Bitter persecution has been leveled at the Jewish people down through the years. The editor of U S News & World Report says that things in the Middle East have gone “from bad to worse to horrible” (November 10, 2008).
Whole nations have engaged in efforts to exterminate the Jewish people. Some societies have become absolutely obsessed with the determination to shed Jewish blood, and to drive the nation Israel into the Mediterranean Sea.
The root of this terrible hatred is not easy to explain. We call it anti-Semitism, and it has appeared in one form or another ever since the Jewish race began.
In ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs ordered that all Jewish boy-babies should be cast into the Nile. In Babylon, at the time of Queen Esther, a plot was formed to murder the Jews and seize all their property. In more recent times, the Holocaust in central Europe (during World War 2) wiped out six million Jews in the German and Polish death camps. In the World War Museum in Kiev, Ukraine there are almost unbelievable reminders of hatred toward the Jews. Nearby there is a plot of ground where 50,000 Jews were shot, bulldozed, thrown into a valley and covered with dirt. Many were still breathing when they were thrown into the field. Some who survived say that the ground above those crushed bodies heaved and moved for several days.
Jewish people have been hated, disliked, and despised in every century. This is a strange phenomenon, because the Jewish person is essentially no different from other persons. Jewish people have a mind, body, and spirit like all other human beings have. Among the Jewish people there are the good and the bad—as is true with any race of people.
Two major questions come to mind:
1. Why has the Jew been so maligned and inhumanly treated?
2. What is it that has given the Jewish people the power of survival?
1. The Origin of the Jewish Nation
We need to go back to the very beginning of time. God spoke the word, and the universe (along with planet earth) came into existence. The account of the Fall in Genesis 3 (in the Garden of Eden) is sad but true. After the Fall, the entire human family was possessed with a sinful nature, and every member of the human race from then on was capable of committing every kind of evil.
Early mankind became more and more deeply ingrained in sinful living. Finally, the wickedness of man became so great that God decided to bring an end to life and begin anew. The ark was built, the Flood came—and all mankind (except for Noah and his family) were destroyed.
After the Flood, sin again overspread the face of the earth—and God confused the languages, and a number of groups of nations were formed. When the human race clearly failed to obey God, and men and women lifted up their hearts against Him, the Lord chose one nation of people to whom He would uniquely reveal Himself, and who in turn could become a blessing to the world. The Hebrew people were that nation, and Palestine (at the geographical center of the earth) is their land.
God chose Israel not because of their worth, or their national characteristics, or their geographic location. He chose Israel because of His desire to do so. God does what He does because He is who He is. He chooses whom He chooses because He has the sovereign right to do that.
When mankind (in the early years) ignored God and chose to follow in their own sinful ways, God finally chose one man and his family to carry out His will and purpose. The story of Israel starts with Abraham, the man God selected and called out of the pagan city of Ur—to leave Mesopotamia and to go into a land to which God would direct him.
In calling Abraham, God made a covenant with him (Genesis 12:1-3)—in which God promised him a land—the land of Palestine. He also promised special divine favor (I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee), and the privilege of being a channel of blessing to the entire world (in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed).
In Genesis 13:14-18, God made a covenant with Abraham, promising him the land of Canaan forever. In Genesis 15:1-21, God confirmed the covenant—and again in Genesis 17:6-8. Later the covenant was confirmed to Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5), and to his grandson Jacob (Genesis 28). The land was not promised to Ishmael, but to Isaac and Jacob.
An additional development in the life of Abraham is important in our understanding of world history. Abraham was frustrated because he had no son—and finally accepted Sarah’s suggestion (which was a custom of the land) to obtain an heir by his slave girl, Hagar. Abraham decided to do as Sarah suggested, and the son born to Hagar was named Ishmael—the progenitor of the Arabs. Abraham is the father of the Jews through his son Isaac (the son of promise), and the father of the Arabs through his son Ishmael (the son of the flesh).
And so, to summarize—among the nations of earth, God separated to Himself the people of Israel—through whom He would give the Messiah [the Redeemer] (Genesis 12:1-3). God let the nation Israel be reduced to the lowest straits in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-11), but He miraculously delivered them from the bondage of brick-making—under the leadership of Moses.
