GOD'S OBJECT IN RESTORING ISRAEL
“SALVATION is of the Jews”:
The statement is Christ’s own, to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob while he rested there, weary with his journey. It affirms a fact that is repugnant to many people, yet most true and beautiful in itself. Even some people who love the truth when they hear it, but give it not afterwards the thoroughness of attention which is requisite to enable them to apprehend the strength of the foundation on which it stands, grow weary of this aspect of the matter. They say, “The Jewish affair is altogether too narrow an affair for us. The Jews are a small people in every sense: their land is a little country: their religion is exclusive and bigoted. We want something larger: something nobler, something more in harmony with the general sympathies of mankind.” And so they turn for relief to the various schemes and arrangements which the Gentiles have devised for their entertainment and benefit. They make a great mistake, as they will find out sooner or later. Give them time enough, and they will see things as they are, assuming they possess the necessary capacity for discernment. They will find out there is no salvation apart from the Jews. There is no hope in natural life.
“Every man walketh in a vain show. Surely they are disquieted in vain.”
“Every man at his best state is altogether vanity.”
This is David’s testimony (Psa. 39), and those who turn from the hope of Israel will find it is a true one. There is no promise in natural directions except such as are destined to be broken. The young man steps upon the scene with much promise in his own eyes and the eyes of spectators: healthful and graceful and strong, and gifted and ardent—(let him also have plenty in his hands)—he thinks himself an exception to the vanity of which perchance he has heard much. He thinks the vanity a fact as regards the past and the old people around him: he thinks it in some way due to a want of enlightened views and wise practical application of scientific principles: in his own case, he is persuaded, as he hurries with buoyant step and bounding spirit along the bustling highway of active life, that he will be able to extract a different result from what appear to him the noble energies of life and the lofty aspirations of “heaven-born humanity.”
Ah! give him time enough. Give him sixty years more. Follow him, and ask, “Where is he now?” Perhaps he is still in the land of the living. He has not yet descended to the silent abode of past generations. Let us have a look at him. There he is crouching by a fireside corner, a shivering old man, elbowed out of the race by the rising generation, who are kind to him perhaps, but patronisingly kind, and only waiting to see him, with relief, breathe his last breath, and take his place among the countless myriads who have lived and died before him. He lingers a little: but at last the day comes, and the grave closes over him, and how soon his name is forgotten.
“Surely every man at his best state is altogether vanity.”
There is no promise except in Christ. In him there is joyful hope of good things to come—every good that can be conceived by the heart of man, and good that cannot be conceived. But who is he? It was he who said,
“Salvation is of the Jews.”
You cannot have him apart from his word. In having him you have a Jew. You cannot isolate him from his surroundings. You cannot have him apart from what he is. He is a part of a system of God’s work upon earth, albeit he is God in that work. It is a work by and in the midst of the Jews. Jewish history is the history of that work. Christ is the terminal point of that history, the culmination of the work, the flower and fruit of the Israelitish tree. The Christ of the Bible is not the Christ of popular religion. The Christ of popular religion has no Jewish association or connection. Of course they know that historically he appeared among the Jews; but in their view of him, he might as well have been born among the Chinese or the Ancient Britons. The Christ of the Bible is the seed of Abraham, the son of David, the King of Israel, as well as the Son of God. To him give all the prophets witness. We have had a reading from the prophets this morning (Ezekiel 36), and we shall find, although it mentions him not by name, it brings him before us in portraying to us that “restitution of all things” to which his coming stands related, and of which Peter said God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21). Let us look at it.
It is an address to “the mountains of Israel”—the hills and valleys of the Holy Land in desolation. This at once marks it off from all connection with popular religion, which has nothing to do with the mountains of Israel. Popular religionists may be interested in the mountains of Israel in an antiquarian way: association with Bible history imparts attraction to these places in the eyes of a few: but practically, they feel no connection. The mountains of Israel are in no way identified with their expectations and hopes. It is different in the truth. The mountains of Israel have a living interest in connection with futurity. They are interesting on account of what has already taken place there, but much more interesting on account of the purpose God has conceived “according to the good pleasure of his will,” in relation to the beautiful earth we inhabit; beautiful, yet gloomy and afflicted in many ways; of which purpose the land of the mountains of Israel in the geographical sense is the basis. The mountains of Israel have been greatly honoured in the past as the scene of Yahweh’s communications with the earth: they are to be much more honoured in the future in the display of His visible might thereon in the overthrow of the assembled hosts of the nations, and the establishment of an actual visible government that shall bless all the world with the arrangements necessary to secure glory to God and on earth peace. The mountains of Israel have seen Christ in their midst: they will look upon him again. He ascended from the Mount of Olives: and at his return “his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives” (Zech. 14:4).
