Israel’s Agony and Glory
July 11th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
ISRAEL’S AGONY AND GLORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 23: 37-39
7-11-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Israel’s Agony and Glory. In the twenty-first chapter of Luke, beginning at verse 20:
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
And one other passage, the concluding verses of Matthew 23:
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.
Israel’s Agony and Glory: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” [Matthew 23:38], Israel’s agony; and Israel’s glory, someday, “Ye shall see Me and shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” [Matthew 23:39].
This dread and awesome prophecy that I read in Luke, “When you see the armies encompassing Jerusalem. . . let no one enter in; but let those that are able to escape flee. And woe unto a mother who is carrying a baby in her arms in those days. . .And Jerusalem shall be trodden down, plowed up, completely destroyed, until the times of the Gentiles is passed” [Luke 21:20-24]. That awesome prophecy came to pass beginning in AD 66.
Our Lord was crucified about AD 33. So about one generation later, thirty-three years later, the Zealots in the Jewish nation fanned the flame of rebellion against Rome. And the Roman Empire sent General Vespasian to put down the rebellion. He began in Galilee, and there conquered the Jewish army under Josephus; and then proceeded to shut up the rebels in the city of Jerusalem, having conquered and wasted the province, and now besieging the Holy City itself. While that siege was in progress, Vespasian was chosen emperor, Caesar of the Roman Empire. He returned to Rome to assume the responsibilities of government and left the continuation of the siege and the reduction of the nation to his son Titus. And in 70 AD the siege was successful; and Jerusalem was destroyed, its people taken captive, the temple thrown to the ground, and the whole city plowed up.
When I went to Rome, it was in the early evening, and they had locked the fence around the ancient Roman Forum. I said to the gate keeper who was there, “Would you just unlock the gate, and let me walk there to the Arch of Titus, and just be quiet there for a moment?” The gatekeeper was thus gracious. He unlocked the gate, and I walked, stood there once again in the Arch of Titus. With my back to the Roman Coliseum, which is two or three blocks that way, standing in the arch erected as a monument to the military success of Titus as he destroyed Jerusalem and the nation of Israel and the holy temple. The great frieze on this side, the panel on that side, depicts Titus, the Roman general and later Caesar and emperor. As he’s crowned with laurels and in his chariot with his prancing horses, he marches triumphantly through the city. On this side, the great panel on this side, incised in marble, is a picture of the Jewish captives. There, borne on the shoulders of the captors, is the seven-branched lampstand, the only contemporary likeness we have of it, there in the Arch of Titus; and also carried on the shoulders of the triumphant Romans, the table of showbread; and then the dejected and miserable captives who graced the triumphal march of Titus.
When in Israel a few days later, I especially asked that we might have opportunity to visit the citadel of Masada. Masada rises from the shores of the Dead Sea, down toward the bottom end of it. You would call it a small mesa. It rises precipitously on every side, seemingly thousands of feet, has a flat table top, something like thirty acres. And after Jerusalem was destroyed, and the nation ruined, the Roman Caesar sent an army, legionnaires, and they besieged Masada, which was the last fortress of the rebellious Jews from 70 AD to 73.
For three years they besieged that fortress; had only nine hundred sixty people, but the army was there by the thousands. They built a high wall; over eleven feet high and three feet thick all the way around a vast area, a great circumference; had eight Roman camps there, and besieged that fortress for three interminable years.
When I asked, “Why would the Roman army besiege at so vast a cost, just a small citadel of nine hundred sixty rebellious people?” The answer is apparent. That Arch of Titus had been erected to commemorate the victory of Rome over Judah, and they had struck a coin. A sign of Judah is a palm tree, and on that Roman coin is a woman weeping under a palm tree, and the Roman insignia, Juda capta, “Judah is captive.” And it was galling to the pride of the Romans that after they had erected their triumphal arch, and after they had coined their commemorative piece celebrating their victory, that there should still be in Judah a citadel that defied Roman power. So for three years the Roman legions besieged this citadel of Masada.
