The Voice of Trembling

THERE is one subject that should be of vital interest to every Jew, wherever domiciled, on which one would expect to find substantial agreement, and that is the matter of establishing a viable national existence in the land of Palestine. During the long centuries of their dispersion it was the ever-present vision of one day returning to his land that sustained the suffering Jew, as he endured the unending indignities and persecutions heaped upon him by the Gentiles.

But along in the 18th and 19th centuries, a change gradually developed in the attitude of many Jews regarding this long-held but elusive hope. For by then a certain amount of world tolerance toward the Jew had slowly come about; some became wealthy merchants and influential citizens in the countries in which they lived; a few even rose to high places in the governments of their adopted countries. As they thus gradually achieved greater social status and affluence, many Jews tended to become more American, or more British, or more French, and less Jew. And to the degree that they enjoyed this growing acceptance, and came into possession of more of the material good things of earth, to that degree, in the minds of some segments of Jewry, the urgency to create a national homeland in Palestine became less imperative.

In the United States, for instance, where the Jews have come to enjoy significant social acceptance and economic security, there have arisen divergent views on this important subject. First of all, there have been the untiring promoters of the Zionist movement themselves, whose determination to found a national state of Israel in Palestine has never wavered. On the other hand, there is that considerable number of Jews who have gained a comfortable status in the social order for themselves and for their families, for whom the need for a national homeland has therefore become less compelling.

Judaism—Nationality, or Religion?

Further, there has been the religious fraternity of the Jews, who regard Judaism not as a nationality, but as a religion, which religion could and should be practiced regardless of one’s national attachment or geographical location. To be a Jew in this sense did not require that one must live in Palestine. And there were still other factions among the Jews who believed that there were ways to solve their special problems other than by founding a nation in the land of promise.

But since the Six-Day War of 1967, and especially since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, whose unsatisfactory termination served to raise serious questions in the minds of many Jews as to the future destiny of Israel, many of these diverse segments of Jewry have, surprisingly, set aside their individual viewpoints, and have joined in a mighty effort to support and preserve that beleaguered little nation. What has brought about this unexpected unity of effort? It is largely a fear—a real, tormenting, bottom-of-the stomach fear.

Probably no other people in the history of mankind has passed through trials so deep, so discouraging, and so enduring as have the Jews. Their polity destroyed by the Roman legions in A.D. 70, driven from their ancient homeland to scratch a hazardous living in ghettos in hostile lands, and persecuted beyond imagination, the simple fact of their existence today as a nation among nations is eloquent, living testimony to the faithfulness of Jehovah God, and to the trustworthiness of his Word of truth.

“Blindness … Is Happened to Israel”

And strangely enough, the real import of this astonishing fact is almost totally lost, not only upon the world in general, but upon the Jews themselves, who have been the principal actors in this great drama. For this little nation came into being, at long last, against all odds of probability. Almost certainly, any other people, after two thousand years of afflictions such as they suffered, would have been swallowed up and assimilated into the cultures of the countries to which they had been scattered. Nothing but the power and providences of God himself could have accomplished the preservation of their identity as a people.

But while the Jews themselves are largely blinded to the fact that even today the great God of the universe is directing their destiny, those whose hearts have been blessed with an understanding of God’s great plan of the ages have their faith strengthened as they watch the unfolding of events in the troubled land of Palestine.

God’s Promise to Abraham

The history of this remarkable people goes back some four thousand years to the time when God made a promise to their father Abraham, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen. 12:7) This was on the occasion of Abraham’s having left his own country in Ur of the Chaldees, and gone to the unknown land to which the Lord directed him, the land of Canaan, later to be known as the land of Palestine.

While Abraham was dwelling in Canaan, the Lord repeated this promise, saying, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth.” (Gen. 13:14-16) Again, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him, and once more definitely confirmed the promise. He said, “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:8) On a still later occasion, after Abraham had demonstrated his faith by his willingness to offer his son Isaac in sacrifice, God made an additional remarkable promise to Abraham, to the effect that in his (Abraham’s) seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.—Gen. 22:18

Thereafter, God went to great lengths to assure the descendants of Abraham of his love and care for them. Over and over again he assured them that they were his people, and he their God. In the third month after he delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and they were to begin their long journey through the wilderness, he seemed especially anxious to assure them of his love and care for them as his very special people. “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself,” he told them. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”—Exod. 19:5,6

