps in Germany to solidify their regime. In that year the Dachau concentration camp was opened near Munich in the state of Bavaria. About five years later on the night of 9-10 of November 1938, known as Kristallnacht or the night of broken glass, marked the beginning of Pogroms against the Jewish people. On that single night not only many Jewish shops, homes and synagogues were attacked and glasses were broken, but also many Jews were killed and some 30,000 men were imprisoned in concentration camps. Some 267 synagogues were burned, and over 7,000 businesses were totally destroyed or heavily damaged. The Kristallnacht was the beginning of the racial policy of Germany, and the beginning of the Holocaust and the Final Solution for the Jews. In that policy and solution, some 6 million Jews were systematically murdered by the German death machine.
But the Final Solution was not final, though at times it looked as if it was almost final. Many believed that the Jewish people will be soon annihilated and erased from the pages of human history, and the pages of the Bible. However, in the horrors of WWII, with millions of death, the Dachau death camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, by the US troops. Other death camps were also liberated by the Soviet troops as well. I believe that was indeed the beginning of a new chapter in the long history of the people of Israel. And that new chapter includes not just the survival of the people but also the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948. But there is something far more important in that Chapter and that is the spiritual rebirth of the nation and the return of the Jews to their messiah.
The prophets of the Old Testament often spoke about judgment but also hope and restoration. They spoke about the coming exile, which was a dark era in the history of the people, but also about the restoration of the people back to their land. Ezekiel, as well as Jeremiah and Isaiah they all prophesied doom and restoration. Often the first part of their prophecy is that of destruction and judgment, but then there is a turning point in their message. The first part of their message is that of God’s judgment and wrath for sins of the people and their unrepentant heart. But the second part is that of restoration and reconstruction and great hope.
Prophet Isaiah prophesized in and around Jerusalem to the southern Kingdom of Judah. His ministry lasted during four kings of Judah, and for some 55 years (from 739 to 686 B.C.). He began his message by a series of sermons denouncing the sins of the people in chapters 1 to 6 and the sins of the leaders in chapters 7 through 12. He severely warns against the judgment of God coming and therefore pleads with the people to repent, before it is too late. Later in chapters 13 to 23 he also rebukes the Gentile nations who surrounded the northern and southern kingdom. In fact, up to chapter 35 much of his message is that of Judgment to the two kingdoms, but also to other surrounding nations. And in the four chapters of 36 to 39, there are some historical interlude about Sennacherib Assyrian king and also King Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery, and the messengers who came to him from Babylon.
But beginning in chapter 40 we hear new words and an optimistic message. A message of restoration, rebirth, and salvation, just as the name of the Prophet testifies – “The Lord is salvation”. It begins with “Comfort, Comfort, My people.
Let us read the message in Isaiah 40 verses 1 – 11.
We are people who need comfort all the time. We live in a fallen world. One that is filled with pain, agony, and challenges. A world that is characterized by natural disasters and manmade tragedies like wars, terrorism, theft, murder and a long list. In such a world we need comfort, and we need it desperately. But the comfort that we need has to have it bases in the creator, the one who is able to bring us also a lasting and eternal comfort. Our true comfort can come only from the Lord.
Also in the book of comfort, the Heidelberg catechism asks the question “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” and responds “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”
In the book of Isaiah, we see that while there will be judgment and indeed also an exile, the darkest time in the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament, yet there is also comfort. The book of Lamentations describes the pain and the cry of the people in exile, and yet even there in chapter 3 verses 31 to 32 he tells us “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he causes grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitudes of his mercies.”
The call of comfort comfort my people comes from God to the prophets. Their message of comfort should go out to the exiled people. Thought God’s judgment has come, yet there is hope and future. There will be an end to the suffering and tears. As the word of God continues to the prophet he tells them it continues by saying “Speak ye comfortable to Jerusalem, and cry unto her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” God commands his prophets to speak tenderly or lovingly to his people – the people of God. Even though God judges them, yet He does not reject them – they are still God’s chosen people. And her warfare has ended or accomplished. But far more important that her sins have been pardoned. This is the one and true comfort – to know that our sins have been pardoned. This is the true blessing and it is announced by God Himself!
