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The Rockets of Rejection

As usual, one of the first casualties of war is truth.

Many would have us believe the latest Palestinian rocket war against Israel was triggered by the land dispute in Sheikh Jarrah and the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. But those are just a pretext to hide the real agenda behind this campaign of Palestinian violence and terrorism. The riots and rockets causing mayhem and loss across the Land of Israel right now were a message from both Fatah and Hamas that they continue to reject peace and particularly the dramatic move towards Arab-Israeli normalization embodied in the Abraham Accords.

For the record, tensions indeed were building in Jerusalem over recent weeks until a convergence of events brought them to a boiling point. Small groups of Arab and Jewish agitators were facing off almost daily at the site of the disputed homes in Sheikh Jarrah – nothing new there. But this time the dueling protests came as Muslims were observing the month of Ramadan, a time when Islamic passions and prejudices can easily be stirred against Israel and the Jewish people – especially over Jerusalem. A number of Jerusalem Arab youths then began slapping Orthodox Jews walking through the Old City and posting video clips of the humiliating slaps on TikTok. A group of far-right Jews responded by accosting Arabs on Jaffa Road one evening last week, forcing Israeli police to repel them with anti-riot gear. Meanwhile, the police also barricaded the entrance to Damascus Gate, where Palestinians were congregating to stage their own attacks. Palestinian leaders cried foul at Israel and incited their people to even more violence.

Then came the last Friday of Ramadan – decreed ‘Al-Quds Day’ by Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to provoke jihad for Jerusalem. Right on cue, Palestinians stashed piles of rocks in the al-Aqsa mosque at the south end of the Temple Mount for use in stoning Jews praying at the Western Wall down below. Israeli forces intervened, the rock-throwers retreated into the mosque, and the standoff escalated from there over the weekend.

It was on Monday that Hamas, feeling sidelined down in Gaza, decided to enter the fray and trigger an explosion – which also was timed to spoil Israel’s annual celebration of Yom Yerushalayim. The military wing of the Islamist terror militia issued an ultimatum, calling for the removal of Israel’s security forces from the Temple Mount compound and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the release of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails – all by 6:00 PM that evening. When its conditions were not met, Hamas fired seven rockets at Jerusalem, and the fourth Hamas rocket war with Israel was on.

Yet the current conflict must be viewed in a much wider context.

Ever since the Trump administration forged the Abraham Accords between Israel and four Sunni Arab states (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco), the regional momentum towards peace has been growing, leaving the Palestinians isolated and under pressure – including from Arab leaders – to finally start coming to terms with Israel. Even Israeli Arab members of the Knesset were joining in, as the Ra’am party was poised to break a long-standing political taboo by joining a coalition government as an outside partner.

Trapped by the push for peace, the Palestinians initially tried to escape by calling for elections – their first in sixteen years. But when Fatah realized they would likely lose to Hamas, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas called off the elections (while falsely blaming the delay on Israel). This led to growing discontent at home, and Palestinian officials figured the only other way out was to play the Jerusalem card – something they are experts at doing. For 100 years now, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly fed their people and the entire Muslim world the lie that Israel is endangering the al-Aqsa mosque. And sadly, this false accusation always seems to find an audience.

For weeks now, both Fatah and Hamas have been ratcheting up the rhetoric against Israel, especially on Jerusalem. Increasingly during Ramadan, they have openly called for confrontation with Israel in the city and “on the roads,” while also amplifying their appeals for martyrdom. They also have urged the ‘48 Arabs (Israeli Arab citizens) to join the battle – which, tragically, many have. This deliberate incitement campaign has all been meticulously documented over recent weeks by the monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch. Hamas then instantly leapfrogged Fatah in their internal rivalry by launching rockets at Jerusalem to “defend al-Aqsa” – something Fatah (thankfully) is not able to do right now.

The truth is that the Sheikh Jarrah land disputes have been winding their way through the Israeli courts for several years now, and they involve private litigants seeking legal recourse in delinquent rent cases, rather than any draconian Israeli government demolition orders, as is widely portrayed. In addition, Israeli authorities had already decided to postpone any court decisions on the properties until after Ramadan as a means to lower the temperature.

And concerning the al-Aqsa mosque, it was Palestinian rioters and rock-throwers who desecrated the mosque (yet again) by amassing stones there for pre-calculated use against Jewish worshippers and Israeli police, and then by seeking refuge in the mosque to evade arrest for their blatantly criminal behavior.

Thus, neither the Sheikh Jarrah disputes nor the Palestinian scam at al-Aqsa could ever justify the current wave of violence and terror which Fatah and Hamas have now unleashed upon all the peoples of this Land. Viewed in proper perspective, these riots and rockets were simply a means for both Palestinian factions to express their unwavering rejection of peace with Israel.

The shame is that Israelis were coming so close to a genuinely historic breakthrough of reconciliation with their Arab neighbors – both in the region and within their own borders. But alas, those hopes are now badly battered, the pressure is off the Palestinians to make peace, and who knows when these raging flames they ignited will be extinguished.

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ Webinar, “The Escalation Over Jerusalem”, from Thursday, 13 May, featuring ICEJ Vice President & Spokesman David Parsons, Amb. Paul Hirschson from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Shmuel Bowman of Operation Lifeshield.

Why is Jerusalem important to Christians?

As we mark Yom Yerushalayim in the coming days, it is vital to understand why Jerusalem holds such a central place in Christian thinking. The importance of Jerusalem to Christians is rooted in the significance attached to Jerusalem in the Bible.

One way to determine the importance of a subject in the Bible is to see how often it is mentioned. By this measure, Jerusalem appears to be quite significant, as it is directly mentioned 660 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and 146 times in the New Testament. If we add synonyms and endearing terms, such “Zion”, we get another 165 times. That is almost 1,000 verses which mention Jerusalem – the only city declared “holy” in the Bible.

However, this is just a quantitative answer. It is more essential to ask the qualitative question: What is it that makes Jerusalem so prominent? You may have seen the medieval painting in which Jerusalem is depicted as the center of the world. It is actually based on a scripture from Ezekiel where God declares that He has set Jerusalem in the midst of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5). So, again, what makes the city so special?

First of all, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. God makes some strong statements about Jerusalem which reveal His desire, His emotions. The prophet Zechariah declares that the Lord has chosen Jerusalem (Zechariah 3:2), and that He is zealous for Zion with great zeal (Zechariah 1:14). A key passage is found in the Book of Psalms: “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’” (Psalm 132:13-14)

So, Jerusalem is a dwelling place for the presence of God. He is omnipresent, and we can experience His presence anywhere in the world. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is present. When the Holy Spirit fills us, we experience the presence of God. Yet God presence rests in Jerusalem in a special way, because God chose this place.

