Light for the Last Days

Israel Desk – November 2019

Iran continues to threaten Israel.

Abbas Nilforoushan, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander said “Iran has encircled Israel from all four sides. Nothing will be left of Israel. If Israel makes a strategic mistake, it has to collect bits and pieces of Tel Aviv from the lower depths of the Mediterranean Sea.” Iran has supplied thousands of missiles aimed at Israel to its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq.  It is also continuing to work on its nuclear programme and believed to have missiles capable of carrying and delivering a nuclear weapon. A NATO report has said that Iran has 110 missile bases and launching sites which are capable of launching 20,000 missiles per day. They are targeted at US bases in the Middle East and Israel.

Trouble flared in November when Israel struck Iran’s man in Gaza, Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata.  As a result Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired 450 rockets into Israel. PIJ is another example of Iran’s malignant activity in Middle East, supporting extremist terrorists, destabilising Arab regimes and seeking to destroy Israel. Trouble in the south then switched to the north after rockets were launched from an Iranian base near Damascus to northern Israel. Israel countered with its largest ever attack on Iranian positions in Syria, hitting around 20 targets including advanced air defence systems and surface-to-air missiles around Damascus. Israel warned Iran it would attack any of its proxies that launched missiles against them and threatened to retaliate with direct attacks on Iranian territory.  

Russia condemned Israel for the attacks, saying it had increased tensions and potential of further conflict around Syria.  Russia is being drawn into the conflict between Israel and Iran criticising Israel, but not stopping Iran from preparing or mounting attacks on Israel.  At the same time an unnamed senior officer from the Israeli Air Force warned that a war against Iran and Hezbollah would see Israel pounded by over a thousand rockets per day, with images that have never been seen in the past.  In an article in The Jerusalem Post (December 2nd) he described this as ‘a severe threat to the homeland.’ 

Meanwhile events on the ground are not going well for Iran.  There have been protests in Iraq and Lebanon, both against the governments there and Iran’s involvement. Protesters in both countries called on Iran to stop intervening in their internal affairs. Banners have been calling for Iran to get out of Iraq with similar discontent being expressed in Lebanon against Hezbollah.  Iran has been operating in Iraq to put down the protests with great brutality and loss of life.

Now unrest has broken out in Iran itself after the government decided to raise petrol prices on the very day Ayatollah Khameini called for the destruction of the State of Israel.  The protests involved thousands of people in more than 65 cities who are confronting the authorities. The regime rushed in to suppress the riots and shut down the nation’s Internet access in order to prevent the protesters from organising and sending reports of what is happening to the rest of the world.  There are estimates of around 1000 people killed.

Iran’s leaders are coming under pressure at home for their disastrous handling of the economy, as the currency, the rial, continues to lose value: it dropped to historic lows, now trading at 110,000 rials to the dollar.  Iranians also complain that the regime is using their money to support terror in Arab countries. Here are some of the slogans being used: ‘Not to South Lebanon, not to Gaza, not to Palestine, not to Syria, but to Iran.’ There have been calls of ‘Death to the dictator’ as pictures of Ayatollah Khameini, the Supreme leader are being burned every day.

God promised Abraham and his descendants, ‘I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you’, (Genesis 12.3) so the Iranian Islamic regime is storing up an awful lot of curses for itself.  It should consider its history and the two famous people in the Bible who came out of Persia / Iran: Cyrus, who blessed the Jewish people, gave the edict for their restoration to Jerusalem and is remembered as Persia’s greatest king and a wise and humane ruler; and Haman, the Agagite, the alien influence into Persia who sought to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire and ended up himself being hanged on the gallows he had erected for Mordechai the Jew.  

The current Iranian regime is in full Haman mode and is bringing calamity upon itself.  Most of the Iranian people reject the regime and its extreme Islamic ideology. It only holds on to power by inflicting terror and death on its opponents.  The best hope for the Iranian people and the Middle East region is the collapse of the regime and its replacement with a government that will put the needs of its own people first and abandon its hate filled campaign to destroy Israel.

