Charles Krauthammer, national columnist for The Washington Post, wrote the following, which appeared in The Austin American-Statesman on May 6:
When something happens for the first time in 1,871 years, it is worth noting. In AD 70, and again in 135, the Roman Empire brutally put down Jewish revolts in Judea, destroying Jerusalem, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and sending hundreds of thousands more into slavery and exile. For nearly two millennia, the Jews wandered the world. And now, in 2006, for the first time since then, there are once again more Jews living in Israel — the successor state to Judea — than in any other place on earth.
Several generations of Christadelphians have watched the signs of the times with growing optimism, sometimes with excitement. Grandparents and parents and now children have traced the times of their lives in relation to milestones in Middle East events. The present writer can never forget when he was born: he is precisely as old as the state of Israel!
Sometimes we have also watched the signs of the times from the viewpoint of our own overconfident predictions.
Also, sadly, some of us have, over time, grown rather calloused to the ongoing and developing MIRACLE of Israel. For it is surely, in our day, the primary and preeminent evidence — from extra-Biblical sources — for the existence of God.
From the earliest signs of Jewish interest in Palestine, in the last years of the 19th century, through World War I and the Balfour Declaration (freeing the Land from the Turkish oppressor, and pointing the way to a Jewish homeland), through the terrible European persecutions and the Holocaust of World War II, to the birth of the state of Israel in 1948, to the recovery of the Old City in 1967 — Christadelphians, and others, have observed an ongoing miracle. In days of old, the Almighty walked through the Red Sea and the psalmist said, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (Psa. 77:19). Now, in our very days, the Almighty has been walking through the earth again — doing wondrous things in furtherance of His plan for Israel. We cannot see the wind, yet we can see what the wind has wrought. Likewise, though we see not the God of Israel with the natural eye, we know that He is ever at work! With the eye of faith we “see”, and with our hearts and tongues we rejoice.
And finally, we see what is surely one of the final stages of the budding forth of the “fig tree” of Israel:
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening [Jerusalem inhabited by Jews again, but the city being surrounded by its Gentile enemies: Luke 21:20,24], you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31).
Israel’s Jewish population has just passed 5.6 million. America’s Jewish population was about 5.5 million in 1990, dropped to about 5.2 million 10 years later and is in a precipitous decline that, because of low fertility rates and high levels of assimilation, will cut that number in half by mid-century.
When 6 million European Jews were killed in the Holocaust, only two main centers of Jewish life remained: America and Israel. That binary star system remains today, but a tipping point has just been reached. With every year, as the Jewish population continues to rise in Israel and decline in America (and in the rest of the Diaspora), Israel increasingly becomes, as it was at the time of Jesus, the center of the Jewish world.
Suddenly, it seems, and almost while we weren’t looking, we have reached a very significant signpost. The budding of the fig tree has proceeded apace for over 100 years, in God’s own time, and seemingly not to be rushed by our expectations. And now we see what is surely one of the last stages: more Jews in Israel than anywhere else in the world. As the seasons have passed, and one year has merged into another, they have come — from none to a few to a trickle, and then to large and increasing numbers. They have come despite one setback after another, and now — with Russia having opened its gates — they come in like a flood… while still under enormous and varied threats from a multitude of enemies. Can we not praise God for this?
An epic restoration, and one of the most improbable. To take just one of the remarkable achievements of the return: Hebrew is the only “dead language” in recorded history to have been brought back to daily use as the living language of a nation.
The Tongue of the Prophets, by Robert St. John, is the fascinating story of the courageous Jewish scholar Eliezer Ben Yehuda. This man, working unnoticed more or less, on what looked for all the world like a fool’s errand, devoted his life to “resurrecting” Hebrew and making it the language of Palestine. I read the book as a young man and thrilled to its story. It’s still available, probably in ecclesial libraries, and tucked away on our bookshelves; it can be ordered from Amazon and elsewhere. By all means, read it.
But there is a price and a danger to this transformation. It radically alters the prospects for Jewish survival.
For 2,000 years, Jews found protection in dispersion — protection not for individual communities, which were routinely persecuted and massacred, but protection for the Jewish people as a whole. Decimated here, they could survive there. They could be persecuted in Spain and find refuge in Constantinople. They could be massacred in the Rhineland during the Crusades or in the Ukraine during… 1648-49, and yet survive in the rest of Europe.
