Like a key that unlocked the proverbial Pandora's Box, the events of 1948 have rippled out from Israel and affected the whole world. Why does this small strip of land matter so much? Other lands are contested, fought over, have changed hands and experienced turmoil, but there is something seriously significant about the land of Israel. Clearly 1948 holds very different connotations for those on different sides of the conflict, and then there's a whole other meaning for those out in the nations. What does it mean for you? But most importantly, what does God think about it all?

What 1948 means for the people of Israel

1948 was the fulfillment of a long-standing dream for the people of Israel. It means great joy, fulfilled promises, and a safe refuge… home at last. Independence Day celebrations erupt throughout Israel every year.

God laid out His right to scatter Israel according to the blessings and curses laid out in the law, but if it was God who scattered, then God can regather as well. That is His sovereign right. The Land belongs to God and He reserves the right to determine who lives in it. Here's what He assured the people of Israel way back in Deuteronomy, as part of the curses that would befall Israel for departing from His covenant:

“And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.” (Deuteronomy 28:64)

However, promises to regather Israel again occur throughout Scripture, and this has been a longing of the Jewish people for two thousand years. Jewish people throughout the ages have known that Israel was to be restored according to biblical prophecy, and I can assure you that Dispensationalism had nothing to do with their thinking! They are going on the promises of God in the prophets. And it's not just obscure verses here and there—the Hebrew Scriptures are replete with them, for anyone with eyes to see.

There are prayers said every day, three times a day, facing Jerusalem (much as Daniel did when he was in exile) since the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Here are two of the “18 blessings” from the Amidah, the ritual prayers that mirror the morning, afternoon, and evening sacrifices:

“Sound the great shofar for our freedom and raise a banner to gather our exiles
and unite us together from the four corners of the earth.
Blessed are You, LORD, who regathers the scattered of His people Israel.”

“Return in compassion to Your city, Jerusalem, and rest within it as You have said.
Rebuild it speedily, and in our days, a structure forever.
And may You establish the throne of David within Jerusalem speedily.
Blessed are You, Lord, the Builder of Jerusalem.”

The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is expressed again and again in Jewish holidays and rituals. It is proclaimed at the Passover table (next year in Jerusalem!), in the daily prayers, and at every Jewish wedding: the couple and their guests are reminded to never forget Jerusalem and to consider it their highest joy according to the words of Psalm 137.

The longing to return to Israel and restore Jerusalem is not new, and it is fundamental to Judaism. So for Jewish people, May 14, 1948, was an answer to prayer after 2000 years.

Theodor Herzl rightly predicted the birth of the Jewish state would take place in 1948It was also absolutely necessary. This fact was identified in the late nineteenth century by Theodor Herzl. Herzl was not a man of prayer but he was pragmatic. A staunch atheist, he had nonetheless observed the extreme threat of antisemitism and what it would mean for Jewish people to have a state of their own to call home. After the Dreyfus affair in 1894 demonstrated that Jewish people could not count on justice to be served even in Europe, Herzl started in earnest to push for a Jewish state. He held the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, where he made this declaration:

At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.” (Theodor Herzl, 3 September 1897)

How extraordinary that it was indeed fifty years after he made that prediction, that the UN would pass a resolution to create a Jewish state in Palestine. It would prove to have been of more vital importance than Herzl even could have realized back in the late 1800's. For Jewish people, the events of May 1948 were not only the long-awaited fulfillment of God's promise, but the provision of a refuge to run to. About a third of Europe's Jews survived the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands ended up in displaced persons camps with nowhere to go. According to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, a poll was taken in those camps, asking 19,000 Jews where they'd like to go: 97% of them said Palestine. When asked for a second choice if that were not possible, hundreds replied, “The crematorium”.1

God's fingerprints

For much of church history, Christians have been unaware of what has been promised to Israel, since after the exile of 70 AD it was generally assumed that the role of Israel was over. For centuries, the Bible was largely inaccessible to most Christians, a fact changed only by the convergence of Bible translation and the invention of the printing press over the 1500's. When the book was in the hands of the believer, things started to change. From the 1600s onwards we start to see the growing understanding that God wasn't finished with Israel yet. In 1754 John Wesley wrote this about the restoration of Israel: “So many prophecies refer to this grand event that it is surprising any Christian can doubt of it.”