The people have received from the hand of the Lord a double portion for their sins. God is indeed good and gracious but sin has to be punished and paid for fully. The exile was a price to be paid for the past sins of the people, especially their idolatry where they worshipped idols of the surrounding nations. In fact, almost immediately after they came out of Egypt, and saw God’s strong hand and his outstretched arm, that brought them out of slavery, they built a Golden Calf and said, “This is the God who brought you out of the Egypt”! The calf was one of the Egyptians gods. They sinned, and there was a payment, but now God says it is time for mercy and grace.
He promises that he will send one who will call in the wilderness to prepare a highway for our God. In their exile, the people of Israel are given great hope, as once again they see the hand of the Lord sending his prophet, like Elijah, to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. But great news for the desperate and broken people of Israel. The misery of the people and that of Jerusalem that was destroyed will be replaced with the glory of the Lord. And all flesh shall see it because the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Try to imagine how refreshing these words of the Isaiah was for the people. They have been hearing a message of judgment, but now a message of hope, and that the glory of the Lord will be revealed. I believe that the message, whether or not they understood all of its implication, gave them a great hope to continue to suffer, knowing that the day would come when the glory of the Lord will return to his people and his land.
John the Baptist appeared on the scene, as Dr. Luke in his gospel provides us with the details. His birth was unique as the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest while he was in the temple. And later his wife Elizabeth gave birth to the son whose name was determined to be John. At the same time that the angel Gabriel brought the word to them, he also came to Mary announcing to her that she will carry the Son of the Most High, the Messiah of Israel, Jesus. And just as Isaiah foretold some 700 years earlier, John in the wilderness began calling people to repentance and in this way preparing for the coming of the Messiah. The birth and the coming of Messiah are amazing in so many ways and levels, but to me, the fact that despite the sinfulness, idolatry and the many other sins of Israel, God would still send his Messiah through them, the Tribe of Judah, is most amazing. It is yet another sign of the goodness and grace of God, that is not dependent on our performance.
John was the forerunner of Jesus. After his baptism by John the Baptist in Jordan river, Jesus began his public ministry. He went about preaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and He began healing, casting out demons, and releasing people from their various slavery and above saving them from their sins. In the Gospels, we hear Jesus, again and again, emphasizing that he has come to the lost house of Israel. Though He was the Lamb who has come to take away the sins of the World, yet his first priority was the Jewish people. In fact, his first followers and disciples were Jewish, and all the writers of the New Testament, except maybe Luke, were Jewish. The comfort that Isaiah wrote about was fulfilled in so many different ways by the promised Messiah, Jesus. The Jewish people as Paul writes in verses 4- 5 of the ninth chapter of Romans brought the most important and imaginable comfort to the world. Paul puts it in these words: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service [of God], and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. All the blessings that the world has received through God and Christ came from the Jewish people. The same stiff neck people who again and again rejected the messages of the prophets and also the Messiah Himself.
But the comfort that came to the world at large, was not received totally by the Jews. For almost 2,000 years God in his wisdom brought partial blindness to the Jewish people so that the Gospel will rich to the remotest part of the world. Today in our days and time, there is not a country that has not been influenced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel has gone out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and the uttermost part of the world, just as Messiah promised in Acts 1:8. But the Gospel that has gone out from Jerusalem is now returned back to Jerusalem.
The independence of Israel enabled the church to be reestablished among the Jewish people again and in the land of Israel. In the last 2,000 years, there have always been Jewish people and even prominent Rabbis who believed in the Messiah as their Lord and savior. However, they were scattered in the diaspora and their numbers were small. We have to admit that the church in so many ways failed in bringing the Gospel to the Jewish people in any significant way. As the state of Israel was standing on its feet, and especially after the Six-Day war, the Christian world once again started to look with favor to the Jews and their need to be evangelized. The Reformation paved the way for the church to become missional and after a few centuries, the mission organizations were established specifically to bring the Message of Hope to the Jews as well. Those efforts eventually enabled the church in Israel to grow and to impact the society. While the number of Jewish believers is still small in Israel, yet there are impacting society in many ways.
