Hello, this is Paul Billington presenting another edition of The Bible in the News. Israel is always in the News - at least that has been the case since the modern nation of Israel was established in 1948, and even before that there was the migration of Jews to the land of Palestine leading to the Balfour Declaration, and then to the British Mandate following the First World War. Whenever Israel is in the news today this background can never be lost sight of.
What brought this about?
It came about as a result of the belief, widely held among Bible believers over two or three centuries, that the ancient nation of Israel scattered over the world for some 2000 years would be regathered to their ancient land in fulfillment of the writings of the prophets of Israel. Many writers held this view, such as for example Thomas Brightman in 1615, John Prideax in 1621, Joseph Mede in 1643, and then Powell in 1673, Pierre Jurieu, Increase Mather and more in the 1700's such as Isaac Newton, Thomas Newton, Faber, Irving, Cunningham, Bickersteth and so on. Then there were many more in the 19th Century - Alexander Keith, Faber, John Thomas and Grattan Guiness and too many more to mention.
All this produced a groundswell of religious belief which eventually found itself gaining a foothold among statesmen and political leaders such as Lord Balfour, Lloyd George and President Wilson in the United States.
The book Elpis Israel by John Thomas
has a remarkable foresight into the
return of the Jews.
But among all the writers and expositors few had the clarity of vision shown by John Thomas in his book Elpis Israel (1849). He had written:
"There is then, a partial and primary restoration of the Jews before the manifestation, which is to serve as the nucleus, or basis, of future operations in the restoration of the rest of the tribes after he has appeared in the kingdom. The pre-adventual colonization of Palestine will be on purely political principles; and the Jewish colonists will return in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus, and of the truth as it is in him. They will emigrate thither as agriculturists and traders…"
This remarkable foresight was based upon the prophetic writings of the old Testament Bible. The distinguished historian, Sir Martin Gilbert who died in February of this year, wrote extensively about the nation of Israel - mapping its history from the birth of the nation to the present.
A few years before his death I had the opportunity of speaking to him about Israel, and about the passage from John Thomas' book Elpis Israel (quoted above). It is rare that such a high-profile and distinguished historian will comment on a book dealing with Bible prophecy. But Sir Martin Gilbert did have something to say about John Thomas' work, and part of the the interview that I had with Gilbert was recorded. Here is the extract:
"As an historian I find it very inspiring that someone from a religious perspective should really be so aware of the historical currents of that time. Not just aware of them but foreseeing them very clearly. In 1849 he is talking about events that began to come to pass in 1882. That is, as he puts it so rightly, the political return of individual Jews to the biblical Land if Israel to set up farming colonies, and then the prediction that there would have to be a power-- the Great Power as it was called -- which would essentially liberate the Land so that the Jews could form their commonwealth. He uses the phrase commonwealth. It was to be some years before this happened. There was a precedent, Lord Palmerston’s interest in the area and his giving protection to the Jews of Jerusalem -- British diplomatic protection. But what Dr. Thomas is proposing is something much more comprehensive than that; he foreshadows, first of all Theodor Herzl’s political Zionism -- the First Zionist Congress of 1897, and the Balfour Declaration of 1917. He talks about British statesmen. He is fairly caustic about their abilities at the time that he is writing, but he envisages a (then future) different calibre of statesmen, of whom A.J. Balfour and then Winston Churchill -- when he was in charge of the Palestine Mandate in 1921 -- certainly fit the bill."
The Historian Martin Gilbert discusses Elpis israel.
Martin Gilbert was Jewish, of course, so we can see why he would have a particular interest in Jewish (and Israel's) history. But this raises the question for us as to his own belief in the prophets. So it was that I bluntly asked him if he believed in the prophets. Here is his reply:
"I think that a Jewish person, unless they have completely drifted away from the faith, has to put the Hebrew Prophets at the very centre of their understanding of the faith. Without the Prophets there is no evolving Judaism. And most of them are prophesying at a time when clearly the Jews had fallen on hard times, to a large extent because of their own failings, their own weaknesses. Without the Prophets Judaism becomes essentially an historic curiosity. Obviously the faith, the ethics, the Ten Commandments, would all have a relevance today in terms of how the Jewish people are going to evolve, but the prophecies are tremendously important. Partly because they do prophesy a different state of being for the Jews, and partly because they enshrine in the strongest form the ethical precepts without which the Jews are essentially told they will not achieve this position of future security, well-being and grace."
Martin Gilbert contributed much to our knowledge of Israel's modern history, and his comments upon the passage from Elpis Israel by John Thomas is a valuable endorsement of what was written about the restoration of the Jews.
Elpis Israel is a heavy volume, but as one writer has said of it:
"It is a well-written book, having benefit of being revised some 15 years after first writing. There may be difficulty with some words that are used, but a dictionary to hand will get over this. The real ground of difficulty in reading the book lies, not in its style or lack of clear expression, but in the fact it is dealing, without compromise or padding, with divine ideas; and the difficulty is in the mind raising itself to the divine point of view. This requires patience and persistence with prayer and humility.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isaiah 55:9; 66:2).
Thank you for being with us for another edition of The Bible in the News.