The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
A BURDENSOME STONE
By A. Prentice
All Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version, unless noted otherwise.
ʻIn that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people:
all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces,
though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.ʼ
Zechariah 12: 3
THIS PROPHECY HAS been fulfilling for decades, and will most likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In its prophetic sense ʻJerusalemʼ identifies both the Jewish people and the modern country of Israel, the Jewsʼ national home since 1948.
A focus for international friction ever since its inception in May 1948, the nation of Israel has rarely been out of the news. Opinion about the state is divided and usually unambiguous: one either loves it or hates it. The asymmetrical conflict between Israel and Gaza, now under way, has further exacerbated the wrath of Israel's usual critics, and imposing a severe strain on the good will of Israel's friends. Regardless of Israel's sovereign right to defend herself, she may be rightly criticised for pummelling a population of about 1.8 million, constrained within an area only a little larger than that of Birmingham.
In his article, The Tragedy of Great Power: The Massacre of Gaza and the Inevitable Failure of the Arab Spring (8 August, 2014), Khaled Abou El Fadi, Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law (California) bitterly complains that
The destruction heaped upon the people of Gaza was not only disproportionate or excessive, but obscene. Israel destroyed over a hundred mosques, forty thousand homes, over a hundred factories (including milk factories), over a hundred schools, universities, hospitals, electricity stations and the entire infrastructure of Gaza. It was a scorched earth, mowing the land, unrestrained warfare of biblical proportions. Even the UN schools sheltering refugees were bombed numerous times. The Israeli media is abuzz with genocidal language vis-a-vis the Gazans if they do not agree to disarm (for instance, the genocidal plot proposed by Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and member of Netanyahuʼs ruling Likud Party) and are already talking about the plans for the next go around in Gaza! Israel has violated every international law in the books. Israel engaged in collective punitive measures and targeted civilians, especially children. It has violated the rule of proportionality and discrimination, blockaded occupied territory, and then denied an occupied people the right to self-determination and the right to self-defence.
Such a damning assessment is difficult for friends of Israel to read and they will be tempted to reject it as anti-Semitic and grossly unfair. They will point out that Hamas started the assault, that Hamas fighters occasioned the deaths of civilians adults and children by situating armaments and launching pads in residential quarters, hospitals, schools, etc. But the refutation will ring hollow. An impartial observer must admit that the scale and thoroughness of Israel's retaliation, by air, sea and land, has tilted the world's sympathy to the side of the Palestinians.
Even those governments in the West which usually express support for Israel Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S. will be having second thoughts about their unblinking endorsement, their diplomats now scrambling behind the scenes to bring the conflict to an end, knowing that it reflects badly on them and that a sizeable number of their citizens are so outraged by the ʻmassacreʼ of Gaza that they are ready to take to the streets.
Israel the Unlovely
Bible Students and conservative Christians of many denominations have long been kindly disposed toward the Jewish people in general and modern Israel in particular. The root of the Christian faith was laid down in Jewish soil. Indeed, the Gospel message of salvation through Christ was prefigured in the ceremonies and laws of ancient Israel. The prophets of Israel are Christianity's prophets, too.
In Jer. 31: 35-37 Jehovah God pledges His unconditional fidelity to Israel:
35 Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: 36 If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37 Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
But herein lies a theological conundrum, one which has implications for the earnest Christian man and woman: since God declares Israel to be His covenant people, through whom as a conduit He will route the blessings of His coming kingdom on earth, Christians as ʻpeople of the bookʼ are obliged to honour this principle. For we should love those whom God loves. This is not a new idea, of course. Christians are enjoined by Christ to love the neighbour as oneself, and even to love our enemy. Israel falls into one of these categories, depending on oneʼs point of view.
We should recognise that God does not love the Jewish people or Israel on their own account, or because they are gentle and virtuous and as meek as sheep. As St. Paul explains in Rom. 11: 28, they are loved solely ʻfor the fathersʼ sakesʼ for the faith, humility and obedience of the patriarchs Abraham, Jacob, Moses and other worthy men. At the same time, the Jews are lambasted by God for being obstinate and rebellious (Deut. 9: 6; Ezek. 2: 3, 4). Such are the contrary manifestations of truth.
As the world's only Hebrew state, surrounded by many who hate it, Israel is committed to defending itself to the death, and will always respond vigorously to any threat. Israel does not owe its existence to favours dished out by the United Nations or through the sufferance of any Western country, but to the will of God, declared in prophecy. Israel's existence is a down-payment on a bright future for the world. It will, therefore, remain. Nonetheless, many of its friends, including Christians, will have recently turned against it, seeing nothing loveable in a nation which slaughters innocents. [An aside: Consider the dilemma of a Palestinian Christian who believes in God's promises to Israel. How might he or she react to being shelled by Jews or seeing her kin so treated?]
