On the evening of October 3, the nation of Israel welcomed in the Jewish New Year. Celebrating it, we joined with them, dipping apple slices in honey and wishing one another shana tovah u’metuka – a year that is good and sweet.
The meaning of this simple-sounding salutation runs far deeper than the outwardly corresponding “Happy New Year!” we Gentiles ritually wish upon one another at the end of every cycle of the Gregorian calendar.
For the Jewish people, as exaggerated as it may sound, there has hardly been a single year in the last 2,000 when this nation, as a nation, has had it good and sweet.
Take almost any day on any calendar year since AD 70 and you will find somewhere, some Jew, having been afflicted simply because he or she was a Jew.
This was true during the centuries when the Jews’ land lay desolate – its people scattered across the face of the earth.
It has been true every year since the return of the Jews to their land. And it has been true through the last 14 years of the “peace process,” including the year that just ended for them.
Perhaps it is because their history has been so saturated with suffering that all Jews, everywhere, live in constant anticipation of the biblically-promised day of national redemption – a day when Israel will no longer be the tail among the nations of the earth, but will be elevated back to its once-held position – at the head.
It’s been about three millennia since Israel enjoyed that place of honor, during the reign of King Solomon, the first son of David.
In that era, Israel was the known world’s ranking superpower. More an emperor than a king, Solomon had kings ruling under him, his dominion spanning the entire area of the divinely-promised land.
World leaders made state visits to Jerusalem, where they marveled at Solomon’s wisdom and at the visible signs of his abundant wealth. They gazed awestruck upon the magnificent temple erected to the God of this powerful nation.
Israel’s Defense Forces were mighty, unchallengeable. But while his father David had been a man of war, Solomon did not need to conduct a single military campaign. For the duration of his rule the nation of Israel enjoyed the fruits of real peace and prosperity. Every man lived under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid.
Solomon’s reign marked the high point in Israel’s history. Under David’s first son, peace came to the Middle East. His death, however, tipped the nation into strife, division, war and, ultimately, exile.
From that day to this, the Jews have been waiting for the Messiah to come.
As a Christian growing up in a Bible-believing family, when we welcomed in “our” New Year we would often ask ourselves: Could this be the year when Jesus will return?
Across the ages and around the world, God-fearing Jews have had a very similar question on their minds as countless burning eyes searched for the coming of Messiah, the arrival of the Son of David who, with his coming, would redeem them out of all their troubles. Could this be the year?
In the scene from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” when the Jews of Anatevka are commanded to leave their homes and village, one of them asks: “Rabbi, we have been waiting for the Messiah all our lives. Wouldn’t this be a good time for Him to come?”
To which the Rabbi replies: “We’ll have to wait for him someplace else.”
In 1917, Jerusalem resident Rivka Amdursky-Buxbaum witnessed the arrival in the Old City of the conquering British General Sir Edmund Allenby. She recounts:
“They opened the great gate [Jaffa Gate] for him, which was always closed. But on that day it was wide open. When I saw him I thought that perhaps, it was the Messiah – so respectable, so upright and handsome. People cheered and applauded. We knew that redemption had come. How we yearned to be redeemed.”
This yearning and anticipation grew as events continued to pave the way for the rebirth of the Jewish national home.
Max Nurdock, Secretary to British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, has spoken of the Messianic fervor ignited by Samuel’s arrival in the Land of Israel on July 1, 1920. The first High Commissioner for Palestine disembarked at the Port of Jaffa wearing a white uniform, with a gleaming sword strapped to his waist.
“My breath, even today, stops, when I think how that scene looked,” Nurdock said decades later. Crying and shouting Jews could be seen behind every window lining the narrow streets, and in the streets themselves, which were spread with carpets and lined with flowers and flags.
A few days later, the day after the 9th of Av when Jews had been mourning the destruction of their temple 1850 years before, as Samuel walked through the Old City of Jerusalem on his way to synagogue, “people felt that the days of the Messiah had come.”
Samuel stood up in the Hurva Synagogue to read the heart-stirring passage in which Isaiah the prophet proclaimed: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”
“In that golden moment,” said Nurdock, “the Jews inside the synagogue and all who knew of it outside, felt that the hour of redemption had come.”
It is vividly clear that the process of redemption has been underway since the Spirit of God first began moving Jews to immigrate to the Land of Israel in the mid-1800s.
Major milestones along this Redemption Road have included the rise of political Zionism under Theodore Herzl, Great Britain’s liberation of Palestine from the Turks, the issuing of the Balfour Declaration and its subsequent international ratification at the 1920 San Remo Conference, the ongoing immigration as Nazism arose in Europe, the Holocaust, the liberation of the death camps, the UN vote partitioning Palestine in 1947, and the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948.
As every Jew in Israel will acknowledge, redemption did not come completely with the rebirth of Israel. Not a day of peace has been savored by the Jews since 1948. They are back in their land, but redemption still eludes them.
Wars have threatened Israel very decade since 1948. Terrorism continues to ravage the country. This past year has seen the “disengagement” implemented – the dragging out of their homes once again (this time by a Jewish government) of thousands of Jews who may not live in part of their promised land purely because they are Jews.
Full redemption will come. As surely as their physical return to the Land of Israel literally fulfilled the ancient prophecies of that event, so too will be realized the prophecies about the coming of the Son of David, Who will take up His place on the throne of David on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, finally redeeming Israel.
The government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:33)