Isaac Newton was famous for his scientific breakthroughs but he also made some significant discoveries in the Bible. His statue in Trinity College, Cambridge, describes him as one “Who surpassed the human race in genius”. His mathematical genius was not confined, however, to observing the trajectory of falling apples. He was an enthusiastic scholar of the Bible and in particular, of biblical prophecy.

Statue in Trinity College, Cambridge, of their most famous alumnus, Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727). "Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit" means "Who surpassed the human race in genius".

Isaac Newton understood from the Scriptures that the Jewish people would be away from their land for a period of about two millennia. More than that, he gave stunningly accurate predictions regarding Israel's return.

Writing in the 1700's, Isaac Newton made the statement that “the mystery of this restitution of all things is to be found in all the Prophets.” He was so sure that the restoration of Israel was clearly prophesied in each of the prophetic books that he couldn't understand why others couldn't see it. In an early eighteenth-century treatise on Revelation, Newton later contemplates the 1290 and 1335 years written of in Daniel 12:11-12, suggesting that they start at 609 AD “or perhaps a little later.”3

Based on his calculations, the call to return and restore Jerusalem would go out in 1895 or 1896. Herzl's declaration at the Zionist Congress was in 1897—just one year out! And he believed the 1335 years would conclude in 1944. That's awfully close to 1948, isn't it?

Many others during the nineteenth century came together in what is known as the “Restorationist Movement”, believing that God would restore Israel to their land according to biblical prophecy. Well-known public figures such as Lord Shaftsbury and William Wilberforce were part of the movement. According to Dr. Paul Wilkinson, “They believed in the literal fulfillment of prophecy. And within that, the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the restoration of the Jews to the land.”

Though a critic of Darby's Dispensationalism, in 1864, C H Spurgeon preached on the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37, saying that it: “…must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land” . These matters were finally being seen and understood more widely in the church. Part of this new discovery led to a new passion for mission to the nations and also to the Jewish people in particular. Thanks to the earnest efforts to share the gospel to the Jew first, there were some quarter of a million Jewish believers following Jesus before the Holocaust

Indeed, Jesus Himself says that the Jewish people must be back in the Land, and ready to welcome Him, before He will return:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 2:37-39)

Dealing with offense

The establishment of Israel in 1948 has caused deep offense for many people. However, the restoration of Israel was not Herzl's idea. It was God's. 1948 is evidence that we serve a covenant-keeping God who does not renege on His promises, despite our behavior. It shows us His word is true, and the fulfillment of prophecy is a sign to us that His plans are on track and coming to pass in our days. The number of Jewish believers in Israel has rocketed from 24 in 1948 to over 30,000 today, and it's continuing to grow. These are all signs that Jesus is on His way. However, just as many Jewish people seem blind to the Messiah all through their own Bibles, many Christians also seem blind to God's purposes for Israel which are written just as clearly and profusely. Revelation is needed is both cases, and we pray that God would open eyes. It's not just a matter of opinion—understanding God's word concerning Israel, and the Messiah of Israel, really matters.

Considering Israel to be “just another nation” is not only unbiblical, it's sinful. Israel displeased God for wanting to be like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:1-9), and Moab and Seir made the fatal mistake of pronouncing, “Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations” and were judged harshly for it (Ezekiel 25:8). The house of Judah is not like all the other nations. It's no better than other nations and it's no worse, but it is key. It's like a microcosm of the world, an example that God is using for the benefit of all the families of the earth, and God has chosen to work through Israel for the blessing of everyone. This includes the outworking of His plans in Israel's restoration. Dealing with an offended heart will be increasingly key as God starts wrapping up this age. There will be more trials and sorrows to come, and as Corrie Ten Boom said, they will either make us bitter or better, depending on our response. Confidence (faith) in God's wisdom and love for all nations allows us to surrender to His ways, even when they confuse or offend us, and to trust His heart even in the midst of suffering and pain.

For many Arabs, 1948 has left deep wounds. The 1947 UN Partition Plan was rejected by Arab leaders, but as the British lowered their flag in 1948, a new Jewish state was declared on May 14th.

By 5pm of that same day, in the fifth month of 1948, no less than five Arab armies attacked the newborn state. Five in the Bible is the number of grace (think of David's five slingstones) and by the grace of God, Israel overcame, against incredible odds.

But it was bloody, brutal, and an unbearable tragedy for those caught in the crossfire.

