About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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From Balaam To Barack
"Israel's Distinctness Among the Nations"  


Balaam was an ancient pagan prophet who King Balak conscripted to curse the Jews.  While observing them from afar Balaam said; "From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them.  I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations (Numbers 23:9 NIV)."  Balaam thus concluded.  "How can I curse those who God has not cursed (Numbers 23:8)."  Balaam's observation that the Jews considered themselves to be a distinct and separate people among the peoples of the world has irritated kings, prime ministers, and presidents, throughout history.         


Menachem Begin was Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983.  When he first met President Jimmy Carter in 1978 he explained to him the distinct nature of the Jews that Balaam noted centuries earlier.  He pointed out that many religions and ethnic peoples have a variety of countries they can claim as their own, but not so with the Jews.  Jews, for one specific Biblical reason, have one country they can call their own.  Although Carter understood Begin's point, he opposed his view concerning Israel's historic place in Biblical prophecy.  Their difference of opinions made the Camp David negotiations difficult, frustrating, and at times hostile.  Eventually, Carter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan, whose admiration for the Jews stemmed from his understanding of the Bible and his experiences during World War Two.  Despite Reagan's admiration, Begin's stubborn persistence as some viewed it, ruffled many feathers within the Reagan White House.       


Reagan, but especially Carter, had knowledge of Biblical issues, but their understanding of the Old Testament was insignificant when compared to Begin's understanding.  One example of this was seen in Begin's 1982 address to the United Nations.  From his Hebrew language Bible, he read Isaiah 2.  He then proceeded to exegete the text in fine rabbinical fashion which included a detailed explanation of Hebrew words and grammar.  His love for the Hebrew Bible was also seen in a September, 1982, letter to President Reagan.  He ended the letter with one of his favourite verses.  "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain silent, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch (Isaiah 62:1 NIV)."  Begin inherited the sentiment expressed in this verse from his father.  It became the driving force in his life.  It was his relentless fight for Israel's survival that many viewed as a persistent stubbornness that prevented the peace proposal from moving forward.   


Begin believed the foundation of Jewish 
distinctiveness originated in Genesis 12.  There,
 God told Abram to leave his family, his 
homeland,  his ethnicity, and his culture.  With no conditions attached, and through Abram's descendents, God promised to create a distinctively religious cultured people who would become a great nation that we know as Israel.  Israel would be a blessing to the world.  Those who blessed Israel would be blessed and those who cursed Israel would be cursed.    


The distinctiveness of Israel among the nations was later clarified to Moses by God.  "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5 - 6 NIV).  In short, God's prize possession would be His priest, His representative, to the nations.  For this specific reason the Jews have only one nation they can rightly call their own; a nation that is constantly contested.  This was fundamental to the formulation of Begin's foreign policy, a policy that frustrates world leaders to this day.   


We know the history.  Although Israel promised to obey God (Exodus 19:8, 24:3), it didn't.  So, like many who embrace Replacement Theology, Carter believed, and still does believe, that Israel forfeited its international priestly responsibilities because it failed to obey their God.  Begin, however, stood firm on his conviction that the Old Testament predicted the day when Israel would return to its land, to its God, and also to its priestly responsibilities.  The prophet Daniel put it this way.  God's court will sit and "The sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people (Jews) of the Most High (Daniel 7:26 - 27 NIV)."


We're now 32 years removed from Begin's prime ministership and 34 years removed from Carter's presidency.  Barack Obama has ripped a page fro
m both Balak's and Carter's memoirs by
disregarding  the distinctiveness of Israel among the nations.  Although I can do nothing about that, I'm more thrilled than ever.  Menachem Begin's vision for Israel will be realized when the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel's Messiah, returns to Jerusalem.  Of course, the fact that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will return to Israel implies that He has been there before.  It thus saddens me to know that a man so dedicated to his understanding of God and Old Testament truths as Begin was, missed the first coming of his Messiah.  Still, I'm convinced that the same Jesus who rescued me from the penalty of my sin will rescue what the Bible calls the "remnant of Israel " from its sin.


"On that day, a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.  On that day, I will banish the names of their idols from their land, and they will be remembered no more, declares the Lord God Almighty (Zechariah 13:1 - 2 NIV).  Until then, Christians must follow the prophet Daniel's lead.  While exiled in Babylon he noted from Jeremiah 25:12 that God would free the Jews after 70 years of captivity.  Daniel didn't sit around waiting for Israel's freedom.  In a spirit of repentance, he interceded on Israel's behalf.  We should do the same, despite all of the Balak's of this world.    

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