“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling…” (Psalm 46:1-3).
When natural destructions surge across the face of the planet, the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 46:7, 11). And His eye is not only on the sparrow; it focuses with special favor on the safety of the Jewish people and on His promises to them:
- “But now, this is what YHVH your Creator says, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel:Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are Mine!When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers – they will not overflow you …For I am YHVH your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.I have given Egypt as your ransom,Cush and Seva in your place.Since you are precious in My sight – since you are honored and I love you –I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.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: 1-6)
Many waters cannot quench God’s love for the Jewish people (Song of Solomon 8:15) – whether it be the roaring of flash floods or even the chest-tightening threats of Middle Eastern nations and world superpowers (Jeremiah 51:15).
By the rivers of Babylon
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing YHVH’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1, 4).
The anguish of Jewish captivity in Babylon echoes deep within the belly of the psalmist. It hurt to see his people imprisoned among the nations. The response of God’s heart was to breathe out a prophetic vision – the final return of the Jewish people to YHVH’s Jerusalem and to Zion’s God.
The Exile which so disturbed the psalmist began with the ethnic cleansing of Jewish Samaria by the Assyrians (approximately 722 BC) and of Jewish Judah by the Babylonians (approximately 586 BC). Violent Greek attempts at forced assimilation followed (approximately 168 BC) through Antiochus IV Epiphanes. A penultimate zenith was the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple in 70 AD. Mass enslavement and further scattering across the Mediterranean Basin were another segment of the bitter fruit of Exile. Finally, the jihadi invasion, conquest and resettling of the Land of Israel by Muslims (approximately 638 AD) attempted once and for all to cut the historical connection between the Promised Land and God’s Jewish people (see Psalm 105:5-15, 42-44; Ezekiel 36:1-12).
The fullness of the prophet’s vision – the complete regathering of the Jewish people – is yet future (see Ezekiel 39:27-29). To this very day the majority of the Jewish people are living in the Exile, outside of the Land of Israel. Though the gates of Zion did swing open to Jacob’s scattered children nearly seventy years ago, less than one third of the wandering sheep of Israel have made it home so far.
- Why have the majority of Jews stayed in the Exile?
- How do most Jewish people understand this divine moment in Hebrew history?
- What will be the decisive events which will bring the children of the Patriarchs back to their Promised Land?
Exile – one can get used to it
“And they wandered about from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people…” (Psalm 105:13).
The original fear of mankind after Noah’s Flood was that God would dislodge them from the safety of the Plain of Shinar and scatter them across the face of the earth: “Let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Simeon and Levi’s punishment for dishonoring Jacob was to be scattered among the nation of Israel and not have a tribal inheritance (Genesis 49:7). The Jewish people’s disobedience to God’s Mosaic Covenant would lead to worldwide scattering, an Exile of global proportions (Leviticus 26:32-39; Deuteronomy 4:26-28; 28:63-68).
We Jewish people have found ourselves traveling from land to land, across seas and oceans, for the better part of 2,700 years. At times we were able to make it back to our homeland, as in the days of Hillel the Elder, Joseph and Mary, and David Ben-Gurion. But many Jews, often the majority, stayed in the Exile and did not return home to Judah, like Mordecai and Esther.
A total of perhaps 50,000 Jews returned to the Land of Israel (see Ezra 2:64-65) in the first main wave of aliyah led by Zerubbavel, while Ezra and later Nehemiah brought perhaps 5,000 Hebrew returnees (though see Nehemiah 7:66-67). The majority of the Jewish exiles remained in Persia and Babylon (modern Iran and Iraq) for another 2,500 years.
Jeremiah had given short-term instructions for the original Jewish exiles to Babylon – settle in for a longer season than you might have wanted:
- “Thus says YHVH of armies, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to YHVH on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Jeremiah’s instructions were not supposed to have a 2,000 year shelf life, however – only for 70 years: “For thus says YHVH, When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you, declares YHVH, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:10-11).
