Israel is the country of prophecy. Its valleys, hills and springs are embossed on every page of the Bible. The Scriptures shine a priority focus on the Jewish people like on no other nation. The God of Jacob weaves the themes of Jacob’s welfare – physical and spiritual – on the loom of redemption history.
- But You, YHVH, remain forever and Your name remains to all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to arise and be gracious to her – for the appointed time has come. Surely Your servants take pleasure in her stones, and feel pity for her dust. So the nations will fear the name of YHVH, and all the kings of the earth [will fear] Your glory. For YHVH has built up Zion; He has appeared in His glory. He has turned His attention to the prayer of the destitute and has not despised their prayer (Psalm 102:12-17)
In light of Scripture’s divine emphasis on the destiny and restoration of the Jewish people, it is worth paying attention the current news coming out of Israel. Most of the headlines appear to be fraught with negativity and cataclysm. No help here from the Mainstream News Media (MSM), once known as the ‘fourth estate.’ We look for clarity and accuracy, but find instead spin, half-truths and propaganda. But of course, it is worth remembering that the shapers of media narratives are themselves being shaped by shadowy figures who stand hidden behind a digital ‘Wizard of Oz’ curtain. Let’s peer through this fog and ask God to help us discern what He is doing in these troubled times.
The Return to Zion
One of the spiritual hopes of the Jewish people in Exile has revolved around a concept known as ‘Shivat Tziyon’ – the return to Zion from the farthest extremities of the Exile. Moses prophesied about this event more than 3,400 years ago:
- So it will be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have placed before you, and you call them to mind in all the nations where YHVH your God has scattered you, and you return to YHVH your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul in accordance with everything that I am commanding you today, you and your sons, then YHVH your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where YHVH your God has scattered you. If any of your scattered countrymen are at the ends of the earth, from there YHVH your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. YHVH your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will be good to you and make you more numerous than your fathers. Moreover, YHVH your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love YHVH your God with all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live. And YHVH your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you.
The prophet Isaiah reached into the far future and envisioned the Return to Zion:
- Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth (Isaiah 43:5-6)
In David Ben-Gurion’s introduction to the multi-volume View of the Biblical World, he quotes Isaiah 43 to back up his declaration: “Today we can see Isaiah’s prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles taking place before our eyes.” This same vision is reflected in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of May 14, 1948: “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles . . . as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
Ben-Gurion adds a postscript to this in 1950: “Because Israel is not like other countries, and there is no instance in history like the revival of the state of Israel – the uniqueness of its revival reflects the uniqueness of its destiny . . . The entire people carried the hope of the redemption in its heart, and the state is only the beginning of that hope’s fruition. And the Ingathering of the Exiles is the task and the destiny and the mission of the State of Israel. Without this endeavor it is emptied of its historical content and of no significance to the Jewish people in our day, in the generations that preceded us, and in the generations to come.”
Rabbi Yoḥanan bar Nafḥa, writing around 250 A.D., added: “The day of the Ingathering of Exiles is as great as the day on which heaven and earth were created” (Babylonian Talmud; Pesaḥim 88 A).
The reason for the season
The Return to Zion, biblically speaking, only happens after the Exile from Zion – after Israel sins, acts disobediently, rebels against the House of David and is exiled to Assyria and Babylon. The Musaf prayer (recited by religious Jews on Shabbat, festivals and New Moon celebrations) speaks plainly in its public confession: “But because of our sins we have been exiled from our Land and sent far from our soil . . . Draw our scattered ones near from among the nations, and bring in our dispersions from the ends of the earth. Bring us to Zion Your city in glad song, and to Jerusalem home of Your Sanctuary in eternal joy.”
The history Book of the Jewish people does not mince words: we Jewish people were scattered due to our own sin, and our restoration will be an amazing work based on YHVH’s gracious love – one which we do not deserve:
- For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting favor I will have compassion on you, says YHVH your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:7-8)
- Hear the word of YHVH, O nations, and declare it in the isles far away, and say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock” (Jeremiah 31:10)
The Elephant in Zion’s living room
Limor Livnat, former Minister in three Israeli governments, pointed out in 1999 that Ben-Gurion’s vision of a Return to Zion (and that of Israel’s secular Founding Fathers) was seen in socialist terms and not in traditionally religious terms:
- “The socialists’ cloak of disguise has been worn out after fifty years of statehood [and] their philosophical heirs have donned the garb of liberalism. Only to the degree that Judaism matches up to the demands of liberalism is it to be tolerated. They are confronted by those who believe the opposite: That liberalism and its cousins, secularism and humanism, must be assessed through Judaic standards. The debate, then, is no longer over whether there should be a state called Israel. The dispute is, rather, over whether the state should be a distinctly Jewish one.”
There is an old Persian proverb which warns: “Do not invite an elephant trainer into your living room unless you also have room there for an elephant!” Jewish socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries were captivated by an ancient dream – the biblical/prophetic vision of an international Return to Zion by the exiled Jewish people. But their vision was not exactly Isaiah’s, which was Temple centered and covenant based. Instead, it was closer to Theodor Herzl’s 1902 epic novel Altneuland – a European-styled Jewish homeland, a cultural cross-pollination between Vienna, Paris and London. In their wildest dreams, none of the secular founders imagined that their Zionist restoration-enterprise would be peopled by rabbis or run by yeshiva students.