The Islamic regime should consider the biblical prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and the fate of the alliance of nations which comes against Israel in the last days.  Persia / Iran is included in this list of nations (Ezekiel 38.5) which meet their doom ‘on the mountains of Israel’ in this invasion which takes place in the latter days, after the restoration of Israel from worldwide dispersion (Ezekiel 38-9). The prophecy says God will intervene to destroy this army: “Then I will knock the bow out of your left hand, and cause the arrows to fall out of your right hand.  You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples who are with you.”  The arrows could be a reference to the missiles aimed at Israel.

Some Jewish rabbis, like Rabbi Winston, are noting this connection and warning ‘It’s not going to end easily, because it will be the End Times war of Gog and Magog, prophesied in the Bible.’  He says that out of this Moshiach (Messiah) will come.

Rabbis like Rabbi Winston are looking for the one known as Messiah ben David (son of David) to come out of this war and bring peace to the world as prophesied in Isaiah 2.1-4.  At present such rabbis do not recognise the connection between the coming Messiah and Yeshua, Jesus, who has come once as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Daniel 9.26, Zechariah 12.10 and other passages.  Jesus is coming again as the Reigning King Messiah of Isaiah 2 and 11 and these events are heralding His soon return. He will keep Israel until His coming and His present purpose is to reveal Himself as the Messiah to the Jewish people. He is also even now revealing Himself to people in Iran who are turning from Islam to Jesus in numbers unlike any other country in the Muslim world, another cause of defeat for the mullahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

US revokes ‘illegal’ status of Judea and Samaria communities

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on November 18th that the U.S. no longer deems Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria / the West Bank “illegal,” reversing a previous 1978 State Department opinion. This follows Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there.

Israel considers the West Bank disputed, not occupied, territory.  Israel captured Judea and Samaria / the West Bank, including eastern portions of Jerusalem, in 1967’s Six-Day War, a conflict during which four Arab states attacked Israel. Israel defeated all Arab aggressors in the conflict.   After the war, Israel declared a “united Jerusalem,” regaining access to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall structure. Now there are around 500,000 Israeli Jews living in the West Bank which they prefer to call by its biblical name Judea and Samaria. 

The Palestinians are opposed to this and their minimum demand for a peace with Israel is the removal of Jewish settlements and control over the whole area of the West Bank in a proposed Palestinian State.  Israelis fear that such a state would be a base for more terrorism against Israel with the ultimate aim of overrunning Israel and bringing an end to the Jewish state. Some on the right have called for the annexation of parts of the West Bank.  Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed support for a proposed bill to annex the Jordan Valley if he is able to continue as PM. 

Russia and the EU condemned the US change of policy, warning the move would escalate tensions in the region. The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini attacked the Trump administration, declaring that “all settlement activity is illegal under international law, and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity.

Over 200 rabbis, including the Chief Rabbis of Israel, sent a letter to President Trump, thanking him for his recognition of Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria. The letter was composed by the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu compared the political move to the prophecy of Jeremiah. “Over 2,500 years ago, the Prophet Jeremiah claimed that the nation of Israel would return to the hills of Samaria and plant their vineyards there.  We get to live in the generation where these prophecies are fulfilled word for word.  … God has promised to Abraham that ‘Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies’ … We are grateful for the blessing of peace, of the hills of Israel producing fruit, and of the Israeli economy gathering strength.”

The territory in question is the heartland of the biblical land of Israel, Judea – Samaria where most of the places familiar to us in the Bible are situated – Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, Hebron, Shechem (Nablus), Samaria, Bethel, Jericho, Ofra, Tekoa etc.  Zechariah 12 indicates that this area will be the focus of international attention in the last days when God says, ‘I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone burdening all nations.’

Jews and Christians about to ‘see the Messiah.’

Orthodox rabbis and Evangelical Christians equally believe that the world is on the cusp of the Battle of Armageddon and that “we are about to see the messiah,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Johnson. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Johnson said that the reality of devout Jewish and Christians sharing this common bond, “should cause us all to pause and say, ‘Oh my word, there is hope here.’ In a world of great despair, there is hope in the messiah.”

