Jerusalem has often been in the news this year.
After prolonged waiting, America has placed its embassy in it. It was appropriate given the fact that it is Israel’s capital. We had waited and waited for the Palestinians to agree to negotiations that would settle the “Jerusalem question.” We needn’t have.
The Jewish people have now been returning for over a century. Jerusalem is their center.
In this Christmas Season, those who are familiar with the oratorio, “The Messiah,” know these phrases:
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people says your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.”
That was in the time of Jewish exile.
The following prayer has been in the Jewish prayer book for centuries….and it remains there (from The Koren Siddur, Prayer Book, 2015)
LEADER: “Reveal Yourself from your place, O Our King, and reign over us, for we are waiting for You. When will You reign in Zion? May it be soon in our days, and may You dwell there forever and all time. May You be exalted and sanctified in the midst of Jerusalem, Your city, for generation to generation forevermore. May our eyes see Your Kingdom, as is said in the songs of Your splendor, written by David Your righteous anointed one.”
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Let’s go to late 19th century Russia where persecution of the large Jewish population was merciless. In that environment where the longing for Jerusalem was deep and strong, a movement sprang up in many cities. It was known as--get this: “Chibbath Zion,”—“LOVE OF ZION.” Jewish authors began issuing the call with the slogan “Oh house of Jacob, let us go forth.”
Fast forward just a couple of decades to Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist Movement in Eastern Europe and then beyond. Early on as head of this movement, Herzl the European travelled to Jerusalem, hoping to meet the German Kaiser, hoping to get support for a Jewish land company there.
Herzl was shocked and disheartened!
The Condition of Jerusalem Just Before the Modern Return
Herzl wrote in his diary:
‘Shouts, smells, tawdry colors,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘people in rags crowding the narrow, airless streets, beggars, cripples, starving children, screaming women, bellowing shopkeepers. The once royal city had indeed sunk to the lowest depths.’
Yes, it was in the lowest depths of squalor and tyranny.
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But the wars of the 20th century brought about the opportunity for….
THE RETURN OF THE JEWS TO ISRAEL AND JERUSALEM
And the war of 1967 to exterminate Israel brought about the opportunity for…
THE FREEDOM AND UNIFICATION OF JERUSALEM
Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Jerusalem when the Jewish forces in the Six Day War of 1967 took the holy sites in East Jerusalem:
"Jerusalem, our hearts went out to you whenever we prayed, whenever we pondered the destiny of the world. For so many ages, we have been lovesick….In our own days the miracle has occurred. What happened on June 7, 1967? God’s compassion has prevailed. So many devastations. Thousands of communities wiped out. Synagogues burned, people asphyxiated. No tombstones, no graves… In its solitude, the Wall was forced into the role of an unreachable tombstone for the nameless dead.”
IN THAT WAR OF 1967, THE WALL WAS TAKEN BY THE ISRAELI ARMY
“Break forth together into singing,
You waste places of Jerusalem,
For the Lord has comforted his people.”
-- Isaiah 52:9
The Wall was redeemed, in a way of speaking. Jerusalem was one!
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And now…. now the condition of Jerusalem? It is now ranked—get this--
Jerusalem, ranked as the fastest-growing tourist destination in the world!
And now, in our time, Jerusalem is becoming the world’s fastest-growing tourist attraction, according to the UK business intelligence company, Euromonitor International, reports. In the year 2018, the city entertained 3.93 million tourists from overseas. In 2019, it is expected to have a whopping 38 per cent growth to 4.8 million. (Michael Raz-Chaimovich)
The magnetic power of this city is now growing more and more powerful. We might reflect on the prophet Isaiah’s ancient but increasingly relevant portrayal of this magnetism:
It shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the house of the Lord
Shall be established as the highest of the mountains…
And all the nations shall flow to it,
And many peoples shall come and say
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may teach us of his ways
And that we may walk in his paths.
-- Isaiah 2:2-3 (ESV)
40,000 to 50,000 Jews from around the world recently converged on the site of Sarah’s burial place in Hebron and its sister city, Kiryat Arba, in honor of Israel’s matriarch. The Cave of Machpelah is the burial place, and on it is built the “Tomb of the Patriarchs.”
