In two weeks, millions of Jewish people the world over will recite these words at the Passover seder “Once we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. But the Lord our God brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm . . . to bring us in and give us the land that He promised on oath to our forefathers.” (Deut. 6:21, 23). The Exodus from Egypt was planned for a purpose – to plant the Jewish people forever in the land of Israel.
This miraculous deliverance triggered a spontaneous explosion of Jewish praise and thanksgiving:
“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him’ . . . Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing” (Exod. 15:1-2, 20).
Forget me not!
Forty years later, as Moses’ Special Forces were getting ready to assault Jericho, he issued a warning to all Israel: don’t forget the mighty deeds God has done for you, and remember to keep your heart soft by continually thanking Him:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut. 8:10-14).
But human beings often forget the lessons of history. George Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (The Life of Reason, 1905). Psalm 78 sums up biblical history, showing that within a few years the majority of Jewish people forgot what God had done, did not remember His power, and were not loyal to His covenant. Jeremiah echoed the same lesson: “From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you My servants the prophets. But they did not listen to Me or pay attention” (Jer. 7:25-26).
Israel allowed her heart to become preoccupied with other matters and ignored what God had done. Her heart drifted away from intimacy with her Maker, and thanksgiving was directed to idols of wood and stone. The God of Israel needed to shake Israel back into reality with a severe mercy – a sobering wake-up call known as the Exile. God would temporarily scatter the Jewish people among the nations, and even bring them back into Egyptian slavery!
“The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you” (Deut. 28:68).
The Return from Exile
Yet Israel’s faithful God did not hold onto His anger forever. The judgment of two exiles (Assyria/Babylon and Rome) would surely come on the Jewish people. But God promised to rescue them (not once, but twice!) and to restore them back to their own land two times (Isa.11:11-12), purifying a remnant to serve Him (see Ezek. 20).
We are witnessing the prophesied return of Israel to their Promised Land in our day. Though the majority of the Jewish people are not yet ‘home,’ we recognize that a process of return is going on, and we cooperate with God, praying for its soon completion.
Spiritually speaking, the majority of the Jewish people are not yet ‘home’ either – they have not yet come to Messiah Yeshua in repentance. But we also recognize that God is stirring Israel and moving her quickly toward that day of national salvation. Part of the evidence for this is the significant growth of the Messianic Jewish movement. And so we pray for Israel to receive a revelation of Yeshua, we share the message of His atoning death and resurrection with our Jewish friends, and we stand with the nation of Israel to protect her from her many enemies.
Let’s take a moment to consider something serious. If the Jewish people were exiled for specific sins against God, have they nationally repented for those sins? What were the reasons for the Exile? Have those root rebellions been decisively dealt with? Or are those transgressions still something that need to be dealt with in our day once and for all? Does the Return to Zion that we are seeing in our day mean that all is forgiven, or is there still a day of reckoning for Israel in the near future?
Root canal work
God declared that the Jewish people would go into exile and captivity because they had ignored Him and cast Him behind their backs (1 Ki.14:9). Time and again it was prophesied that Israel would go into exile because of the sins of the majority, their unfaithfulness (Ezek. 39:23-27) and their unwillingness to hear from God.
The majority of the Jewish people in the land at that time were guilty of these sins, yet Jeremiah adds that the same spiritual condition applied to Jewish people in the Diaspora as well: “For they have not listened to My words … words that I sent to them again and again by My servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either, declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:19).
Part of the sins involved wanting to be like all the other nations of the world (1 Sam 8; Ezek. 20:32 ff), rebelling against the dynastic House of David and His anointed (1 Ki.12:16-19), creating false traditions which are unable to save (Jer. 2:13), and rejecting the Messiah sent to rescue us (Zech.12:10). We as a nation must repent for these sins before we can fully inherit all the great and precious promises the Lord has given us.
Shaking is part of the Return
When Ezekiel received his ‘Zionist’ vision – a picture of the full return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, God told him that this return would happen not because the Jewish people have repented, or had become worthy of redemption. The Return to Zion will be “for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations” (Ezek.36:22).