God makes choices; He draws distinctions. Just as He loves all nations, He also has chosen one particular nation as a “special treasure, a special possession” (Exodus 19:5). God made a covenant with the Jewish people and set them apart for His redemptive plan to bring blessing to all mankind. This plan appears already when God first called Abram, saying: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The New Testament affirms this, such as when Paul explains that the advantage of a Jew is “much in every way, mainly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). All the world owes a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people, because they brought us the very word of God. And from them came the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.

So, we can see that God makes choices for a purpose. He chose Israel to be the vehicle through which to bring salvation and blessing to the whole world. Likewise, He chose Jerusalem for a special purpose. And again, we see that it is meant not only for Israel but for all nations. Isaiah declares: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).

It was in this city that His Son also was sentenced, crucified and put into the grave. It was in this city where Jesus rose from the dead, demonstrating the power of God, which overcomes even death. It was in this city where the Holy Spirit fell upon the first disciples and where the Church was born.

This alone explains why Jerusalem is so important to Christians. Different denominations may have their particular centers – some look to Rome, others to Constantinople, Moscow, Geneva or Wittenberg. These locales emphasize their differences. But when Christians all look to Jerusalem, we emphasize what we have in common. Focus on Jerusalem brings unity – or at least it should. It has been my experience that when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are united despite our differences.

But there is more to Jerusalem than just the past. The Lord has chosen Jerusalem for a central role in His still unfolding plan. The Hebrew prophets spoke of a future time when Jerusalem will be prominent once more. Jeremiah foresaw Israel being gathered “out of the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers”, and “at that time Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:17-18)

So we see in this city a unique connection between Israel and the nations. When the Jewish people return to their land, all nations shall come to Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah explained that after a great conflict over the city, the nations shall come at one particular season of the year: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16)

It has been the mission of the ICEJ to make the global Church aware of this prophetic call, and thus we started a Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) more than 40 years ago.

This connection between the Jewish return and Jerusalem exalted among the nations is being confirmed by history. When the first waves of Aliyah started in the 1880s, Jerusalem turned from a neglected provincial town to a highly coveted place. In those days, all the major powers insisted on having a foothold in the city. Until today, we have a German Colony, a Russian Compound, an American Colony, a French Quarter, etc.

And as the Jewish nation grew, so did the global importance of Jerusalem. The United Nations tried to make it an international city. The Arabs ignited a war in 1948 which tragically left Jerusalem divided. In 1967 it was reunited under Jewish sovereignty, but the world has largely refused to recognize this. Jerusalem is the only national capital in the world which is not recognized by most governments. US President Donald Trump broke from the consensus and moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but the pressure on other nations not to follow is enormous. It all confirms the special importance of the city. It is as if the whole world is irrationally fixated on Jerusalem, which brings to mind the words of the prophet Zechariah:

Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. (Zechariah 12:2-3)

There were so many UN resolutions about Jerusalem, and yet no peaceful resolution over its fate. Indeed, Jerusalem seems to have an intoxicating influence over people. Recall all the major Arab/Muslim riots in recent decades over minor Israeli moves in the city.

The prophets foretell of a coming conflict over Jerusalem which will involve all nations. This is one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah. The disputed status of Jerusalem is an indication of our prophetic times. If you want to discern the times, look to Jerusalem. Jesus said: “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jerusalem was occupied – trampled - by the Gentiles from the Roman destruction in 70 AD until June 1967. With the liberation of Jerusalem, a paradigm shift occurred. Jerusalem is now at the center of world attention. And God is restoring Israel. We are moving towards the fulfilment of all the remaining prophecies, of salvation for Israel and judgement on the nations. And then His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. Jesus will come to reign from Jerusalem. And all nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship Him. And in the end, there will finally be a ‘New Jerusalem’ coming down from Heaven – pure and holy.

So, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. It is the place where significant events in the salvation history occurred, and it is the future throne of God to rule over all nations.

One final thought on why Jerusalem is so critical role. In Genesis 14 we find the story of Abraham coming back from defeating five kings and meeting Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem), as well as the king of Sodom. They represent the very opposite. Melchizedek is a righteous king and priest of the one true God. He offers bread and wine to Abraham, who accepts the gifts and offers back a tithe of his increase. In contrast, the king of Sodom offers him the ill-gotten spoils of war, and was refused (Genesis 14:17-23).

Abraham was put to a test. He had to make a choice. Would he choose material possessions from Sodom, or a humble life of righteousness and peace before God? Abraham understood the choice perfectly – and chose well!

I believe Jerusalem represents this choice for all peoples and nations. This city demands a decision. God chose Jerusalem to be a measuring stick by which He is going to judge all nations. May Jerusalem never lose its spiritual importance to us.

 

FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ Webinar: Why is Jerusalem Important to Christians?, from Thursday, 6 May, featuring Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Ms. Fleur Hassan Nahum and ICEJ Vice President for International Affairs Dr. Mojmir Kallus. 

 

Give an Honorable Man His Due

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just a few days left to try to form a coalition government before the mandate gets passed to a political rival bent on driving him from office. His chances of success are narrowing by the hour, and thus we may be looking at Netanyahu’s last days in power. But the fact that it has taken four successive elections to pry him from the throne will only add to the legendary status of this formidable Israeli leader and statesman.

After holding four elections in the past two years, Israel remains stuck in a political quagmire. Netanyahu and his Likud party again have the largest number of seats in the new Knesset (30), but he has found it hard to enlist enough partners to form a coalition government supported by a 61–seat majority in parliament. The parties on the Right hold 72 Knesset mandates, but several of these factions are refusing to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu while he is on trial for a series of fraud and breach-of-trust cases.

Netanyahu has until next Tuesday, May 4th, to pull together a governing coalition, but reports suggest he has already given up due to the stiff resistance he is encountering in his own nationalist camp from former-colleagues-turned-adversaries Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope.

There is still a narrow path back to the premiership for Netanyahu if Naftali Bennett’s Yamina faction and the three conservative religious parties (Religious Zionism, Shas and UTJ) would be willing to sit in a minority government under him that would be supported from the outside by Mansour Abbas and his small Arab/Islamist party Ra’am. However, Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right religious nationalists, has deliberately torpedoed such an alignment by repeatedly disparaging Abbas and his pragmatist Arab faction.

Meantime, the anti-Netanyahu bloc also will have trouble forming a majority government should they receive a mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to try to form a government. The reason is that they too would need conservative Jews on the Right to accept outside support from the same Arab party. Netanyahu himself has legitimized such a move by first proposing Ra’am as a possible coalition partner. This could be a breakthrough for societal reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel, but it still would require breaking a political taboo by both sides.

