Forgotten, Not Forsaken

David Zadok
Tuesday, November 1st 2011
Nov/Dec 2011

The apostle Paul often used the word "mystery" in different contexts in his Epistles. The meaning behind the usage of this word remained hidden in the Old Testament, but now has been revealed fully in the New

Covenant. One of the places that the word "mystery" appears is in Romans 11:25 in connection to God's redemptive plan for the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles. Paul warned and informed his readers of the mystery, that is, that "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (ESV). The mystery that has been revealed in many ways has become a mystery again in recent years. Is there a future hope for the Jewish people, the Israelites? Too many trees have been cut down to provide for the books and articles that have been written on the topic! Almost everyone and every denomination has a view on the issue of Israel, particularly since 1948 when Israel became a state, and even more so in recent years with all that has occurred in the Middle East. I will come back to this point, but meanwhile it is important to see what is happening today in the land of the Holy One.

The Call

Most of us are familiar with the call of Israel in the Old Testament and the covenants that God made with his people. In them we see God's faithfulness as the covenant keeper and unchangeable creator. These characteristics of God especially stand out as we see the faithlessness of the people, the people of Israel, who are also my people by ethnicity. While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, the people of Israel made a golden calf and said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (Exod. 32:4). Their rebellion continued even though the Lord provided them with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire to guide them. Because of their murmuring and rebellion, the older generation never entered the Promised Land. Even when Moses grew tired of the people, however, God patiently and lovingly’though at times with wrath’led them into his presence through the tabernacle and into the Promised Land.

As we read on in the history of God's people, we see a pattern emerging, one that becomes readily apparent in the book of Judges. Israel rebels, the Lord brings upon them an enemy, the people cry out to God, and he delivers them through a judge. This pattern is repeated again and again, but with time the judges become increasingly wicked. The unfaithfulness of the people and their rebellion against God is not limited to the era of the judges, but appears throughout the history of the Old Testament.

The people sinned boldly against their Creator and Savior. They worshipped idols made by human hands. Can you imagine what an insult that was to God? Yet God remained faithful in forgiving, saving, leading, and guiding his people. Again and again he sent them prophets to show them their desperate need for repentance and to call them back to himself. We hear the cries of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and others pleading with God's people to repent, to change their ways, and to follow the God of their covenant. Despite their heinous sins, the Lord God continued to speak through the prophets, as in Isaiah 40:1-5:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

Kings also despised the ways of the Lord and adopted the gods of the nations and committed evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet in spite of their treacherous acts and their rejection of God and his ways, God remained faithful to them. Yes, he sent them into exile, and yes, he held back the rain and brought upon them terrible enemies. But these acts of God were done because of his love for them. The people of Israel were his possession, and he loved them as a father. This is God's way, and this is the true meaning of his love and his grace to the people of Israel and to us.

While it is easy for us to see the infidelity of the people of Israel under the old covenant, the performance of the church under the new covenant is not much better. We can look at the church in the Middle Ages and the condition of the church today and see the same pattern. The church in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament in essence have not been faithful to the call of God. But again, it is not about us as people, but about him and his faithfulness.

For this reason we can see why Paul so vividly in Romans 9-11 shows us that God has not forsaken his people of old nor his promises. And while in this age and era the majority of the people of Israel have rejected their Messiah, yet "there will be a wide-scale regrafting of ethnic Jews into Christ's body" (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011], 731).

Living and ministering in Israel, I have the privilege of seeing that truth slowly but surely unfolding before my eyes. There is an unprecedented openness to the gospel among the Jewish people. People between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five are embracing Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The number of churches and believers continues to grow. In fact, many claim that today there are more Jewish people who believe in Jesus as their Messiah than at any other time in the last two thousand years. It saddens my heart, however, when I see that there is little interest in bringing the gospel to the Jewish people. There is much attention given to Israel from the broad evangelical community, but often for the wrong reasons and too often without the goal of presenting the gospel. Unfortunately, the political situation and the desire to be "politically correct" have contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism, and have crippled the church in its call to bring the gospel to the Jew first. As a Reformed Jewish Christian, I regret seeing large, Reformed denominations stand silent when it comes to bringing the gospel to Israel or being directly involved in the work. How many missionaries to Israel does your church or denomination know, pray for, or support?

The Phenomena

Reformed theology, or better put, biblical theology emphasizes the total sovereignty of God over all things, and in particular over history. History is his story of redemption and how he works all things to accomplish his great plan of salvation. God in his great wisdom brings about all things in such a way as to fulfill his good and perfect will. For example, take the timing of Christ's incarnation. The timing fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies but was also perfect in terms of spreading the gospel. The Roman Empire, the controlling and leading force of the time, made two major contributions to civilization that we continue to benefit from even today. The first was Roman law. Many countries have laws based upon Roman law, and these laws helped to enable the Gentiles understand the laws of God. Second, the extensive European road system as well as sea routes still used today enabled missionaries to travel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the world with the gospel. Both of these contributions significantly enhanced the spread of the gospel. We see this movement in Acts where the gospel begins to spread from its birthplace in Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria; and in the last chapter of the book, we see Paul in Rome. In the city that was the end of the world, since the Americas were not yet discovered, Paul sits with the Jewish people and preaches and presents Jesus the Messiah. The Roman Empire paved the way for the gospel to be accepted not only by the Gentiles, even in the heart of the empire, but to spread over the then known world.

