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…’.