Jul 5, 2010

Praying for Israel

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

Q. How would you pray for Israel at this time . . . as we see Turkey, Iran, other Arab countries and the world gathering momentum against her? Are there scriptures to give me a roadmap and a timeline on what is currently happening today regarding this?

A. These are indeed perilous times for Israel! Nations once considered her ally, sharing a common foundation of democracy informed by Judeo-Christian values, seemingly motivated by an ill-considered desire to appease the global community, are now distancing themselves from her at what may be one of her greatest times of need. This abandonment of support for Israel goes hand-in-hand with the developing Biblical illiteracy which plagues our churches, our nation, and the world in general. This is the predicted failure of mankind to recognize and accept what God has revealed in Scripture concerning His chosen nation.1 Yet, as surprising as it may be, even the Koran recognizes the special role of Israel in the plan of God.

We did deliver aforetime the Children of Israel from humiliating Punishment, Inflicted by Pharaoh, for he was arrogant (even) among inordinate transgressors. And We chose them aforetime above the nations, knowingly (Surah 44:30-32) ... We did aforetime grant to the Children of Israel the Book the Power of Command, and Prophethood; We gave them, for Sustenance, things good and pure; and We favoured them above the nations. (Surah 45:16) - Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an, Electronic version. (2004).
Contributing to this ignorance and confusion, movements within Christianity follow replacement theology (supercessionism), having this in common with Islam: the belief that Israel forfeited her chosen status through her subsequent disobedience to God. But this contradicts the clear teaching of the Apostle Paul concerning Israel:
“for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29; compare Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2).
Given the present situation, it is becoming increasingly important that we, as Christians who seek to please our Lord, pray and live in accordance with the instructions and themes clearly portrayed in relation to Israel within Scripture.
  • Pray for the Salvation of the Jews

    The apostle Paul, who experienced firsthand the rejection of Jesus by Jews, nevertheless maintained a priority on evangelizing his “countrymen according to the flesh.” This is reflected in the phrase, "to the Jew first" which we see taught in the New Testament (Acts 3:26; 10:36; 13:5,14,46; 17:2,16-17; 18:4-6,19; Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10). Even when taking the gospel to Greece, Paul had his initial focus on the Jews. In Acts 17:16, Paul is provoked by the worship of idols in Athens. These idols would have been worshiped by Gentiles because idol worship was not generally an issue with the Jews ever since the days of the Babylonian Captivity. Yet before Paul preaches to those who's idols provoked him (the Gentiles) we find him in Acts 17:17 preaching first to the Jews. Although Paul experiences a climactic rejection by the Jews of Rome (Acts 28:28) he would have us understand that their coming acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah) will be to the world as “life from the dead”:
    I say then, have they [the Jews] stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:11-15, NKJV)
    I believe this is an intentional allusion by the Apostle Paul to the famous “valley of the dead bones” passage of Ezekiel 37 which concerns the spiritual awakening and restoration of Israel,
    “Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off” ’ ” (Eze. 37:11)
    Another reason for recognizing the importance of Jewish evangelism is found in the words of Jesus given over the city Jerusalem at His departure from the Temple.
    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ ” (Mat. 23:37-39)
    Jesus is speaking over Jerusalem and categorically states that the city will not see His presence again until the people of Jerusalem, the Jews, welcome Him back as the Blessed One sent in the name of God (Baruch ha ba b'shem Adonai). This can only happen when the Jews come to faith in Jesus - the very thing which Paul (in concert with the Old Testament) asserts,
    “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins’ ” (Rom. 11:26-27).
    This is not to say that we reduce our efforts at global evangelization of the nations, but we would do well to remember that one of God’s purposes in history is to reunite His chosen nation with the One whom they pierced (Zec. 12:10; Rev. 1:7) and that we can contribute toward that day by praying for and evangelizing the Jews.

