Is This It?

It came as a surprise to hear the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggest just after his induction to the chief rabbinate that Israel has survived and will continue to survive because the future is not predetermined. The last chapter has not been written, said the chief spokesman for Britain's Jewish community. One would have thought that Israel's continued existence in spite of expulsion from their land, several crusades, the Inquisition, various pogroms, the Holocaust and several Middle East conflicts is precisely because the future has been determined by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But for what purpose has Israel continued to exist? Christians are fond of the story of the physician to the atheistic Friedrich the Great of Prussia who, when the king demanded one proof that the Bible was true, replied, "The Jews, your Majesty". But is that the sole reason the Jewish people exist? Is that the only explanation for why the state of Israel is now celebrating its jubilee? As a testimony to the veracity of Scripture?

Through the prophet Ezekiel God promised to restore the house of Israel to their own land but, more than that, to breathe new life into them. There can be little doubt that when Jesus expressed astonishment that Nicodemus, "the teacher of Israel", should be ignorant of the new birth, he had Ezekiel 36:25-26 in mind. Did not the prophet speak of Israel being sprinkled with "clean water" and receiving a "new spirit"? If Nicodemus had known the Scriptures he would not have been surprised that Jesus should speak of the necessity of being born "of water and the spirit".

Maybe Paul had Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones in mind when he wrote of Israel's "acceptance" as being "life from the dead". Their "acceptance" in Romans 11:15 is not God's accepting them, any more than their "casting away" is the Lord's rejection of them, for the apostle states unequivocally in verse 2 that God "has not cast away His people whom He foreknew".

The solution to this apparent discrepancy is to be found in the book of Acts. In Pisidian Antioch, when the gospel was rejected by the envious Jewish leaders, Paul turned to the Gentiles who, he said, would receive it. The same principle pertains in Acts 28 where Paul warns the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome whose "ears are hard of hearing" that "the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentles, and they will hear it!" Just as the nations have been enriched by the Jewish rejection of the good news, Paul says, so even greater blessing will accrue to the Gentiles when Israel embraces the salvation of God.

After the dry bones in Ezekiel's vision hear the word of the Lord, the Spirit blows upon them, and they receive life and stand "upon their feet, an exceedingly great army". It is significant that Israel not only comes to life but constitutes an army. The vision concludes with a promise: "The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore." Israel's spiritual resurrection will result in the nations recognising the LORD. The same thought is expressed after the promise of cleansing and renewal in chapter 36. The revival and reformation of Israel (the nation called to be Jehovah's witnesses) will have more of an impact on the nations than their restoration to national sovereignty ever could have.

If one Jewish apostle to the nations could turn the world upside down, what will it be like when the nation finally becomes the Lord's witnesses to the nations. In spite of their disobedience, lawlessness and rejection of Jesus, the Lord has a future for the people. His purpose is nothing less than their life from the dead and the salvation of the nations.

This article first appeared as Last Word in our special Israel at Fifty Summer 1998 Herald.

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