THE REAL HEART & SOUL OF ISRAEL
I’d like to share with you a remarkable story that comes to us from Israel. My guess is that not too many have heard about this event; it isn’t an incident that would necessarily garner major headlines. Actually, I should say: It’s a story that mainstream media doesn’t ordinarily broadcast, because it doesn’t fit the more suitable criteria of a situation that just might cast Israel in an unfavorable light. Yet it is an episode that poignantly characterizes the very heart and soul of Israel. It is one that defines Israel more accurately than does the incessant but unfounded demonization of this tiny country—as exhibited by the resurgence of Anti-Semitism throughout the world, and as touched on in last week’s article regarding the growing hostility of organizations and nations toward Israel, via boycotts and sanctions.
A few months ago family members of a one-year old child by the name of Amal Haniyeh, brought her to Schneider Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Israel (near Tel-Aviv) for emergency medical treatment of a life-threatening illness. Previously another member of this same family had been admitted to an Israeli medical center, Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, Israel for care of a serious heart problem. Alright then, we have two situations in which two members of the same family were treated at Israeli hospitals. What’s so unique or unusual about these circumstances? Why are they even newsworthy? As you might have already suspected, they are, indeed, a kind of Paul Harvey journalism, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
Let’s examine the noteworthy connections that make this story so newsworthy.
First: Amal Haniyeh is a Palestinian Arab who lives in the Gaza Strip.
Second: Beginning August 17, 2005, Jewish citizens were completely expelled from Gaza on the orders of then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. In just six days, hundreds of Jewish families were uprooted from houses they had lived in for decades, and forcibly relocated to other parts of Israel. Purpose of this wholesale evacuation was an unfortunate capitulation to Palestinian demands that they alone had the right to occupy the Gaza Strip. Instead of converting and making good use of vacant synagogues and other structures, the Palestinians destroyed a great many Jewish buildings.
Third: As expected, following Israeli evacuations, the Gaza Strip was completely taken over by the terrorist affiliation called Hamas, which still rules in Gaza to this day.
Fourth: The recognized leader of Hamas is Ismail Haniyeh.
Fifth: Among other venomous threats against his sworn enemy Israel, Ismail Haniyeh has described Israel as, “a cancerous tumor that must be removed and uprooted.” He has supervised the launching of thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel, killing Jewish men, woman and children, and inflicting a great deal of property damage very close to the hospital that treated his granddaughter Amal.
Sixth: Yes, you read that correctly: Amal is the granddaughter of one, Ismail Haniyeh! During the exact time that little Amal was receiving life-saving treatment at Schneider Children’s Hospital, her grandfather Ismail boasted that Hamas’ newly acquired long-range missiles could reach Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.
And that, my friends, is the whole story. But there’s more!
Just a couple of weeks ago, in the aftermath of a massive winter storm that struck Israel and adjoining territories, Ismail Haniyeh again made the news. So enormous was this storm, that many dubbed it, “Snowmageddon” and “Snopocalypse.” Several feet of snow caused rivers to overflow, highways to be shut down, multiple auto accidents, tens of thousands to lose electricity and heat; and, to the groans of parents but to the cheers of school children, five successive snow days!
In the midst of Israel’s shutdown and hardships created by this monstrous storm, what would be a logical, reasonable response to the predicament of their Palestinian “neighbors” in the Gaza Strip … neighbors led by a man who has labeled (libeled) Israel a “cancerous tumor that must be removed and uprooted?” What would be your response? Would it be feasible to say, “Too bad for them? What are we supposed to do? Help them … you’ve got to be kidding. In Israel, we have no lights, no heat, and no open roadways to get to stores and buy essential supplies. We can’t even get out of our apartment.” Israeli emergency infrastructure had all it could do to bring relief to its own people. Could you imagine anyone blaming them for ignoring Gaza Strip Palestinians, most of whom would celebrate if a Jew froze to death during the storm?
But that is not what happened. Primarily through the IDF, Israel provided gas, heat, electricity, and other humanitarian aid to thousands of Gazans, many of whom had to be evacuated from their homes. Assistance was also offered to Palestinians in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Even Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh asked for emergency assistance, which must have been very difficult for him … to swallow enough pride so that his people could be helped. Yet, while touring the most affected areas in the Gaza Strip, he made the statement, “Gaza survived two wars (with Israel) and it will walk out of this.” Amazing! Such gratitude! Despite the suffering of his people, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take another swing at his sworn enemy, Israel.
And there’s more, much more. Many Syrian soldiers and civilians wounded in Syria’s civil war have been treated and cared for in Israeli hospitals. There are scores of other unilateral and unconditional acts of Israeli kindness and generosity toward those in desperate need, both allies and enemies. Israel is normally the first nation to spring into action by sending emergency relief teams and supplies to those suffering from earthquakes, tsunamis (Indonesia), and other natural disasters.
