A people prepared for the Lord

Nov 14, 2023 | Flashpoints, INSIGHTS, PRAY, Prayer Focus for the Nations, READ

`O LORD, You are my God! I will exalt You; I will praise Your name. For You have worked wonders – plans formed long ago – in perfect faithfulness. (Is. 25:1 BSB)

What is it about Israel that causes so many to believe that both the land and the people are special in God’s sight? Is there more to it than it just happening to be the land that cradled our faith, the place where Jesus walked, taught, ministered, died and rose again, and from where the worldwide church was launched? This belief is likely to be firmly rooted in prophetic Scriptures which would not appear to have been fully fulfilled in the aftermath of the return of the exiles from Babylon. (e.g. Ezekiel 36, Jeremiah 31, Amos 9).

I found myself remembering a snatch of phrase I had picked up years ago: ‘How odd of God to choose the Jews!’ – and the line that somebody quipped in response: ‘But odder still to choose the Jewish God but spurn the Jewish people!’ – a grievous reality we can trace only too clearly throughout the course of human history. [1]

So far from being ‘odd’, God had many excellent plans and reasons for choosing one nation to be the people to whom He would make His mighty revelation of Himself, and the land that – perhaps in the not-that-distant-future – will once again be centre stage of world and eternal events.

We begin with a historical reflection, but we heading toward a look at some of the more bizarre twists and turns that support for Israel has taken at a widespread prophetic level.

The article includes some sobering reflections on the historical pain and suffering the Jews have felt (not least as expressed in a poem written by a rabbi that we have provided a link to) as well as a link to the way in which the Church has so shamefully contributed to this through the ages, as well as catching a glimpse of the challenging stance taken by Edith Stein in Nazi Germany.

In all this, we are focusing in on the key issue, that God chose the land and people of Israel in order to bring forth His Messiah for the benefit of all nations. No single strand of teaching can presume to comprehend everything perfectly but the Lord’s own plans, ‘full of counsel, wisdom and knowledge,’ as Isaiah said so many millennia ago, are continuing to proceed apace in what he called ‘perfect faithfulness’ in preparation for His return to Earth.

Please do be sure to read our companion article, ‘Are we praying through rose-coloured lenses?

A chosen people
There was nothing in the least arbitrary or random about God’s taking the land of Israel and its people to heart, knowing what He would accomplish in and through them. She was like a Bride to Him, a sentiment Jesus that picked up on when He told the Jews that they need not fast and sorrow while the Bridegroom (Himself) was with them, but that they would do so later. The miracle is that this privilege of being chosen by Him has been extended to all who love the Lord Jesus, with the result that we together form the worldwide Bride of Christ. (Matt. 9:15; Is. 61:10, 62:5, cf Jer. 2:2. See this study, and also this one.)

All this has come about because of the Lord’s careful planning and preparation. Think of the angel who declared of John the Baptist, ‘He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’ (Lk. 1:17)

We may safely assume that these preparations had been made in Heaven’s court even before the Lord chose Abraham to become ‘a great and powerful nation, through whom all nations on Earth would be blessed, because he kept to His way.’ (Gen. 18:18-10) It was all a matter of timing now for the carrying out of His plans.

Everyone can see how perfectly it suited God’s purposes that the Roman Empire should have created an infrastructure of roads and command right across the western world, with the result that the good news of Jesus was able to spread rapidly to the ends of the earth.

But first, before God the Father sent His Son into the world, there had to be a unique herald to announce His coming, and also a people prepared over long ages to receive Him. What a miracle of God’s care – but also indeed of human obedience – that the Jewish people managed to maintain their distinctive culture, despite millennia of oppression, exile, and the constant temptation to ‘become like the other nations.’

Whereas most other people groups eventually intermingle through marriage (and the Bible tells us of occasions when Jewish tribes were strongly tempted to do this too), the essential separateness that Yahweh had insisted upon and woven into the very being of His people, preserved them very particularly – alongside the continually unfolding revelation of His ways and character.

The Messianic line contains some delightfully surprising and colourful characters, not least the Canaanite Rahab, and Ruth the Moabitess – who chose to follow not only her mother-in-law Naomi, but also the Jewish God. The essence of what the Lord had begun with Abraham, however, continued unalloyed and distinctive through the years, precisely because He raised up faithful judges, deliverers, teachers and prophets to hold the nation to account and to inspire them to keep themselves pure and separate for Him – each one of whom demonstrated some aspect of the coming Kingdom the Messiah would inaugurate. (We have hinted at this in the reflection A High Way to Holiness, and plan to look at it in more detail again in a follow-up Bible study on Isaiah chapters 32-35.)