I believe the Lord is doing something similar today in regard to bringing the gospel to Israel in order to fulfill his promises. The language and the land are two modern phenomena that I believe are being used in similar ways by the Lord to pave the way in calling the Jewish people back to himself.

The Language

The Hebrew language is one of the oldest languages, a language in which God spoke his Word to his people. An old and "holy" language, yet for almost two thousand years it was a dead language in the sense that it was not used for daily and common conversation but only for the reading of Scripture, other holy writings, and for prayer in the synagogue. The Jewish people felt that if Elohim had spoken to them in this language, how could they use it for ordinary, everyday conversation? In addition, the Israelites who were scattered in various parts of the world had to adopt the language of that land in order to survive. For these reasons, the Hebrew language became a language of books, but not a language of the tongue.

In the late nineteenth century, more and more Jews began to return to the Promised Land to start a new life with renewed hope. As additional Jews left the Diaspora and returned to the ancient land of their fathers, the need to disassociate from Gentile customs and culture became more evident. During this time, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922), a Lithuanian Jew who was living in Jerusalem, made a conscious decision that he and his family would speak Hebrew at home. His idea did not spread very far in Jerusalem, as the majority of the Jews living there were religious. His vision, however, caught on in the more secular city of Tel-Aviv, and people started to use this "new" Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda began to create a conversational Hebrew and used the Jewish Scripture as the basis for the language. This gave birth to the Modern Hebrew language of today.

The Land

Scripture demonstrates the great desire of the people of Israel to return home. We see it in the psalms of ascents, particularly Psalm 123, and we see it in the writings of the prophets. It is also seen in Jewish and Christian literature. Jewish weddings, which initiate the beginning of a new family and matrimonial covenant, even to this day remember the City of Jerusalem and the newlywed promise not to forsake it. Many Christian writers, including the Puritans, wrote about the need and also the fulfillment of the promises of God to bring back the Jews to the land. Charles Spurgeon saw the day when the Jews returned to the land. Many saw the establishment of the state of Israel as a fulfillment of specific prophecy, and in God's sovereignty he made it happen. The fact is that just recently there are now more Jewish people who live in Israel than in any other country, including the United States and Russia.

These historical events demonstrate, I believe, that God has paved the way for the gospel to go forth in a significant way to my people, the people of Israel. A common language and the concentration of the Jewish people have empowered the gospel to go forth. We see this in a vivid way. My wife Eti remembers the days in Israel when she knew all the Jewish Christians in the land. And now the number is beyond anyone's counting.

The Need

While it is interesting to recognize the language and land phenomena, the church in Israel is also atypical. The New Testament church began with the Jewish people. All the writers of the New Testament (except possibly Luke the physician) were Jewish. In fact, the first church council debated on what to do with all these Gentiles who not only believed in the God of Israel, but now also the Jewish Messiah! According to God's redemptive plan, the church grew mostly among the Gentiles, and a chasm appeared between the church and its Jewish roots.

Today, after some two millennia, the New Testament church that began among Jewish people neglects Jewish people. Jewish people became victims of horrible acts in the name of "Christ" and "Christianity." We recall the Crusades, the Inquisition in Spain, the persecutions in Russia, and the Holocaust in Germany and Europe when millions of Jewish people were murdered. Unfortunately, most Jewish people view all of these atrocities as acts of the church that blames the Jews for the murder of Jesus.

In addition to these tragedies, the church has neglected its call to proactively share the gospel with the Jewish people. Jewish mission work is often forgotten. Churches that spend much of their resources on Israel do not seek to call the Jewish people to repentance, but have contributed rather for their own eschatological and/or political reasons. It grieves me as I observe the broader evangelical church spending many resources in Israel, but very little for the cause of the gospel. Often, Reformed churches and in particular Reformed denominations shy away from any type of ministry in Israel.

The Work

Due to the fact that the language and the land were restored only recently, there are very few Christian books available in Modern Hebrew. There are hardly any commentaries in the Hebrew language. There are no systematic theology books or any introductory books on the Old or New Testaments, despite the fact that in Israel every week there are some sixty to seventy books published, the highest or second highest number per capita.

In the midst of all these challenges, the Lord has opened the door for HaGefen Publishing, the Israeli arm of Christian Witness to Israel (CWI), to play an important role not only to bring the full counsel of God to Israelis, but also to publish many Reformed books and articles. In the past few years, HaGefen Publishing has published many books and hundreds of articles to fill in the gap. For the first time, we have published the Heidelberg Catechism and the Children's Catechism in Modern Hebrew, and the shorter catechism in Russian. We plan to publish the Westminster Confession in 2012 and to eventually have all of the Reformed creeds in Hebrew. Furthermore, we have published books such as the Sovereignty of God, Calvin's abridged Biblical Christianity, and Knowing God by J. I. Packer. In the past three years, we have published ten different commentaries with the goal of publishing at least one commentary on each of the sixty-six biblical books by the end of 2018. One of our most important works has been to publish the Old Testament in Modern Hebrew. For the first time, Israelis are able to read the Old Testament and understand all of it. So far, we have published four out of the five volumes, and we hope to complete this project by mid-2012.

Much work lies ahead of us, but by his grace the church in Israel will play a greater role in the coming years. We are here to answer the call of the Lord to stand in the gap and fulfill this much needed and exciting last part of history before the coming of the Lord.

Tuesday, November 1st 2011

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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