2. Landmarks on the Way Back

The Lord Himself is leading His people back to the land that He promised to their fathers as an eternal possession. None of Israel’s enemies can prevent this from happening:

“It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. ... There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt” (Isa. 11:11-12, 16).

“Set up signposts, make landmarks; set your heart towards the highway, the way in which you went. Turn back, O virgin of Israel, turn back to these your cities. How long will you gad about, O you backsliding daughter?” (Jer. 31:21-22).

There are a number of important landmarks that Israel will have to pass on their way to complete restoration from the countries to which they have become dispersed. However, they have the assurance that God is with them, that He leads them and that He will help them to overcome any barriers their enemies might put in the way to prevent them from being led back to the land they received from God Himself.

Theodor Herzl – the man who paved the way

The first steps on the way back to the land of Israel were taken more than a century ago by Theodor Herzl. Taking a firm stand against public opinion and ignoring the harsh criticism of his fellow Jews, he determinedly commenced the work towards the restoration of Israel.

In his short life of only 44 years, Theodor Herzl (born 2 May 1860) dedicated himself to the dream of getting the Jews back to their land, and succeeded in making his people aware of the fact that it could be done. For this reason he organised the first Zionist congress in Basle, Switzerland, on 29th August 1897. This was followed by a similar congress in London in October 1897. Dr William Heckler, a Messianic Jew, was a good friend of Herzl. He was the author of the book, The return of the Jews to Palestine in accordance with prophecy, and spoke about the Messianic expectations of Israel at both congresses.

Herzl established a fund to which people from all over the world donated substantial amounts of money. He made contact with various heads of state to win their support for his idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. He also had an interview with the Sultan of Turkey, as Palestine was under Turkish rule at that stage. The fund was not strong enough to buy all of Palestine, but Herzl offered the Turks large sums of money in exchange for occupation rights in parts of the country. He visited Palestine, but had to leave after only three days, as the Arabs had heard about his plans for a Jewish state and wanted to kill him.

Theodor Herzl died in 1904 at the age of 44. He requested that Dr. William Heckler spend the last few days of his life with him. Theodor Herzl’s work did not die with him, for by then the dream of a Jewish state had already been established in the hearts of Jews all over the world.

The migration of Jews to Palestine steadily increased after the launching of Herzl’s awareness campaign. The Arabs in the coastal town of Jaffa were violently opposed to the Jewish settlers arriving in the area, but the Jews finally bought some land from the Arabs and laid the foundation for the state of Israel as we know it today. The first 30 families settled on a hill outside Jaffa and decided to call it Tel Aviv, which means Hill of Hope. They didn’t have much in the form of material possessions, but they used whatever they could find to sweep the gravel aside and called this, their first street, Theodor Herzl Street. They also built small houses of clay.

Those early settlers could not have known that Tel Aviv would be the capital of Israel from 1948 to 1980; neither could they have known that Jews from all over the world would still be settling there today. Many of the Arabs fled from Jaffa during the 1948 War of Independence, and in 1949 Jaffa became part of the fast growing Tel Aviv.

The work that Herzl started was carried forward by other enthusiastic leaders after his death. They also continued talks with the British government, because they were determined to establish a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Britain would play an important role during this part of the history of Israel.

Chaim Weizman – the man who laid the foundation

Britain and its allies were in danger of losing World War I because of a shortage of explosives. This problem was unexpectedly resolved when Chaim Weizman, a well‑known Jewish chemist at the University of Manchester, discovered a powerful new explosive that was to become known as TNT. One of its advantages was that the manufacturing process was relatively cheap. He offered it to the British government and it became one of the determining factors in the Allied victory.

When asked what reward he wanted for this great service, Chaim answered: “I don’t want money. Just free Palestine and allow the Jews to settle there.” That request led to the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, in which the British government clearly stated that they approved of Palestine becoming the national homeland of the Jewish people.

