In these days, much of the world is busy watching the World Cup 2018 from Moscow. Others who may read the non-sport news would be hearing much about the Airborne Fire Bombs and Arson Kites in the southern border of Israel in Gaza. However, there are other stories about Israel that you don’t hear in your international news.
God is at work in Israel in an amazing ways. The Old Testament clearly displays the goodness of God to Israel, not because we deserved it, but because He is a loving, faithful and gracious God. A careful reading of the narratives in the Old Testament, clearly shows the unfaithfulness and short comings of Israel. We see it particularly in the Exodus narrative that after all the miracles that God did and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, they made a golden calf and said this is the God who has brought you out of Egypt. This was not the first nor the last sin and idolatry of Israel. Eventually, God send both the northern and southern kingdom to exile. And yet in the pages of the Old Testament, side by side we read about the Israel's faithlessness and God's faithfulness and goodness.
In scriptures we see a pattern that is repeated again and again. The faithfulness of God to his promises and covenants are not dependent on the performance of man. This pattern continues throughout the Old and the New Testament. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 22, the pages of biblical history are packed with accounts of God’s faithfulness and our lack of it. He is a trustworthy God. He is such, because first of all his Word tells us, and secondly we see his records in our lives!
The climax of God's faithfulness to his promises is seen at the cross in Calvary. It was on the cross that the Son of God paid the total and final price for fulfilling the promises made thousands of years earlier. Humanly speaking, it is utterly amazing to think that the living God who made all things out of nothing and sustains both the seen and unseen world, would remain faithful to his promises to us, the dust of the earth! Such love and sacrifice seen from the very beginning of creation is climaxed in the coming of the Son of God and his atonement on the cross. The depth and width of his love and grace for us is incomprehensible. Indeed, what really kept Jesus on the cross wasn’t the nails that the Roman soldiers hammered into his hands and feet, but rather it his love that kept him hanging on the cross till the end, and he could say "it is finished!" This amazing truth is very relevant to Israel and its modern history, and not only because these events happened in the land of Israel.
The Assyrian and Babylonian exile of the northern Kingdom and southern kingdom, was the greatest tragedy of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The book of Lamentations describes the pain, the hardship and the destruction. It is a book that according to Jewish tradition both temples were destroyed, which is the 9th of the Jewish month of Av. Many of the prophets prophesied the exile but also the return to the land. While we can look at many of the prophets, about the return, I think that the one that stands out the most for me is the words of Ezekiel before the vision of the dry bones of Ezekiel.
In Ezekiel 36: 24-32, we read:
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (ESV, emphasis added)
Ezekiel wrote these words from the Babylon exile, time after time uses the action verb of "I will". God promises that he will gather them from the various nations, and bring them in their own land. But also that He will sprinkle them with clean water and cleanse them and give them a new heart. The faithfulness of God is seen not only in the physical realm of gathering them in their father's land, but also the spiritual realm. He will save them from their uncleanness and will be bless them in the land. And all of these and more he does for his name sake.
While there is much argument about the land of Israel in our days and times, and without getting into politics, there is one thing that is very clear, at least to me. God is not done with Israel, because he is the covenant keeper God. And the restoration of the land of Israel is a mean to bring spiritual restoration to the people of Israel.
The Signs of Restoration in our Days
This May we celebrated our 70th anniversary of our independence. But in these last couple of years, we are seeing a true spiritual rebirth of the Jews, as once again they are returning back to God of the fathers and their Messiah. While Israel is still a very secular nation, yet more and more Israelis are calling to the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In Jesus they are finding light and life.
Today, in Israel and among Jewish people in other countries, we see how God slowly but surely is drawing them to himself. One soul at a time! Not in great numbers yet, but it is happening more and more. We are seeing an openness towards the gospel that was not there five or ten years ago. More Israelis are being converted and baptized both in our church, Grace and Truth, as well as other churches. In one congregation last year they had 39 people who were baptized in one day. While Israel today is a nation that is far away from God, living an immoral lives, and yet God is on the move among us. He is acting just as we saw in Ezekiel 36 and drawing people to himself, and cleansing them from all their uncleanness.