That is the heart of Israel. They walk the talk. In fact, the long-standing Jewish tradition of rendering help or imparting a chesed (grace, favor, generous deed) or mitzvah (charitable act) to both friends and strangers means that they don’t brag about it. They just do it. Moreover, humanitarian aid such as that given to Gaza Strip and West Bank Palestinians doesn’t come from ulterior motives, such as appeasement or reciprocity (I’ll do this for you if you do this for me). How could there be an underhanded motive if you’ve already been evicted from all of the Gaza Strip and the vast majority of the West Bank? What is there to gain?
Am I implying that Israel is perfect? Of course not … any more than this great nation called the United States of America is perfect … morally, spiritually, politically, economically, socially, or any other words/ways with an “ly” suffix. Soon after his first election, no less than our own President Obama set the record straight (concerning America’s perceived perfection) by apologizing to the Muslim nations in particular and the world in general for America’s arrogance! Well, that’s a rabbit trail in the making, so I best return to the matter at hand.
But, sadly, we also see the reflection of the heart of Israel’s neighbors … a heart of hatred and hypocrisy. It’s all take and no give. It’s, “We’ll take everything you give us, but don’t expect anything in return.” Except, there is one thing we will continue to give you: Never-ending turmoil, trouble, testing, and trials.
In today’s hostile world, Israel’s humanitarian kindness and generosity validates the amazing fulfillment of their prophetic destiny, one that embodies the very purpose for Israel’s existence and selection by God: to be a source of light and blessing to the Gentile nations. The ultimate source of the source (from and through Israel) is none other than the Messiah. In our day we’re witnessing the prophetic expression of Old Testament moral standards of excellence expected from Israel. “Then this message came to Zechariah from the Lord: ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other’” (Zechariah 7: 8-10).
It is a long overdue return to the glory days of Israel before the time when, “Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by his Spirit through the earlier prophets … As with a whirlwind, I scattered them among the distant nations, where they lived as strangers” (Zechariah 7: 11-14).
In these end times prophecies–fulfillment of which began with the spectacular, miraculous rebirth of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948 and rapid return of Jews to their God-given land–we also learn that, “…People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go. Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing’” (Zechariah 8: 20-22).
And another instruction/promise to Israel: “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon” (Isaiah 58:10).
And, yet another: “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
But before that can happen, “The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins, says the Lord” (Isaiah 59:20). And, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Be just and fair to all. Do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you and to display my righteousness among you’” (Isaiah 56:1).
Followed by, “On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity” (Zechariah 13:1).
These and many other similar passages in Scripture clearly indicate that the destinies of Gentile nations all over this earth are inextricably bound with Israel’s destiny. Furthermore, Israel’s glorious future is exclusively connected to and contingent upon her final rescue (at Armageddon) and redemption (spiritual restoration) that only Messiah can bring.
The Heart of a First Century Jew
To better understand the love and compassion God has for Israel and why Israel’s divine inheritance has been delayed for some two thousand years, let’s look back to a first century Jewish Pharisee, steeped in the Law of Moses. This man was extraordinarily zealous in his defense of Judaism; to the extreme of persecuting and killing those who would dare believe that a recently crucified Jewish Rabbi had been miraculously raised from the dead and had freely given to Israel (and the whole world) a brand new and better covenant between God and man, the covenant of Grace. A grace that would be poured out on all of mankind and would bring forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through this one man, Jesus of Nazareth.
This Jewish Pharisee named Saul experienced a radical transformation through a spectacular encounter with Jesus, while on the road to Damascus to arrest more Christians. Saul’s name was changed to Paul and he would live the rest of his life and then die in the service of the one he knew beyond all doubt was the Messiah. He would teach and heal and strengthen and encourage those very Christians whom he had sought to destroy. His conversion and life would represent and define the incredible difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant which was made possible by the shed blood of Messiah Jesus and his mighty resurrection from the dead. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he would go on to write most of the New Testament.
In one of these epistles we find an astounding affirmation from Paul, one that would personally convey his deep longing for Israel’s salvation. Paul had the heart of Christ and he boldly expressed the unparalleled magnitude of this passionate desire for the salvation of his people. Listen to Paul’s stunning statement: “With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them” (Romans 9: 1-3).
Can you imagine that? I can’t. To me, it is utterly unfathomable. How many of us would be willing to give up everlasting life in Heaven so that someone else could be there in our place? Or putting it more bluntly like Paul did: How many of us would be willing to be cursed, which is another way of saying cut off from God forever in hell, if that’s what it took for someone else to live forever in heaven? Of course it doesn’t work that way; but Paul, nevertheless, was sincerely and emphatically serious about offering his eternal position in Christ (forgiveness of sins and everlasting life) if that could save his fellow Jews.
