CHAPTER IV

ISRAEL'S DOWNFALL AND WANDERINGS

Israel is the covenant people of God (Amos. 3: 2; Psa. 147:19,20), set apart for the purpose of spreading the message of salvation among the peoples of the world. This great, twofold purpose of its vocation corresponds to all God's leading in its history.

I. ISRAEL'S EDUCATION

(I) Divine training for separation (1900-586 B.C.). " Get thee out from thy fatherland and thy kindred "-Israel's history begins with this command of God to Abram. "Thus it begins with separation, and, centuries long, all the ways of God with Israel tend to its separation, its seclusion, so as to strengthen its character as a people.

The 'hedge' of the law (Eph.2:14; Psa. 147: 19, 20), Palestinian Judaism, the Hebrew Old Testament, the temple in Jerusalem, these are the four chief testimonies to this education of the people."

But after a millennium and a half, there is a change; and from then onwards, again through centuries, all is directed to the scattering of Israel among the nations. The turning point is the captivity in Babylon (606-536 B.C.).

(2) Divine training for world-wide service. From the Babylonian captivity (606 or 586), there entered

alongside of the Palestinian Judaism the Judaism of the Dispersion, the Diaspora (see Jas. 1:1; Acts 2: 5-11):

alongside of the temple the synagogues, devoted rather to teaching than to sacrifice, but creating in all cities and lands new centres of Jewish life:

alongside of the Hebrew Old Testament the Greek translation, the Septuagint (LXX), destined to bring the law and the prophets and the melodious psalms of David not to the Jews of the Dispersion only, but also to the Gentiles.

Palestinian Judaism, with the temple and the Hebrew Old Testament, was in the highest degree a centralizing power; there also the innumerable communities of Jews living in the heathen world had their centre of gravity. On the other hand, the Diaspora, with the synagogue and the Septuagint, was a far-spreading power, ever striving after expansion. Through them Israel became a messenger of God, a missionary in the heathen world.

And yet-what happened? In everything Israel opposed the plan of God.

II. Israel's Failure.

(I) From the giving of the law until the Babylonian captivity (1500-586 B.C.) Israel's chief sin was idolatry (Exod. 3 2; Judges 2: 17; 10:6; I Kings11:5; II Kings 16: 3, 4; Ezek. 8; etc.). This means that in the very period in which all the Divine education aimed at seclusion and separation from the peoples of the world, Israel maintained idolatrous intercourse and fellowship with them, and also political union (Isa. 39; Hos. 7: 11). Against Divine exclusion they set fleshly inclusion, against centripetal force centrifugal, against holy love faithless whoredom (Ezek. 16 and 23; Hos. 1-3; Isa. 1: 21). And therefore, after centuries of patience, the sentence of God over guilty Jerusalem ran: "This city has been to me a cause of wrath and anger from the day that it was built until this day; wherefore I will cast it away from my presence" (Jer. 32: 31).

Nebuchadnezzar came. Jerusalem was destroyed and thc kingdom of Judah carried into captivity (586 B.C.). But then came to pass the Jewish miracle. In Babylon Israel was cured of Babylon. Babylon itself, "the mother of all whoredom and idolatry" (Rev. 17: 5), became the place of cure for the whorish people. Here, in the central city "of all the abominations on earth" (Rev. 17: 5), was the Jewish nation liberated from Babylonian idolatry, and with fresh tasks and aims the believing remnant of Israel returned from captivity (538).

(2) From the Babylonian captivity (538) onward all the ways of God with Israel were directed to preparing it for its world-wide mission among the nations. But what did the people do now? It secluded itself and in proud self-exaltation despised the Gentiles as unclean "dogs." Particularly under the leadership of the Pharisees, the separated,'' 1 this carnal emphasis upon their privileged standing reached its highest point.

1the word Pharisee is derived from the Hebrew parash, seperated, secluded. It was in this spirit that the Pharisees carried on the work of making proselytes: Matt. 23:15.

So now Israel-precisely as contrary as before-against Divine universalism set a self-righteous nationalism, against world association a religious withdrawal from the world, against the mission to the peoples the centralizing of the People; and just as formerly, when God wished separation they practised association, so now when God wished association they cultivated separation. Thus at all times they were a people stiffnecked and resisting (Acts 7: 51), "people whose heart always prefers the wrong way" (Psa. 95: 10).

