Israel’s Agony and Glory
November 7th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
ISRAEL‘S AGONY AND GLORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-07-82 10:50 a.m.
In these morning hours the pastor has been delivering messages on "The Great Doctrines of the Bible." They have been divided into fifteen sections, and the section in which we are now preaching is entitled berithology. The Hebrew word for covenant is berith. And I coined that word berithology to refer to a study, a presentation of God’s covenant people, Israel. There are five of those sermons. The first one delivered, Has God Cast Away His People?; the second delivered, The Problems of Israel’s Unbelief; last Sunday, the third one, Israel in the Remembrance of God; today, Israel’s Agony and Glory; and the fifth and the last one – next Lord’s day, Peace Between Arab and Jew. It will be an exposition of the verses in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, one of the most amazing prophecies to be read in the Bible. And today, Israel’s Agony and Glory; the awesome twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew closes with these words:
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 brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, 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. The suffering of the nation of Israel through the centuries and the millennia have been indescribable. Time without number, their annihilation has been purposed and planned and attempted. And yet, they live. Their beginning was in a miracle. Sarah was ninety years and Abraham was a hundred years old when the child of promise, Isaac was born [Genesis 17:15-17, 21:1-5]. And from that miraculous beginning, down through the years that have followed after, they have continued that mystic and mysterious and miraculous march. There has never been a people or a nation accompanied by such divine tokens of supernatural presence. The miracle of the nation of Israel; for them, God drove back the waters of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31]. For them, manna fell from heaven that they might be miraculously fed in the wilderness [Exodus 16:12-18]. For them, water gushed from the solid rock [Exodus 17:5-6; Deuteronomy 8:15]. For them, a pillar of cloud guided the way by day and a pillar of fire watched over them by night [Exodus 13:21]. For them, the flood waters of the Jordan River were parted asunder [Joshua 3:14-17]. Their story is one of indescribable and glorious miracle. Renan, the great French philosopher, said, "The philosophy of history fails utterly to account for the Jew." And Hegal, the dialectician of Germany, said, "Of the history of Israel, it is an enigma to me. I do not understand it." Mark Twain, our American novelist and philosopher, said, "All things are mortal but the Jew. All forces pass, but he remains." And the great Victorian prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, said, "The attempt to extirpate the Jew has been made under the most favorable auspices, and on the largest scale, and for the longest periods of time. Egyptian pharaohs, Assyrian kings, Roman emperors, Scandinavian crusaders, gothic princes and holy inquisitors alike have devoted their energies to the fulfillment of this common purpose. Expatriations, exile, confiscation, torture on the most ingenious kind, and massacre on the most extensive scale have been tried in vain. The Jew, the Jew remains."
His annihilation has been planned and executed almost from the beginning. The Egyptian pharaoh planned the destruction of the Jewish nation [Exodus 14:5-12]. Haman, the prime minister of the Persian Empire planned the annihilation of the Jewish people [Esther 3:1-4:17]. In 722 BC, Sargon, the great general and ruler of Assyria, destroyed the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and carried it away into captivity [2 Kings 17:18]. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar with his Babylonian army, destroyed the city and the state of Judah, and burned and destroyed the temple and carried the people into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. For just a while, under the Maccabees in 166 BC, they enjoyed a national independence, but in  AD, Pompey came with his Roman legions, and slaughtering thousands of the citizens of Jerusalem, made Judea and Palestine a part of the Roman empire. A hundred years later, in 66 AD, under the galling yoke of Roman authority, a conflagration began to flame in Galilee, and the people rebelled against Rome, creating an army under Flavius Josephus. The emperor of Rome, Nero, sent Vespasian and his son Titus to quell and to subdue the rebellion. While Vespasian and Titus were there fighting in Galilee, Nero was forced to commit suicide by the Roman patriarchs. And Vespasian was called back to be made Caesar of the great empire. He left the continuation and the prosecution of the subduing assignment to his son, Titus, and Titus began the ultimate extermination of the Jewish nation.
The Christians, according to what the Lord had said in Luke 21:21, fled to Pella, to the mountains east of the Sea of Galilee. But the Jews of the nation, in country and in village, fled to the city of Jerusalem, thinking to be safe behind those tremendous, high walls. In April of 70 AD and continuing for five months until September of 70 AD, Titus, with one hundred thousand Roman legionnaires surrounded and besieged the city. When it fell, there were one million one hundred thousand Jews who had died. In one day, more than six hundred thousand corpses had been placed outside; and other thousands and thousands were thrown over the wall. One hundred thousand were taken into slavery, and the slave markets of the world were glutted with Jews, who were sold at any price. In keeping with the victory, the Roman government coined a silver piece; on one side, a picture of a woman weeping under a palm tree; and on the other side, in Latin, Judea Capta.