The most viable options for resolving the electoral impasse in coming days involve Bennett serving as prime minister first – either in a rotation deal with Netanyahu and the Right, or in a rotation with Lapid as part of a unity government with the Center/Left. The latter alternative is being vigorously discussed even before Netanyahu’s mandate expires. But Bennett is demanding that the parties on the Right receive most of the prime cabinet postings (Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, Judiciary, Education) even if they are a minority within the coalition, since 60% of Israelis voted for parties on the Right. This demand remains a sticking point with Lapid and his leftist allies. Of course, a third option would be going to an unthinkable fifth election, which everyone is vowing to avoid but may prove inevitable.

Most noteworthy in these various scenarios is that the odds for Netanyahu to remain prime minister for now are slim to none. He would have to wait his turn while serving as an “alternate prime minister” – much like Gantz has been doing over the past year. And in such a case, he could try to trigger a new election a year or so down the road if the polls are more favorable. This all means he is unlikely to retain the premiership at this time, yet his political career may be far from over.

Seeing the writing on the wall, some within Likud have been offering ideas for giving Netanyahu an “honorable exit” due to his stature and many achievements for the nation. After all, he did just win the largest number of Knesset seats – by far. One idea would have him voted in as the next president to replace Rivlin this summer, while other suggestions would allow him to stay in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street while someone else takes the first turn as head of the government. So far, he has not been too enthusiastic about any of these proposals and seems prepared to fight on, even in the Opposition – and in the courtroom as well.

However this all plays out next week and beyond, Netanyahu certainly is due more honor and respect for all he has done for Israel than the way some want to hoist him on a pike.

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Make sure to also watch the ICEJ Webinar on the topic “Can PM Netanyahu Stay in Power”, hosted by ICEJ VP & Spokesman David Parsons and featuring Josh Reinstein, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, from Thursday, 29 April 2021, on the ICEJ’s YouTube channel. 

 

The Christian Role in Israel’s Rebirth

As we mark the miraculous rebirth of Israel 73 years ago, it is important to also recall some of the unheralded Christians who assisted the Zionist movement in that critical moment when the Jewish State miraculously re-emerged on the world scene.

For more than a century prior to modern Israel’s establishment, well-known Christian politicians and clergy had laid the moral and historic foundation for the Zionist movement’s eventual successes. In fact, it was British diplomatic chaplain William Hechler who befriended Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, and became its ‘foreign minister’ by introducing Herzl to many of the leaders of Western Europe in their day. Also notable are a trio of British military officers who helped restore the Jewish fighting spirit in the years between World Wars I and II – Col. John Henry Patterson, Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, and finally Col. Charles Orde Wingate.

There were, however, two lesser known Christian pastors who played key roles in the UN’s decision to partition Palestine on 29 November 1947, which paved the way for Israel’s independence some six months later.

In February 1947 the United Nations appointed 11 member states to the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to conduct an inquiry and propose a solution to the “unworkable” British Mandate. The committee came to the Land that summer to investigate the deteriorating situation first-hand.

They were impressed with Jewish advancements in the land. The plight of some 250,000 Jewish refugees stuck in European refugee camps also weighed heavily on the committee. Desperate efforts to bring them to Palestine were blocked by Britain’s pro-Arab policies and naval blockade along the coast. The sad ordeal of the Exodus-1947, a ship packed with 4,500 desperate Holocaust survivors, caught UNSCOP’s attention that summer.

Rev. John Stanley Grauel, a Christian sympathiser with the Zionist cause, had volunteered as the vessel’s only non-Jewish crew member and witnessed the British assault on the Exodus off Haifa. He rushed to Jerusalem and gave compelling testimony before the committee; how the ship was rammed seven times, then boarded by armed sailors who shot and clubbed to death defenceless boys.

“The Exodus had no arms,” Rev. Grauel insisted. “All they fought with were potatoes, canned goods, and their bare fists.”

The refugees eventually were returned to Germany. The tragedy stretched out several months before a worldwide audience, fuelling the committee’s growing sense of its humanitarian mission.

Rev. William Hull also impacted UNSCOP that summer, especially Canadian delegate Justice Ivan Rand. Also from Canada, Rev. Hull had ministered in Jerusalem since 1935 and knew first-hand of the injustices visited upon the Jewish community by British and Arab alike. Over dinner one evening, Justice Rand listened to Hull’s views and later admitted their encounter clarified his understanding of the dispute and gave him new appreciation for Zionist endeavours. Rev. Hull also submitted a letter to the full committee setting forth in a powerful way the case for Biblical Zionism.

Since Canada was part of the Commonwealth, Justice Rand’s anti-British leanings held great sway. In a sense, he became “the conscience of the committee.”

Following his lead, the majority of UNSCOP recommended partitioning the Land into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Partition Plan (Resolution 181) was adopted by a vote of 33 to 13 in the UN General Assembly. The Jewish Agency accepted the decision, but Arab leaders rejected it and immediately launched hostilities. By the time the British Mandate ended on 14 May 1948, Arab-Jewish fighting had resulted in a de facto partition and the Jewish people were poised to declare the rebirth of their ancient nation.

When David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of Israel in late afternoon on 14 May, the conflict between Jews and Arabs escalated as five Arab armies launched an invasion seeking to “drive the Jews into the sea” and claim the land for themselves. The struggling Jewish forces were joined by foreign volunteers, including a number of Christians who came to help defend the new-born Jewish state. One of them, Derek Bowden, was a veteran British paratrooper during World War II and went on to train the victorious IDF’s elite paratrooper’s brigade.
 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Make sure to also watch the ICEJ Webinar on the topic “Christian Role in Israel’s Rebirth”, featuring David Parsons, Jerry Klinger and Sam Philipe, from Thursday, 15 April 2021, on the ICEJ’s YouTube channel.

 

Christians and the Holocaust

“How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you, that I may comfort you? For your ruin is spread as wide as the sea; who can heal you.” Lamentations 2:13

This verse lamenting the destruction of Israel repeatedly asks the question as to what should we do and how can we comfort Zion? Of all people, Christians need to answer these questions. While the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazis, whose core leaders departed from Christianity to follow pagan Norse gods, the underpinnings of this immense tragedy were indeed Christian. This opened the door and provided the climate for the Nazis to launch their diabolical program of Jewish extermination on an industrial scale that was quite simply mind boggling. That six million innocent Jewish people were murdered in the most brutal fashion is truly beyond belief and we must never forget that this happened just seventy-five years ago.

There were five pillars, if you will, upon which Christendom in Europe built its hatred of the Jewish people:

1. Culturalization
In the second and third centuries, when as yet there was no New Testament canon of Scripture, Church leaders began to make statements concerning the Jewish people that were derogatory and demeaning. Sadly, almost all the highly respected Church Fathers did this. The common people could not test these statements with Scripture as these were also not yet widely available. This continued for centuries and in time became acceptable Christian behavior.

