Sunday, June 2, 2013

Israel, The Big Picture - Part 2

In my last post, I looked at the ancient history of God's chosen people, and the theology behind God's everlasting covenant with Abraham.  If you missed it, you can click here to read it first.

In part 2, I will address the more recent history of the Jewish people and the rise of Zionism, beginning in Israel circa 70 AD.

Rome expelled the Jews in 70 AD, following a Jewish rebellion that began in 66.  Jerusalem was leveled, the temple destroyed, and many were killed or carried off into slavery in the Roman Empire.  Many more escaped into other parts of Israel.  Rabbi Yochanan ben Zachai was a Pharisee who was carried out of Jerusalem in a coffin and escaped to the town of Yavne (on the Mediterranean coast) where he established a school of Judaism. 

Since the very center of Judaism, the temple, was destroyed, many precepts had to be re-written.  Thus was born Rabbinic Judaism, a religion of good works and not blood sacrifice and atonement.  The ancient sages then wrote the mishna and the gemarra, which is 18,000 pages of oral commentary (called the Talmud) on the first five books of the scriptures - the Torah.  The remainder of the Tanakh (which we call the Old Testament, the writings and the prophets) are not widely studied in Judaism, even today.
Interestingly, the sect of Sadduccees did not focus mainly on the Torah the way the Pharisees did.  They included the writings and the prophets in their studies.  But at the fall of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin (made up of Sadduccees) was disbanded and scattered.  The writings and the prophets contain most of the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah.
A group of Jewish people celebrate the Torah in Jerusalem

In 132 AD, a rebellion began in Judea led by bar Kochba.  Rabbi Akiva called him the Messiah, so believers in Yeshua distanced themselves from this rebellion.  Rome was not amused by the rebellion, and in 135 AD, violently and completely crushed the rebellion, killing many and driving most remaining Jews from the land.  Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem and called it Aelia Capitolina, and renamed the holy land Syria Palestina, after the ancient and no-longer-existing enemies of the Jews - the Philistines.  From this event stems the modern day name of "Palestine."

The Jews were thus dispersed to the four corners of the earth, where they were persecuted everywhere they went.    They were forcibly converted to Christianity, expelled from lands where they settled, and killed in large numbers.  These three concepts continued throughout history, and can be described as such:
  • You have no right to live among us as Jews
  • You have no right to live among us
  • You have no right to live
In 325 AD, Constantine had a supposed conversion to Christianity, and then he persecuted the Jews, outlawing the celebration of biblical feasts and Saturday Sabbath.

The crusades saw the deaths of many Jews in both Europe and the Middle East.  Indiscriminate crusaders murdered whole villages of Jews en route to the Holy Land.

The Spanish Inquisition, begun in 1492 (sound like a familiar year?), went after the Jewish people of Spain and lasted over 300 years.  (Spain had just driven the Moors - Muslims from North Africa - out of the country, and Ferdinand and Isabella decided they wanted Spain to be 100% Catholic).  Jews had lived and thrived in Spain for centuries, and suddenly everything changed for them.   It followed the typical pattern of Jewish persecution:  forced conversion, expulsion, and finally, murder.  Napoleon finally put a stop to the Inquisition in the early 1800s.

The Jews of the middle ages were blamed for the Black Death (never mind that Jewish people died of the plague, too).  Lies were circulated that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzah - this is called blood libel.  As ridiculous as this accusation is, it still circulates today among anti-semitic circles. 
Additionally, numerous racial expulsions took place against the Jews throughout the Middle Ages from European countries.
European expulsions and resettlement of Jewish people

During the Reformation, Martin Luther hoped to convert Jews en masse by removing the Catholic dogma.  When they did not respond as he had hoped, he turned on them, even going so far as publishing a work called “On the Jews and their Lies.”  I will not repeat the content here, but you can do an internet search and read it for yourself.  Prepare to be appalled if you do.

Pogroms were frequent in Eastern Europe, where villages of Jews were attacked and they were killed or driven out.  Have you seen Fiddler on the Roof?  Although that was a fictitious depiction of a pogrom and expulsion in Russia, these things happened frequently! 
Fiddler statue in Netanya, Israel
A mysterious work of fiction arose in the late 1800s which was hijacked by an anonymous writer and re-written to accuse the Jews of trying to take over the world.  The new title was “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”  This book is still widely circulated and believed today, especially in middle Eastern countries.  Henry Ford was a big fan of this book and required his employees to read it.  He refused to hire Jewish people in his factories.

Unfortunately, this fictitious book is still widely read (and believed) today.

The holocaust of World War II didn’t just arise out of nowhere.  In my previous post, I discussed Replacement Theology that was introduced by some of the early church fathers...  the idea that God is done with the Jews and even hates them.  This thread of anti-semitism winds through history and connects ancient hatred of the Jews to modern hatred of the Jews.  And guess who is behind it?  The one who knows his time is short.  Satan knows that the culmination of earthly, human history takes place in Jerusalem, with the Jewish people back in their land.  Since he already knows he is going to lose, he is pulling out all the stops to thwart God's plan.