When Jesus was born into a land ruled by Romans who worshipped a pantheon of gods, there were still many who sought the Lord faithfully, and who were building their lives in the light of His revealed truth concerning creation, sacrifice, praise, prayer and redemption. All this prepared the way for the Lord’s new revelation of Himself in the person of a tiny babe in Bethlehem.

To be sure, there were also many, like the Pharisees of Jesus’s own day, who were eager to impose the letter of the law on their fellow citizens with great rigidity, whilst completely failing to share in God’s heart of mercy and compassion. Others, however, found the demands of the covenant and its corresponding responsibilities irksome and restricting; rather than walking in the fulness of their calling, seeking the Lord and His strength from day to day, they wanted to break free of such shackles and have Israel become like other nations, with a king to rule over them and make decisions for them. (1 Sam. 8:10)

By God’s miraculous sovereign working, even after the tragic loss of the northern kingdom through its spiritual rebellion, the fundamental unity of the Jewish people remained sufficiently cohesive for Jesus to come full of grace and truth to draw all the strands together, in a perfect demonstration of what was involved in living on Earth in such a way as to be walking with God.

This is what the Lord had had in mind: for all people everywhere to turn to Him to become ‘a chosen people: a royal priesthood and a holy nation, God’s special possession, who endlessly declare the praises of the One who has called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.’ (1 Pet. 2:9)

No sage or scholar in olden time pouring over the prophecy in Isaiah 49:6 could have done more than merely glimpse the extent to which Israel’s original calling would becoming a transforming call of light and life to the entire world – Jew and Gentile alike. How much we have to be grateful for!

It was towards the end of Christ’s ministry on Earth that it became clear that the nation to which He had been sent had rejected Him, and He warned the people that the Kingdom would be taken from them to be given to the despised Gentiles. How humbling! How shocking! In every sense God’s work and message was a scandal and an offence to a people firm in their understanding that they were a set apart and chosen people. God did not choose them because they were mighty, strong and clever, but because they were the smallest and the weakest all nations:

The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His prized possession out of all peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than the other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers. (Deut. 7:6-8 BSB)

No wonder Paul has so much to say about God deliberately choosing that which is weakest in the world through whom to be glorified, despite the many Jews who have made an outstanding contribution to humanity for both good and – in the case of Karl Marx – very largely for ill. He made it clear that the Gentiles have received mercy precisely because of Israel’s disobedience. (Rom. 11:30) He also states that it is the Lord’s desire to graft the ‘natural branches’ back into ‘their own olive tree . . . for if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?’ (Rom. 11:15)

The restoration of Israel
With the gospel having reached the Gentiles, it appeared for millennia that there was no longer any need for there to be a separate Jewish nation. Many, however, were led to pray very deeply for the restoration of God’s original chosen people to their own land. When the new state of Israel was created in 1947, multitudes viewed it as miraculous occurrence, that could only have happened by God’s very specific purpose and intervention.

By no means do all view the restoration of Israel in such a light. Indeed, a great majority of Christians around the world are firmly convinced that because Church has replaced Israel as the focus of God’s covenant, He therefore no longer has unique and specific plans for that nation. By this reckoning, the modern state of Israel is neither more nor less important than any other nation. [2]

I would imagine that most of you who are reading this – though most certainly not all – will be amongst those who believe that the re-emergence of the nation of Israel after such a long intervening period, is an event ordained by God. That being the case, it is important that we do not fall into the trap of assuming that the present nation is automatically acting according to the will of God in whatever it does. Amongst other things, we must be free to question and grieve many of the policies currently being pursued by its present extreme right-wing government.

Modern-day Israel is indeed a much more secular state than those who look on it through rose-coloured lenses might be inclined to suppose. In that respect, it is not so different from its ancient counterpart in being in a state of rebellion to Yahweh, and unbelief with regard to recognising in the person of Yeshua its long-awaited Messiah.

One thing to note in particular is the astonishing claim Paul makes that it is God Himself who has given Israel ‘a spirit of stupor, and eyes that cannot not see.’ (Romans 11:7-8) But Yeshua Himself loved the people of Israel, and the story is far from over. (Matt. 10:5-7, 23:37) Their rejection of Jesus is of ‘temporary’ status, said Paul, until the full number of Gentiles comes in. Until that time, though, there have continued many terrible things: a trampling of the Jews which reached its height (thus far) in the Holocaust, but which many think may yet be repeated in what is described in the Scripture as ‘the time of trouble for Jacob.’ [4]

What incredible suffering this trampling has entailed for the Jewish people through the centuries. The history books tell of much, and it continues to this day.[3] Above all, the Holocaust has proved a great stumbling block for many, with the result that some have come to the conclusion that ‘God died in the death camps.’