A month later the British forces under General Allenby captured Palestine. What a profound difference it was to the previous invasions by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, Titus in AD 70, and the Turks in the Middle Ages! Not a single shot was fired when Britain captured Jerusalem, and no life was lost. General Allenby, a devoted Christian, did not want to destroy anything in the city where Jesus spent the last days of His earthly life – the city where He was crucified and buried, and where He rose from the grave. Therefore, he contacted King George and asked him for advice. The king’s reply comprised only a single word: Pray! That is exactly what the general did, and that was the secret to his peaceful capturing of the city.

The Turks in the city suddenly became terrified and sent a delegation to negotiate their surrender. When the delegation reached General Allenby’s tent, he and his officers were praying for just that to happen! He marched through the streets of Jerusalem on 11th December 1917 and gave all the people of the city the assurance that there would be peace and that they would be protected. On 24th July 1922, Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations. Palestine would be ruled by Britain in future and Turkey, who had supported Germany in the war, would have no further control over the area.

After the British mandate became effective, the Jews immigrated to Palestine in even greater numbers. They came from Europe, Asia and Africa. They developed the country and changed deserts into fertile farming land. The Hebrew language was once again spoken. Chaim Weizman was designated Commissioner of Palestine. He appointed a responsible government, and when the British mandate expired on 13 May 1948, he and his team were ready to take control. He announced the birth of the Jewish state, which was to be known as the state of Israel. The USA was the first country to acknowledge the new state. Chaim Weizman was the first President of Israel and remained in that position until his death in 1952. David Ben Gurion, who had been Prime Minister since 1948, succeeded him.

A stormy birth

The birth of the new Jewish state during the night of 14 May 1948 was truly a miracle. From the very first day, the protecting hand of God was often apparent in the life of Israel to deliver them from imminent danger. Of course, Israel’s Arab enemies in the Middle East reacted violently and threatened to utterly destroy them, fulfilling the words of the Scriptures: “They have said: Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be remembered no more” (Ps. 83:4). Israel’s more than 40 million Islamic neighbours wanted to destroy the new state with its 760 000 citizens from the outset.

As soon as the British left Palestine on 15 May 1948, six of the Arab states declared war against Israel: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The enemies of Israel, however, took neither the God of Israel, nor the military genius of the Israelis into account and paid dearly for their error in judgement. During the war for independence of 1948, 600 000 Arabs fled from Israel, leading to the further expansion of the new state’s boundaries between the declaration of independence in 1948 and the cease-fire which was declared in 1949. Jerusalem was divided into two sections, a Western Israeli section and an Eastern Jordanian section. The Temple Mount formed part of the latter.

The Palestinian refugees were not allowed to return to their homes, but had to remain in the neighbouring countries (particularly Jordan and Lebanon). The deplorable conditions of the camps in which they were accommodated, led to the founding of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). This organisation, initially led by Yasser Arafat, is violently opposed to Israel. Through the years it has succeeded in mobilising thousands of Palestinians in and around Israel in their struggle against the Jewish state.

The War of 1956

The unceasing hostility from across Israel’s borders gave rise to strained relations with neighbouring countries. The Arabs refused to conclude peace with Israel or to recognise the new state. Border incidents became the order of the day. The port of Eilat was blocked and Israeli ships barred from the Suez Canal. The Arab states even tried to prevent the Israelis from using water from the River Jordan for irrigation projects in the Negev Desert.

The situation later became so unbearable that Israel attacked Egypt in October 1956. This led to their occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel held until 1967. In that year, after intensive international negotiations, they withdrew from most of the occupied territory.

The Six Day War

By May 1967 the political and military situation in Israel had reached critical proportions. All their efforts to defuse the explosive situation and ease the tension, had failed. President Nasser of Egypt ordered his army to take up positions of attack in Sinai. At the same time Jordan, Syria and Iraq, who were united for this purpose, issued statements to the effect that they were poised to destroy Israel. Despite all of these threats, Israel was the one who attacked on 5 June 1967, and the ensuing war lasted a mere six days.

God granted His people a miraculous victory. Many of Egypt’s fighter planes were destroyed on the ground before they could take to the air, while a large tank division surrendered without offering any resistance. Israel’s Messianic expectation reached new heights, and they even issued a series of postage stamps with the inscription “The Coming One”.