Our friends say, “What have you to do with the mountains of Israel? You belong to Birmingham. Let the mountains of Israel alone. They are all very well in their place; but that place is not the place you give them. Palestine is a poor place, and the ‘mountains of Israel’ as you call them, only mounds of rubbish—interesting rubbish perhaps, in a way, but rubbish.” If our friends could see with Bible eyes they would not talk in this strain. To see with Bible eyes is to see things in the light of what God intends as disclosed in the Bible. What He intends in this matter is very clearly and very early and afterwards very frequently made known. It lies at the root of matters. It is found at the beginning. Abraham, to whom the promises were made (Gal. 3:16; Heb. 7:6), was called in his day to go to this very place: not for a then present purpose, except as regarded his own proof, for—
“He received none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on.”
He sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country (Heb. 11:9). He was afterwards to receive it for inheritance (verse 8), but he saw the fulfilment “afar off,” and confessed that meanwhile he was a “stranger and a pilgrim” (verse 13). The everlasting inheritance of a land which is the glory of all lands, which is the object of Yahweh’s special regard from year’s end (Deut. 11:10-12), and which he has chosen as a place of rest and renown for His Name in the endless ages coming (Psa. 132:13-14; Exod. 15:17), was promised to the individual and faith-evincing Abraham: and in this promise we are directly interested if we are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29). That land is the appointed centre for the manifestation of the divine glory in the age to come, and the source from which the covenanted blessedness will yet outflow to universal man. All this is made known to us in the covenants of promise, and brought very clearly before us in this address by the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth “to the mountains of Israel.”
“Thus saith the Lord God, Because they (the enemy) have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side . . . and ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people: therefore, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God; Thus saith the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken.”—
You see, that is addressed to the land, just in the state in which it now lies—the state that excites the sneer of the common run of en faith in coming blessedness in connection with it is expressed—such people point to the arid desolation of Palestine, and say, Is this your paradise? Is this your kingdom of God? Is this your much talked of glorious land? What can we say? Our answer will not have much weight with them; but it is a strong answer for all that. We say, “Our interest and our hopes are in no way due to the excellence of the land itself; they arise exclusively from God’s choice of it and what God has promised concerning it. We believe He has chosen it: we believe what He has promised: and if you do the same, you will share our interest. If you do not believe, it is because you are not cognisant of the evidence which compels belief, or being cognisant of it, choose to ignore it.”
What it is that God has to say to the mountains of Israel in their desolation and dishonour?
“Behold, I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown: and I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded: and I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”
Observe the statement:
“Ye shall know that I am the Lord.”
There is more force in this than at first sight appears. It is a virtual admission that the state of things existing before this renovation of the land and people of Israel would seem to justify a doubt that Yahweh was participating in their affairs. This is the characteristic of the present situation of things in the earth. We see Israel scattered and blind: their land a derision and a desolation: the Gentiles exercising the upper hand, and nothing to indicate that the God of Israel who brought them out of Egypt is taking any notice, or that He exists at all. An angel appearing now to any leading man of the house of Israel and saying the Lord was with them, would be liable to be answered as Gideon answered a similar salutation on the eve of deliverance from the Midianites:
“If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of?” (Judges 6:13).
There is an answer to this natural question as applied to the present state of things. It is contained in the very chapter which records this encouraging address to the mountains of Israel. Look at verse 17:
“Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way, and by their doings: their way was before me as the uncleanness of a separated woman. Wherefore I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols wherewith they had polluted it: and I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them.”
Israel’s troubles are the result of Israel’s sins, and not of the power of the enemy or of God’s disregard of what is going on. But there is to be an end of the troubles after a time:
“I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you unto your own land.”
It is of very great importance to notice the reason of this coming change in the position of the house of Israel. A superficial view would suggest that as Israel’s dispersion has been the result of Israel’s transgressions, Israel’s restoration would be the result of Israel’s reformation. The contrary is plainly stated here:
“I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel . . .. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel” (verses 22 & 32).
If not for any reason affecting Israel themselves, what is the constraining reason leading to their restoration? Here it is (verse 22):
“For mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen whither ye went.”
In what way did Israel profane Yahweh’s name in the midst of the heathen (the nations)? Here is the answer:
“When they entered unto the heathen whither they went, they profaned my name, when they (the heathen) said unto them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of his land” (20).
That is, the effect of Israel’s dispersion was to lead to Yahweh’s dishonour. Israel was pointed at contemptuously as the people of Yahweh, as much as to say, “If the Yahweh of these people were what they claim, they never would have gone forth out of His land, for how could the Creator of heaven and earth be prevailed against by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Greeks and the Romans?” Thus as Paul told them:
“The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you” (Rom. 2:24).
This is one reason of their restoration. God proposes to avert the dishonour of His name by their national recovery:
“I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them: and the heathen shall know that I am Yahweh, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before your eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen,” etc.