I turn now to Josephus. And we are going to read from him the days and the years of that terrible siege:
Flavius Silva, the Roman general, succeeded as procurator of Judea, who, when he saw that all the rest of the country was subdued in this war, that there was but one only stronghold that was still in rebellion, he got his army together from different places and made an expedition against it. This fortress was called Masada; and it was one Eleazar, a dynamic man and the commander of the Zealots, who had seized upon it.
Now it was that the Roman general came and led his army against Eleazar and the Zealots who held the fortress Masada; and having built a wall quite around the fortress that none might escape, continued the siege.
“Masada,” Josephus says: “On each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of every body by the terror that infuses into the mind,” and it does that to me. It is so high that when I look down I feel dizzy.
Upon the top of this fortress, Jonathan the Maccabean built a fortress and called it Masada. And then Herod,” and he gives the reasons for it,
. . .made it into an impregnable and invincible bastion.
The Roman commander Silva, who had now built a wall on the outside round the whole place, found that one single place that would admit of the banks he was to raise. And that was the promontory called the White Promontory.
Now the machines that were now got ready were like to those that had been first devised by Vespasian, and afterward Titus, for sieges. There was a tower made, the height of sixty cubits, plated with iron. And from those towers the Romans threw darts and stones from engines, and soon made those on the walls to retire. At the same time, the Roman general Silva ordered that great battering ram which he had made to be brought thither, and to be set against the wall; and with great difficulty, finally broke it down and overthrew it.
Now the big bank that General Silva raised is still there. We went up on a cable car on one side, and walked down the precarious precipitous declivity on the other side. And the great bank—took years to build it—that the Roman general built in order to get up there and bring his engines, and pound the great wall.
When they broke through the wall on the top of the fortress, the Zealots built there in the breech another wall, and this time they made it with wood on one side, and wood on the other side, and earth in between, so that when the machines were applied, the materials by the concussion were shaken closer together, and the pile became firmer than before. For as the engines, the great battering ram beat against it, the earth just became more cohesive. When the general saw this, he thought it best to take the wall by setting fire to it; and he gave orders at the soldiers to throw a great number of burning torches upon it, which was done. And the fire spread.
And Josephus says,
In the divine providence the wall burned down. So the Romans, having now assistance from God, returned to their camp with joy, and resolved to attack their enemies the next day.
Now Eleazar set before the eyes of that nine hundred sixty what the Romans would do to them, their children, and their wives, if they got them into their power.
So he made this speech to them: “Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery. And after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom. Let us spare nothing but our provisions, that the Romans may see that when we are dead, we were not subdued by starvation, but that according to our original resolution we have preferred death before slavery.”
When some of the men began to weep at the prospect of slaying their families with their own hands, Eleazar fixing his eyes intently on those that wept, spake; and in his address he said, “And as for those that are already dead in the war, it is reasonable we should esteem them blessed, for they are dead in defending and not in betraying their liberty. But as to the multitude of those that are now under the Romans, who would not pity their condition? And who would not make haste to die before he would suffer the same miseries with them?”
“Some of them the Romans have put on the rack and tortured with fire, and so died. Some of them half devoured by wild beasts, and yet have been reserved alive to be devoured by them a second time in order to afford laughter and sport to our enemies. And such of those as are alive still are to be looked on as the most miserable, who being so desirous of death cannot achieve it.”
“And where is now that great city Jerusalem, the metropolis of Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, so many fortresses and large towers, which had so many thousands of men to fight for it, where is this city that was believed to have God Himself inhabiting there? It is now demolished to the very foundations.”
“Let us die before we become slaves under our enemies. And let us go out of the world together with our children and our wives in a state of freedom.”
