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Commentary

Taking Israel Out of the Bible

New Christians struggling to study their Bible are often taught to read the scriptures as though they were written personally to them, even reciting the scriptures using one’s own name in place of the verse’s subject. While it is important to apply scripture to one’s own life, it is equally important to not ignore the original context of the scripture and the original recipient of that particular promise.

For example, a special verse that brings comfort to a person who may be experiencing difficulty is Isaiah 49:16 “See, I have inscribed you [insert name] on the palms of My hands.” This verse lets the believer know that they are known by the Lord, and He holds them before Him, as it were, in the palms of His hands. It is a beautiful verse.

It may be a great surprise to many to learn that the verse is originally intended for Jerusalem, the city that personifies the people of Israel, for verse 17 goes on to say “Your walls are continually before Me.” So an over personalization of the scriptures can actually result in a Christian who can recite verses from their Bible but has failed to understand what the book is about.

Getting the “Big Picture”

Another tendency in Bible study is to study by topic or book, which is understandable for such an immense book as the Bible. The danger, however, is walking away from a Bible study understanding everything there is to know about a particular topic, but not knowing the overall story of the Bible itself.

The Bible is the story of God’s love for the world, His plan to redeem that world, and the battle against that plan. The object of God’s love was always the world, and He chose Abraham to birth a nation through which He would carry out His plan to redeem that world. This is the overarching story that the Bible tells, and central to the story is the calling on the nation of Israel.

The Bible is, in fact, a Jewish book: written by, about, and largely for, Jews. Jesus even said that salvation is of the Jews! Christians are partakers of that salvation, and are able to apply the scriptures to their own lives, because they are the heirs of Abraham by faith. Through Jesus they are adopted into the family and are part of Abraham’s family tree. But, they do not replace the original family they are grafted into, nor do they annul God’s promises to them.

Rewriting Scripture

Some Christians have tried to claim that the Old Testament should no longer be read literally about the people of Israel; it now only applies spiritually to the Church. This is known as Replacement Theology: the Church has replaced Israel in the plans and purposes of God. This spiritualization of scripture is actually a rejection of scripture by rewriting it to mean something other than its original meaning.

While some Replacement Theologians would deny rejecting or rewriting scripture, others are quite blatant about it. One such group is Sabeel. Founded by Palestinian Anglican Canon Naim Ateek, Sabeel propagates Palestinian Liberation Theology and disregards any portion of scripture that disagrees with Ateek’s anti-Semitic views. He calls for scripture to be “de-Zionized” by removing all “Zionist” portions that afford any significance to the nation of Israel and any connection of the Jewish people to the Holy Land.

Anti-Semitic Theology

While that may sound ludicrous to most, Sabeel has the ear of some mainline denominations  resulting in resolutions to divest from companies doing business with Israel as well as anti-Semitic study guides.  One denomination published a study guide, in which Sabeel authored a chapter, that was so imbalanced and malicious that some Jewish groups called it “hate speech.” The guide ended with a group exercise suggesting that liturgy and hymns be edited so to avoid words like Israel, Zion, exile, covenant, and return, as they might cause worshippers to confuse these biblical terms with modern events and people in the Holy Land.

Interesting, that all of this textual manipulation is with one intent in mind: rid scripture of the role of the nation of Israel. This, in complete contradiction to the words of the Apostle Paul who, speaking specifically of the Jewish people, said in Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

The problem is, of course, that if you want to remove Israel from the Bible, you will have little Bible left. Christianity then loses its spiritual roots, churches lose their moral authority, and their membership numbers dwindle. It is an important lesson for all churches.


Susan Michael is the US Director of the ICEJ and creator of www.IsraelAnswers.com.
 

ICEJ-USA Director Susan Michael Awarded Honorary Doctorate

ICEJ-USA Director, Susan McElroy Michael, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on May 4, 2018. The degree was conferred at the 2018 graduation ceremony on the campus of the university.

Dr. Charles Pettit, the president of Piedmont International University, shared that “Dr. Michael was awarded this honorary degree for her outstanding national and international accomplishments and because we believed she would represent us well as an example of the global impact God has called us to have for the cause of Christ at Piedmont as we develop academic initiatives and global partnerships.”

“Susan is an exceptional individual who represents our university’s values and educational training in her ministry,” said Dr. Byron Edens, Vice President of Piedmont International University. “She is a brilliant speaker and shares in a dynamic way the conservative theology concerning Israel that we teach at Piedmont.”

Michael’s earned degrees include a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Oral Roberts University and a Master of Arts in Judeo-Christian Studies from the Institute of Holy Land Studies, now known as the Jerusalem University College, in Jerusalem.

