Report on Israel
November 3rd, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
REPORT ON ISRAEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-03-68 10:50 a.m.
This morning and at this hour, on the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing a special and, I could pray, an interesting and significant address. It would be entitled A Report on Israel. A while ago, the Israeli government invited Lee Roy Till and me to visit Israel. El Al—Israel Airlines provided the transportation, and the Israeli government took care of it in our sojourn in that new nation. Through the kindness of a friend, Mrs. Till also was able to make the journey. We were met at the end of the trek by Richard Holmes, who is a member of our dear church. With his family and with him, we also journeyed to Egypt, to Lebanon, and to Cyprus. Because our minister of music and his wife, Hannah, had never been to Greece, to Athens, when I came back home yesterday, they tarried to continue the journey through Athens and Rome and so on back to our country the first part of this week.
Now, because I would not lay chargeable to others my own persuasions and views, I shall speak in the first person. For whatever you say about the Middle East and the conflicting, sometimes almost worldwide tragic implications of any daily event there, I shall speak of my own convictions, my own persuasion, my own judgments and observations. And in that way, no one else will be chargeable to what I personally might think or say. In the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah and the thirty-fifth and the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh verses are these words: “Thus saith the Lord”—Jeremiah 31:35:
Thus saith the Lord, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is His name:
If these ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.
God says—and I take just one verse out of a multitude—God says that the sun shall sooner dim and go out and the moon and the stars shall sooner cease their shining than that Israel shall perish as a nation before God forever. Now I don’t know how long that sun is going to last, and I don’t know how long those stars are going to shine; but however long that is, that’s how long God says Israel will continue as a people and as a nation.
When we look at these things, you are on holy ground, and when we open that Bible and read and open the newspaper and read, God’s hand is in it all. Tonight, for example, I shall preach on Israel in the plan of God. I will take that Bible and open it just like that and hold it in this hand. I shall take a newspaper that I picked up in the Middle East and hold it in this hand. And what God said to the prophets six hundred years before Christ, I shall read in the daily newspaper that I hold in this hand, in the message tonight. Now, there is such an abundance of things to speak about and to describe and to comment on until I feel in the prepared address for this hour that I have taken almost an infinitesimal part of it. But I haven’t time. It would take hours and hours for me to discuss, to present, to describe what God is doing before our very eyes. So this morning in this report, I shall speak of three things—one, the miracle of the land; second, the miracle of the Six-Day War; and third, the miracle of God’s grace in human history.
First: the miracle of the land, that little, tiny land of Palestine. Wherever there is a Jew anywhere in this earth, wherever there is a Jew, whether he chooses or not, his heart is in Palestine. His interests and his love are focused there. For example, yesterday I got in a taxicab in New York to go to the Kennedy Airport to catch a plane to Dallas. I do believe that taxi driver was the toughest guy I ever looked at or heard speak in my life. Oh, how come me to know it? He passed by another cab driver, and I never heard such language and such altercation, just right there on the street. Oh, he was a tough one! I wish I could imitate his throat—not particularly his nomenclature, his—his eloquent language. Oh, that fellow was tough! I looked on the dashboard, and there was his picture on the licensing of his cab, and his name. And he had “ben” in his name, which is Hebrew for “son,” like Kadli ben Yahuda. That was his name, kind of like that. So I just thought I would try once again, as I have a thousand times around this world: I said to him, I leaned over from the back seat, I said to him, “I have just returned today from Israel.”
“Oh,” he said, “Oh.”
“Yes, I have just returned from Israel today.”
“Well, how is it there?”
“Oh,” I said, “it is unbelievable, unbelievable. You would have to see it with your own eyes. It is a miracle, that land.” And as I continued, I said, “There’s a passage in the Bible”—Isaiah 35:1—”there’s a passage in the Bible that says, ‘And the desert shall blossom like the rose.’“
And he said, “Yeah, yeah, when I was a little boy, I read that there passage. Yeah, yeah, the desert shall blossom like—like the rose. Yeah, I read that.”
“Well,” I said, “you just cannot believe your eyes when you look what Israel has done in that land.” It was not any time until that guy was crying tears. Why, you would not believe a tough guy like that could cry. Ah, when we drove up to the airport where I was to get out, he jumped out of the cab, he got my bags, he took them up there to the door and kept talking to me: “How is it in Israel?” They are all like that; God put it in their hearts. And the achievement of what they have done in winning back that land from desert to garden, to orchard, to Eden has come at a great sacrifice; but a living demonstration of what a dedicated people can do. They have up and down the land many kibbutzes, kibbutz. In the Hebrew language -im is plural; like a cherub, cherubim; a seraph, seraphim; a kibbutz, kibbutzim. And in that land all up and down, and if I had time, we would take an hour to look at those kibbutzim.