The idea of Zionism began to take form in the late 1800s after a bloody and tragic Jewish history.  In France, a Jewish man in the French military, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongfully accused of treason, simply because he was Jewish.  The scandal was covered by a journalist named Theodor Herzl.  Herzl witnessed mass rallies in Paris following the Dreyfus trial, where many chanted "Death to the Jews!" Herzl became convinced that the Jewish people must remove themselves from Europe and create their own state so that they could live freely and without fear of persecution.

The first Zionist congress took place in Basel, Switzerland in 1897.  Jewish people began moving to the Holy Land.  (An earlier influx of Jews to Palestine had taken place in the 1200s, and Jews and Arabs lived side by side in peace for hundreds of years).

World War I began.  A chemical called acetone was needed to make bombs, and was mainly available from Germany.  A Russian-born chemist living in Great Britain named Chaim Weizmann developed an acetone substitute that greatly contributed to the ultimate victory of the Allies.  The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Turks lost the war.

As spoils of war, the Ottoman Empire was carved up among the Allies.  The Ottoman Turks had been rulers over most of the Middle East, including Palestine, for almost 500 years.  Syria and Lebanon were placed under French rule, and Palestine became part of the British Mandate.

Britian was grateful to Chaim Weizmann for his contribution to the war effort.  Foreign secretary Arthur Balfour asked what Britian could do for him.  Weizmann declared that his people were in desperate need of a homeland.   Thus, the Balfour Declaration was issued in November of 1917, which said,

 Jewish immigration to the Holy Land increased.  Not liking what was taking place, Haj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, began inciting riots of Arabs against the Jews.  Suddenly, two people groups who had lived together for the most part in peace for a long time became enemies. 

Muslim rioting, incited by al Husseini, increased throughout the 1920s and 30s, causing Great Britian to try and appease the Arabs living there, just as they were appeasing Adolf Hitler in Europe.  In 1922, 77 percent of the original land of Palestine was given to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a sovereign Arab nation.  Initially called Trans-Jordan because it was located across the Jordan river, the name was shortened to simply Jordan.  People tend to forget that today there already IS a sovereign Arab nation in the land which was called Palestine for so many centuries.

The pink area is modern-day Jordan, given to Saudi Arabia in 1922.

In 1939, Great Britian issued the MacDonald White Papers, which reneged on their 1917 promise of a Jewish homeland.  Just when the Jews needed refuge the most from the upcoming holocaust, it was denied them.   Jewish immigration to Palestine was stopped.

What followed was the murder of 6 million European Jews. 

In the aftermath of World War 2, the horrors of the holocaust were brought to the forefront.  The United Nations was formed, and in 1947 it drew up a plan called “Partition,” which split the remaining 23 percent of Palestine into two nations:  one for Arabs, and one for Jews.  The Jews gladly accepted; the Arabs flatly refused.
Had the Arabs accepted the UN Partition plan in 1947, their land today would be the yellow portion.

 On May 14, 1948, the British Mandate of Palestine ended and the sovereign nation of Israel was formed. President Harry S. Truman sent a congratulatory telegram to Israel, which was read as the national anthem of Ha Tikvah was played. 

Isaiah 66:8 says, Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children.  The context of this scripture is the last days.

The very day after Israeli Statehood was proclaimed, the infant country was invaded by six surrounding Arab countries: Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, who threatened to push Israel into the sea.  The 1948 War of Independence was a miraculous war – the Israelis had almost no weapons to fight with, yet they prevailed.  There were 640,000 Jewish people in Israel, surrounded by 80 million Arabs in the attacking countries. 

Sadly, the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were forced out.  Jordan took control of East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (which they called the "West Bank," a nickname for the area west of the Jordan River) and Egypt took control of Gaza.  For nineteen years the Jews had no access to the Old City or the temple mount.  But Israel was once again a sovereign state, for the first time in thousands of years. 

Many Arabs (about 700,000) on the Israel side of partition either fled their homes or were forced out by defending IDF troops during the Arab attack of 1948.  The Arab leadership promised that they could come back to their homes after Israel was pushed into the sea, and even promised that they could take over vacated Jewish homes.  However, since Israel prevailed in the war, those people became refugees and were not allowed back into Israel.  Many moved to other countries or settled into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan.  Today, the great-grandchildren of these original refugees still call themselves refugees - about 5 million of them, and are demanding "right of return" (which would have devastating effects on the State of Israel).  No other Arab country will take them in and give them citizenship, even though the surrounding Arab nations have an area 650 times as large as Israel.  It is more politically expedient for them to leave these people as refugees and blame it on Israel. 

The strange thing about the Arab refugee situation is that about an equal number of Jews were then kicked out of surrounding Arab countries, where they had had a presence for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  The difference is that tiny Israel took them in and gave them a home.  It is very strange that so many of these countries have no Jews living there anymore, and yet Israel has about 1,500,000 Arabs who have full Israeli citizenship – those who did not flee when the Arabs attacked.