“It was the privilege of studying the Bible in its geographic and cultural setting in Israel that made all of the difference for me. There I was surrounded by proof of the accuracy of the Scriptures and that produced a passion for making that knowledge and experience available to as many people as possible,” explained Michael.

As a founding staff member and a current Trustee of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Michael has helped to pioneer what has grown into a global movement of Christian support for Israel made up of hundreds of millions of Evangelical Christians worldwide. She has also pioneered Jewish-Evangelical relations over the last 25 years through extensive work with Israeli and American Jewish leaders in Washington D.C. and across the country.

She developed ground-breaking educational programs and tools for churches and individuals on the issues of the biblical significance of Israel, the history of the Jewish people, Jewish-Christian relations, Christian anti-Semitism, Christian support for Israel, Islam, and Middle Eastern Affairs. Michael built the US Branch of the ICEJ into a Scripturally-sound, balanced, and reputable ministry, evidenced in its leadership of one of the strongest networks of Evangelical leaders in America – the American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI).

Founded in 1945, Piedmont International University is an established provider of quality, Bible-centered higher education for effective lifetime ministry. It has grown to over 1,000 students per year and strives to be an internationally recognized leader in innovative, Bible-centered higher education for effective ministry in a constantly changing world.
 

This is the year to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem

Many conservative Christians voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election due to his commitments on several issues—one being to support Israel and move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Here are several compelling reasons why this is the time to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Righting Historic Injustices

This move would right a historic injustice: the one country in the world where the US Embassy is not located in the functioning and declared capital city is our closest and most democratic ally in the Middle East. A country whose citizens love America, weep when we weep, celebrate when we celebrate, and share our values, deserves this type of recognition.

It also would end an unrealistic requirement in UN Resolution 181 known as the 1947 UN Partition Plan. This resolution was a proposal to partition Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate making way for the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States. Jerusalem was not included in either state—Jew or Arab—and was to have a special international regime overseeing it for ten years after which the residents could vote regarding their status.

The UN Partition Plan was not law and is considered a non-binding resolution. However, it did express international backing for Jewish and Arab statehood in Mandatory Palestine. As a result, Jewish leaders declared statehood, and for this reason alone the Partition Plan is to be appreciated.

The Arabs, however, did not announce statehood and instead rejected the Plan, declared war on Israel, and attempted to take over Jerusalem—and all of Israel if possible. At the end of the war, Jordanian Arab forces occupied the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount—the holiest site in the Jewish faith. They destroyed the synagogues in their territory, killed or expelled all Jews, and made the eastern part of Jerusalem Jew-free until 1967 when Israeli forces gained control of eastern Jerusalem as well as the entire West Bank.

The UN Partition Plan had the best of intentions but was a total failure due to its rejection by the Arab leaders. Now is the time for the world to recognize this failure and give up on the notion that any of it still applies today, especially the provision of placing an international regime over Jerusalem.

Even if the city had been internationalized in 1948, the Partition Plan only called for a ten-year regime after which the residents could vote on their status. Today, after 50 years of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, most residents would vote to remain under Israeli governance. Recent polls indicate that just over half, or 52 percent, of Arab residents of Jerusalem would prefer Israeli citizenship, and many would move to Jewish neighborhoods to stay under Israeli rule if necessary.

Peace Through Strength

Opponents of the embassy move often caution against it out of fear of a violent reaction. No one wants to be the cause of unnecessary bloodshed, but we need to learn from Israel not to allow terrorists and jihadists to dictate our policy. Also, this president has more political leverage than any other in years and could very well pull this off with minimal reaction if he plays his cards right. The entire Sunni Arab world wants his help against Iran and will be willing to concede in other areas to get it.

Then there is the fear of derailing peace talks. There is no better way to get the Palestinians to the table than to place the US Embassy in west Jerusalem. Doing so would demonstrate that the longer the Palestinians refuse to negotiate, the more ground they will lose. Now, that is the way to get peace negotiations started!

Honoring Israeli Peacekeeping

It is time for the nations to recognize that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has kept the peace—not blocked it! Under Arab control, the Old City experienced ethnic cleansing and complete destruction of the Jewish quarter including its synagogues. Under Israeli control, the city has been rebuilt, holy sites have been maintained, and freedom of worship has been protected for all faiths. As a Christian organization based in Jerusalem, the ICEJ can attest to this. In all honesty, we owe Israel a big “thank you” for the freedom of access to the sites holy to our faith!

