Is A Rebellious Israel in Control of the Promised Land?
By Rabbi Ben Volman
During this Jewish month of Elul (beginning August 31), the shofar is blown in our services at Kehillat Eytz Chaim / Tree of Life Congregation. We join Israel in paying heed to the ancient call for God’s people to return spiritually to their heavenly Father and regather in Jerusalem, the place “chosen by God,” for the great Fall Feasts.
But this month of September 2019 is also a poignant, heartbreaking time of remembrance: the 80th anniversary of the German attack on Poland that initiated the Second World War. That ruthless victory was followed by horrific attacks on Polish civilian leaders—the mass murder of any who might lead a resistance—politicians, intellectuals, journalists and clergy. The immediate ethnic cleansing of Jews began simultaneously. In 1939, there were some 3 million Jews in that country. By the end of the war, Poland had a Jewish population of less than 50,000. Another three million Jews, spread throughout the “Christian” nations Europe, were slaughtered with equal impunity.
As we look back, many of us understand that these horrific events were critical for the creation of the modern state of Israel. And yet there are Christian leaders who think these terrors were of no spiritual significance at all. They believe in the promises of Scripture—but don’t see how these promises can be applied to Israel if the Jewish people do not believe in Messiah.
Some years ago, a colleague of mine engaged in an open correspondence with a well-known American Christian pastor and popular theologian. [“How to Treat Rebellious Israel,” by John Piper, Christianity Today, June 21, 2012.] The pastor speaks on behalf of Christian authorities who don’t believe modern Israel is sanctioned by God or that the Jewish people have any Biblical basis for being in the Holy Land.
They don’t deny that there is an ultimate redemption plan for ethnic Israel—indeed, they claim to be looking forward to that day when Messiah returns and Israel is re-grafted back into the Messianic “olive tree of faith.” These Christian teachers concede that God might grant Israel their home in the Holy Land when Messiah returns (Romans 11:26).
But they are equally insistent that the future promise of the land can’t apply now because of Israel’s disobedience. Since the Jewish people as a whole haven’t accepted the Gospel, they are outside God’s covenant plans and purposes for their spiritual and physical restoration.
It’s a daunting accusation if it were not riddled with the most painful hypocrisy and lack of honest reflection. Indeed, my mentor, the great Messianic Jewish theologian Jakob Jocz, did not hesitate to refer to these leaders as Christianity’s “cold-hearted theologians.”
Let’s look closer at their perspective from the Jewish viewpoint. The “Christian” nation of Germany invaded their surrounding nations for the purpose of expanding their territory for their own people and mercilessly destroyed the vibrant Jewish cultures that had thrived in Europe for almost 1000 years. It was the remnants of this scarred and broken Jewish populace who eventually rebuilt the modern state of Israel.
A common fallacy suggests that the state was somehow just given to the Jewish Holocaust survivors and ripped from the hands of its Palestinian owners. On the very day that the Jewish people declared an independent state, which had already been approved by the United Nations, it was attacked on every side by its Arab neighbours. No Christian nation intervened on their behalf. Numerous battles were barely won. Many Holocaust survivors gave their lives on holy soil. (Another 700,000-800,000 Sephardic Jews were violently displaced from Islamic North African countries soon after the UN approved the creation of a Jewish state.)
For almost 2000 years Israel had prayed for such a return, but the fulfillment of that dream came at a terrible cost. But there is another cost that seems to have been lost on those who are “cold-hearted” towards the Jewish people: the credibility of Christian faith. Where is the genuine humility from all those “Christian” nations of Europe where Jewish people were hunted down and later shipped to the gas chambers?
When Christian leaders turn their backs on the suffering of Israel, they are denying Paul’s equally severe warning in Romans 11:
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (NKJV)
Yes, God’s promises may be conditional, but that doesn’t mean God can’t choose the moment to show His mercy, as Paul says in Romans 9:15,16 (he’s quoting Exodus 33:1): “ ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will pity whom I pity.’ 16 Thus it doesn’t depend on human desires or efforts, but on God, who has mercy.” This must certainly be true of Israel. Its creation did not rely on Israel’s “desires or efforts,” especially when Christian nations have showed the height of presumption by defying God’s most basic Scriptural commands of human justice and decency to their “neighbours,” the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
One statement in John Piper’s correspondence was particularly galling when this pastor wrote: “…in this condition of unbelief and disobedience, she [Israel] has no “divine right” to the Land of Promise.” This is remarkably hypocritical. After Christian Europe did everything possible to prove that their faith had almost nothing to show Israel of grace, mercy or peace, the Jewish people—scarred, humiliated and physically depleted—determined to return to the to the only land to which they have a claim according to the Scriptures. I would ask any objective observer of the situation: which nation here proved their faith in God? Which nation deserved mercy?
And as we see the incredible growing number of Messianic Jewish congregations honey-combed throughout Israel (currently estimated at up to 300 congregations and fellowships) I must ask another question. When will our Christian friends acknowledge that Israel’s Messianic Jews are the sign that Paul indicated would be coming when he wrote in Romans 11: “15 For if their casting Yeshua aside means reconciliation for the world, what will their accepting him mean? It will be life from the dead!” (CJB) In other words, what if the process of the Jewish people coming to Yeshua is not simply relegated to the moment when Messiah returns, but is instead a growing revival that prepares Israel for His coming?
It is this second eventuality that needs to be understood as the moment we are watching—God has been showing mercy to Israel and laying the groundwork for the nation to be ready to receive Him who was “wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5) and will one day reveal Himself as we read in the prophet Zechariah 12: 10: “I will pour out on the house of David and on those living in Yerushalayim a spirit of grace and prayer; and they will look to me, whom they pierced.”
Indeed, it’s only now and in our day that this prophecy for Jerusalem can truly take place—as Yeshua predicted in Luke 21:24, it has indeed become a a Jewish city again.
And if God had not chosen to re-gather Israel for this to take place, how could Zechariah’s prophecy be fulfilled in our time?
If you ask the average Israeli—how is it possible that the nation exists, they might have a long answer—but in the end, there would just be a long sigh and this admission: “God did it.” Those who are unable to see it might consider these concluding verses of Romans 11:
32 For God has shut up all mankind together in disobedience, in order that he might show mercy to all.
33 O the depth of the riches
and the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments!
How unsearchable are his ways!
34 For, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?…