Jerusalem in black-and-white
Yet Jerusalem is becoming more and more an Orthodox/ultra-Orthodox city. A recent May 2022 survey by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows a significant increase in Jerusalem’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population, with 35% of Jerusalem’s Jewish residents being haredi, and 25% being Orthodox Jews. In contrast, less than one in five residents (18%) are secular Jews. Jews are 61.2% of Jerusalem’s population (590,000) while Arabs are 38.8% (375,000). A January 2023 survey showed national haredi population growth at 4% (13.5% of the national population), while the projection for the haredi community of 2030 is 16% of Israel’s total population.
Ben-Gurion probably never imagined that his Western-styled secular state would morph into an Orthodox/haredi country. Neither did Israel’s secular pioneers – whether kibbutzniks or Holocaust survivors – and their secular progeny. These secular Israelis are struggling with fear, anger and concern. The prospect of a halachic state – one ruled by rabbinic law – fills many secular Jews with trepidation. Considering that PM Netanyahu’s Likud party has coalition partners, most who long for the establishment of a halachic state – United Torah Judaism, Shas, Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit [Jewish Force], and Noam – it is no wonder that recent Israeli anti-government demonstrations and internet forums hammer away at the perceived threat of ‘the enemy’ – the growing power of Jewish Orthodoxy. To the hi-tech denizens of secular and gleaming Tel Aviv, the black-clothed haredi enclaves of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak appear to be a clear and present danger.
In 1918 a cutting-edge Orthodox rabbi with a ‘futurist’ bent, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Ha-Cohen Kook began to teach that redeeming the land of Israel through pioneer farming and the establishing of a Jewish state – these activities would hasten the coming of the Messiah and the launching of the Davidic kingdom. He described this movement as at’chalta d’geula (Aramaic for ‘the beginning of redemption’). Here is a quote from a letter he wrote in that year: “At’chalta d’geula is undoubtedly coming about before us, even though this coming-about has not begun this very day, . . . Banishing [us from the Land of Israel], and [then] only from the times that the people of Israel started [again] to shoot forth their branches and yield their fruits to the people of Israel [in their Land], . . . [these days] are at hand to come and only then will this at’chalta begin.”
Rabbi Kook’s teaching helped catalyze the movement now known as Religious Zionism. The Gush Emunim settlers’ movement as well as the Religious Zionist Party both have ideological roots in Rabbi Kook’s teachings. This multi-faceted stream sees political activism as the most productive way to achieve its goals. Though these parties are willing to sit in right-wing coalitions, their vision of Zion has marked differences – both in strategies and in goals.
Hating and fearing one’s grandparents
An increasing polarization between Israeli Jews has been developing over the past years, but has been quickening on steroids over the past year. Many Israeli Jewish citizens who oppose Bibi had great-grandparents who lived Orthodox lives in Eastern Europe or Morocco. They are finding themselves fearing and hating people who look awfully like their own great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers. On the other hand, Likud Coalition-connected conservative, right-wing and more traditionally minded secularists stand aghast as they watch opposition crowds (many who are descended from the original Zionist pioneers) lighting bonfires on Israeli freeways, sparring with police forces, blocking main traffic junctions, and threatening coalition politicians (including the PM and his family) at home or at work – even surrounding them and preventing them from accessing airports, etc.
- Will the secular vision of a Jewish state triumph in Tel Aviv, or will the religious vision of the rabbis win the day in Jerusalem? This hidden struggle lurks quietly beneath the surface of the political bayou in Israel, waiting to rise up at the appointed time.
The God of Jacob’s Last Days vision is neither secular nor rabbinic. When Messiah Yeshua sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem, all false idols and all broken cisterns (see Jeremiah 2:13) will be swept away; only the shining truth of YHVH will radiate from the Holy City, and the teaching of Yeshua’s New Covenant will flow out to the world.
A handful of my Messianic brothers look forward to the day when rabbinic authority will control the Temple Mount and the people of Israel. They have declared in print that this will be a righteous step in the direction of national Jewish salvation. The facts presented in this newsletter should encourage us to treat such perspectives with necessary caution.
Relocation, relocation, relocation
The political power groups attempting to take down Israel’s present government (see my previous newsletter) have privately (though this has become public knowledge over the past week) developed a strategy to weaken the present coalition diplomatically, economically and socially. This coordinated alignment of major companies, banks, hi-tech owners, MSM oligarchs, educational and medical organizations against the Netanyahu coalition government was demonstrated a few days ago when all the top major newspapers blacked out their front page on July 25, running an opposition ad declaring that the passage of a Knesset law 64 to 0 was ‘a black day for Israel.’
New waves of screaming headlines daily fan the flames in Israel, declaring that hi-tech and investment companies, medical personnel, internet and digital people are investigating possibilities of relocating out of Israel. Fear seems to be the overwhelming motive – either of rising religious power, or financial and social shakings. When former PM Ehud Olmert (who makes no secret of his hatred for PM Netanyahu) declares to British TV Channel 4 that “there is a threat. This is a serious threat. It’s never happened before and we are going into a civil war now,” one can understand how such unhelpful declarations could negatively affect some Israeli citizens. Moses’ prophetic curses in Deuteronomy 28:33-37 seem to find a measure of parallelism here.
How should we then pray?
- Pray for divine revelation to bring prophetic vision to Israel’s people and leadership presently caught up in deception
- Pray for fear to be melted away and for a new heart to be given to the sons and daughters of Jacob
- Pray for the outpouring of Holy Spirit on Israel, the Spirit of grace and supplications, leading to national salvation through Messiah Yeshua
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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