An Anniversary Worth Celebrating

This year is the anniversary of several significant events beginning 120 years ago, in 1897, when Theodor Herzl declared at the First Zionist Congress the Jews would have a state within 50 years. One hundred years ago, in 1917, British General Allenby entered the city of Jerusalem on foot ending some 1,300 years of Muslim rule over the city. Seventy years ago, in 1947, the UN Partition Plan paved the way for statehood, and 50 years ago Israeli sovereignty was established over all of Jerusalem. What better time for the nations to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel than 2017—the 50-year anniversary of its reunification under Israeli sovereignty.

Jesus predicted these days when He said Jerusalem would be “trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Two-thousand years later Gentile rule over Jerusalem has ended, and it is time for the nations to accept it! 


Susan M. Michael is USA Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog.

THE MOTHER OF US ALL

Hebrews 11 is the well-known New Testament Hall of Fame—or as some call it, Hall of Faith— because it lists the great heroes of the Old Testament who exhibited extraordinary faith. One such hero is Abraham.

We are familiar with Abraham’s story and the great faith he exhibited when he obeyed the voice of God and left his home, not knowing where he was going. He then lived in the land God promised to him by faith—as a pilgrim in temporary dwellings. His greatest act of faith was offering up his son Isaac, even though the Lord had told Abraham it would be through Isaac that his seed would continue. Abraham believed God would raise his son from the dead.

Often overlooked, however, is verse 11 of this chapter, which extolls Sarah’s great faith that bestowed on her the ability to conceive when she was past childbearing age. Indeed, she was already 65 years old when God made His initial promise to Abraham and was 90 by the time the child was born. She nevertheless knew that He who had made this promise to her was faithful and would keep it.

Not only did the apostle Paul call Abraham the “father of us all” who believe (Romans 4:16), but in Galatians 4:26 he implied that Sarah is “the mother of us all.” To understand how this can be, we must first understand the significance of the covenant God made with Abraham, and through him, his wife, Sarah.

The Pivotal Moment in the Biblical Story

The first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis set the stage for a pivotal moment that occurs in chapter 12. The backdrop is the detestable and hopeless condition of fallen mankind. But, in Genesis 12:1–3 a light is seen at the end of the tunnel. This is the moment when God spoke to Abraham and initiated His plan to redeem this fallen world.

The entire Bible hinges on that moment and, in fact, only makes sense once we grasp what God was announcing to Abraham. God told Abraham He would lead him to a land and he would become a great nation that would bless all of the families of the earth. The apostle Paul declared that the third verse of Genesis 12 which says, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed,” was the first preaching of the gospel (Galatians 3:8). According to Paul, Genesis 12:3 refers to the great redemption that would be won for the world through the Christ, the Seed of Abraham, the Messiah of Israel.

But the plan hinged upon Abraham having a child—and his wife, Sarah, was barren. Though she was not named in the covenant, she was an integral part of it. She, too, would play a crucial role in the birthing of a nation that will bring about the great redemption of mankind and the blessing of all the nations. Her loving relationship with Abraham, which had caused her to give up everything and follow him to a land where they would live in tents as aliens, would produce a lineage that would change the world.

It All Depended on Sarah

And, so, she waited, for ten years. With each year that passed, Sarah must have felt more and more guilty. God had made such wonderful promises to her husband, but because she was barren, they were not coming to pass. She was the unnamed but implied partner in the covenant, and upon whom the covenant hinged—but by whom it was being blocked. Perhaps she felt like a complete failure.

Many a sermon has been preached about Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith that caused them to devise the carnal plan of a surrogate mistress. However, the Bible never scolds them for losing faith; instead, they are memorialized in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. They believed what God had promised would come to pass! Their error was concluding He would do it some other way than through Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

Their carnal minds probably reasoned God had never specifically said the child would come through Sarah. In fact, it was not until 13 years after Ishmael’s birth to Hagar that God explicitly stated the promised son would be through Sarah and would be named Isaac. At that point, Sarah was no longer an unrecognized party in the covenant. She had been called out by name. What should have been obvious from the start had finally been stated unequivocally: the child would come from Abraham’s wife.

Promise Fulfilled

Some 25 years after the promise was first given in Genesis 12, Sarah gave birth to Isaac at the age of 90. God’s plan all along was that Sarah would have her first and only son in her old age when it was humanly impossible. In this way, God would show His power, and there would be no doubt that this was His doing in fulfillment of His promise and His covenant.

Hence, from this point, the biblical record begins to tell the story of the nation God birthed through Abraham and Sarah, and through which He gave to the world the great redemptive products of the covenants, the law, the promises, and Christ Jesus the Messiah. Through Jesus’ atoning death the price was paid, and consequently, redemption has now been offered to all of the families of the earth.

