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Commentary

A year for restoring hope!

Without question, 2011 was a truly extraordinary year. One could not help but recall how the prophet Haggai foresaw a time when God would shake everything which can be shaken. In March, we witnessed the apocalyptical images of the tsunami hitting Japan – just one of a succession of huge natural disasters of late. The German news service NTV recently reported that over the past three decades the number of natural catastrophes worldwide soared by over 300%.

The European Union is in the greatest financial crisis since the Eurozone was launched. Americans are increasingly divided over preserving their nation’s founding principles and their role internationally.

In the Middle East, the entire region is being shaken. Aging despots have been forced out and replaced by Islamist factions. Egypt, after more than 30 years of peace with Israel, will now be controlled by a Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to “review” the Camp David peace treaty. Our world indeed is in the midst of great changes and uncertainties. Reasons to fear are all around.

In a recent year-end review, New York Times columnist Roger Cohendeclared, “There’s agony in Euroland, angst in America, uncertainty in Asia and anger on the Arab street. Everyone’s feeling the birth pangs of global integration.”

He could hardly have given a better description of what Jesus foretold 2,000 years ago about the end of days: “And there will be… on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity …men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)

So where do we stand as Christians in all of this? Are we also fearful and perplexed?

Since Israel’s modern rebirth in 1948, most Evangelicals (myself included) have believed we are living in the last days. But along with this view has come many hopeless Christians. For many years now, I have attended prophecy conferences and Israel gatherings all around the world where, all too often, Christian messengers predicted only gloom and doom for Israel and the nations.

We have to ask ourselves: To what worldview do we subscribe? I understand that the word of God predicts troublesome times such as the world has not seen before. But these prospects should not cause us to have a fatalistic worldview where we cannot see any good coming. The truth is that if we cannot see any good coming, we have lost hope.

The prophet Joel foresaw the nations one day being gathered together in the valley of Jehoshaphat (the Kidron valley in Jerusalem) to be judged by God concerning their mistreatment of Israel. But this same prophet could also see God pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh “before the great and terrible day of the Lord.” While he understood the seriousness of God’s end-time judgments, Joel also spoke of revival and proclaimed a message of hope that “everybody who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The prophet Daniel describes in chapter 11 the rise of an evil and frightening figure who will “make war” on the saints. Yet in the midst of this dark time are people who “know their God and they are strong and carry out great exploits.” While he saw the redeemed under great persecution, he also them as saw victorious overcomers.

In Chapter 12, the same prophet sees terrible times such as never before. And in exactly that setting, Daniel sees the saints not as weak and defeated but shining as bright stars on a dark firmament, leading many to righteousness. We should never forget that even in the darkest times ahead, the Word of God foresees a body of believers having an incredible impact – doing “great” exploits and leading “many” to righteousness.

Too many Christians like to focus on the dark side of Bible prophecy, and this impairs their vision for Israel, the Church and even their own lives. What is your vision for the future? Can you see God working through you in 2012?

Make no mistake! The word of God does not promise that times will become easier – on the contrary. But in the midst of the shakings and insecurity, people will be looking for answers. Yet if our outlook is focused on apostasies and wars, who will want to join our fellowship?

Rather, let us be those who restore hope!

Dr. Buehler is executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. This commentary was published in the January 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Playing with matches

In a column carried in last month’s Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, Abraham Cooper and Yitzchak Adlerstein of the Simon Wiesenthal Center warned of the mounting campaign to undermine evangelical Christian support for Israel being conducted by pro-Palestinian groups, including even by some fellow Evangelicals (“Palestinians to Evangelicals: Zionism is a sin”, December 2011). Sadly, certain evangelical Christians have indeed joined the World Council of Churches on this bandwagon to nowhere. Not only do they rewrite history in collaboration with their Palestinian allies, but embarrassed by the Word of God itself they have called for the “de-Zionisation” of Scripture.

Theirs is what I call a “waffle iron theology” – meaning they want to cut away those parts of the Bible that contradict their views, just as one cuts away the batter which does not fit in the waffle iron. In short, they are playing with matches and thus should not be surprised if they start a fire!

The authors of the article correctly state that in this game, “extreme Palestinian political ambitions are often cloaked in theological garb.” Scripture is twisted and denied in an attempt to overcome its very clear statements about the Land of Israel and the return of the Jews to it. These people will never be convinced by a balanced, biblical exposition of Scripture. They have made up their minds and definitely will not be confused with facts.

In their deluded world, Jesus is a Palestinian freedom fighter entirely divorced from his Jewish identity. He was, of course, nothing of the sort and He came to Israel because of God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic Covenant (Luke 1:46-55). It is this Covenant that is at the crux of the issue and, therefore, they have tried every trick in their theological box of matches to burn it up.

Their problem is even more compounded because the New Testament everywhere fully affirms the Abrahamic Covenant and no where changes or abolishes it. Indeed, in the Book of Hebrews it is held up to wavering New Testament believers as a sure example of God’s faithfulness (Hebrews 6:13-20). Paul establishes it as well in Galatians, chapter three, which he ends by saying that “if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s children according to the (covenant) promise” (Galatians 3:29).

