Firing up the nations

Millions of Christians around the world, under the guidance of more than 1,200 religious leaders, will pray for Jerusalem on Sunday, October 6, the eleventh annual Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.

By
October 1, 2013 21:39
4 minute read.
Fouad Twal, Wadie Abunassar and Nitzan Chen meet.

christian leaders meet 370. (photo credit: Daniel K. Eisenbud)

Millions of Christians around the world, under the guidance of more than 1,200 religious leaders, will pray for Jerusalem on Sunday, October 6, the eleventh annual Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.

Coming, as it does, so soon after the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, much attention – both pro and con – is paid at this time of year by the Israeli media to the growing movement known as Christian Zionism.

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There are roughly one hundred million people worldwide who identify themselves as Christian Zionists and support Israel in a variety of ways, from prayer to political and financial support. Colorful images of international pilgrims waving flags during the Feast of Tabernacles as they paraded through the streets of Jerusalem recently appeared in this newspaper, and admirers happily describe the $16 million economic impact of the 5,000 Christian tourists over Succot. Yet, the ultimate impact of the growing Christian movement in support of Israel goes far beyond economics.

Over the past 30 years since Christian Zionism has matured and grown, many within the Jewish community have questioned the motivation for this sudden outpouring of love after centuries of Christian anti- Semitism. Skeptical Jews have claimed that Christians have only been, and are still only interested in killing or converting the Jews, or point to bizarre end-of-times scenarios.

We easily lump together the personal motivations of one hundred million people and dismiss them all as crazies.

While there are certainly many varieties and denominations within the world of Evangelical Christianity, one thing is certain: the growing interest by so many Christians in the land and people of Israel is unprecedented in our history, and as such, represents a unique opportunity.

Since making aliya two years ago, I have worked extensively with the Christian Zionist community. I started Israel365.com, which promotes each day of the year the physical beauty and biblical significance of Israel, as well as BreakingIsraelNews.

com, offering biblical insights into current events. 70 percent of our 50,000 daily email subscribers are Evangelical Christians and in my daily interactions with them, I have seen first hand the overwhelming love, the passionate curiosity, and the deep interest that so many Christians have for Israel and the Jewish people.

As Jews, we don’t know what to make of this. Christians interested in studying the Torah? That could only mean trouble. Seared into our collective consciousness are the painful images from the Jewish-Christian disputations in the Middle Ages.

Christian scholars fervently studied our sources so that they could manipulate and twist them to use against us in staged debates.

It is important to recognize, however, that much has changed since the Medieval period. Christians are flocking to websites such as Israel365 or in person to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Center for Jewish and Christian Cooperation and Understanding to study Jewish sources not to use against us, but in order to “uncover the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.” Many are coming to the realization that if the founder of their religion was a Jew, then Jewish practice and Judaic teachings can shed light on their own faith as well.

Not only are large numbers of Christians interested in our beliefs, many who I correspond with pepper their conversations with “baruch Hashem,” “blessed is God,” and other Hebrew expressions. Today, the largest online Hebrew courses have more non-Jewish students than Jews enrolling in their classes.

The growing Evangelical interest in biblical Hebrew demonstrates how so many are trying to come closer to God’s original intent and the authentic teachings of the Hebrew Bible. Christians are coming to us and saying that Jewish interpretations are more authentic and correct, not trying to prove us wrong. Never in Jewish history has there been an era when so many non-Jews have approached us to learn what our Torah teaches about God, man’s duties in the world and the centrality of the Land of Israel.

The Haftorah we read in synagogue last week comes from the book of Isaiah and discusses the role God set out for the nation of Israel: “I am the Lord, who called you with righteousness, I will strengthen your hand; I will protect you; I will set you for a covenant to the people, to be a light unto the nations; to open blind eyes; to remove a prisoner from confinement, dwellers in darkness from a dungeon” (Isaiah 42:6,7).

For most of Jewish history, our role as a “light unto the nations” has primarily been understood as a call to live an ethical life, setting an example of righteous behavior and hoping that our individual actions would somehow penetrate the darkness and influence our often hostile, Gentile neighbors.

Rarely was anyone on the outside ever interested in what the Jews had to say, and so being an “or lagoyim“ was an ideal that individual Jews strived for, but in a very passive kind of way.

However, Isaiah is calling for so much more. The “light” in his stirring description is capable of opening the eyes of the blind and leading the imprisoned out of darkness.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, our new role on the international stage calls for a transformation of the “light unto the nations” metaphor from a passive, individual candle to a powerful blaze firing up the nations and igniting the world with righteousness.

Moving beyond the debate whether Evangelical support for Israel is “good for the Jews,” Christian Zionist fervor may represent our historic opportunity to fulfill our religious destiny as a nation.

The author is the director of I s r a e l 3 6 5 (www.israel365.com) and publisher of Breaking Israel News (www.breakingisraelnews.com), which both teach Christian Zionists about the religious significance of Israel.


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