2. Sanitization
Together with the problem of consistently demeaning the Jews, the organized Church began to expunge everything Jewish from their festivals, liturgical practices and theology. The Hebraic foundation, or Jewish root system, of the Christian faith was therefore removed and in some cases replaced with pagan identities. So, for instance, Passover became Easter, or the Feast of Ishtar, and the Feast of Tabernacles became a harvest festival, etc.

3. Indoctrination
By the Middle Ages, the so-called doctrine of ‘contempt’ had been formulated which essentially stated the Jewish people were excluded from the love of God and were only kept alive by God as objects of His wrath and judgment. Jews were therefore beyond redemption and now the Church was the real and new Israel of God. This ungodly theological position was only repealed in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council.

4. Liberalization
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian universities and seminaries were infiltrated by liberal academics who began to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of scripture. This, while everywhere prevalent, was particularly true of Germany. With no document of absolute truth, a vacuum was produced into which ultimately stepped the evil of Nazism, which blamed the Jews for the defeat of Germany in the First World War and other societal ills. This opened the door finally to:

5. Intimidation
Adolf Hitler and his murdering thugs could now openly speak evil of the Jews at one mass rally after the next. All of the above came together to produce a deadly vial of murder and extermination, to which a blind eye was turned from the plight of the Jews and fear gripped anyone who would rise up to challenge the Nazi narrative. Those who dared to do so paid with their lives and so the Holocaust began! Too few brave Christians like Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to the aid of the Jews.

These, my friends, are the five foundation stones that made possible the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry from 1933 to 1945. The following true story well illustrates this historic truth.

In 1987, I was serving on the pastoral team of the Jerusalem Christian Assembly, an expatriate church that met in the main auditorium of the YMCA on King David Street in Jerusalem. Just a few days before Christmas, I was meeting with my fellow pastors Jim Cantelon and Wayne Hilsden over breakfast. Suddenly, the restaurant floor manager, a Jewish man called Yossi, came over to us and asked if he could join us. We duly welcomed him and asked him to take a seat. He then proceeded to tell us that he wished, with our permission, to attend our Christmas Eve service. We, of course, were quite surprised but he quickly assured us that he was not a Christian and did not intend to become one. Our interest was aroused and we therefore asked him why? He then proceeded to tell us an amazing story.

Yossi grew up in Hungary and was a young teenager when his country was invaded and occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. On Christmas Eve, he was rounded up with other young Jewish girls and boys and herded into a Gestapo courtyard where at one end was a machine gun. They were all told to undress, and then they were placed against a wall as a German soldier made his weapon ready to shoot them dead. Suddenly, a higher-ranking Gestapo officer entered the courtyard and told them to halt and stated that they could not do this on Christmas Eve. He further demanded that they be released into his custody and that after Christmas Day, he would return them to be killed. After much haggling and debate, the other officers conceded and surrendered the teenagers to his custody.

This Gestapo officer promptly loaded all the youngsters, including Yossi, into a truck and drove them to freedom. He was nothing but an imposter, as he was in truth a Christian by the name of Raoul Wallenberg, the now-famous Swedish diplomat stationed in Budapest. Yossi nearly died because of Christmas Day, but the truth is he was saved because of Christmas Day. He therefore had made a vow that on every Christmas Day thereafter, he would attend a church gathering. Hence, his meeting with us and his request to attend our Christmas Day service. I personally welcomed him at the door when he arrived and took his place amongst the congregation. I have never forgotten him.

This, my friends, answers the question posed by the prophet Jeremiah in his book of Lamentations. Who indeed will comfort the daughter of Zion? You, my dear Christian brothers and sisters, will – just like Wallenberg did, even though you know that your long history of antisemitism provided the platform for the Jews to be murdered on Christmas Day. There is such a thing as collective guilt, just as modern-day Americans are having to grapple with their history of slavery. On the walls of Yad Vashem the following words are inscribed: “Remembrance is the pathway to redemption but forgetfulness is the road to exile.” On this Yom HaShoah, Israel’s solemn Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember!
 

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and still serves on the Board of Trustees.

MAKE SURE to also watch the ICEJ webinar “Christians and the Holocaust” from Thursday, 8 April 2021, featuring Shaya Ben Yehuda and Rev. Malcolm Hedding, founders of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. View Here!

The Power of the Cross

During the Passover season each year, we are reminded of the most powerful event which ever took place in human history. At exactly the moment when thousands of Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus – the Lamb of God – died on the Cross and carried away the sins of the world. This perfect fulfilment of the Paschal sacrifice on a Roman cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem has become the primary symbol of Christianity.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that if he had to condense the Christian faith into one single message, it would be the message of the cross of Christ. When visiting the church in Corinth, he was “determined not to know anything… except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) For all eternity, the Cross declares an eternal and powerful message to the world, for it is a mighty demonstration of God’s character.

A demonstration of God’s love
At Calvary we see more than anywhere else the character of God. Paul declares: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If there is one place where God’s love can be seen and understood best, it is at the foot of the Cross. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...”

No matter how noble the cause, would any among us consider giving up our children for it? No, family comes first! And of course, this is our first realm of responsibility as good parents. But this was not the case with God. He was willing to give His Son, not to redeem a noble company of saints, but Jesus died for wretched sinners like you and me.

This is the exciting news; God did not wait for the human race to improve until He decided to offer the incredible redemptive gift of His Son. He did so while humanity was hopelessly lost and in open rebellion against Him. This love was not deserved and it remains beyond our understanding. This also gives us hope. Paul uses that very truth to assure the status of the believer. If God was willing to offer the incredible gift of the death of His only Son while we were still sinners, Paul urges us to consider how much more will He now give us everything as His children. God will never come to a point that He is finished with you. He literally is willing to do whatever it takes to finish the good work He started in you (Romans 8:32, Philippians 1:6). So never give up on yourself!

A demonstration of God’s righteousness
The Cross also demonstrates God’s righteousness. “Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…” (Romans 3:25)

The Cross is a powerful display of the righteous character of God. The German theologian Erich Sauer wrote: “All the patience of the past was only possible in foresight of the Cross and all grace of the future is justified in hindsight of the Cross.” It is there at the Cross where every single righteous requirement of God is being met. It is only at the Cross where God’s righteousness can become our very own righteousness. It is this glorious exchange at the Cross which allows us to enter freely into the presence of God, knowing that all our sins past, present or future are being met by the grace of God.

The exaltation of the person of Jesus
It was the unconditional obedience of Jesus to his heavenly Father which exalted him above all measure. When Jesus is introduced by John in the first chapter of his Gospel, the Apostle sees “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father.” (John 1:18; see also Proverbs 8:25-31) After the Cross, Jesus returned to his Father, yet not to His bosom but “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God”, with “angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” (Hebrews 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22) What an exaltation!