Abraham and Sarah did not just birth a physical nation, but a family of believers. Through faith in Christ Jesus, we are Abraham’s spiritual seed and heirs to the promises; we have been grafted into the family tree of faithful followers. We, too, can call Abraham “father,” and Sarah, “our mother.”


Susan M. Michael is USA Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog.

Will Trump Move the US Embassy to Jerusalem?

The United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Committee (UNESCO) recently attempted to deny the historical and biblical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and, indeed, all the land of Israel, by referring to the Temple Mount and other Jewish holy sites only by their Muslim names. In response to this blatant denial of scripture, many Christians mailed Bibles to the agency’s headquarters in France.

Title Deed to the Temple Mount

The Bibles sent to UNESCO had many scriptures highlighted such as where King David purchased the threshing floor of Arauna in Jerusalem and placed the tabernacle there; then King Solomon built the First Temple there; Cyrus, the King of Persia, authorized and paid for the rebuilding of that Temple; and where Jesus was dedicated in the Temple, frequented there throughout His life, and was passionate for it, calling it “My father’s house” and a “house of prayer for all people.”

In 2 Samuel 24:18-25, King David wisely purchased the threshing floor of Arauna, and did not accept it as a gift. That property has become the most hotly contested piece of real estate on the planet. The Lord knew what David could not have fathomed, that 3,000 years later the world would come against his descendants’ right to own that piece of property and would deny  David had bought it, or that a Temple had even stood there for a thousand years! Therefore, the purchase is recorded in scripture so generations of believers would know the truth.

Only God could have foreseen how the United Nations would oppose Jerusalem being a part of the Jewish State in 1947; how Jordan would occupy half of the city, including the Temple Mount, until 1967; and how all of the nations would, therefore, refuse to place their embassies there and recognize it as the capital of Israel—even the United States!

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem

The US Congress approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 that declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and called for the US Embassy to be moved there. As a political compromise, a provision was included that allowed the President of the United States to delay moving the Embassy due to national security considerations. Every six months, that waiver has been signed by each president since 1995.

President-Elect Donald Trump has said he will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. He affirmed this when he was the only presidential candidate to accept the ICEJ’s Five Guiding Principles for Israel, which included moving the American Embassy. Based on this, as well as his campaign’s Israel policy released right before the election, he is expected to be a friend to Israel and the Jewish people as President.

The question is whether he will keep his campaign promise and move the US Embassy to Jerusalem? This is a serious decision because a move could ignite a major reaction. But, there are a few reasons why now may be the time to move the US Embassy to Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem:

First, if anyone can get away with it, Donald Trump can. No one expects him to operate within the confines of political correctness, nor be swayed by threats and negative reactions like establishment politicians would have been. Therefore, reactions to such a move may be subdued.

Second, the larger Muslim world is in complete disarray with much bigger problems on their hands such as a nuclear Shi’ite Iran, and the threat of ISIS taking over their countries.

Third, the countries closest to Israel, posing the greatest threat, are consumed with either civil war, economic crisis, or a crippling refugee burden. The Palestinian cause is, therefore, much lower down on their priority list these days.

Either Way the Christian Embassy is there!

In light of such ongoing controversy surrounding Jerusalem, the establishment of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980 was a God-inspired initiative just for these times. While the nations line up, either for or against His people, there is an embassy representing millions of Christians who are trumpeting the truth of the Bible, standing in support of His people, Israel, and their capital city, Jerusalem. Only God!

 


Susan M. Michael is US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem www.icejusa.org and her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blogFor information on the ICEJ’s “Send a Bible to UNESCO” campaign go to https://us.icej.org/bibles-to-unesco

 

Finding Hope in the Faithfulness of God

There are times in the lives of all believers when they may face doubts and discouragement. No matter what the reason for one’s disappointment, the Bible offers guidance as well as examples of others who have experienced the same. But today, we can find considerable encouragement not just in the biblical stories of the Israelites of old, but in the story of God’s faithfulness to His people throughout history, even up until today.

The Faith of Our Fathers

The Puritans were so encouraged by the story of the ancient Israelites that they took from it direction for themselves. They yearned for freedom from their “bondage” of persecution at the hands of the corrupt state church, just as the ancient Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt. So, the Puritans crossed their “Red Sea,” which was the Atlantic Ocean, and arrived on the shores of their “Promised Land,” upon which they founded a nation built on religious freedom.

Later, the African slaves in America also found great comfort in the Bible stories as they saw parallels to their own experiences. They felt their enslavement was much like that of the Hebrews in Egypt, and their exile and captivity like that of the Jews in Babylon. Therefore, the stories of Daniel and Moses gave them great hope of deliverance so they sang songs like “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel” and “Go Down Moses.” Their hope of freedom was expressed in the black spiritual “Pharaoh’s Army Got Drowned.”