A simple survey of the 70 years of Israel as a state reveals much of the goodness of God also in the material realm. There are many other fantastic things happening in Israel. In any website like Wikipedia one can easily read of the many inventions in Israel. Israel is called The Startup Nation and there is even a book written by that name, which has been translated in more than 20 languages. The book tries to answer the question "how is it that a small country of about 8 million, in seventy years, being surrounded by enemies that is in constant state of war, produces more startups than large peaceful nations like India, Korea, Japan UK and China?" Israel's technology has contributed hugely to the welfare of the nations in many fields. Israel has the third highest number of entrepreneurship.
At the same time it has the highest ratio of college degrees and museums. The irrigations and saltation invention and products from Israel is helping many African and other countries to be more efficient in their water usage in agriculture and other water consuming activities. In medicine the pill sized camera capsule helped hugely in the gastrointestinal diagnostics.
In technology Motorola invented the cellphone in Israel, also the first antivirus software was developed in Israel. And finally something that is close to my heart – Israel publishes more books translated from other languages than any other nation in the world, and actually has the world's second highest per capita of new books that is published yearly. And, as the director of HaGefen publishing in Israel, this is an area that is near and dear to me.
These are just a small sampling of our nation in its 70th anniversary. It is not something to boost or to be proud about, but to be thankful to the Lord for all the great things that he has done in and through our small nation of Israel and the Jewish people. And these because of his promises and who He is as covenant keeper God.
The openness of the Gospel is seen in many different parts of the society. We are seeing it among the younger generation, and the Holocaust survivors and even among the orthodox and ultra-orthodox community. Thankfully we are seeing a second generations not only coming to faith, but they are very bold to share their faith with others and to give of their lives for the cause of the Gospel. Here is one short story:
My name is Maayan Zadok, I’m 21 years old. I finished 27 months of service in the Israel Defense Forces (military service is mandatory in Israel for both men and woman) in late October. I knew I wanted to serve the Lord somewhere in the world after my service. And God opened the door to serve in New Zealand with Israeli Backpackers at a hostel. In NZ, local believers have been hosting Israeli travelers for the last 20 years. In the last few years, a lodge opened that hosts Israelis for 3 nights for free. It is located in Wanaka (one of New Zealand’s most beautiful cities and located near a breath taking national park). Most travelers in NZ, pass through this town which makes the place popular. In various events we share the gospel with them, as they are open to hear. Most of the evangelism happens in conversations with the guests. Whenever we do a check-in the first thing we say is who we are in and more importantly in who we believe.
Most of the traveling Israelis are in their 20’s and are seeking meaning for their life. They are thinking a lot about creation, about their existence and about God. Others have their life view sorted out, but what we see is that God touches their heart through the love shown in the lodge by the staff. Many of them stay with Christian families, and have been exposed to the gospel. God uses all of these as stops in the life of the travelers. Christ is the center in all that we do and say! Many Israelis travel the world after their military service and are curious about the world, about cultures and about religion. God uses all of this for His glory.
I had the privilege to serve in NZ for 5 months, and to be a small part of the huge work that God is doing. He’s put Israel on the heart of many believers and uses the love in their heart. It’s hard to stay indifferent when such love is expressed to you, and truly this is love that only God can put in a mans heart. You can pray for the work going on in New Zealand with the Israeli backpackers through different facilities and different families. The work with them is also done in other countries around the world. May God open many hearts to the most amazing message anyone could hear.
Israel in 70 years has much to be thankful to the Lord for his faithfulness, in fulfilling the promises and the prophecies of the prophets like Ezekiel and others. In these 70 years Israel has made much progress and advancement in many areas and has made the desert bloom. However, I believe that God has something more for us as a nation and country. We were called to be a light to the nations and that call has not stopped, and a day will come and I hope soon, that we will bring the message of the free grace of God to the world. No other nation like Israel has experienced for thousands of years the grace and goodness of God. And now in Christ we can tell about him who was pierced for us, and for two thousand years we rejected him. This is the future that I can foresee, where Israel becomes a missionary sending country, and that one day we will become again a light to the nations – in the spiritual realm as well. At this point in our history we still need much of your support prayers. You, in Holland, have been very kind to us and our work in Israel and also to other mission work to Jewish people in other countries as well. I want to take this opportunity to thank you whole heartily for all that you have done and are doing for us as the Isaac da Costa fond.
What the next 70 years has for us no one knows – may be the Lord will return before that! However, looking back and seeing the promises of God in the past and in the recent trends, we can only be very joyful and hopeful, and can say that the future is as bright as the Son!
I like to close by asking us all to apply the words of prophet Isaiah in chapter 62:1
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. (ESV)