An Inferno in Israel
The soaking rain that fell on Israel last week was welcomed by Israelis perhaps like never before. For as long as Israel has been Israel—from her birth as a powerful country under King David over 3,000 years ago to her rebirth as a sovereign nation in 1948—the people depend upon the spring and fall rains to sustain them. This time the rain helped to bring desperate relief from the ferocious fires that engulfed much of northern Israel.
Desolation to the land and discouragement to the psyche of Israel caused by this conflagration was distressing. The statistics are saddening. The scope of damage unprecedented. But the soul of Israel and the spirit of her people is indomitable. They will recover and continue to prosper through the providential power and prevailing protection of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ashes will one day turn into beauty in this bewildering but wonderful land.
From November 18th through November 27th, some 2,000 firefighters, 3,500 IDF soldiers, and 20,000 police officers battled 1,773 fires (39 of which were classified as major fires) or contributed to evacuation and rescue operations to remove Israelis from harm’s way.
Over 32,000 acres of urban terrain and rural forest were destroyed, 30% more than the huge 2010 fire that decimated some five million trees in the Carmel Mountains. Fortunately, if not miraculously, there were no fatalities. Still, some 180 people were injured or overcome by smoke inhalation, with the injuries spanning the scale of minor, moderate, and serious. According to some experts, it will take nearly 30 years for the damaged areas to fully recover.
One of the Israelis in charge of rescue operations in the community of Neve Tzuf commented:
“When we entered the town, it looked like a bomb had gone off … A two-story building was burning and the one behind it caught on fire in a domino effect. Gas tanks were blowing up and all you could see everywhere you looked was fire—giant balls of fire skipping from building to building, to the cars, eating up everything and destroying it…”
Large areas of Israel, including communities near Jerusalem were affected. In Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, over 500 homes and apartments were completely destroyed, more than 1,600 people left homeless, and 75,000 residents evacuated. To put the magnitude of this devastation in perspective: If the same proportion of acreage would have burned in the United States as that destroyed in Israel, it would have consumed the combined states of Vermont and New Jersey. The whole of Israel itself is roughly the size of New Jersey.
(The Land and the Sky Ablaze in Israel)
In large part, the fires were natural in origin, fueled by years of below average rainfall in Israel including several consecutive years of drought conditions. Because of Israel’s remarkable irrigation system and desalination of sea water into drinking water, the drought conditions have been moderated enough to alleviate undue hardship on the people. Yet only a sufficient amount of rain can prevent or at least reduce the threat of wildfires.
The unusually dry conditions throughout Israel combined with several days of high winds brought about this “perfect storm” of hundreds of fires, many of them converging with each other. But there was another factor that contributed to the conflagration: the unthinkable “arson intifada” waged by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Not unlike the lone-wolf terrorist attacks over the past 15 months, that including knifing, shooting, and car-ramming injuries and deaths of innocent Israelis.
Muslim news sources, Arab social media, and leaders of several Islamic nations have claimed that the fires in Israel were a direct result of Allah’s retribution against pending Israeli legislation called the “muezzin bill.” Muezzin is the repetitive Muslim call to worship funneled through loudspeakers that Israelis consider an irritating and disruptive source of noise pollution all over Israel. I’ve been to Israel and heard these high decibel blasts that can wake you out of a sound sleep early in the morning. It’s pervasively loud enough to sometimes stop you in the middle of a sentence. I fully agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who supports the muezzin bill; with his rationale that our modern age of alarm clocks and phone apps preclude any need for a Muslim to be reminded of their worship time of day.
In keeping with the commands of the Koran to help their god Allah force Islam on the unbelieving infidels and enforce the oppressive demands of Muslims, which includes removal of all Jews from Israel, Arab lone-wolf terrorists decided that Israel wasn’t burning fast enough. So they added fire to their list of terrorist tactics against Israelis. Thus far, some 24 Palestinian and Israeli Arabs have been arrested for arson.