Now here is an example of one. In northern Galilee, above the sea, there is a kibbutz named Ayyelet Ha Shaha. The kibbutz will usually have some kind of an industry, and theirs is a guest house. So we stayed there in that guest house. And the kibbutz, which is a communal farm, was established in 1915 in the midst of daily hostility and was built in the form of a semicircle for protection. As I looked at the outline of the kibbutz, I thought of our own forefathers who—when they made the journey to the West and were attacked by Indians, they pulled all those covered wagons in a circle in order to better to defend themselves against the attack of the Indians. So the kibbutz was built in the form of a circle to defend itself. And that was one of the purposes of the building of the communal farm. In the places of danger especially, there did those families go. For example, Syria built great gun emplacements on the hills beyond Galilee. And underneath the muzzles of those guns, Israel built a kibbutz! By—and you will look at the pictures of these things—by every house there is a big heavy storm cellar. And when they are shelled, the families go down deep into those cellars. And I am not exaggerating when I say they built that kibbutz right under the muzzles of those Syrian guns. And of course, as you know, those Syrian guns would pick them off like ducks; blow up a tractor here with a farmer; blow up a place there; blow up a farmhouse here. But the bravery of those Israelis is beyond anything you have seen in this world. And there they built that kibbutz and restored that land to its fertility; planted trees and orchards, plowed the ground, and made it look like a garden. That is why, incidentally passing by, that Israel struggled so valiantly and so victoriously and successfully to capture those hills on which those great, heavy guns were placed; in order that they might farm in peace.
Now the miracle of that Six-Day War: all of us remember June of last year when that conflict broke out between Nasser and his allies and Israel. Nasser had a billion dollars worth of Russian planes and Russian tanks and Russian guns. And without any thought of defeat, Nasser pulled into that war and into that alliance Jordan, which is on the eastern side; and Lebanon, which is on the northern side; and Syria, which is on the northeastern side; all the way around. And with those billions of dollars worth of Russian guns and tanks, Nasser said, “Within a few days we will slaughter and massacre every Israeli that walks on this sacred soil.” And, as you know, the war began; but almost before we could get it well in our minds how that thing was being waged and who was engaged in it, the war was over. In six days, it was over. The whole world—I think the two biggest surprised men are the prime minister of Russia and the leader of the United Arab Republic, Nasser. I think they were more surprised than anybody else in the world. How did that come to pass? Well, there are several reasons.
One—one: it is a reason in the attitude of the people toward their country and toward their nation. In a little group late at night, a little international group from all over creation, I was talking and listening. We were just conversing about Israel. And there was a couple there from Argentina who were just trekking around the world, visiting around the world, just going around the world. And I cannot use the language in the pulpit that that man said, but he made an observation, and his sentence was this: he said, “You know, as I go around the world and as I visit these countries, my impression is that the people do not give a “d” about their country and about its future. And especially,” he says, “I find that among our young people. But oh,” he said, “what a different atmosphere and what a different people and what a different attitude do you find here in Israel.” Now, I think he exaggerated a great deal. In America, for example, I know there are a lot of beatniks, and draft card burners, and a lot of people who do not care about the blessings of God upon beautiful America. But we are not all that way! There are thousands and millions of Americans who gladly would lay down their lives for our country, and they are doing it this very moment in far-flung battle lines, protecting the integrity and the future of our nation. But that is a thousand times heightened in Israel—the attitude the people have toward their country and toward their nation. And when you begin following it through and you listen to them speak, you will see plainly why; they have no other place to go.
When I was there the first time, right after the War of 1948, the “magic carpet,” the Yemenites were being flown into Israel. They had no home, and they were being faced with massacre, and they were being flown into Israel—the Yemenites, the Yemenite students. When I was there that first time, the Jews from Baghdad and other cities in Iraq and Iran were being flown into Israel. This time when I was there, the same type of process is following through. Poland is on an anti-Semitic binge; and Czechoslovakia, now that it is occupied by Russia, is also on that same kind of a program. So all the Jews, by the thousands, are seeking to escape bitter persecution in Poland and in Czechoslovakia, under the iron heel of the Russian master. Where do they go? We have certain quotas in America, and when those quotas are filled, no one else can come. That applies to all the nations of the earth. Where does the Jew go? He is trying to go to Palestine, and he has no other place, no other land, no other country. This is his last chance to survive and to live, so he turns his face homeward.
