4,000 years ago, Abraham established Jewish ownership in Israel; today, twice as many Evangelicals than American Jews believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people.
This weekend, tens of thousands of Jews will arrive in Hebron to spend the Sabbath in the place where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. Guest houses will be filled, mattresses will be spread out on classroom floors, and tents will be built in the streets to accommodate the influx of visitors for this awesome weekend. What makes this Shabbat in particular so special in Hebron? This week’s Torah portion describes Abraham’s purchase of “the cave of Machpela facing Mamre, which is in Hebron, in the Land of Canaan” as a final resting place for his beloved wife Sarah.
Genesis 23 contains the very first account of property being purchased in Israel and is one of three sites the Bible identifies as having been purchased by Israelites from its foreign owners. Sadly, in today’s environment, Jewish sovereignty over Judaism’s holiest sites has been rejected by many people around the world. Some deny that the Jews’ connection to Israel has anything to do with God. Others agree that it might have once been the case, but God subsequently broke his covenant with the Jewish people.
The Washington Post has described Hebron as one of the “Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are considered by Palestinians and much of the world to be illegal under international law.” And this rejection is not limited to Hebron. The Church of Scotland issued a report in 2013, concluding, “…Christians should not be supporting any claims by any people to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. We believe that is a misuse of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land. In the Bible, God’s promises extend in hope to all land and people.”
What is even more tragic than the Washington Post denying the Jewish claim to Hebron or the Church of Scotland rejecting God’s covenant with Israel, is that a majority of American Jews don’t recognize the divine connection to our ancestral homeland. In a recent Pew study, only 40% of American Jews “believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people.” When asked the same question, however, an overwhelming 82% of white Evangelical Christians agreed! Unlike the Church of Scotland, so many American Evangelicals reject the ridiculousness of ‘Replacement Theology’ and accept God’s word as true and eternal.
On the one hand, it is entirely discouraging that a majority of American Jews deny what Christians can see, but perhaps this sad statistic has room for a more hopeful interpretation and can be understood in light of a prophetic Biblical text.
The beautiful Psalm 126 describes how future events will unfold: “When God returned the captives of Zion we were like dreamers. Our mouths were filled with laughter and song.” The Psalm then describes those who will recognize God’s hand in these events: first, “then the nations will say, ‘The Lord hath done great things with them’” and only then will the Jews themselves acknowledge, “The Lord hath done great things with us; we were overjoyed.”
According to many Biblical commentators, the “nations” mentioned in Psalm 126 refers to King Cyrus, who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. The Gentile king issued a declaration thanking God for allowing him to succeed, and asking the Jews to pray on his behalf. Only then could the Jews express their own joy and wonder at God’s mysterious ways. But I’d like to share a more modern interpretation of this passage.
Just the other day, I got together with Derek from Florida, one of our Israel365 readers, in Jerusalem. We discussed this very Psalm at a cafe near the Machane Yehuda market. Derek pointed out that by first the gentile, then the Jew, recognizing God’s hand in the rebirth of Israel describes the miracle taking place in our generation, where those who throughout history rejected the Jewish connection to Israel are now bearing witness to God’s acts there on behalf of the Jews. The fact that Evangelical Christians today are more than twice as likely than Jews to acknowledge God’s role in giving Israel to the Jewish people has newfound meaning.
As an Orthodox Jew, I am enthusiastic about the possibilities in working with pro Israel Christians who have a unique role today. Christian Zionists can — and should — encourage their Jewish friends to study the life and lessons of Abraham, to embrace their Jewish destiny and to uncover their connection to Biblical Israel. Hebron is a city of unity where Ishmael and Yitzchak put aside their differences and came together to bury their father Abraham. May the Biblical city be a reminder for all Jewish and Christian Zionists to put aside our differences to learn from and inspire each other as brothers honoring our Father in Heaven.