Israel’s Sabbath rest of February 1 2003 was broken by the abrupt announcement at 1400 GMT that a loss of communication with the space shuttle Columbia had occurred. Within minutes the dry facts were quietly announced. The shuttle had broken up into ‘multiple targets’. It had exploded, said the first eyewitnesses from a small Texan town called Palestine. The brave astronauts had perished quickly in the high altitude conflagration.
Grief immediately filled our hearts as we remembered the heroes of the shuttle team. Israelis were especially proud of Colonel Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Air Force pilot who in 1981 had also taken part in bombing Osirak, Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb factory. Ramon had recently spent four years training for the Columbia mission with a top-notch American crew led by Space Shuttle Commander Colonel Rick Husband, a clear-eyed believer in Jesus (www.pchea.org/Family/page_2.htm). Ilan Ramon had grown up and studied at a local high school in Beersheva, and his father Eliezer Wolferman still lives in our small community, in a retirement home where we have presented several concerts of Yiddish and Hebrew folk music. Israel is a small country and the loss feels close to home.
On Tuesday January 21 Ilan had given a 30 minute satellite interview to Israel’s Channel One television. Participants included Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Education and Science Minister Limor Livnat, Professor Yuval Ne’eman (head of the Israel Space Agency) and Avi Hareven (the head of Israel’s space program). Many Israelis were glued to their TVs, watching a remarkable outpouring of warmth, joy and appreciation between Ilan and the other astronauts. It was obvious that Ilan was considered a valuable scientific asset to the team. But what was unusual was the measure of honor and warmth that Ilan was strikingly accorded by all of his co-workers. All of Israel glowingly watched as Rick Husband added that if Israelis were as nice as Ilan and his family, then “we know that we will be expecting a very warm welcome when we come to visit Israel.”
I and my family felt that something extra-ordinary was transpiring during this interview. It seemed to be a taste of how things might be when Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) established a genuine appreciation between Jew and Gentile in the near future. One of us commented to the other that it felt like we were watching the ‘one new man’ principle of Ephesians 2-3 in operation.
Soon we learned more about Rick Husband’s faith. He had stated a few days before that as a Christian he was privileged to have an Israeli on board and part of Columbia’s team. As well, in an interview on October 15 2001 for the Panhandle Christian Home Educator’s Association in Texas, Colonel Husband said, “Like anywhere else in life not everyone is a Christian, and so the main thing is to try to live your life the way that God would want you to live and then hope that that sets an example and will give people an opportunity to ask questions so that you can tell them about what you believe.” A recent comment from an Embrace Israel ministry newsletter reveals that at least two of the seven astronauts were believers in Yeshua. Both Rick Husband and his wife Evelyn knew the Lord and had read the Messianic book “One New Man” by Reuven Doron. Their friendship with and love for Ilan Ramon and his family had moved them to pray for them regularly and seek their spiritual good. As well, Michael Anderson (the black astronaut on board) and his family were also believers in Jesus, and members of the same church as the Husbands.
Less than 30 minutes after the crash, I was astounded to hear that Palestine, Texas was the location from which the first eyewitnesses had reported the Columbia’s explosion. They said that the noise was very loud and sounded like a tornado or a freight train. Less than an hour after the crash, my wife and I heard an Israeli commenting that the accident felt somehow mystical. A few minutes later a radio commentator said that “it is our peculiar Israeli irony” that the accident occurred over a town named Palestine in North Central Texas. Yesterday was Sunday in Israel, and talk shows were flooded with calls and faxes arguing whether or not there is any divine meaning to the accident and whether there is anything symbolic in the name of Palestine, Texas.
While Israeli Jews in their grief were asking questions about God, foreign wire services were describing spontaneous Arab celebration and dancing joyfully on the roofs of houses in the West Bank, Gaza and Iraq in response to the tragedy. Iraqi media declared that the crash is Allah’s punishment against America and Israel, while one Palestinian writer said that “anything that is painful for the Americans and the Israelis is seen by the Palestinians in particular, and the Arabs in general, as a blessing. That’s how it is” (Jerusalem Post, Monday February 3, 2003 page 3). Evidently the world has sat up and taken notice, asking for meaning or ascribing meaning. What can believers say?
We love and believe in the God of Israel, in His sovereign rule and unsearchable wisdom – even when we do not fully fathom His ways (see Isaiah 40:12-26, from which President Bush quoted verse 26 when announcing the crash of the shuttle; and Romans 11:33-36). Of all the towns on God’s green earth, and of all the many towns in the great state of Texas, it is no accident that the shuttle Columbia’s explosion was immediately described by the world’s media as occurring over Palestine. Only God could have been aware, could have had foreknowledge of such details.
So what does the name of this town point to, if anything? What were the odds that the Columbia would have exploded over a town named Palestine, especially with the first ever Israeli astronaut was on board? The coincidence seems to have divine overtones. Is God using this awful tragedy to communicate something to the nations? Let’s consider this possibility.
Ilan Ramon realized that his flight had tremendous symbolism and meaning for the Jewish people. On Monday January 20 he said, “I know my flight is very symbolic for the people of Israel, especially…the Holocaust survivors” (www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/01/20/shuttle.interview/). Interviewed on the BBC, he said, “I feel I’m representing the whole Jewish people” (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2330933.stm). It is not surprising, then, that Jewish people are trying to understand what this symbolism may entail.
