Fond memories of my time in Jerusalem during the Hanukkah festival two years ago have come flooding back this week. I remember well the colourful light displays amidst a carnival atmosphere as the nine-branched menorah was lit at restaurants, malls and other meeting places around the city, though I suspect there is a mood of caution and anxiety this year in view of the spate of terror attacks on individual Jews innocently going about their daily routine.
The festival of course marks God’s intervention during the reign of the ruthless Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus Epiphanes who desecrated the Jewish Temple by sacrificing a pig there and blasphemously proclaimed himself God. Judah Maccabee led a brave and successful revolt against the tyrant in 139 BC and re-established temple worship (Hanukkah means ‘dedication’) with the aid of the menorah which burned miraculously for eight days despite having only enough oil for a day. The Greeks had polluted the rest.
In an apparent reference to the festival (not a biblical feast as such), Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.” (John 8.12) And in that respect at least, the eight-day festival’s proximity to Christmas is entirely apt.
So how much has changed over the past two thousand-plus years? Not a lot, except that Israel has survived repeated attempts at genocide. But they will _not _be wiped out, as Iran and the various Islamist terror groups have pledged to do. Indeed, the spirit of Antiochus lives on as enemies from the same region are still bent on Israel’s destruction. Politicians need to understand that it isn’t just about ISIS and their evil plans; they are part of a network of terror groups all with the same aim – to wipe out Israel. The Hamas charter states that Israel will only exist “until Islam abolishes it” and that “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”
The current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has yet to condemn a single one of the many murders of Israelis during the recent months of terror on the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Jewish state. He tells the international community he is against terror while describing the multiple stabbings and shootings as a “peaceful uprising”. So when Arab Palestinians kill Israeli parents in front of their children, it is not to be condemned as terror because it is an expression of “peace”. What sort of crazy, upside-down world are we living in? And Abbas has openly admitted calling for this violence that he describes as peaceful. Should he not be arrested for incitement to murder?
The response to all this from the wider world is equally topsy-turvy. Britain has sanctioned air strikes against ISIS in Syria, but has repeatedly condemned Israel for taking forceful military action against terror groups out to destroy them. Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn was against such action (in Syria) and, for once, I agree with him as it will only further stir up a hornet’s nest.
The ultimate hypocrisy comes from the United Nations, originally set up to ensure lasting world peace but effectively making things worse with a never-ending series of condemnatory resolutions against Israel while ignoring the many dictatorial regimes where human rights hardly exist, much less democracy. Following the terror outrage in Mali, the UN offered its “full support”, but in the case of Israel has offered none. This international body is a sick joke.
But have no fear! The Bible makes it clear that the God of Israel will ultimately triumph over his foes. While preparing for my first book on this subject, Israel the Chosen, I was very nearly wiped out too, but God miraculously delivered me! I was still working as a sports editor by day, and under quite some stress at the time, so I spent my lunch-break at the imposing Selby Abbey (nearly a thousand years old) where I prayed and then wandered up the aisle to read the pulpit Bible, which was opened at the Book of Revelation chapter 12 – a passage about ‘the woman and the dragon’. It’s a picture of how the devil tried to kill the baby Jesus, but the infant was snatched from his grasp. It also proved to be a prophecy of what the rest of the day had in store for me as I had a serious car crash on the way home, with the entire driver’s side front wing of the car ripped off. But I escaped without a scratch. The dragon had set a trap for my doom, but the Lord was watching over me. I was working on a book dedicated to the spiritual re-birth of Israel, and the devil was determined to stop me in my tracks.
In the same way, Israel is hemmed in on all sides and under severe pressure, with terror threats on a daily basis, but Elohim has the last word. For there will come a day when he “will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem”. (Zechariah 12.9)
But as always with the Lord, justice is mixed with mercy – as Naaman discovered at another time in Israel’s history. He was commander of the King of Syria’s army – “a mighty man of valour”, but also a leper. A young Jewish girl, who had been taken captive on one of the Syrian raids, took pity on her master, saying that the man of God (Elisha) could heal him of his leprosy. He took up her suggestion and, after he had obeyed Elisha’s instruction to wash himself in the Jordan seven times, “his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (2 Kings 5.14), at which point he declared: “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
We too should desire the same mercy for our enemies as God showed to Naaman. And even though modern Israel has not yet fully returned to the Lord as a nation, many are displaying the compassionate attributes of our God – like the Israeli doctors on the Golan Heights who treat wounded Syrian soldiers and those who carry out life-saving surgery on Arab children with heart defects.
So we must pray that both mercy and justice will prevail, and that the mass of humanity that is so utterly confused and perturbed by a world full of violence will call out on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and declare as Naaman did: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” (2 Kings 5.15)
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com