What Happened When Billy Graham Came to Israel

Even in his death (perhaps promotion would better describe the event), Reverend Billy Graham has once again spread the Gospel far and wide, as tributes flood the mainstream media.
People all over the world are now hearing about his life, along with the message that he lived and breathed: That the cross expressed God’s great love for mankind, and the invitation to receive His forgiveness and spend eternity with Him. Eternity with God is exactly what Billy Graham is enjoying right now.

Visiting Israel

The unstoppable evangelist even managed to share the Gospel in large public events in Israel; no mean feat today, and back in the 1960s, considerably more so.
Bader Mansour, development officer of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, writes of Billy Graham’s visit in 1960 [1]. Mansour reports that Reverend Graham was welcomed by Foreign Minister, Golda Meir, who arranged a special lunch in his honor, and was also invited to meet with Israel’s president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. However, the Israeli organizers ran into difficulties when attempting to arrange a big rally in Tel Aviv. Israel is notoriously squeamish about evangelism, and the managers of the arena were hesitant to allow it to be used for such an event.
Mansour explains, “Newspapers were filled with articles about the subject. Some were sympathetic to the request, claiming that the hall should grant the right to the preacher, based on freedom of religion. Others were against the request, saying that Christian evangelism is not welcome in Tel-Aviv, the first Hebrew city.”
Eventually, news of the debate escalated to the point that the Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, heard of it.

A telegram was sent with Ben Gurion’s conditions:

“He does not mind that Billy Graham preaches in the Mann Hall, but he has one condition that Graham will not mention the name of Jesus or read from the Bible”.

This little message is very telling to us as believers, and an indication of the great power contained in the word of God and in the name of Jesus.

Not satisfied with the suggestion that Billy Graham might be content to just “speak about his travels around the world”, the organizers changed their plans, and decided to hold three smaller meetings instead; one in Haifa, one in Jaffa, and the third in Nazareth. The first two would be translated into Hebrew for Christian and Jewish audiences, and the final event in Nazareth would be for an Arabic audience.
Mansour writes, “The meetings in Haifa and Jaffa were attended by around 1000 people in each location. The sermon in Haifa was on March 19, 1960, and was entitled “For God so loved the world that He gave it His only begotten Son”. As was Graham’s custom after his message, he asked those who would like Christ to come into their hearts to raise their hands and remain behind. About 200 people did so, including some that identified as Jewish.”
The final event in Nazareth attracted several thousand people after they had advertised widely, driving around the town in a car with loudspeakers, announcing the event. “People flocked to the event that was held at the YMCA forest and they were all standing, as there were not enough chairs in Nazareth at the time for such an event… Many people decided to give their life to Christ at that time.”

Billy Graham’s attitude to Jews and Israel

Though not unaware of the fact that the Jewish people are as flawed as any other, Graham’s attitude to the new state of Israel was based on his understanding of Scripture and the faithfulness of the God that he served.

“The Jews are God’s chosen people,” Mr. Graham declared in an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, in 1967. “We cannot place ourselves in opposition to Israel without detriment to ourselves.” [2]

Graham understood that the fledgling state was there by the grace of God, not the might of the Jewish people, and he encouraged Christians the world over to stand with Israel during the 1967 war that threatened to eliminate it. He expressed concern about the views of evangelicals toward the Jewish people, saying, “while dialogue between American Jews and most denominations of American Christians was increasing, it remained almost non-existent between Jews and evangelicals.”
As well as affirming Israel’s need to defend itself, Billy Graham told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he was, “convinced that Jerusalem will be reunited as a Jewish city, and is certain that Jews will provide Christians and Muslims free access to all holy places.” However, he usually preferred to step back from politics so that the message of the Gospel would not be hindered in any way, and delayed making statements in favor of Israel due to “pleas of evangelical Christians in Arab countries who feared reprisal from their host governments”.

Esteemed by Jews and Christians

“To visit this land is like a pilgrimage into the past, and walking in the shadow of greatness”, Billy Graham said, reflecting on his time in Israel. “But, it is more. Here today one rubs elbows with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. With Bible in hand one can see the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and can sense God’s promise for the future–the shafts of hope which portend a brighter tomorrow for the world.”
Graham’s support was appreciated both by Israeli believers and many other Israelis, religious and secular. His love for the Hebrew Scriptures was clear, and his understanding that biblical prophecies were taking place in his lifetime was evident. He was recognized as a true friend of Israel. However, reflecting back on his life, he said that he would like to have studied more, prayed more, and traveled less. 
He said, “If I had it to do over again I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and just telling the Lord how much I love him.”[3]
“I would like to be remembered as a person who was faithful to God, faithful to my call, and who did it with integrity and with love.”
I think we can all agree that this is exactly how we will remember him.

[1] Bader Mansour, When Billy Graham Visited Israel, Baptists in Israel,  21/2/2018
[2] JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), Billy Graham Voices Staunch Support for Israel, Concern for State’s Security, December 26, 1967
[3] 2011 Fox News interview

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