She passed away some 3800 years ago. Today her descendants still honor her.
She was a beautiful woman even in old age. And at age ninety she brought forth her son, Isaac. Why? Was that just a quirk of nature? No, her son was the long-promised one who bore the seed of the covenant.
These forty to fifty-thousand celebrators acted as though that was a real, historic event. Bless them! God is great!...and brought forth this son through a woman that had long ago had her menopause. They really believed the biblical record. And there are about 300,000 visitors to this tomb and cave annually….who believe. Bless them!
To these Jewish folks, I say: “How wonderful to know your ancestral relatives! In contrast, I know nothing even about my great grandmothers on either side.”
One benefit of the gathered Chosen Ones being in the Holy Land is that they can once again celebrate the people and events of biblical history, experiencing them as historical and not just legendary tales. Caves and tombs, of course, are not the only connections between then and now in Israel. Manuscripts, pots, coins, seals and so much more which are found all the time now in Israel corroborate biblical stories.
Israeli control of the land has been helpful to archeology. And archeology has been helpful to Israel.
A foremost scholar of Hebrew history, John Bright, in his most well-known book says this:
“The patriarchal age has been has been illumined in a manner unbelievable.” So much “material and inscriptional remains have come to light and have been analyzed. We now have texts by the literal tens of thousands contemporaneous with the period of Israel’s origins.” (John Bright: A History of Israel, 1981)
Unbelief in the biblical narrative used to be the accepted thing in some circles, Jews included. There is now a gradual reversal. With Jews in control, the belief factor as regards the Bible’s history, is growing stronger. Evidence of biblical history is increasing through the uncovering of the place names, people names geography and artifacts.
So….Israelis are living their past.
The Biblical Account
At the death of Sarah, Abraham went to purchase the field and cave from Ephron the Hittite. Ephron graciously offered the cave as a gift, but Abraham refused and insisted on giving the full market price of 400 shekels of silver for it. Thus, he insured that there would be no doubts about the ownership of that land.
That was the first piece of land that became Israel's.
Subsequently, Abraham himself, Rebekah and Isaac, and Jacob and Leah were buried there.
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LET’S CHANGE DIRECTION HERE: QUESTION: What is the key spiritual principle of Abraham’s life?
ANSWER: It’s right there in the text of Genesis chapter 15. The Lord again appears to Abraham and repeats his promise of a son plus nations that will come after him. At first, Abraham questions the Lord. But then, after further explanation, it says this: “Abraham believed him [the Lord] and he [the Lord] counted it to him [Abraham] as righteousness.”
That is the key to being just before God—believing His Word. The Apostle Paul explains this in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.
That is the key.
The MESSAGE of the story of Abraham and Sarah is the MESSAGE of FAITH.
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The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs above the Cave was built by King Herod over 2,000 years ago. Despite its Jewish history and its three rooms named after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the tomb was declared a Palestinian World Heritage Site in 2017 by UNESCO. The largest of the three rooms is forbidden to Jews except for 10 days per year. Yet….
Hebron is mentioned 87 times in the Bible and is the world’s oldest Jewish community.
SO THIS BRIEF OBSERVATION:
The FAITH of Abraham was the key to his friendship with the Lord: HE BELIEVED GOD. But this property is now
largely controlled by Islamic officials whose religion is based upon the law, i. e. THEIR LAW—Sharia.
The failure of the Jewish people to believe in their God makes its way into my mind often. It’s not that they don’t have any need for His help; their need for divine assistance is continually present. Both the diaspora, the Jews residing in other nations, and those who are citizens of the State of Israel—both groups face an ongoing enmity from other nations and people. To put it simply: both groups of Jews need the Lord.
Do you see the incongruity in that statement—they “need the Lord?” It sounds like a phrase that only the evangelicals would use. Right? The Jewish people wouldn't.
Try talking to one of them about God. Try asking your Jewish acquaintance if he or she asks the Lord God to help them in their personal lives.
Or try asking one of them if they’ve thanked the Lord for His help. I have. One elderly gentleman who, with his second bout of lymphoma lay in a hospital room, looked at the crucifix on the wall and asked Jesus to do something for him. And he recovered! I asked him if he then thanked the Lord for his recovery. He just laughed. That's all.
