If the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament confirmation concerning Israel in the end-time are to be accepted at face value, we should expect a return of God’s ancient people to Palestine. The question, then, is unavoidable: Are the establishment of the modern state of Israel and the recent events there related to these prophecies?
Jacob and his family left the Holy Land voluntarily to go to Egypt. Deliverance from Egypt was later granted under the leadership of Moses, and under Joshua the Israelites gained possession of the land of promise. The prediction of the removal and the return is found in Genesis 15. Evidently this occupation of Palestine was morally based on the iniquity of the Amorite, which in Abraham’s time was not yet full. The promise of the return was literally fulfilled (Num. 1).
Two dispersions from the land followed within a little over a century from each other. The ten northern tribes—Israel—were taken to the north and east by Shalmaneser of Assyria (2 Kings 17:1–18), and Israel was repopulated by people from other lands (2 Kings 17:24 ff.). The southern kingdom—Judah—was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, who carried many of the people away captive to his own nation (2 Kings 24:1–6, 10–17; 25:1–30). Jeremiah predicted their return (29:10), and the promise of the return was literally fulfilled (Ezra 2).
That there was to be another dispersion seems definitely implied in the prophetic words of Christ recorded in Luke 21:20–24. The destruction and captivity under Titus (A.D. 70) and Hadrian (A.D. 135) fulfilled this prophecy. But there are also predictions in the Old Testament of a return of Israel utterly beyond the two returns mentioned above. Isaiah foresaw a return from the four corners of the earth (11:12), from the east, the west, the north, and the south (43:5–7). Joel relates the judgment of all nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat to a return from captivity (3:1, 2). Jeremiah connects a return with “the latter days” when the Lord will bring “the families of Israel” from “the uttermost parts of the earth” (30:24; 31:1, 7–9, ASV). And Amos says that after such a return, “they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, said Jehovah thy God” (Amos 9:15).
It seems to me that, with no specific statement to the contrary, we should expect a third return. Although Patrick Fairbairn, of the Free Church of Scotland, changed his view when he wrote his celebrated volume on the interpretation of prophecy, his original view (recorded in the volume Fairbairn versus Fairbairn, brought together by Albertus Pieters) was, I believe, the correct one. Said he as a younger man: “The fulfillment of what is already past affords the best rule for determining the sense of what is yet to be fulfilled in the prophecies which concern the Jews as a people.…” That makes sense. As Samuel H. Kellogg of Western Theological Seminary used to say, any other view makes the prophecy ambiguous, for it destroys the homogeneity of Scripture (look at Jeremiah 31:10 with this point in view). Indeed, Kellogg uses the same argument that Fairbairn originally made: “How can we possibly determine how God may be expected to fulfill predictions in the future, except by observing how in point of fact he fulfilled them in the past? If this be not a safe principle, where can we find one?”
But what of Deuteronomy 8:19, 20: “And it shall be, if thou shalt forget Jehovah thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. As he nations that Jehovah maketh to perish before you, so shall ye perish; because ye would not hearken unto the voice of Jehovah your God”? But cannot God bring them to obedience (cf. Rom. 11:23, 24)? Did not the Lord also say: “The land also shall be left by them, and shall enjoy its sabbaths, while it lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they rejected mine ordinances, and their soul abhorred my statutes. And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am Jehovah their God; but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors …” (Lev. 26:43–45). Is not this his word in a prophecy concerning the day of the Lord in Jeremiah 30:4–11: “I will not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure, and will in no wise leave thee unpunished”?
God made a covenant with David (Ps. 89:28–37). Further, God’s inclusion of others in the new covenant does not automatically disqualify Israel, especially in the light of his promise (Jer. 31:35–40; 33:25, 26). If “the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of” (Rom. 11:29), who is to say God is through with literal Israel (when the very context speaks of the sons of Jacob, the Israelites, illustrated by Paul, who was a Benjamite)? That the kingdom of God was taken from an unbelieving generation and given to a nation bringing forth kingdom fruits (Matt. 21:43) certainly does not nullify the promise of God in days to come. It is still true that a nation that brings forth the fruit of the kingdom of God will have the blessing of God.