Which proves once again that Palestinians couldn’t care less about the so-called “Israeli occupation” of the West Bank (to include what they call East Jerusalem). The existence of allegedly “illegal Jewish settlements” is only a pretense for Palestinian leaders to incite their people to carry out attacks on Jews. The real Palestinian agenda is elimination of all Jews in Israel, not just in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (where Jews were evicted in 2006); and the creation of a Palestinian State to replace the entire nation of Israel, not merely within Israel.
Although there were a few natural fires within the West Bank, all of the arson blazes were set in Israel itself (outside the Palestinian occupied territories). Which also proves the hatred that Palestinians harbor against Jews and the callous disregard they have for the land only because Jews live on that land. Apparently the Palestinians are willing to participate in a “scorched earth” policy, even if it means that part of the West Bank could burn.
Muslims the world over are elated to think that their god would inflict his wrath on the Jews. In fact, the hashtag used by Arab social media to express and spread their delight over the suffering and hardship these horrible fires inflicted on Israelis was under the label of Israel burns.
(One of Hundreds of Israel Homes Destroyed or Heavily Damaged)
Surprisingly, a few Jewish rabbis also believe the fires are a result of God’s judgment of Israel, but for a different reason; the pending eviction of over 40 Jewish families from the Amona district within the West Bank. This is a complicated legal issue and has resulted in a confrontational clash of authority between Israel’s Supreme Court and the Knesset.
Of course, the Jewish God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of the Old Testament who is also the Christian God of the Old and New Testament combined. But whether the true God or a false god, both Jew and Arab claim a divine connection between the fires and wrongs they perceive as perpetrated by the Israeli Government.
God’s Discipline of Israel
One of the most perplexing dilemmas that people have encountered from time immemorial is whether or not natural disasters are just that, natural. Or are they supernatural in origin, i.e. the wrath of God? An entire article or two could be written on that subject alone (make that three articles, as I would need to throw in the ludicrous theory of evolution!); for sake of time/space, I’ll limit my observations (opinion if you will, but based on Scripture) on that peripheral side note in the context of the main subject of this week’s and next week’s Eye of Prophecy article.
I believe the evidence in Scripture, both stated and implied (as experienced throughout history) is compellingly strong to propose this premise: The vast majority of disasters—hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, plagues of locusts, plagues of disease, floods, droughts, and wildfires—occur “naturally.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines naturally: “by nature; by natural character or ability; according to the usual course of things; as might be expected.”
Here, we’ll look briefly at just one example of natural events. Later in the article, we’ll examine another incident involving the same prophet, Elijah, in which God directly and divinely intervenes with a supernatural (over and above nature) display of his power through the natural element of fire.
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain, the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper” (I Kings 19:11-12).
The Lord did not supernaturally bring the windstorm, earthquake, and fire just to get Elijah’s attention and certainly not to discipline him for running scared. Instead, the Lord spoke to Elijah through a “gentle whisper” then tenderly instructed Elijah to, “…go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram” (Verse 15).
With gentleness, but also in no uncertain terms, God told Elijah to get on with his life. Among other lessons, God was showing Elijah that natural calamities are part of life; after all, it is a fallen world we live in. As we will see shortly, Elijah had already witnessed firsthand a supernatural display of God’s power that the Lord sometimes uses to intervene in human affairs. But the Lord had more work for Elijah to do, despite windstorms, earthquakes, and firestorms, both real and figurative (storms of life).
Here we must characterize what is natural in terms and context of the how devastatingly significant man’s fall has had on nature. Since Adam and Eve’s fateful decision to disobey God followed by their expulsion from the perfect (natural) paradise of the Garden of Eden and especially since the Great Flood of Noah’s time, the earth has never been the same. This violent planet on which we live is under God’s curse, awaiting its final redemption (extreme makeover) along with the culmination of salvation for believers in Messiah Jesus … brand new eternal bodies.
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for the future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:18-23).
Do I hear an AMEN!
