HER PEOPLE HAVE BECOME OUR PEOPLE….
Monday, August 29, 2006 was an historic day for my wife, our five children and I as we simultaneously experienced two miracles that changed our lives.
First, at around 09:30, an employee at the Tel Aviv offices of the Israeli Interior Ministry smiled at us.
The second miracle – a somewhat bigger one: She handed us seven, brand new, residency certificates and wished us all “good luck.”
“Thus you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 47:21-23)
After nearly 19 years in Israel – fifteen of them consecutive – I was at last allowed (officially) to regard this land as my place of residence; its people as my own, our own. Yes, we were still Gentiles (and have never entertained any thoughts about changing this), and there was still a little way to go before we could become – please God – full citizens of this country. But somehow, as we drove back up to Jerusalem on that day, and wound our way through her familiar streets towards our rented apartment home, things looked different: More permanent; more “ours.”
Do I need to try and describe the feelings, how thrilled we all were, and how thankful we were to God – our God, Israel’s God – for blessing us with the tremendous privilege of calling His Land our own?
Of course, we shared the news immediately with our Israeli friends and neighbors, our family dentist, our optician, our pharmacist, our landlord, our children’s teachers. Many congratulated us excitedly; most were pleased; a few seemed perplexed: “You really WANT to belong here?” some asked, only half-joking.
To belong here? To be a part of this nation which the world so hates, and which our God so loves? To call Israel – officially – home? Oh how much we had wanted to belong!
I had long believed that Israel would be my home, was my home. As a young Christian reared by God-fearing parents, a deep and permanent love for the People of Israel was planted in my heart. As – back home in South Africa – we sang Hebrew songs and began every week – in what would become an ongoing practice – to welcome in the Sabbath, those roots burrowed downwards and the branches reached upwards to become an irremovable tree.
When I first came here in the mid-1980s, it was to experience and investigate an alluring Land and a phenomenal People.
The Land attracted me because, in a sense, I knew it better than I knew my own, even though I had never been here before. Like multitudes of Christians around the world and down through time, I had grown up learning all about it; not about the geography of the modern day State of Israel, but about the geography – the mountains, valleys, deserts, coastal plain, seas, river and brooks – of the Holy Land, the Land of the Patriarchs, the Land of Canaan, the Land of the Hebrews, Judah, Samaria, Gaza, the Land of Israel, the Land of the Bible.
I knew much of it in my head, but wanted to see it with my eyes, feel it with my hands; tread it with my feet. This Land was special to my God. It had, surely, to be special to me?
I found that it was. And – the awesome truth that makes the lie of 99 percent of the world’s political assertions about this territory – I found that the biblical geography and modern-day geography is the same geography. For this is the same land.
The People were phenomenal to me simply because they were, and they are, a phenomenon. There is no other nation like this nation, nor has there ever been. The people of Israel are matchless – in their origins; in their establishment and development; in their contributions to ancient civilization and to modern civilization; in how much and for how long they have been hated, and in their survival of every effort conceived by man to eradicate them; in their place in the plan of God; in the deep-running, foundational faith that sets them apart and makes them unique; in the very eyes of the Creator of all flesh:
For as Moses says:
“[Y]ou are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth…” (Deuteronomy 7:6-7)
As King David exulted:
“And who is like Your people Israel, the one nation on the earth whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people — to make for Yourself a name by great and awesome deeds, by driving out nations from before Your people whom You redeemed from Egypt? For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people forever; and You, LORD, have become their God.” (1 Chronicles 17:21-22)
And as God Himself says:
“…he who touches you [Israel] touches the apple of His [God’s] eye.” (Zechariah 2:8)
How much we love them. This precious people so hated by the world because, simply because, God has named them as His own and promised to bless all mankind through them.
Boring and mundane they are not. Wonderful, colorful, zesty, prickly on the outside, warm and sweet on the inside. A nation of heroes. True survivors. Not always so easy to get along with, but always longing for others to get along with them. How lonely they are; how unloved they feel. And like all who are loved-starved, how hungrily they respond to our love. The more the world hates them, the more we are driven to love and embrace these precious people.