A Sharp-Edged Stone
The stone of Zech. 12: 3 the text quoted at the head of this article is not for the purpose of building. Nor does it fit the usual English definition of a stone that of a fist-sized chunk. ʻBurdensome stoneʼ used only in this text suggests it is large, heavy and jagged. That it is sharp-edged is implied by the warning that those who try to shift it (ʻburden themselves with itʼ), shall be ʻcutʼ or ʻlaceratedʼ in the effort. Compare this with Lev. 21: 5, in which the Tabernacle priests are forbidden to ʻshave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings [sarat; ʻlacerationsʼ] in their fleshʼ, obviously referring to the use of a cutting, razor-like implement.
So then, this heavy, jagged, and hard rock is too big to go round, under, or over, impossible to move, and will injure any who try to dislodge it. The rock is Israel, which seems to be constantly in the way. The world has, in one way or another, been obsessed with it for years writing about it, worrying and complaining about it. Over the centuries, many civilisations and nations have attempted to humiliate, scatter and annihilate the chosen people of God, as if to say God was wrong in His choice, and that He ought to have picked a more congenial tribe of nomads to anoint. Its despisers seem to believe that if Israel could be removed, peace and prosperity would break out across the deserts and cities of the Middle East, industries would thrive, and nations would live in harmony. But Israel and Israelis will continue to be an annoying obsession for years to come.
In this second decade of the twenty-first century, there is a discernible rising of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel sentiment in the air. This is true even in Britain, the nation which may be credited with having been the early champion of a ʻJewish national homeʼ, a prospect offered by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, in his Declaration of 2 November 1917. Benny Morris observes in his book 1948 that this promise
. . . was to be seen by the Zionist movement, which had vigorously lobbied for it, as a historic breakthrough and a basis for its future sovereignty over Palestine. And indeed, the British, including Balfour, and despite the avoidance of the word state, regarded the embodied promise as necessarily leading to self-determination. My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish State. It is up to them now; we have given them their opportunity, Balfour was to say three months later. The Arabs, who greeted the declaration with bewilderment and dismay, came to regard it as a (negative) milestone, an act of betrayal. Thereafter, no matter what the British did to the contrary, the Arab world was to regard London as the protector and facilitator of Zionism. [Yale University Press; 2008; pp. 9, 10]
A Hopeful Prospect for All Humanity
Just as the birth of Israel in 1948 was accompanied by bloody violence, so will the onset of the kingdom of God in the earth come about through a passage of pain and violence. At some point, hatred of and exasperation with Israel may result in concerted action against her possibly in the form of an international representative force in an endeavour to ʻshiftʼ this obstinate rock that blocks the way forward. However, the fulcrum of effort will be too great to accomplish their intention, and God will fight for Israel and throw them all into confusion (Zech. 12: 9):
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Israel.
The remainder of Zechariah paints a terrifying picture of the events which will occur prior to the setting up of Godʼs kingdom on earth (14: 9).
Moses and Zipporah
When Moses and his wife Zipporah were en route to Egypt, where Moses would begin his series of demands that Pharaoh ʻlet my people goʼ, their son became gravely ill, for which she blamed Moses (Ex. 4: 25, 26). In blaming him she blamed Jehovah. ʻA bloody husband thou art to meʼ, she exclaimed literally, ʻa bridegroom of bloodʼ, referring to the practice of (male) circumcision. This is an odd and obscure incident, and we will not attempt a full explanation here, except to point out that it serves as a useful allegory of the subject under study. For the Mosaic Law, with its animal sacrifices and divinely-sanctioned warfare, is too easily dismissed as gory and blood-soaked by those who do not understand its lessons. Thoughtful Protestants have in the past understood that the teachings of the Hebrew scriptures find parallels in the New Testament, and they have learned to be sympathetic to the Jewish people and the ʻJewishʼ God. But as the influence of Protestant Christianity continues to shrink, and its roots in Judaism glossed over, so will an irrational hatred of Israel continue to grow. In an ironic twist, an atheistic, post-Christian society will then find itself on the side of radical Islam and its anti-Jewish tenets.
Jerusalem: Capital of a New Order
It is likely that forthcoming negotiations on a ʻtwo-stateʼ solution Palestine on the one hand, Israel on the other will move to the top of the United Nationsʼ agenda in the aftermath of the current Gaza-Israel war. The alternative proposal, set forth by some ʻone-stateʼ idealists, in which Palestinians and Jews would inhabit a single ʻmulticulturalʼ sectarian nation, stands little chance of success. (This latter proposal should not be confused with the similarly-named ʻone-stateʼ solution advocated by pro-Israel supporters, which envisions a ʻgreater Israelʼ absorbing the Arab territories and countries now dissolving through civil wars and revolution. See article at Middle East Forum.)
The careful student of the Bible will understand that Godʼs favour towards Israel is a net benefit for the human family, a fact that will become evident in due course. For in the depths of trouble and near-extermination, Israel will come to regard Christ as the Messiah. Only then will she be fit to become the channel of blessing in God's earthly kingdom, the ʻmountainʼ described in Isa. 2: 2-4:
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.
August 15, 2014. The author asserts the usual rights to this article, but you are free to reproduce it without express permission.
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