By: David Zadok
Presented in Hong Kong, 2018.
© David Zadok
As we think of Israel’s 70th anniversary, we need to look at it in its spiritual and historical context. First, from our Christian world view we need to see the independence of Israel, and the return of the Jewish people to the land of the fathers, the Promised Land, as a fulfillment of God’s prophecies. Secondly, I believe that just as we should read the bible in its context, so also we need to look at the 70th independence of Israel within its historical context. And thirdly, it is worth to look at some facts in regard to the work that God is doing in Israel today.
- Fulfillment of God’s Promises
The Old Testament clearly displays the goodness of God to Israel, but not because we deserved it, but because He is a loving, faithful and gracious God. A careful read of the narratives in the Old Testament clearly shows the unfaithfulness and shortcomings of Israel. We see it particularly in the Exodus narrative that after all the miracles that God did and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, they made a golden calf and said this is the God who has brought you out of Egypt. This was not the first nor the last sin and idolatry of Israel. Eventually, it sends both the northern and southern kingdom to exile. And yet through the pages of the Old Testament, side by side we read about Israel’s failure and the faithfulness and goodness of God.
In scriptures, we see a pattern that is repeated again and again. It is the faithfulness of God to his promises which is not dependent on the performance of man, but God alone. Our God is the covenant keeper while we are the covenant breaker – that is what we observe again and again in Scripture. This pattern continues throughout the Old and the New Testament. God always keeps his promises; we on the other hand, too often break our promises because either we don’t want or are unable to keep them. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 22, the pages of biblical history are packed with accounts of God’s faithfulness and our lack of it. He is a trustworthy God. He is such because first of all his Word tells us, and secondly, we see his records in our lives!
But the climax of God’s faithfulness to his promises is seen at the cross in Calvary. It was on the cross that the Son of God paid the total and final price for fulfilling the promises made thousands of years earlier. Humanly speaking, it is utterly amazing to think that the living God who made all things out of nothing and sustains both the seen and unseen world, would remain faithful to his promises to us, the dust of the earth! Such love and sacrifice seen from the very beginning of creation are climaxed in the coming of the Son of God and his atonement on the cross. The depth and width of his love and grace for us is incomprehensible. Indeed, what really kept Jesus on the cross wasn’t the nails that the Roman soldiers hammered into his hands and feet, but rather the love that kept him hanging on the cross till the end, and it was finished! This amazing truth is very relevant to Israel and its modern history, and not only because these events happened in the land of Israel.
The Assyrian and Babylonian exile of the northern Kingdom and southern kingdom is the greatest tragedy of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The book of Lamentations describes pain, hardship, and destruction. It is a book that is read on the day that traditionally the two temples were destroyed, which is the 9th of the Jewish month of Av. Yet many of the prophets prophecy the exile but also the return. Jeremiah, for example, spoke about the return after 70 years (25:12). Others like Ezekiel and Isaiah wrote about the return to the land as we saw as well.
We know also that Jerusalem was far more important than just the land for the Jews or the place of the two temples. God’s very name is connected to the city. In I Kings 11:36 he says that he has put his very name on the city of Jerusalem. And even in the last book of the scriptures, Jerusalem is mentioned (Revelation 3:12).
The prophets of Israel often had a message of doom and destruction for the rebellious people of Israel. However, they always had a promise of hope and construction as well. For example, God says to his people through Jeremiah that though the people will be sent to exile, yet He has a plan for them to give them a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11). Or speaking through Hosea 2:23 God calls them Lo Ammi (not my people), and in the very same verse calls them Ammi (my people). Part of God’s promise of hope and construction had to do also with the return to the land. First from exile, but also in the last days. We know that often the Old Testament prophecies had multi-levels of fulfillment. William VanGemeren argues that the prophecies of the Word of God can have multi-phase fulfillment, and their message can be relevant to various periods in history, and applicable to other historical situations. They can be a source of encouragement in a specific way to different generations.
Prophet Ezekiel writing in exile in Babylon, pens these words in 36:24-28 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (ESV) We hear seven times – I will with an action verb. God promises that he will cleanse Israel from it uncleanness and give them new life, but also will return them to their land. Later on in the next chapter, in the vision of the dry bones, he repeats the same promise about the physical and spiritual rebirth of the people. in Ezekiel 37: 14 he promises And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. (ESV). Here God connects the return to the land to the ability to know God.
So first and foremost as we talk about the state of Israel, we need to see it from God’s perspective, and fulfillment of the prophecies about return to the land. But we know that while land plays an important part in the economy of God (you can read it in the book I have written in Chinese!), but God is most interested in the soul and the salvation of the people. He send His only begotten Son for the souls of people and not the soils of the land – not even one flowing with milk and honey. Yet, though the land does not save, it does provide a platform for God to bring his good news to the people.