A God's Faithfulness to Abraham

The 11th chapter of Hebrews highlights various biblical characters who believed God and acted accordingly, and it has brought encouragement to believers for generations. The Apostle Paul urged the discouraged believers of the early church to learn from their fathers who, with faith and patience, inherited the promises (Hebrews 6:11-12). He then specifically pointed to Abraham as an example of one who patiently endured until he obtained the promise.

Paul’s message is clear - God is a faithful God. Just as He fulfilled His promises to Abraham, we can trust Him to fulfill His promises to us. We receive strength and courage from the stories of those who went before us and who patiently endured in faith before they saw the promises fulfilled.

But let’s take a closer look at Abraham. While Abraham did live to see the fulfillment of God’s promise of offspring, other promises had not yet been fulfilled when he died. For one thing, Abraham lived as a foreigner on the land God promised him. It did not become the “possession” of His descendants until some five hundred years after his death.

God had also promised Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. That fulfillment only took place some 1,500 years later when the atoning death of Jesus purchased salvation for every person who would receive it.

God is Still Fulfilling Promises

God is still fulfilling His promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and that realization should bring great encouragement to all of us. For, just as God promised Abraham that his descendants’ possession of the Promised Land was forever (Genesis 17:8), He later explained that their right to live on the land was based on their relationship with Him (Deuteronomy 29:24-28). It is truly a holy land for a holy people.

If they sinned, their sin would be punished with exile; they would be removed from the land God had given them. But God always promised a return to their land, and the spiritual restoration of His people. Psalm 89 confirms that although He would punish their sin, His lovingkindness would never be withheld, nor would His faithfulness ever fail. “My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips” (vs. 34). Israel’s promised inheritance and restored relationship with God was a sure thing.

Christians should find great comfort in knowing that although God allows His children to suffer the consequences of sin, using that time to teach us and correct our ways, that we can have an expectant hope of return to His presence and His goodness in our lives!

So, in times of discouragement and doubt, remember the return of the Jewish people to the land God promised to Abraham, exactly as foretold by the Hebrew prophets thousands of years ago. We can find hope in this amazing demonstration of the faithfulness of God.


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog” 

 


The Privilege of Partnering with God

God in His sovereignty has chosen to partner with man in the execution of His will. What a humbling and convicting thought that is! He is certainly not limited by man, and can execute His will quite on His own, yet He has elected to work through and in partnership with us.

C.S. Lewis once wrote concerning this partnership with God: “For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.“ 1

This helps to explain why God formed and chose the nation of Israel to partner with Him in His plan of world redemption. The Church was then birthed and commissioned to go to all the peoples of the world to deliver, in the power of His Spirit, the good news of this great redemption that had been bought on their behalf. What a privilege to be part of this magnificent plan.

But, Christians are also invited to partner with the Jewish people and help them. God has regathered His people back to their ancient homeland, as the Hebrew prophets foretold. As a result, they have found themselves on the front lines of a battle to physically destroy them, and of a spiritual battle that the Church needs to wage on their behalf.

Partnering in Prayer

Isaiah 62 is clear that this battle is the Lord’s and He will surely complete what He has begun. Nevertheless, He has placed watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem to intercede continually before Him. Nowhere in scripture does one find a better example of partnering with God in prayer than Isaiah’s description of watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem.

6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, 7 And give Him no rest till He establishes And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:6-7). God will complete His work but we are given the responsibility of praying it through!

Comforting whom He is Comforting

God is also seeking those He can use to comfort His people, Israel. Only when one learns that for centuries Christians despised and persecuted the Jewish people, does one understand the importance of the ministry of Christian comfort to them.

In Isaiah 66:13 the Lord says He will comfort Jerusalem “As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you.” In chapter 40 He calls others to partner with Him: “’ 1Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ Says your God. 2 ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem’” (Isaiah 40:1-2). The Bible tells of other ways Christians can partner with the Lord on behalf of His people.

Blessing whom He is Blessing

A familiar passage to many is Genesis 12, in which God promises Abraham that He will bless him, and will bless anyone else who blesses him. Likewise, those who curse Abraham would be cursed. Unfortunately, this verse is often quoted so glibly it sounds as though the emphasis is on the return blessing for the one who blesses.

Instead, the point is that God Himself was blessing Abraham, therefore, a person’s participation in this blessing demonstrated they were siding with God’s choice of Abraham and His plan of world redemption. To oppose, or curse, Abraham was to oppose God Himself. All mankind is invited to partner with God by blessing the descendants of Abraham and God’s plan to use them to “bless all the families of the earth” (verse 3)!