We believers rejoice in this Return. At the same time we want to zoom in on the details of what God is doing in Israel today in the light of the prophetic word. We are not thrown into disbelief by Israel’s sin, because both the Scriptures and our personal experience clearly reveal that all people have sinned (Rom. 3:23). In this regard Israel is not better or worse than any other nation (Deut. 7:7-8). God chose Israel because He is madly in love with her, and has sealed that love with many unshakeable covenants (see Rom. 9:4; Jer. 29:10-11). He plans to purify her, bless her and set her as a signet ring on His own hand in the sight of all nations. But before the exaltation comes the shaking.
Many different prophecies describe how at the end of days God will win back the heart of His people and wean them away from false gods. In each case there is pressure applied to Israel. In each situation there is pain. In every scenario there is shaking.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you. The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will bring My people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess, says the Lord”. These are the words the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah: “This is what the Lord says: Cries of fear are heard – terror, not peace. Ask and see: Can a man bear children? Then why do I see every strong man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor, every face turned deathly pale? How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:1-7).
All who love Israel must face this quandary. We want healing, blessing and protection for the Jewish people and for their Promised Land. Yet at the same time we humbly acknowledge that, as Hosea 5:15 confesses, Israel will only turn back to God’s face through “narrowness” – through hard times and pressures. Who can maintain a spiritual balance here? Some prophetic voices speak judgment over Israel but their eyes are strangely dry, and their voices harshly metallic. How can we pray for Israel according to God’s word and yet preserve the tender compassions of God’s heart for Israel (Isa.63:9)?
Conflicts on the outside, fears within (2 Cor.7:5)
Right now Israel is getting squeezed. We are surrounded by a hostile Islamic sea of 500 million people who pray for our defeat and destruction 5 times a day. We have local and foreign jihadi terrorist groups (including al-Qa’eda) always probing for a chink in our armor. Censures and threats are daily occurrences at the UN and EU. Boycotts from the Arab and Muslim world influence Western trading partners. Iran has come out of the closet and is preparing a nuclear holocaust for our country. Even the Mayor of London is getting in on the action.
As emphasized in recent books by John Loftus and Robert Baer, the multinational oil companies see Israel as a threat to the unrestricted flow of Islamic oil, while Western intelligence agencies and state departments move in tandem to weaken Israel’s deterrent capabilities and sap its fighting spirit. These combined international pressures have caused many Israelis to lose hope and vision. We think back to the Holocaust, when Jewish safety was in question and Jewish survival was at a premium. Israel does not want to repeat the past, as Santayana warned. What are we to do?
God offends the mind to reveal the heart
God has chosen to begin the process of Israel’s restoration with one very important element missing – Israel’s repentance. This lack of national repentance has offended many people – Jews and Gentiles, believers and secular people. The ultra-Orthodox wing of Judaism has at times rejected and even opposed the Return to Zion. How could God bless a secular leadership, they ask. They are convinced that God will not lead us back to Zion until we repent and become ultra-Orthodox. As a result the ultra-Orthodox tend to belittle or reject the Return to Zion.
A similar dynamic might apply to those few Messianic Jews who support or rationalize giving back parts of the land of Israel now under Israeli control (to ‘disengage’ or to ‘converge’ are the popular terms). Since Israel has not fully repented, they say, perhaps we don’t have the right to hold onto those territories. There must first be a spiritual revival, it is suggested, and only then will it be kosher for those areas to return to us. Again, in this case (like with the ultra-Orthodox) there is perhaps a reticence to recognize that God’s sovereign hand was intimately involved in the retaking of Judea, Samaria, the Golan and the Gaza Strip.
So let’s ask the question: why has God chosen to begin the Return to Zion while Israel is in unbelief? Why did He choose to give us ever-increasing portions of the Promised Land through military victory? God seems to be carrying out this process in reverse order! Though we may never fully understand His strategy in doing things this way at this time, nevertheless, we do recognize that He is at work, and we humbly bow before Him, rejoicing in His good gifts.
Thankfulness and fuzzy thinking
The Apostle Paul once wrote a letter to believers in Rome, describing how humanity has distanced itself from God. He pointed out that when mankind stopped thanking God or acknowledging His mighty acts of deliverance, their own perceptions became darkened and their strategies became futile. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom.1:21).
