Can These Bones Live?
Ezekiel looked on in stunned disbelief. Before him lay a valley of bones. The bones were "very dry," indicating that the life they once supported was a long time dead. Nor was this a singular corpse, for the valley was "full of bones" (Ezek. 37:1-2). As the prophet beheld the scene before him, God posed a question to His perplexed servant: "Can these bones live?" (Ezek. 37:3). Everything normal, everything natural, everything pragmatic, everything humanistic argued for a negative response. How could dry bones ever live? But, the prophet was a man of deep faith. His response was simply, "O Lord GOD, thou knowest" (Ezek. 37:3). The prophet seemed to be saying, These bones look dead to me. Humanly speaking, I don't see how they could possibly live; this is not a case of curing the sick, but of raising the dead. But Lord, You cast the stars into space, You spoke the world into existence. You fashioned man from the dust of the earth; if You want these bones to live, they can live. "O Lord GOD, thou knowest."
And, as the prophet prophesied as he was commanded, "there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them" (Ezek. 37:7-8).
That no one need ever question this miraculous scene, God himself gave the interpretation. The dry bones symbolized the dispersed Jews, driven from the Land of Promise (in 70 A.D. and again in 135 A.D.), scattered among the nations of the world and, as a nation, physically and spiritually dead - deep in the grave they lay (Ezek. 37:11). The noise, the shaking, the bones coming together, the sinews and the flesh coming upon them, spoke of Israel's physical resurrection and restoration to the land (Ezek. 36-37). But, this restoration would be in unbelief - there was no breath in them (Ezek. 37:8). The Bible is clear: Israel's physical restoration to the land must precede her spiritual regeneration in the land (Ezek. 37:14). A requisite for end-time events is that Israel, in unbelief, signs a covenant with the Antichrist (Dan. 9:24-27). As a remnant returned from the Babylonian captivity in three stages and over a period of about ninety-one years (Zerubbabel, 536 B.C.; Ezra 458 B.C.; Nehemiah, 445 B.C.), the present return has also been in stages. It will consummate in spiritual regeneration at Christ's return. God will breathe upon Israel. A nation will be born spiritually in a day (Isa. 66:8). But first must come "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 3:7).
Rome governed Israel from 63 B.C. until 320 A.D. They were supplanted by the Byzantines (Constantinople and the eastern wing of Rome after the Roman Empire was divided), who stayed until defeated by the Arabs in 636. The Arabs continued to rule until unseated by the Seljuks (a Turkish dynasty) in 1072. The "Christian" crusaders (Europe; mainly England, Germany, and France) wrested control from the Seljuks in 1099, only to be defeated by the Mamluks (Egyptian) in 1187. They in turn fell prey to the Ottoman Turks in 1516, who ruled for four-hundred years, until they were dethroned by the British in 1917. Each came seeking to possess the land of Abraham. But, as certainly as they entered, they were spewed out by God. And, from 70 A.D. through all those centuries, the Jew, scattered among the nations of the world, lay in the grave - dead. The bones were very dry. Only an all-knowing and all-powerful God could ever have foretold and engineered Israel's return to her ancient homeland.
No one can, with precision, date the moment that the dry bones in Ezekiel's valley began to make "noise," but a logical starting point is 1897. The occasion was the First Zionist Congress convened at Basel, Switzerland. The luminary figure on that occasion was Dr. Theodore Herzl. He would later say, "At Basel, I laid the foundation of the Jewish state. After five, or perhaps fifty years, everybody will realize it." That was a strange statement and yet, amazingly, exactly fifty years later, in 1947, the United Nations would partition Palestine as a major step to establishing a Jewish homeland. But that's getting ahead of the story.
Herzl had been sent to Paris as a correspondent of a well-known Austrian newspaper. While there, he viewed repeated instances of anti-Semitism, culminating with the infamous trial of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. Dreyfus was a captain on the general staff of the French Army - the only Jew to serve in such an elevated position. He was accused of giving secrets to the enemy and was tried before a military court-martial. Although the evidence was overwhelming that Dreyfus was innocent, after two trials the "Jewish" captain was found guilty. Only after years of torture and imprisonment on Devil's Island was he exonerated of all charges lodged against him. But, the anti-Semitic furor which was fanned by the Dreyfus trial shocked Herzl and European Jewry. Angered and stirred, he wrote a pamphlet, Der Judenstaat (the Jewish state), calling for a homeland for the wandering Jew. It would appear that God was in it. The pamphlet was translated into many languages. In large measure, as a result, the First Zionist Congress was convened.