One evening, a kind gatekeeper unlocked the fence around the Roman Forum that I might go in. And I sat there underneath the arch of Titus and looked at the commemoration of the destruction of the Jewish nation and Jerusalem. On one side is a marble relief of the emperor crowned with victory, riding through the streets of the Eternal City in his chariot with tokens of victory surrounding him, and on the other side, in marble relief, the captives that he had brought from Judea to grace his triumph, carrying the seven-branched golden lampstand and the table of showbread. Nine hundred and sixty of those Jews fled to Masada. They were an insult to the invincible power of the Roman army and a galling reminder that a few were un-subdued and unconquered. And from 70 AD until 73 AD, for three solid years, the Roman legions besieged Masada. And when finally they took it, all of the Jews, nine hundred and sixty of them, had slain one another rather then fall into the hands of the Romans.
That story of blood and agony has continued through the years and the years. In Acts 18:2, Paul found in Corinth a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Look at the parentheses: "because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome" [Acts 18:2]. That is a continuing story. In the year 1096 AD, the year of the first crusade, there began the holy war in Western Europe, to murder all Jews who would not submit to Christian baptism. In England, in York, the rabbi, the chief rabbi and five hundred of the members of his synagogue were besieged in the castle of York. And when escape became hopeless and impossible, they slew one another. And then last of all, the chief rabbi set the castle on fire and slew himself. And for four hundred years, there was not a Jew in England. That’s why William Shakespeare placed the story of Shylock in Venice. There was no Jew in England; The Merchant of Venice. Nor were they in America until our Baptist state of Rhode Island welcomed an oppressed rabbi and his synagogue.
The story was no less the same in Spain. On the first day of August in 12, Columbus made an entry into his log saying that the harbor in Spain from which he was sailing to America was filled with Jews, for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had expelled all Jews from Spain. And one hundred fifty thousand were thrown into suffering confusion. The story in Germany is even worse and more terrible. There the Jews were accused of robbing from Christian homes little children and offering them up as sacrificial Passover lambs. In the city of Strasbourg alone, a great scaffold was built, and two thousand Jews were dragged thereon and burned alive. There is no one of us but is familiar with the attempted extermination of the Jewish people by Adolph Hitler. Under his cruel hand, between five and six million Jews were slaughtered.
I went to Dachau, just outside Munich, the headquarters of Hitler, not long after the war, and I walked in that large compound, overwhelmed by what my eyes did see. Could it be that a Christian nation, learned, gifted, able, could be guilty of such atrocities? Here is the great large room in which they were gathered and unclothed; this next is the large room in which they were gassed and put to death. This next large room – concrete with the floor sloping down to a drain in the center – this is where their heads were broken and their teeth knocked out in order that they might get the silver and the gold fillings in their teeth. And next, I could never forget the strange feeling I had in looking at an enormous furnace where their bodies were burned, and the furnace was covered with countless floral displays. A furnace in memory of, and then so-and-so loved one and so-and-so family; that, in my lifetime, in our Western civilization. A great tree there, dead; nobody knows why it died. There was a great arm, a strong arm from the tree on which they hanged countless numbers of Jews. And here is a place where they learned to fight with bayonets with live bait, piercing Jews. And here is a place where the Nazi physicians experimented with clothing to learn how that they might stay warm when they invaded Russia. And they took those Jewish people and put them in cold water and lowered the temperature until they froze to death – testing certain materials to see which could the most effectively protect the body; this in my day! And then as though that were not enough, in 1967, Nasser, the ruler of Egypt, with two billion dollars worth of war material, with one thousand tanks and with an armada of airplanes; and with fifty million Arabs attacking the Jews on every side, sought the annihilation of the nation.
I have often wondered as I read this passage in Isaiah 31:
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. They all shall fail together –
and verse 5 –
As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also He will deliver it; and passing over He will preserve it.
[Isaiah 31:3, -5]
I have often thought, "As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem" [Isaiah 31:5]. In that 1967 Six Day War, the planes that were liberated after the conquest of the Egyptians in the Sinai Desert, the planes flew to Jerusalem. I stood not long after that, I stood and looked at a plane that had been shot out of the sky, and there it lay sort of as a monument in Jerusalem. "As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem"; the planes liberated out of Sinai flew to Jerusalem and there won that city and the West Bank.