2) The Historical Context
God’s way with Israel today is still the same pattern of his faithfulness, despite our unfaithfulness. Just as God made remained faithful to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, we see a similar pattern in New Testament as well. Not only Jesus came to the lost tribe of Israel, but also in Romans 9 through 11 God promises that all Israel would be saved, yet another revelation of the goodness of God to his people. Despite the fact that the people of Israel did not recognize or acknowledge their Messiah at the time of his coming, and even after his death and resurrection and rejected him as a nation, yet God did not reject Israel, and apostle Paul emphatically tells us that in Romans 11:1-2. God was not done with Israel then, and he is not done with Israel now!
Throughout the last two millenniums the Jewish people were scattered in many countries, they were the wondering Jew. But at the same time there was always a remnant of them who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. There were even a few prominent Rabbis who accepted Jesus as their Jewish Messiah. So in one sense faith among the Jewish people was not unheard of.
In 74 A.D. after the last resistant of the Jews in hilltop of Masada by the Dead Sea, we lost our independence. The heroic story of how a small group of Jews stood against the Roman Empire is worth reading. The small group who remained eventually decided to commit suicide rather than to fall in the hands of Roman soldiers. Their suicide act was not an act of defeat but rather of victory as they corporately decided not to bow the knee in surrender. One may criticize their actions, but nevertheless it was a heroic act, and send a clear message to the Roman Empire. The great revolt is yet another page in the long struggle of our people for independence.
From the revolt of Masada till modern-day Israel, the Jews lived in diaspora in the four corners of the world, and among many nations and people. Too often they lived under inhumane conditions not only from the Muslims, but especially from the “Christian” nations, accusing them of being Christ-killers. The peak of the suffering and the calamities of the Jews was World War II where six million Jews brutally were murdered in Gas champers, death camps and by means in Germany and other European countries.
However, once again in their most weak point in history with loss of six million and few survivors, God looked with special favor upon the Jewish people, the apple of his eyes, and enabled them to come back to their land. For me, the coming back of the people to the free land is yet another exodus. In the first exodus, God brought the Jewish people out of 400 years of slavery and set them free. They were weak and had no power, they were crushed under the harshness of their Egyptian taskmasters and powerful pharaohs. In the second exodus also while the Jewish people were beaten, weak, and scattered all over the nations, God delivered them and brought them to Promised Land, the state of Israel.
God is not only faithful, but also merciful and gracious. We see that in both exodus of the people of Israel. in their darkest moment, he gave them hope and life and saved them. In Ezekiel 36:30 he promises I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. (ESV) This is the God who cares about his people and does not let them suffer to the point of no return.
3) Interesting Facts
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 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses, David and the prophets, is once again being recognized as such by more and more people, though still majority of the Israelis are secular.
Today, in the land of Israel and among Jewish people all over the world, we see how God slowly but surely 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. Last year in our congregation, Grace and Truth, we had 13 people who were baptized and now there are two more going through baptismal class. Other congregations are experiencing something similar. In one congregation last year they had 39 people who were baptized in one Saturday. Israel today, is a nation that is far away from God and is not seeking him. They are living immoral lives, and yet God is on the move among them. He is acting just as we saw in Ezekiel 36 and drawing people to himself.
At the same time while the church in Israel is growing and maturing, we also continue to see that Jewish people are emigrating from other nations to Israel. The world record for carrying passengers in a commercial airline is that of ELAL, when in its Boeing 747 carried 1,088 Ethiopian from Addis Ababa to Tel-Aviv. In most cities in Israel you can see from afar many cranes working in many building sites. Israel is expanding and for the first time in almost 2,000 years there are more Jews living in Israel than any other country in the world.
While there are many amazing stories about how God is still bringing Jews to Israel, I like to share two brief stories. Our older daughter, who is serving on short term mission in New Zealand with Israeli pack backers, served for two and half years in the military. Her task was to teach Hebrew to new immigrant soldiers, she was a Hebrew commander! Every three months new recruits of soldiers will arrive to the base, where they teach them Hebrew and prepare them for their military service. In one of her last classed there were about 480 soldiers, who came from some 40 countries!
The other story is somewhat closer to you here in HK. On the 20th of October 2009, seven Chinese men landed in Ben Gurion airport from Beijing. They came from Kaifeng in China. The Jews immigrated to china some 1,200 years ago from Persia and Iraq. They settled there since in those days Kaifeng was an important commercial center, which made it more attractive for the Jews. This is truly a fulfillment of the words of Zechariah in 8:7-8 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.” (ESV)
Israel Light to the Nations
But immigrants are not the only amazing work of God. There are many other fantastic things happening in Israel. 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 is 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 some time, it has the highest ratio of college degrees and museums. The irrigations and saltation of the Israelis is helping many African and other countries to be more efficient in the use of their water in agriculture and water usage. 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. And 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.
These are just a small sampling of our nation in its 70th anniversary. It is not something to boast or be proud about, but to be thankful to the Lord for all the great things that he has done in and through the small nation of Israel and the Jewish people.
I am on my way to visit my daughter in NZ who is serving in that far land on short term mission. 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 your support and you have been very kind to CWI and other mission organizations to Jewish people and Israel. 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 has 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 the recent trends, we can only be very joyful and hopeful. 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 I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. (ESV).
 William A. VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word: an introduction to the Prophetic literature of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), Page 80.