This article is a condensation of Chapter VII, "The Present State of Israel," of the soon-to-be-published volume, The Restless Land—Israel in History and Prophecy. This volume is scheduled for release by the Review and Herald Publishing Association, November 1, 1974.
TODAY the state of Israel exists as a nation in Palestine, and approximately one sixth of the world's Jewish population reside there as citizens of the country. The establishment of the Jewish state of Israel has become a fact of modern history. It is important, however, that we recognize a distinct difference between the present return of some Jews to Pales tine, and a promised return based on conditional promises that were never met. There is considerable difference between an occupancy of the land and the restoration of which the promises speak.
The Israel of Old Testament times was a theocracy. As such, her supreme ruler was Cod. The highly organized legal system given through Moses at Mount Sinai for His chosen people embraced every phase of life—religious, social, and political. There was no separation between church and state. The words of the Lord to His people were, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:6).
As a "holy nation" Israel was to exist as an independent commonwealth, or political entity, among the nations, with God as King and Lawgiver. Thus Israel was to be a theocracy under the direct government of God.
When the Israelites first settled in Canaan, they acknowledged the principles of the theocracy, and the nation prospered under the good rule of Joshua. In the course of time, however, they became dissatisfied, and asked for a change in government, demanding a king. The reason they gave was: "That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles" (1 Sam. 8:20). Thus they made it clear that they wanted less of God's direction and rule in their lives.
When Samuel the prophet expressed displeasure at this request the Lord informed him, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (verse 7).
Not only did the Jews reject the government God intended for them but later the Messiah as well. At the close of the 490 day-year prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 probation ran out for them as a theocratic nation.
A New Ruler in Israel
When Jesus came, He began His preaching on a distinctly theocratic note: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of Cod is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of which He spoke was the kingdom of grace entered into through repentance, faith, and personal acceptance of Himself as the Messiah, Saviour, and Lord.
Those who formed the nucleus of the early Christian church were referred to by Peter in language similar to that of Exodus 19:6: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
The apostle John speaks of those who have been made free through the blood of Jesus as "kings and priests," or, according to Phillips' translation, as "a kingdom of priests" (Rev. 1:6).* Cod's kingdom is today made up of all who accept the rulership of King Jesus over their lives. This relationship crosses all racial boundaries. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Creek. We are all one in Him.
The time is yet to come when the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Messiah will return to earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. He Himself has said: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Matt. 25:31). Then the redeemed of all the ages will shout, "The kingdoms of this world are be come the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). It is then, that "the Lord Cod shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1: 32, 33). This will be done in fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel 2:44 and 7:14, 22, 27. When this long-awaited event has taken place, the ultimate and permanent theocracy of true Israel, spoken of by the prophets, will become a reality. Then the promises made to Abraham and to his seed will be fully fulfilled. Then, and then only, will God's "will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).
In the light of these salient facts, how shall we regard the present return of the Jews to Palestine? A study of the Zionist movement, which brought forth the establishment of the present Jewish state, reveals it to be basically secular. As such it could never meet the specifications of the promised fulfillment.
Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, is usually characterized as an irreligious man. A reading of his sensational treatise Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), first published in 1896, indicates that this movement was a purely political plan, inspired by philanthropy and pity toward the many suffering Jews in exile. It was to be achieved by political and financial negotiations.
How have the plans of Herzl worked out for the Zionist state of Israel? While in Israel in 1965 the writer attended a lecture by Dr. Shlomo Avinery, a member of the faculty of Hebrew University, in which he discussed government in Israel. "Zionism," he emphasized, "was purely a secular, political movement without a religious aspect." "In a sense," he continued, "it grew up as revolt against religious life as lived by the Jews in the exiled countries."
Dr. Mordecai Kaplan, speaking for Reconstructionist Judaism, has declared, "The State of Israel must not be counted on to be a theocratic state, governed by a supernaturally revealed law. It will have to be a democratic state, governed by laws, in the making of which non-Jews will have a share. Judaism, as the religious civilization of the entire Jewish people, must detach its destiny from any kind of political state."— Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers, p. 402.
Because of the secular nature of the Zionist movement, it was opposed for many years by Orthodox Jewish leaders. Still many of the Jews seeking refuge in Pales tine were of the Orthodox faith. One of the real problems in Israel today is that posed by the continuing conflict between the Orthodox and the more liberal jews. The state of Israel presently gives Orthodox Judaism token recognition and collaboration, but is not united with her in the concept of a theocracy. Orthodox Judaism, on the other hand, insists that the state of Israel must change its present status and identify itself with Judaism as the Orthodox define it.
The strongest opponent to Israel's synagogue-state relation ship is the new Civil Rights Party, headed by Mrs. Shulamit Aloni, which surprisingly won three seats in the December 31, 1973, New Year's Eve election. She battled openly against "religious coercion." "Israel," she declared, "is a theocracy known in public as a secular state which is selling out basic human rights and freedom of conscience."—Newsweek, Jan. 21, 1974.
Prof. Ephraim Urbach of He brew University argues, "The mixing of politics and religion is damaging to the cause of religion. . . . Religion would attract many more if it were not forced down our throats by the rabbinate."—Ibid.
A Restless People
There is a growing restlessness among Israeli citizens over the undue restrictions imposed on them by the Orthodox rabbinate. Every effort on the part of Orthodox leaders to put that nation under a fully religio-political regime of government is obviously doomed to failure. Even if it succeeded, it would be a far cry from the state of peace and tranquillity depicted in the prophecies of the restoration.
The trend, however, is clearly toward a greater liberalism. Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, head of the Reform Commission on Israel, sees "liberal" Judaism playing a major role in the future state of Israel. He declares that two thirds of all Israeli Jews "don't believe in Cod in a formal, religious sense." This Reform clergyman is now the director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem. Religious News Service, of October 25, 1972, commenting on this fact, reports that "the Chief Rabbis do not recognize him as a rabbi," but points out that "the existence of the World Union of Progressive Judaism in Israel, like the Hebrew Union College there, is evidence that no government hostility to nonorthodox Judaism exists."
According to Dr. Avinery, at least 70 per cent of the Jews in Israel are irreligious. This he said was due partly to the reaction to Orthodox Judaism, but primarily to the secular nature of Zionism.
Dr. Kaplan, commenting on the Orthodox rabbinate, writes, "This reduces religion to a form of authoritarian clericalism which degrades and corrupts it. Instead of relying on its ability to satisfy the spiritual needs of Jews, it comes to depend on coercion and the police power of the state. Its main concern becomes the political defense of the vested interests of the rabbinate and other religious functionaries rather than the cultivation of the spirit of piety and sincere devotion to spiritual and ethical values. Only a free religion can be a sincere religion, and a religion that is dependent on the state and partisan politics cannot be free."— Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers, pp. 414, 415.
The student of the Scriptures will find it very difficult to find in the rise and development of the present Jewish state, and in conditions in the state of Israel today, a fulfillment, or even the prospects of fulfillment, of the glorious promises of the ancient prophets. Actually, Israelites, whether Jew or Gentile, do not see their future within the narrow geographical confines of Jerusalem. They look forward, rather, to a far better and more glorious fulfillment of the promise.
* From The New Testament in Modern English, © J. B. Phillips 1958. Used by permission of The Macmilian Company.