So through the years and the years and the ages and the centuries, their story has been one of massacre, and of blood, and of agony, and of unspeakable suffering. And according to the Word of God, the greatest tribulation is yet to come. In the final denouement of the age, there will be the last and ultimate attempt on a part of the Antichrist to destroy God’s chosen people [Daniel 8:23-24]; the agony and the glory.
Jonah is a type of Israel. Disobedient and fleeing from the Lord’s cause and calling [Jonah 1:1-3], he is swallowed up, but he is unassimilated [Jonah 1:17-2:10]; the Jew, like the Gulf current, distinct in the great vast and illimitable sea; unassimilated in the nations of the world. And God hears his cry in his agony and raises him up and sends him out with a great commission of hope and salvation for the world [Jonah 3:1-4]. And that’s why, in the seventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation, it is the Jew; twelve thousand from each one of the tribes of Israel; that is converting and preaching the gospel to the whole world [Revelation 7:1-17]. And that is why the apostle Paul will write in Romans chapter 11, verses 11, 12, and 15:
Through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles . . . Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness? For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall be the receiving of them, but life from the dead?"
[Romans 11:11-12, 15]
As God said to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "And in thee shall all the nations and families of the earth be blessed."
There are five great blessings, incomparably precious that have come out of the agony and the suffering of the Jewish people. Number one: monotheism. There has never been a nation that has become monotheistic untouched by the influence of the Jew. When the Romans were worshiping Neptune and Juno and Jupiter, they were worshiping Jehovah, the true God. And when our ancestors were worshiping Brunhilda, and Siegfried, and Woden, and Thor, they were worshiping the one true God. I repeat; there has never been a nation that has come into monotheism, the worship of one God, who was not taught and touched by the Jewish nation. God said, "You will be a blessing to the nations of the earth" [Genesis 12:3].
Number two: the Bible that I hold in my hand is a product of the Jewish heart and devotion and mind and revelation of God through them. This is a Jewish Book. The Holy Scriptures are a gift to the world of the Jew, "In thee, shall all the nations of the world be blessed" [Genesis 12:3].
Number three: our week of seven days is a gift to us of the Jew. The Sabbath day is a sign between them and God forever [Exodus 31:13]. The Jew worships on the Sabbath day [Exodus 20:8-11]. The Christian worships on the first day [1 Corinthians 16:2]; every Sunday is a resurrection day. It is an Easter day; it is a celebration day because of the living Lord, through whom we have come to know Jehovah God [John 14:6, 17:3]. That is a gift of the Jew, the day of worship, one in seven. This is a gift of the Jew; the synagogue church service. Our church services are modeled after the synagogue; the gathering of the people together for praise and for prayer and for an exposition of the Holy Scriptures; to them the Torah, to us the glorious gospel of the Son of God.
The last and all important: our Savior came through them. He is not a Teuton. He is not a Greek. He is not a Roman. He is not a Hindu. Our Savior is a Jew [Hebrews 7:14], and He said, "Salvation is of the Jews" [John 4:22], "And in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" [Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8].
I am in deepest sympathy with these poems:
Scattered by God’s avenging hand,
Afflicted and forlorn,
Sad wanderers from their pleasant land,
Do Judah’s children mourn;
And e’en in Christian countries, few
Breathe thoughts of pity for the Jew.
Yet listen, Gentile, do you love
The Bible’s precious page?
Then let your heart with kindness move
To Israel’s heritage;
Who traced those lines of love for you?
Each sacred writer was a Jew.
And then as years and ages passed,
And Nations rose and fell,
though clouds and darkness oft were cast
O’er captive Israel
the oracles of God for you
Were kept in safety by the Jew.
And when the great Redeemer came
For guilty man to bleed.
He did not take an angel’s name,
He was born of Abraham’s seed,
Jesus, who gave His life for you –
The gentle Savior was a Jew.
And though His own received Him not,
And turned in pride away,
Whence is the Gentile’s happier lot?
Are we more just than they?
No! God in pity turned to you –
Have you no pity for the Jew?
Go then, and bend your knee to pray
For Israel’s ancient race;
Ask the dear Savior every day
To call them by His grace.
Go, for a debt of love is due
From Christian Gentiles to the Jew.