Paul goes on to explain the heritage of the Jews: “They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshipping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen” (Romans 9:4-5).
Later Paul expounds on why the Jewish people have yet to accomplish the purpose (then and now) for which they were born and chosen by God. He writes: “What does all this mean? Even through the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said (then Paul quotes Isaiah 8:14), “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced” (Romans 9:30-33). In the context of these verses and other similar passages, the stone or rock is none other than Jesus Christ.
Paul reemphasizes his passion: “Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:1-4).
Later Paul summarizes by asking a rhetorical question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning…” (Romans 11: 1-2).
Paul’s premise is reinforced by hundreds of Old Testament prophecies and promises that Israel will one day be both physically and spiritually restored. The national rebuilding—return of the exiles to Israel—has been underway for decades; as has the spiritual restoration. Although the spiritual renewal lags behind the physical, it is rapidly catching up… as confirmed by the thousands of Jews all over the world who have embraced Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, especially since 1967, when many of the Messianic outreach ministries began.
When Paul wrote Romans, the Jewish people were (and still are) only partially blind. Slowly, one Jewish salvation at a time, they are opening their eyes to see who the Messiah really is. In the first century a few thousand Jews “found the favor of God they were looking for so earnestly” (Romans 11:7)—meaning individual salvation through Messiah Jesus. Today there are a few more … actually many more. Not since the first century have so many thousands of Jews all over the world turned to Christ. This is a phenomena that can’t easily be dismissed out-of-hand, by either Gentile Christians or by the majority of Jews, whether secular or orthodox.
Unity in Diversity
We see a renewed enthusiasm among both religious and secular Jews for the coming of Messiah, but with a “misdirected zeal” and understanding of who the Messiah really is, or what he has already done, or what he will do when he appears (again). We see a monumental effort towards unity among a people who have returned to Israel from nations all over the world, speaking different languages, harboring various interests, goals and dreams. We examine the composition of the current 33rd Knesset Parliament headed by Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a leading member of the prevailing Likud party. We look at the unlikely coalition with Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party (meaning, “There is a future”) whose main platform is that all Jews including the religious students of the yeshivas must serve in the IDF. Yair Lapid also wants more emphasis on “civil” life in Israel such as civil marriages being recognized by the State.
We are intrigued that Naftali Bennet, head of the HaBayit HaYehudi party (which means “The Jewish Home”) has also joined with the Likud and Yisreal Beiteinu parties to form a very functional coalition of the current Israeli government. Naftali’s main platform objectives are the building of more Jewish settlements and renewed enthusiasm for Zionism, which is simply the rightful return of Jews to their homeland.
In the midst of all this diversity, we see the wonder of so much unity and desire to once again be the people that God wanted them to be. As Christians (both Gentiles and Jews) who have been transformed by God’s grace through the atoning sacrifice of our Jewish Messiah, we long for Israel to understand that their lofty aspirations can only be achieved through the Messiah. But not a Messiah that fits any number of speculative, divergent views and images depending on whether a Jew (or even a non-Jew) is orthodox, conservative, reformed, liberal, or secular in their belief. Rather, with objective recognition of the true Messiah, who historically and precisely fulfilled hundreds of prophecies about him found in the Old Testament.
Unfortunately, the final acceptance and acknowledgment of the true Messiah will come only after great hardship … called the Great Tribulation in the New Testament and the Time of Jacob’s troubles in the Old Testament. At the brink of utter collapse and destruction, the Jews as individuals and as a nation will finally recognize who Messiah really is. Here’s what will happen on that day: “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son….” (Zechariah 12:10).
And then they will look up to know their redemption is near, and they will say, “Baruch haba, beshem Adonai”… (blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Matthew 23:39).
No one but God can make so many bad things turn into so many good ones. So, we’ll close with one last magnificent example of what God will do despite Israel’s stumbling over the Rock of their salvation. This collapse is NOT irreversible. Here’s why: “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it” (Romans 11: 11-12, italics and bold for emphasis). Notice, it doesn’t say “if” but “when” they accept God’s offer of salvation, which is none other than God’s Son, Yeshua haMashiach.
And so we watch and wait for the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. And while we wait, we encourage each other to, Sha’alu Shalom Yerushalayim, Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. In doing so, we pray for the heart and soul of Israel.
Things to Ponder
How about a question with a riddle attached to it? As follows:
Where specifically on the earth will Messiah (Jesus) return? Hint: you won’t find it in the Book of Revelation. Another hint: If there was such a book of the Bible called, “The Acts of Zechariah,” there you will find the answer! You will find the answer in the first and the last chapters of this non-existence book, and in that order.
Who can solve the riddle and answer the question?
If you accept the challenge and solve the riddle, let me know via the comment section in the blog site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org