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BIBLE BRIEFING

Biblical background to the events shaping contemporary history in the Middle East

ISRAEL'S REBIRTH
GOD'S MESSAGE TO THE WORLD

"As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country... And they shall no longer be a prey for the nations, nor shall beasts of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and no one shall make them afraid." (Ezekiel 34:12-15, 28)
"Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. ... Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul." (Jeremiah 32: 37,38,41)
WITHOUT A DOUBT, THE REBIRTH OF THE JEWISH HOMELAND 49 YEARS AGO, TOGETHER WITH THE ONGOING MASSIVE INGATHERING OF THE WORLD'S JEWS TO THEIR LAND, HAS BEEN THE MOST POWERFUL MESSAGE FROM GOD TO HUMANITY IN THE LAST 2000 YEARS.

SINCE LATE LAST CENTURY, WHEN THEY FIRST BEGAN ARRIVING IN LARGE NUMBERS IN THE MOSTLY BARREN AND NEGLECTED OTTOMAN BACKWATER THAT HAD ONCE BEEN THE LAND OF ISRAEL, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF JEWS HAVE BEEN BROUGHT TOGETHER FROM OVER 100 NATIONS.

MUCH OF THE WORLD REJECTS as a devious lie the Jewish claim that they returned to a land of malarial swampland, desert, and almost entirely denuded of trees. As Arafat told the United Nations in 1974: "The Jewish invasion began in 1881 ... Palestine then was a verdant area, inhabited mainly by an Arab people..."

But eye-witness accounts of hundreds of visitors to the land in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries describe how God kept to the letter His promise that the land of Israel would waste away and remain largely empty during the diaspora.

I WILL SCATTER YOU AMONG THE NATIONS AND DRAW OUT A SWORD AFTER YOU; YOUR LAND SHALL BE DESOLATE AND YOUR CITIES WASTE. [Leviticus 26:33]
"BUT I SCATTERED THEM WITH A WHIRLWIND AMONG ALL THE NATIONS WHICH THEY HAD NOT KNOWN. THUS THE LAND BECAME DESOLATE AFTER THEM, SO THAT NO ONE PASSED THROUGH OR RETURNED; FOR THEY MADE THE PLEASANT LAND DESOLATE." [Zechariah 7:14]
Writing in 1835, the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine said: "Outside the gates of Jerusalem we saw indeed no living object, heard no living sound. We found the same void , the same silence as we should have found before the entombed gates of Pompeii or Herculaneum...a complete, eternal silence reigns in the town, in the highways, in the country...The tomb of a whole people."

In 1867, Mark Twain described the Jezreel valley as devoid of a single village, the Galilee as "unpeopled deserts", Jericho as "a mouldering ruin", Bethlehem as "untenanted by any living creature", and "renowned Jerusalem itself...a pauper village".

"Palestine sits in ashes," he lamented. "It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land." And so it was, until, about 14 years later, the Jews began to return and rebuild, as God promised:

"AND I WILL CAUSE THE CAPTIVES OF JUDAH AND THE CAPTIVES OF ISRAEL TO RETURN, AND WILL REBUILD THOSE PLACES AS AT THE FIRST." [Jeremiah 33:7]
"THE DESOLATE LAND SHALL BE TILLED INSTEAD OF LYING DESOLATE IN THE SIGHT OF ALL WHO PASS BY. SO THEY WILL SAY, 'THIS LAND THAT WAS DESOLATE HAS BECOME LIKE THE GARDEN OF EDEN; AND THE WASTED, DESOLATE, AND RUINED CITIES ARE NOW FORTIFIED AND INHABITED.'" [Ezekiel 36:34-35]
Today, over 100 years after the return began, the Jews continue to pour into their land. Since December 1989, one third of all the former Soviet Union's Jews - 649 097 people - have made aliya, which means that around 12 per cent of Israel's Jewish population today has arrived in the last seven years. Over 70 000 more are expected in 1997.

Year after year, for hundreds and thousands of years, the Jews have faithfully obeyed God's command to remember the Passover. No matter where they have been, inside their promised land or in exile from it, and no matter under what conditions they have lived - in the brief interludes of peace and prosperity, or suffering the persecutions, crusades, pogroms, expulsions, inquisitions and Holocaust - the Jewshave given thanks to the God who delivered them from Egypt and who brought them to their promised land.

