Zionism: The national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty to the Land of Israel.
You know, we see from Scriptures that Babylon is not entirely bad. Before entering exile, the Jews were not monotheistic – they were henotheistic – worshiping many gods but acknowledging Adonai as the head of the pantheon, the top god. King David even had a teraphim in his bedroom that Michal placed in their bed to distract the soldiers (I Sam 19). It began after the death of Joshua and wasn’t because they wanted to insult God – it’s just an indication that we all read the Scriptures through our unique cultural context and assumptions. The entire world was non-exclusively polytheistic (meaning the multiple gods they served were not jealous) – henotheism was a step up from that, not having any gods BEFORE Adonai, just beneath Him. They saw Him as jealous, but not that jealous. We see that this was unacceptable to Adonai and the prophets repeatedly warned the people, and yet we see Adonai’s patience. They really were trying to do what was right, but they weren’t quite understanding. Every other pantheon had greater and lesser gods who controlled different cosmic functions – polytheism was just an indication that no one thought one god could do it all alone. Sometimes they had more gods and sometimes very few, who were worshiped alongside Adonai – until the exile.
Exile changed Judaism forever; it was a major correction. The Jews were engulfed into a truly polytheistic society and, because of this, they were allowed great religious freedom to worship Adonai. Horrified by what life was truly like in a society bereft of the One True God, they chose to worship Him exclusively, becoming enormously concerned with what the Scriptures said about acceptable worship, and that worship has remained exclusive to this day.
The original idea behind a vaccine is this: being infected with a controllable measure of a virus at a certain stage in its life cycle, and being able to suffer through it and overcome it naturally, builds the immune system to give immunity. The body learns what the disease looks like and learns how to deal with it. The early vaccines did that incredibly well. (Not an invitation to talk about vaccines, only the Bible). That was Babylon – God’s vaccine against idolatry. The Jews got a snootful of the real thing and the true lack of freedom that people have within it to be led by and obey God’s laws. As a result, the Judaism that emerged from Babylon was hyper anti-idolatrous. This hypersensitivity was a direct lead up to the Maccabean revolt – the Jews were wanting to die before going the path of betraying God ever again. A great many did die – they allowed themselves to be slaughtered instead of fighting on the Sabbath, they endured torture rather than eat idol meat, the mothers illegally circumcised their male babies only to die with them hung around their own necks.
Why was the command given, “Come out of her my people?”(Jer 51:41). Well, they had been sent to Babylon against their will – Nebuchadnezzar, a brutal and idolatrous man, was used as God’s own tool – His servant (Jer 27:6). But Nebuchadnezzar had gone too far; he had been too brutal, he enjoyed his job. God often uses the unrighteous to discipline His people, but woe to the man who enjoys doing it, who inflicts too much punishment and shows not enough mercy and refuses to give God His due respect afterward. When the discipline is done, what happens to the people who went too far? Who relished slaughtering the apple of God’s eye? They have to be judged themselves! And they were – by Cyrus the Great, who destroyed Nebuchadnezzar’s line. The Jews were warned to flee out of the way of the coming destruction – not from idolatry. Babylon was an incredibly comfortable place, the commercial center of the world – and they had religious freedom. There were some bumps along the way where kings were manipulated into actions that put the Jews in jeopardy, but all in all, the Jews were safe and cozy there, they were prosperous and influential – it was hard to contemplate leaving and in fact, at that point, they had nowhere to go, really, but this was a call to get ready to go. They were subjects of the Babylonian empire with no homeland of their own to legally return to yet – but that would change.
Cyrus II, the “Great” would change that, and they would be able to leave in the last half of the sixth century BCE, able to go back to a very hazardous Israel to rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Those who did, faced hardship and death, a total loss of comfort and the status they had in the Empire. It was somewhat like the prospect of those who leave America and make Aliyah today. Israel is good, it is the Land of my King and always will be, but those who go are leaving a very safe and very easy way of life here in order to go to a place where living is expensive, jobs are hard to get unless you speak Hebrew as well as a native born, and the threat of being murdered by terrorists is very real.
Still, the call to “Come out of her” is spiritually always before us, not just the Jews. Are we willing to leave our ease and comfort to go where God is leading us, away from what we have always known? Following God is always difficult – it rarely takes us over well-tread paths, it is not comfortable, it comes at great cost to ourselves, and sometimes it is not safe. And yet, where is God? Is God calling us to live well-fed in our city, suburban or country homes, pleased with ourselves and our safe religious lives, or does he call us to turn our eyes away from all that ease when the time comes?