But Israel reached the highest point of its sin at the time of Christ. By a triple gradation-by the rejection of the message of the kingdom of the heavens (Matt. 23: 37), by the murder of the Messiah on Golgotha (Acts 7: 52), and by the rejection of the testimony of the resurrection (Acts 4: 2, 3, 21; 7: 51, 58; 13: 46; 28: 25-28)-Israel committed the sin of all sins, the rejection of the Son of God. And henceforth it stood under the Divine judgment.

Now the two "poles" of its character are in disharmony; and in fairly regular alternation Israel's history sways between avowed accommodation to the nations among whom it is dispersed, and decided emphasis upon its racial individuality.

In either case, such an attitude must lead to collapse.

III. ISRAEL'S DOWNWARD COURSE

Israel's course was downward. The downfall was completed in three great stages. At first the people had

(I) the direct rule of God: from Moses to Samuel (1500-1100). Born as a nation at Sinai, Abraham's descendants had God Himself as " King: " " ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation " (Exod. 19: 5, 6; 15:18). " Moses has given us the law . . . so is he (God) king in Jeshurun" (the "upright" the "righteous," that is, Israel in its ideal vocation) (Deut.33: 5, and see 32: 15). Moses, Joshua, and the fourteen judges to Samuel inclusive were nothing else than mandatories for the time being of the Lord, for the performance of appointed individual tasks, longer or shorter. Then they sometimes even returned again to private life (see Judges 8: 29-32). There was no earthly kingdom. Gideon expressly declined it (Judges 8: 23), and the only one- his son Abimelech-who set one up did so in opposition to God and went miserably to ruin (Judges 9).

The earthly instruments of the heavenly King were the prophets(Deut.18:15), the priests(Deut.33:8-11), and the heroes('judges, saviours, bringers of salvation,' Judges 3:9): and even the leadership of these men did not in the least rest upon any external legal title, such as birth(Judges 11:1) vote, or position, but solely upon the inner call of God(Judges 2:16;3:15,etc.). There was no permanent external central government, descent and its faith; and the tabernacle at Shiloh, as the common centre of the public worship of God, was the visible expression of this unity(Josh. 18:1, 10;19:51; I Sam. 1:3; 4:3).

But this whole constitution was too "bad" because it was too good. Only in a people devoted to God could it be fruitful. In the contrary case, it could not but operate to some extent as a " kingless" time. And exactly so it was with Israel (Judges 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Therefore came at last the desire for a visible king (I Sam. 8).

Thence began the second period:

(2) The indirect rule of God: from Saul to Zedekiah (1000-586). Only with reluctance did God grant the request, for from the standpoint of the kingdom of God an earthly kingdom was a retrograde step, indeed, a rejection of Jehovah (I Sam. 8: 7). Nevertheless God held fast to His kingly rights. Centuries later He was still praised by the prophets and psalmists as the true king of Israel: "The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King" (Isa. 33: 22, with 6: 5; 43: 15; Jer. 10:10; Psa. 2: 6).

Out of this arose the peculiar position of the "king" of Israel. Because Jehovah is the actual King, the earthly kings are only viceroys, only a dynasty of hereditary governors with the title of king; wherefore also the choice was not a democratic election by the people, but rested entirely in the hand of God (Deut.17:15), Who announced it through the mouth of prophets (I Sam. 10:1; 16: 1). The people possessed only the right of "installation", that is, of public recognition (I Sam. 11:15; II Sam. 2: 4; 5: 1ff.). The king was nothing more than "prince over the inheritance of Jehovah" (I Sam. 10:1) and therefore king entirely by the "grace of God." And further, because in Israel the spiritual office stood nearer than the secular to the heavenly King, therefore, in the history of the kingdom of God, the prophets in Israel stood above the kings and were their counsellors, conscience, eyes, ears, guardians, and supervisors.

But even within this period, marked already by a much lower rule of God, Israel went downhill, and this again in three descending stages.

First they had

the united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon, ( 1050-950);

then after the division of the kingdom (975 or about 940)

the double kingdom, the divided Israel-Judah, until the

Assyrian captivity (722 B.C.); and finally only

the remnant kingdom, " Judah " the two southern tribes(722-586).