And yet, the Bible says that this second and final ingathering of the Jews will overshadow that event:

"THEREFORE BEHOLD, THE DAYS ARE COMING," SAYS THE LORD, "THAT IT SHALL NO MORE BE SAID, 'THE LORD LIVES WHO BROUGHT UP THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL FROM THE LAND OF EGYPT,' BUT, 'THE LORD LIVES WHO BROUGHT UP THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL FROM THE LAND OF THE NORTH AND FROM ALL THE LANDS WHERE HE HAD DRIVEN THEM.' FOR I WILL BRING THEM BACK INTO THEIR LAND WHICH I GAVE TO THEIR FATHERS." [Jeremiah 16:14-15]
Yes, in bringing physical Israel back home, God has been raising up a banner which the nations are unable to ignore, confronting the world with the reality of His eternal existence, His undiminished sovereignty, and His unlimited might.
IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THAT DAY THAT THE LORD SHALL SET HIS HAND AGAIN THE SECOND TIME TO RECOVER THE REMNANT OF HIS PEOPLE WHO ARE LEFT.... HE WILL SET UP A BANNER FOR THE NATIONS, AND WILL ASSEMBLE THE OUTCASTS OF ISRAEL, AND GATHER TOGETHER THE DISPERSED OF JUDAH FROM THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH. [Isaiah 11:11-12]
"AND I WILL SANCTIFY MY GREAT NAME, WHICH HAS BEEN PROFANED AMONG THE NATIONS, WHICH YOU HAVE PROFANED IN THEIR MIDST; AND THE NATIONS SHALL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD," SAYS THE LORD GOD, "WHEN I AM HALLOWED IN YOU BEFORE THEIR EYES. ... THEN THE NATIONS WHICH ARE LEFT ALL AROUND YOU SHALL KNOW THAT I, THE LORD, HAVE REBUILT THE RUINED PLACES AND PLANTED WHAT WAS DESOLATE. I, THE LORD, HAVE SPOKEN IT, AND I WILL DO IT." [Ezekiel 36: 23,36]
BUT AMONG CHRISTIANS, PREJUDICES REMAIN.
A cataclysmic event, the ingathering of the Jews has shaken the dust of centuries of blindness from Christian eyes, awakening them to the fact that the nation of Israel still occupies its original, extraordinarily special place in God's purposes for mankind.

Nonetheless, ingrained anti-Semitism continues to colour the lenses through which many of these same Christians are excitedly observing this incredible physical return.

For even as they recognise that the Jews have been hounded and afflicted in every land in which they sought refuge down the centuries, millions of these Christians believe that they are being returned to their ancient homeland only to face more of God's anger and judgement.

Countless more subscribe to the belief that the Church can be raptured up to Heaven at any moment while the Jews, together with the unbelieving Gentile world, will be "left behind" to face the outpouring of God's wrath.

The argument is that the Jews are unsaved and remain unsaved, and that therefore they have to be punished until they become saved. It's not difficult to trace the origins of this lie to the one upon which Christian anti-Semitism originated: that the Jews rejected Jesus, killed God, and therefore were cursed to wander and suffer until they converted to Christianity.

But the Bible is quite clear on the matter: The dispersion from the land was a curse, restoration to the land is a blessing.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE PROMISE REGATHERED ISRAEL?

UNDAUNTED BY THIS hefty weight of Scriptural promise, many Bible-believers in Israel and abroad remain convinced that the next war (which almost everyone, including this writer, believes is in-evitable) is going to exact a terrible toll of Jewish lives. "It is only when this nation is hammered that they call out to God," they say.

But the fact of the matter is that the wrath of God on Israel turned the Jews, and the nations among which they lived, away from Him. As God said, the dispersion profaned His Name among the nations, instead of glorifying it. [Ezekiel 36:21-22]

No, this physical regathering of Israel is not in readiness for another Holocaust, as some so glibly say. It is in readiness for the restoration of the nation to their God.

"FOR I WILL TAKE YOU FROM AMONG THE NATIONS, GATHER YOU OUT OF ALL COUNTRIES, AND BRING YOU INTO YOUR OWN LAND. THEN I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE CLEAN; I WILL CLEANSE YOU FROM ALL YOUR FILTHINESS AND FROM ALL YOUR IDOLS. I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART AND PUT A NEW SPIRIT WITHIN YOU; I WILL TAKE THE HEART OF STONE OUT OF YOUR FLESH AND GIVE YOU A HEART OF FLESH." (Ezekiel 36:24-26)
"AND I WILL NOT HIDE MY FACE FROM THEM ANYMORE; FOR I SHALL HAVE POURED OUT MY SPIRIT ON THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL," SAYS THE LORD GOD. (Ezekiel 39:29)
As we read in 2 Samuuel 7:23, this is a restoration that only Israel, as a nation, is destined for.

Imagine: If the physical restoration of the Jews has caused such a mighty stirring among the peoples of the world, what will their spiritual restoration not do?

Then the nations will truly no longer say, "Where is their God" [Psalm 79:10; Psalm 115:2; Joel 2:17] Looking upon Israel they will say: THERE is their God.

"THE NATIONS SHALL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD," SAYS THE LORD GOD, "WHEN I AM HALLOWED IN YOU BEFORE THEIR EYES. FOR I WILL TAKE YOU FROM AMONG THE NATIONS, GATHER YOU OUT OF ALL COUNTRIES, AND BRING YOU INTO YOUR OWN LAND. "THEN I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE CLEAN;" [Ezekiel 36:23-25]
Stan Goodenough

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