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 and 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.