Paul described this in the following way: “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)

This does not mean that Jesus through the Cross attained a more divine nature or a higher heavenly status. He already was the all-powerful Creator (John 1:3). Yet the Cross has earned him that glorious name of Jesus which is worthy of all our praise and adoration forever.

The transformation of humankind
The great impact of the Cross on the human race is that it is not just a means to avoid punishment and hell. Jesus did not die to just save the sinner from certain death (even though this would have been reason enough to thank God for all eternity). Rather, the Cross delivers to us something far greater. The death and resurrection of Christ make us part of God’s eternal family! When Jesus died on the Cross, an incredible exchange of identity took place.

It is not only Jesus who died on Calvary, but everyone who places their faith in his hands died with Christ and is resurrected to a new identity (Romans 6:6). Or as Jesus put it, we are “born again.” (John 3:3) And once this transformation takes place, our new identity is that of a son or daughter of God. Jesus brings us into such an intimate relationship with the Father that we can call him “Abba.” (Romans 8:15) Jesus has become our all-powerful elder brother and he himself “is not ashamed to call [us his] brethren! (Hebrews 2:11)

We have become co-heirs with Jesus and one day we will rule and reign with him! What a wonderful redemption!

Therefore let us rise up from the all our lethargy and misery. The Cross has become our victory for today and the gateway to a triumphant future. Let us live according to that glorious destination and let us give thanks to God for His saving love!
 

MAKE SURE to also watch the ICEJ webinar “Resurrection and First Fruits” from Thursday, 1 April 2021, featuring ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler.

Passover and the Cross

“Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:13

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John 1:29

There are many important parallels between the Passover of the Exodus story and that fateful Passover when Jesus suffered and died for our sins. There also are many lessons to be learned from the first Pessach concerning the incredible spiritual victories achieved by Christ at the second.

1) The judgement of false gods
Exodus 12:12 says: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgement; I am the Lord.”

The first Passover reminds us that there is only one God and we are to love and fear Him. We must be careful not to make idols of things that supplant the place which Jesus should hold in our lives (Deuteronomy 11:16). We must always tell the story of how God came down in Christ to save us from the slavery of sin. The Passover has a liturgy (the Haggadah) which actually means “the telling”. We must tell this story time and time again to our households and children.

2) The judgement of the individual
Both Jews and Egyptians were subject to death on that first Passover night. In fact, a vast multitude of other peoples were delivered that night, including Egyptians.

This reminds us that:
(a) All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

(b) The holy love of God, meaning His wrath and anger, is set against us if we do not repent and turn away from our sins. The same God who declares that He loves us will send us away one day into eternal darkness and wrath if we do not humbly turn to Him! (John 3:36).

(c) The atoning love of God in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is the only way for us to experience the abounding and marvelous presence of God for all eternity. It is the death of Christ alone that frees us from the wrath of God, our sinful natures, death, and the devil – the pharaoh of Egypt.

The sin and death that besets our lives is like leaven which rises to permeate and penetrate everything. Thus, at Passover all leaven has to be meticulously removed from one’s home (Exodus 12:19). Paul used this as an illustration of how we are to follow Christ in that, “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed” and therefore we must purge the leaven of sin from our lives (1 Corinthians 5:7). This is precisely why Communion, a part of the Passover celebration, must be taken very seriously (1 Corinthians 11:23-28).

Also, deliverance at Passover was effected by the blood of a lamb being placed in the form of a cross on the door posts and lintels of their homes (Exodus 12:7). Thereafter, the sacrificed lamb had to be fully eaten. That is, salvation is by the death of Jesus on the cross, which saves us from the consequences of our sins, while the fullness of the life of Christ in us saves us from the power of sin. We have to feed on Him every day! (Romans 5:10)

(d) The lamb of God sacrificed at Passover was a substitutionary atonement. That is, it took the place of the Israelites and died for them. Jesus did exactly the same thing for us: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)

In fact, the Scriptures tell us that He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). This means that we are wholly sinful and the saying that “God loves the sinner but just hates the sin” is false. Sin is not just an accident in our lives or some unfortunate growth on our bodies. No! We are sin itself and so Jesus became sin for us, in our stead. Do not ever trivialize sin as it cost the Son of God everything, just like the Passover lamb.

At Passover, the lamb of God had to be personally appropriated. That is, the record of Scripture teaches that it was first “a lamb”, then “the lamb” and finally “your lamb” (Exodus 12:3-5). We have to see Jesus, understand that He is unique and sinless, and finally we must make Him our own. We must surrender ourselves to His deliverance just as the Israelites did in Egypt.

3. The judgement of the Lamb
According to Exodus 12:3-6, the lamb of the Passover had to be perfect, without blemish. Likewise, Jesus was perfect, even in being born of a virgin.

The Passover lamb had to dwell in your home and be examined for three days, just as Jesus was inspected closely by all who heard him during his three years of ministry.

Finally, the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed at twilight, just as Jesus died on the cross for each one of us just before the Passover began.

We have a glorious Savior who, by His death, has enabled God – His Father – to pass over our lives and deliver us from wrath, our sins, death and the devil. We must appropriate Him by a personal decision and then go out in haste from the “Egypt” that is this world to follow Him and live our lives for Him (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is an ordained minister and member of the ICEJ’s international Board of Trustees.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this subject, please watch the ICEJ webinar “Passover and the Cross” from Thursday, 25 March 2021, featuring Rev. Malcolm Hedding.

Israel’s Fourth Round of Elections Closer Than Ever

Israelis will head to the ballot box next Tuesday (23 March) in their fourth national elections of the past 30 months. The latest polls indicate this may be the closest race yet in these repetitive bids to oust long-time Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Somehow, he has managed to stay in office for more than a decade now, despite numerous determined attempts to unseat him, but the key to whether Netanyahu will remain in power this time lies within his own nationalist camp.

The election campaign is winding down just as the nation is emerging from a major corona-related lockdown, thanks to the Netanyahu government’s very ambitious mass vaccination program. With almost 90% of all Israeli adults now vaccinated, everyone is hoping for life to return to normal and for the economy to recover. This may give Netanyahu a last-minute boost which keeps him in office. But it is just as possible that too many party leaders from the center/right – namely Naftali Bennett of Yamina, Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope, and Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu – will refuse to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, thereby ending his historic run as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

How did we get here?
In the third election cycle last March, the center/left cobbled together an alignment of parties featuring Benny Gantz and two other former IDF chiefs-of-staff, along with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, to try to bring down “Mr. Security” – as Netanyahu is known. The election results were deadlocked, but due to the corona crisis Gantz decided to break his vow not to sit in a government with Netanyahu and entered a rotation deal which called for Gantz to take over as prime minister in November of this year. However, that agreement fell apart in late December when the ruling coalition failed to pass an annual state budget in time, triggering yet another round of elections.