With its last king, Zedekiah, the visible kingdom finally broke up completely; and thence forward Israel had only this last, namely:

(3) The Suspended Rule of God, i.e. the rule of God without formal legal arrangements. This exists from 586 B.C. until the establishment of the kingdom of Messiah. With Nebuchadnezzar began the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21-24). Since the destruction of Jerusalem Israel has stood under the rule of the nations of the world. 2 Not even the Maccabees' fight for freedom could alter this [168-141 B.C. (63)]. As in a game, Palestine passed like a ball from one hand to another; the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks (Macedonians), the Ptolemies (Egyptians), the Seleucids (Syrians), and then, after the Maccabees, the Romans, were lords of the land.

2For the present this has ceased by the setting up of the Jewish State in 1948. But they are to be dominated and oppressed by the last Gentile monarch, the Antichrist. Dan. 9:27; Luke 21:20-24; II Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13. [Trans.]

At last Israel was even exiled out of the land (especially after the rising under the false Messiah, Bar-Kochba-A.D. 132-135); since when, in consequence of the judgment of God, according to the testimony of the Old Testament itself, the people have been wandering as despised aliens among the nations. Nor are they only "a reproach and scorn, a byword and a curse in all places ' (Jer. 24: 9; 25:18; 26: 6; 29: 18; 42: 18), but Moses said specifically: "thou shalt find no ease among these nations, and thou shalt find no rest for the sole of thy foot, but Jehovah will give thee there an always trembling heart, and eyes languishing from longing, and an anguished soul . . . At the morning thou wilt say, Oh, that it were already evening! and at even thou wilt wish, Oh, that it were already morning! because of the anxiety of thy heart which thou shalt feel, and because of the sight of the terrors which shall stand before shine eyes" (Deut. 28:65, 67).

And Jehovah Himself, the God of the Old Testament, says: "As an enemy have I smitten thee with cruel chastisement on account of the greatness of thy guilt . . . on account of the multitude of thy sins have I inflicted on thee this great sorrow" (Jer. 30: 14,15). And Jeremiah mourns: "Unsparingly has Jehovah wasted all the dwelling-places of Israel . . . Jehovah is become as an enemy. He has destroyed Israel" (Lam. 2: 1-5; comp. Isa. 63: 10). And thus through the judgment-wrath of God Himself the Jewish people is laden with lasting "reproach" and "shame" (Jer. 23: 39, 40), yea, to be a terrifying example of misery for all the peoples of the earth (Jer. 24: 9).

And yet "the grace-gifts and calling of God are unregretted" [on His side] (Rom. 11:29). The"enemies"remain nevertheless, "beloved" (Rom. 11:28). The "root" is holy (Rom. 11:16), and, for the sake of Abrabam, His "friend" (Isa. 41:8; Deut. 7: 8), even in judgment God holds fast to His promises; "and even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, will I not reject them and not abhor them, so as to exterminate them and to break my covenant vvith them, for I am Jehovah, their God, says Jehovah" (Lev. 26: 44, 45)

IV. ISRAEL'S PRESERVATION

In three chief times of distress Israel experienced preservation by God: in the Egyptian, Assyrian-Babylonian, and Roman exiles.

(I) The Distress in Egypt (about 1500 B.C.) was a "reproach of Christ" (Heb. 11:26). What Pharoah did, was, without his knowledge, 3 a battle of the "serpent" against the "woman's seed" (Gen. 3: 15). For with the extermination of the Jews the coming of the Redeemer would have been made impossible, because, since Abraham, the promise concerning the Seed of the woman and the Treader-down of the serpent was definitely connected with this people (Gen. 12: 1-3; John 4: 22 ; Gal. 3:16). Thus at the outset of the ]ewish development the history of the " kingdom " stands behind all history of State and people. Israel suffered in Egypt on account of the Messiah; and through the expression "reproach of Christ" the letter to the Hebrews testifies that already then the prophet Moses had possibly some presentiment of this super-historical background (Deut. 18: 15; 34:10).

3Comp. Luther's word: "non agunt, sed aguntur." "They think to push, and are pushed."

But God, with uplifted hand and outstretched arm, led the people out of the "iron-smelting furnace" of Egypt (Deut. 4: 20; Ex. 6: 6; Ezek. 20:5).

(2) The Assyrian-Babylonian Distress (722 B.C. ff., and 606-536) was the disgrace of sin (II Kings 17:7). The Captivity came because the children of Israel were adulterous" through idolatry (Host 1-3; Ezek. 16 and 23), had loaded themselves with "abommations" (Ezek. 8: 13), "filled the land with violence" (Ezek. 8: 17), and thus had made themselves "utterly unprofitable" (Jer. 13: 7). That it lasted for exactly seventy years corresponded with the disregarded sabbatical years in the preceding centuries (II Chron. 36: 21; comp. Lev.26: 34, 35). Then, in Babylon itself, God called-besides Daniel-the prophet Ezekiel, "the Moses of the Exile;" and in Cyrus, the mighty warrior, the founder of the Persian empire, He granted to them the longdesired liberator (Isa. 45: 1-7; Ezra 1:1-4).

