Israel’s GOOD Shepherd
This is a long but, I believe, important article. Before reading it, please go to the following passages in your Bible:
Ezekiel 20:5-44 and Ezekiel 36:19-22 – concerning Israel’s profaning of the name of the Lord.
Ezekiel 36:23-28 and Ezekiel 39:7-8 – concerning God’s intention to sanctify His name in His works with Israel and in His dealing with Israel’s enemies.
Now read the following concerning God’s promises to the nation of Israel after their dispersion and at the time of their ingathering back into the Land He gave them (my emphasis throughout):
I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:6-7)
For thus says the Lord: “Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; Proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save Your people, the remnant of Israel!’
“Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the ends of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and the one who labors with child, together; a great throng shall return there.
“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say,
‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’ (Jeremiah 31:7-8,10)
Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’
“For thus says the Lord: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them. And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, “It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.” Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 32:37-44)
I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;
They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God. (Amos 9-14-15)
One more time, please read this next passage again:
And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36: 23-28)
With this Scriptural groundwork laid, we can proceed:
There are two positions held and being advanced by millions of professing Christians today that should, I believe, cause grave concern to all who revere the name of the LORD.
One of these has been widely subscribed to in all streams of Christendom since it was rolled out by early ‘Church fathers:’ that due to Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah she has no further part to play in the redemption plan of Almighty God, that as a nation the Jewish people have lost their significance.
This heresy is known as ‘Replacement Theology’ or ‘Supersessionism.’ We will not attend to it here, but its injurious and almost irreversible impact on Christian-Jewish relations and its contribution to the second position that we aim to discuss in this article cannot be ignored.
It is this second stance that is more immediately troubling, a pernicious teaching that has found multiple adherents among pro-Israel Evangelicals: that after returning home following nearly 2000 years in exile, the Jews are destined to go through another holocaust that will see the annihilation of two-thirds of them, with the remaining third finally realizing their error in the horror of that destruction and accepting Jesus as Messiah.
This belief is so widespread and fast-growing that – were God’s name not being profaned in it – it would seem almost pointless to try to address.
I believe unreservedly that the teaching that the Jews are returning home to face another genocidal war is unscriptural and that this teaching profanes the name of the Lord. For it holds that God will not keep His repeated promises to His long scattered – but now being restored – ancient people.
Let’s briefly revisit what happened when the Israelites were brought out of Egypt.
God had promised Abraham that He would bring his descendents out after 400 years of slavery, and that He would settle them in the land He had promised to Abraham – the land of Canaan. (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6) When He heard the cries of the Israelites in bondage, God remembered that promise (Exodus 2:24) and executed their deliverance. When subsequently, as a result of their unfaithfulness, the Lord was tempted to slay them in the wilderness, Moses interceded for the sake of the Lord’s name – in fact for the sake of His reputation – reminding Him of His promise and pleading with Him: “Now if you kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness.’” (Numbers 14:15-16)
God had promised to settle the people of Israel in their land. Any insinuation that He was unable to keep His word was a profanation of His name.
And when, centuries later, the Israelites’ adulterous behavior led to them being exiled among the Gentiles, God says that they profaned His name because once again men were mockingly questioning His ability to keep them in the land He had given them. (Ezekiel 36:20)
It was not that they went from place to place cursing God – they didn’t. In fact, in a great many instances they stayed true to their Judaism, practicing it in the face of intense persecution. Nonetheless, the fact that the gentiles were able to scoff at God for being “unable” to keep His people faithful and secure in their land – that itself was a profaning of His holy name.
Which brings us to God’s Word, pledge, promise and commitment to the Jewish people AFTER their centuries of exile.
Concerning the restoration of scattered Israel, the Bible is as unambiguous as it is consistent: The Jewish people are being returned and restored to their land so that the Lord may keep them here as a shepherd keeps His sheep.
Look again at the verses reproduced near the top of this article.
God is bringing them back to plant, keep and bless them in the land.
He has set His eyes on them “for good” and is returning them “to do them good.” In the doing of it, He will rejoice over them with all of His heart and all of His soul.
He will bring them back and cause them to dwell safely. He will bless them back in their land with an abundance of wine and fruit.
He will build them and not pull them down, plant them and not pluck them up.
We Gentiles are to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for Israel’s time of great tribulation has come to an end.
(This is not saying that Israel will no longer be TARGETED for destruction, she will be and indeed she is. However, as we also read in the Bible, it is Israel that will spend months burying untold numbers of her slain enemies. Nowhere is it written that massive numbers of Jews will be killed and have to be buried.)
The Jews are being nationally restored because the set time to favor Zion has come.
The texts and promises are without ambiguity. Their message is complete and consistent. And there are many more than what I have quoted from here.
Not one of these prophecies of Israel’s restoration foretells an ingathering followed by a slaughter out of which only a remnant will emerge unscathed to be blessed.
To the contrary, the Jewish people, battered and bruised from endless wandering and untold persecution, have been promised by the God Who names Himself after them, that their return home itself marks the winding up of their time of trouble.
