On the 45th Anniversary of the State of Israel
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; . . . “—Luke 2:34
When the great historian, Charles Gibbons, wrote his classic Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire he could have written similarly about many great dynasties. Kingdoms and empires do rise and fall. That is how the world runs. But only of Israel could one write of its fall and rise.
On May 14, 1993 Israel will celebrate the 45th anniversary of its rebirth. Over 2500 years elapsed between the collapse of the monarchy of Judah when Babylonian conquerors blinded their last king, Zedekiah, and carried him away captive. More than 1900 years passed by since Jesus of Nazareth wept over Jerusalem with the words Your house is left unto you desolate (Matt. 23:38). And a parenthesis of 1813 years set apart the final collapse of Jerusalem in the days of Bar Kokhba from the re-establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
The intervening time has not been pretty either. Scorned as Christ-killers, confined to squalid ghettos, passed as pariahs from nation to nation, they became the scapegoats of history. But, united by their religion and bound by their culture, survive they did—maintaining a national identity even in the farthest flung hideouts of their Diaspora.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century their fortunes began to improve, only to collapse once more in a new wave of pogroms in Eastern Europe in the latter part of that century and, finally, into the abyss of the Nazi holocaust some fifty years ago. Still they survived and, like the fabled Phoenix, they arose from the pyre to assume an equal standing among the nations of the earth.
Politically they suffer the same swings, caught in the eternal tug of war between left wing and right. Economically, high military budgets constantly threaten the populace with rising inflation. Religiously, they run the gamut from atheistic to rigid orthodox believers. Militarily they have proved to be impressive fighters, defending their small bit of territory against overwhelming odds. Socially, they have amazed the world with their ability to absorb new citizenry by the tens and hundreds of thousands, greeting each wave with housing, education and employment. Viewed on the whole, they are a typical twentieth-century state. Despite such an average ranking, the eyes of the whole world are riveted on Israel.
Forty-five years old . . . and counting. Hostile neighboring nations fuel the animosities of Palestinians within, creating a climate of constant tension. The threat of violence is omnipresent. Through the United Nations, the world community of nations puts on constant pressure for Israel to compromise its position with their Arab neighbors. Peace factions within toy with the concept of land for peace, but such experiments in the past have proven illusory. What is it all leading to? Can Israel survive?
People of the Book
It is not the oddity of a nation rising from the dust bins of the past that make Israel the remarkable identity that it is. Far more, it is the fact that this rising again was predicted even before the nation fell millennia ago. Prophecies of the Bible not only foresaw the collapse of God’s chosen people, but their resurrection as a nation some twenty centuries later.
Space will only permit a sampling of the Scriptures which predicted the downfall of Israel: “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.”—Zechariah 7:14
“Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones.”—Jeremiah 50:17
Even the reasons for their downfall were noted: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.”—Ezekiel 34:2-6
The prophecies foretold how the various nations would do the dispersing. “I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.”—Joel 3:2
“Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns [the coming world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome]. And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”—Zechariah 1:18, 19
The prophets predicted that there would be a small remnant that would not be scattered. “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.”—Ezekiel 6:8
They further foresaw that the Jewish belief in God would provide a haven, a sanctuary, even among the nations of their dispersion. “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.”—Ezekiel 11:16
Finally. the same prophets show that this dispersion, this scattering, would be temporary. “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”—Ezekiel 11:17
“Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.”—Jeremiah 31:10
“For 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
The Reason for the Dispersion
This last text shows that the dispersion of Israel was a chastisement from the Lord to correct thee in measure. We must turn to the New Testament for further specifics concerning why Israel was cast off for a time.
When Jesus of Nazareth presented himself to Israel as their king, riding upon the traditional white donkey of a king, he was not accepted by his own people as their Messiah. In sadness he wept over this failure of Israel with these words:”O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—Matthew 23:37-39
Thus, it was for their failure to recognize the Messiah that Israel was cast off. But this was to be temporary. Note the words of the Apostle Paul: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. . . . there is a remnant according to the election of grace. . . . For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”—Romans 11:1, 5, 25-27
Paul speaks of both a remnant according to the election of grace and of a regathering and saving of all Israel. It is with Israel of this final regathering that Paul says God would make a covenant to take away their sins.
A New Covenant
This is the covenant, replacing their old Law Covenant, which was promised through the prophet Jeremiah: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jeremiah 31:33, 34
Notice the breadth of this covenant—they shall all know me. This covenant is not for Israel alone but for all people, the Gentile as well as the Jew. Yet, it will be, as Paul says in Romans 2:10, “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”
In fact it will be through the Jews that the Gentiles will gain access to this covenant favor. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.”—Zechariah 8:23
And so we see, it is just as Simeon had said, Jesus was set for, first the fall, but later the rising of many in Israel. Notice that he does not say all in Israel, but many in Israel, because God’s favor must be accepted on an individual basis, even though first offered nationally to the Jewish people.
Israel’s Future Fall and Rise
Having looked at the large picture of, first, a fall, and then a rise in the fortunes of Israel, let us turn to another fulfillment of this prophecy in the future—in the near future, we believe.
The regathering of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland has been remarkable. A recent return of 14,200 Jews from Ethiopia in one 24-hour period well illustrates this, as does the absorption of Jews from Russia by the tens of thousands. But all who return to not share a common strong faith in the God of Israel. It can be said, as Paul said in his today, “They are not all Israel, who are of Israel.”
In one of the prophecies of the Jewish return from Diaspora, we find these words: “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD“.—Ezekiel 20:38
The reason for this purging is given by the prophet Zephaniah: “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.”—Zephaniah 3:11
The method which God will use to accomplish this purging is spelled out in greater detail in Ezekiel 38 and 39 than we have space to examine here. Briefly it describes a coalition of forces against Israel descending from the north. These forces will initially enjoy great success in their campaign for we read of the results of this battle in Zechariah 14:2—”For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”
But this defeat of Israel will be temporary. In the very next verse we read:” Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.”
When God fights for them victory will be sure. And the result will not only be the rising again of many in Israel, but the strengthening of their faith as well. “And I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them. So the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day and forward.”—Ezekiel 39:21, 22 (Read on to the end of the chapter.)
Then, truly, shall Israel rejoice, for they will have realized the potential for which God has been preparing them for all their past history.
Then all men may rejoice for, through the restoration of Israel, God will inaugurate his long-promised kingdom of peace, love and happiness upon the earth.