["The Jew," author unknown]
We could never, ever repay the debt we owe Israel. Speaking of the glory of Israel; I have just spoken of the blessing they are to the nations and peoples of the world. The glory of Israel, their spirit, incomparable, unexcelled, Masada shall not fall again, never again, and the spirit of those people against insuperable odds, carving out a homeland for their oppressed families. And what they have done in that beautiful land of Israel; they have won it back. They are winning it back from sand and rock and sterile desert, from malarial swamps, and they are making it bloom like a rose. Dear people, when you go home, one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible is the thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah; remember Isaiah 35; read it when you go home. Isaiah, chapter 35 – it is about this: the promise of what God would do to the land of Israel through His people. It begins, "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose." Israel’s national theme: "The desert shall blossom as the rose." "It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing" [Isaiah 35:1-2]. Look at how it ends: "In the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert . . . and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" [Isaiah 35:6, 10]. The whole chapter is just that; it’s a glorious prophecy that is beginning to come to pass, to take shape and form under our very eyes. And of course, their ultimate acceptance of the Lord, which comes through us; our debt to them, and they shall owe a debt to us. And we alike shall enter into the millennial kingdom of our wonderful Savior [Revelation 20:4]. And the Scriptures speak of that in such beautiful terms. In the thirty-fourth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, verse 6:
My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them –
now listen, Ezekiel says, verse 11 –
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered . . . And I will bring them to their own land . . . I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold and in a fat pasture . . . I will feed My flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and I will strengthen that which was sick . . . I will feed them like a flock.
That’s what God says! And one other; the glory of Israel; in the second chapter of the prophet Isaiah:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.
Mountains and hills are figures of speech in the Bible for great nations and small nations; mountains referring to great peoples like Rome and Greece, and hills referring to smaller people like Cappadocians and Bithynians:
Above the mountains and above the hills, God’s house shall be established and the nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and they shall rebuke many people: they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Ah! What God hath purposed to us through them, for us in Jerusalem and in Israel. When I think of the terrible armaments of the world today; apparently with no other choice, we are stockpiling nuclear warheads. Our enemies in Eastern Europe are daily strengthening their aggressive forces, and we are building toward that awesome confrontation when we can destroy each other in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. The next war will not be fought in the trenches in France or on the vast expanses of the Pacific. The next war will be fought in the sky above our cities and above our very heads. And were the only prospect we faced, one of the darkness of nuclear holocaust, our children would face a dismal and abysmal disastrous future. But God says there is coming a kingdom, and the leader in that kingdom will be Israel [Deuteronomy 26:19, 28:1]. And in the mountains of the nations of the world, the Lord’s house will be established in Mount Zion, in Jerusalem [Isaiah 2:2]. And the peoples of the world will flow toward it, and out of it shall go forth the teaching of the righteousness and godliness and peace [Isaiah 2:3]. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruninghooks: nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" [Isaiah 3:4], no more. A mother weeping over the loss of her son – and that is a part of the glory of Israel – back in her homeland, converted, as I spoke in the last sermon, and they and we, subjects of the great King and members of the chosen family of God.
No more shall the war cry sever
Nor the winding rivers run red;
We shall banish our anger forever
As we laurel the graves of the dead.
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day
Love and tears for the Jew,
Tears and love for –
As Paul called them –
Those of the way.
[adapted from the inscription the Seventh Iowa Civil War Regiment Monument, 1906]
God purposing some glorious thing for them and for us; that’s why no matter the turn of history or the darkness of the night, God’s people lift up their faces toward heaven; "for their redemption draweth nigh" [Luke 21:28]. Tomorrow is a great day. God lives, Jesus reigns, and we are His people.
Now may we stand together?
Wonderful, wonderful Savior, Lord in heaven reigning now; someday soon to reign in earth, King Jesus [Revelation 11:15]; oh, what a day, glorious day, when these who have fallen asleep in Christ are raised at the sound of the trumpet; when the Lord descends from heaven with ten thousand of His holy angels, bringing the saints of glory with Him, and we rise to meet our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Jude 14]. When the throne of heaven is established in the millennial kingdom and the nations of the earth learn of the truth and the justice and the peace of our great King and Savior, O God [Isaiah 2:1-3], that our eyes should see it, and that we should live to be a part of that ultimate and final victory.
All praise to the Father,
All praise to the Son,
All praise to the Spirit,
The great Three in One.
["All Creatures of Our God and King"; William Draper, adapted from Francis Assisi, 1225]
And while our people pray, while we sing this song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; "I have decided for God this day. I have opened my heart heavenward and Christ-ward, and I am coming." In the balcony round, down a stairway; on this lower floor down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I have decided to answer with my life, and I am coming." May angels attend you in the way as you come. And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You will give us honoring Thy Word and the blessed hope we have in Christ our King; in His saving name, amen. A thousand times welcome, while we sing, while we sing, while we sing.