If the declaration of Yahweh’s coming purpose stopped here, there would be a certain amount of moral confusion which would interfere with the comfort of the prospect. We should feel it strange that a wicked nation should be brought together merely to stop the taunts of Gentile nations, and produce an adequate recognition of the greatness of Yahweh among them. But there is no room for such discomfort. It is a characteristic of all divine ways that more than one purpose is served by the same instrumentality. Yahweh’s declaration by Ezekiel goes on to say:
“A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them . . .. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations” (26-31).
Here is the nation in an humbled and reformed condition after restoration. There are frequent glimpses of this in the prophets. Isaiah speaking of the same era of regeneration, says (Isa. 60:21):
“Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever.”
The means by which this great national change is to be effected is revealed in other parts. Yahweh will “give them pastors according to his own heart, who shall feed them with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15). These pastors are the twelve disciples raised from the dead (Matt. 19:28), and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets, the glorious hierarchy of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28-29; 20:35-36). Under such leadership, aided with the latter-day and bountiful outpouring of the Spirit of God on all flesh, Israel will soon be brought to the glorious condition depicted. Some will prove incorrigible, but these will be weeded out: for it is written,
“I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth” (Zeph. 3:11-13).
A restored regenerated nation like this will be a praise and a name and a glory to Yahweh in the midst of the earth. We learn that then the Gentile nations will comprehend the mystery of Israel’s fall and dispersion during Gentile ascendancy:
“The heathen (the nations) shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword . . .. Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy name” (Ezek. 39:23, 25).
This object of Israel’s restoration—for the honour of Yahweh’s name—is the one that least appeals to the sympathies of the natural man. It is one thing that makes the subject so uninteresting and positively distasteful to the common run of people. They might have a kindly thought for the restoration of the Jews on “the principle of nationalities,” or because of the vigour of an ancient patriotism, or the interest excited by an historic race; but this “theological ingredient” mixed up with it excites their aversion. What is this but the prejudice of barbarism? An enlightened state of mind takes just the opposite attitude. Enlightenment recognises God as the “possessor of heaven and earth,” and the Bible as the present index to His mind; and His views and objects therein expressed, the ultimate light in which everything is to be contemplated. In this way of looking at things, the divine purpose is the only stable element in the situation. Human life and human history are in themselves but shifting shadows on the ocean—mere elements in the working out of the divine purpose. The “theological ingredient” is the only philosophy of the whole.
God’s relation to the case gives us the only rational solution of what the highest intellects feel to be the universal mystery. This relation we apprehend by means of the Scriptures and by that means only, and when apprehended, it alters our relation in harmony with itself. We become no longer interested in nations from an ethnological point of view. The “principle of nationalities” and all other aspects as they present themselves to a merely natural observer, fail to interest. They are only apprehended in their actual nature as transient appearances; phases of affairs incident to the great purpose governing the whole evolution. God’s relation to a matter becomes the only real element. Consequently, it comes to pass that while the Jews as a race would excite in the subjects of this enlightenment no interest, and the question of their futurity and the disposal of their land would be dismissed as an arid and uninviting subject, as the factors in a divine problem they excite surpassing and everlasting interest. Standing related to the revelation of God in the past, and involving the working out of His glorious purpose in the future, they become capital and supreme subjects. Involving Yahweh’s honour, they are dear to the hearts of all Yahweh’s children, while current interests and greatness, bringing with them only the melancholy ascendancy and renown of man, fall dead on their hearts.
Yahweh’s jealousy for the honour of His name appears a stern and unattractive feature of the Bible at first; but a great change comes over the mind when the nature and effects of the jealousy are apprehended. It is not a human jealousy, which denies to others their due. It is the desire for the ascendancy of eternal and beneficial truth. The honour of Yahweh is founded on the eternal constitution of things. All things are in Him; they are the concretion of His own invisible energy. Consequently, if they are not in harmony with Him, there can be no well-being. Without the honour of Yahweh, there can be no well-being of man; for man’s highest interests are bound up with the recognition, love, service and obedience of His Creator. In the nature of things, it is man’s highest happiness to give to God the highest praise. Consequently, Yahweh’s jealousy of His name is one of the glorious attributes of the eternal character. The desolation of Israel’s mountains for the time being brings dishonour: for His own glory, He has declared His purpose to recover them from their desolate state, and to people them with His own restored and regenerated nation, and to establish upon them the glorious edifice of His long-promised kingdom for the blessing of all the earth. We have listened to His address to those mountains this morning, and as the children of the hope of Israel, jealous for the honour of Israel’s God and earth’s Creator, we rejoice in the prospect of the unspeakable blessedness which will descend upon them in due time in the appointed way.
By Bro. Robert Roberts, Seasons of Comfort Vol 1, pages 472-479