The Ghost of Israel Past
It’s that time of year. The only time of year most of the world thinks and sings about Israel – or at least a famous guy who was born there. Now it’s true, we’re on the news a lot during other times of the year for the latest skirmish between us and our Arab cousins. But this is the only time of year where for the most part, people from around the world think fondly of us – in terms of the good ole days of Israel past. 2000 years ago.
Granted, those days weren’t all that good. Israel was a conquered land, ruled by the brutal Roman empire. The Romans could make the Israelites up and leave their home and move to another city for any given reason – like say, a census. And they did. Israel’s people were governed by the proxy King Herod who had the power to kill anyone for any reason he saw fit. And he did.
Picture all the mommy clubs in your community having the kids 2 and under murdered by the FBI because of a paranoid president. Now, perhaps you can get a feel for the atmosphere of Israel around the time Yeshua was born.
Nonetheless, it is an incredible time period to read about. In fact, when all the amazing stories in Israel’s history are fully considered it should leave our mouths gaping wide-open for a month – Solomon and the temple, Joshua and Jericho, Elijah and Mt. Carmel – the list seems endless. The only thing that might feel more amazing than reading the stories, is being able to visit the actual locations in which these monumental occurrences took place. Standing perhaps not in the exact spot, but within a few hundred feet of a place where God showed humanity who’s boss (on multiple occasions) is an invigorating experience.
Israel’s past is a riveting record of how God taught man about Himself, His ways and the natural tendencies of mankind. It is the source of Judeo-Christian values. It is the foundation from which modern civilization emerged. Your world is what it is in some ways because of the history of the Jewish people. And it is only right to note this.
However, when it comes to continued interest in the Holy Land and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the pendulum swings far to the other side. From past to future, the only other major occasion when Israel is brought up among many Christians is when they are charting out their predictions of the end times.
The Ghost of Israel Future
Whether it’s the third temple, the rapture or Armageddon, the majority of Christians I meet get excited when the conversation turns to the matter of what will happen in Israel in the last days. I’ve had people excitedly point at me as they tell their friends I may be one of the 144,000. Setting aside the obvious flaw in this observation since this chosen group of people is supposed to be virgin males, and I am a married woman, the issue here is the common habit of Christians to see a Jew as a chess piece of history first, and an actual person second – if ever. If you find you’ve been guilty of this very approach, don’t feel bad. It’s not something that offends me. Anytime I meet people who don’t want to see Jews annihilated is already a plus in my mind. But it’s hard to develop a relationship with an icon. And Jewish Believers need your friendship.
I remember a respected musician who came to Israel a few years ago. I loved and still love listening to his music and his heart for worship is legitimate. He had never been and I was excited for him to come and experience the modern state for the first time. After being in the country for several days and meeting many of the young Israeli believers, several of us sat on the top of a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. “You know what one of the best parts of being here has been?” he asked excitedly. Because of the context of the conversation, I fully expected him to remark about all the people he had met or how he felt more connected to the country after seeing it in person. “Here we are, overlooking Jerusalem where one day, right there, a mile above the city will be the New Jerusalem!”
I smiled because I could feel his excitement over the issue. But it struck me that he wasn’t seeing Israel today as a nation of people. He didn’t consider them as individuals – people for whom Yeshua longs – people whom the Lord said are His inheritance – His reward for dying on the cross. To this God-fearing musician, Israel was a concept – a theology. And anything that happened here, whether good or bad, was somehow a fulfillment of mystical prophecy. Any cataclysmic event that would take place here would be of interest, not because of the people who would be affected necessarily, but for the purpose of ticking off a check list of “things that are bound to happen in the end times.”
To be fair to him, such a perspective was common in his community and is also common in many churches around the world. But this perspective creates a very calloused approach when it comes to understanding the Father’s longing for his prodigal Israel. And it is hard for us as humans to pray for those who are mere pieces on a chessboard in our mind.
About the same time, I heard another well-known and intellectual minister sharing his view on the end times. His apocalyptic timeline included another Jewish holocaust “worse than the last.” We hear stuff like this periodically and whether be believe it will happen or not, our response is always the same, “Then we need to hurry up and get them in right standing with the Father don’t we?”
After the session, one of the young adults walked up to us because he knew we were from Israel. “Bummer ‘bout that second holocaust,” he said with a bit of a smirk, clearly just trying to be silly. It was one of those moments where you look back at the person and try to figure out how to respond, but nothing you can think of seems like a good idea. The guy wasn’t trying to be mean, but he also wasn’t gripped by the gravity of the prediction. To him, Israel was an interesting story, a part of God’s game strategy, a distant people for whom he had no emotional commitment. Perhaps if he inserted the name of his neighborhood or high school into the prediction, with the understanding that his friends and family were going to be slaughtered by gunmen, his response may have been more like falling on his face in agony interceding for mercy.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong about loving to study the end times as long as our love for people is not overrun by our theological dogma. There is nothing wrong with trying to decipher the riddles of prophecy and visions from the Scriptures – so long as we realize that until it actually happens, no one knows for sure how it will all unfold. And there is also nothing wrong with recognizing that a particular event could be the fulfillment of what was predicted long ago by an ancient prophet – so long as we grasp the fact that the lives of real people are being affected. We’ll know we grasp that fact, when our response to such news is to cry out to God for mercy and salvation for the lost.
The Ghost of Israel present
But how can we get there? How do we make ourselves have feelings for a faceless mass of people with different cultures and traditions than ours. How can we even relate, let alone care deeply for such people? With modern technology we are exposed to a myriad of photos and footage of suffering people. The news media blasts us daily with stories of injustice and misfortune. It is for mere sanity that our emotions dull to ignore the intensity of the barrage. How much sympathy can we conjure up to care for so many strangers’ problems when we already have plenty in our own circle of acquaintances?
While carrying the weight of the world’s problems on our shoulders is not practical nor healthy, we are naturally able to invest our emotions in people close to us. That is why getting to know Israeli believers personally is a great first step towards this goal of developing genuine affection towards Israel. While connecting with any Israeli on any level can be good, connecting with Israeli believers can help your understanding of Israel’s specific and unique spiritual fabric. Every Christian who comes to visit Israel’s historical sites to bring the Bible to life or spends time studying eschatology would benefit from developing relationships with Jewish believers living in Israel today. If the stones you step on make the Bible come alive, how much more would engaging with the descendants of the people who were there?
If on the other hand, visiting Israel is not in your basket of options right now, you can always connect with individuals online through verified ministries in the Land. Find young believers to communicate with and get to know and adopt them into your prayer life. If Israel’s past has so shaped the world you live in and Israel’s future will affect the world around you, it only makes sense that Israel present should be a matter of your concern.
When All Else Fails, It’s for the Love of the Father
A few years ago my husband, Kobi, watched a manhunt on the news for a girl while waiting for his flight in an airport. It was considered the largest manhunt in that area ever. They were interviewing a local man who had arranged the manhunt. “I don’t know the girl,” he said, “But I know her father. He’s a good man. And when I heard his daughter was missing, something rose up in me and I wanted more than anything to present his daughter back to him, alive. That’s why I’m out here.”
When all else fails and if connecting with Israeli believers takes a long time, there is always the love of the Father that can draw us to love the things He loves. God loves Israel. His longing for Israel as she wallows in her wayward ways is etched throughout the Scriptures. As we long for Him, how fulfilling it will be to join Him in the pursuit of His prodigal Israel.
Here’s to hoping that whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah you will not only pause to remember God’s son who came into this world but also the people He lived amongst.