The Holocaust—and Beyond …

“And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” —Isaiah 25:9

THE Jewish people of the present day have a noble and ancient lineage, going back some four thousand years to the one whom they reverently and proudly call the progenitor of their race—Abraham, the son of Terah, born in Ur of the Chaldees. The remarkable destiny of this people was early manifested, when the Almighty Jehovah God himself appeared to Abraham and made a solemn covenant with him.

“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him. … And into the land of Canaan they came.”—Gen. 12:1-5

Some years later Jehovah God promised to give Abram the land to which he had instructed him to journey. “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. … And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:1,8) This promise of the land has been dearly treasured up in the hearts and minds of the children of Abraham until this very day!

Then, we are told, “It came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [test] Abraham” and instructed him to offer his dearly beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. As Abraham raised his arm to slay his son, the angel of the Lord stopped him, whereupon Abraham saw a ram caught by his horns in a bush. “And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.”

This unreserved display of faith by Abraham was pleasing to the Lord, and through the angel God explained to Abraham that the blessings promised to all the nations of the earth would come through his seed. “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; … and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”—Gen. 22:1-19

While Abraham was dwelling in the land of Canaan, the Lord said to him: “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. … But in the fourth generation they shall come hither [to Canaan] again.”—Gen. 15:13-16

In due course of time, even as the Lord foretold, Abraham’s descendants, now known as Israel, found themselves in painful bondage to the overlords of Egypt. But the Lord heard their cry and brought them forth from bondage through their deliverer, Moses.

They had now been living among the heathen for long centuries, and at the very beginning of their journey to the promised land God called Moses up to the mount and delivered to him the tables of the Law. “In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt … Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 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. 19:1-6) This Law stipulated that they would have no other god than Jehovah and defined in detail their moral relationship and social obligations with one another.—Exod. 20:1-17

The pronouncement of this Law by Jehovah God at Mount Sinai and its acceptance by the Israelites became the basis of a covenant relationship between God and the nation of Israel. In their great joy at their deliverance from captivity in Egypt, and in acknowledgment of God’s miraculous providences on their behalf at that time, they gladly acclaimed their desire to obey his commandments. “And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said, will we do.”—Exod. 24:3

Fittingly, Moses inaugurated this covenant arrangement between God and his people Israel with a sacrifice. “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”—Exod. 24:4-8

Had the people lived up to the letter of the Law Covenant, they would have gained life. “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.”—Lev. 18:4,5

What a wonderful prospect was thus held out to God’s favored people! What bounties and blessings he had in store for them, if they were obedient! “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God,” Jehovah said to them. “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. It ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.

“And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. … For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you. And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new.

“And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.”—Lev. 26:1-13

How could a people not bend every effort to walk in the righteous ways of such a loving God!

In order further to urge them to obedience that they might gain the promised blessings, the Lord spoke ominous words of warning. “But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments, … but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. … I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate. … And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. … And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savor of your sweet odors. And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.”—Lev. 26:14-33

In the Book of Deuteronomy the Lord added further details to this same warning of dire punishments for his people if they should disobey his commandments. “And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest; but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind; and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life: in the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart, wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.”—Deut. 28:63-67

Thus, Jehovah God set before his beloved Israel a freewill choice; for God desires those who worship him to do so in spirit and in truth, out of loving, grateful hearts! “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse,” he said. “A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day: and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.”—Deut. 11:26-28

Regretfully, Israel did not cleave to the worship of the one true God, and they did not keep their covenant with him, even as recorded by the holy Hebrew prophets of old. They forsook his ways in Egypt, in the wilderness, and later in the promised land. The Lord said, “They rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: … neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt. … The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted. … And … when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering. … Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations? … And … ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone.”—Ezek. 20:1-32

Finally, after repeatedly provoking Jehovah God, disobeying his commandments, and spurning his constant efforts to lead them back into his righteous ways, the nation was permitted to go into captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. From that point on Israel was a subject nation. The holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and great and grievous sorrows came upon the people in the land of their captivity.—Jer. 16:1-9

The Lord in his wisdom foreknew terrible afflictions would befall the Israelites in Chaldea. He also foreknew that, despite his clearly stated warnings, they would fail to acknowledge that their wretched condition resulted from rejection of his ordinances as embodied in the covenant mediated by Moses at Sinai, which they willingly agreed to live by. Therefore the Lord instructed Jeremiah to make the cause of their suffering plain—not only for that generation, but for all succeeding ones.