Fast forward to 1967.  The countries surrounding Israel were flexing their muscles and preparing once again to invade as they mobilized tanks and planes.  Israel pre-emptively struck, demolishing the Egyptian air force and decimating Jordan and Syria in what is called the Six Day War.  The Jordanians withdrew from Jerusalem, and the holy city was reunified under Jewish rule for the first time in thousands of years.  The Jews also gained control over the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.  For some reason, the Jews allowed the Arabs to maintain control of the Temple Mount.  They were just happy to have access to the Western Wall, or as we call it in the west, the Wailing Wall.  

Here is something to consider.  Between the years of 1948 and 1967, no move was made to create a sovereign nation called "Palestine" by the Arabic people living there.  Perhaps it is because those areas were under the control of Arab nations.  The push for a separate state only began after Jewish control was established. Keep that thought in mind as we continue our journey through modern history. 

The next war took place in 1973.  Syria and Egypt led an attack of Israel on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.  Israel, still a bit overconfident from their miraculous win in 1967, was caught by surprise and nearly defeated.  A tiny remnant of the military that was on duty managed to hold off attackers until the rest of the army could be mobilized.  The United States then came to the aid of Israel, which ticked off the Arabs and oil embargo of 1973.  I still remember the long lines at the gas station when I was a kid… I just never knew what was behind them.

The 1980s saw Israel embroiled in a minor war with Lebanon.  In 1993, the first Intifada (uprising) began with a big increase in Palestinian terrorism against Israel.
The second intifada began in 2000 after a visit to the Temple Mount by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.  The Arab world went crazy with rioting and terrorism.  The second intifada was directly responsible for the building of the “wall” by Israel around the areas of the West Bank, along with many checkpoints.  Because of the checkpoints and the wall, you will frequently hear accusations leveled at Israel for being an “apartheid” state in the media.  But since the creation of the security wall beginning in 2008, incidents of suicide bombers attacking Israel has dropped by a whopping 90 percent.
I don't deny that conditions for the residents of the Palestinian areas are bad.  They are.  What I do deny is that Israel is responsible for those conditions.  Israel has a right and a duty to protect her citizens.  The conditions are a direct result of the Palestinian leaders, such as al Husseini and Yasser Arafat, who for decades encouraged acts of terror against the people of Israel.  The anti-Jewish rhetoric that is taught to small children in Palestinian schools is appalling.  God holds leaders to a higher standard, with good reason.  It's human nature - people tend to follow their leaders.
The modern-day “peace process” began under President George Bush Senior at a conference in Madrid.  This “peace process” always has to do with Israel giving up “land for peace.”  In 2005, 15,000 Israelis living in Gaza were “disengaged” (expelled) by their own government, which was trying to appease the strong arm tactics of the United States, the UN, and the Arab nations.  It didn’t work.  Since then, thousands of rockets have been launched from Gaza into southern Israel.  All that “land for peace” does is buy the Arabs time before their next set of demands. 
FYI, when reading an article on Israel, certain key words will tell you if the article has an anti-Israeli bias, such as “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” “Occupied Territories,” or “illegal settlements.”

 So why is this all happening?  Why is there such worldwide attention on a place that is about one-fifth the size of Florida?  We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities of the evil one, who happens to hate the plan of God and will do everything he can to stop that plan.  He wants to see that Israel does not survive; so that Yeshua cannot return, save His brethren, and set up His thousand year kingdom in Jerusalem.   
The millennial kingdom will be centered in Jerusalem
Some people say that the modern State of Israel is a secular state, and therefore could not be God bringing the Jewish people back to the land.  However, scripture shows in numerous places that Israel would be gathered to the land in a state of unbelief, and that the Lord would reveal Himself en masse to the nation at His return. 

Zechariah 12:10 says, in the context of the last days, that they will look upon Him who they have pierced and mourn.  Yeshua says in Matthew 23, “You will not see me again UNTIL you say blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Ezekiel shows an allegory of the dry bones coming out of the graves BEFORE coming back to life.  Romans 11 confirms that God is not done with His chosen people, and that someday all Israel will be saved. 

The Jewish people are a living testimony of a faithful God.  No other people group has survived as a distinct people group once kicked out of their country - for even a generation.  Over 300 years ago, King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal, the great Christian philosopher, to give him proof of God. Pascal answered, “Why the Jews, your Majesty, the Jews!”

That the Jewish nation—such a tiny group of people—survived two thousand years of exile and persecution was nothing short of a supernatural phenomenon. Pascal wasn’t the only one who was so amazed by the survival of the Jewish people. Other thinkers, philosophers and historians have noticed something unusual about the Jews.  If God was done with the Jewish people as a nation, as Replacement Theology teaches, then why would He have bothered preserving them as a set-apart people?  What would have been His point?
Jewish people worshipping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
 God has miraculously preserved the Jewish people throughout the centuries, in spite of severe persecution, because of the unconditional covenant made with Abraham thousands of years ago.  “Then all will know that I am the Lord.”

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