A Nation Born in One Day

June 23, 2024

In this fascinating verse, Isaiah compares the rebirth of the nation of Israel after the lengthy exile to the birth of a child. Isaiah asks a series of rhetorical questions, implying that the sudden birth of a nation “in one day” is unprecedented and therefore, miraculous. But is this actually true?

What does it mean that Israel would be born “in one day”? Obviously, the nation of Israel, at the time of our return to our homeland after thousands of years, is an ancient people. The nation of Israel is far from a new nation, like a baby that had never before seen the light of day. What exactly does Isaiah mean?

The Jewish “people” vs. the “nation” of Israel

We must distinguish between the Jewish people as a people and Israel as a nation. The Jewish people certainly continued to exist as a distinct people throughout the millennia of exile. But a people and a nation are two different things. A people is an ethnic group, a tribe, or even a religion. But a nation has a language of its own, a land of its own, its own national independence. The Jewish people are ancient. The nation of Israel is brand new.

Born in one day?

But what about Isaiah’s comment about the nation of Israel being born “in one day”? Is this how it happened? Of course, there was November 29th 1947, the day when the United Nations voted to establish a Jewish state. A few months later, on May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Which “one day” is the day the nation was born? More to the point, the founding of the State of Israel was a process that lasted decades, beginning with the mass movement of Jewish return to the land in the 1800s.

I’d like to suggest that the word “day” here is not meant literally to mean a single 24-hour day. Rather, Isaiah refers to the rapid transition from the nationless, exile status of a people, the Jews, to full national independence, all happening in a short time. A “day” here should be interpreted as a single era of history.

But this leads to the question, is the rapid transition from people to nation really so unprecedented? Aren’t there other examples in modern history of new nations gaining their independence?  The answer is, actually, no. Allow me to explain.

Nations are usually native

Think of all the nations in the world today. When did they become nations? When did the French people become the French? Or the Japanese? These nations forged their identities by being native to the lands where they lived. Or take Germany, for example. Germany was not a country, or a distinct nationality until the 1870s. Before that, there were numerous tribes who lived in that region. For a host of political, economic, and security reasons, these tribes and provinces unified into Germany. 

In other parts of the world such as East Asia, South America, and Africa, native ethnic groups that had been colonized while remaining in their homelands achieved independence. While these nations could be said to be new, the members of the nations had never gone into exile. They were there all along. These peoples and their homelands were never separated.

On the other end of the spectrum, for nations such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, people of a range of ethnicities and origins came to a new land. Once in their new lands, over time, they gradually forged new identities. Eventually, these new identities developed into new nationalities.

The uniqueness of the Jews

The Jewish people are the only example in history of a people that was completely landless and subservient to other rulers, disconnected from any original homeland, who rapidly, in the span of barely more than a single generation, created a new nation. The Hebrew language which had not been spoken in many centuries, became the primary language of a modern nation almost overnight. Never before has there been an independent nation composed almost entirely of people who had arrived as immigrants within just a few years.

In the final stage of labor when giving birth to a child, in the absence of modern pain medications, it is common for women to lose hope of ever giving birth. As strange as it may seem, it is even common for women to forget that they are actually giving birth to a baby. 

With this in mind, Isaiah’s metaphor is all the more appropriate to the modern state of Israel. Think about the state of the world only 3 short years prior to the declaration of the state in 1948. The Holocaust had put the Jewish people in their weakest most decimated position since the destruction of the Temple almost 2000 years prior. If there is anything that is the inverse of Jewish independent nationhood it is the Nazi concentration camps. 

And yet, seemingly overnight, the Jewish people went from the lowest depths of exile to full national independence. So yes, Isaiah’s metaphor is exactly right. The nation of Israel’s sudden birth is a miraculous wonder of history.

The birth of the State of Israel is unique in history. Never before had a people become a nation in a matter of a few short years. The suddenness of the birth of the Jewish nation-state is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.

The Hebrew Bible is a very big book – actually, 24 books, to be exact. Studying it can feel very overwhelming. Where do you start?


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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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