Extract from the War Cabinet Minutes of 31st Oct. 1917.
Extract from the War Cabinet Minutes of 31st Oct. 1917.
Charles H. Spurgeon wrote: “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this.” From first volume of Sermons, 1855, as cited in Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, p. 256; and:
“The day shall yet come when the Jews, who were the first apostles to the Gentiles, the first missionaries to us who were afar off, shall be gathered in again. . . . Matchless benefits to the world are bound up with the restoration of Israel; their gathering in shall be as life from the dead.” – Cited in Murray, The Puritan Hope, p. 256. Spurgeon is one of the 19th century Christian leaders who supported the idea of the restoration of the Jews. The references above are used, among others, by modern day supporters of Israel as justification for celebrating the evangelical Christian influence in establishing the State. Is Spurgeon such a ‘supporter’, what did he mean, and, was he right?
On June 16, 1864 Spurgeon preached a sermon titled ‘The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews’. The sermon, which can be found online, begins by quoting Ezekiel chapter 37 verses 1-10. A few points to note before dealing with the substance. Spurgeon seems unaware of the presence of Jews in Palestine, wishes to avoid ‘speculation as to the dates’ and ‘millennial theories’, and desires that we take the ‘clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of the passage’. Nor does he want to be drawn on the order of events about which he speaks, restoration before conversion or vice versa. He concludes his first paragraph with these words; ‘he, (that is Ezekiel) was talking about the people of Israel… -It had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people’.
Correctly, in my view, Spurgeon points out that using the text allegorically either for the final resurrection or for the revival of a decayed church is acceptable only in so far as it goes. It cannot go as far as being specifically about the church. His point is that in any discussion of prophecy we must try to understand its primary meaning; how would it have been understood by those who first heard it. In this he is absolutely correct. However in the quote, above, it seems that Spurgeon has fallen into the trap he wishes to avoid; as to the first clause he is correct as to the second he is wide of the mark. At the time of this prophecy ‘the Jewish people’ did not exist. Ezekiel was a priest in exile (1:1-3) in Babylon who sought to understand what was happening to Judah within the context of God’s promises to Israel. He was not ‘Jewish’ or a Jew, words that do not appear in his text. Here are two problems: the identification of ‘the Jewish people’ as inheritors of the promises and prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, and second, the identity of Israel. What follows addresses neither of these issues directly.
Spurgeon’s sermon is based upon the first 10 verses of chapter 37 of Ezekiel, but since we are considering God’s word are we entitled to take chapter 37 without chapter 36, or even chapter 38: (38:23 ‘then they shall know that I am the Lord’ also in 35:15; 36:11, 23, 38; and 37:6. Noting also 36:28 ‘you shall be my people, and I will be your God’, repeated at 37:23 using ‘they’). Spurgeon will not commit to the order of events and, relying only on those 10 verses, he is wise. But chapter 36 makes clear that God will act out of concern for his own name, ‘my holy name which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came’. The word to the Prophet is that the people will be sprinkled with clean water, they will be cleaned and given ‘a new heart… And a new spirit… Then you shall live in the land’. The clear implication, especially given God’s concern for His Name, is that the cleansing takes place first. This is in line with other prophets.
The following chapter then, chapter 37, is a vision for the Prophet reinforcing, not contradicting, the word that the Prophet had already received. Chapter 37 gives visual effect to the already prophesied-it does not replace or compromise it. We might also ask what is meant by these words from chapter 39 verse 7, ‘My holy name I will make known among my people Israel; and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the holy one in Israel’, where verse 8 tells us ‘It has come, it has happened…’. Does this refer to the first or second advent, or is it some other event; if the latter, how does that fit with the gospel?
Any reading of the prophets must try to take account of the totality. Chapter 39 for instance at verse 25 repeats the restoration theme, including these words, ‘through (Israel) have displayed my holiness in the sight of many nations.… I will leave none of them behind… When I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.’ Was not Pentecost the promised pouring out of the Spirit? There follows, from chapter 40, the vision of the new temple which concludes Ezekiel’s prophecy. Amid all the measuring, set in the middle in chapter 44 we read, ‘thus says the Lord God: O house of Israel, let there be an end to all your abominations in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant with all your abominations.…’ Given which, what are we to make of Paul in Romans chapter 2 where he writes, ‘for a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, the person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart-it is spiritual and not literal.’ The issue here, quite unmistakably, is, does Jesus change everything or only some things.
Unlike some of his contemporaries Spurgeon was unwilling to separate church and Israel. According to the ‘Spurgeon’ website (http://archive.spurgeon.org/misc/eschat2.php), ‘he consistently and clearly not only affirmed a historic or covenantal premillennial position; he also rejected the salient tenets of the amillennial, postmillennial and dispensational premillennial schemes’. Can church and Israel be separated? Paul thinks not, for he writes, ‘it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel…’.