That Israel has a future is confirmed by the New Testament Scriptures. Christ answered Peter’s question about rewards by saying, “Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). This verse has to do with Christ’s sitting upon his throne. He is now on his Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21). It seems, then, that the Matthew passage has eschatological significance. Say Arndt and Gingrich in their Greek lexicon of the word “regeneration”: “eschatol … of the renewing of the world in the time of the Messiah … in the new (Messianic) age or world (Matt. 19:28).” And at that time the twelve tribes of Israel will be involved.
Furthermore, I think that Acts 3:19–21 contains a reference to the second coming. Such an interpretation, it has been suggested, agrees with all analogy and usage. It is the Christ who ascended whom the Father will send at the time of restoration. His return will mean “restoration of all things, whereof God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old” (Acts 3:21). Arndt and Gingrich suggest also that the Lord has been received in heaven “until the time for restoring everything to perfection.” F. F. Bruce comments: “The final inauguration of the new age is accompanied by a renovation of all nature (cf. Rom. 8:18–23).” The time for the restoration of all things is set in the economy of God. When it occurs, the predictions of the prophets of old will be fulfilled. Let us not rule out the Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s ancient people in the day of the Lord. Acts 15:13–18 and Romans 11 fit into this picture also, for both have eschatological significance involving Israel (Acts 15:16, 17; Rom. 11:26, 27).
But what of the events in Palestine since 1948? Are they part of the prophetic forecast? In many Christian circles the answer given is a flat no, on the grounds that Israel has returned in unbelief. No doubt unbelief is the attitude toward Christ of the majority in Israel. But may I point out (as did Bishop William R. Nicholson, later dean of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary, at the 1878 Prophetic Conference in New York) that in both the preliminary return and the full return at the Lord’s coming, the people of Israel return in unbelief. It is when the Redeemer comes out of Zion that all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). It is when they are gathered “out of all the countries” that they are cleansed, a new heart is given them, and God’s Spirit is put within them (Ezek. 36:24–29). It is when they shall look unto him for sin and uncleanness (Zech. 12:10–13:1). Some will already be in Jerusalem in unbelief before the Lord’s return; this is established, not only by the references to Jerusalem in Zechariah 12:10–13:1, but most clearly by Zechariah 14:1–4, which places Jerusalem under siege—to be delivered by the Lord’s return. Zechariah echoes the same general condition so vividly described by Jeremiah (30:4–11), by Joel (2:1–3), by Ezekiel (38:8, 11, 14–16), and by Christ himself (Matt. 24:15–22). It is immediately after the tribulation of those days that men shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:29, 30)—the return of our Lord to reign. But part of Israel is in the Holy Land before he returns.
Can it be that the beginning of these things is upon us? If Israel keeps Jerusalem, will that mean that Luke 21:24 is about to be fulfilled? I do not attempt to give a final answer. The times and seasons are in the Father’s hand. But may I suggest that, in view of the signs of the times, it would be very foolish to live as though the end of the age could not possibly be upon us.
There is one very present problem that I dare not leave unmentioned. What of the Arab countries, and especially the Arab refugees? My heart goes out to them, and I am not ready to defend every last action taken by Israel. But there are some inescapable conclusions for me, though I realize that good and godly men may differ. First, Israel has incorporated hundreds of thousands of refugees (called “newcomers” in Israel) into its economic and social life, not a few of whom were forced out of Arab countries like Iraq and Yemen. Why have not Arab countries (especially those rich in oil) done more to help their own? Such a manifestation of maturity and ingenuity would have called forth world respect. Second, Israel exists through what has been called “the active support of the world community.” Is it asking too much when it asks for guaranteed security? Third, the heartbreaking Arab refugee problem is the responsibility of Israel, the Arab nations, and the rest of the world. There is much that ought to be done. May God give a willingness to do it and to allow it to be done.