Perhaps the name ‘Columbia’ can help us understand something more. The title ‘Columbia’ was often used by early American poets of the Thirteen Colonies to describe the new nation that was to become the United States (see World Book, vol. 4, “Columbia”). At that time many felt that America should have been named Columbia after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Artists often symbolically depicted Columbia as a tall and stately woman in a blue and white starred dress, carrying an American flag. During the 19th century, Columbia appeared in patriotic paintings, on the prows of ships, and in Revolutionary pageants. Today the District of Columbia is the seat of US government. The name ‘Columbia’ can certainly have an historical or a governmental symbolic reference to America.
Whether or not there is symbolic or prophetic meaning to the crash of the Columbia, we should all remember that the explosion is a grievous tragedy in its own right – for the families concerned, for the NASA team, and for the countries represented. That would be reason enough to mourn. But could this shocking explosion also serve as a prophetic warning?
In October 2002 Paul Keith Davis issued an article entitled ‘A Blessing of Dedication’ (www.bobjones.org). In that article he refers to a vision that a prophetic brother Bob Jones had, wherein the Lord revealed to him that a certain line of demarcation had been crossed in America relating to Israel-connected decisions. “Bob was instructed in his vision that certain things have now been ‘determined’ within our nation. That is not to impart hopelessness, but rather a sense of justice and chastening that will pave the way for blessings to follow. Certain governmental decisions have been made contrary to the purpose of God, that have opened the door to this discipline. There remains within our leadership a contrast of positions related to Israel and our support of this sacred land.”
In our last newsletter of January 2003 (available by request through www.davidstent.org), we mentioned that Satan has set in motion a ‘stealth strategy’, one which tends to be hidden behind other more dramatic news events. This stealth plot involves “world leaders being catalyzed into dividing up the land of Israel. The Bible clearly says that any nation which attempts to shrink Israel’s borders will surely face divine judgment (e.g., Joel 3:1-2; Zech.14:1-3; Gen.12:3). The potential upshot of this scheme has more divine fallout than a nuclear suitcase bomb!”
Since July 16 2002 the major world powers are already pressing for precisely this division of the land of Israel. On that date US Secretary of State Colin Powell met with representatives from the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia (the ‘Quartet’) and issued a statement in New York City, part of which is quoted: The Quartet remains committed to implementing the vision of two states, Israel and…Palestine . . .The Quartet calls upon Israel to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable Palestinian state . . .The Quartet reaffirms that… the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 must end . . . On September 17 2002 the Quartet issued a further statement, quoted in part: The Quartet is working closely…on a concrete, three-phase implementation roadmap that could achieve a final settlement within three years . . .In its initial phase (2002-first half of 2003)… Israeli withdrawals . . . In the plan’s second phase (2003)… creating a Palestinian state with provisional borders . . . In its final phase (2004-5)…consistent with the vision expressed by President Bush, this means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through…Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders.
The Bible’s perspective on the Quartet’s joint declaration is that these nations who have signed on to the above statements have crossed a line of demarcation, and that these attempts to divide the land of Israel are strongly displeasing to the God of Jacob (see Deut.32:8-10; Zech.2:12).
Could the explosion over Palestine, Texas be God’s way of drawing world attention to the matter of ‘Palestine’ – specifically, to the divine cost America and other nations will have to pay if they continue to be committed to establishing a Palestinian state on the land that God has promised to Israel alone? Could the Columbia shuttle’s name and tragic destiny be a prophetic wake-up call to the world in general and to the Unites States of America in particular? Are American efforts to re-divide the biblical land of Israel leading it toward a fatal crash – a ‘crash into Palestine’? Will there be much collateral damage not only for the USA, but for the nation of Israel as well? And if God is warning world leaders about His own feelings, intentions and plans regarding international treatment of Israel and the Jewish people, are any pf these world leaders listening? Do any of these world leaders care? Is anyone taking Israel’s God, the God of the Bible seriously?
One hour after the Columbia’s explosion, Israel Radio’s newscaster described how the explosion had taken place over Palestine, Texas. She then moved to the next news item. Just one day before, the announcer intoned, President Bush had declared his commitment and intent to work for the establishment of two states, Israel and a democratic Palestine, side by side. The anchorwoman’s easy transition between the two uses of the word Palestine was smooth, but in context the effect of linking those two words was chilling.
- We encourage you to pray with us for your nation’s leaders, that revelation and wisdom will be given them regarding God’s unchanging love and fierce zeal for His Jewish people, His land of Israel and its God-given borders (Jer.30:16-17, 23-24; Joel 3:14-16; Gen.15:18-21).
- Pray that your own leaders will not recklessly attempt to divide up the land of Israel (Zech.2:8-9, 13).
- Pray that Israel’s leaders will not grow weary and cave in to constant international pressure and political witchcraft (e.g. Isa.31:1).
On January 26 Colonel Ilan Ramon wrote an e-mail from the space shuttle Columbia to Israeli President Moshe Katzav. In it he voiced a prophetic hope and prayer regarding the Jewish people, that “all that’s needed is the right leadership to bring the people of Israel to the heights of Heaven” (Jerusalem Post, Thursday January 30 2003, page 5).
- Pray that God will bring revival once again to Israel and save His people, revealing Messiah Yeshua to them as their Righteous Leader and High Priest who will bring them into the very presence of Heaven (Psa.28:9; Zech.12:10; Isa. 45:25; 60:14-22; 9:6-7).
FINAL FRONTIER MINISTRIES
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