David L. Larsen. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1995. 425 pages. $19.99, cloth.
Reviewed by Leslie B. Flynn, Nanuet, NY.
The three main words in the title immediately reminded me of a classic on Jewish history that has been in my library nearly thirty years: Max I. Dimont’s, Jews, God and History, written from a secular viewpoint. Larsen’s work, approximately the same length, covers somewhat the same territory but from a distinctively biblical perspective. The Jews are God’s timepiece,” the author says. “They are the key to history and prophecy.”
Like Dimont’s work, Larsen’s volume is well researched and annotated, with 100 pages of appendix, notes, glossary and indices, providing rich information, background, history, quotes, illustrations, poems and tidbits, much of which was new to me. In addition, many quotes or items are highlighted in bold print within borders. Not only does this provide material supportive of the subject under discussion, but it also helps to make the reading easier, like the use of pictures on pages of print.
In the opening section the author lays the biblical roots for his treatise—God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham, which includes the promise of the land, a seed to rule over the land and the blessing his offspring will be to all humankind. The author lists ample texts from Old Testament prophets that, speaking of the regathering of Israel and her central place among the nations, seem to go far beyond anything that Israel has yet experienced historically in the earlier returns from the Babylonian and Persian captivities, and that are to be literally fulfilled in a personal reign of Christ on earth.
Larsen brings us through the dispersion, the persecutions, the expulsions, the opposition of the Muslims and the Holocaust. He shows us that despite all of these, the inextinguishable, though often flickering, light of a glorious future of Israel found support among many: in the Puritans, among some Bible teachers in Great Britain, with leaders like Disraeli, and eventually in the Zionist movement ultimately leading to the Balfour Declaration and the midcentury miracle of the birth of Israel in 1948.
In reporting the waves of immigration to the Land of Israel, especially after its recognition as a nation, the author points out that though American Jews have been financially generous in their support of the Jewish state, they have been more reluctant to become part of the action. Only one in ten American Jews thinks Jews should live in Israel. The American immigrants to Israel are the least integrated in modern Israel.
A major section of the book addresses the future of Jews in biblical prophecy. The author does not believe that the church has replaced Israel, making a strong point that Israel is a separate entity and that the covenants and promises relative to the land are to be taken literally. His eschatology is standard pretribulational, premillennial dispensationalism. He parts company with Hal Lindsey on the interpretation of “generation” in Luke 21:32. Lindsey takes it to mean that the generation born at the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 would be alive for the Second Coming. As we move out of the 80s into the 90s, and Christ has not returned, Larsen believes that Lindsey’s date-setting brings discredit to prophetic study. When the topic turns to life in the millennium, the author allows himself a measure of curiosity and speculation, such as in his suggestion that the saints with resurrected bodies will headquarter in the New Jerusalem, which will hover over the earth like a gigantic chandelier or space model, while mortals will live on earth, but with the two groups intermingling.
The book closes with a very practical application—a call to justice, vigilance and witness. The Christian, in standing up for Jewish rights in Israel, must not lose a balanced and fair concern for Palestinian claims. It is not necessary, for instance, to give blanket endorsement to every Israeli policy. Not blind support—which can be a form of idolatry—but commitment to fairness and justice will befit those who love Israel.
Similarly, the call to vigilance requires us to firmly oppose anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head. The author reminds us that anti-Semitic computer games are being sold in Europe in which the players assume the role of Nazi commandants in a concentration camp and then gather points for torturing prisoners, extracting gold from their teeth, making their skin into lampshades, and selling their remains for soap! But we must also guard against anti-Semitism near at hand, in America—and even in our own lives.
Then we must witness, including with our money. We learn that Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, used to begin each New Year by sending a check to the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel in London, marking it “to the Jew first.” David Baron, the Jewish Christian leader who received the gift, always responded by sending his personal check to the China Inland Mission with the annotation, “and also to the Gentile.”
The author closes with a reminder that we are to take the gospel message to all peoples, including the Jews, and to the Jews first. It is a surrender of theological integrity to abstain from evangelization of Jews to maintain affability between religious communities. Jesus is the exclusive Savior, the only way to God. Sensitive and loving witness is required of all believers.
Those who want to learn more about Jewish history and God’s plan for the Jewish people from a biblical viewpoint will profit from reading Jews, Gentiles, and the Church.
Leslie B. Flynn is Pastor Emeritus of Grace Conservative Baptist church in Nanuet, NY.