What is at stake?
Israel’s traditional political fault line of hawks vs doves has been increasingly irrelevant over the last four elections, and never more so than now. The Left vs Right divide has taken a back seat to the simple question ‘Bibi or not Bibi.” The peaceniks are still losing ground to the nationalist camp, but even within his traditional conservative base Netanyahu is hemorrhaging support. Liberman abandoned his former ally last election, and Sa’ar just broke away from Likud to form New Hope on a promise to finally replace Netanyahu with a new prime minister. This has left Bennett in the critical position of kingmaker – able to decide if Bibi stays put or not while exacting political benefits for himself either way. Should Netanyahu prevail yet once more in this prolonged political struggle, his legend as an Israeli leader will only become more embellished.

What is their bone with Bibi?
Many contend that Israeli democracy is actually at stake in this election, due to their perception of Netanyahu as corrupt, self-serving and privileged. Fueled by the three corruption trials now pending against him, the drive to oust Netanyahu has become relentless. The “Black Flag” movement has staged weekly boisterous protests across the country for an entire year now – despite corona lockdowns and stormy winter weather. Even younger rivals on the Right are now jumping onto this bandwagon, perhaps exploiting the growing anti-Bibi sentiment as an opportunity to accelerate their own political rise.

Bibi’s rebuttal
This all ignores, of course, Netanyahu’s many lasting contributions to the country, such as his economic success in marketing Israel as the Start-Up Nation; his adept handling of Israel’s many security challenges, including the Iranian nuclear threat; and his many diplomatic achievements, such as the recent Abraham Accords. In recent days, Netanyahu has even hinted that four more Arab/Muslim nations are ready to make peace with Israel. On the other hand, the landmark normalization pact with the United Arab Emirates did hit a slight snag this week when Netanyahu tried to pay an historic visit that Abu Dhabi sensed was skirting too close to the Israeli elections.

Are there any wild cards?
Polls show there are several parties hovering right at the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the national vote count to enter the Knesset – Blue & White, Religious Zionists, Meretz and Ra’am. The failure of one or more of these parties to reach that minimum number of votes could end up boosting other parties last-minute and thus make a crucial difference in the pro/anti-Bibi divide.

  

In addition, the Arab vote has become a key factor in this election. The Arabs make up around 20% of the Israeli population, and thus could potentially account for some 23 Knesset seats. They traditionally vote for Arab and leftist parties, but Netanyahu is courting them for the first time to vote Likud. The leaders of the main Arab party, the Joint List, broke precedent last election by recommending Gantz as prime minister. There is a chance they might go further and actually seek to join a coalition government this time, but the question is whether that could include one with Netanyahu at its head. In an odd twist, Arab party leaders are still reluctant publicly to sit in a government with Netanyahu, even while one recent survey found that a third of all Arab voters prefer him as prime minister – more than any other candidate. The small breakaway Ra’am party is promising to be pragmatic about securing advances for the Arab sector and thus may provide Netanyahu a difference-making boost from an unusual source.

Final forecast?
Neither Naftali Bennett nor Gideon Sa’ar have managed to build enough backing to seriously challenge for the premiership, leaving Yair Lapid as the only realistic alternative to Netanyahu as the next head of government. There were indications this week that the Likud party has gained a seat or two on Yesh Atid due to the positive national mood created by the recent lifting of corona restrictions and the gradual return to normalcy. Thanks to the mass vaccination campaign, malls and restaurants are starting to re-open – just as the polls are about to open.

Netanyahu has managed to seize just enough last-minute momentum to secure re-election several times before, and it may be happening again. If Bennett could be swayed by this most recent late shift, plus some hefty political rewards, it could be enough to convince him to join Netanyahu in a narrow but stable right-wing government. With such an outcome, Bibi’s political prowess would approach the mythical.

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this subject, please watch the ICEJ webinar “The Israeli Elections” from Thursday, 18 March 2021, moderated by ICEJ spokesman David Parsons, and featuring Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, and Chris Mitchell, Jerusalem bureau chief for CBN News.

 

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

The days we live in are truly challenging times. The year 2021 started out with more worrisome news: new mutations of COVID-19, talk of an economic meltdown, and disturbing scenes from the Capitol building of the United States. It seems that indeed everything that can be shaken is being shaken.

The global pandemic has impacted not only our economies, but also the way we worship and fellowship as believers. The recent US elections seem to have put America on a new path that already appears to be threatening the Judeo-Christian values upon which America and the Western world were founded. Many ask: ‘Where is God in all this?’ This is particularly so as many prayed for a different outcome in the US elections, and even more have interceded for an end to the corona pandemic.

For me, the book of Habakkuk holds more relevance today than ever before. The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when he did not understand the world anymore – and more importantly he did not understand God anymore. As you read this, I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire book of Habakkuk and have your Bible ready as you read along. Allow me to take you through the three chapters of a prophetic book that I believe many of us can identify with today.

The book of Habakkuk differs other prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet did not receive a message directed to Israel, but it is more the very personal dialogue of a troubled man of God with His Creator.

Habkkuk’s Crisis

From the very beginning (Habakkuk 1:2-4), Habakkuk voices his complaint to God: ”How long must I call for help but You do not listen!” The prophet comes straight to the point: Lord, my prayers are not answered! In addition, he feels God is just looking on as injustice spreads, and strife and conflicts abounds. He sees the people of God and the law being paralyzed (v. 4) and losing their impact in the land. Instead of righteousness, he sees injustice and violence taking over.

God’s First Response

God’s response (vs.1:5-11) was definitely not what the man of God expected: God instructed him to observe what is going to happen, not only in Israel but among the nations. “I will raise the Babylonians … that ruthless and impetuous people” (1:6). They will come to destroy and to take captives wherever they go. In other words, God told him: “You think it is bad now? Just wait, it is going to get even worse and …. I am in the midst of it.”

In fact, God told Habakkuk: “I am doing something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told (Habakkuk 1:5).”

The Man of God

Let us take a step back and see who Habakkuk was. He was not your average Sunday church-goer who once a week bothered go to the church to fulfill his religious duties. He was not a complainer upset that his prayers did not get instantly answered. We are dealing here with one of the great men of God from ancient times. Habakkuk was one of the few persons whose writings ended up in the Bible. His declaration that “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4) is one of the most quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament. He was a man of prayer and heard the voice of God like few did in his generation (He was a compatriot of Jeremiah).

It was exactly this rare man of God who saw his prayers go unanswered. His “how long shall I cry” (v. 1) is the despair of possibly many years of prayer for revival in Israel, and yet he saw nothing happening. And honestly, that might be the situation of many dear men and women of God in our times, who have hoped and prayed for another revival for decades. Truth be told, it has been a long time since we have seen revivals like Azusa Street, the Welsh revival, and the Wesleyan or Pietist revivals, in many Western countries. “How long” might be the cry of many believers today.