After 70 years of independence, in our times and days, we are seeing a true spiritual rebirth of the Jews, as once again they are returning back to God of the fathers and their Messiah. The God of the Old Testament is once again being recognized and found in the pages of the New Testament by the Jews. While Israel is still a very secular nation, yet more and more Israelis are calling to the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In Jesus, they are finding light and life, but also comfort.
Today, in Israel and among Jewish people in other countries, we see how God slowly but surely is drawing them to himself. One soul at a time! Not in great numbers yet, but it is happening more and more. We are seeing an openness towards the gospel that was not there five or ten years ago. More Israelis are being converted and baptized both in our church, Grace and Truth, as well as other churches. In one congregation last year they had 39 people who were baptized in one Saturday. While Israel today is a nation that is far away from God and the people are not seeking him, but rather living immoral lives, and yet God is on the move among them. He is acting once again and drawing people to himself, and cleansing them from all their uncleanness.
Today there are more Jewish people living in Israel than in any other country in the world. That is something relatively new, and what is amazing is that they all speak one language. Now in most countries, people speak one main language, just like in Holland you speak Dutch. So you may rightly ask what is amazing about the Hebrew language or the Jews in Israel speaking one language? What is amazing is the fact that the Hebrew language for almost two thousand years was not a spoken language, but rather was used for the reading of the scriptures or prayers, but not for daily conversation. Therefore, when in the late nineteenth century it was revived by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, it was an amazing phenomenon. In the history of the world never we find people who were out of their land for some 2,000 years without a spoken language, that they not only return to their land but also to their ancient language, the language of the Old Testament. In fact, we can see that the restoration of the Language and Land has paved the way for the restoration of the people.
Israel Light to the Nations
We also see how the tiny land of Israel is making a huge contribution to the welfare of the world. In any website like Wikipedia, one can easily read of the many inventions in Israel. Israel is called the Startup Nation and there is even a book written by that name, which has been translated in more than 20 languages. The book tries to answer the question “how is it that a small country of about 8 million, in seventy years, being surrounded by enemies that are in a constant state of war, produces more startups than large peaceful nations like India, Korea, Japan UK, and China?” Israel’s technology has contributed hugely to the welfare of the nations in many fields. Israel has the third highest number of entrepreneurship. At the same time, it has the highest ratio of college degrees and museums. The irrigations and saltation invention and products from Israel are helping many African and other countries to be more efficient in their water usage in agriculture and other water-consuming activities. In medicine, the pill-sized camera capsule helped hugely in the gastrointestinal diagnostics. In technology Motorola invented the cellphone in Israel, also the first antivirus software was developed in Israel. Finally, something that is close to my heart – Israel publishes more books translated from other languages than any other nation in the world and actually has the world’s second highest per capita of new books that are published yearly.
These are just a small sampling of our nation in its 70th anniversary. Fort our nations. Our contributions and accomplishments are not something to boast or to be proud about, but rather to be thankful to the Lord for all the great things that he has done in and through our small nation of Israel and the Jewish people. And above all in fulfilling his promises including the words of Isaiah 40.
Israel in 70 years has much to be thankful to the Lord for his faithfulness, in fulfilling the promises and the prophecies of the prophets like Isaiah and others. In these 70 years, Israel has made much progress and advancement in many areas and has even made the desert bloom. However, I believe that God has something more for us as a nation and country. We were called to be a light to the nations and that call has not stopped, and a day will come and I hope soon, that we will bring the message of the free grace of God to the world. No other nation like Israel has experienced for thousands of years the grace and goodness of God but also has rejected its own Messiah. And now in Christ, we can tell about Him who was pierced for us. This is the future that I can foresee, where Israel becomes a missionary sending country, and that one day we will become again light to the nations – in the spiritual realm as well. At this point in our history, we still need much of your support prayers. You, in Holland, have been very kind to us and our work in Israel and also to other mission work to Jewish people in other countries as well. I want to take this opportunity to thank you whole heartily for all that you have done and are doing for us.
What the next 70 years have for us no one knows – maybe the Lord will return before that! However, looking back and seeing the promises of God in the past and in the recent trends, we can only be joyful and hopeful, and can say with certainty that the future is as bright as the Son!
I’d like to close by asking us all to apply the words of prophet Isaiah in chapter 62:1
For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. (KJV)