During these few days, biblical Jerusalem (the Old City, or the City of David), as well as the adjacent West Bank area, were captured from Jordan and incorporated into Israel. The acquisition of this important piece of land had long been Israel’s dream, as the Temple Mount had, until then, been out of bounds for the Jews. Soldiers and civilians alike all went to the Western Wall to offer prayers of thanksgiving, and there were intensely emotional scenes at the wall. The wall is all that is left of the temple that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, when the Jews were led into captivity.

Following the Six Day War, the tension remained high between Israel and its neighbouring Arab states. The United Nations Security Council intervened to bring about an end to the war, but no official peace accords had been signed. By 1972, the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that President Sadat of Egypt again fanned the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment and announced his country’s intention to annihilate Israel.

The War of Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, 6 October 1973, saw the beginning of yet another war in the Middle East. As this is the most important Jewish religious holiday of all, the Israeli security forces were demobilised and the attack took them by surprise. The attacks on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts were fierce and their enemy’s Russian technology was highly advanced. After initially suffering big losses, Israel gradually took control of the situation and eventually won the war. After that, the war clouds receded and relative calm again prevailed. However, after a few years the tension again started to mount and the Arabs resumed their preparations for a new confrontation against the Jewish state.

Jerusalem as Capital

A very important landmark in Israel’s restoration was the declaration of Jerusalem as their eternal and indivisible capital in August 1980, and the immediate relocation of the office of the Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move was made amid various calls for Jerusalem to have an international status and to be a centre where Jews, Christians and Muslims could enjoy equal rights. However, Israel withstood the pressure and stuck with their decision that this city, which had been conquered 3000 years ago by King David, remains their own and indivisible capital. According to Luke 21:24-32, the restoration of Jerusalem would be a prelude to apocalyptic events that will occur during the last generation before the second coming of the Messiah.

The Arab nations, particularly the Palestinians in Israel, were so upset about the events in Jerusalem that they declared a holy war (jihad) against Israel. They also used the bargaining power afforded them by their position as oil suppliers, to influence other countries not to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Their intimidation was so successful that all the embassies which had been moved to Jerusalem were moved back to Tel Aviv within only a few weeks.

During this critical time in September 1980, when the nations again turned their backs on Jerusalem, a few hundred Christians celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem for the first time. Despite the antagonism which orthodox Jews show towards Christians, these believers were warmly welcomed by virtue of an Old Testament prophecy that Gentiles would celebrate this feast in Jerusalem after the coming of the Messiah. On the last day of the feast, Christian pilgrims used the opportunity to open the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. Through the years various Christian groups and churches have used this embassy to express their solidarity with Israel, and to support Israel’s biblical claim to their land and to Jerusalem as their capital city.

However, the enemies of Israel continue with their hostilities and, with the aid of Russian weapons, relentlessly try to destroy the Jewish state.

The 1982 Attack on Lebanon

The situation in the Middle East further deteriorated after the change in Jerusalem’s status in 1980, and prompted Yasser Arafat to visit Moscow for high level talks with the Kremlin. A final decision was reached in which Russia pledged active support to the PLO in its struggle against the state of Israel. While the Jews were still celebrating the declaration of Jerusalem as capital, the Russians were building a secret military base at Sidon, in Southern Lebanon. The underground bunkers could store weapons for an army of more than 500 000 men, at a stage when the PLO only had 19 000 “freedom fighters” in its army.

The Israelis discovered this arsenal when they attacked Lebanon in 1982. They seized 4 000 tons of weapons and ammunition and incapacitated an advanced Russo-Palestinian plan to destroy the Jewish state and transfer its land to the Palestinians.

The Syrians, who occupied Lebanon at the onset of the hostilities, were also drawn into the war against Israel, but in the first week they lost 80 MIG fighter planes in clashes with the Israeli Air Force, while Israel did not lose a single plane. Again the Arab powers were temporarily halted in their on-going endeavours to destroy Israel. Egypt had signed a peace treaty with Israel; Iraq was at war with Iran, and Jordan was afraid to attack Israel without the assistance of allies.

