First the Fishermen then the Hunters
While the world debates – quite passionately I might add – as to what land belongs to whom in the Middle East, the lines in most peoples’ minds are already drawn. Either you feel Jews have willfully taken land that wasn’t theirs and to add insult to injury are cruel to the indigenous people who remain, or you feel Jews are merely returning to land they were wrongfully evicted from years ago and are doing their best to deal with those who had moved in in the meantime. In both cases, at least one side is seen as having an injustice done to them by the other. But even those who side with Jewish ancestral rights might not consider that Jews may not have as much of a say in regards to their residence in the Holy Land as one might think. What if we Jews didn’t ask to be in Israel?
What if Jews feel like a bull that’s been shoved into an Islamic china shop who would rather be grazing on some hilltop elsewhere? We know the ancient Land of Israel is the heart throb of the Jewish people, and it has been so from the moment we crossed the Jordan River with Joshua. But, could it be that we Jews would’ve been content to long for our homeland from a distance without actually possessing it? For thousands of years, we have ended our Passover Seders with the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem!” without ever expecting to arrive there. What if something other-worldly influenced our desire to get up, pack our bags, leave everything we knew and go to that land?
If you read through the narrative of the story of the children of Israel in the Bible, there is a tangible connection between Israel’s relationship with God and her physical presence in the land. When the relationship between the people and God wasn’t working out, the land and the people were subsequently separated. Then, when God decided to have another go at restoring the relationship with His people, He would call His people home.
It was never an overnight thing when they came back. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem after years of exile, the Bible records the long road. It was a process of restoration, rebuilding and political hassles from the local Arabs (yes, even back then). But, only after the rebuilding was done and the Temple was restored could the people turn their full attention to the long forgotten Law of Moses. Ezra and Nehemiah record how the people wept as the Law was read and explained. The very words and instructions their grandparents had scoffed at were now like honey and salve on their lips and hearts. The arrogant and rebellious children of Israel had returned to the Land humble and ready to listen.
The Land of Israel was called Holy because it was to be a consecrated place where the Living God was to be served. In order to make this happen, God chose Abraham, whose descendants would be groomed for this purpose. The plan was that the worship of God would be passed on by generations of families who would grow into a nation of worshippers. Ideally, this nation of worshippers would be so impressive because of the blessings God would bestow on their lives of obedience that “People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’” (Micah 4:2)
The Land and the People of Israel were to be synonymous with the worship of the God of Heaven. It didn’t quite work out that way, and God protested that while the nations did associate His name with Israel, it was not for good reasons. Local enemies were not enough to keep the children of Israel clinging to God. God removes them from the land, and as in the desert, when the children of Israel fled Egypt, a generation or two would have to die out in exile because they would not change.
Yet, while the children of Israel were in time out, God’s purpose for the Land wasn’t in time out. In 2 Kings, when the King of Assyria exiled the children of Israel, he replaced their population with a variety of other conquered people groups. But God wasn’t going to let the new locals get away with idol worship on this special real estate simply because they were ignorant pagans. He sent lions to kill them off until they recognized something spiritual was amiss and brought in an Israelite priest to show them “what the God of the land requires” (2 Kings 17:24-28).
14 “However, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’
16 “But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.
Jews who arrived in Israel formed “kibbutzim” or communal villages and began rebuilding Israel brick by brick.
What may be one of the hardest things to explain is the pull of a modern day Jew to live in Israel. If you’ve never felt an overwhelming urge to do something that in the natural appears completely stupid, it will be hard to understand why millions of European, American, African, Latin and Middle Eastern Jews have immigrated to this tiny desert land. Many were skilled musicians, engineers and doctors. Because of the language barrier, they have often traded their high paying jobs, social status, and comfortable homes for a janitor’s broom, an expensive small box of an apartment with no A/C, and the challenge of being looked upon as a simple newcomer.
The hope was that their children would fare better. It boggles the mind how citizens of modern day society would value ancient ties to the land of their forefathers over everything they (and their living family) have ever known. If you think they are doing this because they consciously want to be closer to God, consider that many that come here are not “practicing Jews.” Meaning, they don’t necessarily care for Jewish tradition, the God of Israel, or rebuilding the Temple. Yet, regardless of how secular or religious they may be, if you ask them, they will tell you they are being drawn by an inexplicable feeling that this is their home. Their hearts have been hooked.
It’s important to understand how supernatural this feeling of being home is, because in the natural Israel is no easy place to live. While the idea of living in the Holy Land seems like a dream to so many outsiders, no one I know who lives here long term, including myself, thinks of Israel as a heaven on earth place to live. It is a tense, draining, slow to progress and unbelievably expensive place to live. You pay more for less and the people are rude and cranky until you somehow convince them you’re worth their time to do otherwise. True, in the midst of suffering there is something special about living here, but it’s more of a sense of purpose and destiny than a sense of enjoyment.
