True Greatness

I have always been fascinating by big buildings, especially really tall ones. The Empire State Building is my all-time favorite, but I also admire the iconic Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sear Tower). My dream would be to someday visit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 160 stories and 2,716.5 feet the world’s tallest skyscraper.

On our recent trip to Israel, I wasn’t expecting to see any tall buildings, or any really big buildings for that matter. The Dome of the Rock is impressive, mainly because of that golden dome that dominates the “skyline” of Jerusalem, but mostly you see very old buildings that are more important for their age and place in history than for their size.

Of course, that was before I learned about Herod the Great, known by that name, not for his reputation as a King, but for his overwrought ambition to conceive and develop some of the most impressive building projects of the ancient world, or any world for that matter. Put all of those tall buildings I mentioned into one portfolio, and they wouldn’t begin to match the construction genius of Herod the Great.

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Why Israel?

I have often wondered why the world is so fixated on Israel. I get why most Christians like Israel. This is the Holy Land, the setting for the biblical narrative. This is the place where Jesus was born and lived and died and came back to life. Jesus ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, Israel’s 3,000-year-old capital. He will return to the same spot at some time in the future.

That’s the Christian story, which explains Christian interest. But what about the other five billion people on the planet? They don’t care about the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus. So what is it about this slender slice of land—you could fit seven Israels into my home state of California—that attracts such attention, such controversy, and such historical hatred?

Recently my wife and I traveled to Israel for the first time as part of an organized tour. We visited many important sites—Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Masada, and Jerusalem were highlights—and we heard dozens of lectures by local guides as well as our own tour experts.

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Jesus: The Hope for Israel

Genesis 32:28 records the conclusion of the wrestling match between Jacob and the angel of the LORD.  The angel tells Jacob his name will “no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and you have overcome.”  The name Israel means he struggles with God and the previous two blog entries demonstrated the history of the nation of Israel struggling in their relationship with God, and with men.  Although hermeneutically the text of Genesis 32:28 tells us that Jacob himself did overcome the battle with the angel of the LORD, I do not think it is farfetched to understand this verse as a prophetic utterance about the future of Israel.

Historically Israel has struggled greatly, and this has been going on for millennia.  Though there have been times of great hope, faith, and survival, there have also been times of great hopelessness, faithlessness, and oppression.  Today Israel is threatened repeatedly by Iran.  A nation who openly professes they would like to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth.  The peace and security of Israel is a matter which will not be resolved anytime soon, nor by any current political arrangements.  Whatever kind of peace arrangements accomplished through modern day politicians will be temporary.  This is not to mitigate the importance of striving for peace, for peace benefits many, but rather to understand that the real program for long and lasting peace for Israel and its neighbors is one that will be accomplished by the word and hand of the Lord. The question becomes how will Israel overcome?

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A History of Israel's Struggle: Part 2

Previously I wrote on how the nation of Israel received its name, what the name means, and its theological implications.  Jacob was named Israel by the angel who wrestled him, who many believe is the preincarnate Christ.  The name Israel means, he struggles with God.  I then provided a macro view of how the nation of Israel split apart into two different kingdoms, their exile to Babylon, and their return.  The Israelite’s who survived the Babylonian invasion and were exiled off to Iraq, became known as the remnant. (2 Chron. 36:20; Jer. 25:11)

In 539 B.C, a year after Persia’s overthrow of the Babylonian Empire, Cyrus the ruler of Persia, decreed the Israelites who were under Babylonian captivity were free to return to their homeland.  This is all in keeping with the words of the prophet Isaiah who prophesied 200 years before Cyrus’ decree that God himself would raise up Cyrus to bring about God’s purposes of bringing the remnant back to their homeland. (Isa. 44: 28, Isa. 45:1-5)

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