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BRITAIN AND THE FOUNDING OF A JEWISH STATE
STUDENTS OF THE BIBLE have long recognised the central place of the Jewish people in history and prophecy. In fact, their fate has for millennia been inextricably linked with the affairs of nations more powerful than they. As the chosen nation of God, Israel was humbled and lost its sovereignty at the Babylonian captivity. Although they were released by the Persian king, Cyrus, and permitted to re-establish Jerusalem as their civic and religious capital, the people never regained their autonomy, always under the thumb of Gentile powers up to the days of the Roman Empire, under which Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews scattered far and wide, setting up communities in the lands of strangers, cut off from their Promised Land.
By the middle of the nineteenth century events began to unfold which would culminate in the re-establishment of Israel as a nation-state in 1948. In his book, Elpis Israel (Hope of Israel), Dr. John Thomas, a Briton transplanted in the United States, and the founder of the Christadelphian movement, set out his expectations in 1850:
The pre-adventual colonization of Palestine will be on purely political principles; and the Jewish colonists will return in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus, and of the truth as it is in him. . . . Now any person acquainted with the present insecure condition of Palestine under the Ottoman dominion must be satisfied from the testimony, that some other power friendly to Israel must then have become paramount over the land, which is able to guarantee protection to them, and to put the surrounding tribes in fear. This is all that is needed, namely, security for life and property, and Palestine would be as eligible for Jewish emigration as the United States have proved for the Gentiles.
But to what part of the world shall we look for a power whose interests will make it willing, as it is able, to plant the ensign of civilization upon the mountains of Israel? . . . I know not whether the men, who at present contrive the foreign policy of Britain, entertain the idea of assuming the sovereignty of the Holy Land, and of promoting its colonization by the Jews; their present intentions, however, are of no importance one way or the other, because they will be compelled, by events soon to happen, to do what, under existing circumstances, heaven and earth combined could not move them to attempt. The present decisions of “statesmen” are destitute of stability. A shooting star in the political firmament is sufficient to disturb all the forces of their system; and to stultify all the theories of their political astronomy. The finger of God has indicated a course to be pursued by Britain which cannot be evaded, and which her counsellors will not only be willing, but eager, to adopt when the crisis comes upon them.
The decree has long since gone forth which calls upon the Lion of Tarshish to protect the Jews. Upwards of a thousand years before the British were a nation, the prophet addresses them as the power which at “evening-tide” should interest themselves in behalf of Israel. In view of this, “the time of the end,” he says, “The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind”; . . . This finished colonization Isaiah styles, “a present unto the Lord of hosts of a people scattered and peeled”; for, speaking of “the time of the end,” he says, “In that time shall the present be brought unto the Lord of hosts of a people scattered and peeled . . . to the place of the name of the Lord of Hosts, the Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 18:7) But, then, the question returns upon us, by whom is the present to be made? The prophet answers this question in the first verse, saying, “Ho! to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Khush: that sendeth ambassadors by sea, and on vessels of papyrus upon the waters, Go ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from this and onward: a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers (invading armies (Isaiah 8:7)) have spoiled.” Now, the geography of this passage points to the Lion-power of Tarshish as “the land shadowing with wings.” Taking Judea, where the prediction was delivered, as the place of departure, the word “beyond” points to the east; that is, running a line from Judea across the Euphrates and Tigris, “the rivers of Khushistan,” it passes into Hindostan [India], where “the Merchants of Tarshish, and its young lions,” rule the land. [Note: The British rule [1848, ed.] the land “beyond the rivers of Kush,” or Ethiopia, in Africa, that is, Egypt, the Soudan, and the far South beyond the Atbara and the Blue and White Nile.]
But the British power is still further indicated by the insular position of its seat of government; for the “sending of fleet messengers by the sea,” implies that the shadowing power is an island-state. Ambassadors are sent from the residence of the Court, and if they proceed to their destination by sea, the throne of the power must be located in an island. The text, therefore, points to the north and east, to England and Hindostan, as the land shadowing Israel with its wings. To Britain, then, the prophet calls as the protector of the Jewish nation in the evening-tide trouble, and commands it to send its messengers in swift vessels because the crisis is urgent, and to plant Israel as “an ensign upon the mountains” (Isaiah 18:3); as it is written in another place, saying, “The Lord shall set an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12).
(pp. 441-443 Elpis Israel: An Exposition of the Kingdom of God, by John Thomas, M.D., Thirteenth Edition, 1942; orig. publication, 1850)
In broad outlines, Thomas was correct. In 1875, Prime Minister Disraeli purchased a major share in the Suez Canal for Great Britain, ensuring secure passage for its merchant ships to India, its ‘Jewel in the Crown’. Towards the end of the 1800s, the Zionist movement (political and religious) attracted Jewish immigrants from around the world into Palestine. The First World War and subsequent events, including the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, allowed Britain to solidify its position in the region and throughout much of the Middle East (incidentally setting the political and geographic boundaries which are points of extreme friction today, such as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait). The Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the eventual mandate granted by the League of Nations formalised Britain’s hegemony in the region, and set the stage for the eventual complications out of which Israel forged a nation in 1948.
Once her historic mission had been accomplished, Britain began to recede on the world stage, its role as Israel’s protector being assumed in the 1950s and ’60s by the United States, an alliance which will at some point come to an end, leaving Israel alone and vulnerable. At that juncture (we are not told when) events will converge to thrust Israel to the front and centre of the world stage as a prelude to the Kingdom of God on earth.
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