“And it shall come to pass,” the Lord told Jeremiah, “when … this people … 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 worshiped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my Law; and ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me.”—Jer. 16:10-13

Following the foretold seventy years of captivity in Babylon, numbers of Jews returned to Jerusalem where, in due course of time, Jesus presented himself to the nation as the promised Messiah. Many of “the common people heard him gladly,” but the religious leaders rejected him and brought about his crucifixion.—Mark 12:37; 15:9-15

In A.D. 70 Jerusalem was captured by the Romans under Titus and was completely demolished. It was at this time that the long-foretold, long-withheld retribution descended on the disobedient people, even as Jehovah God had repeatedly warned them through the prophets. All semblance of Jewish polity was then destroyed, the Temple demolished for the second time, and the Jews themselves scattered into all the nations of the earth, as the Lord had forewarned.

Many found their way with great difficulty into Russia, Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, Spain, and other nations of Europe, where for century after long century the suffering, homeless people endured great privation, often being confined to crowded, filthy ghettos, with limited means for earning bread. Indeed, their determination and ability to stay alive under indescribable hardships is a testimony to the courage and ingenuity of the human spirit. How often, during those long, terrible years, forgetting the solemn covenant they had made with the Lord their God, “which covenant they brake,” must they have said to one another in their sorrow, “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?” For, truly, their suffering was great!

And how often, during those centuries, must they have thought of the homeland from which they had been driven! How often must they have recalled, and wondered about, God’s ancient promise to give them the land for an everlasting, peaceful possession!

But if their anguish was great during those long centuries, it was as nothing compared with what befell them in the Holocaust! The word holocaust is defined as the wholesale destruction of life by fire. But the word Holocaust, with a capital H has come to have special reference to that infamous period of persecution and extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany before and during the years of the Second World War, when six million Jews—men, women, and little children—were cruelly and systematically murdered, simply because they were Jews.

Speaking beforehand of this period of time in the history of this extraordinary people, God had said through the Prophet Ezekiel that he would remember his ancient people and would regather them to the land of promise. But he indicated the regathering would be accomplished under painful circumstances, indeed. “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you: and I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out!”—Ezek. 20:33,34

In another prophecy describing this promised regathering, the Lord added further ominous details. He said he would send fishermen and hunters in order to bring about their return to the land. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes.”—Jer. 16:14-17

During the more than eighteen centuries following the dispersion of the Jews from the land in A.D. 70, the control of Palestine passed back and forth through many hands—Roman, Persian, Arab, Christian, and Turkish. But by the beginning of the 20th century it had come to be occupied mostly by Muslim Arabs, who by that time considered the land their own.

In 1917 the British government, by whom the land was then held under mandate, agreed to assist the Zionist movement in the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Thus, in the providences of the Lord, the door was opened for Jews to return to the land. A national homeland was the bait that was held out by the “fishers” to entice them to return to Palestine. But few Jews took advantage of the opportunity, for by this time many had become comfortable in the countries of their dispersion. And the few who did return found themselves bitterly resented and opposed by the Muslim Arabs, who had long dwelt in the land and who greatly outnumbered the returning Jews.

Then came the “hunters.” With the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s, the persecution of the Jews in Europe became intolerable for many, and Jewish immigration to Palestine increased. This persecution reached its terrible crest in the Holocaust of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The horror, the suffering, the inhuman cruelties that were inflicted on millions of helpless Jews in the Holocaust are unparalleled in the annals of human history. One can surely be sympathetic, therefore, when the Jew asks, “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?” For no other people since the world began have ever been so tortured, tormented, and decimated! And the agony and immensity of the Holocaust experience has clearly shaken to the core the faith of some Jewish leaders in a covenanting God.

In an article in Newsweek (March 10, 1980) entitled “Debate Over the Holocaust,” Rabbi Arnold Wolf, Jewish chaplain at Yale University, is quoted as saying, “Suffering of the kind that Auschwitz symbolizes is not an accusation against God. It is a warning about human sin.” But other Hebrew theologians, in the light of the Holocaust, do not accept this premise. “Jews by tradition have always interpreted great catastrophes, such as the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, as God’s punishment for their failure to keep his law,” says the writer. “But some modern Jewish theologians are simply unable to view the Nazi slaughter of so many innocent people in that … light. Theologian Richard Rubenstein of Florida State University … cannot accept the notion that the Jews of Europe deserved their fate, and so he rejects the ancient idea of a divine covenant with the Jews. ‘You can’t say you believe in the covenant with God,’ he concludes, ‘and then say in the face of the Holocaust that God had nothing to do with it.’“

Another Jewish leader agrees. “Prof. Irving Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches at the City College of New York, believes that the Holocaust represents a turning point in Jewish history,” states the same article. “According to Greenberg, the enormity of the Jews’ suffering requires Judaism to reinterpret the covenant of Sinai and, in effect, put God on notice that the Jews will no longer depend upon him alone. After Auschwitz, Greenberg argues, ‘God can’t ask the Jews to keep the covenant.’“

Still another Jewish leader, Prof. Emil Fackenheim of the University of Toronto maintains, in the context of what happened in Nazi Germany, that “the essential task of the Jew … is survival.” And that survival, he suggests, will best be embodied in the existence of a Jewish national homeland.