In the Torah, God calls His People 'stiff-necked.” That’s harsh, isn’t it? But one can understand its usage. Yet many of us dearly love these people!
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QUESTION: Who today asks help for the Jews as they face their enemies? ANSWER: The evangelicals, not just of America, but world-wide. Yes, the evangelicals call on the Lord to strengthen and protect the Israelis in their land.
QUESTION: Do the Jewish people see the possibilities inherent in the recent ruling by the Trump Administration in changing the illegality of Jewish “occupation” in the “West Bank.” “It’s not illegal to go and reside there,” says Secretary of State Pompeo. ANSWER: Hardly any of the diaspora Jews. But quite a few in Israel are probably pondering this question.
QUESTION: Who prays for God’s help for the Jews as they look to the areas in Judea and Samaria with the wonderful possibility of expansion there? ANSWER: Again, the evangelicals. Hm-m.
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A common term for Judaism is “The Jewish Faith.” But where is their faith? Could you show me who among the Jews expresses faith in God’s power? Hm-m.
Psalm 78 consists of a narrative-poem about Israel’s history of unfaithfulness.
A fire was kindled against Jacob;
His anger rose against Israel,
Because they did not believe in God
And did not trust His saving power.
The reference is to Israel when they began their trek in the wilderness: they were hungry and they saw NO POSSIBILITY of God satisfying their hunger out there in that dry land. So, they COMPLAINED to high heaven.
They spoke against God, saying,
Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
They were in mutiny, ready to retrace their steps and return to Egypt! The God of Heaven through His servant Moses had performed all those plagues; but Israel ignored that and could only see their present need. He had already performed signs and wonders in that desert. But….THEY FORGOT HIS PAST WONDERS.
Modern Israel won two major wars against many nations by the year 1967. And yet, they could not believe that the land they recovered in the war of 1967—won in six days—was a victory accomplished with God’s assistance and that this recovered land was to be placed in their trust for use in enlarging their borders. No. Most of them couldn’t believe that. They were too sensitive to the opinion of the U. S. State Department, the United Nations and the European Union.
Now, in 2019, can they believe that the recent ruling by the U. S. Administration is a glorious opportunity to populate Judea and Samaria? It’s been given to the nation of Israelis on a silver platter.
The new policy announced by Pompeo is thus: The settlements 'are not inconsistent with international law.” The land Israel is 'occupying” is 'not Palestinian territory.”
The land that is 'occupied” has had a Jewish presence for thousands of years....and was recognized as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine, adopted by the League of Nations in 1922. It has never belonged to any other sovereign country, according to Melanie Phillips, Jewish British journalist and author of The World Upside Down and other books; but it has been under the governance of empires. (See her article on “Negotiation in a War of Extermination is no Solution but Surrender.” – 11/23/2019)
The door has been opened. How will the Israelis proceed now that the Trump Administration has acted?
Who knows how the Prime Minister will guide the nation? Netanyahu has been mostly silent on the future prospects for Israel. He seems forthright at times and reticent or timid at others.
Perhaps the reader is thinking: this is being written by just a man with a seminary degree. He’s a religious professional, so his emphasis is naturally from a divine perspective. That's true. But let me quote from an Oxford and Princeton graduate with doctoral degrees:
"The recurring propensity among segments of the Jewish population to take to heart the
indictments of besiegers and persecutors, and to ascribe to themselves the power to change dramatically the attitudes of their enemies by self-reform, is in important respects a contravention of the religious tradition. For it shifts the focus of redemption from the rapport with God to rapport with the Jews’ tormentors, from self-reform in conformity with religious-moral codes of behavior to self-reform in conformity with the indictment of the besiegers. "(Kenneth Levin: The Oslo Syndrome, Smith & Krause, p. xvi)
Since the Peace Process began in these modern times, that has been the case: the Israelis have thought that they could in themselves pacify their tormentors--the ones who teach their children that the Jews are descendants of pigs and apes and that the land of Israel is Allah's. Yes, the Israelis were caught in this trap of thinking that they, in and of themselves, could bring their enemies to accept their existence. They took that way--not the way of confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to whom the Lord God gave His promise.
There you have it!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.