"I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Don't hold them back! Bring my sons from far away, and my daughters from the ends of the earth," Isaiah 43:6
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This article by Dr Juergen Buhler, first appeared in the Word from Jerusalem magazine in [May/June, 2016], published by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
Today we are witnessing one of the greatest miracles of modern history: After more than 2000 years the Jews have returned to Israel, with increasing numbers returning every year. Never before in human history has a people been dispersed for centuries to the four corners of the earth, only to return to that same ancient homeland and re-establish an independent state. But it has happened and still is happening now.
In Israel, the return of the Jews back to Israel is referred to as 'Aliyah', which literally means "to ascend." For Jews around the world, returning to Zion is considered a spiritual ascension since it is the spiritual centre for all Jews where the very presence of God dwells.
In biblical times, the ascension or travelling to Jerusalem was described as going "up to the Mountain of the Lord." (Is 2:3) Psalms 120 - 134 are entitled songs of ascension, or in Hebrew "Shir Hama'alot," and were sung when Jews made pilgrimage (or ascension) to Jerusalem three times each year during the high holidays.
WAVES OF ALIYAH
Today, Aliyah mainly refers to Jewish exiles returning back to the Promised Land. The very first wave of modern day Aliyah was Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms of Czarist Russia at the end of the 19th century. Prior to 194 8, a total of five waves of Aliyah brought Jews to Israel; the fifth and final wave was Jews from central Europe escaping Nazi persecution.
Only three years after WWII on May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the state of Israel to be established and literally overnight Jews returning to Zion had a state of their own. As the Psalmist declared: "When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream... Then they said among the nations, `The LORD has done great things for them'." (Ps 126:1-2) It was indeed like a dream. The people who just escaped the gas chambers of Nazi Germany now had a homeland.
Once the State of Israel was established, Jews continued to arrive. Between 1949 and 1950, almost the entire Yemenite Jewish community was airlifted out of Aden. This operation of over 380 flights of British and American transport planes was referred to as "Knafei Nesharim" or "On Eagles Wings", referring to Isaiah 40:31 : "But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles..."
Operations Ezra and Nehemiah in 1950 - 1951 airlifted some 125,000 Jews out of Iraq. The largest contingent, however, came from Morocco. By the mid-sixties, a massive influx of a quarter million Moroccan Jews returned to Israel, which today represents a strong cultural constituency within Israel.
Ethiopian Jews, who trace their ancestry back to the tribe of Dan, returned in two clandestine missions in 1984 (Operation Moses) and (Operation Salomon), and are still returning even today.
After 1989, when the Soviet Union's iron curtain was torn down, more than a million Jews flooded into Israel from the "land of the North." Many view this as a direct fulfilment of Isaiah 43:6: "I will say to the north, `Give them up!' And to the south, `Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth..." To this day the ICEJ continues to assist Aliyah from Russia, Ukraine and other states.
As a result, modern day Israel is a fascinating mix of cultures. Once exiled to Europe, Africa, North and South America, China, India and other nations around the world, Jews adopted many of the cultures and ethnic features of their home countries. Although Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian or European in physical appearance, Israeli Jews are united by their common roots, which trace back to the twelve sons of Jacob. Every Passover they kindled the hope of celebrating Passover "next year in Jerusalem"; believing one day they would return to Zion. The Israeli government estimates that today more than half of the world's Jewish population lives in Israel and numbers continue to grow. In the last year alone, more than 30,000 Jews arrived in Israel.
AN OLD TRADITION
The vast majority of evangelical Christians today see this return of the Jews back to their promised land as proof of God's covenant faithfulness to Israel. This understanding is almost as old as the Reformation, started under Luther and Calvin. Unfortunately, the early reformers believed God was finished with the Jews. "The Jews cut off from themselves all hope of restoration to the mercy of God," wrote John Calvin in his commentary on Ezekiel.
But as the reformation reached England, and the Puritan movement emerged from it, this began to change. Through studying Scripture, some believers realized that God was not finished with the Jews and His plan was clearly to restore them as a nation back to their homeland.
From the late 16th century onwards, countless books addressed the biblical restoration of the Jews, even inspiring the Pietist revival movements back on the continent, like the Moravians under Count Zinzendorf. It became such a prominent theme that great preachers like Charles Spurgeon frequently referred to it. In 1855, for example, during a sermon in London's Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon declared: "I believe in the restoration of the Jews to their own land in the last days. I am a firm believer in the gathering in of the Jews at a future time. Before Jesus Christ shall come upon this earth again, the Jews shall be permitted to go to their beloved Palestine."
JESUS ON ALIYAH
The return of the Jews back to their homeland is deeply rooted in scriptures and runs as a central theme through the Word of God. More than 70 passages promise their return to Eretz Israel.