Having said all that, many Jews aren’t buying it. In fact, most Jews alive today live outside of the Land of Israel. Some are too poor to move, and many efforts have been made to supply such Jews with a free flight and absorption package to help them integrate into Israeli society. But others are, simply put, too comfortable. They have generations’ worth of acquired friendships and possessions. The Pharaoh of their land in exile has not enslaved them, but rather has blessed them for their hard work.
It’s not that they don’t care about God. They may be devout Jews – just like their parents and grandparents who worshipped God just fine at their local synagogue thank you very much. There is no urgent reason for them to trade their life for a tiny, troubled plot of land in the desert. Unless, that is, the hunters start making life miserable.
It is a strange thing that God would use slavery, a wayward woman and a dungeon to mold Joseph into the leader of a country and ultimately the salvation of the household of Israel as it pertained to the famine. Yet such are His ways! And it’s hard to grasp why God would use a foreign land, where the children of Israel would live as slaves, to be the place of Israel’s transformation from a clan into a race of people. In Egypt, they would learn the value of having one’s own homeland. In their own land no one could make them slaves. In their own land they would be safe. They would need this revelation to get them through the desert journey. When it was time to leave Egypt, the nation had already been begging to go for generations. This was all by design.
Had the new Pharaoh not forgotten all that Joseph did for Egypt and continued to bless his kin, would Israel have ever left Egypt? I would guess not. Perhaps a few pioneers might have thought it a grand adventure, but then how would they have defeated the masses of locals in the Promised Land? And what population would have filled it? Simply put, the situation had to become so unbearable that all those alive would have literally been born ready to leave. The promise of a homeland and freedom would not have been enough to bait the people into leaving Egypt. In fact, the final drama of crossing the Red Sea with the Egyptians swords swinging at their heels seemed designed to seal any bright ideas they may have had of returning to Egypt if the going got tough.
There are some nuances to the scripture reference of the “fishers and the hunters”, but simply put, those who come by the fishers have been hooked. They come by the tugging on their heart for their homeland. Those who come by the hunters come because they are fleeing bad circumstance and need a safe place to call home.
Many Jews work together and enjoy success in business in countries outside of Israel
During the Middle Ages, waves of attacks against Jews provoked attempts to flee to Israel. It would take much political maneuvering, but by the 1800’s from Great Britain to Australia, serious attempts were being made to encourage Jews to return to a desert land populated by scattered villages and roaming shepherds.
Some wise Christians of their day actively pursued the idea of Jews repatriating their ancient land. They believed that once in the land, the Jewish people would return to God and finally accept their Jewish Messiah. Historic prayer revivals recorded the land and people of Israel as a significant prayer topic in their times of intercession. It would take generations to fill up the bowls of prayer that would grant Jews permission to return to their land. But as in the past, for many Jews, it would take a pandemic of worldwide anti-Semitism to get them to get up and go.
It was the verse of the fishers and the hunters that struck me as I watched the bloody hostage situation in France recently. I don’t interpret these murderers as the “hunters” since clearly the idea is to use the hunters to drive the people of Israel home – and they can’t go home if they are dead. But the attacks serve as catalysts to stir up the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that is already brewing. If the society views Jews as the reason there is even an attack, then, naturally, to protect their own families, they will want Jews gone. But they wouldn’t have reached that conclusion had it not already been a possibility in their mind.
Israel has often been compared to New Jersey because of its similarity in size and population of around 8 million. What is less known is that 60% of that land is desert. Israel is a cramped plot of land. So cramped, in fact, that the Israeli government is offering free land in the desert to people who will go start new towns. So in the natural, while my heart leaps when I hear of more Jews coming home, my mind groans, “Where are we going to put them?” Rent will go up, and the already ridiculous prices of real estate purchases will continue their stairway to heaven. Even Isaiah prophesied, “The generations born in exile will return and say, ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’” (Isaiah 49:20)
If God had asked me, I would’ve picked a place like Switzerland as the Promised Land. A land flowing with chocolate and cheese with mountains and grass, rain and space. Or perhaps Hawaii, less space but also no surrounding enemies to mess with us. But He didn’t ask me. He wanted His Holy Land and Holy People right in the jugular of everybody’s business. A place and a people no one could ignore. So whether we Jews asked to be here or not, to live to see my Israel reunited with the Father, I would suffer higher real estate costs, a thousand more UN condemnations and even the culture clash that comes with millions of people from 100+ countries moving into the same cramped neighborhood.
Israel is still in the “rebuilding, restoring, and being hassled by the locals” phase. But soon – and even now – many are turning their eyes towards heaven and tuning their ears to the stories of the God of their forefathers. If history is any indicator, God is calling Israel back to the Promised Land so He can call them back to Himself and to their destiny as a light to the nations. How loud that call goes out and how well is it received by Jews around the world just might depend on the prayers uttered from your lips and mine.