It must be remembered that it was not “Palestine” that declared war with Israel, but Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The Arabs living in the land just complied with the instructions from these invading armies, hoping to return to their homes after the Zionist enterprise was brought to a swift end. The yearning of exile is now experienced by 1948 refugees all around the Middle East, many still mournfully wield the keys to their old homes.

For the 750,000 refugees, 1948 was a catastrophe, a “Nakba”. The reality of what happened is bad enough, but has been exacerbated by lies and used as leverage against Israel by the Arab Muslim world ever since. An Arab brother recently mused that if they had accepted the partition plan in 1947 as part of God's sovereign plan, life would have been a great deal easier for them. Rejecting God's plans never leads to blessing. But dealing with an offended heart is extremely difficult. Every believer has to face the choice to remain offended by God, or to graciously relinquish bitterness and accept His will when it hurts. It's one of the hardest challenges in life.

There are Arab believers who have risen to this challenge and embraced God's heart for Israel. Our reconciliation and unity glorifies God, especially when it's hard fought. Forgiveness is not easy. As painful as 1948 was, calling an act of God a “catastrophe” is not right. God's heart has always been to bless the whole world through Israel, but resisting blessing for Israel will only block our own blessing.

However, all is not lost. There is more promised in the Book. There are many other prophecies in the Bible relating to the surrounding nations: there are revivals to come in Moab, Iran, and Egypt, to name a few examples. Isaiah 19 paints a picture of a glorious future of the Middle East, with great blessing for the different people groups. He'll get round to everyone! And Ezekiel 47:22-23 indicates that the people living in the Land will have the same rights as the twelve tribes of Israel when it's under the rule of Jesus. God is the Father of all, and Ishmael's descendants are part of the family. God has no favorites, but He does have a plan. God is moving forward with His plans whether we agree or not.

God is using Israel to sift the nations

1948 was a seismic shift: it set the prophetic clock ticking. If Israel is God's timepiece, then 1948 is like an alarm clock! It's a wake up call to the world.

Despite the propaganda to the contrary, Israel was established legally and legitimately, with several internationally recognized steps towards statehood. God's hand was over each step: The Balfour Declaration of 1917, San Remo in 1920, The League of Nations in 1922 and the UN resolution of 1947. After the Ottoman Empire fell in 1917 and the Middle East had no governing ruler, those who had beaten the Turks in battle took responsibility for the area, parceling up mandates over different regions. As problematic as those decisions back then have proven to be, allowing Jews the right to self determination in Judea, where they came from, was the very opposite of colonization. Satan has wasted no time, however, turning things on their heads and twisting the truth to the point of inversion. If you didn't know how to find the facts for yourself, you might easily be persuaded by the zeitgeist that Israel was an illegitimate white colonialist apartheid regime bent on genocide. But it's not the zeitgeist that dictates reality and truth, it's God.

God has been removing the middle ground on this issue for some time. Failure to welcome God's plans for Israel will result in judgement, as we see in many places:

“I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.” (Joel 3:2)

…Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:14)

We also see God's plan which even incorporates the global hatred for His people, the apple of His eye:

“Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it. (Zechariah 12:2-3)

Israel is like a litmus test, revealing the condition of our hearts.

God's choice of Israel and the events of 1948 often stir up envy and bitterness, but these feelings come from a heart that is uncertain of God's great love. It can also reveal a subconscious resentment that God calls the shots without needing our approval. God is moving forward with His plans whether we agree or not. His sovereign choice of Israel establishes His authority over the earth and lays down the gauntlet to us all: Will we have enough faith to believe in His justice and love, even when He makes decisions that we struggle to understand? When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

Israel will be used as a threshing sledge (Isaiah 41:15), to divide the peoples. Genesis 12 also shows this division based on our response to Israel: blessing those who bless and cursing those who curse. God's purposes will always be fiercely resisted by Satan, and so we shouldn't be surprised that the regathering of Israel is a hotly contested matter. Events are lining up just as God said they would be, and evil hates it. But it's happening. God is not waiting for permission from you, I, the UN, or anyone. But don't worry, His plans are perfect. His heart is to bless the whole world. Hang tight and go with the plan.

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

  1., Liberation and the Return to Life: The First Moments of Liberation
  2. S. Snobelen, “The Mystery Of This Restitution Of All Things”: Isaac Newton On The Return Of The Jews, ARCH 175 – Chapter 7, (Kluwer Academic Publishers) February 7, 2001, p.106
  3. The Mystery Of This Restitution Of All Things
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