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Review of ‘The Miracle that is Israel’

Is the existence of Israel today an anomaly of history, or a miracle? David Ben Gurion, first prime minister of Israel affirmed, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” Phil Davies argues that the re-establishment of Israel as a nation state on May 14th, 1948, is nothing short of a miracle and defines a miracle as “An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God…something that lies outside calculable probabilities”.

How can anyone assess that claim? By reading the Bible carefully and studying the history of Israel and the Jewish people from their genesis, even to the present day. Additionally, Phil Davies helpfully summarises that “Any in-depth study of Israel and the Jewish people, requires a broad mix of perspectives-historical, sociological, cultural, political, military. But as vital as each of these are, it is the Biblical perspective-so unique to the state of Israel and its people-that really sets the country apart and gives the nation its context.”

The Bible and History

In Genesis 15, the Lord made a covenant with Abram and gave to him and his descendants the land from the river of Egypt to the River Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). The sign of the covenant in Genesis 17:13-14) was circumcision. In Genesis 17:8-9, the Lord gave to Abraham and his descendants after him the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession. Concerning Abraham’s sons, Ishmael would be blessed and fruitful, multiply exceedingly and bear twelve princes (Genesis 17:20), although the Lord would establish His everlasting covenant through Isaac (Genesis 17:19). The Lord promised to make Abraham a great nation, whoever blessed them would be blessed and whoever cursed them would be cursed and all the people of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3).

The blessing and the land which was promised to Abraham continued through Isaac and to Jacob and his descendants. The Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel and commanded him to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 35:9-12). Again the promise was reiterated through the Lord and spoken by Moses, “See, I have set the land before you; go in an possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers-to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-to give to them and their descendants after them”(Deuteronomy 1:8).

However, Israel was established uniquely as a theocracy and there would be blessings and curses relating to obedience and disobedience (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). Deuteronomy 30:1-10 foretells Israel being scattered amongst the nations and then regathered to the land their fathers possessed. David and Solomon led Israel to its fullest expansion in a golden era though that was sadly short lived and after Solomon, the kingdom was divided. In Assyria, the Northern Kingdom (10 tribes), were taken by the Assyrians in 722BC and in 586BC, the Southern Kingdom went into exile in Babylon for seventy years.

Daniel chapters 2 and 7 foretold the successive world empires in relation to Israel namely Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. After seventy years in Babylon the Jewish people were permitted to return by Cyrus II which was prophesied in Isaiah 44:24-45:7 and fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4. Note that the Cyrus Cylinder in relation to that is kept in Room 52 in the British Museum. Greece would defeat Persia and (Daniel 8:8, cf.8:24) even prophesied that the Greek Empire would be split into four. Flavius Josephus was the sole survivor from the Roman siege at Masada in AD66 and his writings have also proved invaluable as a historical source.

After Rome, Israel was occupied by Byzantium AD313-636, Arabia AD636-1099, Crusaders 1099-1291, Mamluks AD1291-1516, the Ottoman Empire AD1516-1917 and then Great Britain AD1917-1948. On May 14th, 1948, Israel once again became re-established as a nation.

The Rebirth of a Nation

Theodore Herzl was a journalist covering the trial of a French military officer Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. He was shocked not only by the incredibly poor handling of the case but also the anti-Semitism of the crowd chanting “Death to the Jews!” Hence Herzl developed an aspiration for the Jewish State and published a book with the same title and established the World Zionist Organisation. France is the country with the third most Jewish people in the world and in 2018, France experienced a 70% increase in anti-Semitic attacks. To put this in perspective, although Jewish people comprise just 1% of the French population, they were the victims of over 40% of hate crimes. Last year, the United Nations passed more resolutions critical of Israel than against all other nations combined![i]

The rebirth of Israel is a miracle concerning their history of persecution from other nations. They were of course in slavery in Egypt for four hundred years and the book of Esther records how in Persia, Haman attempted to eliminate all the Jewish people, Antiochus Epiphanes tried to Hellenize the Jewish people and sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem and the Maccabees revolted. The Romans destroyed the temple and drove out and scattered Jewish people in AD70. Jewish people endured the Crusades, suffered in the Inquisition of 1492, were driven out of England by King Edward I in 1290 and readmitted by Oliver Cromwell in 1656, many European countries expelled Jewish people, made them live in ghettos or forced them to work as money lenders, the pogroms and of course the holocaust. Outrageous conspiracy theories today are simply a repacking of attitudes and misinformation from time immemorial.

