Something you may have heard if you have been in church much of your life is a reference to God blessing those who bless Israel but yet cursing those who do not. This statement is taken from Genesis 12:1-3. The passage is shown below from the NIV:
1) The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2) I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.
The prior chapter in Genesis introduces Abram (later to be changed to Abraham by God). Abram is introduced at the end of chapter 11 after we are shown the descendants of Shem, a son of Noah. Abram was a tenth generation descendent from Noah. We are introduced to Abram, Sarai, Lot, and Nahor in chapter 11, all of whom we will read about in later chapters in Genesis. Then we come to Genesis 12 shown above where it starts by saying “The Lord said to Abram”. God initiates all of the moves we see here and going forward. We have no record of God telling any other man to head to this land and no other record of such a blessing as outlined here to any other man. God chose Abram to go to this land and Abram it says in verse 4, “went as the Lord told him”, simply doing as the Lord told him and without question.
Recently there has been an escalation of discussion about Israel and Palestinians due to a period of days where Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets into Israel. Israel in turn responded back as has been repeated numerous times over the years. During this period and afterwards, there was an increase in attacks against Jewish people in this country and throughout Europe as more and more groups are wanting to condemn Israel or in other words, condemn Jews. In other words they mean to curse them as 12:3 refers to it. Attacks on the Jews have been occurring throughout history with those going back all the way to the passage above. The passage shown is considered “the call of Abraham” in the Bible and where he and hence the Hebrews, later to be called Jews, enter as a group into Biblical and World History. The passage also is a key part of what some call “covenant theology” which outlines that all that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit would later do in the New Testament is outlined and portrayed beautifully here in the next twenty or so chapters in Genesis. We covered many parts of that during several of these weekly notes last year.
You may or may not be aware of some of the key events in world history that when closely scrutinized, tie directly back to the focus passage for this week. I want to devote some time this week to just a few of these events to ensure you have some appropriate perspective regarding Israel and the Jews to help you remember what we are told in Genesis 12:3 above for not only history, but now.
Egypt was at one time one of the worlds pre-eminent empires. This occurred during the time of the construction of the great monuments people travel to Egypt to see even today. The Egyptians welcomed in a small group of nomads, the children of Jacob, through the kindness and forgiveness of Joseph, one of Jacob’s children that had risen to second in authority, surpassed only by Pharoah himself. Joseph did this following a period of very difficult times actually being sold into slavery by his brothers. This small group of Hebrews flourished and increased in number greatly in Egypt for four hundred hears. If you read Numbers, chapter 1, you note the census numbers for just the men age 20 and above. The census count yielded a total of 603,550 of these adult men. Add women and children to that total and you easily have the Hebrew or Jewish ranks growing to more than one million people over those 400 years. During this period, they began to be mistreated and oppressed by the Egyptians, the greatest kingdom of its day. As a result, the great Egyptian Empire suddenly collapses after the “Exodus” of the Hebrews, being led out of Egypt by Moses. Egypt never rises again to any point of major significance in world history after their oppression of God’s people, the Jews.
The Spanish Expulsion of 1492
We here in America think of Christopher Columbus when we hear the year 1492. The Jews also remember 1492 just as prominently but for an entirely different reason. Note the following:
“In the same month in which their Majesties [King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella] issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies”.
This is how Christopher Columbus begins his diary in the year which he set sail on his most famous voyage. The edict referenced is sometimes called the Edict of Expulsion but is also referenced as the Alhambra Decree. It is the Edict or Decree issued by the government of Spain that all Jews must either leave the country or convert to Christianity which at that time meant Catholicism. Christopher Columbus actually set sail one day after the Jewish expulsion deadline from the same port where many Jews fled aboard ships going to other lands. The year was a terrible one for the Jews in Spain who had prior to this time thrived in that country, more than anywhere else in Europe or the world at that time. There were some estimated 200,000 Jews living in Spain at the time and they had been blessed mightily. This year of 1492 marked a very sad time for the Jews, so sad a time that the Jews commemorate it to this day.
You may ask “why would Christopher Columbus begin his diary as shown above?” You were probably taught in school that the King and Queen funded Columbus’ famous voyage across the Atlantic in the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. The truth however is that two wealthy Jews in Spain who had recently converted to Christianity funded the majority stake in the trip. Many Jews were converting beginning in the year 1492. The Catholic church had convinced the king and queen to make the proclamation in March to expel all of the Jews from Spain. The expulsion date planned was August 2nd. The Jews had just a few months to denounce their religion and convert to Catholicism and thus not suffer the persecution of expulsion or even death. For those that would not convert, the five months from the announcement until the planned date would give them some small amount of time to make plans to leave the country after which the government would seize their lands and all other belongings which in most cases was rather considerable. Many did not convert and made plans to leave the country with the last boats of them leaving on August 2nd. There are sad stories of how Jews had to sell homes and estates, trading them for nothing more than a mule and a wagon or passage on a boat in which to flee. Others did convert to Catholicism, some truly and others in name only to protect their wealth and belongings with two of these wealthy, new converts, funding the voyage. On August 3rd, 1492, one day after the last professing Jews left Spain, Columbus set sail. Not only was the voyage funded by two wealthy Jews but Columbus also brought along five Jews who had also recently converted to Catholicism to avoid the Spanish persecution. He brought a translator, a doctor, a surgeon, an astronomer, and a navigator. These men were instrumental in the success of Columbus’ voyage.