Included in the publicity for an event to ‘celebrate’ the centenary of the Balfour letter is a list of Christian teachers from history, such as J.C. Ryle and C.H. Spurgeon. Titled ‘Partners in this Great Enterprise’ it is described as ‘A unique event drawing Christians and Jews together in celebration of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and all that it led to.’ It is evident to some of us, both Jews and Christians, (including ‘Evangelicals’), that what Balfour’s letter ‘led to’ is not something to celebrate.
The publicity claims that J.C. Ryle etc. were ‘Bible students (who) longed to see the return of Christ. Before that could happen, the Jews had to be back in their own Land (Israel). This then became the central focus of their prayer and political action.’ Frankly, I don’t see how it can be claimed of Ryle, for instance, that the return of Jews to Israel was the ‘central focus of (his) prayer’. It may well have been ‘a’ focus, but ‘the central focus’ can’t be justified from his writings, and I don’t know how much access we can have had to his prayer life given that those of us who pray tend to do most of it quietly, in private.
Taking issue with such ‘Greats’ while not even possessing so much as a B.A. is skating on thinnish ice: but … Christians supporting the modern state of Israel call in evidence such as Jonathan Edwards, who wrote the following: “Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.” Actually he wrote rather more:
Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews, in Rom. xi. There are also many passages of the Old Testament which cannot be interpreted in any other sense, which I cannot now stand to mention. Besides the prophecies, of the calling of the Jews, we have a remarkable providential seal of the fulfilment of this great event, by a kind of continual miracle, viz. their being preserved a distinct nation in such a dispersed condition for above sixteen hundred years. The world affords nothing else like it. There is undoubtedly a remarkable hand of providence in it. When they shall be called, that ancient people, who alone were God’s people for so long a time, shall be his people again, never to be rejected more. They shall then be gathered into one fold together with the Gentiles; and so also shall the remains of the ten tribes, wherever they be, and though they have been rejected much longer than the Jews, be brought in with their brethren. The prophecies of Hosea especially seem to hold this forth, that in the future glorious times of the church, both Judah and Ephraim, or Judah and the ten tribes, shall be brought in together, and shall be united as one people, as they formerly were under David and Solomon; (Hos. i. 11, &c.)—Though we do not know the time in which this conversion of Israel will come to pass; yet thus much we may determine by Scripture, that it will be before the glory of the Gentile part of the church shall be fully accomplished; because it is said, that their coming in shall be life from the dead to the Gentiles, (Rom. xi. 12, 15.) [Jonathan Edwards, The History of Redemption in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 1976, 607.]
May I be forgiven, once again, for pointing out (I too am getting bored with it) that none of those prophetic promises were made to ‘the Jews’. This is not mere pedantry. Every mention of ‘Jew’ in the Hebrew bible, the Christian Old Testament, comes in books that are post-exilic. That is, they refer to that small groups of Yehudans taken into exile by the Babylonians. Small? Yes; Jeremiah adds them up for us, a total of four thousand six hundred. So, who are ‘the Jews’? Good question.
Unusually, Edwards pays attention to the mssing ‘ten tribes’ who have been, ‘Rejected much longer than the Jews’; appearing, as he writes to contradict Paul who, in the letter and chapter to which Edwards appeals, writes; ‘has God rejected his people? By no means. (Rom 11:1). What’s going on? What is going seems to me to involve reading of the text with a degree of romanticism towards the Jews. We are all guilty of focussing attention on the texts that support our viewpoint; perhaps depending on the KJV is an excuse. By any reading Paul, in these chapters in Romans, is making a clear distinction between faithful and faithless Israel. (I’ve dealt with Romans elsewhere. If interested, message me & I’ll email a .pdf). In the verses to which Edwards refers Paul hopes to ‘save some’. The metaphor of ‘branches’ confirms that ‘all Israel’ cannot be ethnically defined. (on which, see further http://wp.me/pwz1e-aY and http://wp.me/Pwz1e-cY from my regular blog).
When we take into account the Old Testament we find, as often, we are dealing with paradox and process. Edwards references Hosea 1:11; I’d prefer for us to look at the whole chapter, which seems to be what Paul wants us to do in Romans 9. Verse 10, for an example of paradox, echoes verses we find in Genesis, Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea …’ compared with which we have Isaiah, also writing around 8th century BC; ‘For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return’. And, had we (or Edwards?) been paying attention, we have our cue from Paul himself, who uses both the above references within the space of 5 verses in Romans 9.