And how much we owe them! Because of their calling, because they served as the custodians of the oracles of God: because of who and what they are I have my Christian faith; my Bible with all my Hebrew Scripture and New Testament heroes; my understanding of What and Who God is; my hope of eternal life; the worldwide Bible-believing Church to which I belong.
Because of them – because it was here I was married and here our offspring were born – I even have my wife and my children. Everything that I hold most precious and dear, of eternal value, I have because of the Jewish people.
There is one more thing I owe them, that thing of inestimable value: my relationship with my Messiah and my Lord and, through Him, my knowledge of God’s love for me. For it was through this nation that Jesus came. It was in this Land, as a Jew, that He was born, grew up, lived and died; a Son of Abraham, an Israelite of the Tribe of Judah, a descendant of David the king. Dedicated in the Temple; circumcised on the 8th day, bar-mitzva’d at 12, steeped in Torah and dedicated to serving the LORD, He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews – a Jew.
And when He returns to Jerusalem – His own city, and now ours too – He will come as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (still a Jew) and take up His place as the King of all Israel’s kings – seated on David’s throne!
Even as we grip and are guided by these eternal truths, we do not live here in some kind of euphoric, super-spiritual, Christian bubble. Yes we attend a congregation. And looking out daily at the Mount of Olives we think frequently about, and long for, the return of Messiah; seeing the signs of His soon-coming wherever we look. But we do not float around with our heads in the clouds. Our lives here are the lives of ordinary, if believing, people.
We work through the Israeli working week, battle the traffic, line up in the bank, grocery shop in the supermarket on Mondays and buy our fresh produce and pita in the shuk on Fridays. Our children go to Israeli schools. Most their friends are Israelis. We try celebrate the biblical feasts in a biblical way– matzah makes Passover a favorite with the kids – and have constantly to work on improving our knowledge of the Hebrew tongue.
Life here is not easy. The Islamic-driven hatred boiling all around this land keeps the tension simmering inside it. It is everywhere, always – screaming out from the daily headlines; slicing the air between drivers, between parliamentarians, between shoppers. Bureaucracies here are surely among the worst in the western world; they tie up everything in tape. It can be hard to get good service; courteous manners (like those I was raised with in South Africa) are extinct – if ever they existed here. The summers are hot and long and parching. Water must be sparingly used.
Complaining? Not for a second. For nearly two decades I have felt exactly as I feel today: I would not trade living in Israel for living anywhere else. No other nation can hold the place in my heart held by this one.
Like her Messiah, Israel is despised, rejected, a people of sorrows, acquainted with grief. She was chosen out of the world and so is hated by the world. The aspirations of many nations to destroy her people, to utterly wipe them out, were not satiated with the Holocaust. Since 1948, the mercury in the thermometer of antisemitism has been steadily on the rise.
The spirit that inspired Hitler’s Final Solution has impregnated the hearts of millions of Muslims and is coming to full term. And those who do not hate the Jews because Allah tells them to, hates them because their rejection of Israel’s God compels them to.
Like towering Tsunamis, the heights of hostility loom high over little Israel – from the east and from the west – preparing to crest, to crash down, and to crush.
But higher still, immeasurably greater and more powerful than all that loathing and hate, towers the unshakeable love of Israel’s God for her.
How does the prophet say it?
As a lion roars, and a young lion over his prey (when a multitude of shepherds is summoned against him, He will not be afraid of their voice nor be disturbed by their noise), so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight for Mount Zion and for its hill.
Like birds flying about, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem. Defending, He will also deliver it; Passing over, He will preserve it.” (Isaiah 31:4-5)
Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. (Zechariah 14:3-4)
That’s right outside our window, here in our city, the place where we have received our inheritance and, thanks be to God, can call our own.
Let the nations gather. Let them fume. Let them curse. Let them plot. Let them propose new peace plans that are really demolition plans in disguise. Let them condemn Israel in New York and in Brussels and in Moscow and in South Africa. We are not anxious; we will not fear. For our home is His homeland. For 19 years we have embraced this land and its people. This year they, officially, returned that embrace, welcoming us to stay.
Together with the people of Israel we await their glorious day of redemption, and we say to her:
“Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17)