Jesus was always the object of the Covenant but His people were always the context and platform out of which He came. For precisely this reason, God promised the land of Canaan to them as an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:7-8).

This really sticks in the throat of the “matchstick players.” They would much rather expunge the Abrahamic Covenant from Scripture, for this would free them from their problem and empower them to continue their real agenda, which is the elimination of Israel!

The conflict in the region is really not about so-called “social justice.” I wish it was, but sadly it has everything to do with the dismantling of the Jewish State, which is considered an affront to Islam! This is the truth! It takes many twists and turns, and new strategies are embraced all the time in the pursuit of this singular agenda. Christians, without a proper biblical grounding, fall for this intrigue all the time and sadly have no fear of God.

Now this is not to say that everything that Israel does is right. But you cannot say everything is Israel’s fault, as they do, and be deaf and blind to Palestinian terrorist atrocities against Jews. Yet even prominent Evangelicals travel to Iran to meet with Muslim clerics and declare biblical Christian Zionism to be sin.

In truth, great Christian ministers who have had a profound impact upon our world have held Christian Zionist views through the centuries because they were, in the first instance, men and women who honored God! Theirs was a biblical position first, then secondly a question of living in the fear of God, and thirdly a recognition of Israel’s unique place in redemption history.

No amount of trickery, debunking of the Scriptures, or rewriting of history will change the outcome. The Jews have returned to the Land of Israel to stay! That is final and Christians who want to have an honest and godly influence on world events should quit the blame game and encourage both parties to settle their differences within this context!

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org
This commentary was published in the January 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Israel, the suffering servant

From our vantage point in Jerusalem, it seems the Christian Zionist movement is constantly gaining new recruits from all over the world. Pro-Israel Christians can now be found in the millions on all continents, and even amid the current turmoil of the Middle East more and more Arab Christians are boldly declaring their acceptance of the promised biblical restoration of Israel.

Yet the ranks of evangelical Christians now siding with the Palestinians also seem to be expanding. Members of this counter-movement often express great sympathy for Palestinian suffering, while questioning the views and motives of fellow Christians who have chosen to stand alongside Israel. They join with other detractors in denouncing Christian Zionists for “blindly” supporting Israel, for blocking peace, for wanting to hasten the Apocalypse, or for acting out of some sort of guilt complex over the Holocaust and other past manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Each of these spurious charges can be easily answered, but perhaps it is best to simply spell out what truly motivates us into caring deeply about Israel and befriending the Jewish people. For if our heart motives are indeed the fruit of the Spirit of God, then no fellow Christian should question them, just as the Apostle Paul counseled that “against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).

Now I can understand someone having sympathy for the Palestinians. They have no doubt suffered much loss. Yet I cannot concede that this suffering has come mainly at the hands of Israel. The truth is that the greater part of Palestinian dispossession and loss has been both caused and compounded by callous and corrupt Arab leaders who have used ordinary Palestinians as political pawns in their racist struggle to snuff out the Jewish state.

Further, there are many peoples that have suffered in this life at the cruel hands of other humans, and they too deserve our sympathy. So why should the Palestinians warrant our pity more than the Jews, who have suffered far more down through history than any other people on earth? By any humane measuring stick, the Jewish people ought to be the foremost object of our commiseration.

Yet according to the Bible, it is not just the depth of Jewish suffering that should move our hearts. Rather, it is the redemptive purpose behind that affliction which distinguishes the Jewish people’s painful lot from all others. What truly sets Jewish suffering apart is that it was largely inflicted by God for the sake of all other peoples. That, dear saints, is a huge distinction!

The Bible teaches that Israel was called to be a suffering servant for the sake of the nations. In their difficult journey down through time, God used the Jews to deliver to us through much tribulation all the means necessary for our salvation, whether it was the Word of God, the law of God, the service and the worship of God, and finally the Messiah of God (Romans 9:4-5).

But because they were not always faithful, God also corrected them through painful uprootings and exiles. The Hebrew prophets even decree that Israel would receive from the Lord’s hand “double” for all her sins (Isaiah 40:1-3; Jeremiah 16:18).

Paul further teaches in Romans 9-11 that God Himself hardened Jewish hearts to their own promised Messiah and committed them to disobedience, so that the mercies of God might flow to the Gentiles. Their “stumbling” meant “riches” for us. Their “casting off” was “the reconciling of the world” to our Maker. Indeed, they were “made enemies of the Gospel” for the sake of the Gentiles.

This all resulted in a wound in the Jewish people that Jeremiah describes as “incurable” (Jeremiah 30:12-17). That is, no human hand can truly heal it, only God can. But He indeed promises to heal it, including through the “mercy” shown to Israel by Gentiles working within His purposes (Romans 11:31).

In the end, God promises to restore to Israel “double” for all their loss and dispossession, and to bring upon them “double honor… Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7; see also Zechariah 9:12)

I, for one, long to see this people who suffered so much for my sake, to see them healed of their wounds, restored fully to their God-given inheritance, and reaching their promised national destiny in Him.

That is the very powerful motivating factor behind my biblical Zionism. And no Christian worth his salt should ever have room to question it!