After 1982, Israel occupied parts of southern Lebanon in order to avert attacks on its own soil from Lebanon. During this time, Hezbollah (Party of Allah) was established with Iranian and Syrian assistance, with a view to launching attacks on Israel from Southern Lebanon. They have modern weaponry, including rockets which are supplied to them by Iran. Attacks by Hezbollah were one of the important factors which led to Israel ending its occupation of Southern Lebanon in 2000.

The Intifada of the Palestinians

Since 1987 the Palestinians have waged a terrorist war against Israel, from within their borders, known as the Intifada. One of the strategies frequently used by them is suicide bombings in Israeli busses, restaurants and other public places. The group primarily responsible for the attacks is Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement). They are a very radical Palestinian group that do not recognise the state of Israel. After the death of Yasser Arafat they engaged in party politics and won an election against the Fatah Party in Gaza, but are still opposed to peace accords with Israel, and are set on violent means to pursue Palestinian independence. All Palestinians who participate in the Intifada are notorious for demonstrations, looting, arson, stone-throwing, knife-attacks, rocket attacks, bombings, ambushes, kidnappings, blackmail and assassinations in their struggle for the liberation of Palestine.

In September 2000, the Intifada against Israel entered a new, intensified phase, known as the Al Aqsa Intifada, or the Second Intifada. Demonstrations started at the Al Aqsa mosque when the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, accompanied by other cabinet members, visited the Temple Mount. The Muslims regarded this high profile visit as a sign that Israel intended taking over control of the Islamic dominated Temple Mount with a view to building their temple. Renewed pressure was subsequently exerted to gain Islamic control over East Jerusalem, and ultimately over the entire Jerusalem, as well as large parts of Israeli territory. The suicide bombers are religiously motivated to wage a holy war (jihad) against Israel, being under the deceptive impression that they will open their eyes in Paradise were they to die in explosions which kill Jews or Christians.

The struggle against Hamas in Gaza

The Hamas faction of the Palestinians operates against Israel from their strongholds in Gaza. The most important strategy they employ is the use of rocket attacks against Israeli targets, as well as suicide bombings. Spiritual leaders promise jihadists rewards in heaven if they sacrifice their lives and die as martyrs. This deceptive motivation is particularly strong in the Hamas movement. Jihadists live solely for the destruction of Israel and in the hope of gaining honour by dying as martyrs in the struggle. This is the reason for them continuing to launch rocket attacks against Israel and provoking Israel to declare war on them. Since June 2007 when Hamas took full control over Gaza in a coup and expelled the Fatah officials of Mahmoud Abbas, they have considerably escalated their rocket attacks on towns and cities in the southern parts of Israel. There were times when they fired up to 600 rockets per week at Israeli targets.

After Israel’s military incursion into Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009 to destroy military targets and weaken their infrastructure, Hamas obtained bigger rockets from Syria and Iran and smuggled them in through underground tunnels from the Egyptian side of the border. They now have the ability to strike large towns or cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Bersheeva. Ashdod with its harbour is the fifth largest city in Israel. Bersheeva is the sixth largest city and also has a university. There is a possibility that Hamas may acquire even more powerful rockets and missiles with which they will be able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

From Israel’s point of view it is a frightening scenario that their enemies are increasing in number with deadlier weapons. Hamas intends to expand their arsenal to be able to fire rockets and missiles into the entire Southern Israel. Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon have rearmed themselves after their involvement in the war against Israel in 2006. They are now able to attack most of the northern parts of Israel.

Leaders with feet of clay

Israel’s leaders are slowly but surely yielding to the increased pressure against them – not so much due to military threats, but because of political pressure from the international community to divide their land in complying with the objective of America’s Roadmap with its two-state solution. In 2005, Mr. Sharon ordered a Jewish withdrawal from Gaza as well as parts of the West Bank area. His successor, Mr. Olmert, further implemented this policy and even envisaged the division of Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine. The weakening political will of Jewish leaders is exploited by their enemies who keep up the pressure by launching more severe attacks against Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu is offering stronger resistance, but has also accepted in principle, the creation of a Palestinian state which will encompass large parts of Israel’s traditional territories.