” ‘So do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished’ ” (Jer. 30:10,11).
Hitler put an end to that illusion [i.e., that Jews in their dispersion — and because of their dispersion — could always survive]. He demonstrated that modern anti-Semitism married to modern technology — railroads, disciplined bureaucracies, gas chambers that kill with industrial efficiency — could take a scattered people and “concentrate” them for complete annihilation.
The establishment of Israel was a Jewish declaration to a world that had allowed the Holocaust to happen — after Hitler had made his intentions perfectly clear — that the Jews would henceforth resort to self-protection and self-reliance. And so they have, building a Jewish army, the first in 2,000 years, that prevailed in three great wars of survival (1948-49, 1967 and 1973).
” ‘At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people.’ This is what the LORD says: ‘The people who survive the sword will find favor in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel… I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel… You will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit. There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God’… I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth… Hear the word of the LORD, O nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd’ ” (Jer. 31:1,2,4-6,8,10).
But, in a cruel historical irony, doing so required concentration — putting all the eggs back in one basket, a tiny territory hard by the Mediterranean, eight miles wide at its waist. A tempting target for those who would finish Hitler’s work.
His successors now reside in Tehran. The world has paid ample attention to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declaration that Israel must be destroyed. Less attention has been paid to Iranian leaders’ pronouncements on exactly how Israel would be destroyed “by a single storm,” as Ahmadinejad has promised.
Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the presumed moderate of this gang, has explained that “the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.” The logic is impeccable, the intention clear: A nuclear attack would effectively destroy tiny Israel, while any retaliation launched by a dying Israel would have no major effect on an Islamic civilization of a billion people stretching from Mauritania to Indonesia.
Iran, occupying the ancient land of Persia, has its own mentions in the Bible. It constituted the second of the four major empires that dominated the Land of Israel and subjugated its peoples following on from Daniel’s day to New Testament times (Dan. 2; 7). Persia, or Iran, may yet be, in some form, part of the great Image of Daniel’s vision that stands up all together in the Last Days to trample underfoot Israel and God’s Holy City. Famously, at least for Christadelphians and other students of Bible prophecy, it is on the short list of allies of “Gog, of the land of Magog” — who threaten a revived Israel with extinction in the Last Days (Ezek. 38; 39).
And at this very moment, there can be little doubt that — with or without Russia’s assistance — Iran is obsessed with the development of nuclear capabilities (“Let the weak say, ‘I am strong!’ “: Joel 3:10) with which it seeks to threaten the very existence of God’s people Israel:
As it races to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran makes clear that if there is any trouble, the Jews will be the first to suffer. “We have announced that wherever (in Iran) America does make any mischief, the first place we target will be Israel,” said Gen. Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani, a top Revolutionary Guards commander. Hitler was only slightly more direct when he announced seven months before invading Poland that, if there was another war, “the result will be… the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”
Last week, Bernard Lewis, America’s dean of Islamic studies who just turned 90 and remembers the 20th century well, confessed that for the first time he feels it is 1938 again. He did not need to add that in 1938, in the face of the gathering storm — a fanatical, aggressive, openly declared enemy of the West, and most determinedly of the Jews — the world did nothing.
When Iran’s mullahs acquire their coveted nukes in the next few years, the number of Jews in Israel will just be reaching 6 million. Never again?
Now it is clear that even political observers — with, it would seem, no particular Bible agenda — can see the shape of things to come: a reborn state of Israel, back in its land in very large numbers for the first time in almost 2,000 years, but its very existence threatened by world powers. “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near… Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea” (Luk 21:20,24,25).
But notice the bottom line. As far as the political commentator is concerned, the story can only end with the plaintive question: “Never again?” — and a hope against all appearances and all expectations, that out of the dark situation some HUMAN ingenuity will find an escape.
But the eye of faith, that can see what is invisible yet eternal (2 Cor. 4:17,18), discerns a reliable and comforting pattern, promised by the prophets ages ago. It is the presence of Yahweh, God of Israel, carefully and systematically preparing His Land, His people, His Son, His angels, and His family for the last great act of man’s rule (or misrule) of this earth. His plan will end well — it has been ordained since the beginning. When the words are His, and not fallible man’s, then “Never again!” becomes the surest imaginable promise:
“At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27,28).