In his autobiography Weizmann writes, ‘In April 1936 rioting broke out in Palestine, and a new and unhappy chapter opened in Zionist history’. Weizmann’s context is that the Arab believes democracies only understand force (p.469). This perverse view is based on little evidence except his observation of French and British responses to Hitler and Mussolini, all European. Weizmann lists murdering Jewish travellers, attacking Jewish settlements, burning Jewish fields, and uprooting Jewish trees. Amonst others, he blames the Grand Mufti, whilst bemoaning the slow rate of Jewish immigration. Were any European country to have experienced the massive influx that Palestine did during the 1920’s and 30’s the rioting in the streets would have been far worse.
Trying to make sense of this period of history without distorting it is extremely difficult. It is easy to speak of ‘understanding the context’ when one is dealing with a fixed text, but historical context is rarely singular. So, Weizmann’s ‘context’ has to be placed within other equally important contexts. We have to account for Arab views of the Jew, and I’ve made ‘views’ plural intentionally. The same must be said for Jewish views of the Arabs: indigenous Jews had a more positive view of their Arab neighbours than did the Jewish immigrants. Some indigenous Jews hated the immigrants as much as did some Arabs, immigrant European Jews often seeming arrogant towards the local Jews. The newcomers also tended to settle in groups away from the indigenous community.
And both Jew and Arab had views on the British, the French, on TransJordan and Syria, some of those views informed – or more likely , misinformed – by events 20 years earlier. Too many of our politicians today simplistically condemn terrorism whilst paying lip service to its causes. To speak of ’causes’ in the context of terrorism inevitably draws the charge of ‘excusing terror’. That, frankly, is lazy thinking, dangerous propagandising. Understanding what drives people to acts of destruction including self-destruction is vital to solving the problem.
We’ve had a look at some American and European maps. How about the Levant, what did it look like just before the first World War?
Here’s a map of Syria-Palestina from mid 19th century:
Deliberate mistake – who was fooled? The map above is from about 2 1/2 thousand years earlier.
This is the one of Syria-Palestina, the Ottoman Turkish administrative areas (or so it said!):
The Eastern border is with Persia. More maps and things later… BUT,
One of the things we need to understand is that the world changes. Nations change, as do attitudes and beliefs. Nationalism, the notion of nations with distinct and certain borders, home to an homogenous group of people, is relatively recent and inadequately understood, as this sentence shows. The phrase ‘the nation of the Jews’ has almost as many things wrong with it as it has words.
WE looked at some earlier maps. Now, what do we recognise of Europe in 1817, 100 years before Balfour sent his letter?
I’ve turned it on it’s side to make it easier. Without looking at a modern map can you name the ‘nations’ that are missing?
From Theodor Herzl’s Diary. Entry June 16th 1895. “During these days I have been more than once afraid I was going mad. So wildly the streams of thought raced through my soul. A lifetime will not suffice to carry them out.
But I am leaving behind me a spiritual legacy. To whom? To all men. I believe I shall be named among the great benefactors of mankind.”
Same date: “The promsed land … is here; within ourselves”
and after meeting Max Nordau, on July 6th: “Nordau and I agreed too, that only anti-semitism had made Jews of us”
Six months before the publication in February 1896 of ‘Der Judenstaat’ (The Jewish State). Reading his diary one does wonder at his mental state. Was it only himself and Nordau that he meant with that last clause or did he mean that all Jews were ‘made’ by antisemitism? That would certainly seem to be a reasonable conclusion from parts of ‘The Jewish State’. But, if that was the foundation for the state of Israel does it not imply that Israel can only survive as long as it is racially hated? That doesn’t fit with Judaism’s supposed Torah destiny.
Whether we like it or not, if we are to have any chance of understanding what went on in the lead up to Balfour’s fateful letter, we need some history. But, I’m not doing the job of a proper historian – these are ‘snapshots’ to make us think and be more aware.
In her fascinating book, God, Guns & Israel, (History Press. 2004.2009) Jill Hamilton traces the ‘roots of the present conflict in the Middle East’ to include ‘the influences of Protestant Nonconformism and the Old Testament’.
Access to the Bible in their own language gave Christians in Britain the opportunity to read, study and reason for themselves. The Old Testament, received by the common people previously through stories and miracle plays, and often taught by clergy little more literate than their flock, was now read and absorbed with fascination. No longer needing translation, everyman became his own interpreter. This had benefits as well as demerits. It is hardly surprising given the ‘atmosphere’ of Protestantism, that a desire to ‘restore’ Jews to Palestine was directly associated with the expectation that the Jews would convert to Christianity.
(God, Guns & Israel. page 76)
The Church in the West may have woken from a centuries-long sleep but the nightmare of heretic burning that had accompanied its awakening was followed by division and sectarianism that haunts the Faith to this day.