In thirty-five years of raising money for archaeological excavations in Palestine, I have lectured in hundreds of churches of all denominations. Seldom have I found that even 2 per cent of an audience knew the basic facts about the creation of the present state of Israel and its relation to the native Arab population.
Two important items need mention before we look at the Arab-Israeli problem chronologically. First, 10 per cent of the Arab population is Christian; yet neither Protestants nor Roman Catholics have made any serious effort, either in the United Nations or among Christian governments, to help these fellow Christians politically. Both, however, have made small contributions to the relief of both Christian and Muslim refugees. Second, at the time of World War I, 93 per cent of the population of Palestine was Arab and 7 per cent was Jewish. But Jews owned only 2 per cent of the land. Even at the time of the creation of the state of Israel, they owned only 6 per cent of the land. The present state of Israel was created, not by Palestinian Jews, but militarily by European Jews who had fled from persecution in Christian Europe.
Now to the chronological details of the problem.
1. The Arabs of the Near East were under the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1914. When World War I broke out, the British, to protect their Suez Canal lifeline to India and the Far East, attacked the Turks in Palestine by way of Egypt. The Arabs were their allies, and in return, the British agreed to recognize Arab independence. When, late in 1915, the British proposals were finally put in what the Arabs thought was honest language, the Arabs accepted them. The McMahon report states: “… Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories included in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca.”
2. Only two years later, and just a month before Allenby advanced on Palestine, the Arabs discovered the deceit of the British, for the British then made public the Balfour Declaration, which states: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.…”
3. This Balfour Declaration has been the major cause of the three wars between Jews and the Arabs, for the Zionists have insisted on amending the Balfour Declaration to make it include all of Palestine, though it specifically states that nothing will be done to “prejudice the … rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”
4. British statesmen apparently thought they could fulfill their commitments to both the Arabs and the Jews, since most of the Jews escaping from European persecution at that time were simply using Palestine as a resting place in their flight from persecution in Europe. As soon as they could, they left Palestine for the United States, Australia, Hong Kong, and other places. But as Hitler’s persecution of the Jews became more ominous, Britain opened the door for more Jews to enter Palestine.
5. Long before this, however, the Arabs had seen the handwriting on the wall. In July, 1922, the British accepted a mandate for government of Palestine from the League of Nations, thus repudiating their promises of Arab independence made in 1915 and 1918. In 1936 the Arabs tried to pressure the British into keeping their pledge to grant the Arabs complete national independence, but the British halted that independence movement ruthlessly.
6. The British, pressured by both Jews and Arabs, then suggested three different plans for dividing Palestine into Jewish, Arab, and mandate sections. All were rejected by both Jews and Arabs. In November, 1947, the United Nations recommended in vain another plan for the partition of Palestine. Meanwhile the Irgun and Stern gangs of Zionism had introduced the same murder techniques that the Viet Cong are now using in Viet Nam. Even the British minister in the Middle East was killed by the Stem gang in Cairo. Count Bernadotte of the United Nations was assassinated by the Jews. The British then used military force to put down all violence by both Jews and Arabs, but they suffered such a loss in military personnel that they abandoned their mandate over Palestine in May, 1948.
7. Meanwhile, Zionists had organized a very efficient political and military machine to take over the most valuable sections of Palestine as soon as the British left. In World War II the British had trained a Jewish brigade in Palestine for service in Europe. They had also trained Jews in guerrilla tactics, in case the Germans should reach Palestine. And many thousands of Jews from the armies of Europe were now in Palestine. Now all these were blended into a Jewish army. When the British withdrew, Arab armies from Egypt and Syria entered Palestine, but the only efficient Arab unit was the Arab Legion from Transjordan. After a month’s fighting the United Nations was able to arrange a truce. Unfortunately, that truce and later ones were broken on both sides. The resultant expansion of Israel’s territory gave her access to the Gulf of Aqaba.