The year 1492 is becoming one which is cited as “bad” in our history books as taught by some schools now but I want you to see something else that God was actually doing. In the annals of history, the Jews were being expelled from parts of Europe, and Spain in particular, as a part of the late stages of the Catholic churches great “Inquisition”. The power of the Catholic church would not become seriously challenged until the start of the Protestant Reformation just a few years later around 1517. Europe was under the influence of the Roman Catholic church as the dominant church at that time. They ruled everything and everyday life to a great degree. They had come to despise the Jews because they would not convert to Catholicism. Five hundred years later, the Spanish people felt so badly about this part of their history toward the Jews that they initiated a four-year period beginning in 2015 where Jews worldwide that could prove they were impacted by this event could file for dual citizenship with Spain.
The year 1492 marked a dark day in Spain for the Jews but it marked another day in history. It marked a year where God was setting up another place that would become a blessing to the Jewish people. That place was the United States of America. Spain today is no longer of any major prominence in the world. The United States however, up to this time in history, has been the greatest refuge outside of Israel, that the Jewish people have ever known throughout history.
During the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century the British Empire expanded like none that had come before it. As the old saying goes, Britain during this period was “the empire on which the sun never sets”. There had been many empires before in world history but none so grand and vast as this one. Britain played a major role in re-establishing a home in the Jews ancient homeland during WW1 with what was called the Balfour treaty in 1917. The treaty was a promise by this great empire of giving the Jews back a homeland in Palestine. This was done in part due to recognition of Chaim Weisman, a Jewish chemist who helped Britain greatly during WW1 by producing a chemical that helped them produce gun powder for the war effort. The government asked what they could do for his services and he replied, “There is only one thing that I want, a national home for my people”. In 1923 Britain obtained control of Palestine from Turkey beginning this process of making a national home for the Jews. Jews began to immigrate there as the British government allowed. The surrounding Arab countries did not like this immigration into an area they believe belonged to them. The Arabs influence with Britain changed dramatically in March 1938 when an American oil company drilled for oil in Saudi Arabia and discovered what would become the largest oil deposit in the world. Britain slowed the relocation of Jews to their renewed homeland at that time.
Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933 and the Germans again began to increase in military might after just being defeated in WW1. Hitler renounced German citizenship of all Jews in 1935 and in 1938, the same year as oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia, began arresting Jewish men and sending them to German concentration work camps just for Jewish people. The rounding up of the Jews continued across Europe as Germany conquered the main continent of Europe during WW2. They then began their program of formal extermination of the Jewish race, often called today “The Holocaust”.
To try and escape the German persecution, the Jews begged Britain to open up the new area in Palestine to them for mass relocation / immigration. The British government which had the power to save millions of Jews by simply opening up the land, only did so on a very limited basis because of pressure from the Arabs and their new found influence and wealth. Shortly afterwards, the once great and glorious British Empire began to fall apart with countries demanding their independence from British rule.
Following WW2, the United States became recognized as the dominant force on the world stage. During this period, it was the United States that came to be the primary sponsors and allies of the Jewish state of Israel. The Jews in Palestine celebrated on May 14th, 1948, after the United States formally announced their sponsorship of Israel as a state as outlined by the United Nations. British troops left Palestine at that point and attacks against the new Jewish state began immediately from neighboring Arab countries. The outnumbered Jews won battle after battle though taking more and more land as they were attacked with their largest border expansion occurring during the Six Day War in 1967. Every surrounding nation of Israel had amassed great troops and armies greatly outnumbering those of the state of Israel with the full intention of taking back the land and denying the Jews a homeland. In six days though, this tiny nation totally decimated those troops with them retreating and yielding significant territory to Israel’s control.
The United States has continued to sponsor and be the number one ally of Israel since they became a state in 1948. Anti-Jewish sentiment is growing in this country though and across the world as well. Where will America stand in regards to Genesis 12:3 noted above? Will we continue to bless the nation of Israel, the one through whom our Lord and Savior came through the covenant given to Abraham OR will we bow to the modern efforts to rewrite the history of the Jewish people and deny the covenant made to Abraham.
You may watch the news today and hear things about Israel and surrounding countries and not think much of it here in our current comfort of the United States. I pray today that you have seen through this short note that there is much to consider when it comes to modern Israel. Like it or not, this whole world and all of human history is not about us. It is all about Him, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and their eternal plans. They have existed from before time began and will exist for all eternity. Their plan has enabled the Gospel to be preached across the world, even using Jews as a key part of discovering the Americas. This tiny spec of land called Israel today has been a focus in history throughout the ages and will continue to be a focus. It is a land promised to Abraham and his descendants. Those of us that are in Christ are Biblically considered seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), and as such should strive to see that Israel is blessed and not cursed. May our country not fall prey to what other countries have by turning their back on God’s people.