God’s Witnesses

WHAT DO YOU THINK of the Jews?

Whatever you think, you have to admit that they are unique. Throughout their long and turbulent history they have defied repeated attempts to destroy them. They have retained their identity despite huge pressures to assimilate into other cultures. They are a tiny minority of the world’s population, and yet their impact on history, science and culture has been huge. They seem able to attract hatred like no other group of people: there’s a special word for it, ‘anti-Semitism’. The Jews are an enigma.

History

They were crushed and exiled by the Babylonians in the 6th Century bc, and again by the Romans in the 1st Century ad. During the last 2000 years they have wandered all over the world, enduring persecution almost wherever they went.

Jewish prisoners in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1943

At various times they have been expelled from many different countries including Cyprus, Egypt, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and England. There have been numerous massacres of Jews, most infamously by the Church in the Crusades, the Russians in the Pogroms and the Nazis in the Holocaust.

One of the remarkable features of Jews is that they tend to rise to prominence wherever they find themselves. Some of the world’s most notable politicians, businessmen, artists and scientists have been Jews.

In 1948 the Jewish state was re-established, nearly 1900 years after it was last destroyed. It began as a beleaguered collection of settlers in the midst of powerful hostile neighbours who were intent on destroying it. Since then it has won various wars for survival against huge odds, and grown to be one of the most prosperous and powerful nations in the world.

There is no denying it—when you look at the history of the Jews, you can see something highly unusual is happening.

A Challenge

The Bible is a Jewish book. It was written almost entirely by Jews, and the history and prophecy it contains is focused on the Jews and the land of Israel. One of the great Bible prophets was Isaiah, who lived during the time of the Jewish Kingdom around the 8th Century bc. Through Isaiah God issued a challenge to the nations of his day:

Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled. Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear and say, “It is truth.” “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me” (Isaiah 43:9–10).

Look at yourselves, God said to the Jews. You are living evidence that I am God. Their own history, which is recorded for us in the first dozen books of the Bible, would show them that. Nearly 3000 years later, with so much more extraordinary history to view, that declaration still resonates for us.

Jerusalem, Israel’s capital

Does this mean that Jews are somehow better people than the rest of us? Experience shows that it does not. And the modern state of Israel is no more enlightened or less prone to corruption than other states. This is what we should expect. The Bible’s account of the Jewish story is a brutally honest and often vividly detailed picture of their human failings.

The Bible book of Deuteronomy contains the last words of Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt and to the border of the Promised Land. It’s a book of reminders, warning and encouragement as they prepared to capture the land which would become known as Israel. Moses explained why it was that God was doing all this for them:

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

The Jews always have been and still are a special people. They have played a key role in world history, and they are central to God’s future purpose. This is not because of any merit of theirs. The key is in those words of Moses: it’s the oath that God swore to their fathers. That’s one of the key subjects we’ll explore in this issue: who were their fathers, and what made them so special to God?

We’ll also see what this means for us. The Apostle Paul referred to the Christian Gospel as the ‘hope of Israel’ (Acts 28:20), but he also demonstrated how we can all, Jews or not, share in the blessings which God promised to their fathers.