Zionism: the restoration of Israel and
Israel’s purpose as God’s witness to the nations
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Fig.1: The 1922 League of Nations sub-division (Image: Eli E. Hertz)
Israel’s Origin and Purpose
Israel is mentioned in almost every news bulletin. Why is this tiny little nation the size of Wales so newsworthy? Why is there continual conflict between Arab and Jew? Why do many world events now seem to relate back to the actions and even existence of Israel? How will it end? In order to answer these questions we need to look at God’s plan for Israel.
Abram (later called Abraham) was called by God to go from his home in Ur of the Chaldeans and travel to a land that God would give to him and his descendants. That land was Canaan, the area we now call Israel. According to the Biblical chronology, Abram arrived in Canaan around 2100 BC. God told Abram, a Hebrew (Gen 14:13), that his descendants would become a great nation and that through this nation all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:1-7). Later God confirmed this promise by a covenant:
I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you … I will give to you and your descendants … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God
By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have … not withheld your son … I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens … in your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed
The covenant between God and Abram was now unconditional; God had sworn it by Himself. It was certain that from Abram would come a great nation and a great blessing to the nations, and Abram’s descendants would be given the so-called ‘Promised Land’ of Canaan (modern-day Israel) as an everlasting possession. Why? God’s plan was to create a special nation to be His witness to the nations:
But now, says the Lord, … He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear … I have called you by name; you are Mine! …You are My witnesses … and My servant whom I have chosen” (Isa 43:1,10)
Origin of the Hebrew & Arab Nations
Things went wrong when Abram listened to his wife instead of believing in God’s promise of a ‘seed’! Abram followed her suggestion (and custom of the day) and he took his female servant Hagar, an Egyptian, as wife (Gen 16:3). She bore him a son, Ishmael, but this was not God’s plan for Abram. When Abram asked God to bless Ishmael as a servant of God, he was told “No”! God had other plans. In fact, Ishmael was prophesied to be a violent man ‘with his hand against everyone’ (Gen 16:12) This separation of the blessing is crucial to the understanding of the modern-day Arab-Israeli conflict. God said:
No, Sarah your wife will bear you a son [even though she was old], and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him … as for Ishmael, I have heard you … I will bless him, and make him fruitful … and I will make him a great nation … but My covenant I will establish with Isaac (Gen 17:19-21, emphasis added)
Abram subsequently gave all that he had to Isaac, but to Ishmael and his other sons he gave gifts and sent them ‘to the land of the east’ (Gen 25:5-6). Having said that, God instructed Israel to care for the stranger in their land; they were not to expel them:
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you should do him no wrong … (he) … shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself … (Lev 19:33-34)
So we have the concept of the Hebrew nation, a special nation in their God-given land, embracing all strangers who happen to live in the land. This again is a crucial factor in today’s Arab-Israeli conflict. Strangers should be welcomed, but they must accept the existence and land-rights of national Israel. In fact, this principle extends into the Millennial age (Ezek 47:22-23).
The Blessing Promise
Despite man’s failings, God continued His unconditional covenant plan and we find a line of descent from Isaac, through Jacob, Judah, David and eventually to Christ. Paul takes the reference to Abraham’s ‘seed’ as a reference to Christ (Gal 3:16), whose genealogy is traced back to Abraham in Matthew’s gospel (Mat 1:1-17). This is the first reference to the gospel that would be proclaimed as good news to the Gentile nations as well as to the Jews. Christ’s offer of salvation for all through His death and resurrection was the promised blessing to all nations. Christ brings ‘good news to the afflicted, binds up the broken hearted, and gives liberty to captives’ (Isa 61:1). Abraham’s ‘seed’ also refers to the nation of Israel itself.
Terminology: Hebrews, Israelites and Jews
At this point it is helpful to clarify terminology.
Hebrews: The story of the Hebrews begins with Abram. He is first described as a Hebrew in Genesis 14:13. Abram spoke an ancient Semitic language called Hebrew, and evidence suggests that the Israelite tribes who invaded Canaan spoke Hebrew. Amazingly, the language is not dead and is being revived in Israel in line with end-time prophecy:
In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan (Isa 19:18)
For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they may call on the name of the LORD (Zeph 3:9)
In fact, the restoration of biblical Hebrew to a modern day spoken language is a unique historical phenomenon, link.
Abram to Abraham: Besides the timeless blessing of salvation through Christ, God also promised Abram that through him would come a great nation, even a multitude of nations. This called for a change in Abram’s name:
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations (Gen 17:5)
Israelites: Later, God also renamed Isaac’s son Jacob and called him ‘Israel’:
And God said “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be be called Jacob anymore, but Israel …
The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you (Gen 35:12)
The descendants of Jacob (Israel) formed the nation Israel around 1300 BC after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
Jews: What do we understand by the term ‘Jew’? Today, the term ‘Jew’ is used loosely by the media to refer to the people of Israel. Strictly speaking the term ‘Jew’ (Hebrew ‘Yehudi’, pronounced ‘ya-hoo-DEE’) originated from the name/tribe Judah (2 Kings 16:6). But by 700 BC the term Jew came to mean any person descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and today it is common to refer to Abraham’s descendants as ‘Jews’.