The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
This commentary was published in the January 2012 issue of
The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

For unto us a Child is born

Since the fourth century at the latest, Christianity has set aside a certain day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The dates may vary; Western churches mark Christmas on the 25th of December, while most Eastern churches celebrate it on January 6th or 7th.

Historically, the older Eastern churches linked this season to the Epiphany tradition, thereby relating the Incarnation to the baptism of Jesus, when God proclaimed: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) According to these Church fathers, God demonstrated on this occasion the divinity of His son.

In celebrating Christmas, the central character is a small, vulnerable infant. While our view of Jesus should never be reduced to a mere child in the arms of his mother, it is precisely this frail and delicate baby who is at the center of the Christmas narrative.

The child as sign
Already, the prophet Isaiah saw “the child” as a sign of salvation for the Jewish people. In his day, Israel was challenged by a serious military threat from Assyria and was governed by a king who “not only wearied men but who wearied God also” (Isaiah 7:13). Yet God decided to give this hopeless king a sign of redemption. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

In chapter nine, Isaiah again presents a picture of looming national disaster. The region of the Galilee is beset by a hostile invading armies. But it is precisely this “dark land” and “the people which walk in darkness” that see the bright light of salvation – a light which will remove the rod of oppression and heavy yoke of the enemy. But all those who expected the appearance of a military hero will be disappointed. The agent of salvation which brings redemption to Israel is surprisingly weak: “…for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given!” (Isaiah 9:6)

A similar image can be found in the book of Micah. Here, the prophet also paints a dark picture of oppression: “Now also many nations have gathered against you, who say, `Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion´.” (Micah 4:11) Yet Micah also sees the redeeming light which would transform a hopeless situation: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)

Yet again, the timing of Israel’s salvation is tied to the birth of a child, as Micah notes: “Until the time that she who is in labour has given birth.” (Micah 5:3)

Is it not remarkable that three times the Hebrew Prophets of old declare that the sign of salvation for Israel is the birth of a child? And this is exactly what was announced to the lowly shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. After the angel heralded great joy to all peoples and the arrival of the saviour, he explained: “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

Just a few weeks later, when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, Simon the Just held up the infant and prophesied: “This child is destined … for a sign which will be spoken against.” (Luke 2:34)

Why of all things should the delivery of a child, a vulnerable baby, be such an significant sign? Every day countless children are born. And this particular birth did not even occur in some spotlight of the Roman world, but in a dirty stable belonging to a little town in the remote province of Judea.

The identity of the child
The Hebrew prophets also answer the riddle of why this child would be so special. He would not stand out by being especially gifted or intelligent. It would not be his skills but his very identity which would make the child a sign of salvation.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” says Isaiah 7:14.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; ... and his name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” proclaims Isaiah 9:6.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrata … out of you shall come forth to me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting,” assures Micah 5:2.

Both prophets declare the inconceivable, that the God who created the heavens and the earth would come be part of His own creation. This defenceless babe, covered in swaddling cloth and lying in a feeding trough, was at the same time the “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father”.

Our human minds struggle to grasp this. But it is this very fact which some 30 years later gave Jesus the confidence to declare: “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.” (John 14:6-7)

The birth of Jesus meant the manifestation of God among men. For this reason, his name was to be called Immanuel – “God with us”.

John declares this truth thusly: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. … And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)

Micah declares His origins are from “everlasting”. Jesus also said of himself, “before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

A sign of controversy
So God became man! That is an incredible concept, which caused offence and misunderstanding back then and even to this day – both in Israel as well as in the Christian world. Simon the Just was right when he exclaimed: “This child is destined … for a sign which will be spoken against.” (Luke 2:34)

Even today, belief in the Incarnation of God through the virgin birth is being shed in many Christian circles like it were some irrational fundamentalist ballast. Yet this is not about some bizarre medieval dogma, but the very essence of who Jesus is.

The shepherds were told: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The old Syrian-Aramaic Peshitta translation of the New Testament translates it as follows: “For there is born to you the saviour, Lord and Messiah.” And “Lord” here is the Aramaic name for God in Hebrew, which is Yahweh.

Therefore, Christmas should be for us a feast of gratitude and adoration. God came down to us and had mercy upon a humanity which urgently needed His salvation. This child is still spoken against, yet he has brought deliverance to millions of faithful followers around the world.

Yet the Hebrew prophets made clear that this child is also the deliverer of his own nation, Israel. This part of his ministry is still unfolding. But all signs point to its soon fulfilment. Until then, let us follow the shepherds and wise men and worship our Saviour. Even the angels had to burst forth in enthusiastic praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)

Come and behold Him, Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

John Wade (1751)

How history ends

The recent deal to free abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit brought joy and relief to most Israelis, even while many also sensed a deep pain at having to release hundreds of murderers in return. It is not my place to criticize the terms of that deal, as it is Israelis who send their sons and daughters to the IDF and they alone should determine the price to be paid for bringing their soldiers home safe. Still, I wrestled inside with the fairness of the Schalit deal until I found solace in the last words of the biblical “Song of Moses.”