(3) The Roman Distress was and is disgrace for the sin of sins, the rejection of the Messiah. Therefore it is the longest and the hardest (Deut. 28: 49-68). It begins with the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, and ends with the setting up of the kingdom of Messiah at the return of Christ. For, prophetically, the last of the four empires of Daniel endures to the end of the age (Dan. 2 and 7). " His blood come upon us and upon our children" (Matt. 27: 25). This word, spoken by themselves, stands as a flaming token of judgment over this history which covers millenniums.

" Israel must, indeed, be dumb if one asks them today: Tell me, pray: How can it be that the Eternal sent the fathers out of their land into captivity in Babylon for only seventy years, on account of all the abominations and idolatry by which they for centuries defiled the Holy Land:-and now Israel has been dispersed among all peoples for over eighteen hundred years, and Jerusalem, the city of the Grreat King, is trodden down by the nations until this day? What, then, is the great and terrible blood-guiltiness which perpetually prevents you from dwelling in peace in the land of your fathers?-But Israel is not willing to know! "

And yet it is precisely its sin against its Messiah that is indeed the root of Israel's misery. The hatred of the cross has made the Jewish soul the "tormenting thorn in the world." The Jewish people stands henceforth under the "curse of the flight from the cross." "Hence the restlessness and lack of peace of the eternal Jew, because he has never inwardly done with the figure of Jesus Christ. The flight from the cross has made him a homeless fugitive in the world. The rebellion against the cross has made him the leader of so very much rebellion against God on earth."

But also exactly at this point occurs a chief riddle of history, even the continuance of the Jewish people in spite of the numerous periods of judgment into which God caused unbelieving Israel again and again to fall. 4 The laws which govern the existence of many other peoples are in part explicable by the philosophy of history. But Israel's development mocks at all explanation. For, in spite of everything, Israel is Jehovah's people, and the Lord its God is a God Who hides Himself (Isa. 45:15). Every Jew is a walking mystery.

4August A.D. 70--Destruction of Jerusalem, 1,100,000 Jews killed. A.D. 132-135.--Defeating of Bar-Kochba, 500,000 Jews killed. May to july 1096--12,000 Jews killed in the Rhineland, Germany. 1 Nov. 1290--Expulsion of all Jews(over 16,000) from England, under threat of punishment by hanging. Permission to return only after 370 years. 20 April to Autumn 1298--100,000 Jews killed in Franconia, Bavaria and Austria. Sept. 1306--Expulsion of 100,000 Jews from France under threat of death penalty. 2 Aug. 1492--Expulsion of 300,000 Jews from Spain by the Inquisition under threat of the death penalty. Nov. 1648--laughter of 12,000 Jews in Narol, Poland, by the Cossacks. 1648-1658--Death of about 400,000 Polish Jews in the Russo-Polish-Swedish war. 1939-1945--Murder of many hundreds of thousands of Jews during the years of the second world-war.

V. ISRAEL'S HOPE

Indeed, " if, according to the testimony of the prophets (Isa. 53; Luke 24: 26, 27), the claim of Jesus to be the true Messiah must first be sealed by suffering and rejection, then Israel's title to this very Messiah can never through such rejection be annulled or cancelled." Much rather will the Lord redeem all His promises to Abraham and David; and then will "Jacob" be changed to "Israel," the "thornbush" (Exod. 3: 2) into a fruitbearing "fig tree" (Host 9: 10). Comp. Isa. 55:13. And as Israel is now a curse among the nations, so will it be at last an abundant blessing (Zech. 8: 13). "Where the sin has overflowed, the grace has become still more unbounded" (Rom. 5: 20). And as in the course of history all races have co-operated in Israel's judgment-the Hamites in Egypt, the Semites in Assyria and Babylon, and the Japhethites in the general exile; so will they one day in the kingdom of glory all together, along with Israel, be blessed (Isa. 2:2-4; 19: 24, 25). "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments, how untraceable his ways! To him be glory for ever. Amen " (Rom. 11:33, 36).

Previous Chapter/Table of Contents/Next Chapter