Even after repeated instances of faithlessness during the forty years’ journey through the wilderness, and having arrived at Jordan before going into the promised land, God again spoke to them through Moses. “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are on the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6) And a thousand years later, after numerous additional breaches of their covenant with him, God still loved and cherished them, though now he finds it necessary to correct them, as a father disciplines unruly children. Through the Prophet Amos he talks to them, saying, “Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”—Amos 3:1,2

“Your House Is Left unto You Desolate”

Their final loss as a nation, because of their faithlessness, of their privileged status as a special treasure unto the Lord and as a kingdom of priests, occurred some seven centuries later when, in spite of the many signs that he was indeed the long-promised Messiah, the Seed of blessing, they rejected Jesus. It was Jesus himself, after the Jews as a whole had made clear their disbelief, who pronounced the words of doom upon their house. He said to them, “Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Then, as though signifying the sorrows that should later befall them, he added, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. … And the chief priests and Pharisees … perceived that he spake of them.”—Matt. 21:42-45

Shortly thereafter, Jesus announced their final national rejection. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—Matt. 23:37-49

With what sorrow Jesus must have spoken these words concerning that people who had been Jehovah’s special treasure! Surely the words of Moses must have passed through his mind: “The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him.”

And yet these words of Moses’ were not without a hint of the tragedy that, so long hence, was to take place. “Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. … They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities; and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not [now] a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”—Deut. 31:9-11,18,21

The Reward of Faithlessness

The Apostle Peter later enlarged on this theme, and showed that it is the called ones of the Gospel Age, both of Jews and Gentiles, who inherit the promises to be God’s special treasure and kingdom of priests. He writes, “Unto you … which believe he is precious; but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed. But ye [footstep followers of Jesus of the Gospel Age] are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; … which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.”—I Pet. 2:7-9

Not long after Israel’s final rejection as a nation Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and the Jewish people scattered among the nations of the world, while over the ensuing centuries the land of Palestine itself became subject in turn to Rome, the Moslems, Egypt, the Mamelukes, the Turks, and finally, in 1920, to Great Britain under a League of Nations mandate.

“What Is Our Iniquity?

But this tragic outcome should not have been unforeseen by discerning Jews, for the Lord had repeatedly warned them of the terrible consequences of disobedience to their covenant. The Lord had said to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I will cause to cease out of this place in your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride. And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt show this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God? Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, … and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law, … therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night: where I will not show you favor.”—Jer. 16:9-13

Scattered Among the Nations

Much earlier, when the Israelites were about to cross Jordan into the promised land, Moses recited to them the manifold blessings that should be theirs if they kept their covenant with God. But he also pointed out to them the pains of disobedience, saying, “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.”

Then follows an awesome list of curses, including the statement that they shall “be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth; … and thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee. … And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the Lord thy God. … And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from one end of the earth even unto the other.”—Deut. 28:1,15,25,37,62,64

When Jacob went down into Egypt his entire family totaled just seventy souls. (Deut. 10:22) Some three hundred years later, on leaving Egypt, the number of males twenty years old and upward who were “able to go forth to war” amounted to a multitude of over six hundred thousand, not counting the tribe of Levi. This would suggest that, including all women and all those males under twenty years of age, the number of Israelites that left Egypt would approximate some 2,500,000 people! Truly, God’s promise to Abraham that his seed should be as the stars of heaven and as the sands of the seashore was abundantly fulfilled, even as the Apostle Paul later confirmed. No wonder Egypt’s king was alarmed at their presence in the land of Goshen! —Gen. 22:17; Num. 1:46; Deut. 10:22; Heb. 11:12; Exod. 1:7-12

There is no way, of course, to determine how many Jews there were at the time of their rejection of the Messiah and their subsequent scattering into the far nations of the earth; but we do know that they failed to keep their covenant with God, and it is therefore fair to assume that as a result their numbers were indeed reduced even as Moses had prophesied. We also know that, whereas in their relatively short stay of a few centuries in Egypt their numbers had increased from a mere seventy people to some two-and-a-half millions, yet in the following 4,400 years from that time to just prior to the Second World War they had grown only to about 16,000,000 in all the world, of which number some five to six millions later perished by massacre during the war.

We also know that the curses that were foretold to result from disobedience have fallen heavily upon that sorely oppressed people. It well may be that the sentiments of many Jews are truly reflected in the words of the Jewish milkman in the play, “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he wistfully remarks, “Lord, we are the chosen people; but why don’t you choose someone else for awhile?”

