When I was 13 years old I became a bar mitzvah (Son of the Commandments). The passage from the Prophets that I chanted that day was Isaiah 66. Though it is a dramatic and critically important passage, unfortunately the focus of my reading was more concerned with the proper chanting of the words than with their actual meaning. The contents of the piece really seemed to have little bearing on my life.
How different now, years later, when I read those words again as a follower of Yeshua and a citizen of Israel. Having passed the 50th, the 60th and even the 70th anniversary of the modern state of Israel, verses 7 and 8 are especially pertinent: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.”
Here in the words of the prophet written approximately 2700 years ago is a picture of the overnight birth of the modern state of Israel. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister in the newly created provisional government was the first of 38 signatories to Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It is interesting that over the previous 6 months many names had been proposed for the new state: among them Zion, Ziona, Judea, Ivriya. However, it was not until this reading of the document that it was known publicly that the name of the state was to be Israel. One early Jewish Agency official, Walter Eytan, captured the essence of it so well:
The moment the name was proclaimed everyone realized instinctively that it could in fact have no other. The children of Israel, the people of Israel, the land of Israel, the heritage of Israel – all these had existed in reality and metaphysically for so many thousands of years. They had exercised such influence on the evolution of mankind that the state of Israel was their logical consequence and culmination. Ben-Gurion’s choice of a name was hailed as a stroke of genius; in fact it arose out of the innermost historic or tribal consciousness of us all. There could have been no more effective introduction of the new State to the world. ‘Israel’ on its visiting-card, was as eloquent as could be. It was so evocative, and so imminently true that nothing more needed to be said. It made obvious to the world not only who we were, but that we were what we had always been. And that if the State of Israel as such was a newcomer on the international scene, it was in fact, but the natural outward form in modern terms, of a mystery and a people whose roots went back to the earliest ages of man.
Of course, with birth there are nine months of preparation and development before the actual birthday, which is also usually accompanied by pain and struggle. In Israel’s case, it was many centuries, even millennia since Israel was a free and independent nation. This people had been created in the covenant made by God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But often other realities than these obscured that beginning and shaped the identity of the people that would become the modern state of Israel. This is why Isaiah 51:1, 2 is a call for the nation to return to its foundations. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.”
After all these years, Israel still struggles with her identity. Is she really a modern state like all the other nations? Is that something we should seek? The question is, what does God intend for Israel? Why did He begin this work with Abraham and give him this piece of middle-east real estate in which to live it out? But if the goals of the founders and builders are not the same as those of the Great Architect and Designer, can they truly have a constructive part in fulfilling His purposes? This is why some have even questioned whether the creation of the modern state of Israel was a divine imperative at all.
Early Pioneer Vision
However, to expect that God will only use those that are completely aligned with Him is too high an expectation on flesh and blood and too low a value on the sovereignty of God. Not to mention the fact that it totally ignores the truth of the Bible and the history of mankind. When the LORD promised to restore His scattered people to their homeland and to rebuild it, the guarantee was that He would do it. The details were often left intentionally indistinct that we should be kept humble while He did it His way.
Even before the creation of political Zionism as a moving force, there were young pioneers from Czarist Russia in the late 1800’s who came to build a new life here. They were raised in a Jewish religious environment, nurtured on the words of the prophets and the prayers of devout parents and grandparents. Though they themselves were not religious, but secularists, socialists, Marxists, and utopians, God used them to begin the returning process.
If you examine the words of early Zionist leaders you’ll see many statements regarding the high level of morality and integrity that they expected would be the hallmark of the Jewish state as per the words of the Bible. They often evoked images from the prophets to express their vision for a restored Jewish homeland, but in a humanistic way, not a religious one. Of course the religious Jews also wanted a state based on the Torah and Talmud, not on secularism regardless of how lofty sounding the words. In the Orthodox world there were (and are) those who totally rejected any secular Israeli government and there were others like the first chief rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who taught that it was the divine plan that initiated the modern state of Israel even if it was not yet run as a totally religious nation.
But what is God’s intention for Israel, the people and the land? The answer is quite clear; it is to be a blessing to the entire world. God told Abraham that he and his offspring would be a blessing to all the families/nations of the earth. (Genesis 12:3/22:18) In later verses this same promise was made to
Isaac and to Jacob.
When delivered from Egyptian bondage, Israel was told that they were to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. (Exodus 19:6) The Lord declares to Israel in Isaiah 43:10, “You are my witnesses and my servant whom I have chosen.” And in Isaiah 60:3, we read that nations will come to Israel’s light and kings to the brightness of her rising.
Israel is the primary vessel that God has chosen to bless the whole world. The land of Israel is an inseparable piece of that equation. The call of Abraham and his offspring, by God’s design, are eternally connected to the Land. Without it, the blessings intended for the rest of the world can never come. But there is one other element that must be considered: The Messiah of Israel, Yeshua of Nazareth.
Israel can never fulfill her mission without Him in the center. In Him, all the lofty principles that both the humanists and the religious have sought find their expression. In Him can be found the genuine ideals of which the founders and pioneers only had a glimpse. When the nation embraces Him, then the world will see the Light of the perfect Servant of the Lord in His servants. They will see the Holy One of Israel, our great High Priest, reflected in the priestly service of His people. This is why we are here. The modern state of Israel, while in many ways is like other nations, is much more than that. Israel is the chosen vessel to carry the reality of the kingdom of God to the rest of the world … Even so, come Lord Yeshua.