Monday, March 22, 2010

The Jews: The Sign-People of God

Rumor has it that a certain Russian Czar asked his advisor, “How can you prove to me that there is a God?” The advisor surprisingly answered, “Just look at the Jewish people!”

What did he mean by this? The Hebrew Bible’s prophecies about this wandering nation have been unusual and fulfilled it dramatic ways. Moses declared that God had chosen Israel and had blessed them exceedingly but prophesied:

You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. (Deut. 8:17-19)

In accordance with God’s direction, Moses had specified the many blessings that would be Israel’s if she remained faithful to God’s covenant (Deut. 28). Since that time, no people has ever been so successful, learned and wealthy as the Jewish people. Achievement has followed them into whatever place Israel had been exiled. Their degrading exilic circumstances, which have destroyed other peoples, have not interfered with God’s blessings to His sign people. He has always brought forth His broken and persecuted people against all the odds and the hatred of the surrounding peoples.

However, as Moses had prophesied in many places (Deut. 32), their successes had allowed them to stray away from their possessive God. Moses had consistently warned them of the consequences:

The LORD will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the LORD will drive you…Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. (Deut. 28:36-37; 65-66)

There has never been a people as hated and persecuted as the Jewish people. Yet, from the midst of this hatred, their God had promised restoration to exiled and tormented Israel:

But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers--their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies--then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the [My promise about the] land.” (Leviticus 26:40-42)

On three occasions, God had rescued His repentant people, brought them back to the land, and re-established their nation.

1. In response to the cries of enslaved Israel’s cries, after hundreds of years of cruel bondage in Egypt, God sent Moses to lead them to redemption and freedom.

2. After the fall of the Babylonian empire in 532, God placed it in the Persian Cyrus’ heart to equip the Jews to return to their own land and rebuild their Temple.

3. Following the two rebellions against Rome (66-70 CE and 132-136 CE), the Jews were expelled from their land. After centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust in Nazi Europe, once again, Israel was restored as a nation in 1948.

No people group has ever returned to its ancestral land -- even once -- after entirely leaving it. Israel has been restored to their Promised Land on three occasions. This is not merely an historical anomaly, it is a sign of Divine intervention, and it doesn’t stop there.

Prophecy reveals that, in the end, Israel will once again be a nation and again without faith towards her God. Her assailants will mercilessly break her, but this time her God will intervene decisively and permanently:

The LORD will judge [“vindicate” ESV] his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left [to oppose the enemy], slave or free…Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people. (Deut. 32:36; 43)

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