Then you find the reason for that victorious Six-Day War in the Israeli soldier. You never saw soldiers as those Israelis. They are boys. They are girls. They are teenagers. They are in their early twenties. Most of them are like that. They are called “sabra.” Sabra is a Jewish name for a cactus; on the inside, sweet and succulent, on the outside, barbed and tough; a sabra, a native of the land. And those young people, those young people gladly, willingly lay down their lives to protect Israel. When I asked Israel Sulkavich, the man, the Israeli that the Israeli government assigned to us for the week—he and his car—I asked him, “How is it that these soldiers of yours, these Israeli soldiers, how is it that they take on insuperable odds?” There are two million seven hundred fifty thousand citizens in Israel. I suppose there are two million Jews in Israel. There are fifty million Arabs around them. Two million against fifty million. And I asked Sulkavich, who is from Poland, I said, “How is it that you have such daring assurance?” You never saw such assurance as those Israeli soldiers have. “Well,” he said to me, he said, “we are accustomed to dying. We face death all through the centuries.” He said, “In Russia, the pogrom”—pogrom is a Russian word for “devastation,” for “destruction”; and it is used especially with an organized—with reference to an organized massacre of the Jews. He said, “We have faced the pogroms of Russia.” He says, “We have faced the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. We have faced persecution and death through the centuries and the centuries, and,” he said, “for us to face death now is no different than what it was yesterday or the day before, or of this generation and the generation before. We are ready to die. And how much more so,” he says,” when we are laying down our lives for Israel, for our country.”
He has two children. One of them is in New York University. When that Six-Day War broke out, that boy flew back home immediately from New York University. He did not have to come. He was not sent for. But when the war broke out, immediately he returned home! Then the war was over before the boy could be assigned. This Sulkavich has another child, a girl, eighteen years of age. She was sorely disappointed that she was not sent to the front; she had another assignment. And Sulkavich himself had fought that War of Independence in 1948 and had been in all the wars and all the conflicts since. But instead of being drafted—there is no such a thing as drafting—they all volunteer to lay down their lives for their people and for their nation and for their country. And I do not exaggerate when I say one Israeli soldier is unmatched in the world. They have no other recourse. To them, it is existence and life itself. And that is why, among many other things, when that Six-Day War broke out, it was over. Israel cut those armies to pieces almost before the world was quite aware that the great conflict had begun again. And when you talk to those Israelis, they are absolutely unafraid of the enemies that surround them—”As we did it in June of last year in the Six-Day War, we will do it again anytime we are attacked.”
Oh! Now, I must hasten. I speak third of the miracle of God’s hand in human history. Sitting on the Mount of Olives in the eventide, back of me the shadows were falling. The shadows were falling over the deep gorge of the Jordan Valley. And before me, the sun was setting and twilight was falling beyond the city of Jerusalem. And as I sat there reviewing these things in my mind, I thought, “This is veritably and truly the center of the world.” To the west of me, before me, the Western nations of Europe and America; east of me, the great Oriental nations of India and China and Japan; north, the great blustering, untamed nation of Russia; and south, the continents, the subcontinent of Arabia and the vast dark continent of Africa—all of them converging there in that one place, the center of the world. And as you sit there on the Mount of Olives, the whole world is divided there. To the right, to the east, all of their languages read from right to left, right to left; all the sentences go from right to left. All the nations to the west of them, they write from [left to right, left to right]. The languages of the world conspire to point to that one place—right to left, left to right. The languages of the Western world, the languages of the Eastern world, all of them pointing to that. And in that place is the dividing of time: BC, AD. We base human history from that moment. As I sat there, I thought, “Literally and truly, I am sitting at the center of this world.” And it was there that God promised the land to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob [Genesis 13:14-18, 35:10-12, 50:24; Psalm 105:8-11] and to their seed forever. And it was there to which Moses led the children of the captivity out of Egyptian bondage into the glorious liberty of the land flowing with milk and honey [Deuteronomy 26:8-9]. And it is in that place that God is preparing for the great millennial kingdom of our Lord. In the prophecy in Zechariah: “And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east . . . and the Lord our God shall come, and all the saints with Him. And it shall come to pass, that in the evening, it will be light. . . . And the Lord shall be King over all the earth” [Zechariah 14:4-9]. Could such a thing be? Could it come to pass? Will our dull and stolid eyes look upon such a great, consummating moment as this prophesied in Zechariah? Listen, listen, God’s hand working in human history.