Specifically, he said the common bond is in the belief that one day soon, there will be a war as described in Ezekiel 38-39, and through this battle the messiah will come.  He admitted that while there may be some theological differences about who the messiah is, the narratives are strikingly similar. “It’s a common bond,” he said, and the premise of Johnson’s new book, Divine Mysteries: Concise and Thoughtful Ancient Biblical Wisdom. In the work, the author uses both the Tanakh (known by Christians as the Old Testament) and the New Testament to explain some of the Bible’s most perplexing issues.

Johnson, whose mother is Jewish but said he considers himself a Christian, is a former adjunct professor of systematic theology and has taught at universities around the world, including Harvard and Oxford. He is also the founder of Israel Today Ministries, which has provided tens of thousands of meals to poor Israeli children and Holocaust survivors.

He says that any leader or pastor who wants to eradicate the Old Testament from modern-day Christianity is making the New Testament irrelevant as well. This goes against generations of Christians who understood that the Church has replaced Israel, and that the Jewish Bible became obsolete. Known as replacement theology, this doctrine diminishes the significance of Israel and the predictions of the Jewish prophets concerning Israel and the restoration of the Jewish people in their land.

“It’s a very dangerous doctrine,” Johnson told the Post, explaining that replacement theology has been made popular by Bible teachers and leaders who promote it, which can lead to antisemitism and hatred of the Jewish people.

Climate change report highlights dangers to the Middle East.

The U.S.-based Atlantic Council think tank released a report warning that climate-induced water shortages will be a source of conflict in the Middle East.  It said that as the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent to the world, the chronically unstable Middle East may prove to be one of the worst affected areas. This raises the prospect of climate change fuelling existing security tensions, as regional states contend with growing droughts and conflicts. 

The report claims that water shortage was one of the factors in the Syrian civil war where many Syrians who rely on agriculture as a main source of income were affected by massive dams built by Turkey on large rivers flowing into Syria.  It also stated that when the Islamic State controlled large swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria, it wrested control of dams that provided drinking water, electricity and irrigation to millions along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Ensuing clashes with Kurdish and Iraqi forces left Shi’ite holy cities like Karbala and Najaf without water.  More than 23 million live in the river basin, and experts predict that, because of global warming, the Tigris and Euphrates will ‘disappear this century,’ making conflict over what remains even more tempting if contested political control returns to the Fertile Crescent.”

Commenting on the report, Ofer Israeli, an expert on decision-making and foreign-policy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre said, “As far as Israel is concerned its neighbours, particularly Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, rely to a large degree on the Israeli water supply to meet their demands. The expected decrease in rainfall could, on the one hand, lead to an increase in the water demand among these neighbours (Jordan and the Palestinian Authority) and on the other, make it harder for Israel to meet their demands, which would increase already existing tensions.” 

As a result, he said, Israel and the international community, as part of their conflict management strategy, must address global climate change and its local effects when thinking ahead and find ways to decrease their destructive effects.

Archaeologists find the biblical kingdom of Edom

A team of archaeologists say that they’ve found the ancient kingdom of Edom that bordered, and often fought with Israel. According to Genesis Chapter 36, Edom was founded by Jacob’s brother Esau and his descendants. Timna was the name of one of “the chiefs descended from Esau.”

The Edomites were nomads who lived in part of the region that is now Jordan, but there was a lack of extra-biblical historical evidence about these people.   Archaeologists also believed that the Edomites as a unique nation had only begun to exist several centuries later than the Bible claimed, which directly contradicts the biblical accounts.

But now that could all change. Edomites were more advanced than previously thought, and that they lived at least 300 years earlier than the prevailing belief.  The teams, led by Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University and Thomas E. Levy, from the University of California San Diego, published a paper in PLOS One, a scientific journal, detailing their findings. 

“Using technological evolution as a proxy for social processes, we were able to identify and characterize the emergence of the biblical kingdom of Edom,” Ben-Yosuf said, according to the Times of Israel. “Our results prove it happened earlier than previously thought and in accordance with the biblical description.”

