ISRAEL: First Impressions

I stood recently on the top of the Mount of Olives, 2743 feet above sea level, easily the most prominent landmark in the vicinity of the Holy City. As I looked westward, I could see the Garden of Gethsemane and the Kidron Valley below. Above the valley stood the impressive city of Jerusalem with its walls, its turrets, and its towers. The Dome of the Rock built upon the Solomonic and Herodian Temple site glistened in the morning sun as it stood silently, as a sentinel high above the surrounding landscape.

From the southeast corner of the city my glance moved northward along the massive wall until it fastened upon the Golden Gate. In 810 the Arabs sealed the Golden Gate with solid masonry, fearing that a great Christian conqueror would enter the city that way. In 1102 the Crusaders opened it, but after 85 years the city reverted back to Arab control, and the gate was once again closed and has remained so till the present hour. Though closed during the last 786 years, the Golden Gate or Eastern Gate, as it is sometimes known, still remains the most famous, the most beautiful, and the most appreciated of all the gates leading into Jerusalem. Its fame continues, not only because of its past history, but because it is spotlighted in prophecy. No doubt it was the prophetic implications which moved the Arabs to seal the gate in the first place.

The post-exilic prophet, Zechariah, in speaking of the Lord’s return said:

“And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the East.” Zech. 14:4.

The prophet Ezekiel, who more fully than any other seer describes the rebuilt temple and the restored glory of God, allows us to listen in on an intimate conversation:

“Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. And Jehovah said unto me, This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it; for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut. As for the prince he shall sit therein as prince to eat bread before Jehovah; he shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.” Ezekiel 44:1-3

On Palm Sunday the Lord Jesus Christ descended the Mount of Olives, entered the Temple courtyard through the Golden Gate and proceeded to the Temple. He had offered Himself as King of Israel only to be rejected. The Bible predicts that Jesus will descend the same mountain, enter the same gate, proceed we believe to the same Temple site, and there offer Himself to the same people and be proclaimed King. Listen carefully, dear reader, and you can hear the antiphonal refrain of the angelic host at that still future royal procession.

“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors: And the King of glory will come in. Who is the king of glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; Yea, lift them up, ye everlasting doors: And the King of glory will come in. Who is this King of glory? Jehovah of hosts, He is the King of glory.” Psalms 24:7-10

My ministry with The Friends of Israel had brought me to the Holy Land. I would be meeting workers from our society, speaking with evangelical leaders throughout the length and breadth of the land, and seeing for the first time the State where Bible history and prophecy had been and will be acted out. I realized as I viewed the Golden Gate that all which I would see and hear in Israel, no matter how humanly impressive, would fade into insignificance compared to the radiance of a yet future event. What a glorious day it will be when the King of Kings enters the Golden Gate and Ichabod (the glory is departed) is replaced by Jehovah Shammah (the Lord is there).

The Volkswagen we were driving quickly helped to educate us. First, it demonstrated that Israel is a land of deep valleys and high hills – even in low gear, we were just able to get to the top of some of them.

Secondly, it taught us that many Israelis, upon getting behind the steering wheel of an automobile, think they are tank commanders. They are not incompetent – but reckless. The Biblical phrase, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” could well characterize many drivers in Israel. One has the feeling that the high taxes (much higher than in the United States), the shortage of housing, and the ever present danger from their Arab neighbors causes anxiety. For some the car is a safety valve.

Thirdly, distances between Biblical places such as Nazareth and Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jericho, Tiberias and Capernaum become more realistic as you view the terrain, and as during occasional pauses you feel the hot, sometimes inhospitable sun beating down on you. It does not take very long to realize that the Biblical personalities who trod this land had to be physically rugged.

The standard of living is diverse, ranging from very poor to very rich. The modern State of Israel is socialistic though there appears to be a strong tendency toward free enterprise. Houses and apartments are generally much smaller and considerably more expensive than in America. Often one must wait several years to qualify for government subsidized housing with priority going to immigrants of three years or less. Automobiles are roughly twice the price of a similar car in the United States because of heavy taxation, forcing most to rely on a rather good transportation system. Electrical appliances of every description are similarly taxed so that many kitchens have antiquated equipment by American standards. The economy of the nation, however, must be considered in the light of her youth. When it is remembered that Israel recently celebrated her 25th Anniversary it is difficult to remain stoic concerning her considerable accomplishments. In truth, “The desert is blossoming as a rose.” Her development from May 14, 1948 to the present hour is unparalleled in all previous history. Without being unduly optimistic, and barring human or divine intervention, Israel given ten or fifteen more years will probably reach as high a social-economic level as any nation in the world.

Militarily, Israel must live in a constant state of readiness. Her geography is comparable in size to the State of New Jersey, (excluding occupied territory). The population of 2 ¾ million approximates the population of Philadelphia. Her western border is the Mediterranean Sea. On all other sides she faces an Arab world in excess of 130 million people with leadership committed to Israel’s destruction. These roughly 40-1 odds make everything subservient to military prowess. More than 40% of the nation’s budget is earmarked for defense. During the 25th Anniversary Parade, like most Israelis and tourists, I stood awed as planes, tanks (many of them built by the Russians and captured in the Six Day War), troop carriers, artillery pieces, rockets and members of the various branches of the Armed Forces passed by in sharp review. Many experts consider the Israeli fighting force among the best in the world, for its size. Both men and women are drafted at age 18 for three and two years respectively. Upon release from active duty men must spend 30 days a year in training and are subject to immediate recall. The end result is a small standing army with the ability to mobilize their reserve forces within 24 hours. Perhaps the government’s two greatest assets are: (1) The unity within Israel during times of crisis, contrasted with the disunity in the Arab world, and (2) the realization that unlike her Arab neighbors, she has no option in any confrontation. Israel must win or cease to exist as a nation.

Since my visit to Israel was primarily for the purpose of visiting our missionaries and ascertaining the facts concerning the much publicized persecution of Christians, let me share some general observations:

  1. There is throughout the land a genuine body of born-again believers who love the Lord Jesus and meet regularly for worship and instruction (often on days other than Sunday since most people must work on Sunday).
  2. Many are faithfully sharing their faith; however, some are cautious because of persecution (sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between tact and compromise.)
  3. In some churches and Bible-study groups there is in-depth teaching of the Word of God.
  4. Direct opposition and persecution is very real, primarily by the Jewish Defense League (many of them are American Jews) and the orthodox community.

Opposition to the Gospel by the government is more subtle, but nonetheless, real. It manifests itself in at least four ways:

  1. Failure to aggressively put a stop to lawless acts perpetrated against Hebrew Christians.
  2. Denial of immigration to Hebrew Christians and visas to almost all who want to do missionary work.
  3. Law which prohibits the evangelization of the youth under 18 years of age.
  4. Expulsion of those in the land with visas who are engaged in missionary work.

While it is true that government policy does not favor missionary activity, it is to be regretted that both the secular and the religious press have overstated recent incidents and thereby have given to the public a distorted picture of the evangelical situation as it really exists in Israel today. In my opinion, the official government position is heading toward greater freedom and tolerance for reputable missions notwithstanding strong dissenting voices.

Mrs. Meir, the Israel Prime Minister, in obvious good humor recently remarked to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt: “Let me tell you something that we Isralis have against Moses. He took 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.” However, she neglected to mention that Moses, the great statesman and lawgiver, did predict that,

“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of they brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” Deuteronomy 18:15

Here is the treasure far greater than all the riches of the world. He need only be appropriated. Paradoxically, Israel desperately wants peace but has had repeated wars. Neither personal nor national peace will come until they look with repentance and favor upon the One of whom Moses spoke – Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace.


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