Now as Eleazar was proceeding in this exhortation, they made haste to do the work. For the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them with tears in their eyes. Nor was there at length any one of these men found that scrupled to act his part in this terrible execution, but every one of them dispatched his own family; miserable men, whose distress forced them to slay their own wives and children with their own hands. Then they chose ten men by lot out of them to slay all the rest, every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, threw his arms around them and offered their necks to the stroke of those who by lot executed that sorrowful office.
And when these ten had without fear slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after should kill himself. So for the conclusion, the nine offered their necks to the executioner; and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies, lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched.
And when he perceived that they were all slain he set fire to the palace. And with the great force of his hand, ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own people.
So these people died with this intention: that they would not leave so much as one soul among them alive to be subject to the Romans.
But there were two women and five children who had taken refuge in a water conduit.
Now for the Romans, they expected that they should be fought in the morning. When accordingly they put on their armor and laid bridges of planks upon their ladders from their banks to make an assault upon their fortress, which they did, but saw nobody as an enemy; but a terrible solitude on every side, with a fire burning in the palace. There was perfect silence.
When the women heard the noise of the Romans when they blew the trumpet, why, they came from out their hiding place, and informed the Romans what had been done. The Romans came within the palace and saw the multitude of the slain. Nor could they do other than wonder at the courage of so great a resolution, and the immovable contempt of death which so great a number of them had shown.
Israel’s agony––that’s why I wanted to stand on Masada. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, your house is left unto you desolate” [Matthew 23:37-39].
Nor has the story been quite otherwise through the centuries, in the Diaspora, the scattering of God’s people over the earth. In Europe, they were shut up in areas. And they invented a name for them: they called them “ghettos,” an area in which a Jew was secluded and separated from society.
And as the centuries passed, upon a day I walked through Dachau, in Nazi Germany, not long after the war. Here was the chamber in which they were gassed. The next room had a concrete floor that flowed toward a drain in the center. There they knocked out their teeth looking for gold and silver fillings. And in the next room was the great, vast furnace in which they were burned. At Dachau, here is the pen where the dogs were trained to tear human flesh.
Here’s the great tree with the form like that; it had died, even the tree surgeons didn’t know why, where the people were hanged. Here was the ground where they were used, the Jews, for living targets in pistol practice. Here were the scientific experimental chambers, as they prepared for the Nazi invasion of Russia, they used live specimen, those Jews, in order to find just at what temperature a certain jacket would allow a man to freeze; the agony of Israel. Nor do you find in the little country that has been born of such sorrow and misery, seeking a homeland in the world. Nor do you find peace and quiet for they are surrounded on every side by literally millions and millions of bitter and implacable enemies.
Because of a haste to meet an engagement in Jerusalem, we went from Tiberius, in the car that took me down the Jordan River, and then up from Jericho to Jerusalem, all up and down the river that follows the Jordan, patrol cars with those machine guns and small canon ready to fire. And the children in the kibbutzim, every night stay in a bunker down under the ground, covered over with concrete and heavy rock. And the tractors that plow the land are armored to protect the man that plows the soil from the enemy fire across the river; Israel’s agony. But the Lord said something else. There is to be for Israel a glory. And I can see it, like the small cloud the size of a man’s hand, that Elijah saw rising over the Mediterranean in a pitiless and burning and blazing sky; Israel’s glory [1 Kings 18:43-44].
Upon my return yesterday, a Jew met me. And he said, “I want you to tell me, how are the people? Do they live in fear and cringing timidity? How are the people, the spirit of the people?” I said, “You would never know there were enemies on the outside. They have a heart, and a spirit, and a unity, and a dedication that is unrivaled in the earth. Every Jew has his place. And in confidence and assurance they are building that nation.” The harbingers of Israel’s glory:
Seek ye out of the book of the Lord and read, no one of these shall fail, none . . .