  • Pray for God’s Kingdom to Come

    When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, that prayer included the all-important phrase, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth . . .” (Mat. 6:10). In order for God’s kingdom to arrive in such a way that His will is actually done on earth requires the return of the King Himself: Jesus Christ (Mat. 25:31-32). And that will not come to pass until the “times of the Gentiles,” mentioned by Jesus, comes to an end:
    “And they [the Jews] will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).
    In this passage, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in 70 A.D. and the subsequent diaspora - the global dispersion of the Jews. This, of course, is now a well-attested fact of history. Until the mid 1900’s, the Jews were to be found in all corners of the earth, yet without their Biblical homeland. Jesus tells us that Jerusalem will remain trampled by Gentiles until the “times of the Gentiles” come to a close. This sheds enormous light upon the otherwise inexplicable return of control of the Temple mount by Israel to Islam following the Jewish victory in the six-day war, not to mention the ongoing control of the mount by Islam. This manipulative control of aspects of Jerusalem by the Gentiles - where the Jews are unable to exert lasting and complete control over the city - is part and parcel of the times Jesus referred to which are to be characterized by Gentile influence upon Jerusalem and ultimately, Gentile dominion in history which is only cut off at the return of the Davidic king to set up global reign centered in Jerusalem (Mat. 25:31-32). Thus, whenever we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth,” we are aligning our wills with that of God Who will one day bring an end of Gentile rule at the introduction of the millennial kingdom (Dan. 2:35,44; 7:14,27; Rev. 11:15). This, of course, has tremendous relevance to Israel because it also marks the end of the “times of the Gentiles” mentioned by Jesus in the 21st chapter of Luke. This business of the lack of a Davidic ruler reigning from Jerusalem during our present age is a key spiritual factor behind the claims made by various faiths upon Jerusalem and the unwillingness of the world to fully recognize the city as being the capital of Israel under the sole dominion of the Jews. The Scriptures tell us that all the nations of the world will eventually oppose God’s purposes in Jerusalem and Israel (Zec. 12:1-9). Nearly 2000 years after the words of Jesus, network news is full of discussion concerning Israel and disagreements between different parties concerning the ultimate control of Jerusalem, yet the world at large - and many Christians - remain blithely unaware of the Biblical significance of the situation.

  • Pray for Jerusalem

    The spiritual situation concerning Jerusalem mentioned above should also be a point of prayer for Christians. Consider this “Zionist statement” I first heard as lyrics of a song on a Messianic worship album while a new Christian.
    For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, And all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the LORD will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the LORD delights in you, And your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you. I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, And give Him no rest till He establishes And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
    When I first heard this passage, I thought it was very radical - even extreme. Imagine my surprise as a new Christian when I came to understand that this was in fact the very heart of God expressed in the Word of God through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 62:1-7)! Notice that God Himself will not rest for Jerusalem’s sake. Has God placed watchmen on the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem - which exists in sinless perfection ready to descend out of heaven (Rev. 21:2)? Is the heavenly Jerusalem presently forsaken and desolate? I don’t think so! Clearly, God is speaking of His own zeal to establish the earthly Jerusalem as a royal diadem in His hand and make her “a praise in the earth”. Who are those called to pray that this might come to pass? “You who make mention of the LORD.” Surely this should include born-again believers in our day since it can hardly be said that this passage has been fulfilled!

  • Pray for the Protection of Israel and the Jews

    As I discuss in my commentary on the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation, Scripture reveals that Satan continues to persecute the Jewish people long after Jesus has completed His work on the cross (Rev. 12:5,13-17). If God’s work is complete at the cross and Israel is no longer of significance to His work, how is it that Satan is still found opposing the Jews in the latter half of chapter 12? The answer is found in recognizing the importance of Israel in the plan of God and the role Israel plays in the coming Davidic Kingdom during the millennium. Some Christians seem unaware of this fact, but the forces of darkness are not. Thus, the otherwise unthinkable rise of anti-Semitism, in all its varied forms, we must understand as a spiritual work originating with the forces of darkness who will stop at nothing to interfere with God’s purposes for the Jews and their land. This business of opposing the Jews is no small thing. In opposing Israel, not only will people find themselves unwittingly in the same camp as Satan, they also position themselves on the wrong side of the promise God made to Abraham,
    “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).2
    In this regard the nations of the world would do well to learn from the example of Balaam, who although knowing the truth, positioned himself on the wrong side of this promise (Micah 6:5) which ultimately cost him his life (Jos. 13:22).

    As Christians, we should be interceding for our own family, church, and nation to appreciate this principle of blessing and cursing in association with how we treat the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to see the wisdom in interacting with Israel fairly and with circumspection while recognizing God’s choice of the beleaguered nation as a sign to those who would assert there is no God or that He is no longer active in the affairs of history (Eze. 36:21-22). This is a particularly timely prayer for those of us who live in nations which once firmly supported Israel, but now have leadership which is waffling in commitment - even devoid of Biblical understanding - concerning this important promise made by God.
Concerning whether the Scriptures provide a roadmap and a timeline on what is happening today: I'm not a proponent of attempting to tie newsworthy events of our time with specific passages of Scripture, often after-the-fact. Yet I also recognize that Scripture does provide considerable information concerning general developments in history leading up to the events associated with the Second Coming. It is my personal view that we are living in a time where numerous stage-setting developments associated with Israel are undeniably taking place (although not necessarily as far along as many prophecy teachers would have us believe).

