Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Isaiah 66:10-14 Rejoice Over Jerusalem

KEY TEXT: Isaiah 66:12-14 This is what the Lord says: "I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity. The wealth of the nations will flow to her. Her children will be nursed at her breasts, carried in her arms, and held on her lap. I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child." When you see these things, your heart will rejoice. You will flourish like the grass! Everyone will see the Lord's hand of blessing on his servants—and his anger against his enemies. (NLT)

KEY THOT: I couldn’t helping thinking that Isaiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem will be a “river of peace and prosperity” is a reference to modern Israel founded in 1948 rather than to ancient Israel restored under Ezra-Nehemiah in 536 BC until its destruction in AD 70. The reason I believe this prophecy concerns modern Israel is the mention of “the wealth of nations will flow to her” (v.12). This did not happen in ancient Israel. In fact, ancient Israel was trampled upon and oppressed by foreign powers: starting with the depopulation of Samaria by the Assyrians in 782 BC, then the deportation by the Babylonians, the colonization by the Greeks and Romans and its final destruction by the Romans in AD 70. 

Modern Israel is a small nation similar to Singapore (about 7 million against Singapore's 5.5 millions). Its GDP in 2014 was $304 billion versus Singapore's $308 billion). But that is where the similarities end. Unlike Singapore, Israel is the world leader in technological innovations that have blessed and enriched the nations of the world. From the ubiquitous cell phone and flash drives to Waze GPS; from the first PC Intel 8088 microprocessor that launched the PC revolution to the latest medical innovation like capsule endoscopy (PillCam); from solar power innovations to new drone technologies--Israel has been the source of creative technological innovations that have changed our world. 

Israel has also transformed what was once a largely a desert land called Palestine in 1948 to become a net exporting economy for agricultural products to the world with more trees planted annually than anywhere else. With a population that comprises only 0.2% of the world’s population, Jews or people of Jewish descent have won a total of 41% of all the Nobel Prizes in economics, 28% of medicine, 26% of physics, 19% of chemistry, 13% of literature and 9% of all peace awards. No wonder Israel has earned the title as the Start-up Nation.

Currently, more than 250 foreign companies have their R&D centers in Israel, including well-known brands like Apple, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Google, Microsoft, Scandisk, Seagate, etc. They are there to milk on Israeli innovations for their own prosperity: “For you will nurse from her satisfying breasts and be nourished; you will feed with joy from her milk-filled breasts. For this is what the Lord says: Look, I am ready to extend to her prosperity that will flow like a river, the riches of nations will flow into her like a stream that floods its banks” (Isaiah 66:11-12, NET). At no other time in Israel’s history has this happen--that the riches of the nations flowed back into Israel as it is happening today. So, modern Israel's existence is a fulfillment of OT prophecy.

So, why should this concern us as Christians? Firstly, we are called to rejoice with Jerusalem, not despise her: “Rejoice with Jerusalem! Be glad with her, all you who love her and all who mourn for her” (v.10). In contrast, Satan is stirring the nations of the world to hate the Jews and blame them for the woes of the world instead of acknowledging our indebtedness to Israel. For without Israel, we would not have the Church and the world would not have benefited from Israel's innovations. 

Furthermore, Israel and the Church now share a common destiny through Christ. Paul declares in Ephesians 2:14-16 that Christ came to break down this wall of hostility between Israel and the Church: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” 

So Israel is as much part of Christ's body as the church is. Some think this unity refer only to messianic Jews, not the nation of Israel. While this is surely true as not all Jews are believers in their Yahweh, the God of Abraham, I also believe that Israel as a people is still God's people on account of the covenant He made with Abraham. This is the supreme example of grace and election: God chose Israel not because they are special. They are special because God chose them.

I think this is also Paul's understanding. He describes Gentile believers being absorbed into Israel with their covenants, rather than Jewish believers being absorbed into the Church: "remember that at that time you (Gentile believers) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13). Gentiles were brought into the commonwealth of Israel because of Christ, but Israel is already in the commonwealth because of their own special covenants which God through Abraham. Before Christ, they were already God's people through their own covenants. And the covenants were not abrogated but completed by Christ. Christ's covenant opens the door of the citizenship to all Gentiles.

Jesus spoke about this spiritual reality of Gentile believers joining the Jewish "sheep pen": "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16). To read this in its Jewish context, we must remember that the first disciples and the first NT church were entirely Jewish, including Jesus himself. The Jewish believers comprise "this sheep pen". The Gentile believers that came later are the "other sheep that are not of this sheep pen". They were added into the Jewish sheep pen only from Acts 10, starting with Cornelius' household.

So as Christians we must pray for Israel as God's special people for we share a common destiny with Israel. Israel's prosperity will be ours and her persecution will ultimately also become ours. The Jihadists hate both Jews and Christians for they see them as one. We cannot curse Israel without cursing ourselves too, for we are now one through Christ, the Seed of Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3-4).

NOTE: I'm not a spoke-person for any particular denomination, as I consider myself non-denomination. If you disagree with me regarding Israel, that's fine. I try to interpret Scripture accurately, not to promote any particular denominational doctrine. 

Father, deliver us from our short-sightedness. Enlarge our hearts to see that You’ve not abandoned Your people Israel and that we share a common destiny with Israel today. Amen.

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