God brought Israel out of Egypt and formed the people into a great nation. They wandered in the Sinai Desert for 40 years, and finally arrived at the borders of Canaan, on the east side of the Jordan River in the land of Moab. The book of Joshua tells about the conquest of the land of Canaan and the eventual call for a king to rule over them.
First, there was a united monarchy, which later became a divided kingdom—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and the southern kingdom was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Babylonians were conquered by the Persians—and after 70 years of captivity, the people of Judah were allowed to go back to their homeland, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and restore the Temple.
2. The Privileges of the Jewish Nation
Israel had received some special blessings from God. Romans 9:4-5 names some of Israel’s very special privileges.
The adoption—the nation was adopted as “God’s chosen family.” Israel was brought into a special relationship with God—in distinction from other nations.
The Shekinah glory—during the wilderness wanderings, a cloud overshadowed Israel by day, and a pillar of fire led and protected them by night. No other nation ever experienced anything like it!
The covenants—meaning the assurances God gave to Abraham and David, and others.
The Law—God gave Israel His Law (including the Ten Commandments) through Moses.
The service—a series of ceremonies which included the Temple, the Tabernacle, their daily sacrifices, and their yearly festivals.
The promises—special promises were given to Israel—including the forgiveness of sins, the inheritance of the Promised Land, and the coming of the Messiah.
The fathers—Romans 9:5 continues by saying that Israel had ancestors of the Jewish people (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)—men who were examples of faith and godliness.
The Christ—Israel was blessed also with the Messiah Who was born of the people Israel, and Israel’s Messiah has come to bless the world. Peter, in Acts 3:25, explains that Jesus became the One through whom “all the kindreds of the earth [shall] be blessed.”
But in spite of all the privileges listed in Romans 9—Israel as a nation turned its back on God, and rejected the very Messiah that she brought into the world.
God blessed the nation Israel in many ways. He dwelled with them, traveled with them, and overshadowed them with His presence. God says in Isaiah 49:16 that Israel “was graven on His hand”—yet when Israel sinned, God scattered and destroyed them without mercy. God loves His people, but God’s love is not a mushy kind of love that overlooks sin. In justice, God had to punish Israel and set the nation aside.
As a result, the Temple was burned, the people were scattered among the nations, and the Gentiles were grafted in instead. The promise to bless the world through Israel seemed to be disrupted—and yet today Israel has a place among the nations of earth.
3. The Regathering of the Jewish Nation
When God called Abraham many years ago, He promised that He would raise up a great nation from among Abraham’s offspring—and He promised that the land of Palestine should be their inheritance forever! God told the people that if they would obey Him He would bless them in their land, and if they disobeyed Him, He would bring chastening and expel them from their land. Deuteronomy 28:1,2,15,16 says:
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments . . . that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth; and all these blessings shall come on thee . . . but it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God . . . all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.”
Israel disobeyed, and as a result, experienced the captivities and the hardships down through the years, but Deuteronomy 30:1-5 promised their return to the land of Promise.
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse . . . that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will . . . gather thee from all the nations . . . and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it . . . .”
The Jewish people disobeyed God, and were carried away captive into a foreign land. Down through the centuries, they were dispersed among the nations—scattered from one end of the earth to the other—just as God had said.
But the Bible not only predicted that Israel would be scattered. God also said that Israel would be regathered again into her ancient homeland.
For 2,000 years the Jewish people were without a kingdom, a country, a Temple—and they were scattered among many nations. But they never lost their identity, and now they possess their own national state. On May 14, 1948, Israel became a nation again. I believe the greatest fulfillment of prophecy (since the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago) was the rebirth of the state of Israel in 1948.
Skeptics and unbelievers said the Jews would never return again to Palestine. They said it would be impossible to weld together (into one nation) a people who were estranged from each other for so many centuries, and living in so many different countries, and speaking such a wide variety of languages. But today, Israel is officially re-established in her ancient homeland.
In 1900, there was not a single “Jewish village” anywhere in Palestine. Today hundreds of Jews are returning to the state of Israel every month, living in “absorption centers” until adequate housing can be found for them. The return of the Jews to their ancient land, and the rebuilding of the nation Israel, has happened exactly as God said it would happen! This fact alone should be enough to convince any unbeliever of the power of God to protect His people, and it is certainly an evidence of the accuracy of the Bible.