According to the Israeli news outlet Haaretz, Ben-Yosef and Levy, along with their teams, had tested slag, the impurities released from metal (in this case, copper) during smelting. The researchers could tell from this slag that the Edomites where using the same metal smelting techniques that had been used by other people who lived far away from the site around 3,000 years ago. The researchers said that this proved there was a societal system in place that allowed the Edomites to communicate and trade ideas across distances.

“It supports the notion that indeed not only were there people in the region at that time period, but a strong kingdom. It was responsible for making this large scale industry in producing copper. You cannot exaggerate the importance of copper at the time,” Ben-Yosef said.  Copper was crucial in the ancient world since, in addition to having many uses of its own, it could be mixed with tin to make bronze.

Is the New Testament anti-Semitic? Jerusalem Post and the Jewishness of Jesus.

The Jerusalem Post (August 11) published the response of Michael Brown’, a Messianic Jew, to the question ‘Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?’  Here are some extracts of what he wrote:  

In a recent column for The Jerusalem Post, my good friend Rabbi Shmuley Boteach claimed that the New Testament is inherently anti-Semitic. He also argued that the reason Evangelical Christians have become “the foremost allies of the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular” is because they are moving away from a literal interpretation of New Testament writings. He also alleged that as a Jewish believer in Jesus, I am a “dinosaur” among Christians for wanting to see my fellow Jews embrace Jesus as Messiah. Is he correct?

There is no denying that professing Christians through the centuries have used the New Testament to justify their antisemitism. They have demonized and dehumanized our people, and taken deadly action against us with New Testament verses on their lips. “The Jews,” they claimed, were Christ-killers. The Jews as a whole were guilty of deicide. The Jews as a whole were worthy of expulsion and even death.  No one denies this blood history. In fact, my most-translated book documents this very history so that Christians today can feel the pain and shame of what some of their ancestors did in Jesus’s name. 

But as I have travelled around the world sharing these things (now on more than 200 trips outside the United States), my Christian hearers are shocked. “How could a Christian hate the Jews?” they ask incredulously. “Jesus himself is Jewish, the New Testament is Jewish, and God loves the Jewish people to this day.”  When they hear I’m debating Rabbi Shmuley on the subject of, “Is the New Testament Antisemitic?” they respond, “What’s there to debate? Of course it isn’t!”

The vast majority of Evangelicals I have met are philosemites. This is not despite the New Testament but because of it.  They don’t blame “the Jews” for the death of Jesus. Instead, they quote scriptures stating that God so loved the world He sent His son to die for us; that Jesus laid down his life willingly; and that it was our sins that nailed him to the cross.

And yet, contrary to Shmuley’s claim that these Evangelicals are moving away from a literal interpretation of the New Testament, they are famous for their literal reading of the Bible. That’s why they are Christian Zionists. They believe that God has literally kept His promises to His literal, physical people – as reinforced in the New Testament writings – and restored them to their land. 

As for Shmuley’s claim that the New Testament is inherently antisemitic because it indicts Jewish leaders for handing Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion, he must surely know that this is precisely what the Talmud and Maimonides state.  The Rambam speaks of “Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Messiah and was executed by the court” – meaning the Jewish court, otherwise known as the Sanhedrin. As explained by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, “The Jews did not actually carry out the execution, for crucifixion is not one of the Torah’s methods of execution. Rather, after condemning him to death, the Sanhedrin handed him over to the Roman authorities who executed him as a rebel against Roman rule.”  

And it is here that we come to the strangest part of Rabbi Shmuley’s article. He writes, “Today, there is a global movement on the part of our Christian brothers to discover the Jewishness of Jesus, and we in the Jewish community should be leading the way. And I say to my friend Mike Brown, respectfully, that his ongoing desire to convert Jews to a belief in Jesus makes him a dinosaur in the Christian community.”

Of course he is absolutely right that tens (if not hundreds) of millions of Christians worldwide are rediscovering the Jewishness of Jesus. But this only reinforces to them that this Jesus, whom many of them know as Yeshua, is the Jewish Messiah. In fact, they now understand that the only reason Jesus is the Christian saviour is because he is the Jewish Messiah.

Tony Pearce