When Israel stopped thanking God and recognizing His hand, the result was the judgment of Exile. When a modern generation turns its back on God, when it spurns His gifts as burdensome, a judgment process of darkening and futility kicks into gear. This can be true for Americans when prayer is removed from school or when abortion is legalized. Darkening and futility begin to make their presence felt throughout the land. That is when patriotic intercessors must leap onto the barricades of prayer to hold back darkness, and to pray for repentance and revival.
Tomorrow, if Israelis elect a leader who openly calls for unilaterally retreating from parts of our God-given land, this would be a sobering expression of lack of thankfulness to God for the gracious victories that God has granted us in 1948 and 1967. This is one of the main issues in tomorrow’s elections. Will Israel acquiesce to world pressure by electing a government which will disengage from and abandon its God-given land? What will happen to our country and our people if we take this serious step backward?
Pray for the leaders of Israel, that God would grant them a revelation of His hand and heart, and that they would not make decisions based on the fear of man but would take decisions based on the fear of God and the word of God.
The Stockholm Syndrome
In August 1973 a branch of the Swedish Kreditbanken in Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm was robbed. The bank robbers held bank employees hostage for 6 days, during which time the victims became emotionally attached to their captors. After they were released they continued to defend the motives and actions of the bank robbers, and at least one woman got engaged to her former captor. Swedish criminologist and psychologist Nils Bejerot coined the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to describe this puzzling phenomenon, where the hostage actually buys in to the oppressor’s or captor’s perspective, and then finds his own soul overwhelmed by his captors’ lies.
Certain conditions can trigger this syndrome, including a perceived threat to one’s personal survival; perceived inability to escape; isolation from perspectives other than that of the captor; and small kindness from the captor within a context of terror. The Stockholm Syndrome should be understood first and foremost as a survival mechanism for cornered victims.
Typical behavior of those suffering from this syndrome includes focusing on the abuser’s positive side and denying his violence; seeing the abuser as only a victim; believing that one deserves the abuser’s violence; hating that part of ones’ self which the abuser said caused the attack.
The Stockholm Syndrome has specific significance for Israelis in the Middle East. Nearly a hundred years of Islamic Arab war, hostilities and terrorism have triggered Stockholm Syndrome attitudes within many Israeli hearts: we have begun to defend our enemies, to ignore their murderous goals and to blame ourselves for their hateful attacks. The world has encouraged our syndrome through slanted media and through political and economic pressure.
As a result many in Israel have bought into an attitude of accepting the necessity of retreat from portions of our ancestral homeland, of needing to shrink Israel’s borders in order to be accepted in the Middle East, of hiding behind anti-terror walls, and of ‘shutting ourselves in and hoping for the best’ in the words of a recent article in The Economist (March 23 2006). Two of the three main parties in Israel’s upcoming elections state that retreating from and surrendering our land to our mortal enemies offers us the best chance for peace.
Part of what Israel is voting on tomorrow is this: did God bring us out of Egypt in order to bring us in to our Promised Land, or have we been removed from Egypt only to be ‘abandoned in Stockholm’?
What will it take for Israel to recognize that God is still the God of the Exodus? What will it take for us to rend our hearts in repentance and then open our hearts in thanksgiving? As Israel goes to the polls tomorrow, pray for God to pour out a spirit of grace and mourning, repentance and revelation upon His beloved Jewish people.
“If My people would but listen to Me, if Israel would follow My ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes! Those who hate YHWH would cringe before Him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Ps 81:13-16).
The Last Word is God’s
At the end of the day we know that God will have His way with Israel. The entire land of Israel will be ours – no more disengagements, convergences or ‘land for peace’ processes – and the nations who are now pushing for a Palestinian state will be utterly vanquished.
“In that day, declares YHWH of Armies, I will break the yoke off their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners enslave them. Instead, they will serve YHWH their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. So do not fear, Jacob My servant! Do not be dismayed, Israel, declares YHWH. I will surely save you out of a distant place, and your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,’ declares YHWH. Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished” (Jer 30:8-11).
Thank you for laboring in prayer with us for Israel, the apple of God’s eye. These days are pregnant with significance. Your prayers do make a difference. Keep on keepin’ on!
We bless you in the name of Messiah Yeshua, the Lord of Armies and the Prince of Peace,
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