The history of modern Israel holds a fascination for me, so when I came upon a television documentary on one of the heroes of early Israel, Mordechai “Motti” Hod, I found myself riveted.

Hod’s was a life of “firsts.” He was the grandson of one of the first settlers in Metullah, a northern village in Israel dating back to 1896. Hod’s father was one of the founders of the first kibbutz in the Land in 1910. Born in 1926, Motti Hod was the first pilot to earn his wings in the Israeli Air Force. By the age of 40, he was commander of the Israeli Air Force, and his brilliant “Quarter to Eight” strategy was actually credited with “winning” the Six Day War.

Basically, Hod looked at the usual flight patterns for the Arab defense forces and noticed that between 7:30 A.M. and 8:00 A.M., a shift change left enemy planes vulnerable. Using almost all of Israel’s planes, Hod planned a surprise attack at precisely 7:45 A.M. It worked; the enemy planes were destroyed and the war was won.

After many years in military service, Hod went on to be president of El Al Airlines and in his late sixties earned a PhD. This remarkable man was reflecting on his life in an on-camera interview as part of the documentary. He commented that he didn’t consider himself religious, but he was convinced that he was a person with a destiny and that all people have a destiny. He believed that people could either choose to improve or expand their destiny or else ignore it.

Hod was also quoted as saying that while secular in orientation, he had dedicated his life to Israel because the Bible declared that ancient Israel belonged to the Jews. He therefore regarded Jewish possession of the Land as necessary to Jewish life.

If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. How can he have it both ways?” then you’ve tuned in to a deep and far reaching paradox that has been characteristic of many of my people all the way back to the formation of the modern state of Israel and even before. In this, I think that Israel gives us insight into a paradox that is more common than you might think.

When the document declaring the establishment of the state of Israel was written, the issue of religion was hotly debated. The religious leaders wanted to indicate trust in God and the secularist leaders did not. Both sides finally settled on the phrase “Placing our trust in the ‘Rock of Israel,'” which could refer either to the Almighty or to the Land itself.

David Ben Gurion, the architect of the document, said: “Each of us in his own way believes in the ‘Rock of Israel’ as he conceives. I should like to make one request: Don’t let me put this phrase to a vote.” No vote was taken and the phrase was accepted.

That paradox of spiritual and secular co-existence remains to this day—not just among groups of Jewish people, but within individual Jewish hearts. In three weeks, Jewish people around the world will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets. That will mark the beginning of ten days of reflection as we consider how we have lived our lives for the past year. The time of reflection culminates with fasting and prayer on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Those who don’t know the atonement that you and I have in Jesus can only hope that God will seal their names in His book of life for another year. Daily life focuses on these High Holidays, and more so in Israel than anywhere else. But as synagogue attendance goes up at this time of year, so do the numbers at the local resorts.

As our missionaries engage with Jewish seekers in Israel and around the world, we are reminded of how our people are pulled in different directions, not only as a community, but as individuals. Like Hod, many see themselves as people of destiny, yet are hard-pressed to know what that means or how to connect with the One who chose them and called them to be a light to the nations. They are perplexed at being gifted as communicators without a life-saving message to communicate. Most are looking for more than what this world has to offer. Some, like Ben Gurion, recognize that to live in harmony with other Jews, they must walk an ambiguous line and not put their differences to a vote for fear of breaking the precarious truce. 

The paradox is really not so hard to understand. The Bible shows over and over how the human heart longs for God, yet also longs to rule itself, usurping God’s role in our lives.  The only way any of us can fulfill our destiny is to surrender our hearts to the One who created them for His purpose and pleasure.

What do we have to say to our Jewish people, particularly at this time of year? We do not hesitate to speak of destiny, just as it is written: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). Nor do we waiver over the identity of the Rock (2 Samuel 23:3) on whom our very lives are built. Please pray that many more of our people will recognize the true Rock as we labor, not only in the Land of Israel, but in every land where the people of Israel are scattered.