It is a remnant, those few who survive, which returns home. It is NOT a remnant of those who return home which survives!1
Through Moses long ago the Lord warned Israel that, as a consequence of their unfaithfulness to Him, their people would be mass killed in their land, and those who survived would be driven from their country and scattered abroad.
So it happened. Their land was laid waste, bereft of them, desolate without them2.
The Bible also tells us that as a consequence of God’s faithfulness to the Covenant He made with Himself3 concerning Israel, and because of His vow concerning the perpetuity of this nation, He would one day stretch out His hand and regather the people, their national home would be physically reconstituted, and their land would come back to life.
And so it has happened, and is happening.
This biblical precept, that Israel’s scattering out of her land signifies being cursed, and her gathering back into her land signifies being blessed, was established at the start.
Because of their continuing and worsening transgression, the nation’s going into captivity from the land God gave them out among the nations of the earth was to be the ultimate manifestation of the increasingly severe curses Israel would come under.
The people would have no place to rest their feet. They would be hated and persecuted wherever they went; efforts to render them extinct would intensify over time. And all the while, their land would lie unwanted, its once fertile fields barren, its forested hills denuded, deserts and swamps taking over as the place was left to “enjoy its Sabbaths4.”
God would turn His face away from His people, in fact He would “hide” His face from them (Deuteronomy 31:17) and stop up His ears so as not to hear their prayers (Jeremiah 11:14; Ezekiel 8:18). They would be exiled from their land and be placed in the hands of their enemies. These curses would be manifest because of their sin.
And they were. (Ezekiel 39:23-24)
Two thousand years ago, the people of Israel moved into the shadow of God’s judgment and disfavor. Darkness covered the land, all the terrible things they had been warned about began to come upon them, destruction and desolation came to the Holy Place of the Most High and those who were not slaughtered went into captivity.
HOWEVER, because of the Lord’s loving-kindness, grace and enduring mercy, and because He is tied to His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel, God, who knows the end from the beginning, set a future time when He would turn back His face; when His heart would churn within Him and His sympathy would be stirred; when instead of executing the fierceness of His anger, the light of His countenance and blessing would rise to shine once again over His nation and over His land (Isaiah 60).
When that time came, blessing would return to Israel, the most vivid and unmistakable sign of which would be the nation’s re-gathering from the four corners of the earth back into the land God has given them.
And He would preserve them in this land “like a shepherd keeps his sheep,” come what may.
This He has said – repeatedly and emphatically – that He will do.
And it is this thing that He is doing in our day. Against all odds He has brought them back and continues to bring them back, for He is resolved to forgive, cleanse, and restore Israel to life5.
He stretched forth His hand to regather them. A trickle became a flood, hundreds then thousands then hundreds of thousands and ultimately more than a million Jewish people at a time returned to the land.
The people came back to the land and the land came back to the people, first small parcels, then large swathes, thousands of hectares, then half the land and half of Jerusalem, and ultimately most of the rest of the land and the rest of Jerusalem.6
Their return has been opposed with fury. Israel’s gestation (1882-1947) was marked with intensifying violence. Her rebirth (1948) happened in the fires of war. Her existence since then (1948-2014) has seen a war fought every decade, with almost unbroken terrorism hammering away at her in between.
And today she faces the existential threat of a soon-to-be nuclear-armed Islamist Iran.
But she has not been vanquished. In fact, she has miraculously overcome, against insuperable odds. While Israel has suffered many casualties, she has not come close to being annihilated, nor will she ever be.
The Bible tells us that when the threat of obliteration is at its greatest, the LORD Himself will go forth and fight against all the nations that come against her. When He does so, all the nations will know that He is the LORD, and all Israel will know that He is the LORD.
Again, He is going to KEEP her as a shepherd keeps his sheep.
He promised to draw Israel back to Himself with tender cords of love. Tender cords of love, NOT the jagged cords of a lash.
He is doing this for the sake of His holy name7.
The physical return of the Jewish people to their land, and the physical restoration of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, would be followed – and is to be followed – by the nation’s return to her God8.
Surely this is very, very good news! The passage quoted above exhorts us to “sing with gladness,” because of what we see and hear God doing with Israel (We are NOT exhorted to spread dire warnings of impending destruction of Israel is or sure!) We are to shout aloud to the nations to take note of the wonder of the Lord’s unfolding purposes for His ancient people.
It is wonderful news for, as Paul says, if Israel’s being cast away led to the reconciling of the world to God, what will Israel’s acceptance be but life from the dead?
And indeed! Believing Christians the world over were electrified – many having their faith thrillingly recharged – when the physical reconstitution of the Jewish people that began in the late 1800s climaxed with the coming to independence of the nation-state in 1948. Israel’s breathtaking victories in successive wars added faith upon faith.
The Lord, these Christians understood, really had said in His Word what He meant to do. And He really did mean to do what He said.
And He is!
While it has not by any means been most of the world’s professing Christians who have understood what is unfolding in these days, the number of Believers who have had – and who continue to have – their eyes opened by the momentous event of Israel’s rebirth is in the millions.
