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On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion gathered with 250 guests in the Tel Aviv Museum (known today as Independence Hall). Ben-Gurion was head of the World Zionist Organization, a movement dedicated to creating a homeland for the Jewish people in their historic Promised Land.
Behind him hung a portrait of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. At 4:00 p.m., Ben-Gurion banged his gavel. He then read a proclamation declaring the existence of the modern State of Israel.
I have stood several times in Independence Hall. Each time, I am moved again by the courage of the men and women who risked their lives and families to birth their nation.
In a move timed to coincide with this dramatic anniversary, the United States is relocating its embassy to Jerusalem at 4:00 p.m. (8:00 a.m. in Dallas) today. Palestinian marches against the move have already begun.
Four biblical themes that explain modern-day Israel
In Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, historian Daniel Gordis describes Israel as “a story of a homeless people that kept a dream alive for millennia, of a people’s redemption from the edge of the abyss, of a nation forging a future where none seemed possible.”
Gordis traces several biblical themes that converged in the creation of modern-day Israel.
One: The importance of the Promised Land.
Gordis notes, “There could be no Jewish nation, and no Jewish family, their ‘diary’ [the Bible] intimated, without their land at the center of the story.” He adds, “Genesis is fundamentally the story of Abraham’s complex family, but central to that story is the land on which they have been told to live.”
Two: The need for courage.
The Zionists understood from Scripture that “the road to true freedom would be long and difficult.” In the book of Joshua, the people had to cross a flooded river. Canaan was occupied by seven different nations. Wars were frequent, and the land was seldom without conflict.
Three: The danger of disunity.
As the Jews established themselves in Canaan, they faced constant threats from their enemies near and far. When they divided into Northern and Southern Kingdoms, they fell captive to the Assyrians and then the Babylonians.
Four: The call of God.
The Jewish Bible (what we call the Old Testament) is arranged so that its last book is not Malachi but 2 Chronicles. As a result, Gordis notes, “The Jews’ national story that had opened with God telling Abram to go to the ‘place that I will show you’ (the Land of Israel)–concludes with the Bible’s very last words, ‘Let him go up [to Jerusalem]'” (2 Chronicles 36:23).
“What is the secret of his immortality?”
Those who founded the modern State of Israel learned from their biblical ancestors the importance of trusting God’s promises, serving him with courage, living in unity, and fulfilling God’s call by faith. After more than twenty trips to Israel, I can testify that these values still animate these remarkable people.
New York Times columnist David Brooks: “Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.”
Fifty years before the birth of the modern State of Israel, Mark Twain wrote an extraordinary essay for Harper’s Magazine on the Jewish people. He concluded:
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.
“The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”
On this historic day, how does Scripture answer Mark Twain’s question?
I am convinced that God is still using the Jewish people. Whatever our position regarding Israel and prophecy, we should acknowledge that God made the children of Abraham into “a great nation.” And that through them “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2, 3).
Now God is calling us to love the Jewish people as he does.
Paul said of his fellow Jews, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Standing before the Jewish supreme council, Peter said of Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The Lord wants the Jewish people to make Jesus their Messiah, that they might know God as their Father and Lord.
Scripture teaches that our Lord loves the Arab people as well. He said of Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabs, “I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20). In fact, God loves all nations and anticipates the day when people “from all tribes and peoples and languages” are gathered with him in heaven (Revelation 7:9).
On this historic day, would you take a moment to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6)? Would you pray for a day when Jews, Arabs, and all other peoples make the Prince of Peace their Lord?
When he called for a Jewish state fifty years before the rebirth of Israel, Theodor Herzl assured his people, “If you will it, it is no dream.” He was right.