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The Christadelphian | June 2017

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

The Six-Day War

“Seven days ago we wrote that the Jewish people cannot rely on miracles. But what has happened since then cannot be comprehended in any other terms.” (Jewish Observer, 9 June, 1967)

The world and the brotherhood alike were astonished by Israel’s remarkable and rapid success in the Six-Day War in June 1967. That war reshaped the geo-political dynamics of the Holy Land in ways which fifty years later are still being felt. As one commentator presciently observed at the time:

“The Israeli-Arab war was swift and decisive. The ensuing ‘peace’ looks like being a protracted and troublesome affair.” [1]

Precursors to war

Israel’s neighbours did not accept the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. Having lost the War of Independence launched against the fledgling state on the day it was proclaimed, they bided their time until another opportunity arose to drive the Jews into the sea. For several Arab states, 1967 looked like the right time to renew hostilities.

From 1948 onwards, Israel was harassed by her Arab neighbours. Early in 1967 Syria repeatedly attacked Israelis working in fields near the border. On April 17, 1967, Israel retaliated with ground sorties and aircraft which shot down six Syrian fighter planes. This served to increase tensions on Israel’s northern border.

To the south, under President Nasser’s belligerent leadership, Egypt on May 17 demanded that the United Nations withdraw its forces patrolling the Israeli-Egyptian border, a demand with which the United Nations complied. On May 22, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, denying Israel access to the Red Sea from its port at Eilat. A pretence was made that this was retaliation for Israel’s aggression against Syria. Egypt’s action was welcomed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, two nations with which Egypt had been in dispute until then, as well as by Iraq and the leader of the PLO. The die was now cast for what looked like a formidable axis of Arab nations poised to attack Israel.

Six days in June

By the end of May, Arab forces were being readied against Israel. Recognising that offence is the best form of defence, Israel did not wait to be attacked. Every available man and woman was called up for service and, on June 5, Israel launched a blitzkrieg attack on three fronts – against Syria on the Golan Heights, against Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula and against Jordan in the West Bank. A mere sixty hours later, Israel had achieved most of her objectives, including:

  • Control of the Golan Heights which had been wrested from Syria, eliminating the threat posed to agricultural settlements in the valley below, while also helping to secure the sources of the Jordan River, crucial to Israel’s water supply. (Israel later annexed this region);
  • Seizure of most of the Sinai Peninsula and the re-opening of the Straits of Tiran; and
  • Conquest of the West Bank including, most significantly, the Old City of Jerusalem.

From June 7, Israel expressed willingness to accept a cease-fire agreement. United States President Lyndon Johnson was instrumental in ensuring that no cease-fire was agreed until Israel had secured its military objectives. Johnson had been President John Kennedy’s Vice President. Kennedy, who was unsympathetic to Israel, had chosen Johnson as his running mate even though he did not like the man because he needed votes in the southern states. Kennedy was very popular and probably would still have been in office in 1967 had he not been removed by an assassin’s bullet in 1963. His death elevated Lyndon Johnson to the presidency, a man known for his support for the Jews and Israel. [2] Thus, we see the hand of providence at work several years before the Six-Day War, ensuring the nations would act in ways which facilitated the outworking of the divine plan.

Fighting came to a halt on June 10. Within a week, Israel had made itself more secure than it had ever been. Her first act after the war was to unite west Jerusalem, which Israel had controlled since 1948, with east Jerusalem, especially the Old City, which had from 1948 to 1967 been controlled by Jordan. Israel later decreed that the united city of Jerusalem was the Jewish state’s eternal and indivisible capital.

Full mobilisation and the cost of the war put great strain on the Israeli economy, but the response to victory more than made up for any short-term stress. The effect on Israel was profound and long-lasting:

“Moribund before the war, Israel’s economy suddenly flourished as tourists and donations flooded the country, and oil was extracted from Sinai wells. Emigration all but ceased, and thousands of new immigrants hastened to partake of the glory.” [3]

From the perspective of national morale, winning the Six-Day War emboldened Israel. Unfortunately, this was reflected in a confidence focused on Israeli prowess rather than the overshadowing hand of God. The Christadelphian in July 1967 summed up the situation:

“The present victory is so dramatic as to have the look of a divine deliverance, but will it be seen that way in Israel? From their point of view, their own hand has done it. In an Israel self-assured and largely secular, pride in their own powers and their great traditions – now enlarged by one more tale of valour – are likely to mean more than fear of the Lord.” [4]

Developments in Israel in the fifty years since the Six-Day War have confirmed these expectations. Israel has continued to flourish. The nation is now even more secular than it was in 1967 and is more prosperous. Although there have been times of great threat such as in 1973, Israelis today perceive the state to be more secure than at any time in its history.

Prophecies such as Ezekiel 38 and 39 about the return of our Lord imply that Israel at the time of the end will be both prosperous and unresponsive toward their God. Those prophecies also tell us that Israel will feel secure at the time of the end, although this sense of security will prove to be illusory.

Trodden down of the Gentiles

Israel and the city of Jerusalem are at the heart of God’s plan with the earth. When our Lord gave his prophecy about Jerusalem on Mount Olivet he said that the city would be destroyed, the Jews would be dispersed among the nations. and “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). [5] He then delivered the parable of the fig tree, a symbol of the re-establishment of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land as a great sign of the return of Christ (verses 29-31).