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.” (Deuteronomy 32:43)

This verse assures that every one of those cruel terrorist murderers will be held accountable by God one day, even if they walk free today.

Deuteronomy 32 is one of the most remarkable chapters in the entire Bible, as it actually foretells the sweep of Jewish history before it ever happens. Israel had started out on a long journey for the sake of world redemption. God had already seen in the Wilderness that whenever He drew the Israelites close to see His glory, the “inclination of their behavior” (Deuteronomy 31:21) was to eventually turn away from the Lord.

So Moses was told to warn Israel of the stern but loving corrections ahead, of times when God would use the surrounding nations to punish Israel in measure for their rebellion. But these nations would become proud, as if by their own hand they had defeated the Chosen people. Or they would show no mercy. So God in turn would severely punish the very nations He would employ as rods of correction against Israel.

This indeed has been the course of history, but when history draws to an end Israel is told that she will complete the long, hard journey with a certain Gentile people standing by her side. These are a people who rejoice in (1) the ultimate justice of God over Israel’s enemies and (2) in the atonement which He has provided for His land and people.

First, a word about Israel’s enemies…

Those who are true anti-Semites have always shared two characteristics. First, they have had to suspend all reason in order to believe the vicious lies and slanders thrown at the Jews. Think about it: If Jews truly control the world, why is Israel always losing all those lopsided votes against her at the United Nations?

Second, they have had to totally override their consciences in order to carry out and condone the horrible atrocities committed against the Jews down through time. The Nazis had to methodically train the Einsatzgruppen – the roving death squads responsible for killing 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe – on how to tune out the feelings of guilt when shooting innocent women, children and the elderly in cold blood. This required an override of the conscience placed within each and every human.

In other words, you actually have to work at being as callous and cruel as many anti-Semites have been to the Jews. So whatever vengeance God pours out upon them will be well deserved, and I for one will rejoice in His justness.

And now a word about Israel’s friends…

Due to the massive challenges facing Israel, she needs as many friends by her side as she can get. Now some of these friends are neo-cons and security hawks, such as my favorite diplomat, Amb. John Bolton – the thickly-mustached former US representative to the United Nations.

Some of Israel’s friends share her democratic values. Some are aficionados of Jewish art and culture.

But I would commend to my Israeli friends the parting words of Moses, knowing there is no higher human authority in Judaism. Moses said that as your long journey comes to a close, you should be looking for a Gentile people standing beside you who know how to get happy in the Lord, who long to see the justness of God, who have come to appreciate the divine purpose in your election, and who extol His way of salvation.

That is an amazingly accurate description of Christian Zionists. And we are here, standing by your side in the millions. Can the end of history be far behind?

The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

The Wonder of Christmas

There is no doubt that the Christmas story is filled with wonder and awe. It fills young and old with delight that is even more enjoyable and amazing because it is all true!

Shepherds, at the bottom of the social fabric of that time, were entertained and blessed by a choir of angels that filled the night with glory and hope. Mysterious wise men from the East followed a star that brought them to a manger in Bethlehem, where they presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Then there is the centerpiece of the story; a young couple, probably still teenagers, who were uniquely chosen to bring the Christ-child into the world. They faced a challenge of faith and courage that was undergirded by angelic visitations! Mary, the young virgin maiden, was with child without ever knowing a man and before marriage; an outward looking scandal by any stretch of the imagination. Then there was Joseph, who had to endure the gossip and “whispering” of a community who knew nothing of the angelic announcement heralding the birth of Jesus.

More sinister still was the plot to kill the child and, by so doing, frustrate the will and purpose of God for world redemption. The Christmas story is truly beautiful, amazing and thought provoking. For Christians, it teaches us:

1.  That Christmas is worth celebrating since all of Heaven did so and gave beautiful voice to the wondrous events that were unfolding in Bethlehem. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all devote lengthy passages to this story of wonder and great joy. We should do the same.

2.  That Christmas is the hope of the world. God became man and did so to save us from our sins and give us a new beginning. The message is ever the same; peace and goodwill to all the world. That is, a peace and goodwill which has to be appropriated individually by repentance and faith in the finished work of the Son of God on the cross.

3.  That Christmas has a unique message in the gifts delivered to the Christ-child by the Kings from the East. Gold was a tribute to his identity. He is King of the Jews and the King of Kings of all the world. Frankincense meant his life would be pleasing to God and sinless. And myrrh foreshadowed that he would die for the world and atone for its sins. This is because myrrh was a burial ointment that was used to prepare the body for its final resting place.

4.  That Christmas reminds us of a conflict that ever rages over the souls of men. Dark forces were at work on that beautiful, awe inspiring night. They sought to destroy the babe born to Mary and Joseph and thus they ultimately sought the destruction of all of humankind. This battle continues!

We would do well then to gather our families around a beautiful meal on Christmas eve and carefully read this wonderful narrative from the Gospels. Prayers of thanksgiving and joy should ascend to Heaven and sweet carols of years gone by should bathe our souls in the wondrous love of God. We would do well to visit the House of God on Christmas morning and there, together with all the family of God, give thanks for the gift of all gifts that became ours on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas!

