British Historian Arnold J. Toynbee had a social Darwinian theory concerning the rise and inevitable fall of all nations, including Israel. In his seminal ten-volume work, A Study of History, the esteemed scholar reflected on the continuing existence of the Jewish nation despite 2000 years without a homeland. He concluded that the Jewish nation was a fossil” floating on the sea of humanity, nothing more than “a vestigial remnant,” a people destined to disappear.
That celebrated historian got it very, very wrong.
Nothing has been more perplexing to skeptics—while giving the faithful cause for thanksgiving—than the perpetuity of the nation of Israel. Despite forcible uprooting and exile from the land of her nativity, despite the lost facility of her mother tongue for common use, despite the woes of being harried and harassed, menaced and even murdered in the lands of her exile, Israel has survived and even thrived. Why is that?
It is because the God of Israel, the Creator of all things staked His own reputation on the preservation of Abraham’s descendants.
King Louis XIV of France once asked the great French philosopher Blaise Pascal to prove the existence of the miraculous. Without a moment’s hesitation, Pascal answered, “Your Majesty—it is the existence of the Jews.”
You see it was God who swore an oath to Israel, that because of her disobedience, “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste” (Leviticus 26:33). But it was not for utter destruction that Israel was exiled.
God’s eternal purpose was to preserve His people in the Diaspora and to glorify Himself in their midst. The One who promised to scatter Israel also swore an oath saying, “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24).
Today, we are witnesses of these things. After 2000 years of exile, Israel is back in the land of her nativity. With 5.9 million Jews, the size of Israel’s Jewish population now rivals that of the United States. If trends continue, within ten to twenty years more Jews will be living in the land of Israel than outside. Remarkable history is being made in our midst!
Yet another trend, not as remarkable but still quite significant, is receiving scant attention. That trend is Israeli emigration. While Jews have been returning to the homeland in record numbers since 1948, recently Israeli Jews have been leaving in droves—a kind of Israel among the nations redux. Large communities of Israelis are springing up in many countries throughout the world.
Without a doubt, Israelis are more open to the gospel than any other Jewish people in the world today. And when traveling outside of the land of Israel, they are typically more open to the gospel than ever.
That is why over the last three years, Jews for Jesus has been developing a specialized program to reach “Israel among the nations,” particularly the large Israeli backpacking community in the Far East and in South America. This program, called Massah (Hebrew for “the Journey”), has sent small bands of young Jewish believers in Jesus into remote areas to engage these backpackers and share the gospel with them.
We hope to expand and build upon the kind of ministry we’ve begun with our Massah program. But perhaps you have noticed, you don’t have to go to India or Thailand to meet Israelis. More and more Israelis are visiting major (and even not so major) metropolitan centers of the United States. There has been an influx of Israelis into such areas as Silicon Valley in California or the Route 128 corridor in Massachusetts, contributing considerable expertise to America’s high tech advantage in the world.
Many of these Israelis will eventually return home, but their sojourn in our midst present wonderful opportunities for believers in Jesus. You may not be able to travel to Israel to take part in one of our Jews for Jesus Behold Your God Israel campaigns, but you may very well have a terrific opportunity to share the Lord with Israelis that God has brought to your own backyard.*
Maybe you have noticed Israeli vendors at your local mall, selling anything from cell phones to skin products from the Dead Sea region. If not, keep your eyes open during your shopping excursions. Most Israelis are very quick to engage in conversation, and whether or not you are interested in becoming a customer, they will usually be glad to chat (so long as another customer isn’t waiting!) If you develop a rapport, be sure to visit them again on your next outing.
With the holidays coming up, our family of newsletter subscribers and supporters have a unique opportunity to reach out to Israel among our own nation. Most Israelis have never experienced an American Thanksgiving celebration or a truly Christian celebration of Christmas. Many are quite curious about these holidays and would welcome an invitation to join you and your family to celebrate one or both of these holidays in your home.
It may feel a bit awkward to invite someone you’ve only chatted with a couple or three times into your home for a family gathering, but in Israel such hospitality is common and so it would not seem at all strange to them. Besides, it is very Biblical. (See Leviticus 19:34 and Hebrews 13:2.)
Holidays provide natural occasions to share the gospel with your guests. Thanksgiving presents the most obvious opportunity in the world to share around the table the reasons we have to be grateful to God. At Christmas the simple retelling of the Incarnation story as read from Matthew or Luke, even including some of the Messianic passages from the Hebrew Bible, present a natural bridge to conversations about Yeshua (Jesus).
Many Israelis would welcome the invitation to share your joy for the holidays, and some may just be open to considering the good news as they hear it in your home and see it in your celebrations. Jews for Jesus has an ample supply of literature including Hebrew tracts, New Testaments and Hebrew Gospels of John that you might consider keeping on hand to give to your guest should the opportunity arise.
I truly believe that God is gathering His people from among the nations, but I also see God’s hand in this unusual development of Israel among the nations redux. We have a unique opportunity now—and we don’t know how long it will last—to sow gospel seeds in the hearts of Israelis in our midst and around the world. Even if we don’t see them come to faith in Jesus, God can water and bring those gospel seeds to fruition later—perhaps even when they return to Israel. By taking these opportunities to witness, all of us can have a part in God’s purposes for Israel—and for her ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ.
*Or, as in the case of a friend of ours in Washington State, at your front door! See we’re so thankful.