For the Lord shall cast His lot for them . . . and they shall possess the land for ever, from generation to generation, and shall dwell therein. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
I have been in that land when it looked to me to be waste and desert, covered with rocks, and in low places where water could gather, with swamps. Now it looks like a garden. From one end of it to the other, the rocks are being gathered out, making fertile fields to plow. And the vineyards, and the orchards, and the citrus groves are being planted. And the cities are being built, wrested out of the most uncooperative soil and hill that you could devise or think of; they are building a beautiful land, luxuriant, verdant, emerald green. “The land shall blossom as the rose” [Isaiah 35:1].
But most of all, and above all, the glory of Israel. There will be no peace in Israel. There will be no peace in Jerusalem. And as long as there is no peace in Jerusalem there will be no peace in the world. As the psalmist said in his Song of Degrees, going up to worship, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper who love thee” [Psalm 122:6]. The coming glory of Israel; some of them are looking for the Messiah, some of us are looking for the Messiah. And when He comes, Israel shall come into her own. Listen to the Word of the Lord:
I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, in bitterness.
And there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning in Hadad Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo
[Zechariah 12:10, 11]
when Josiah the king, the good king, was slain [2 Chronicles 35:25].
And in that day, there shall be a fountain open to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem.
And the Lord God shall come, and all the saints with Him.
And it shall come to pass that at evening it shall be light, and the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
And there shall be one Lord, and one God
[Zechariah 14:7, 9]
I would not, my brethren, have you without knowledge concerning this mustērion, this secret in the heart of God, lest ye be wise in your own conceits—spiritually egotistical—blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion, the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is My covenant with them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
He does not change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. Israel’s coming glory; “There shall be a time when the Lord shall descend, and they shall look upon Him whom they pierced, and there shall be a great mourning in the nation, and in Jerusalem, as in Hadad Rimmon at Megiddo, when good King Josiah was slain” [Zechariah 12:10-11; 2 Chronicles 35:25]. And they will turn to the Lord and be saved [Romans 11:26-27]. And there shall be one Lord, and one God, and one Savior, and one Messiah, for them who trust and believe in Him [Hebrews 9:28], and for us who have sought life and refuge in Jesus our Lord [Hebrews 6:18]. That shall be the day when peace shall be brought to the earth: “For His name is Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. And when He comes:
No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding river run red;
We shall banish our anger forever,
In laurelling the graves of the dead.
Under the sod and the dew,
Awaiting the judgment day,
Love and tears for the Jew,
Tears and love for the pilgrims of the way.
[from “The Blue and the Gray,” Francis Miles Finch, 1867]
Israel’s agony and coming glory.
I’m through. May I just add an addendum? To me, Israel, the state, the regathering of the people is the greatest confirming sign that the hand of God is in human history, beyond anything that I feel or know in my understanding, and my reading, and my study. To us so oft times it seems that the development of society, and culture, and life in politics and in military confrontation, in diplomacy, in relationship between nations, that it is all so confused, and that it seems to be disintegrating. Oh no, above the circle of the earth [Isaiah 40:22], as Isaiah says, presides the great Lord God of the nations! And in His sovereign purpose all that we see moves toward the consummation of the age, when He shall come and when He shall reign with His saints, with us who love and trust in Him [2 Timothy 2:12]]; God’s kingdom and His people forever and ever [Revelation 11:15].
Lift up your hearts and see. Lift up your fallen spirit, trust in the Lord. He shall bring it to pass. The gift of life, and light, and salvation; “I’m ready to receive Him now” [Romans 10:8-13]. Are you? If He comes now, I’m ready, or tomorrow, or in old, old age, I’m ready. Come, blessed Lord, come [Revelation 22:20].
In a moment we’re going to sing our song, and while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or just somebody one you, while we sing the song and press the appeal, would you open your heart to the blessed Jesus? “Dear Lord, I’m coming. Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, we’re all coming today.” Or just you, as God shall speak, as He shall open the door, walk in. “By faith, Master, here I come” [Acts 16:31]. Do it now. Make the decision now right where you are seated. And in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor, today.” While we stand and while we sing.