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

The Enemy Within

I recently watched a TV program in which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was being discussed in the wake of Mahmoud Abbas’s request to the United Nations for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rebuttal address to the UN General Assembly. Granted, the program I was watching was clearly and unashamedly biased towards the Palestinians. So I did not expect in any way a balanced approach to the issue. They were clearly out to demonize Israel and portray her as the real obstacle to peace in the conflict.

However, what shocked me was that Israelis, “sabras” at that, appeared on the program and happily went about trashing their own people, government and history! Naturally, all this was done in the name of academia and thoughtful insight. Yet actually, it was an attempt to rewrite history, debunk the Bible, deny the threat of Islamic radicalism, and offer respectability to terrorist groups like Hamas. The latter were cast as well meaning advocates for peace! In short, it was garbage!! There is no other word for it.

However, it begs the question: ‘What motivates Israelis to turn against their own people, distort the truth, and collaborate with Israel’s enemies?’

To me it appears as if they want to be accepted so badly that they are unwilling to bear the reproach of standing with a people who are isolated and condemned by the world. These “new Israelis” are seeking to join the world as they see it and probably hope to gain recognition and prestige by these acts of betrayal. They are the enemy within.

Some years ago, in October 2000 after the beginning of the second intifada, the ANC majority government called for a debate in the South African parliament to discuss the unfolding conflict in Israel. Naturally, given their long relationship with PLO chief Yasser Arafat, they took a biased pro-Palestinian position and thus the debate was one-sided and anti-Israel. To my amazement, their “ace” advocate – a prominent South African Jew – was then called to take the podium and condemn Israel! It was a brilliant PR move and it left me shocked!

In fact, and sadly, we read repeatedly of this problem, particularly of liberal-leaning Israeli academics exploiting the democratic freedoms of Israel to condemn their own nation and people. This plays directly into the hands of Israeli antagonists, who then use these ‘useful idiots’ to strengthen their case against Israel. I have time and again been challenged by the fact that, when defending Israel internationally, some prominent Israelis disagree with me and would seek to fold groups like Hamas into the negotiating process. This is not helpful! However, this is not a new problem.

Way back in the second century before the Common Era, Israelis joined forces with Hellenists (the Bible calls them the “sons of Greece,” see Zechariah 9:13) in order to undermine the foundations upon which that nation was built. Daniel also refers to this and writes:

“Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.” (Daniel 11:32)

In those days, this ‘enemy within’ despised the Word of God and the biblical history of the Jewish people. Instead, they desired to drag Israel into the gentile Grecian world and thereby refashion her in the image of the world. All this required Israel to abandon her history and her biblical foundations and values. Not much has changed! The enemy within is still hard at work undermining the legitimate position and place of Israel.

Our encouragement, however, comes from the fact that the God of the Bible is not dead, is ever watching, and will raise up people of faith to counter this foolishness and they will do “great exploits” in His name and from a source of truth.

This we clearly witnessed in conclusion to the attempt to Hellenize Israel and the Jewish people in the second century BCE. God raised up a family of Hasmoneans and they began a revolt that saved Israel, enabled her to recover her independence, and retain her faith. Great exploits were done and we celebrate this every year in December at what is called the Festival of Lights or Hanukkah. God is faithful!

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

‘As in the days of Noah’

“You are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…” Romans 2:5

The recent rare earthquake near Washington and a major hurricane menacing New York City has everyone wondering once again about the bizarre behavior of Nature lately. Last year witnessed an Icelandic volcano shrouding Europe in ash, wildfires choking Moscow for weeks, and ‘apocalyptic’ floods drenching Australia. This year has seen an earthquake and tsunami staggering Japan, severe tornadoes ravaging across the American South, and a freak earthquake rattling Spain, all before the unusual rumblings along the East Coast.

Many Christians and even those in the secular world are bewildered at the abnormal spate of natural disasters, and are asking if these are “signs of the end!”

Some Christians are now heavily into preaching a God of judgment and say this is His wrath being poured out. Within this camp are many Christian Zionists who insist it is divine punishment for the way the nations are bullying Israel.

Meanwhile, others are countering that they serve a God of love who would never do such things. Their message is one of ‘sloppy Agape’ – that we should not expect such dire consequences for our sins.

The Apostle Paul actually stood squarely in between both camps when he proclaimed, “therefore consider the goodness and severity of God.” (Romans 11: 22)

Paul knew how to walk between these polar opposites within the character of God – that He indeed is a God of love and compassion, but also a holy God who lashes out at sin. And he knew these two paradoxical attributes meet together in God’s righteous character. That is, He will never judge unjustly and in the end we all get what we deserve.

Jesus also sheds some light on the rampant natural disasters of our day. In Matthew 24:7 he foretold of “famines, pestilence and earthquakes in various places.” Most Christians are familiar with this passage and thus see the current upheavals in nature as a sign of the “End Times.”

But Jesus did not directly ascribe these to God, suggesting instead they would be random. Further, he gave us a more significant warning signal in this same passage, when he said “as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37)

So we would do well in understanding what was transpiring in Noah’s day, and the Bible has much to say about this.