The Flickering Hope of a Homeland

Yet through all these agonizing centuries there was ever kept alight in the hearts of many Jews, albeit as a flickering flame, the hope of returning one day to the promised land. It sustained them in their afflictions, it kept them alive in their ghetto existence. Finally, beginning about the eighteenth century, (and no doubt because it was the due time in God’s great plan), the door of hope began slightly to open, and in the late 1880’s Jewish colonists began to trickle from Europe to Palestine, which was largely populated by hostile Moslem Arabs, to eke out a precarious existence.

Coinciding most wonderfully with the chronological end of the Times of the Gentiles, World War I began in 1914, resulting in another remarkable coincidence in that Palestine not many years thereafter came under control of Great Britain, whose Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, issued the Balfour Declaration, whereby the British government pledged support to the Zionist hope of establishing a national home for the Jews in Palestine.

For those who entertained it, this hope was further strengthened in 1920, when Great Britain acquired Palestine as a mandate of the newly created League of Nations, and Jews in modest numbers found their way to that land. But when Hitler came into power in 1933, the frightful persecutions that followed drove greater numbers to seek refuge in Palestine. Those who succeeded in doing so were the fortunate ones, for during the Second World War some five to six million Jews were cruelly massacred, constituting one of the blackest stains to foul the history of so-called human civilization since the world began.

In May of 1948, wearied and frustrated by continual procrastination, those Jews who were then living in Palestine took matters into their own hands and proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel at Tel-Aviv, and immediately the surrounding Arab nations attacked the new-born country. But eventually Israel was successful in repelling the attackers, and even won some Arab territory. Since that time the Jews and Arabs have fought three more wars, in the last of which alone the Jews failed to gain a decisive victory. Now, at this very time, the United States and the Soviet Union are jointly engaged in efforts to disengage the armies of the contestants, with both sides very apprehensive.

What Kind of “Peace” Settlement?

World Jewry is watching the outcome of the present political maneuvering with bated breath, fearful that the United States, edgy and tormented under the dislocations and inconveniences brought on by the oil impasse, may force terms upon Israel which will leave her vulnerable to future attack by her enemies. For in spite of vague hints emanating from certain quarters of an Arab desire to reach a just and peaceful settlement with Israel, that nation is far from convinced that the Arabs have abandoned, or ever will abandon, their oft-stated intentions of one day driving the Jews into the sea.

It is precisely this frightening possibility that haunts the hearts of Jews everywhere in the world, including those in the United States. It is precisely this fear that Israel might indeed be destroyed that resulted in uniting all Jews of whatever opinion in a spontaneous outpouring of support for the nation of Israel. For they firmly believe that if such a calamity should be permitted to come about, then no Jew would ever again be safe in any part of the world.

Thus it was that, at the time of the Six-Day War of 1967, and especially during and after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Jews of every shade of thinking came together in hearty support of Israel by demonstrations, by offers to serve Israel in any capacity, even in the army, and by pouring great sums of money into the coffers of that nation in a mighty effort to preserve her national existence. For if Israel were allowed to disappear, they fear, then their own lives and the lives of their families would once more, as in the days of their worst persecutions, be in jeopardy. And as one considers the tragic history of this suffering people one can readily be sympathetic with their present dismay.

“The Time of Jacob’s Trouble”

That there would come such a time of deep anxiety for the Jewish people following their regathering to their own land is indicated by the Prophet Jeremiah. He writes, “For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord; and I will cause them to return to the land that I give to their fathers, and they shall possess it. … For thus saith the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, there is fear, and not peace [margin]. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness?” (Jer. 30:3,5,6) It would appear that we are now in the period described by the prophet.

But what kind of tomorrow may the Jews look forward to from this point? The prophet continues, “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: It is even the time of Jacob’s trouble.” The Prophet Zechariah adds other details concerning the terrible trouble yet to come upon Israel. We read, “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”—Zech. 14:1-2

The prophets both describe a time of great sorrow and suffering to come upon Israel. But just when all seems hopelessly lost, The Lord God comes to her aid. “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” (Zech. 14:3) Just as Jehovah God fought on the side of Israel when she was originally establishing a foothold in the land of Canaan, so will he defeat those enemies who come against her in these latter days.

“Fear thou not … O Israel”

Speaking of this time of Jacob’s trouble, the Prophet Jeremiah adds, “But he shall be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7) The same prophet then offers much hope and encouragement to Israel. “Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel,” he writes. “For lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee; though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.”—Jer. 30:10,11

Thus Jehovah will clearly reveal both to Israel and to the world that he is the one Lord God Almighty, and that his promises are true, and his faithfulness everlasting.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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