The most important stage-setting event would have to be the recreation of the modern state of Israel which numerous Bible students of the past accurately predicted.3 The return of the Jews to their homeland is what one would expect from the Scriptures based on numerous passages which assume a Jewish nation (and context) back in their land (Jer. 30:3-11; 32:29-42; Eze. 36:22-24; 37:3-8; 38:8; 39:24-29; Dan. 9:24-27; Zec. 12:10; Mat. 23:39; 24:15-20).

Another stage-setting development one might also predict, unfortunately, is the growing, demonically-influenced opposition to Israel by the nations of the world, ultimately leading to the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7; Mat. 24:15; Rev. 12:13). (How could it be that within a mere 60 years of WWII we are now living with people in our midst who deny the very events of the holocaust in which 1/3 of the Jewish people perished? If this isn’t a spiritual work of darkness I don’t know what is?!)

One can also discern regional alignments and influences setting the stage for a coming invasion of Israel prophesied by Ezekiel (Eze. 38-39). The countries mentioned by Ezekiel are already Islamic or countries where Islam is rapidly rising in influence (Turkey and Iran being but two which you also mentioned).

Another trend is the increasing hostility toward Israel and the growing sentiment by the nations of the world that the status of Jerusalem is an implacable problem. These developments herald the approach of the Tribulation, when God has revealed He will judge the nations and “turn ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26).

It also seems likely that the stirrings in the region of Iran and Iraq will serve as precursors to the reestablishment of Babylon which Scripture predicts will rise in prominence eventually manifesting the full flower of man’s rebellion against God (e.g., Isa. 13-14; Jer. 50-51; Zec. 5:5-11; Rev. 17-19).4

All of these trends align with Biblical revelation concerning Israel’s predicament in the last days.

As all these developments work their way out in history, the believer should pay increasing attention to the teaching of the Scriptures, not only to remain wary of taking a stance opposed to the work of God, but also to be prepared to use the events of our day as an evangelistic tool to show how God is still very much at work moving the nations of the world along His timeline - about which the Bible has much to say.5

We should not be surprised that Israel still holds a key place in the revealed will of God since God Himself has told us as much:
And He said: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” (Ex. 34:10)

1. Concerning Israel being chosen by God: Ex 3:7; Ex 3:15; Ex 3:18; Ex 6:6; Ex 19:5-6; Le 20:26; De 4:7-8; De 4:34; De 4:37; De 7:6-8; De 10:15; De 14:2; De 26:18-19; De 28:10; De 32:8-9; 2Sa 7:23-24; 1Ki 8:53; 1Ch 16:13; 1Ch 17:21; Ps 47:3-4; Ps 105:6; Ps 105:43; Ps 106:5-7; Ps 135:4; Ps 147:19-20; Isa 41:8-9; Isa 43:1-4; Isa 43:10; Isa 43:15; Isa 43:20-22; Isa 44:1-2; Isa 44:21; Isa 45:4; Jer 10:16; Zec 8:23; Mt 24:22; Ac 13:17; Ro 9:4; Ro 11:5.
2. Gen. 12:3; Ex. 23:22; Num. 24:8-9; Deu. 7:15; 30:7; Ps. 89:23; Isa. 41:11-12,25-26; Jer. 30:16; Eze. ; 35:5,12-15; 36:6-7,15; Joel 3:1-7; Mat. 24:40-45.
3. In my notes, I have quotes from numerous students of Scripture who accurately predicted the reestablishment of the nation of Israel well in advance of 1948 including: Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918), David Baron (1918), E. W. Bullinger (1835-1913), John Nelson Darby (1848), Clarance Larkin (1850-1924), Increase Mather (1669), John Owen (1673), J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), Walter Scott (1796-1861), John Thomas (1849), and Elhanan Winchester (1800). “In 1918 [before the modern state of Israel], the Philadelphia Prophetic Conference adopted a statement of prophetic faith. The fifth article read: "We believe that there will be a gathering of Israel to her land in unbelief, and she will be afterward converted by the appearing of Christ on her behalf.” Timothy Demy and Thomas Ice, When the Trumpet Sounds (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 23.
4. Notice especially Jer. 51:63 (cf. Rev. 18:21) which ties fulfillment of God’s prophesied judgment to a specific geographic location - the literal site of Babylon at the time of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom.
5. A trustworthy resource to help the Bible student put the pieces of the prophetic puzzle into a cohesive framework is Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s surpassing work, The Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003).