The threat from the north

Serious danger is mounting from the north and north-east of Israel, particularly in Syria and Iran. These countries also support the Hezbollah terrorists, who launched a major missile attack on Israel in 2006 which forced the Jewish state into a retaliation which almost devastated Lebanon, but did not seriously incapacitate Hezbollah.

Iran is busy developing into one of Israel’s most aggressive and dangerous enemies. The president of Iran has already made various public calls for the complete destruction of the Jewish state. Iran is also developing a nuclear programme to further strengthen its military position. Israel has responded to this threat by openly stating that military action might be the only way to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

The fire of persecution

It is a perplexing phenomenon that the restoration of Israel is accompanied by such intense international animosity and so many wars and violence – including an escalating struggle within the country. However, according to the Bible, things will become even worse and lead to time of great trouble for Jacob (Jer. 30:7). The New Testament describes this perilous time as the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21).

The fact is that Israel is being restored to their land in a spiritually unsaved state, to be subjected to great distress which will force them to call out to the Lord for help – just as their forefathers did when they were oppressed by Pharaoh in Egypt. The Lord said that He would gather together His wayward people in Jerusalem in order to test them and to save a remnant (Ezek. 22:19-20). Israel has thus far not reacted spiritually to their distress, but their problems will dramatically increase in the near future, to the point where they will earnestly call out to the Messiah to intervene (Hos. 5:5).

However, the trouble for which Israel is destined cannot be an excuse to their enemies to hate and persecute the people of God. The Lord will judge Israel’s enemies who do not bless Israel, but instead curse and try to annihilate them. In spite of all the resistance from their enemies, and the unbelief of Israelis themselves, the restoration of God’s people must continue towards the wonderful future which awaits a believing remnant of the nation.

The exodus from Russia

The Russians, who have been among Israel’s most notorious enemies, have run into serious political and economic problems. For nearly a century, Jewish emigration from Russia to Israel was severely restricted while the communists mercilessly persecuted the Russian Jews. Suddenly, the tyrannical regime of the USSR fell and the doors were flung wide open. One million Jews, almost half of Russia’s Jewish population, who had indicated that they wanted to immigrate to Israel, were allowed to do so. The modern Pharaoh had no choice but to let God's people go. The plagues he had to deal with left him with no choice: the iron curtain had come down, Russia’s economy was crumbling, and one republic after the next gained independence from the disintegrating Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Yes, this Russian leader had no choice but to say: “Go, if you want to go!” This is a fulfilment of the following prophecy:

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that it shall no more be said: The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt; but: The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them. For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall fish them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks" (Jer. 16:14-16).

The people of Israel welcome these newcomers into their territory, but finding work and accommodation for everyone is quite a problem. There must be many of them who feel like saying: “The place is too small for me; give me a place where I may dwell” (Isa. 49:20).

The fishermen used by the Lord are evangelists who lead Jews to the Messiah, and strongly impress it on their hearts that it is the will of the Lord for them to return to the land of Israel. Orthodox Jews are also reminded of their duty to return to the land of their fathers to assist in protecting and rebuilding it. The hunters which the Lord uses are hostile people who persecute Jews, thereby forcing many of them to leave in the hope of finding a better opportunity for survival in Israel.

A new day

The full remnant of Israel will be saved after the dark night of the tribulation. They will then truly be a blessing to the whole world (Rom. 11:12). The Arab nations, who have tried to destroy Israel since 1948, will then also become Christian, having been freed from the intimidating influence of Islam. Together with Israel they will serve King Jesus with great enthusiasm:

“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the [earth], whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying: Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Isa. 19:23‑25).

Only people with a real sense of spiritual destiny can understand God’s plan with the nations and, in particular, with the nation of Israel. All Christians should give their full support to the physical restoration of Israel, while earnestly praying for the spiritual revival of that entire nation. The spiritual needs of Israel’s deluded enemies should never be excluded from those prayers.