The Future of Israel

Following up an initial discussion at the front door, a brother and his sister-wife set aside two evenings for a more serious discussion with two local Jehovah's Witnesses' elders a few years ago. By mutual agreement, the subject under consideration was "Whether the Bible teaches that the natural seed of Abraham - the Jewish people - have any further role as a nation in God's purpose." The Jehovah's Witnesses denied this proposition whereas we affirmed it.

It is always important, when in a discussion with those who have a different view, to listen carefully to their arguments and try to understand their reasoning. As we pondered their position, it was striking how much it was based on contemporary observations that had very little to do with what the Bible teaches. We were reminded how the State of Israel has its share of crime, prostitution and drug trading. We were reminded of the moral failures of certain Israeli politicians. The coup de grace came when they insisted that Tel Aviv was the capital of Israel. We tried to persuade them from a reliable reference book that their facts on this point were mistaken; many nations including the United States maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv to avoid formal recognition of Israel's claim to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They were insistent that modern Israel has no role in God's purpose. As they expressed it, Israel is no better and perhaps worse than any other nation on earth. There was certainly no love for Israel in their manner of expression. Their lack of attachment to the land is far removed from the zeal of the Psalmist: "Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof." (Psalm 102:13-14)

The Framing Principle -There are two testimonies in the prophecy of Ezekiel that provide what we might call a "framing principle" with respect to the role of modern Israel in God's plan. "Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went...Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord GOD, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel." (Ezekiel 36:22,32)

The good things of which the prophet speaks that the Almighty will do for Israel are not for their sakes, they are not the result of intrinsic worth on the part of Israel. In fact, if the Almighty were to deal with Israel after their own ways, the result would be very different: they would be ashamed and confounded. Now a person inclined to be critical of the ways in which the Most High is dealing with our fallen race might seize upon this as evidence that God is not fair - how can He reach out to Israel in this manner when they do not deserve it? The answer is provided in the 103rd Psalm: "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." That is, what God is doing for Israel, in effecting their redemption nationally, is no different in principle than what He is doing for us, in effecting our redemption individually. There is mercy involved of which the recipients are undeserving on their own account. Would those who would condemn the Almighty for the exercise of His favour toward His people and His land condemn Him also for showing mercy to them? Whether Israel has crime, has gay pride parades, has drug abuse, has corrupt politicians - is not a factor insofar as God's determination to fulfill His purpose with them. They are a people in need of redemption and mercy and that is what He has promised to provide them.

"For mine holy name's sake." Why is God dealing thus with Israel? Why is He prepared to show His favour toward them when they are not responding to Him with their whole heart? The answer given by the prophet Ezekiel is summed up in the expression, "For my holy name's sake." These five words form a kernel in which much is expressed. There is a higher and greater purpose involved in God's dealings with Israel than Israel alone.

To understand this purpose, consider the words of the prophet Isaiah: "He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." (Isaiah 27:6) God's purpose does not end with Israel - Israel is the beginning point for an outcome by which the entire world will be blessed. In the preaching of the gospel in the first century, the apostolic rule was, "To the Jew first and also to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16) In the fulfillment of the gospel at the coming of the Lord, the blessings of the Kingdom will also be received in the same order. The natural Jews will be partakers of the blessing of Abraham before it is extended to the Gentiles in all the ends of the earth.

Turning away ungodliness from Jacob - In that section of Scriptures where the apostle Paul encapsulates the "grafting in again" of natural Israel into the root and fatness of its own olive tree, he sums it up this way: "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins...As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes." (Romans 11:26-28) Israel- and the use of the term "all Israel" indicates clearly that both natural and spiritual Israel are under consideration - is "beloved for the fathers' sakes." God has a special relationship to the people of Israel on account of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is the Deliverer that will come out of Zion - the Lord Jesus will be the instrument by which the ungodliness in Jacob, on which Israel's detractors are so quick to seize, will be permanently removed.

The restoration of six million Jews to the land of Israel is one of the remarkable confirmations of our faith. One hundred years ago, the land was a backwater province of the Ottoman Empire and its relatively few inhabitants - both Arab and Jew - eked out a subsistence level of existence. How different is the picture today. Israel is a vibrant and flourishing civilization; the land is productive and bountiful; and the cities of Israel have risen once again. This is the doing of Yahweh according as He declared in the prophets.

For what purpose has this restoration been accomplished? Has it been done so that God can assemble much of Jewry into one place, to wreak His judgments upon them? When God delivered Israel from Egypt, Moses appealed to Him in his intercession for their sin, that Israel be not destroyed, with this argument: "Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness."(Numbers 14:15,16) God's integrity and His power are, as we say, "on the line" in the eyes of the whole world. This was the point of Moses' argument and it is also very much the case today. Has He brought His people into the land but is unable to fulfill His purpose with them? This is the question that will be decisively answered before the whole world.

The rise of anti-Semitism (discussed in more detail in another article in this issue) in a new and unprecedented form, seems destined to be a force among the nations that will bring their will into opposition with the will of God. There is a time ordained of God when "their iniquity shall have an end" and He will extend His mercy towards Israel in effecting their deliverance and exaltation. The prophecy of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37 (in which the scattered bones of Israel gradually and perceptibly are brought together into the skeletal structure of a living man, then covered with sinews and flesh, and finally receive the breath of life to stand on its feet) is a progressive vision of fulfillment.

In this student's view, the "breath of life" has not yet caused the body of Israel to stand on its feet. The pouring out of His spirit upon the people of Israel in their current condition is the next great event in the divine purpose, to effect the reformation of His people and bring them unto Him. As we have noted earlier, this event will occur when the Deliverer returns to turn ungodliness from Jacob. We can therefore expect Israel to continue largely in unbelief until the Messiah comes. Correspondingly, her position in the eyes of the world seems to be destined to be viewed with less and less favour, in order that Israel's isolation in the community of nations be complete. "For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob's tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces." (Jeremiah 30:17,18) The day when Israel is called an "Outcast" by the nations of the world may yet be future to our time when a future UN resolution confers that status upon Israel. At such time as this occurs, Israel's help and deliverance will arise from Yahweh.

The faith of those who believe may be tested in this matter. As we see Israel drift along, seeking to curry favour with the US and hold on to land in the West Bank comprising "the mountains of Israel" promised by God to the seed of Abraham in the line of Isaac and Jacob, it is possible that we may be influenced by the growing negative characterization of Israel. "Can this people really be the one chosen by God to do His will and execute His judgments in the earth?"

The arguments of the Jehovah's Witnesses, in common with many other branches of Christendom, may cause us to wonder if not doubt. The passage of fifty-six years since the state was founded without the coming of Messiah may amplify those doubts. The appeal of this student is not to allow those doubts to rise up within our thinking and question the certainty of God's plan with His people. The promise of God stands sure, sealed with the blood of His Son: "Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee." (Isaiah 54:4-7).

James Farrar

Grimsby, ON