Since Rome overthrew Jerusalem in AD 70, the saints have watched eagerly for signs that the Jews would be re-established in their ancient homeland. Excited by Jewish emigration to the land in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christadelphians in 1917 saw the issue of the Balfour Declaration and the capture of Jerusalem by British forces as a fulfilment of Luke 21:24. A century later it is obvious that their hopes were premature.

In 1967, when Israel captured the Old City from the Jordanians, many regarded this as the fulfilment of Luke 21:24. But can it really be said that the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled in 1967 and that Jerusalem is no longer trodden down of the Gentiles? Throughout the city there are Christian sites controlled by various Churches rather than the Jews, and even the very site of Solomon’s Temple is under the control of Moslem authorities. One of the first acts of Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Eshkol, after uniting the city was to meet with religious leaders responsible for these sacred sites to confirm that Israel would not seek to usurp their control of their holy places.

Reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli control in 1967 was a major milestone in God’s plan, but it was not the end of the times of the Gentiles, although it certainly indicated that they are fast running out. As long ago as 1849, Brother John Thomas demonstrated that the times of the Gentiles would not fully expire until the return of Christ. [6] As in 1917, the anticipations of keen Bible students in 1967 may have been premature but their enthusiasm is to be admired.

A burdensome stone

Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1967 and its unwavering determination to retain control of it has focused Arab-Israeli tensions on that city in a way that was inconceivable prior to that time. This is to be expected in the light of the prominence of Jerusalem in Zechariah’s prophecy about the time of the end. Jerusalem is mentioned twenty-two times in Zechariah 12 to 14.

This section is described as “the burden of the word of the LORD for Israel” (12:1), but immediately it focuses attention on Jerusalem: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about” (verse 2). The implicit message is clear: Israel and its capital are inseparable in the purpose of God. The prophet goes on to speak of the time of the end:

“In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” (verse 3)

Throughout history Jerusalem has attracted more than its fair share of interest from the nations, but never has it been more of a burdensome stone than it is today. Barely a day passes when there is not some comment in the media about Israel’s intransigence regarding Jerusalem and its policies relating to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory which, along with Jerusalem, was captured from Jordan in 1967.

Unlike east Jerusalem, which it has formally annexed (an act not recognised by the international community), Israel has not yet annexed the West Bank. Israel has said it has no intention of annexing the West Bank. It does, however, remain committed to maintaining at least certain settlements in the area. This would be consistent with the prophetic requirements which speak about the Gogian invasion being focused on “the mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 38:8; 39:2,4,17).

The brotherhood’s response

Students of prophecy recognised that the Six-Day War was a time of miracle. At the time, brothers and sisters followed the unfolding events with avid interest. Around the world preaching activities were hurriedly arranged to take advantage of community interest in the war. It was reported that some 2,300 people, including about 300 visitors, attended a public address in the Birmingham Town Hall. [7] Many ecclesias reported a surge in applications for baptism from young people in the immediate aftermath of the war. Sadly, anecdotal evidence suggests that the enthusiasm of several of those baptised at that time was not maintained and they drifted away.

It is instructive to browse the pages of The Christadelphian magazine of 1967. In the commentary about the significance of the war the tone is unmistakeably subdued. The editor, Brother L. G. Sargent, observed that:

“In general one saw less intensity in the reaction to critical happenings than would have been shown in years gone by … Perhaps a greater sense of detachment is in part the effect of over-confident predictions which have been discredited, but that alone would not account for the change between the profound emotion with which the Brotherhood in 1917 greeted the Balfour Declaration and the capture of Jerusalem, and the comparative placidity of many in the present day.” [8]

Half a century from 1917 seems to have dulled the enthusiasm of the brotherhood for the signs of their Lord’s return. In those five decades to 1967, the standard of living for many brothers and sisters increased significantly. Did increased prosperity and comfort in 1967 take the edge off their appetite for the overthrow of the kingdom of men? If so, what are the lessons for a generation living a further fifty years on? For many, our standard of living is even more comfortable today than it was in 1967. This can be a blessing, but it can also become a snare, a danger to which we must remain alert.

For those with eyes to see, the signs of the times in 2017 are just as exciting as they were half a century ago. As we eagerly watch these signs, we must maintain a sober perspective. These signs were given to remind us to be always watchful. That is how our Lord sums up the significance of the Olivet Prophecy:

“But watch yourselves (i.e., not just the signs of the times) lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36, ESV)

As we recall the thrilling events of June 1967 it should encourage us to watch the signs that are unfolding today. And, just as importantly, we should watch our own lifestyle to ensure that we are ready for our Master. It may be a mistake to be overly confident in relation to the signs of the times, but it is an even bigger and more serious mistake to be too placid and relaxed about these things. “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.”

Geoff Henstock

[1] The Christadelphian, September 1967, page 416.

[2] For further information on Presidents Kennedy’s and Johnson’s attitudes towards Israel see The Sign of His Coming, pages 103-106.

[3] Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, page 309.

[4] The Christadelphian, July 1967, page 324.

[5] All quotations are from the KJV, unless otherwise noted.

[6] John Thomas, Elpis Israel (fourteenth edition), page 311. See also Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1852 (volume 2), page 198, and The Christadelphian, August 1967, page 365.

[7] The Christadelphian, July 1967, pages 310,311.

[8] The Christadelphian, July 1967, page 319.

 

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