Max Nordau, one of the distinguished delegates, drafted a document which set forth Zionist aims. The opening statement is an accurate definition of what Zionism is. "Zionism," he wrote, "seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law." The movement toward a Jewish homeland was not without problems from the very beginning. Many Jews were vehemently opposed to a Jewish state, content where they were, or fearful that attempts to establish a Jewish homeland would ignite new waves of anti-Semitism. And, among those who favored a new homeland, debate raged over where to locate it; in part, because efforts to deal with the Ottoman Turks, who were in control of Palestine at the time, proved futile.
Serious alternate suggestions to establish the new state in places like Argentina, North America, the Sinai Peninsula, and Uganda were made, examined, and rejected. In the end, the invisible, divine magnetism of their ancient homeland would prove irresistible. Only there could a truly Jewish state be forged. However, so formidable was the opposition to a Jewish homeland by many Jews - so unlikely its chances of success - that friends of Herzl suggested he visit a psychiatrist. Instead, he visited Baron Hirsch, a Jew who was a multi-millionaire, and with whom he shared his plans. The rich Jew, likewise, considered Herzl a mere visionary, a dreamer of dreams that would never be realized. Undaunted, he went to the Sultan of Turkey and offered to buy the land of Palestine, which was then under Turkish control. For Herzl's troubles, the sultan presented him with three Medals of Honor - but no land. Still this man, with the piercing eyes of a prophet, who once commented, "If you will it, it is no dream," pressed on as if "possessed."
Generally unknown is the fact that while many Jews were initially opposed to a Jewish homeland, many true believers sought to give support to what they understood to be a divine undertaking. In the Jewish Agency Building in Jerusalem is a large room, which is a replica of Dr. Herzl's study. The appointments are original - his desk, a number of his chairs, and the pulpit from which he spoke at the First Zionist Congress. On the wall is a framed photograph of his good friend, the Reverend Mr. Hechler, the chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna. It was this good friend who opened doors of opportunity by introducing Herzl to prominent people in Europe, including the famous Grand Duke of Baden, who was the uncle of Emperor William II of Germany - all of this as Herzl tried tirelessly to gain the support of major European nations for his dream of a Jewish homeland.
Also to be found in the replica Herzl study is his library. And, among these books is a very special Bible. It was presented to him by a Mr. A. Holland of Surrey, England, on August 24, 1900. On the flyleaf of the Bible, Mr. Holland wrote, "See Ezekiel, chapters 36 to 39" (which speak glowingly of the resurrection of the land of Israel and the restoration of its people to the land). On the second flyleaf, Mr. Holland had written references to Isaiah 53 (which describes the fact of Messiah's death) and Daniel 9:25-27 (which foretells the time of Messiah's death), and the New Testament fulfillment in Matthew, chapters 26 and 27. What are particularly meaningful to this writer are the words which were inscribed for the presentation to Dr. Herzl. "Kindly accept this Old and New Testament, His pure Word, from a lover of Israel, God's ancient people. May the God of Israel guide you and your helpers in the work of deliverance."
When the Turkish rule over Palestine fell to the British as a result of the First World War in 1917, it was General Allenby, a godly believer and lover of Israel, who captured the city of Jerusalem without firing a shot. Before attacking the city, he literally requested that believers back in England pray for three days. As his army approached the city walls, the Arab defenders threw down their weapons and fled. In great humility, he dismounted and walked into the holy city, clearly stating that he did not want to ride as a conquering hero into the city of Jerusalem, the city to which his Savior would one day return to become King of kings and Lord of lords.
One day a group of Galilean farmers in the north made their way to a British bank located in Jerusalem. They wanted to borrow money to drain the malaria-infested swamp of the Huleh Valley located just north of the Sea of Galilee. They had no collateral. The bank committee met, considered the request, and turned it down. One of the Jewish Galilean farmers knew that the bank president was a Christian who believed the Bible and so he directed him to the Book of Ezekiel and read these few words, "For, behold, I am for you" (Ezek. 36:9). The Jewish farmer then asked the Christian banker, "What is the 'you' that God is referring to?" The banker looked at the context for a moment and said, "The 'you' refers to the land of Israel. God is saying, 'I am for you.'" The farmer quickly responded, "All we want to do is help God out. We need some money to drain the swamp and work the soil." The bank president walked back into the committee meeting, and they reconsidered the request. The loan was approved, and today the Huleh Valley stands as one of the spectacular agricultural achievements of the modem state.
The Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem is the finest in the Middle East. Today, medicine is an advanced science in Israel, comparable to the best in the world; but fifty years ago (before the advent of the modern nation) there was little hospital care in Israel, except for that which was provided by Christians who treated both Jews and Arabs in the name of Jesus Christ.
Few informed people today can deny the quality, courage, and dedication of the Israeli army. However, not as many realize that the man who initially trained the Israelis in guerrilla warfare and night fighting was a British officer. His name was Orde Wingate. He, too, was a godly believer. In one hand he carried a rifle, in the other a Bible. He took the Bible literally and believed that God meant what He said and said what He meant. Wingate was convinced that God intended that Palestine be a homeland for the Jew. Even today in Israel, by those old enough to remember, Wingate is spoken of with great warmth and affection. An agricultural school and many streets have been affectionately named after him.
While there were those forces within the world Jewish community who opposed Herzl and his dream for a Jewish homeland, there were those courageous souls who stood with him.
One such man was Chaim Weizmann. More than any other mortal, he, along with Herzl, was responsible for the modern state of Israel. He had worked earnestly for the cause of Zionism since his young manhood. During the latter part of the First World War, Britain and her allies were in the midst of a great crisis. The very outcome of the war itself may have been at stake. The chemical "acetone," used in the making of cordite, was in short supply. It was essential for the production of explosives, desperately needed for the war effort. Lloyd George, at that time the Minister of Munitions, contacted Chaim Weizmann, who was a brilliant chemist working at the University of Manchester. He conveyed Britain's desperate need. The chemist rolled up his sleeves and went to work day and night. Within weeks, Weizmann developed an improved substitute for the scarce acetone. The day was saved for the British and her allies. The government, wanting to express its gratitude, asked Dr. Weizmann what they could do to show their appreciation. The response was, "Nothing for me, but for my people, a homeland in Palestine."
Lloyd George did not forget his indebtedness. As soon as he became Prime Minister, he conferred with Lord Balfour, who was the Foreign Secretary, concerning the request of the Jewish chemist who had rendered such valuable service to Great Britain. Both were favorably disposed to the Jewish cause. At least, to some degree (and there were other factors), this request was responsible for the historic British "Balfour Declaration" of November 2, 1917. The Declaration stated:
His Majesty's Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Twenty years earlier, delegates at the First Zionist Congress expressed their desire to "seek to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine SECURED UNDER PUBLIC LAW." With publication of the "Balfour Declaration," Great Britain, at that time the world's most powerful nation, expressed agreement with and support for that goal. The bones which had begun to make a "noise" two decades earlier were now beginning to "shake and come together."
Shortly after World War I, the League of Nations, which was to become the forerunner of the United Nations, was formed. In 1922, five years after the "Balfour Declaration," that international body gave a mandate to Great Britain to establish a homeland for the Jewish people. Now "sinew and flesh" were beginning to cover those dead bones.
During the years that Herzl and his followers sought recognition of a Jewish state, other Jews fleeing persecution, or with idealistic dreams, returned by the thousands from Russia, Poland, and other countries to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their seed as an everlasting possession. What they found was a barren, desolate, malaria-infested, swampy land. Mark Twain, describing the area north of the Sea of Galilee about one hundred years ago, wrote, "There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent - more than thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see any human being."
With help from wealthy Jews abroad, somehow they began to buy the land for what the absentee landlords thought was exorbitant profit. Literally thousands of these early pioneers died as they planted eucalyptus trees and drained the swamps. But still they came.
And somehow - in the midst of politics, with a far greater Arab population in the Middle East, with the increased interest in oil, with movement toward the Second World War - the "Balfour Declaration" and the League of Nations mandate to Great Britain were all but forgotten.