Providing Practical Assistance

God is also inviting Christians to provide practical assistance to the people of Israel. The scriptures indicate that gentiles will help in the regathering of His people to their homeland (Isaiah 49:22), will join in building up Zion (Isaiah 60:10), and will bring the wealth of the nations to His people (Isaiah 60:11).

The scriptures could not be clearer: God is seeking a people who will partner with Him in prayer, interceding that His purposes in Israel and the earth be fulfilled. He is also beckoning those who will comfort His people Israel, bless them, and practically assist them. What a privilege to be partnering with God.


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog” 

Footnote:

1C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Harvest Books), pp 8-9.

It is now Sunday in the Middle East

'When Saturday is gone, one will find Sunday,' is an old, Christian Arab proverb that expresses their fear of sharing the terrible fate that has befallen the Jews. In other words, “when the Jews are persecuted, it is as inevitable that the Christians' turn will come next, as it is that Sunday will follow Saturday.”

This proverb has also been used to threaten both Jews and Christians, such as on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War with Israel when Muslims chanted “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” 

A Prophecy Fulfilled

There is no longer a need for this proverb. It has become a prophecy fulfilled. Just as the Jews were driven out of Muslim lands in 1948, Christians are now suffering the same fate.

The only difference is that the Jewish refugees had a place to go: the newborn state of Israel. Iraqi and Syrian Christians are the second largest Christian population in the Middle East after Egyptian Copts. They are now fleeing the barbaric forces of various Islamist factions and have nowhere to go.

When the Saturday People Fled

The Jewish population in the Middle East (outside Israel) and North Africa has declined from some one million in 1945 to less than five thousand today. While not all of them fled their homes as refugees, there were plenty of them who did. The situation was so bad that the front page headline of the New York Times on May 16, 1948 read: “Jews in Grave Danger in all Moslem Lands.”

Many of these Jewish communities had existed for some 2,600 years since the exile of the Israelites by Assyria in 722 BC. Over the centuries they moved throughout the region with the largest communities existing in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Libya. In the 1920s, 40% of Baghdad was Jewish.

Even so, Jews in the Middle East were often treated as second class citizens under Islamic laws of dhimmitude—the physical, economic, and societal submission of Jews and Christians to Islam. This submission of minorities permeated Muslim culture, so when the Nazi movement swept the area in the 1940s it was a deadly combination resulting in brutal pogroms and massacres in 1945.

It all came to a climax when the sovereign Jewish state of Israel was created in 1948, on land that had previously been under Islamic rule. Jews were seen as traitors, many had to flee, and others were expelled. Houses, businesses, and valuables were left behind and plundered. But at least they now had a place to flee.

Some 680,000 Jews fled Arab lands and lived in tents and huts in Israel. Israel had little money and infrastructure to care for the immigrants, but after a few years they were not only able to build a new life, but they helped develop the Israeli Defense Forces to defend themselves and generations to follow. 

Saturday is Gone

It is now Sunday in Iraq and Syria where many churches lie empty and destroyed. Thousands of Christians have been massacred; hundreds of thousands have fled. The ancient remains of the tombs of Daniel and Jonah have been destroyed by the jihadist group ISIS that is carrying out a barbaric campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing.

The Book of Acts tells us that there were Christians living in Damascus before the Apostle Paul had converted to Christianity. The Apostles Thomas and Thaddaeus brought Christianity to Iraq, making these Christian communities among the oldest in the world. Many Iraqi Christians are ethnic Assyrians who still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

However, for the first time in 2,000 years, the city of Mosul—encompassing the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh where the Prophet Jonah preached—now has no Christians. It is safe to estimate that at least two thirds of Iraqi and Syrian Christians are now displaced and in need of urgent assistance.

First, 2,600 years of Middle Eastern Jewish civilization was destroyed. Now, 2,000 years of Christian history in Iraq and Syria is being erased, with very little hope of a future.

The biggest question on the mind of these Middle Eastern Christian communities is not the typical “why is this happening?” It is “why are the Christians in America not helping us?” They feel very alone, and abandoned by the western Church.

Refugee Tent for Jesus

A recent picture of a refugee camp in northern Iraq showed one tent with Arabic writing on the top of it. The translation reads: “Jesus is the Light of the world.”

Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, has another picture of a refugee camp in northern Iraq where some of the members of his congregation are now camped. Knowing it is the Christmas season, his congregants have erected a refugee tent for Jesus.

Refugees are near to Jesus’ heart; He and His parents were refugees in Egypt when He was a baby. But, these refugees are especially dear to Him because they are suffering persecution for their faith in Him.