The Jewish community of Babylon got comfortable in Babylon and ending up staying there en masse until 1951-52 AD, when EL AL Israel Airlines conducted Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. Between 120,000 and 130,000 Iraqi Jews were airlifted in a secret operation back to the Promised Land (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ezra_and_Nehemiah). At that time the state of Israel printed and distributed a manifesto calling on Iraq’s Jews to immigrate. The handbill started with the following words: “O, Zion, flee, daughter of Babylon,” (Isaiah 48:20; Zechariah 12:7) and concluded thus: “Jews! Israel is calling you – come out of Babylon!” (Jeremiah 51:6).
- History shows that people tend to prefer continuity to change, and Jews are no different. One of the main reasons Jewish people stayed in exile is that they stopped seeing Exile as a negative thing.
Moyshe Rabbenu (Yiddish for Moses our Teacher) prophesied that Jewish existence in the Exile would involve constant persecution and insecurity.
- “Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there YHVH will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see” (Deuteronomy 28:65-67)
Many Jewish people saw our entire Exilic existence as a continual fleeing from one country to another. When Crusaders began to slaughter the Jewish people in medieval France or the Rhine Valley, the Hebrew nation edged its way eastward to Poland, the Ukraine and Russia. When pogroms and massacres broke out in Kiev, Warsaw and Odessa (1881-84), or again in Kishinev, Odessa and 62 other towns and 626 villages between 1903-1906 (mostly in the Ukraine, Bessarabia and Crimea), vast numbers of Jews fled toward the closest or most secure possibilities of shelter – westward in the direction of Western Europe. But even more sons and daughters of Israel held their breath and crossed the Atlantic in steerage to North and South America – di goldeneh medineh (Yiddish for ‘the Golden Land’).
During that period (1880-1920) over two million Jews immigrated to the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_the_United_States#Immigration_of_Central_and_Eastern_European_Jews). At the same time (1882-1914) a total of 75,000 Jews migrated to Turkish-controlled Palestine. After the British liberated Palestine from the Muslim Turks, the Mandatory authorities did whatever was in Whitehall’s power to crush Jewish immigration and stop Hebrew refugees from arriving in the Land of Israel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliyah_Bet; www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/british-restrictions-on-jewish-immigration-to-palestine).
- There was a measure of hidden divine grace during this period. The pogroms stampeded many Jewish people out of Eastern Europe and into North and South America. As a result at least two million of Jacob’s children were spared the genocidal murder-march of Hitler’s Nazis – a Holocaust which wiped out six million European Jews. This people-movement of Jewish refugees which began 50 years before Auschwitz and ended 15 years before the Nuremberg Laws, preserved up to one quarter of Europe’s Jews, though few were aware of this at the time.
“I’m sure things will get better”
There is a famous quote in the movie Schindler’s List when the Jews of Kraków had been moved by the Nazis into the Plaszow work camp. Some of them are standing around an empty oil barrel/ primitive fire pit, with scrap wood burning to warm their hands. “It can’t get any worse than this. This is as bad as it’s going to get!” says one Jewish man. In the next scene it gets excruciatingly worse.
This scenario underscores how people will often remain in hard or even destructive situations, believing that somehow things will get better. Jewish people have the same hopes. Many stayed in countries where they were being oppressed, tortured or murdered, believing that sunny skies were right around the corner.
Iranian Jews in 1978 watched as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ascended to his terror rule over the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many Iranian Jews (like Iraq’s Babylonian Jewish community) spoke of Cyrus (II) the Great as a defender and protector of the Jewish community since 550 BC. Nothing bad could possibly happen in Iran, they thought. It will soon blow over.
Today the Jews of Western Europe (France, Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, etc.) are feeling the tremors which come prior to the big earthquakes. Anti-Semitic attacks, anti-Zionist attacks, Islamist terror attacks on Jews – they are all growing by leaps and bounds.
An excellent Israeli series on these trends (with a strong prophetic undertone) is available on YouTube:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR7REARFFpQ (especially part 4 – Europe’s Jews)
The Charlottesville Nazi-Antifa clashes have highlighted the rise of fascism in both white supremacist and leftist/anarchist manifestations. Many American Jews are beginning to ask if what happened in Nazi and Communist Europe could happen in the West and especially in North America.