And God’s response to the prophet is even more puzzling: “You would not believe it if I told you!” I remember hearing one of the new prophetic voices recently being asked: Where were the prophets that foretold of the global pandemic?” The lady was sincere in answering: “I most likely would not have believed it if God told me about a coming global pandemic.” I was refreshed by her honesty.

Many people today question the role of the prophets today, particularly after the recent US election so many prophetic voices foresaw Trump winning a second term. Like Habakkuk, they most likely would not have believed such a dramatic turn would happen to their beloved nation. It is easy to judge them in hindsight. But knowing many of them personally, I know that they – like Habakkuk – hoped most of all for revival in USA. They hoped, like me and many of us in Israel, that another term of Donald Trump would continue to strengthen Israel and would strengthen Christian values not only in America but in other nations as well.

Habakkuk’s Third Response

Yet after God’s reply, Habakkuk was even more perturbed. The pagan Babylonians would be allowed to judge the people of God? This was highly upsetting for him. “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” the prophet asked (1:13).

But then Habakkuk made a decision that became a game-changer, both for the prophet and for the outlook and tone of his entire message.

The Watch Tower

Habakkuk recognized that he now desperately needed to hear from God. He understood that old paradigms and concepts would no longer work. The focus now shifted from asking God to hearing from Him.

God still speaks today, but maybe we need to reorient our hearts to hear the new thing He is doing in the world today. We all need to remember that the Bible is full of passages that difficult times will come to the world. Lawlessness will increase, He will judge the world through earthquakes, wars and even pestilences, and yes eventually there will be even a globally orchestrated war on the saints. I do not know what lies ahead, but could it be that we are entering into a new season when things will become more difficult for the Western church? Yet, as we draw close to Him and seek His face, God promises that He will draw near to us and will answer our plea!

Instead of praying what he always prayed, Habakkuk went on his watch tower to receive the divine insight for his time. We need to realize that many of the changes of 2020 will be irreversible. What worked in years past might not work today or even tomorrow. This is a time when each one of us is called to go up to our personal watch tower to pray and seek the Lord as never before.

The Light House

As Habakkuk listened, God spoke to him! God’s new revelation changed the perspective of the prophet. God did not change his purposes, but He allowed the prophet to see the world how God saw it. The Lord told him to write down plainly what He was about to share with him so that others could read it (2:2). That means God gave him not just an answer for his own questions but what he heard would help others too. Habakkuk’s watch tower of prayer turned into a lighthouse of guidance for others. God used him in turbulent times to be like the sons of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32). This unique tribe understood the times and the seasons they lived in and also knew what they ought to do. The result was the people were at their command. God looks for these lighthouse people today – people who can give hope and direction in these stormy times.

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

At the same time God affirmed to Habakkuk His immovable purposes. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.… but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:3-4)

Shakings would surely come, God said, yet the righteous shall live by faith! The most needed quality we need to strive for in these troubling times is faith. Do not allow the confusion and challenges of our time to rob your faith. In spite of all the chaos around us, God is seated on His throne. This was the vision of Isaiah when one of the greatest kings of Israel died a tragic death. He saw the Lord seated on His throne and the train of his robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1).

Or to put it in the words of the prophet Daniel: When confronted with death and all the wisemen and magicians of Babylon were at the end of their wisdom, Daniel was full of faith and declared… “but there is a God in heaven!” (Daniel 2:28) It means that in the midst of confusion, economic hardship, and all our unanswered questions, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that will carry us through. The righteous shall live by faith!

God is Still at Work!

Finally, God affirmed to Habakkuk what he could not believe anymore. In the midst of judgement and chaos, God’s salvation purposes with mankind continue apace. Like a powerful ray of light penetrating the darkness, God announces: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) This is not just a theological or prophetic statement of the future, but an invitation of God to take an active part in His salvation purposes.

Habakkuk’s New-Found Faith

The prophet Habakkuk’s first reaction was to embrace God’s will. “I heard your report (3:2).” He still did not like it and was filled with fear and trembling (3:2+16). Yet he could see that God was at work. He saw pestilence and pandemics “at God’s heels” (3:5), and high places were shaken as the Lord came to visit the earth. But Habakkuk understood that He came not destroy His people but was coming on a chariot of salvation (3:8) and that God “went out for the salvation of His people, His anointed (3:13).”

It should make us think that the greatest revivals of recent decades have not taken place in the Western democratic, free-market countries, but in developing nations still fighting poverty in Latin America and Africa, and in places like China and Iran and even more recently in the turbulent Arab world.

In one of our weekly Global Prayer Gatherings recently, we heard an amazing testimony from our branch director in the Philippines, Pastor Stephen Mirpuri. Through November and December last year, we prayed for his region after it was horribly struck by a typhoon. Entire villages were completely submerged in water. Many people lost everything. Yet he just reported how revival broke out in this hard-hit region and only in his churches over 3000 people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

God does work in mysterious ways. But God does work! Therefore, Habakkuk received divine faith in the midst of his challenging times. His hunger for revival in Israel was not quenched but even strengthened. “O LORD, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

Maybe the greatest time for the Church in the West is still ahead of us. His work is not dependent on any earthly government. In the midst of the pandemic and great political change, let us make Habakkuk’s prayer our prayer: Lord, revive your work and in wrath remember mercy!

Habakkuk’s attitude was now different from his seemingly legitimate complaints at the beginning of the book. He was able to make one of the most profound statements of faith in the Bible: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17ff)

His faith and his joy were no longer dependent of the circumstances, because he saw the Lord in control! Do not despair of your own disappointment or lack of understanding and even wavering faith. Remember that even a great man of God like Habakkuk struggled with the times he was living in. It is this book of a struggling prophet which invites us to plead our case before the Lord and He will indeed answer!

Finally, Habakkuk made one more profound statement, and this is how his book ends:
“GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:19, ESV)

The chaos and shakings became the territory of victory for Habakkuk. God strengthened him with His strength and gave him “feet like deer” treading on “high places.” There is no doubt we live today in complex and difficult times. Reading this verse, I was reminded of a documentary on mountain goats. With uttermost ease they are able to navigate the highest and seemingly impossible terrain of the Rocky Mountains. God promises this supernatural gift to us. The capability to navigate the new realities of the COVID-19 period, or the coming economic hardships, or a new government not to our liking. He will give us not only His strategies, but also His divine empowerment.

Remember! As we man our watchtower, He might turn it into a lighthouse for others. And most importantly, keep trusting in the Lord because “the righteous shall live by faith!”