While Jesus is busy comforting and encouraging the refugees, where is the western Christian world? It seems to be fat and happy, in a very deep winter’s sleep.  

What You Can Do

At the very least, families and churches should make donations towards food and blankets for the refugees. The ICEJ is collecting donations for reputable ministries working on the ground, if you do not already know of one. The ICEJ also issued a letter to over 90 heads of state around the world urging them to speak up and to take action to help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

That letter as well as this article should be circulated to all elected officials representing you in Washington, DC. Few of them know what you now know. The ICEJ is happy to speak with anyone to brief them on the situation.

Put yourselves in the refugees’ place. You would also be praying for food, a blanket, and a place to go. Be an answer to someone’s prayer today.

 


Susan Michael serves as the US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

What Jesus Understood About Hanukkah

A common understanding of the December holiday season is that Christmas is the holiday for Christians and Hanukkah is the holiday for Jews. Few Christians relate to Hanukkah since it is not one of the biblical feasts of Israel. But, the fact that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah should make Christians curious enough to investigate the possible importance of the festival to their faith.

It is no exaggeration to say that had it not been for Hanukkah, there could have very well not been a Christmas. Hanukkah prepared the way for the birth and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, Christians may want to not only wish the Jewish community a Happy Hanukkah, but celebrate it themselves! 

God Gives the Victory

The story of Hanukkah begins during the period in-between the Old and New Testaments, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes became the ruler of the Seleucid empire. While the Hellenization of the area already threatened the survival of the Jewish religion, Antiochus seemed obsessed with ensuring the demise of the Jewish faith and thereby, the future of the Jewish people.

He not only murdered the High Priest, Onias III, but he slaughtered 40,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem. All sacrifices, the service of the Temple, and the observance of the Sabbath and of feast days were prohibited. The Temple was dedicated to Zeus, the Holy Scriptures were destroyed, and the Jews were forced to take part in heathen rites.

In his attempt to destroy every trace of the Jewish religion, the final assault was the slaughter of a pig on the sacrificial altar of the Temple, thereby desecrating it. The Maccabean family, from the priestly line of Aaron, led a revolt against this evil ruler and miraculously experienced victory after victory over the mighty Greek forces, until at last the Temple could be purified and its services restored.

This rededication of the Temple to the God of Israel is celebrated during Hanukkah, originally known as the Festival of Dedication. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word derived from the word “to dedicate.”

The defeat of the Greek forces by this small band of Jewish zealots was nothing short of a miracle. God had once again demonstrated His steadfast love and faithfulness to His people by saving them from the threat of extinction. This in itself is cause enough for celebration!

The story goes on to claim that when the Jews re-entered the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, there was only enough of the special oil to light the Temple menorah and keep it burning for one day. But, the oil miraculously burned for eight days while more was being brought from the Galilee—an eight day trip there and back.

The story of the miracle oil is nowhere found in the inter-Testamental writings, therefore it is largely believed to be a legend, however, the very first Hanukkah was indeed celebrated for eight days, and the festival was called the festival of lights as early as the first century. Perhaps archeology will one day uncover a clue to the story’s authenticity. 

A Turning Point in History

The events leading up to the Maccabean revolt were prophesied in vivid detail in the Old Testament book of Daniel. In chapter 8, the Angel Gabriel described to the prophet Daniel the coming abomination of a king who would put a stop to sacrifices and desecrate the sanctuary. 

The fact that it was prophesied some 250 years before it occurred indicates how serious the threat was to the Jewish people. The Maccabean revolt was a turning point in history that saved the Jewish people and their religion from the threat of extinction.

This story, and the various archeological finds that support it, provide further proof as to the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem. So, while Israel’s modern-day enemies attempt to rewrite history and distort fact by denying the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem, the celebration of the Hanukkah story takes on new meaning. 

Jesus and Hanukkah

In John's Gospel, chapter 10, Jesus entered the Temple during the Feast of Dedication. He would have surely known the story behind the Feast and that the Temple He stood in would not have been in operation without it.

Christians today would also do well to remember the faithfulness of God to the Jews on that first Hanukkah. Had Antiochus succeeded to annihilate the nation of Israel, there would have been no Jewish woman named Mary to become the mother of Jesus Christ.

There would have also been no Temple for the beginning of the Christmas story. Luke 1 starts the nativity story in the Temple with an angel announcing to the priest Zacharias that his wife would give birth to John the Baptist. It is no coincidence that God chose to begin the Christmas story in the Temple, the heart of Jewish life and faith at the time.

Without Hanukkah, the celebration of Christ’s birth could very well have not been possible. So as you wish friends and family Merry Christmas this year, you might also like to wish them Happy Hanukkah! 