Such comments, of course, are not so much a statement of theology as the anguish of hearts giving voice to the pain of those who find it enormously hard to forgive a God who allowed such things to befall them. Reacting strongly against being ‘chosen’ by God as a result of this deep suffering, Elie Wiesel, the Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, (who is also head of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council) burst out:

‘Why, but why should I bless Him? … Because He had had thousands of children burned in His pits? Because He kept six crematories working night and day, on Sundays and feast days? Because in His great might He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many factories of death? How could I say to Him: ‘Blessed art Thou, Eternal, Master of the Universe, Who chose us from among the races to be tortured day and night, to see our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the crematory? Praised be Thy Holy Name, Thou Who hast chosen us to be butchered on Thine altar?’

In complete contrast, Edith Stein, a German Jewish philosopher who was born again, watched on as the excesses of the Nazi regime became ever more terrible, and understood that embracing the cross was the destiny of the Jewish people, and would involve embracing great sacrifice. She therefore prepared her own heart to make any sacrifice that might be asked of her. This was no mere rhetorical gesture, for when the time came that she was sent to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she declared:

‘I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody’s behalf . . . the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s people . . . I do not regret having given myself to Love.

‘I firmly believe that the Lord has accepted my life as an offering for all. It’s important for me to keep Queen Esther in mind and remember how she was separated from her people just so that she could intercede for them before the king. I myself certainly am a poor and insignificant little Esther, but I take comfort from the fact that the King who has chosen me is infinitely kind and merciful.”

‘I joyfully accept in advance the death God had appointed for me, in perfect submission to His most holy will. May the Lord accept my life and death for the honour and glory of His name, for the needs of his Holy Church [and] for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by His own and His Kingdom come in glory, for the deliverance of Germany and peace throughout the world.’

Edith died in the gas chamber alongside her sister Rosa, in 1942. Catholics today regard her as one of the patron saints of Europe, as well as of those who are victims of holocausts.

Like countless followers of Christ before and since, Edith took her inspiration from the Jewish Messiah who humbled Himself and took on human form, with all its inconveniences and limitations. Jesus suffered and died a criminal’s death – but when God raised Him from the dead, He not only demonstrated the extent of His care for all humankind, but enabled us to reap the fruit of His suffering.

Following in the footsteps of their master, multitudes of true believers have subsequently passed through the fires of extreme suffering, experiencing their own Gethsemane, crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.

How inadequate and how tragic, therefore, that liberalising tendencies and inclusive elements in the Church have promoted inter-faith dialogue not only in right and beneficial ways but in such a way as to induce large sections of the Church to effectively renounce their missionary endeavours toward Jews altogether. So far as many churches are concerned, then, Jews, like the followers of other religions, are merely encouraged just to practise their own religion faithfully, rather than recognising the call to turn to Christ as the only Saviour of the world.

Jesus declared Himself to be not a way to God, but the way to Him. (John 14:6) How much grief, then, must it be to Him to see the terms of His commission to His followers being set aside in favour of the suggestion that all religions are essentially the same, and therefore of equal spiritual value?

His unique sacrifice and teaching cry out for us to recognise that our own wisdom and so-called righteousness can never be enough to earn us a place in Heaven. As the Lord revealed to the future apostle Paul at the time of his conversion, ‘I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance [a place] among those sanctified by faith in Me.’ (Acts 26:17-18)

Since each and every one of us needs to be born again in order to be part of the Father’s eternal kingdom, and to be making this known to others, may the Lord help us to humble ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, as living witnesses to His saving power.

For the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of His government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this. (Is. 9:6-7, 11:2, 25:1)

[1] cf This poem by Rabbi Jeffrey on ‘How odd of God.’)

[2] this is known as supersessionism. For a very brief look at what is, in fact, an immensely involved subject, and one that has widely differing viewpoints in virtually every denomination and move of God, see this article from Got Questions.

[3] To quote from just one source, from the United States Memorial Centre for the Holocaust this article is an uncomfortable reminder of the extent to which we as Christians have been to blame for this.

[4] See https://www.gotquestions.org/Jacobs-trouble.html and https://www.gotquestions.org/all-Israel-saved.html

Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

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