Although somewhat of an oversimplification, it nonetheless is a Biblically based precept to ultimately equate/define God’s blessings under the umbrella category of God’s protection. Conversely, whatever or whoever is under God’s curse, lacks God’s protection. In that regard and with that understanding, we realize that God allows nature (the natural order of things) to operate on its own most of the time; subject, in part, to man’s authority over and care of the earth. However, when Adam and Eve sinned, they/we lost much of that control which originated as follows:
“Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.’ Then, God said, ‘Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food’” (Genesis 1:28-29).
Which is why scientists, geologists, and physicists can with some degree of accuracy explain why there are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and so forth.
What they can’t explain with any degree of certainty is WHEN catastrophic events of nature will happen, how large they will be, how long they will last, or what extent of damage will ensue. Which begs the question of whether or not God is directly involved in “natural disasters.” Putting it another way: Does he ever use the forces of nature to judge the ungodly and discipline his people? Does he occasionally cause or allow natural disasters to get our attention, to remind us that the Lord IS God. Or does he sometimes prevent natural catastrophes or limit the damage and casualties from them?
According to the Bible, the answer is a resounding, yes to all of these tough questions. But whatever reason applies to whatever calamity that occurs, the all-in-all answer is that God is ultimately sovereign over his creation. Because of the Lord’s grace, patience, and mercy, Scripture and practical experience show us that God only sparingly uses nature to get our attention. There are several examples, but only two will be cited. Both pertain to one of the main elements of God’s providential intrusion into the affairs of the human race. Which is: RAIN. Or the lack thereof.
Rain is Life
No rain; no water or replenishing of water. No water; no crops or fewer crops. No crops; no food for people and animals. No food for animals; no meat for people. Our life and existence on this planet depend on adequate rainfall. Just take a tour of the Sahara Desert or Death Valley, California if you think that planet earth could survive conditions like that on a regular or global basis.
As found especially in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Israel’s continued possession of and prosperity in the Promised Land were directly related to trust in God (for all things) and obedience to his laws—given for the welfare and security of his people. And, also the companion condition that Israel worship only the true and living God; not false, man-made gods that they or their pagan neighbors had fashioned. This was an overarching principle that applied to everyday life of the Jews.
With the Levitical sacrificial system, God’s forgiveness for sin was unconditionally given through atonement. Of course, there must be genuine remorse for wrong things said and done, but forgiveness was not based on good works or keeping of the Mosaic Law … whether moral, civil, or ceremonial. Redemptive righteousness (right standing with God) was based exclusively on faith in God’s Word (given to Moses and the people) that he would provide a covering for their sin through an outside source—the shedding of innocent animal blood. Then later the Lord gave them/us the New Covenant which was the once for all sacrificial substitutionary death of God’s son, Messiah Yeshua; followed by Messiah’s resurrection from the dead to ratify and seal this marvelous Covenant of Grace. This eternally solved man’s spiritual problem—separation from God because of sin. (See among other passages, the entire book of Hebrews).
Not so with respect to the issue of physical presence and prosperity in and permanent possession of the land. That was strictly conditional. Furthermore, the Lord specifically used rain or lack of it as the acid test repercussion of Israel’s trust and obedience. Read with me the Lord’s instructions as spoken by Moses to the people.
First the promises … the good news:
“Therefore, be careful to obey every command I am giving you today, so you may have strength to go in and take over the land you are about to enter. If you obey, you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and to you, their descendants—a land flowing with milk and honey! For the land you are about to enter and take over is not like the land of Egypt from which you came … Rather, the land … is a land of hills and valleys with plenty of rain—a land that the Lord your God cares for. He watches over it through each season of the year!
“If you carefully obey all the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God and serve him with all your heart and soul, then he will send the rains in their proper seasons—the early and late rains—so you can bring in your harvests of grain, new wine, and olive oil. He will give you lush pastureland for your livestock, and you yourselves will have all you want to eat” (Deuteronomy 11:8-15).
Now for the warnings … the not so good news:
“But be careful. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and worship other gods. If you do, the Lord’s anger will turn against you. He will shut up the sky and hold back the rain, and the ground will fail to produce its harvests. Then you will quickly die in that good land the Lord is giving you. So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your foreheads as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:16-21).