With the rise of Nazism in 1933, Jews, in increasingly large numbers, began to flee Germany and the concentration and death camps of Adolph Hitler. Many, out of desperation, made their way to Palestine. The surrounding Arab nations, displeased by this surge of Jewish immigration, began to put pressure on the British to stop the flow of Jews. Their leverage was the impending Second World War. The Arabs rightly understood that the British would need them as allies, should a war break out, much as they needed them in the First World War during the days of "Lawrence of Arabia." Under this pressure, in 1938, the British instituted the "White Papers" restricting Jewish immigration into Israel to fifteen thousand a year - this at a time when Europe's Jews were blocked by immigration quotas from entering most of the nations of the world.
Would the bones - which by this time had come together, were connected with sinew, and covered with flesh - collapse under the weight of such pressure? During the Second World War, the Jews in Israel set aside their feud with the British and fought on the side of the allies. Only after the war did the world come to know the enormity of Nazi crimes against the Jews of Eastern Europe. Five-million-eight-hundred-thousand Jews - more than one-third of world Jewry - were murdered in the concentration camps, death camps, and before the firing squads of the Third Reich. And this, not from a barbaric people, but among nations that called themselves "Christian."
Following the war, many survivors of the Holocaust, using whatever mode of transportation possible, tried to make their way to Israel. The British, still rigidly enforcing their "White Papers," would capture boats carrying Jews who were seeking to enter Israel and send them back to their port of embarkation in Europe or confine them on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. From there they would allow only fifteen-hundred per month to enter Israel.
But still the Jews came - until a large ship filled with Holocaust survivors was stopped by the British. The British captain demanded that the ship turn back. Its commanders refused. The British threatened that they would board the ship. The crew countered that they would blow the ship up with all aboard before the eyes of the world. The British impeded the ship's forward progress. The passengers went on a hunger strike with the intent of throwing the bodies of those who perished over the side. The world, for the moment, sympathetic - as the facts of the Holocaust were now coming to light - looked on through the news media. The ship was named "The Exodus."
Thirty years earlier, the British voiced their intent to establish a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Twenty-five years earlier the League of Nations gave them a mandate to establish that homeland. But they reneged on their promise and moral obligation.
Now frustrated and unable to quell the disturbances between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, the British turned the matter over to the United Nations for resolution. Today, Great Britain is spiritually and morally bankrupt. In the day Great Britain issued the "Balfour Declaration," intending to establish a Jewish homeland, she was the greatest nation in the world. The sun never set on the British Empire. But "how are the mighty fallen!" (2 Sam. 1:19, 27). The British government had a moral and legal right to help establish a homeland for the Jew, but because of political consideration, she reneged on her promise. For nations and individuals, the Word of God still stands: "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee" (Gen. 12:3).
The thorny Jewish problem was placed into the lap of the United Nations. In November of 1947, they voted to partition Palestine and establish a homeland for the Jew. Two key factors in the outcome of the vote were: (1) world sympathy because of the Jewish atrocities during the Second World War; and (2) an American president named Harry Truman. In the days leading up to the United Nations' vote on the partitioning of Palestine to establish a Jewish and a Palestinian state, things appeared bleak for the Jewish cause. Sentiment in the United Nations was not favorable. America's ambassador to the United Nations stood in opposition to partition. So too, did our State Department. Before entering politics, Harry Truman was a haberdasher - he owned a fashionable men's clothing store. But in God's sovereignty, he had a partner who was Jewish. "Harry's" old friend flew to Washington to see him. He pled with the president to give his people a chance. Of course, the president was noncommittal. But when his friend left, the president called America's ambassador to the United Nations and ordered him to support the partition plan. Other nations followed America's lead. When the vote finally came, it took only three minutes, but to world Jewry it seemed to stretch the entire nineteen hundred years of her exile.
How the UN Voted
At last – as outlined in the First Zionist Congress of 1897 – a Jewish homeland, in Palestine, was secured under public law.
An ancient Jewish sage once wrote:
If not here - where?
If not now - when?
If not you - who?
Blatant Arab threats notwithstanding, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the nation's first Prime Minister - in conformity with the United Nations action - in an emotional speech declared Israel a free and independent nation among the nations of the world. The bones which Ezekiel saw prophetically twenty-five hundred years earlier had made a "noise," they "shook," the bones "came together," and "the sinews and flesh" had come upon them. Now, at last, the bones "stood up upon their feet" (Ezek. 37:10). But could she survive in a hostile environment, surrounded by Islamic nations committed to her destruction?
The next article (4 of 5) is entitled "A Nation Reborn Through the Faithful Hand of God."
These Bones Live?