The descent of mankind
In the Genesis account of the pre-Flood world, we are told that man’s thoughts were continually evil and violence had filled the earth. God despaired at the lack of repentant hearts and thus regretted He had made man. So He decided to take a step back from humanity, saying, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” (Genesis 6:3)

Ultimately, God pronounced catastrophic judgment over mankind, but then He did a strange thing. He waited for 120 long years before bringing it to pass. Why?

Because the righteous character of God requires that He judge humanity in a certain manner. God actually begins by taking His hands off to allow the rebellion bound in the heart of man to run its course, so that it ripens for His just judgment.

The book of Romans begins with a fuller description of humanity’s moral slide in the pre-Flood days, and declares that in tracing it, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven…” (Romans 1:18)

We learn that even though the human race had full knowledge of the incorruptible God and Creator, they lowered their concept of Him to their level, making idols of Him in the form of corruptible man and even of beasts and “creeping things.”

So the Spirit of the Lord stopped dealing with men’s conscience and left them to their own devices. “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves…” (Romans 1:24); “God gave them up to vile passions…” (v. 26); “God gave them over to a debased mind…” (v. 28).

Where did this take humanity? Men left the natural use of the woman and turned to homosexuality. Women began mating with the nephilim (fallen angels) and produced mutant offspring. This introduction of mutant genes threatened to alter the Adamic nature of man, and so God determined to wipe them all out and start over.

To do so, God found one man who had faith and was “perfect in his generations.” (Genesis 6:9). By this it means that Noah had a pure gene pool; his DNA code was still like Adam’s. And then God waited 120 years to unleash the Flood, allowing Noah time to finish the ark and thereby warn the world of impending judgment.

Hebrews 11:7 explains, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world…” Because God could find one man willing to walk uprightly before Him in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, everyone else had no excuse when the flood waters came. Noah showed it could be done, thereby condemning the rest!

Thus Paul poses this pertinent question of the pre-deluge world: “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…” (Romans 9:22)

In other words, He is longsuffering and actually withholds His judgment until humanity’s rebellion has run its course and ripened unto the just judgment of God. When He does finally show up, we are without excuse and deserve whatever we get.

Jesus also illustrates this principle in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13. The servants want to immediately uproot the bad tares sown in with the good wheat, but the Lord of the harvest says to wait until they all ripen together, making it easier for the reapers (angels) to distinguish between the just and the unjust.

It is, therefore, in His forbearance and longsuffering that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.

So do we see signs of this moral slide of humanity today, as it was in the days of Noah? Alarmingly, yes! It is all around us.


Parallel plunge
I believe it started in the mid-to-late 1800s when we began adopting a perverted view of mankind and thus a distorted concept of God. Charles Darwin gets a lot of credit or grief – depending on your point of view – for giving us the theory of Evolution. But the truth is he never applied his notions of natural selection to the human race, only to the plant and animal kingdoms.

It was actually two German naturalists – Ernst Haeckel and Houston Stewart Chamberlain – who extended Darwin’s theory to humankind, contending we were no different than the animals, and thereby denying that we were created with a special dignity as beings made “in the image of God.” In so doing, they also began lowering our view of God our Maker.

Haeckel first theorized that the different human races did not all come from Adam but each had different origins. He even drew ‘scientific’ posters of black Africans sitting in trees with monkeys and apes to depict their lowly origins as an inferior race.

Chamberlain then came along and added the Jews to the inferior pool, while identifying the Aryan race as the pinnacle of our species. Chamberlain’s book outlining his racial theories, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, would later be adopted as the “gospel of the Nazi movement.” Driven by romanticized Teutonic legends, he even wed the daughter of notorious anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner.

The ‘fruit’ of these twisted racial theories includes not only Hitler’s genocidal campaign against European Jewry, but also our ‘humane’ medical practices of euthanasia and abortion. After all, we are no different than the animals.

So we see the similar development of distorted concepts of God and of man in modern times, as well as a repeat of the deviant sexual revolution which took place before the Flood. According to Romans, the widening acceptance of homosexuality in our day is actually a sign that God has let go of our collective conscience. This is where men turn when the Holy Spirit stops dealing with human hearts, and Paul maintained that we are just as guilty of these immoral acts if we “also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32)

We also are on the threshold of major genetic mutations to human nature. Modern bio-medicine is on the cusp of incredible breakthroughs, and promises accelerated healing processes and prolonged longevity like never before. This will be done largely by genetic manipulation and overriding the aging process, which is triggered by a built-in quota for cell division in our DNA code. Governments are investing billions in this human genetic research, and have no doubt that it is coming just as swiftly as the Internet age hit us only a few short years ago!

As humanity crosses these thresholds, the haunting question posed by Paul rings out: “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

That is, when we cross a line in our moral descent, and there is no immediate lightening from heaven or the earth does not swallow us up, we should not misread it as a stamp of God’s approval. He is letting us go our way, and we are actually storing up for ourselves in heaven the just punishment we deserve.” (Romans 2:5)


An earth in labor
So how do the earthquakes and other natural disasters play into this biblical scenario? The Apostle Paul addresses this as well, explaining that “Creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God… the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Romans 8:18, 22)

You see, the Bible does describe the earth as having certain maternal instincts, and thus there is something to the notion of “Mother Nature.” But the Bible is also clear we are not to worship her; that the earth is part of Creation and we should worship God alone.