In 1840 Lord Palmerston attempted to persuade the Sultan of Turkey that allowing large numbers of Jews into Syria-Palestine would be to his advantage. Mindful of the increasing threat from Russian expansionism, and that most of those Jews would be ‘Russian-European’, the Sultan refused. 100 years later, with the Caliphate no more, European Jews had poured into Palestine in numbers causing vast disadvantage to the people living there and to the whole region.
The Balfour declaration, driven by both antisemitism and philosemitism, may be viewed as a human attempt to preempt God’s purpose, rather like the Maccabees. Sadly, many of the texts used by those Christians are taken from their context. It is one thing to treat words literally, it is another to ignore the context within which they are used. On which more, later
Henry Gratten Guinness was a member of the poor, non-brewing branch of the family. In the mid-19th century he was a noted Christian preacher. He also had an interesting line in prophecy interpretation. It is claimed that he forecast both the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the State of Israel, by identifying the dates 1917 and 1948 as significant for the end of the ‘times of the Gentiles’. Question, ‘when does prophecy interpretation cease to be good theology?’ Answer: usually when it’s done in advance of the event. O.K. that’s my answer; I know a lot of people would disagree. But, asking as a Christian, what’s the evidence from scripture?
No doubt people will correct me but I can thinkof only one Old Testament prophecy where the actual day of fulfilment was given. Not to Abraham: the 400 years, a pretty vague term that could be understood as four generations, was extended by 40 years because the Israelites were faithless (apart from three, Moses, Joshua and Caleb). Some false prophets, such as Hananiah, made claims, “within two years …” didn’t happen. (Jer. 28)
The prophet I have in mind is Jonah. After giving the big fish indigestion Jonah did as he was told, went to Ninevah and walked through the city shouting, “Forty days more and Ninevah shall be overthrown” That’s a fairly specific promise. Did that happen? No, not because Jonah spoke falsely but because the people, led by their king, repented. Prophecy is intended to change us.
Guinness apparently believed that the three prophecies in Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation all pointed to the same year as the end of the Gentile times, 1917, although see below. According to Guinness’ system the papacy became an empire during the sixth century and was absorbed among the secular powers of Europe in the newly united Italy. He identified the Latin church as the 4th empire of Daniel.
Does it work? Certainly we can subtract 1260 from 1888, the date Grattan Guinness published his book, and find ourselves in the first flush of the Muslim conquest. But, having referenced Persia as one of the three earlier empires in Daniel, Guinness’s speculations ignore the East. The only empires he reckons with are those in Daniel. Looking for ten kingdoms he contents himself with averages over the period, and includes alongside the newly united kingdom of Italy, the empires of Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Spain and Portugal. He excludes ‘The northern nations’ because ‘territorially (they) belong to the Greek and not to the Roman empire, (though subject to it in its golden days)’.
To be fair to Guinness he does tell us not to ‘to attempt any prediction of the specific events which may be expected to occur in these years of crisis in the near future’. Also being fair, we might point out that 1917 was only one of a number of years he identified as of interest. They were, in order – 1887, 1889, 1893, 1898, 1906, 1915, 1923, 1933 and 1934. Whilst warning against too precise definition Guinness seems to have expected an event of ‘Jewish elevation and restoration’ and involving somehow ‘the cleansing of the sanctuary’; the date (approximate, of course), 1889, or possibly 1893 or 1906.
Henry Grattan Guinness’ work in Christian ministry deserves our respect, and there is much in his book to challenge us. But this kind of prophetic analysis and its modern equivalents does no service to the faith. And it doesn’t help in meeting the church’s challenge in our mission of peace and goodwill. Speculating on the date of the millennium, or the second coming, or the tribulation (already happened and happening!), distracts we Christians from our job of living out the good news about Jesus. Speculating on how soon he might come is not in the diary; being about his work is.
Well, the ‘things’ are mainly comments on the maps. In this series of blog posts leading up to the 2nd November, the centenary of Balfour’s letter I’m trying to provide, in a very general way, some kind of context to that event. Part of that ‘hinterland’ is understanding how things have changed, and maps may help us. The First maps in the series are of America in the early 1800’s, the 1810 map on the right shows the ‘settled territories’.
Now, what about Europe 100 years earlier:
Do we recognise the boundaries? Which countries are missing, and which have borders close to ones we recognise today?
Note too the extent to which the Ottoman Empire extended into Europe.
Speaking as a ‘Brit’, is our difficulty in understanding the true nature of nationalism something to do with the fact that we’re srrounded by sea? Our borders are defined and are not easily breached; unlike our continental cousins.