Moses goes on to say that God would give his people victory over and protection from their enemies. On somewhat of a side note in this chapter of Deuteronomy, we find the largest boundaries of the Promised Land of Israel—broader than ancient Israel of King David’s time and far broader than the borders of modern Israel, especially to the east of Israel.
“Wherever you set foot, that land will be yours. Your frontiers will stretch from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north, and from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west” (Verse 24).
Then the Lord through Moses summarizes the details previously given of how continued possession, indeed, their very existence in the Promised Land, was contingent on their obedience to God.
“Look, today I am giving you the choice between blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him…” (Verses 26-27).
Toward the end of Deuteronomy—which is a summary of all that God told the people just before they entered the Promised Land, a message from Moses that took only a few days—we read:
“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster” (Deuteronomy 30:15).
Then again: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! … And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Verses 19-20).
In today’s vernacular we could summarize by saying:
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Conversely, “Reach out to the hand that feeds you.”
Two Examples of God Withholding Rain
The first is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible; that of Elijah’s astounding victory over the false prophets of Baal, hundreds of whom had been enlisted to serve the wicked King Ahab and his equally evil wife, Jezebel. Time doesn’t permit in this week’s article to elaborate on this astounding miracle involving natural fire from God’s supernatural source in heaven that humiliated the false prophets and their man-made god Baal. It proved to Israel who the true and living God was and forever will be.
Rather we will focus on the very first introduction to Elijah, beginning with his confrontational prophecy to Ahab, one that applied to the nation of Israel (the ten Northern tribes in particular):
“Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, ‘As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!’” (I Kings 17:1).
Not only no rain; not even any dew!
It wasn’t just Ahab and Jezebel, although they were Israel’s (loathsome) leaders and (bad) examples; all the northern tribes (called Israel, with the two southern tribes known as Judah) had begun to serve and worship Baal. Enough was enough. God would step in and do what was necessary to correct his people, to get them back on the right path, the path of life. This cycle of rebellion against the Lord, followed by God’s judgment through nature or by surrounding gentile nations, then Israel’s return (always temporary) to God is found throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the book of Judges.
Because it fits with today’s theme, I will take the time/space to quote the astonishing results of God “raining” fire down on Elijah’s sacrifice (a good thing). The fire consumed much more than just the sacrificed animal. Read with me:
“Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, ‘The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!’” (I Kings 18:38-39).
Elijah had first instructed the people to pour twelve large jars of water on the twelve-stone altar and in a trench surrounding it. In such a time of drought, using that much water to prove a point was risky business. But Elijah knew that God would listen to him and answer his prayer to validate God’s deity and power. Even the twelve stones and water from twelve large jars burned up!
So, we have no rain (whatsoever) for over three years leading to a second confrontation between Elijah and Ahab that would include one of the most spectacular miracles of the Old Testament (and there were many amazing miracles): fire flashing down from heaven to prove to the people who was God and who was not. Followed by the people’s sincere acknowledgment that the Lord was, indeed, God. With God’s forgiveness and grace subsequently poured out in the form of rain.
“Then Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming! So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees” (I Kings 18:41-42).
We know that Elijah had prayed for rain, because that’s exactly what happened next.
“And soon the sky was black with clouds. A heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm…” (Verse 45).
And that was the end of the 3 ½ year drought in Israel.
This is another example of how God uses rain specifically and, by implication, nature in general, in response to the disobedience of people and nations when they blatantly defy and scorn the Lord God. However, this is a future illustration of the age-old Biblical principle and practice of our Great God. The setting here is the Millennial Reign of Messiah Jesus.
“In the end, the enemies of Jerusalem who survive the plague will go up to Jerusalem each year to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. Any nation in the world that refuses to come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will have no rain” (Zechariah 14:16-17).