The earth itself has survival mechanisms that allow it to adapt to changing conditions, a fact which has been affirmed by science. But the earth also senses the increase in sin around it, that humanity’s rebellion is growing, and this it cannot handle. Thus nature is going haywire; it is travailing, like a woman in birth pangs. The extraordinary natural phenomena are yet another indication God has let go of mankind.

This means He is actually storing up His wrath, not doling it out with a hurricane here or a tremor there. No, when God judges something, it is beyond repair! The fact is, they are still looking for Sodom and Gomorrah!

Likewise, you do not rebuild New Orleans within two years after Hurricane Katrina and go back to the same old sins and vices if it was a true judgment of God. It was surely a divine warning, but not divine wrath. And that should be a chilling thought for us all.


An unmistakable sign
Yet God is also abundantly merciful and always gives clear warning before His wrath rains down. The ancient world had the sign of Noah’s faithful building of the ark. If there is a parallel to today, what is the clear warning signal that mirrors the ark in Noah’s day?

Jesus took the phrase “as in the days of Noah” straight from Isaiah 54:9, where God proclaims that the promised end-time restoration of Israel is “like the days of Noah to Me.” That is, it is a matter of sworn covenant to Him.

The Book of Psalms then announces that the greatest sign of the ‘end of days’ is the building up of Zion.

“For the Lord shall build up Zion; He shall appear in His glory… This will be written for the generation to come… (Psalm 102:16, 18). In the original Hebrew, this latter phrase literally means “for the last generation.”

Today, the restoration of Israel is the most unmistakable sign of coming judgment on the earth. It is a sign post which appears everywhere in Scripture, including the fact that nearly the whole world would resist the small nation of Israel in our day. Yet in the end, no one will be able to deny that we all had fair warning.

It is thus quite interesting to note that the Zionist movement was birthed in the late 1800s, right about the time humanity began our moral slide to oblivion by lowering the self-view of our origins and defying our Creator.

All this leads to the following conclusions:

1) We should all be preachers of righteousness, with a balanced message of the goodness and severity and ultimate justice of God.

2) We must all search our hearts and root out any rebellion against God, lest we too get swept downward with the rest of humanity.

3) We should all be actively involved in the building up of Zion. Don’t just profess a love for Israel, do something to make a difference in her future.

Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Israeli Technology

Throughout world history, the Jewish people – even though small in number – have contributed much to humanity. It is the moral values of the Torah, especially the Ten Commandments, which still represents the foundation of most Western societies.

It was the revelation of the God of Israel as the Creator of the heavens and the earth which transformed entire nations even in the most remote parts of the earth.

Through the centuries great Jewish thinkers, artists and scientists contributed much to mankind. While the Jews make up only 0.25% of the world population, 25% of all Nobel laureates in Medicine, Chemistry, Physics and Peace were given in the past 100 years to Jews.

This great tradition is continued in the modern State of Israel. Israel is probably the only country which already had a world class university, scientific, medical and agricultural research institutes, and an internationally acclaimed symphony orchestra, all before the State of Israel was founded in 1948.

The agricultural development of Eretz Israel is historic. Today in any country where there is a desert region, the desert is increasing. Israel is the only nation where the desert area is consistently receding – even until today. No wonder that Israel is the only nation in the world which has more trees on its territory than 100 years ago. Therefore Israel’s agricultural know-how is exported and is making a significant contribution to many African countries and even to China. The Israeli patented “drip irrigation system” is used all over the world.

The scientific and technical achievements of the young nation of Israel are incredible. Today Israel’s technological products and advanced systems has become an integral part of the global high tech revolution. If you are among the 100 million users of ICQ to chat on-line with your friends around the world, you might not know that the software code for this ground-breaking utility was written by three young Israelis. If your computer uses a Pentium, Centrino or Quad Core Processor, they have been designed and developed in Israel.

Do you like to send SMS or Multimedia messages on your cell phone? You can do so thanks to technology developed in Israel. If you are in China and use the telephone, then your call and that of every other Chinese person is being routed through the Telecom DCME system which was developed by an Israeli Telecom company. Today many civilian airliners - including those which flew you into Israel - are being protected from ground launched terrorist attacks through a ground-breaking Israeli-developed surveillance software.

Did you know that the very first anti-virus software package was developed in Israel? And if your computer is protected today from hackers trying to penetrate your system, then you are most likely protected through a software code developed by the Israeli company “Check Point.”

If you happen to drive an S-class Mercedes, the Microprocessors which control all the vehicles electronics, are developed by a Tel Aviv-based high-tech company. And if you look in Copenhagen for a free parking space for your car, a monitoring system developed in Israel will direct you to the nearest free parking spot.

It is therefore no wonder that all prominent high-tech companies -  be it Microsoft, Motorola, Cisco, Intel, IBM and many others – have major research facilities in Israel. Kurt Hellstrom, President and CEO of Ericsson, a world leader in mobile systems, recently stated: “We must be in Israel today! It is an innovative and competent country. We are here to stay!”  