I was seated at the dinner table with a minister of the Israeli government named Aaron Brune. And he said to me, he said, “When I was a boy over in the western sector of Jerusalem, when the Arabs had the eastern part and all the old walled city, when I was a boy,” he said, “I used to hear my father and my grandfather talk about the times and the days when they walked through the city of Jerusalem. And they went to pray at the Wailing Wall, at the Western Wall.” And he said, “As a boy, I used to think, could it ever be, could it ever be that I could enter that city of Jerusalem, walk through those walled gates and visit those holy shrines of my forefathers?” And he said, “As a boy there on the heights of western Israeli Jerusalem, I would look on that walled city of old Jerusalem and think, would the time ever come when I could walk through those gates and walk down those streets and visit the holy city of David?” And he said, “The years passed and my old grandfather died and left with me the memory of the days when he walked through the streets of Jerusalem. And the years passed and my father died and left with me the memory of the days when he walked through the streets of Jerusalem.” He said, “I had no thought that the day would ever come when I would walk through those streets and down through those gates, nor did I see it not only for myself, nor did I see it in the foreseeable future. And I thought that maybe someday my grandchildren or my great grandchildren might walk through those gates and down to the streets of the city of Jerusalem.” And he said, “I want you to know that that evening, that evening”—and, of course, that evening that he’s referring to was at the outbreak of the Six-Day War—”that evening I walked through the gates of the walled city, and I walked through the streets of old Jerusalem.” You don’t know. You cannot tell what God has written in His Word. The stars may fall, and the sun may fail, and heaven and earth may pass away, but God’s word and promise shall stand for ever [Isaiah 40:8]. And that Jew who listened to his grandfather and listened to his father describe walking through the streets of the city, and who in the foreseeable future never dreamed the time would come when he could follow the footsteps of his forefathers—today he walks through those walls, and today he walks on those streets in the city of God.
God’s hand is moving in human history, and we are not to despair and we are not to be discouraged, nor are we to fail in our persuasion that every word and promise God has made in His Book is everlastingly Yea and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. The problems this world faces [are] apparently insoluble. The more I look and talk, especially going to Egypt, especially going to Lebanon; the more those problems harden and deepen, filled with venom and hatred; and the more that I see the turmoil in this world, the more am I convinced that the solution lies in the grace of God in human history. I am not looking to Washington for a solution. I am not looking to the United Nations for a solution. I am not looking to any politician elected today, tomorrow, or any other time for a solution, but I am looking to Almighty God! He will not fail nor be discouraged, and in these days and generations, and in these epochs and periods, and in these conflicts and eruptions, the hand of God is moving toward that great and final climax when Jesus shall reign King over all of the earth [Matthew 25:31].
I must close. Were any of you ever at the Wailing Wall a long time ago? Were any of you ever at the Wailing Wall in these last few years, when it was held by the Arabs? Well, it is no longer the Wailing Wall! They have changed it. [It is] not called the Wailing Wall any longer. It is called the Western Wall. The Western Wall is that part, the only part of the temple of Solomon that still stands; those great stones that Solomon placed there himself [1 Kings 6:1, 37]. You see pictures of it. Well, the Jews went there for years and years and years to repeat the lamentations of Jeremiah—to wail. Do you know what they are doing now on Friday nights? On Friday nights, on the Sabbath evening, on Friday night, they come down there, and they join hands, and they sing, and they rejoice, and they dance, and they praise God, and they are saying, “Messianic days are nigh and at hand.” The only difference between them and us is this: they are looking for a Messiah. Those Orthodox Jews are looking for a Messiah; they just don’t know His name. We who are Christians and believe the Book are also looking for Messiah, and to us, we know His name. He is coming to be the Lord and Prince of all this earth [Matthew 25:31], and to see those Jews who once wailed and lamented now joining hands, singing and rejoicing and dancing and saying, “Messianic days are nigh and at hand.” Maybe in our time, maybe in our day, maybe before our eyes close in death, maybe God will descend and the heavens part like a scroll and we welcome our Lord from heaven [Revelation 6:14]. Think it.
It could be at midday, it could be at twilight,
It could be perchance that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
[from “Christ Returneth,” H. L. Turner]
God is moving in human history before our very eyes. And tonight, we’ll speak more of some of these things in God’s Book, and as other hours come, speak of the coming of the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6].
Now we sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you; a couple you; one somebody you; giving your heart to the Lord, coming into the fellowship of the church, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. What a glorious day and hour to give your heart for God. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, in the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of that first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.