The survival of the Jew is one of the great miracles of all time. There were other powerful nations in the Middle East in Old Testament times. There were the Philistines, the Hivites, the Jebusites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Edomites, etc. How many of us have neighbors who are Philistines? But all of us know about Jewish people in our communities. The Philistines and Hivites and Amorites, etc. have been absorbed by other nations—and have lost their identity. But it is not so with Israel!
Jesus spoke of the “fig tree” in Matthew 24:32-35. The fig tree has been used frequently in Scripture as a symbol of Israel. Just as the inhabitants of Palestine knew when summer was coming by the appearance of leaves on the fig trees (they were the first to come out in the spring), so we can know that the Lord’s coming is near by the evidences of stirrings in the land of Israel. The purpose of the fig-tree illustration is to confirm in our minds the fact that Israel as a nation will never cease to exist.
The Jewish race will not be exterminated, in spite of the terrible persecution that has been leveled at them. The survival of the Jewish people is one of the great miracles of all times.
4. The Indestructibility of the Jewish Nation
In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, beginning at chapter 30, God speaks clearly about the indestructibility of the Jew. In Jeremiah 30:10-17, we learn about God’s purpose for Israel:
- 1) The Lord will scatter them among the nations.
- 2) He will do this in order to correct them.
- 3) He will not completely destroy them.
- 4) He will make a full end of other nations, but He will not make a full end of Israel.
Jeremiah 30:11,14—“though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in [justice] . . . for the multitude of thine iniquity.”
And then in Jeremiah 31:35-36, we are given a further statement about the indestructibility of the Israeli people. This passage declares, in essence: if one can blot the sun out of the sky, and blast the moon out of existence—then, and only then, can he get rid of the nation Israel. If a nation cannot destroy the solar system, then there is no use it tries to exterminate the Jew.
The Jews have been the pall-bearers at the funerals of every other nation that has persecuted them. Other nations disintegrate; the Jews live on!
Judah would surely pass under the rod of God’s judgment because of her sins, but the Lord will not ultimately give His people up! The Jews will be regathered; the land will be repossessed; and the Messiah-king will eventually reign. And the glory of His reign will never end!
God loves the Jewish nation—not because its people are greater, wiser, or better than others—for they are not. God loves the Jewish nation simply because in His great heart, He has chosen to do so (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). During all the years that Israel was scattered among other nations, God remained faithful to the promise that someday (after their dispersion), they would be returned to their beloved land.
Strangely enough—during the more than 2,000 years of being dispersed among the nations, they have not been absorbed by the nations. The Jews have suffered terribly at the hands of cruel Gentile nations, but those nations have not been able to exterminate the Jews—and almost miraculously, some of the Jewish people had begun to return to Israel early in the 20th century. Later in the century, wave after wave of Jewish people returned to the land of their fathers. And today Israel is a nation again—with its own government, its own flag, and its own national identity. God’s sure word of prophecy is being accurately fulfilled.
The Muslim nations believe that Israel has no right to exist. They are sworn to destroy the Jewish people. For the radical adherents to Islam, every square inch of the state of Israel is considered “occupied territory.”
The Bible is an account of God’s sovereign purpose in calling Abraham (and his offspring, the people of Israel) out of paganism, and establishing them as a special nation through whom the Scriptures and the Savior would come. And down through the years God has protected them from extinction. In grace He forgave their failings, and restored them into fellowship with Himself—and used Israel to bring a Savior into the world.
The calling and mission of Israel differs from the calling and mission of the Church. Israel had an earthly calling. She was promised material and temporal blessings. The Church has a heavenly calling. She is promised blessings that are spiritual. Israel is the nation to whom God gave a national land (Palestine). The Jews are still God’s chosen people. God is not finished with Israel. The people of Israel are still “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
Meanwhile we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We need to pray for the Jewish people around us. It is our duty to thank God for the blessings that we enjoy because of what He has done through the Jewish people. In God’s good time, the Jews will possess the mountains of Judea and Samaria—and they will live there on into the future. We cannot be certain about the timing, but we can be certain about the final outcome.