Israel’s achievements are literally out of this world, as Israel is one of only eight nations which have successfully launched its own satellites into space. It is today a senior partner in American and European space programs. The pictures you saw on your TV from NASA’s “Spirit Rover” on Mars could only be transmitted due to Israeli technology.

Today, Israel’s medical research has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Approximately one medical drug out of 15 which is being sold in the USA comes from an Israeli pharmaceutical company. Israel’s medical research teams have become world leaders in non-intrusive check-ups and operations and in medical NMR scanning equipment.

The medical research laboratories of the Haifa-based Technion and the Weizmann Institute are on the forefront of combating Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Highly trained medical doctors from Israel saved countless lives in government-sponsored overseas missions in Haiti, Japan, Turkey and in many African nations. Israel truly has become a light to the nations!

As the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and on behalf of millions of Christians from around the world, we salute you! We consider it a privilege to stand at your side in love, support and in friendship! Chag Sameach and God bless Israel!

‘Our minarets are our lances’

This article was published in the November 2010 (US) edition of the ICEJ's flagship magazine, Word from Jerusalem. It is reposted here due to the decision by Turkey to sever ties with Israel following the release of the United Nation's official report into the Gaza flotilla incident in September 2011.

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The ramifications of the recent Gaza flotilla incident are still unfolding. Yet it is already clear that Turkey’s government, in backing the flotilla organizers and lashing out at Israel’s interception of the hostile fleet, is steering that nation away from its alignment with Europe and the West back into the Islamic fold.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AP)This historic shift was foreseen by some long before the Gaza aid flotilla set sail from Istanbul. Germans in particular have been sensitive to signs of change due to their country’s long and unique relationship with Turkey going back to the Ottoman era and Germany’s alliance with Turkey in World War One.

In 2002, the German political analyst and writer Peter Scholl-Latour projected in his book “Allah’s Shadow over Atatürk” that secular Turkey might soon become a relic of the past. Fervent Islamic faith, he observed, was no longer the religion of a small, backwards-looking fringe group, but represented a burgeoning political movement. Today, it indeed has become mainstream in Turkish society, and the turn Eastward has been especially evident since Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power five years ago in the AKP faction which has governed Turkey for eight years now.

A decade ago, Erdogan first became popular nationwide while serving as mayor of Istanbul. He was sentenced to a 10-month prison term by the Kemalist generals because he had quoted from a Turkish poet during a campaign speech: “Our minarets are our lances, our cupolas are our helmets, our mosques are our barracks, our faithful are our army.” Western journalists criticized the verdict as arbitrary despotism. But the generals saw the secular character of their country threatened.

When Kemal Atatürk founded modern Turkey in 1923, he established a secular state inspired by the Swiss constitution. Islamic clergymen were not allowed to advance in the army, which safeguarded the secular nature of the state. In some ways, Muslim Turks living in Germany could express their faith even more freely than their compatriots back home.

Given this commitment to secularism and democracy, Turkey was a solid member of NATO and a promising aspirant to membership in the European Union. It had tried earnestly to secure its place within the European Union, mainly by adopting strict new economic guidelines demanded by Brussels. Yet as its application for EU membership was prolonged, Turkey began heading in the opposite direction, back towards its Islamic past, which included a 400-year era of Ottoman Turk dominance over the Arab/Muslim heartland.

Eurocrats turned a blind eye to this development, hoping the fruits of growing prosperity would make the Islamic yearnings dissipate. But by the time of the IDF incursion into Gaza in January 2009, Erdogan was more outraged at Israel than most Arab leaders, accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres in person of knowing “how to kill.”

In 2008, Erdogan had also stunned the German government during a state visit to Berlin. Addressing a crowd of some 20,000 Turks living in Germany, France and Belgium, some of them for three generations, he insisted, “Assimilation is a crime against humanity.” He challenged his compatriots to adhere to their Turkish and Islamic heritage. His German host, Chancellor Angela Merkel, was not pleased.

Recently, Erdogan’s colleague and foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that Turkey is no longer content with its role as a bridge-builder between the Christian West and the Islamic East. Turkey, he demanded, needs to become again the center of gravity of the region. This harkened back to the nearly five centuries when the “High Porte” in Istanbul controlled a territory reaching from the Balkans down through most of the Middle East and as far as Morocco. The Ottoman Empire was not only a political entity, but its Caliphate served as the highest spiritual authority for most of the Islamic world.

Is Turkey intent on returning to those glorious Ottoman days? After the Gaza flotilla clash, it is clear that Israel and the West are confronting not just Iran but a resurgent Turkey. This represents a unique challenge to Europe, due to Turkey’s proximity and its economic integration with the EU. A leading German commentator also recently suggested that the millions of Turks living in Germany and Holland may one day prove to be a “fifth column” of a very ambitious Turkey.

Dr. Juergen Buehler serves as ICEJ interim Executive Director in Jerusalem.


WFJ NOV 2010, 90x100November 2010- Minarets & Lances

No longer content as a bridge-builder between Christian West and Islamic East, Turkey is beginning to turns from Europe and towards its Ottoman past..
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