8. Most of the Arabs living in the area dominated by the Jews fled, fearing Jewish terrorism. These Arab refugees numbered approximately a million. The United Nations gives a slightly lower figure, based upon its own specific definition of a refugee. Many of the refugees did not fit that definition and have never received any U. N. help. Only by Christian charity from both Catholics and Protestants were they saved. The number of Christians among the Arab refugees then was close to 100,000. (It is now about 160,000.)
9. The new state of Israel at once froze all bank accounts of the Arab refugees and confiscated all their properties, both farmlands and businesses. An average estimate of the confiscated wealth is $1,250,000,000. Under U. N. pressure Israel released the bank accounts, but the Arab refugees have never received any compensation for their properties, nor has there been any release of safety-vault deposits. And in the meantime Israel had confiscated more Arab properties.
10. President Truman was one of the first heads of state to recognize the new Israel. But long before this crisis, Zionist politicians in the United States had gotten both political parties to put Zionist planks in their national platforms. The Arabs were especially bitter toward President Truman because he went to war against the Communist invasion of Korea but approved of the same military-invasion policy when carried out by the Israelites in Palestine.
11. Then in October, 1956, Israel, England, and France attacked Egypt to gain control of the Suez Canal.
This time, however, the United States under President Eisenhower defended the Arab cause and rallied worldwide support for it. Israel, the British, and the French were forced to abandon their military conquest.
12. On June 5, 1967, Israel attacked the Arabs for the third time, conquering all the land west of the Jordan River from the Suez Canal into Syria. Both sides had been provoking each other into this war, but it was Israel who broke the armistice. She could never have caught the Arab planes on their airfields if the Arabs had been intending to strike first. It was in this fighting that Israel attacked the American ship “Liberty,” an act that was practically ignored by the American President and Congress. Also, during the fighting Israel destroyed Catholic and Protestant church properties worth about three-quarters of a million dollars. The war created about 300,000 new Arab refugees, making the current total something like 1,600,000. Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli problem costs the United Nations approximately $1 billion a year, most of which, of course, must be paid by the United States.
13. For Americans, the greatest casualty of the last war is America’s loss of influence in the Mediterranean and among all Arab peoples. Remember that Arab lands stretch from the Atlantic Ocean across all of North Africa, Arabia, and Pakistan. Furthermore, the entire Muslim population of the world is embittered by the Israeli “take-over” of the city of Jerusalem, the second most important Muslim holy city. And this Muslim population encircles most of the globe along the world’s best trade routes. At the close of World War I, America was almost the only Western nation that the Arabs trusted. Today the Arabs hate the American government even more than they hate Great Britain, under whose politics the state of Israel was created.
14. Russia has now taken America’s place as the dominant power in the Near East. Her influence sits astride the Suez Canal, and that waterway is the key to military and economic power between the Atlantic Ocean and India. Furthermore, the Russians built the Aswan Dam and thus took a mortgage on all Egyptian real estate. The Arabs do not like atheistic Russia, but last June Russia was the only nation in the world except France that befriended them. And they still remember their bitter experiences under the French mandate and with the French after World War II.
15. Finally, America’s support of Israel has been practically a death blow to missionary work in Arab lands. Although the Arab governments may for political reasons continue to allow the Christian Church to work in their lands, the common Arab feels that, since he has been betrayed by America, he has been betrayed by the Christian Church. To a Muslim, his government and his religion are inseparable, and he naturally assumes that the United States government and the Christian Church are likewise inseparable.
No wonder that one of the finest missionaries from the Near East calls this last Israeli war “perhaps the most serious setback that Christendom has had since the fall of Constantinople, since 1453.”
Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”
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