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Israel at 70: Lessons for the Church Part 1

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by Thomas Fretwell

Israel at 70: Lessons for the Church Part 1

"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons" (Isaiah 66:8).

On Friday May 14, 1948, the modern state of Israel was born. The new prime minister David Ben Gurion read the Declaration of Independence. The opening statement of this declaration is significant as it mentions both Jewish identity and Jewish attachment to the land:

“The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.”1 

Now, 70 years later, it is an appropriate time for the church to look at what lessons can be learned from this momentous event. While theological discussion concerning the relationship between Israel and the church has existed for nearly 2,000 years, the establishment of the modern state has breathed new life and increased vigor into the discussion. Although the subject may be complex, the relationship of Israel to the church is still of significant interest to many Christians. This should not come as a surprise given that the term “Israel” is mentioned over 2,000 times in the Old Testament and 70 times in the New. In addition, the biblical phrase “the God of Israel” occurs over 200 times, and the word “Zion” over 160 times. Many Christians recognize that they worship a Jewish Messiah; they study a Jewish Bible, written predominately by Jewish apostles, and many Christians interpret the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 11:17 to mean that Gentiles are “grafted in” to a Jewish root.

The Rock of Israel

As the British forces pulled out of the Middle East and the mandate period came to an end, fierce debate raged amongst Jewish leaders regarding one question of the Declaration of Independence: Should the name of God be included in the official text? The religious Jews were insisting that the name of God be included in the declaration, but the secular and non-religious groups wanted no mention of God in the document. Finally, a compromise was reached that would satisfy both parties. Instead of using the designation “Lord” or even “God,” the phrase that was agreed upon was the “rock of Israel” (Tsur Yisrael). This was cryptic enough to placate the non-religious, yet significant enough to pacify the religious.  The closing paragraph reads:

“...Placing our trust in the 'Rock of Israel,' we affix our signatures to this proclamation at this session of the provincial council of State, on the soil of the homeland, in the city of Tel-Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the fifth day of Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948)."

Although this term was chosen to be an ambiguous alternative to the phrase “Lord,” when it is understood how this term is used multiple times in the Bible as a designation for God, it turns out to be a very fitting phrase for such a document.

In the Song of Moses from the book of Deuteronomy we read: "For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He" (Deuteronomy 32:3-4).

Here the Lord is referred to as “The Rock.”

He is described as a perfect, just, faithful and righteous God. Such are the qualities that belong to the great God of Israel. There is little ambiguity to be found in these verses. 

Even more explicit use of the term “Rock” is found in Psalm 18, written by King David after the Lord delivered him from the hand of King Saul. We read:

"I love You, O LORD, my strength.The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies" (Psalm 18:1-3).

Here the Lord is described using several adjectives that each elaborate part of His character. The Lord is David’s rock, fortress and deliverer. This speaks to us of the solid and strong foundation that the Lord offers to David; He is the one who provides protection for David and keeps him from harm. He is also a refuge, a place of safety and rest from the enemy. A similar theme is expressed in Proverbs 18:10 and Psalm 61:3, “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”

David goes on to describe The Rock of Israel as a shield, something that is carried by the soldier into battle. This calls to remembrance David’s battle with the Philistine giant Goliath. David was given Saul’s armor to wear into battle, but he refused as it was not tested. David went into battle with a tested shield; he declares to Goliath, “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted” (1 Samuel 17:45). 

This Rock of Israel is also said to be the “horn of salvation.”

What an interesting phrase this is! In the New Testament we see this exact phrase applied to Jesus Christ from the lips of Zechariah:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant"(Luke 1:68-69). 

The designation that was previously applied to the LORD (Yahweh) in the Old Testament is now given to Jesus Christ. What is true of the God of Israel is true of the Messiah. Therefore, the church must be diligent as it seeks to understand all that the Old Testament has to say about the “Rock of Israel,” because as the apostle Paul says, “the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Jesus is the Rock of Israel; He is the one who is perfect, faithful and just in all His ways.

He continues to offer protection, refuge, deliverance and salvation to all those who call upon Him today. The same God who promised that, “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4) is also the one who promised the church that, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

How fitting it is that the term “Rock of Israel,” chosen to obscure any overt reference to God, actually ends up pointing toward Jesus Christ the Messiah of Israel. How providential that this reference is forever enshrined in the founding document of the modern State of Israel.  

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Rock of Ages, Augustus Toplady, 1776


1 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel 14, May 1948. Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs.