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A SANCTUARY FOR ISRAEL
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.
Ezekiel 11: 16
All Scripture references are to the King James Version, unless noted otherwise.
THE PURPOSES OF GOD are often masked by the intricacies and ambiguities of this imperfect world. Indeed, the complexity of Nature itself provides an excuse for unbelief. In order to teach Man what He wants him to learn God has obscured Himself and allowed room for doubt as to His character and abilities. So, as Moses was not permitted to see Jehovah’s face, mankind may only judge God’s work by the final results, the ‘back parts’ (Exodus 33: 17-23).
The ‘Hard Sayings’ of Jesus
Jesus often couched His own teachings in parables and obscure terminology, intended to keep away all but the perseveringly faithful (John 6: 60, 61, 66). Consequently, many simply lost interest (‘walked no more with him’). In other words Jesus made it too difficult for them to be His disciples.
The principle is an important one, and pervades all of God’s dealings with mankind since the fall in Eden. So we find that the Word of God, the Bible, is often couched in vague and impenetrable terms, designed to hide its meaning from the unworthy (Isaiah 28: 9-13).
9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
13 But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Were God to universally enlighten all mankind with profound truth in a blinding flash, the degree of responsibility they would thus incur would render them liable to more severe judgement than they now receive.
Israel: A Special Case
The Jews were chosen by God and constituted as a nation in ancient times. To them God gave the oracles of His Word, expressed in the Law of Moses, with its ancillary instructions and ceremonies (with typical significance). Over their long history, Biblical Israel was varyingly warm and indifferent in their covenant relationship with Jehovah. At length, following their national rejection of Christ as their Messiah and the final collapse of their nationhood, the Jewish people were dispersed around the world. This was at once a curse and a blessing. For though reviled and persecuted their being scattered prevented them from being completely annihilated.
Nor did God abandon them in their lonely, bitter exile. They were still the covenant people of God. Not that they were intrinsically holy. But laying rightful claim to the Abrahamic promise and loved by God for the sake of their ancient fathers, they represented the faithfulness and assurance of God. In their devotion to the study and analysis of the Tanakh (Moses, Prophets, Writings) and their maintaining their ‘Jewishness’ (variously modified according to the culture in which they resided), they rested in the sanctuary of God – an asylum which, for all its troubles, offered comfort and assurance to those who hung on to their faith. This condition of exile lasted for most of the Gospel Age, a period which in the timescale of God’s work and the eventual outcome of the salvation process, is but a little while (compare, ‘a little sanctuary’ with, ‘a little while’).
At the time appointed the promise of return was fulfilled and the Jews were brought back, by complicated means, to their ancient land. This aliyah was not accomplished in a clean and tidy fashion. Modern Israel emerged through a mist of unspeakable suffering and abominable mis-treatment. Such is the travail of this world through which God works His sovereign will. If God may be regarded as having humility it is in this: that He is prepared to be defamed in order that His will to bless all may be eventually fulfilled. Such a ‘hard saying’ has turned away many from belief in God, including many Jews, for whom faith evaporated in the smoke of Hitler’s gas ovens.
Pauline theology has the ultimate redemption of Israel at its core. It is not, he says, merely that the Jews were cast off and the elect (the Christians) were picked instead. The reversal of fortune is temporary, for a comparatively little while. For in due time Israel would be restored and exalted, and their promotion as the chief nation of the world both precede and initiate the resurrection from death of all mankind, thus being the conduit of blessing (Romans 11: 7-12, 15):
7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.
9 And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:
10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
. . .
15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
In the meantime, the Jews (Israel) would be ‘blinded’ – locked in ignorance of the true salvation in Christ – that they might not be condemned. “For”, says Paul, “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11: 32). This extraordinary statement reveals the depth of the compassion of God, whose ultimate purpose is to bring recalcitrant mankind to the full light and knowledge of truth and, thus, eternal salvation, through Israel (Isaiah 2: 1-5).
Israel in the Twenty-First Century
The curse on the world means that there is rarely such a thing as unadulterated virtue at the national level. Nations, like people, are actuated by self-interest, national myths and ideology, and an assortment of dubious motives. Nonetheless, God is able to forge good from evil, adjusting historical outcomes as necessary to achieve His aims. Israel is no exception. The establishment of the nation in 1948, after centuries of wanderings and being knocked from pillar to post, is a substantial read-it-on-the-front-page evidence of God’s work in the world.
Sandwiched in a geographical area between various sorts of implacable foes, Israel’s instinct for survival is uppermost. Her fractious and rocky relationships with the nations surrounding her (some of which are bound to her in little more than fragile, tentative peace agreements), leads to frightful tensions, which erupt in countermeasures and often harsh treatment of those viewed as irrevocably hostile, such as the Palestinians. It is not reasonable to expect that Israel, a nation case-hardened by a long and bitter experience of persecution, would not sometimes behave aggressively or unjustly. Nonetheless, these are difficult times in which to be a friend of Israel. In the final analysis, however, this is beside the point: God reserves the right to befriend Israel regardless of what the world thinks.
Although the Bible’s prophecies outline the events which are to come relative to Israel, it is not possible to know in detail how things will unfold, or when. However, based on current trends, it seems reasonable to expect that a separate state will be created for the Palestinians, next door to Israel. And we can probably expect that in the not-too-distant future Israel will forfeit the goodwill of friendly Western nations, including the United States which, at some point, will gauge that continued support of Israel is detrimental to her own economic and political interests. And, perhaps, in a growing move toward global nuclear disarmament, Israel may be pressured to relinquish its own (undeclared) nuclear weapons in exchange for a security cordon around her, administered by the United Nations or some other multi-national entity. At some point thereafter, according to prophecy, will come an attack on the Jewish state, threatening its survival, triggering intervention by God on her behalf (Zechariah 14: 1-3):
1 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
3 Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
Exodus 33: 17-23
17 And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
John 6: 60, 61, 66
60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?. . .
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Alternative readings of Ezekiel 11: 16
New International Version-UK
16 Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’
American Standard Version
16 Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Whereas I have removed them far off among the nations, and whereas I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a sanctuary for a little while in the countries where they are come.
Isaiah 2: 1-5
1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall
go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
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