"Next year in Jerusalem."
It's possible that this tiny phrase is the longest continual prayer on record. Recited by Jews the world over once a year for perhaps two thousand years, it signals the end of their Passover celebration.
A common misunderstanding is that they are referencing Deuteronomy 16:16, a verse that required all male Jews to attend three high holy days in the place that God would choose to worship His name. This "place" later became Jerusalem, the city of peace, and any Jews living outside the country were expected to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
A closer look more accurately reveals the plight of the "wandering Jew."
It all began in Genesis 12 when God revealed himself to Abraham. God's promise to Abraham was land and descendants. The borders of this land were outlined in Genesis 15:18: "from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates." The descendants were to be as numerous "as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17). It is not surprising, therefore, that the name Israel, referring either to the people descended from Abraham through his grandson Israel (Jacob), or the land God promised to them, is found nearly 2,400 times in the Bible.
The promise got off to a dubious start as the nation endured 400 long years of slavery in Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses, and later Joshua, the people of Israel finally were liberated and settled in the land of promise. Another four centuries later, under King Solomon, the nation saw its finest hour and came close to the vision God had outlined for her.
Sadly, after Solomon's reign the nation split in two - Israel and Judah (from whence we get the word "Jew") - both ruled by a succession of kings, some godly, most evil. Because of the peoples' continual disobedience to God's laws, the breaking of the Sabbath, and idolatry, God allowed their cruel neighbors, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, to plunder them. This led to the first Diaspora, a scattering of Jews far from their homeland.
It was in these foreign lands, particularly Babylon and later Persia, that the Jews learned to worship Yahweh from afar. With no temple or sacrifices available in these lands, they created synagogues or meeting places, and prayer became of personal and national importance. They also acquired skills in banking and commerce which has served them to this day. While some Jews returned to Jerusalem years later under the leadership of Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah, many chose to stay in the lands of their exile because it brought them a more comfortable life.
The wall of Jerusalem was finally rebuilt and a second temple was erected and expanded even beyond Solomon's, but once again Jerusalem would fall under foreign occupation. The Romans came, and in the midst of Rome's rule Jesus Christ was born. During His earthly ministry Jesus prophesied to His followers that Jerusalem would fall and the temple would be destroyed. (See Matthew 24.) This was realized in 70 A.D. when the Romans, under Titus, sacked the city, burned the temple, and either killed or took captive millions of Jews. This second Diaspora scattered Jews throughout the known world. The Romans, attempting to eliminate the Jewish identity of the land of Israel, renamed the area Palestina after Israel's nemesis the Philistines, who had ceased to exist hundreds of years before the Roman conquest. For almost two thousand years the land was an inhabited ruin where Jews and Arabs lived side by side, but always under foreign control.
The constancy of anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia led to the rise of Zionism, the drive for a Jewish homeland, in the late 1800s under leaders such as Theodore Herzl. The Balfour Declaration in 1917, giving British-government sanction to a "national home" for the Jewish people in Palestine, led to intricate political maneuvering by Britain and the League of Nations that basically carved up a new Middle East. Continued anti-Semitism, not the least of which was Hitler's Holocaust, drove surviving Jews to gather to the land of their ancestors. The United Nations took a hand, dividing Palestine into three areas: an Arab state, a Jewish state, and an international zone for the city of Jerusalem. On May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion, with a picture of Theodore Herzl behind him, announced that the newly created Jewish state would be called Israel.
With that one statement a miracle had taken place. No defunct nation or displaced people had ever returned to reclaim their land. A scattered people who had every reason to intermarry, change their names, hide their identity, and be absorbed into other nations, had retained their Jewishness without a homeland for millennia. Shock waves rippled around the globe, especially among the five neighboring Arab countries that immediately joined forces and attacked the tiny nation the very next day. Delivered an indefensible strip of land by the United Nations (later described as "Auschwitz borders" by Abba Eban, Israel's foreign minister), and facing an enemy with immensely superior firepower, Israel miraculously survived.
Is the rising of Israel out of the ashes just an anomaly of history or a reason to believe in God?
1948 leads me to believe in God, and here's why:
1. Multiple Prophecies
God told us in advance the events that would transpire. In Isaiah God declared, "For I am God, and there is no other; / I am God, and there is none like Me, / Declaring the end from the beginning, / And from ancient times things that are not yet done" (Isa. 46:9-10). In theological terms we call this prophecy.
Consider the following prophetic utterances concerning modern-day Israel thousands of years before they happened:
Their return: "Behold, I will bring them from the north country, / And gather them from the ends of the earth...Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, / And declare it in the isles afar off, and say, / 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, / And keep him as a shepherd does his flock'" (Jeremiah 31:8, 10. See also Nehemiah 1:8-9; Ezekiel 37:21; Isaiah 43:5-6.)
Jerusalem united (1967 war) and the time of the Gentiles: Matthew 24; Luke 21:24; Amos 9:11, 13
Hebrew restored as the national language: Zephaniah 3:9
2. God's Covenant with the Jews
Back in Genesis 15 God cut a covenant with Abraham that was based on His faithfulness, not Abraham's. God demonstrated this by walking through the dead carcasses or slain animals as the terms and conditions of the covenant were announced. The covenant had no end date. (See Genesis 15:1-18; also 12:1-3, 7; 22:15-18.)
The capital city of Israel became united under Jewish rule in 1967 after being seized in the Six-Day War (a war of Arab aggression). This sparked interest in two scriptures:
Zechariah 12: "Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it." (Zech. 12: 2-3, KJV).
Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, / There we sat down, yea, we wept / When we remembered Zion....If I forget you, O Jerusalem, / Let my right hand forget its skill!" (Ps. 137:1, 5)
The Bible predicted 2,500 years ago that in the last days Israel would be a burden to the nations of the earth. Only 100 years ago this idea was laughable in the minds of secular observers, and forced most theologians to abandon Israel in their teaching on end times. However, these days not a day does go by that Israel - dwarfed in real estate and population compared to its neighbors, the only country in the Middle East with a democratically elected government, a free press, and civil rights - does not receive bad press for somehow raising the ire of the world.
I want to conclude by saying that all people matter to God. The fact that God chose Israel does not mean that they are a perfect people. Today, 30% of Israelis claim to be atheists, and it remains unclear how many of the remaining 70% believe what I have just written about. Also, there is the unfortunate plight of the Palestinian population. A political conundrum and tragedy, it would take an entire essay to expound on how and why this has happened. Suffice it to say the Jews, while not responsible for this, have not been angels nor always acted in the best interest of their neighbors.
What we need to remember is that God made an everlasting covenant with them based on His faithfulness, not theirs. The comfort believers today can draw from this is that if He did not forsake them, He will not forsake us:
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Jews, God, and History: A Modern Interpretation of a Four-Thousand Year Story, Max I. Dimont
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz
A Cup of Trembling: Jerusalem and Bible Prophecy, Dave Hunt
The Israel Test, George Gilder
O Jerusalem! Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre
The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, Caroline B. Glick
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