Tikvah Films have produced a series of compelling documentaries explaining Britain’s exceptional historical link with Israel as a ‘Cyrus’ nation. This prequel to the Forsaken Promise series commences shortly before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish people were scattered worldwide. It would help to go even further back however and consider the everlasting covenant that the Lord established with Abraham regarding the land (Genesis 17:7-8) and in addition the Lord would bless those who blessed Abram’s descendants, curse those who cursed Abram’s descendants and in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
In Luke 19:41-44 Jesus wept over Jerusalem and foretold the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem which occurred within forty years. But there was another prophecy which would come to fruition much later. Luke 21:24 states, “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Anyone cognizant regarding the history of Jerusalem will know that at the time that prophecy was uttered, Jerusalem had been the Jewish capital for 1000 years and following that, Jerusalem had been conquered and reconquered many times until the re-establishment of Israel as a Nation State on May 14th 1948.
During the centuries the Amida which is prayed daily includes a petition to return to Jerusalem and restore the city. Although the first believers in Yeshua (Jesus) were Jewish, the dispersion coincided with the spread of the gospel which sadly became Gentilised. In the context of ‘Institutional Roman Christianity’ which was a compromised blending of Christianity and some pagan elements, (particularly under Constantine), incalculable damage was caused through antisemitic preaching. But one need only consider the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 when the Jewish leaders graciously did not require Gentile believers to be circumcised but they should abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20).
Jewish History in Britain
We are all familiar with 1066 since it is vital event in our history marking the Battle of Hastings. At the same time the first Jewish settlers came to England when William the Conqueror took control. Jewish people were primarily employed as merchants and financiers and some English people became jealous of them. We must also never lose sight of the fact that many Jewish people were forced into money lending and not allowed to be employed via many other means. Jewish individuals were also unfairly accused of blood libels and desecrating the host which as well as being baseless accusations, they make no sense as to what that would actually achieve. King Edward I expelled the Jewish people in 1290.
Almost four hundred years later the Jewish people would be received back to Britain in 1656 when Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protectorate of the Commonwealth and a staunch Puritan. This occurred during the Puritan era when the Bible became available in English and there was renewed interest in biblical prophecy. Menasseh Ben Israel, the Rabbi of Amsterdam wrote to Oliver Cromwell asking that the Jews be readmitted and permitted to worship. Cromwell convened the Whitehall Conference and though there was much opposition, he was able to unofficially revoke the previous edict. It would still be many years before Jewish people were granted full equal rights with other English citizens and almost two hundred years until they were accepted at universities.
Puritans, Revivals and Evangelicalism
The Wesley and Whitefield revivals in the 18th century brought a renewed interest and sympathy towards the Jewish people. Charles Wesley produced a Zionist hymn called ‘Almighty God of love’ which recognised the importance of the literal return of the Jewish people to Israel.[i] The Puritan influence would gain momentum through the evangelicals. Later on William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect were greatly interested in prophecy, reaching Jewish people with the gospel and improving laws in the UK regarding children working and abolishing slavery. There was a network of leading Bible expositors who were philosemitic such as Charles Simeon and the Earl of Shaftesbury. These were all zealous for a literal return of the Messiah to Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4; cf. Acts 1:9-12) and a literal regathering of the Jewish people to Israel (Isaiah 60:1-22; Romans 11:1-27).
Robert Murray M’Cheyne one of Scotland’s most famous preachers visited the Holy Land in 1839 and was greatly dejected since the land itself resembled that described in Lamentations 1 and 2 and Micah 3:12 “Therefore because of you Zion shall be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.” Mark Twain’s observations from ‘The Innocents Abroad’ concurred with that of M’Cheyne.
What a contrast to Israel today which is not merely surviving, but thriving in agriculture, technology, science, medicine and many other fields of endeavour! Generally speaking the attitude of Britain towards Jewish people was far more favourable then, than in former times. The Times even published articles considering Jewish people returning to their homeland in a positive light and is a far cry from the majority of the negative publicity directed against Israel from the British media at present.
Michael Solomon Alexander was the first Protestant Bishop in Jerusalem. The Turkish authorities owed Britain a favour for their support in the Crimean War and reluctantly agreed for a Protestant Church to be established. There were daily services in Hebrew and Hebrew symbols were used such as the Menorah and the Olive Tree mentioned in Romans 11.
In the 19th Century, Protestant Christians and Jewish philanthropists worked together and set up hospitals, workshops and schools and this was mostly resulting from missionary activity. At the same time, The Palestine Exploration Fund undertook a major mapping operation and also took interest in archaeological sites.
J C Ryle would become the Bishop of Liverpool and he famously preached a sermon entitled ‘Scattered Israel to be Regathered’ noting that out of the sixteen prophetic books in the Tanakh (Old Testament), at least ten expressly mention the gathering and restoration of the Jewish people in the latter days.[ii] Charles Spurgeon the most renowned 19th Century preacher was equally assured from reading the Scriptures that the Jews would return to their homeland and expounded the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel 37 in relation to that.
War and Geo-Politics
Theodore Herzl was a journalist and a man ahead of his time. He is often considered the father of modern Zionism. He was greatly disturbed by witnessing antisemitism and in particular, the Dreyfus Affair. He wrote ‘The Jewish State’ and the first Zionist Conference was held in 1897. Herzl was aided by his friend Reverend William Hechler who enabled him to meet the German Kaiser.
Around the time of World War I, several countries had geopolitical interests in what was then known as Palestine. If the Ottoman Empire collapsed, France could have taken over Palestine. The Sykes-Picot agreement coordinated British and French interests since Britain wanted to secure access to India through the Suez canal and the Persian Gulf.
General Allenby was the commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force at the battle of Beersheba. This strategic site would enable them to advance into Palestine. However the Desert Mounted Corps desperately needed water for the mounted troops. Lieutenant Chauvel was able to study records from the Palestine Exploration Fund and spoke with local Arabs and managed to find a place for the light horsemen to water their horses.[iii] Interestingly this was in the vicinity of Abraham’s well where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech in Beersheba. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree and there called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33).
After World War I the Balfour Declaration gave British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was in the form of a letter from Lord Balfour to Baron Rothschild, a prominent leader of the Anglo-Jewish community and the efforts of Chaim Weizmann were instrumental regarding this.[iv]Chaim Weizmann had provided vital assistance to the British munitions industry who needed acetone by enabling a process to extract the solvent through the maize.[v]Wiezmann’s discoveries also greatly aided his political negotiations with the British government.[vi] He would later become the President of Israel.
Britain and Israel
Britain’s role as a Cyrus Nation towards the Jewish people is no mere coincidence and it is fascinating to chart the evangelical zeal and the Jewish desire to return to Israel, together with the geo-political events in the lead up to the re-establishment of Israel as a Nation State. Britain will be blessed if she continues to support the Jewish people yet cursed if she does otherwise. The greatest blessing of Abraham to the whole world (Genesis 12:3) was through his Son the promised Messiah (Matthew 1:1). Those who worship the Jewish Messiah should also love and seek to bless the Jewish people forever (Romans 9:1-5).
[i] For full lyrics see this link https://www.wesley-fellowship.org.uk/Zionist_Hymn.html
[ii][ii] To see the full sermon see this link http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/ryle_scattered_israel_to_be_gathered.pdf
[iii] Australian War Memorial The charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/the-charge-of-the-4th-light-horse-brigade-at-beersheba
[iv] Balfour Declaration https://www.britannica.com/event/Balfour-Declaration
[v] Chaim Weizmann https://www.britannica.com/biography/Chaim-Weizmann