“No rain,” means exactly that. Not just a reduction of annual rainfall; there will be no rain at all for that nation! Just across the borders of surrounding nations that show their gratitude and love for Christ Jesus, the King of kings, for all that he has done and will continue to do for them and the world, there will be abundant rain, crops, and prosperity.
Through Biblical and post-Biblical times, God used Gentile nations to discipline his chosen people, the Jews and his special possession Israel even to the point of total conquest and exile, e.g. Assyria and Babylon, then the massive Diaspora at the hands of the Roman Empire after the Jews and Judaism had rejected their Messiah.
No longer will the Lord discipline Israel through domination of Gentile nations. Such discipline has run its prophetic course. It ended with Israel’s phenomenal Six-Day War victory in June, 1967. See Eye of Prophecy articles, Seven Times Seven to the 4th Power (I, II, & III, posted 1-25, 2-1, & 2-8-14)) which provide stunning details of one of the least known or understood prophecies in Scripture (Leviticus Chapter 26). Followed by the summary article entitled, The Omega Generation, published 2-15-14.
But God still uses nature to capture the attention of both Israel and the nations.
Am I saying that the tragic fires in Israel were directly from the Lord for that reason? No, I am not saying or even implying that. God is now protecting the Jews and Israel as never before, with allowance made that evil still exists and wicked people will do malicious things as graphically seen in the despicable acts of arson to make Israel burn even more.
Whether the Lord was in the fires or “not in the fires” by allowing nature to “run its course” is not necessarily ours to know. However, he certainly was not in or with the Palestinians to cause or condone their atrocious acts of arson.
Yet whenever we hear or read about, are part of by direct experience, or perhaps even narrowly escape with our health and home from a “natural” disaster, we should pause and reflect.
What is of paramount importance is that Israel contemplates a possible correlation between the current drought and ensuing fires to realize that God does care about Israel and wants to, like never before, draw their attention to the coming Messiah. With an open-mind, open-heart realization that Messiah arrived two thousand years ago as the Lamb of God to give them God’s New Covenant of Grace through Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross for sin. That his Second Coming will be that of the Lion from the Tribe of Judah to reign over and through Israel and the entire world from Jerusalem. That mankind will be judged and the earth will be purified by fire (II Peter 3). We’ll cover that in more detail with next week’s article.
You won’t want to miss Part II of next week’s Eye of Prophecy article that will continue our examination of the fires in Israel in the context of Biblical prophecy. We will take an up close and personal look at the Rest of the Story, something completely unexpected that occurred during these horrific fires in Israel. We will see the remarkable connection of this amazing event to Biblical prophecy that will be fulfilled in the very near future.
Things to Ponder
The United States or any country would do well to take a hard look at natural disasters that strike areas of the country for possible correlation between recent or soon to be decisions of government, especially in the greater context of supporting Israel and the Jews or denigrating and delegitimizing them.
Then take the opportunity to examine our hearts and actions in the light of Biblical prophecy, precepts, and promises pertaining to Israel; and also our individual character and conduct concerning acknowledgment of God (or lack thereof) and at least a measure of respect for and cooperation with our chosen leaders.
“My child, fear the Lord and the king. Don’t associate with rebels, for disaster will hit them suddenly. Who knows what punishment will come from the Lord and the king?” (Proverbs 24:21-22).
Whether drought, famine, forest fires or other “natural” disasters, they are not necessarily used by the Lord as a means of discipline or judgment. For example, the seven-year famine throughout the Middle East in Joseph’s time was God’s way of reuniting Joseph with his father and brothers, all the while saving Israel, Egypt, and surrounding nations from drought induced starvation. But also to demonstrate to Pharaoh and Egypt that he, and he alone, is the true and living God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And we know now, also the God of all who are redeemed by receiving and believe in God’s Son, Messiah Jesus.
It was a reminder of who is ultimately in control.
Said Joseph to his brothers who had sold him into Egyptian slavery:
“…Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:19-20).
As Messiah Jesus hung on that cross suffering from excruciating pain and terrible thirst, he looked down on his accusers, captors, and executioners and uttered these amazing words:
“…Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
“For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).