Beginning with the law of Moses (Deut 30:1-10), it is referred to
by almost every prophetic writer and was even part of Israel's songbook, the book of Psalms. The hope that God would "return the captives of Israel" became a part of the liturgy of Israel's worship. In Psalm z47 the Psalmist declares, it is "good and pleasant to praise the Lord" and immediately explains why: "The Lord builds up Jerusalem and gathers the outcast of Israel."
Jesus himself referred to a dispersal of the Jews from Israel; that Jerusalem would become desolate for a season "until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24), indicating a future
return of the Jews and a rebuilding of Jerusalem. As Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, he wept over Jerusalem and foresaw its destruction (Mt 23:37-39; Lk I9:4I-44). At the same time, he also anticipated a restored Jewish city whose inhabitants would someday welcome him with a Jewish Old Testament greeting "Baruch haba b'Shem Adonai" (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord). "Baruch haba!" (Blessed is he who comes!) is used even in modern Hebrew to say "welcome." So Jesus, who foresaw dispersion, clearly expected a Jewish presence at His return, who would welcome Him in Hebrew.
The majority of references to Israel's return from exile was written by the prophets. More than 50 prophetic passages refer to a return of the Jews from exile. Although many prophesies do refer to the Babylonian exile and return during the times of Cyrus, Nehemiah and Ezra (539-440 BC), most of them saw the return from Babylon as a partial fulfilment of even greater events foretold by Scripture.
For example, the prophet Amos declares: "I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them, says the LORD your God" (Am 9:15). Isaiah speaks to a restored Israel: "They shall inherit the land forever..." (Is 60:21) and Jeremiah declares: "...and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up" (Jer 24:6). These prophets clearly saw a great and final return to their land after which the Lord would never exile them again. Obviously this was not the case after the Babylonian return, since Israel was again dispersed by the Romans 50o years later.
In addition to Israel's ingathering being permanent, almost all the prophets understood it would be accompanied by a spiritual revival and even reformation for the entire nation, most clearly seen in Ezekiel. After declaring the Lord would take Israel from the nations and gather them "into your own land" (Ez 36:24) he then beautifully described Israel's spiritual awakening: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you ... I will give you a heart of flesh ... I will pour my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes ... you shall be my people and I will be your God..." (vv.
25-31). (See also Isaiah 43-44, Jeremiah 31, Joel 3.)
Israel has not yet experienced a national, spiritual revival of this magnitude. After the return from Babylon, the prophets Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai recognized this spiritual renewal of Israel had not yet taken place, but was still to come. The Apostle Paul understood that although only a remnant would be saved (Rom '1: 5) during his lifetime, he foresaw a future national revival when "all Israel shall be saved ... and the redeemer shall come out of Zion" (Rom 11:26).
The prophets also saw a future messianic kingdom established with Israel (Jer 23) living in perfect peace (Is 32:17; Ez 38:8) and the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship the Lord (Is 2:1ff, Zech 14:16). All this and more still waits for its final fulfilment.
A CALL TO THE CHURCH
As the prophets foresaw this end time restoration of Israel, they also expected Gentile nations to play a central role. As the prophet Isaiah declared: "Thus says the Lord GOD: `Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders."' (Is 49:22) The return of the Jews is a divine banner, a sign of God to all the nations (see also Is 11:12) which the church cannot afford to ignore. God declares to us: "Get involved!"
Today hundreds of thousands of Jews have returned to Israel with the help of Christians and churches worldwide. The ICED has been involved in bringing over 120,000 Jews back to Eretz Israel (Land of Israel). It is one of the greatest privileges of the church today, to be actively involved in this fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
And one more thing: This is a message which needs to be preached from our pulpits! Jeremiah declares: "Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, And declare it in the isles afar off, and say, 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock'." (Jer. 31:10) The return of the Jews to Israel is a truth which should be often discussed in every church and denomination today.
The work of God in returning the Jews to Israel is still ongoing, especially in many countries of the former Soviet Union (e.g. Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Belarus), France and the Bnei Menashe from India. The Jewish Agency recently asked for our assistance with the final wave of Jews from Ethiopia.
One of our greatest privileges at ICEJ is to be actively involved in this prophetic work and I invite you to join us. All these projects are exciting opportunities to be part of what God is doing in Israel. Pastors, prayerfully consider joining us and have your congregation sponsor one or more Jews in their return to Israel. As God is faithful to His promises regarding His people Israel, I know He will be faithful to abundantly bless you in return.
2016 - Knesset establishes 'Aliyah Day' to honor newcomers' 'decision to tie their fates with Israel,' and contributions to the state.
The new holiday will be on the Hebrew calendar as the 7th day of Cheshvan (late October-early November).
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