When we were living in Israel I could not escape the constant reminders of eternity looming just over our horizon. Every day as I drove to the Ohalei Rachamim building I could see Mt Carmel, an igneous reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness to unfaithful Israel. Cana, where Yeshua first “manifested His glory” is just over the hills that guarded the view from my front door. There are other more grim reminders too. About 90 minutes from where we lived, one can still visit the altar to “the god of Dan.” This cultic center has stood as a reproach to our nation since the days of the Judges. It is a reminder that the spiritual life of Israel is not all that it should be – there are still many worshipping at a strange altar. Not far from Dan you can hike to the ruins of Gamla and see where Titus and his cavalry breached through the wall, and slaughtered thousands. Thousands more jumped off the cliff at the top of the city rather than face the Roman sword. The echo of all Jewish suffering, from Egypt’s slave quarries to the Nazi death camps reverberate through this gap of crumbling stone. Everywhere I turned, I was haunted by the question, “How long, oh Lord?” How long until You again send Your fire to turn our hearts back to You? How long until You display Your glory again? How long until we altogether cease from idols? How long until the suffering and persecution finally ends?
“How long?” is an interrogative refrain throughout the scriptures. Waiting is just part of the deal. The Psalmist pleads, “O Lord God of Hosts, how long will You be angry against the prayers of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in great measure” (Psalm 80:4, 5). The Jewish people have suffered, we all know this. Much of our suffering is our own fault. We have broken faith with God’s covenant, and we have suffered the consequences. But our suffering cannot be solely explained as the consequence of our failures. Every nation that God has used to correct us has gone past the limits of God’s intentions, to inflict cruelty beyond measure.
The cry, “How long?” is coupled with a plea for remedy, “Restore us O God; cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved” (Psalm 80:3). Our restoration is tied to the light of His countenance shining upon us. Without His light shining on us we are blind. And blindness has been our problem for a very long time. Moses lamented, “Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” (Deuteronomy. 29:4). Regrettably, our condition has not improved since Moses’ day. We are still lacking the heart, eyes and ears to perceive. Moses decried the blindness in his day and in Paul’s day the blindness had yet to lift: “But even to this day, when Moses is read a veil lies on their heart” (II Corinthians 3:15). Paul describes our condition as a veil; a shroud that darkens our understanding and keeps us from seeing the light of Yeshua. What may seem obvious to New Covenant believers is hidden from the Jewish people by layer upon layer of veiling. There is a veil we have wrapped around our own eyes because we refused to see (See, John chapter 9), and there are veils of offence and woundedness that the enemy has used others to wrap around our eyes. The veil of II Corinthians has been fortified with veil upon veil of Anti Semitism, Christian super-sessionism and rabbinic reaction.
Paul’s observation includes an important qualification: “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (II Corinthians 3:16). Turning is not a simple issue. How do we return when we are blind? The Psalmist understands that before we can turn we must first be turned: “Return, we beseech you, O God of hosts; look down from heaven and see, and visit this vine … then we will not turn back from You; revive us and we will call upon Your name” (Psalm 80:14,18). When Adonai turns us and shines the light of His countenance upon us we will see and return. Oh do we ever need a visitation!
Every Shabbat at Tents of Mercy, as is customary in synagogues across the globe, the Torah reading service is closed with the song, “Eytz Chaim He” (it is a tree of life). We recall Solomon’s comment on finding wisdom (in Torah): “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her. Her ways are pleasantness and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17-18). This beautiful song about the beauty and goodness of the Torah ends with Jeremiah’s anguished cry from Lamentations 5:21: “Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored (or turned); Renew our days as of old.” Just as Paul said, the Torah is holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12), the problem lies within our unturned hearts (Rom. 7:14). Sometimes I think the most audacious promise in the Bible is “All Israel shall be saved.” I am not trying to denigrate my people. Believe me; the cry “How long?” burns deep within my soul. But it seems like we are so far from this promise that its eventuality seems too far off to bring any present consolation.
In Romans 11 Paul calls this blinding a mystery. A mystery that we should appreciate and understand in the light of God’s covenant promises: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until…” (Romans 11:25). The blindness is not permanent. God will turn us and we will be turned, but when does the “until” arrive? “…until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”
I hope my Gentile brothers and sisters will appreciate the magnitude of this statement. It is not just an end times’ event marker to place on an eschatology chart. It is the weight of thousands of years of suffering the Jewish people have endured that the full blessing of God can come to the nations. Is God unjust? Of course not, but please consider: would any other nation (for we are all sinners) have fared any better? Through our failures riches have come to the nations (Rom. 11:12). We have endured blindness and the accompanying suffering for the sake of these nations.
Adonai called Israel to be a “kingdom of priests.” As priests Israel’s intercession was not for Israel alone but for the whole world. Despite our blindness and our failures, God always had a remnant whose intercession called to heaven to send Messiah – the restorer of Jacob and the light to the nations. The light of the nations has come, and Israel still waits to see that light. Today, may everyone who stands as a priest in His kingdom, both Jew and Gentile, join in intercession crying out to the Lord, “Spare your people.” May we all seek His kingdom first to hasten the day when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Then the veils will be lifted, we shall be turned and “all Israel shall be saved.” May it be soon and in our days. Amen.