These statements reveal a sense of bitterness at the Jewish plight which has not heretofore been manifested in the thinking of Jewish leaders. Clearly—and understandably—the Holocaust was, and still is, a faith-testing, faith-wresting experience for every Jew!

One obvious result of the Holocaust was to crystallize the determination of Jews around the world to reestablish a homeland in Palestine. And on May 14, 1948, again in the unalterable providences of the Almighty, the new State of Israel came into being. Jehovah God, according to his promises, had gathered Israel from the countries wherein she had been scattered and brought her “into the wilderness of the people.” She became a nation among nations of the earth—depending for peace, like them, not on God, but on guns and tanks and munitions of war.—Ezek. 20:34,35

But the newborn nation of Israel did not find the peace she sought and longed for in the land of Palestine. On the very day she declared her independence she was attacked by her six Islamic neighbors; and since that time she has fought three more bitter and debilitating wars. And she is presently engaged in striving to stave off yet another war by reconciling her differences with Egypt and with the Palestinians within her borders.

Truly, the children of Israel have suffered long centuries of hardship, torment, and sorrow. Will they now, at last, find their long-sought peace and rest? What hope and consolation can we offer to our anguished Jewish friends? All that we have so far discussed is history—history that has come to pass, even as it was foretold in the Bible of Jew and Christian alike. To look into the future, we must go again to that same precious Word of God. If the prophecies concerning the past of this people have been fulfilled as foretold, we can have equal confidence that those prophecies which relate to the future will also come to pass.

Turning again to the Bible, we are told by the Prophet Ezekiel that regathered Israel would be attacked by a powerful enemy from the north, accompanied by many allies. Bible scholars have long believed the prophet is here identifying Russia as the attacking force. The Prophet Jeremiah describes this same period of time after Israel has been regathered to the land as one so terrible “that there is none like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble.”

But both Ezekiel and Jeremiah, as well as Joel and Zechariah, declare that, when all seems lost, Jehovah God comes to Israel’s aid and utterly destroys her enemies. (Ezek. 38:1-23; Jer. 30:3-17; Zech. 14:1-3; Joel 3:1-17) Thus will the Lord God of the universe reveal himself to Israel and to the world: “Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord. … So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day and forward.”—Ezek. 38:23; 39:22

Jehovah God has stated plainly that Israel’s long ages of suffering came upon her because she did not keep the solemn covenant made at Sinai. “Because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies; so fell they all by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions have I done unto them.” (Ezek. 39:23,24) Ever since the father of the human race transgressed God’s commandments in the Garden of Eden, all mankind, including the children of Abraham, have suffered the results of disobedience to God’s righteous laws and have gone down into death. But the Jews have suffered far more grievously, because Israel was God’s special treasure and covenant people.—Amos 3:2

But in his great mercy and unfailing love for his special people, Jehovah God long ago made another precious promise to Israel—a glorious promise, of which they have seemingly lost sight! Foreknowing that they would not keep the old Law Covenant through which they had hoped to gain life, Jehovah God said through the Prophet Jeremiah he would make a New Covenant with them, whereby they could, if obedient to its righteous laws, indeed yet gain life! “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jer. 31:31-34

Moses was the typical mediator of the typical Law Covenant, under which covenant relationship between God and Israel was maintained by the yearly sacrifice of bulls and goats. But that covenant did not bring life. Moses himself foretold the coming of a better Mediator of a new and better covenant—one which will truly give life—everlasting life—because it will be established on better sacrifices. “And the Lord said unto me [Moses], … I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deut. 18:17-19) This foretold Prophet is Jesus, the Messiah of promise, the Mediator of the New Covenant, the true Seed of Abraham, through whom the promised blessings shall come to all the resurrected peoples of the earth, both Jew and Gentile.

Associated with Jesus in the bestowal of these promised blessings will be his glorified, faithful, footstep followers of this Gospel Age. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:16,29) When this little flock is complete and joined with her Lord, then the promised blessings will be poured out on all the resurrected world of mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.

Then, too, will all Jews understand God’s undeviating justice and appreciate his boundless love and mercy. And in that glorious day all Jews—even those who suffered under the Holocaust—will rejoice with their beloved Prophet Isaiah and will shout, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”—Isa. 25:9

“I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”—Jer. 23:3-8

Dawn Bible Students Association
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