Israel’s 50th Anniversary
It was 50 years ago on May 14, 1948 that the British Mandate in Palestine terminated and the young nation of Israel proclaimed independence. Immediately the armies of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon invaded and tried to snuff out the life breath of this new modern state. After a hard-fought war of liberation, Israel’s place as an autonomous self-governing people in the Middle East was assured. The western world sighed relief and rejoiced. After the terror of the so-called holocaust in which about six million Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, the newly established state of Israel was finally a solution for their security. The Jews were safe at last.
As Reformed believers, we can rejoice with Israel on this their 50th anniversary. When we think of the suffering that the Jews have gone through over the centuries and especially during World War II, we can celebrate at this milestone. Our sympathies lie with Israel’s right to have their own homeland.
A Special People
There is also another reason why we can rejoice with Israel in their having a legitimate place among the nations of the world. Jewish people who make up the majority of the state of Israel are a most special people. Indeed, Jews are in a class by themselves in the world. Of no other racial group can it be said that “theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen!” (Romans 9:4-5). These are the people who have also “been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:2) and in God’s providence, they have preserved the written oracles of God so that we today may have the complete Old Testament!
The Lord God has a special relationship with this people, a relationship that is still in force today (cf. Romans 11:1). Small wonder that believers have a special place in their hearts for the Jewish people, wherever they are found in the world. Especially on an anniversary like this when Israel can celebrate fifty years of their own homeland who would not rejoice with them? It is the first time that Israel has had a homeland since the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D.! Surely an event worth celebrating!
But does our joy on Israel’s anniversary now mean that we see the return of Israel to a place they can call their own as a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and that we would urge Israel never to give up any land for peace because the land has been promised to them? No. The land of Palestine has not been promised to present-day Israel and the state of Israel should never exist at the expense of denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinians as defined by treaties and UN declarations. There is no Biblical warrant to insist that the Israel of today has a Biblical claim to the land once promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Those prophecies (Genesis 15:18; 17:8) were fulfilled in the Old Testament days of Joshua (Joshua 21:43-45) and Solomon (1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chronicles 9:26). Also the prophecies of the return from captivity to the land of promise (e.g. Jeremiah 29:14; Isaiah 11:11) have been fulfilled as a careful study of these and other passages show. Jeremiah 29, for instance, speaks of the return from Babylon after 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10-14). Then Jews from Babylon and from wherever they may have been scattered (perhaps sold as slaves; cf. Joel 3:6-7) will return. Or consider Isaiah 11 which speaks of the Lord recovering a second time the remnant of his people (v. 11). The first release from bondage was from Egypt, the second referred to in Isaiah 11 is from Babylon. This is clear from the context and the reference to peoples that no longer exist today (v. 14). The fruits of the fulfilment of the prophecies of the return were experienced in the days of Simon, the Hasmonean priest-king (cf. 1 Maccabees 14:8-12). 1 Significantly, there is not even a hint in the New Testament that the land of Palestine would one day be restored to Israel.
Israel’s Greatest Need
Indeed, we should not seek Israel’s security in land that supposedly they still have coming to them. Israel’s greatest need is the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah. The modern state of Israel has no particular fondness for Christianity! Yet it is precisely the Messiah of Scripture that will answer their greatest needs.
The Saviour was born of the Jews and the gospel first went to and was believed by the Jews. Although the apostle Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, yet he never lost sight of the necessity for the conversion of Jews. As he wrote to the church at Rome: “In as much as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” (Romans 11:13-14).
As non-Jewish believers we cannot disassociate ourselves from the priority of the Jewish people nor forget them. We have come from outside this special people and we have been engrafted as wild olive shoots against nature into the cultivated olive tree that is Israel. We may now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root and have no ground to boast over against Israel (Romans 11:17-19). To the contrary, we can only marvel at the grace of God in making us residents in the tents of Shem (cf. Genesis 9:26) to enjoy the blessings of salvation. But all this also means that we must never forget the people whose promises we may now share. They need the gospel!
It is not by accident that in the prayer for the needs of Christendom found in the Book of Praise, the first ones who are mentioned in the context of mission work are the Jews. Are they remembered enough in prayer in our circles? Only when that is regularly done will we see the opportunities that God may give to sponsor mission work among these special people whom God has not rejected (Romans 11:11). Indeed, the Lord will call his elect also out from the Jewish people and so the complete people of God, the new Israel, will be saved (cf. Romans 11:23-27).
This Israel of God, the church (cf. Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9-10), of which we may be members, does not seek the inheritance in a piece of real estate in this fallen world, but looks ahead to the world to come. The promise of the land of Canaan given to Abraham was, rightly seen, only a down payment so to speak of a much more glorious inheritance that will be given to the Israel of God. An entire new creation will be given to the true children of Abraham who are heirs with him (Cf. Romans 4:13; 2 Peter 3:13). Now that’s cause for celebration – every day anew – as we live in the joyful expectation of the fulfilment of these promises!