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog” 

How God Saved the Jewish People

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, placed his reputation and political career on the line to warn the U.S. Congress of the dangers of a nuclear Iran. His historic speech on March 3rd just happened to take place one day before the start of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The meaning of this was clear to many Christians and Jews, that history had come full circle, and Netanyahu stood as an Esther, pleading with the leaders of the United States to stop this evil Haman, in ancient Persia, and his plans to annihilate Israel.

The Jewish people have at various times faced threats so serious they were considered “existential”—a threat to their very existence. For example, the Jews of Europe are now questioning their future on the continent due to rising anti-Semitism, and many scholars are proclaiming there is no future for Jews there anymore.

They are now joining a long list of persecuted Jewish communities who, over the last 150 years, have been forced to abandon centuries of historic ties in other lands, and return to their ancient homeland where they could at least defend themselves and secure their own future. As a result, the largest Jewish community in the world now resides in Israel, but faces a very serious existential threat of its own from Iran.

Modern day Hamans in Iran—ancient Persia-- are devising an evil plot to annihilate Israel while building the nuclear and conventional weapons capable of doing so. One cannot help but see the eerie parallels between this current situation and the story in the book of Esther, in which the largest Jewish community of her time was also under a threat of annihilation.

As Jews around the world are reading the book of Esther this month, and celebrating the miraculous Purim story, it is a good time to apply some key elements of the story to our day.

The Seriousness of the Plot

There have been a number of Hamans throughout history who have threatened and even attempted the annihilation of the Jewish people. One would have to concede that Adolf Hitler was a perfect example of a modern Haman.

The seriousness of the threat in the book of Esther was amplified by the fact that the bulk of the Jews of that day lived in the Persian Empire. If Haman had succeeded in killing the Jews of Persia, it would have ended the existence of the Jewish people altogether. There would have been no one to later return and rebuild Jerusalem such as we read about in the book of Nehemiah.

There would have been no Jewish people left to birth the Messiah, Jesus, who came in fulfillment of God’s promises to their fathers. God’s plan would have failed and it would have been all over. For this reason, we should all be celebrating the miraculous deliverance of the Jews of Persia along with our Jewish friends during Purim this month.
The fact that today’s Haman is found in the very same geographic location as the first one – ancient Persia—does give one pause. History seems to have come full circle and that in itself should have our full attention.

Esther

God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, yet His hand can be seen busy at work in many elements of the story. Most notably is the way He used the courageous Jewish girl, Hadassah, who became Queen Esther. She risked her life to go before the King and uncover the plot of Haman, a man who was so powerful the people of Persia had to bow down to him and pay homage. She knew that if her plan failed, it would not only mean her death, but that of her people.

However, the King accepted her request for an audience, and granted her anything she asked. Esther was then faced with a grave dilemma: how to stop the execution of Haman’s plan. Haman had issued the royal decree, sealed with the King’s signet ring, that in all provinces of the Persian Empire, from India to Ethiopia, the Jews were to be killed on a specific day. The King’s royal decree was law and could not be rescinded.

The Right of Self Defense

There was no changing the fact that the Jewish people were going to be attacked, so a new royal decree was issued giving them the right of self-defense. And that is how the Jewish people survived the plan of Haman. They fought back.

Today, the people of Israel have also been granted the right of self-defense when they established a state and were accepted into the United Nations in 1948. While Israel is pleading with the United States, and indeed the international community, to place enough pressure on Iran to make them give up their evil plan, it increasingly seems as if, once again, the Jewish people’s only recourse will be that of self-defense.

Calling all Mordecais

Esther was not the only heroin of the story; in fact, Mordecai was just as essential to God’s plan. It was Mordecai, a good loyal citizen, who uncovered a plot against the King and saved the empire. He seemed to be a man of intelligence who had discernment and his “ear to the ground.”

He wisely counseled his niece, Hadassah, not to reveal her Jewishness in the competition to be Queen. And it was Mordecai who alerted Queen Esther to Haman’s plan and pleaded with her not to consider her own life, but that of her people. At the end of the story, Mordecai was elevated to Haman’s previous position and given authority to use the King’s seal. It was Mordecai who issued the royal decree granting the right of self-defense to the Jews of Persia.

The people of Israel desperately need Mordecais and Esthers today who have discernment, strategy and are willing to speak up. Since the United States is a democracy, all citizens can be Mordecais and Esthers by contacting their elected representatives to make their voices known.


Do you have a question about Israel? Visit us at IsraelAnswers.com and get it answered!


For more than thirty years, Susan Michael has pioneered the development of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in the United States and around the world. She currently serves as the ministry’s USA Director and is a member of the ICEJ’s international Board of Directors.

 

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