How very tragic, then, that the majority of these Christians – who do understand this to be the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and God’s keeping of His Word – insist on seeing this marvelous truth with only one eye, even as the other remains fixed on a man-made End Time scenario that completely misses the point!
For far too many, Israel’s physical ingathering does NOT signify the end of the curses Moses warned of. On the contrary, many thousands of preachers preach – and therefore lead untold numbers of Christians to believe – that the physical rebirth of Israel is to be followed by yet more mass suffering and death for this people.
Wretchedly, some of the most well-known and influential pro-Israel voices in the Evangelical world are teaching and declaring that the Holocaust of World War Two will pale into insignificance against what is yet to come upon the Jewish people after they are back in their land.
Yes, a myriad positive and affirming books, articles, sermons and lectures have been inspired by the multiple prophetic passages in the Bible speaking of God’s restoration of the scattered remnant of Israel9 to her land.
And yet, these same books, articles, sermons and lectures assert that the “time of Jacob’s trouble10” is yet to come, and that the remnant of Israel God is currently restoring to the land is to be decimated once again! This egregious error is founded on just one passage from Zechariah11 to which other Scriptures have been glued to ‘substantiate’ the misinterpretation.
To accept the error means that we have to tamper with God’s Word, that we must insert a clause of impending judgment upon the returned nation of Israel into all the prophecies of restoration contained in the Bible.
Embracing this skewed eschatological expectation has dire consequences for Israel and for the Church:
It means that instead of PARTICIPATING in what God is doing in, with and for Israel, most pro-Israel Christians feel they can stand on the sidelines and OBSERVE it all. It renders paltry and – when the crunch comes – ineffective, most Christian efforts to support and comfort them.
And Israel is left standing virtually alone in a world almost crazed with hatred for the people of God.
Ironically, the expectation of a yet-to-come “time of Jacob’s trouble” hinders the efforts of the very churches, organizations and Christian groups that claim to stand with Israel and who are trying to encourage many more to come alongside the Jewish people.
Indeed, how can we in good conscience say we stand wholeheartedly with Israel, and encourage and facilitate the Jews’ return to their land, if our expectation is that many millions of them are still going to perish under God’s curse?
Can it be that, as saved men and women, we consider that God is on ‘our side’ while we regard unbelieving Jews – as much as we may ‘love’ them – as deserving of punishment until they soften their stiff necks and turn to Him?
This is the attitude that has infected the behavior of so many Christians towards the Jewish people down the centuries. And it has grown out of that other terrible teaching mentioned earlier, Replacement Theology, which taught generations of Christians that that because ‘the Jews killed Christ’12 they are cursed to suffer persecution and displacement until they accept Him. (As a point of interest, this second part, about the Jews being fated to be out of their land until they converted to Christianity, was dogma in Roman Catholicism and elsewhere until Israel was reborn.)
Brothers and sisters, we need to stay with God’s Word – with all of it.
We are to pray, “Hallowed be Your name,” and not add to those who would profane His name.
The Bible says that God is restoring Israel physically in order to restore them spiritually to life.
And it says that the Enemy of our God and of His purposes will work to unite our countries and bring them in full, armed array against the restored nation.
From here on the walls of Jerusalem we are watching the groundwork being prepared for this confrontation. We know that its realization is just a matter of time.
A question we need to ask, and answer for ourselves, is where we will be when our nations make their move.
They are already moving. Where, then, do we already stand today?
1 The estimated 13 million Jews in the world today (six million of them in Israel) comprise just a remnant of what the nation’s size would have been had they not been exiled and persecuted for the last 2000 years. It is no exaggeration to say that, had they remained in their land and multiplied and prospered for the last 20 centuries, the Jews would today outnumber the Chinese. Instead, their numbers were repeatedly hacked back and hewn down, with the last and greatest loss being Hitler’s efforts to exterminate them during World War Two. Those who have returned to Israel – and those yet to return, are indisputably a remnant.
2 Isaiah 1:7
3 Genesis 15:7-21; Hebrews 6:13
4 Leviticus 26:27-35; Deuteronomy 28:58-67
5 Deuteronomy 30:1-6
6 The place of His habitation, however, still lies desolate; the place of His throne, the place where He has put His name is covered by a Herodian platform on which sits a gold-domed building whose walls proclaim that there is no god but Allah and that he has no son. Clearly there is more that needs to happen – a great deal more.
7 Ezekiel 36:22
8 Ezekiel 36:24-28
9 Isaiah 11:11`
10 Jeremiah 30:7.
11 Zechariah 13:8 to 14:2
12 Concerning the canard that “the Jews killed Christ” let us be clear: First, Jesus Himself said, “No man takes My life from Me, I lay it down by Myself.” (John 10:17-18) Second, the Jewish religious leaders called for Jesus’ crucifixion, but myriads of other Jews loved Him and believed in Him. Third, it was Romans – AKA Gentiles – who hung Him on the cross and physically killed Him. And fourth, MY sins put Him there – I cannot place blame at any door other than my own.