—by Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President
 

Battling the Spirit of Amalek

The festival of Purim, one of the most joyful holidays in Israel, is based on the story of Esther. The events of the book or “scroll” of Esther took place back during the Jewish exile in Persia under King Ahasuerus (Xerxes / 486-465 BC). The spiritual roots of the story, however, date back to the time when Saul first reigned as king over Israel and even further back to when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.

In the days of Saul, he was put through a challenge to prove himself as Israel’s leader in battle over their worst enemies, the Amalekites, and so establish his kingship over Israel. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin and his family were Kishites, a little-known community at the time. The prophet Samuel declared the time to establish his rule had come (1 Samuel 15:1), but it required strict obedience. Saul was commanded to engage in a battle of great historic and spiritual significance for Israel, by dealing a final blow to their ancient archenemy – the Amalekites.

During the time of the Exodus, this desert tribe had attacked the children of Israel on the way out of Egypt and they did so in a most despicable manner. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18) Amalek was viscous, attacking the faint and weary at the rear of the column. Since then, this people became the archetype of enmity for Israel, with even God declaring: “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:16)

The book of First Samuel tells us that Saul readily engaged the enemy, yet he did not finish the mission whole-heartedly. He kept the best of the sheep for himself and even worse, he spared Agag, king of the Amalekites. It was Samuel who executed Agag for the death of many in Israel. And because of Saul’s indecisiveness and disobedience in this battle, the kingship over Israel was ultimately removed from the House of Kish and given to the House of David.

And in a real sense, the lingering rivalry between the House of Kish and the House of Agag is then replayed in the story of Esther more than 600 years later.

Round Two
Besides Esther, the other main Jewish character in the story is described as follows: “Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite.” (Esther 2:5) Mordechai was from the deposed royal clan of Saul (see 1 Samuel 9:1; 2 Samuel 16:5). He also served at the gate of Susa, meaning he was a high ranking official in Perisa. Finally, he was the foster father of Esther, a young orphan girl and relative of Mordechai.

Divine circumstances suddenly propelled Esther to the throne of Persia, as she became the wife of the ruler Ahasuerus. It was truly a fairy tale of a beautiful Jewish refugee girl becoming queen of an empire which ruled the world.

The other main figure in the story of Esther was another refugee from the same region named Haman. The Bible refers to him as an Agagite (Esther 3:1), which means he also was of royal descent – from the Amalekite kings. It is a lineage which dates back even to the time of Moses (Numbers 24:7, 20; 1 Samuel 15:7, 32). He, too, had reached the pinnacle of the empire as King Ahasuerus made him prime minister, bestowed with almost unlimited powers. All the other ministerial officers who sat in the gate of Susa, capital of Persia, needed to show respect to Haman by bowing down before him. And everyone did so, except for one man – Mordechai. This made Haman furious, especially when he heard Mordechai was a Jew (Esther 3:6).

Like his Amalekite ancestors, Haman manifested an ancient, demonic hatred of the Jews. He sought revenge, and killing Mordechai was not enough. Rather, he schemed to destroy all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Haman went to the king with a request which is one of the earliest recorded instances of antisemitism:

“There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business…” (Esther 3:8)

For Haman, this was not just a breach of court protocol but a personal matter that was worth investing his own wealth. He saw it as the moment when the conflict between Israel and Amalek could enter its final chapter – the total annihilation of the Jewish people. Tragically, the king approved the plot. Only one other time in history has a similar decree been passed, and that was in 1942 when senior Nazi officials, under Hitler’s directions, met in the Villa Wannsee outside Berlin and plotted to annihilate the eleven million Jews of Europe.

Unlike the fate of European Jewry, when six million Jews were brutally murdered by Nazi Germany, the book of Esther turned into a story of miraculous deliverance.

A Day of Deliverance
When the Jews of Persia heard about the plot to kill them, they immediately called a national fast among all Jews living in Persia. Mordechai could see the hand of God with his cousin Esther now being queen of the empire. He thus made a dramatic appeal to Esther that now was the time for action (Esther 4:13ff):

“Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Mordechai challenged her with a statement that personally gripped my heart years ago when I read it: He said that the survival of the Jews is not dependent upon her; if she remained silent someone else would rise up and deliver them. What a powerful profession of faith!

Mordechai understood that neither Haman nor anyone else could frustrate God’s purposes with Israel. He knew Israel’s destiny was not over, but that God had promised to bring them back to their land and even promised to send them the Messiah. So, if Esther remained silent, another deliverer would arise to save God’s people. “But,” he added, “you and your father's house will perish.”

We do not know for sure, but maybe Mordechai saw this as the opportunity to redeem the half-heartedness of his ancestor Saul. In any event, he was certain that Esther’s silence would have catastrophic consequences for her and her “father’s house.”

To put this in a modern context, we see forces rising today that also seek with evil determination the ruin of the Jewish people. They want to harm Jews, and to weaken or destroy the nation of Israel.

We see this at the United Nations, where Israel – the only functioning democracy in the region – is irrationally singled out every year for condemnation while the worst tyrants of this world are treated as innocents. We also saw this just a few weeks ago at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where Israel is being unfairly investigated for alleged war crimes while other nations massacring their own people are routinely given a pass.

Indeed, the spirit of Amalek is waging war against Israel even in our generation. And here we are called to action. This brings to mind the words of Martin Niemöller, a pastor of the confessing church during Hitler’s time, who stated:

“First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

While he sadly avoided mentioning the Jews, who needed intervention more than anyone else, we should take these words to heart and be ready to speak up in the face of unrighteousness, and in particular with regard to God’s chosen people – the Jews. The warning which Mordechai issued to Esther was already given to Abraham, the first Jew: “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse!” (Genesis 12:3)

As we celebrate Purim, let us renew our commitment to stand unashamedly with God’s people. God sees it and He will bless it.

The story of Esther is one of total reversal. In Esther 9:1 it says: “… on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.”

As the king reversed the situation for the Jews, he allowed and encouraged them to defend themselves and the very day that was appointed for their destruction became a day of great victory and deliverance. Not only were Haman and his ten sons hanged on the very gallows he built for Mordechai, but also hundreds of the ‘enemies of the Jews’ fell with him.

Our Duty to Act
Ironically, when the Nuremberg trials ended in October 1946 and ten senior Nazi officials were hanged, an American journalist heard one of their ranks – Julius Streicher – cry out with his last words: “Purim fest!”

History does tend repeat itself, but it is up to us to do all we can to ensure it will not happen in our lifetime.

We should not ignore that Amalek represents a spirit which has operated throughout history. Both Moses in Exodus 17 and Mordechai in the scroll of Esther understood that prayer and fasting were needed tools to combat this evil spirit of antisemitism. Yet, we also need to be a people of action and visibly show whose side we are on. May God bless us as we do so!

  

 

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