Life is not easy in Israel
It is exciting to see how many Jewish people are making aliyah and moving to Israel. But not all is pink champagne. At same time, over the past years (1949-2015) between 250,000 and 750,00 Israelis have left the Jewish homeland. Some common reasons for emigration include the high cost of living, a desire to escape from the ongoing violence and the Arab–Israeli conflict, professional or academic ambitions, and disappointment with Israeli society.
It has been said that the children of pioneers did not ask to be pioneers. Many of the children or grandchildren of the original Zionist pioneers and idealists do not have a biblical perspective on what God is doing in restoring the Jewish people to their homeland. They do not know of the coming challenges, victories and trials ahead. They have never heard of the mighty army of Ezekiel 37:9-11, or that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26-29; Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The gilded call of the Exile is still attractive to many Israelis. And many Jewish people who live in the West still feel that the Jewish homeland is not necessarily their personal destiny or their calling.
As I live, declares YHVH
The God of Jacob, who reached into Egypt to rescue a slave-people, has plans of His own to set up His throne in Jerusalem. The scattering which is known as the Exile or the Diaspora (Greek word meaning dispersion) is coming to an end. God will purify His people. He will cleanse them. He will restore them. It will not be a restoration of a Russian Jewish culture (like Fiddler on the Roof). It will not be a renaissance of a Rabbinic Judaism crafted in Babylon on the banks of the Euphrates and then sprinkled with Messianic holy water. It will be so powerful that one could call it ‘a New Exodus.’
- “As I live, declares YHVH God, surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples (midbar amim), and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face.As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares YHVH God. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am YHVH” (Ezekiel 20:33-38)
- “I will strengthen the house of Judah and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them back because I have had compassion on them. And they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lordtheir God and I will answer them…And their heart will be glad as if from wine. Indeed, their children will see it and be glad. Their heart will rejoice in YHVH.I will whistle for them to gather them together for I have redeemed them, and they will be as numerous as they were before.When I scatter them among the peoples, they will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back.I will bring them back from the land of Egypt and gather them from Assyria. And I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon until no room can be found for them.And they will pass through the sea of distress and He will strike the waves in the sea so that all the depths of the Nile will dry up. And the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the scepter of Egypt will depart.And I will strengthen them in YHVH, and in His name they will walk, declares YHVH” (Zechariah 10:6-12)
Fishers, hunters and assorted anti-Semites
A Communist revolutionary mother once told her son, “Come the Revolution, there will be a chicken in every pot!” The young boy answered, “But mom, I don’t like chicken!” Unperturbed, the mother declared, “Come the Revolution, you will like chicken!”
In a similar way, though right now some Jewish people don’t like the thought of moving back to Israel, the day will come when all Jews will not only like that thought, but will actually speed their way to their own Promised Homeland. “When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall be sanctified through them in the sight of the many nations. Then they will know that I am YHVH their God because I made them go into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land; and I will leave none of them there any longer” (Ezekiel 39:27-28).
Jeremiah prophesies that YHVH will bring His Jewish people back to their own land and end the Exile. He will also use the nations to complete this process, whether by hook or by crook, with a carrot or with a stick.
- “Therefore behold, days are coming, declares YHVH Lord, when it will no longer be said, ‘As YHVH lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’but, ‘As YHVH lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen, declares YHVH, and they will fish for them. And afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and from the clefts of the rocks. For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes. I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land…” (Jeremiah 16:14-18)
Point seven on God’s Richter scale
- The stirring of anti-Semitism on the Right, on the Left and in the Islamist world all have End of Days significance. These events call out to believers worldwide to focus – even as rivers overflow their banks and earthquakes shake everything that can be shaken.
How should we then pray?
- Pray for the nation of Israel to receive a revelation of God’s heart and loving call for the Jewish people
- Pray specifically for the frustrating, the exposing and the suppression of all plans, strategies and weapons raised against the Jewish people (Isaiah 54:17)
- Pray for believers worldwide to receive a spirit of revelation about these matters, that they might come into alignment with God’s word and heart (Ephesians 3:14-19; Isaiah 62:1, 6-7)
- Pray for the Jewish people worldwide to receive revelation regarding these days of division and anti-Semitism – that they might hear and follow the voice of Israel’s Messiah regarding the right steps to take
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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