So Abraham’s descendants are referred to as Hebrews, Israelites, or more commonly, Jews!
The Historical Scattering of Israel
Abraham’s failing with Hagar was not the only thing that didn’t go according to God’s plan! The 12 tribes were subsequently split into a southern kingdom (called ‘The House of Judah’, embracing Judea and Jerusalem) and a northern kingdom comprising 10 tribes (called ‘The House of Israel’, or simply ‘Israel’) – see Jeremiah 11:10. The latter had a succession of godless kings and despite repeated warnings from the prophets, they rebelled against God. Eventually God’s warnings gave way to judgement and He uprooted them from the Promised Land and scattered them throughout the nations, as pre-warned by Moses:
And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples’ (Deut 4:27)
From hereon The House of Israel ceased to be a kingdom, and the Babylonians and others settled in the cities of Samaria in their place (2 Kings 17:24). The scattering was complete around 722 BC. The House of Judah was also rebellious and eventually suffered the same judgement. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed around 597 BC and by 586 BC all of the southern kingdom had been deported to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. Apart from a remnant of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi which returned to rebuild Jerusalem, the whole of national Israel was now dispersed amongst the nations (James 1:1) and Jerusalem was occupied by Gentile nations.
Biblical End Times: Zionism & the Restoration of National Israel
The movement to restore Israel as a nation in her own land and to create a Jewish state is often referred to as ‘Zionism’. Whilst this movement has both religious and secular roots, what we see today in Israel is actually an out-working of God’s covenant to Abraham.
Consider a little history. Whilst the seed of Abraham was fulfilled in Christ, God’s flagship nation and chief witness had lost its identity amongst the nations. It was scattered in disgrace and some maintain that the New Testament Church has now replaced Israel as God’s witness (replacement theology). But since God gave Abraham an unconditional covenant, then national Israel must one day fulfil its role as God’s witness and return to the Promised Land (this is also required by other key prophecies). In fact, God did not destroy national Israel – He simply gave her a ‘writ of divorce’ (see for example Jer 3:8) – and there are many prophecies of the re-gathering of national Israel and her ‘remarriage’ to her God. For example:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land … (Ezek 37:21)
I will say to the north, “Give them up! … bring My sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth (Isa 43:6)
And (the Lord) will lift up a standard for the nations, and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isa 11:12)
These prophecies have seen recent fulfilment as the concept of Zionism and the regathering and restoration of Israel started in the late 19th century. Consider a few facts concerning Israel (Palestine):
- 1882: First wave of emigration (first ‘Aliyah’ or ascent) to Palestine, particularly from Russia and Romania
- 1897: Theodor Herzel convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland
- 1917: General Allenby liberated Jerusalem from the Turks, giving Jews access to the city
- 1948: State of Israel established; David Ben Gurion became the first Prime Minister
- 1950: Law of return passed by Israel’s Parliament – opening Israel to Jews from over 60 countries
- 1967: Jerusalem came under Jewish rule
- Jewish population: 1915: 0.08m; 1945: 0.55m; 1967: 2.4m; 2005: 5.3m; 2020: 6.8m; link
Note that 1917 saw Jerusalem liberated from Gentile control after some 2500 years, link. This was direct fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy:
Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Lk 21:24)
Jerusalem then came under the British Mandate for Palestine, and in 1967 all Jerusalem returned to the total control of national Israel.
Today, the goal of a State of Israel has been achieved and the Aliyah continues. For example, a tribe called the Bnei Menashe in India has maintained their Jewish roots and believe they belong to the lost 10 tribes. In 2014 some 7,000 returned to their ancient homeland. And the role of Zionist organisations like the Jewish Agency & WZO continue to oversee aliyah, immigration, settlement and education.
The Rapid Growth of Israel
The population growth of Palestine/Israel is striking. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews but this increased to over 6.8 million Jews in 2020, link, corresponding to an amazing 8,000% increase! In comparison, over the same period the UK population increased just 55%. We can see this as the amazing natural growth of a young nation, or as the fulfilment of the above prophecies in Ezekiel and Isaiah.
Today, Israel has highly developed banking, health, and University systems and her industries include textiles, food processing, mining, agriculture and forestry. Israel is particularly advanced in the hi-tech industry such as computer science, electronics, genetics, medicine, optics, solar energy and electric cars. Those who choose to boycott Israeli goods will loose a lot of benefits of the modern world! The video highlights how Israel’s technological innovations are making the world a better place.
In 2010 a huge natural-gas discovery was confirmed in the Eastern Mediterranean inside Israel’s territorial waters. Analysts believe this Levant Basin gas field could provide Israel with 50 to 200 years of gas, at current levels of use. Israel also has one of the world’s largest deposits of shale oil – 250 billion barrels in Israel’s Shfela basin. Although expensive to extract, Israel is now pioneering shale oil technology. Some think Israel may well become an energy exporter over the next decade. In fact, in line with God’s future blessing of Israel, the Bible seems to imply that God has already given the land of Israel abundant mineral wealth:
For they shall partake of the abundance of the seas and of the treasures hidden in the sand (Deut 33:19)
Could this be a reference to natural gas and shale oil?