Chaim Weizmann was a Russian chemist residing in Manchester in 1917. He invented a new formula for producing acetone which was required for the manufacturing cordite explosive. Rather than accepting a knighthood, he became a highly significant spokesman for Zionism for Britain and in 1948 became Israel’s first president.

In 1917 Arthur Balfour together with the approval and encouragement of David Lloyd George, persuaded the cabinet to adopt what is now referred to as the Balfour Declaration including: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment of Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the League of Nations assigned the British with the task of implementing the Balfour Declaration to enable the Jewish people to have a homeland. Then in July 1922 in what would become known as the ‘Churchill White Paper’ the British split this territory into two parts. The much larger eastern territory (Transjordan) was to be Arab only whilst the smaller western section was for both Arabs and Jews. Even though the White Paper stated that the Declaration could not be amended, the partition assigned for the Jewish settlement was reduced by 76%!

Following WWII in which six million Jewish people perished in the holocaust, the UN recommended partitioning the region into two halves. On May 14th, 1948, after 1878 years in exile, a nation was born in a day (cf. Isaiah 66:8-9). Within twelve hours of Ben Gurion’s declaration, Israel was immediately attacked by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Despite being outnumbered and unprepared Israel somehow survived. Then in 1967, in the Six Day War, the result was somehow reminiscent of the battle at Jericho. There have been further conflicts including the Yom Kippur War and somehow, against astonishing odds, Israel has survived.

Questions that Demand Answers

Phil Davies in his highly readable bookazine ‘The Miracle that is Israel’ lists a whole section of questions that demand answers in relation to whether Israel is merely an anomaly of history or a miracle. For the sake of brevity here are a selection of those questions.

Did you know that no other nation in history has ever been driven from its land and then returned at a later date?

How is it possible for a nation to be ejected from their lands and scattered to every corner of the Earth, before somehow reassembling 2000 years later and becoming restored to those lands?

Did you know that no other nation or people group in human history, has ever been subjected to the extraordinary levels of persecution the Jews have? Virtually every great superpower of history has made them a target at some point and, gone after them. Yet they survived and indeed thrived?

Did you know that Hebrew is the only dead language in history to be revived?

And having made the decision to return, how did they manage to turn a land that was more than 80% desert into one of the largest food, fruit and flower exporters in the world?

Why have incredible achievements in science, medicine and new technologies happened in Israel in greater concentration than anywhere else in the world?

How is it possible that the Jews can be scattered to the four corners of the Earth yet still, through the centuries, retain their culture, preserve their festivals, and even establish communities, schools and synagogues?

Jews everywhere depart with the words: ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ Again, it’s been this way for hundreds of years. Who told them to do that? How is it possible for people all over the world to think alike and then, to do the same thing? And all before the age of social media, global travel, TV, telephone or the internet!

Closing Thoughts

Jewish people have contributed immensely to society worldwide, by providing a plethora of useful inventions. They comprise less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, although they have won 22% of Nobel prizes across a range of disciplines. Next time you to go to the chemist, spare a thought and just remember that the Jewish people invented penicillin, aspirin, cortisone and warfarin. When you receive treatment in hospital, remember the Jewish people developed drugs for treating cancer, AIDS, hepatitis B, typhus, diabetes, diphtheria, heart disease, toothache, bloodshot eyes and itchy armpits! When you have surgery, the odds are that the anaesthetic you received was developed by a Jewish person.

Conclusion: Happy Independence Day! Israel is no accident of history, but has been re-established by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who keeps His covenants with His people. The question that remains is, will you turn to Him, trust in Him and follow Him?

[i] Luke Tress 3rd January 2023 The Times of Israel