The Jews who did not “Come out of her,” who refused to go rebuild Jerusalem in 530 BCE, ended up being faced with slaughter at the hands of Haman around fifty years later during the rule of Cyrus’ grandson Xerxes I. It was only after this genocidal attempt that many more Jews made Aliyah under Artaxerxes – the king mentioned in the chronicles of Ezra and Nehemiah .
Sadly, it became popular within Christianity, during the Protestant/Catholic wars, to mischaracterize this call to “Come out of her” as a clarion call against “Babylonian” idolatry, but this isn’t the context – in fact, Babylon’s idolatry barely gets a mention in the entire chapter; when it does, it is in relation to their being shamed as part of God’s overall vengeance. Furthermore, when the danger of idolatry is mentioned in the Bible, it is in connection with Egypt, Canaan, and Jeroboam. Babylon, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly referenced in respect to commerce, military might, and the luxury provided by the two. God didn’t send Israel into exile to introduce them to idolatry, but to cure them of it and make them sick of it before they could rebuild the Temple as commanded in Haggai 1.
God gave Nebuchadnezzar the authority to subdue the people as well as the nations of the Earth, but he misused his power and was unspeakably cruel, as were his descendants. He amassed tremendous wealth – Babylon was probably the greatest commercial giant of the ancient world. Hence the head of the statue in his dream was made of solid gold. The wealth of the world was centered in Babylon, it was the merchant’s equivalent of Mecca – and the whole world was drunk off of the luxury and profits – not the religion. After all, Babylon was simply one of a great many heathen nations – not unique in the ancient world. They were all entirely idolatrous, every single nation, and so Babylon was not unique in that way. Babylon’s uniqueness lay in her military prowess and especially in her commercial dominance.
Babylon was sent to punish God’s people and went overboard. Babylon destroyed the filth that had overtaken God’s Temple and His city Jerusalem and went overboard. Once the seventy years of wrath were completed, God had achieved His vengeance, as Jeremiah 51 clearly shows. Babylon dishonored God in every way, instead of honoring Him as they should – and when Nabonidus took the sacred Temple vessels and placed them into the hands of heathens to drink to the honor of the gods of silver and gold, that was the final straw. Jer 51:24 gives the final sentence against Babylon:
“I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done **in Zion,** declares the Lord.”
God’s honor was tied up in Zion – it still is. That’s why all the nations still fight over Jerusalem, why every nation seeks out a place for their god there. Islam, for example, sets up mosques over the holy ground of any other religious site they destroy – to shame defeated gods and, by extension, the people who worship them. Since the end of World War II and even long before, Zionists have been crying out “Come out of her my people” because they see now what too many Jews of Babylon did not understand: If the Jews had all returned to Israel in the time of the initial decree of Cyrus, then no one would have been able to harm them or subjugate them. There were enough Jews in the world at that point that their sheer numbers would have overwhelmed the Samaritans, they could have rebuilt the walls and Temple quickly, and they could have avoided much of the bloodshed under the later Seleucids.
“Come out of her my people.” It is a statement of reality – you can generally only be persecuted when you live in small pockets around the world – like the 1% of the pre-WWII German population whose passports were taken easily and whose voting rights and jobs were taken just as effortlessly. Of course, superior weaponry can change that – as we saw in Apartheid South-Africa where the minority terrorized the majority. In general, however, it holds true. As Gandhi taught the Indian people, there is strength in numbers, enough strength to drive out the oppressors.
“Come out of her my people.” Before WWII, in 1933, there were approximately 15.3 million Jews in the world, after WWII there were roughly 9 million Jews in the world, with just over half living in the Americas. In 2014, there were 13.9 million Jews worldwide – 6.1 million of those living in Israel and 5.7 million living in America.
That’s right – there are fewer Jews now than there were in 1933, and anti-Semitism is rising again. I don’t blame them for not wanting to leave America, but I am increasingly wondering if they are supposed to go. We are the new commercial giant giving them religious freedom, we have made it comfortable to stay when they belong to the Land and the Land belongs to them. They need each other, the Land and the Jews. The Land of my King is good, so good, but too much of it lies undefended because God’s people have been spread out too thin in other nations. Too many Jews live undefended as well because they are spread out too thin among the nations. I am torn, I want them here because I love them and they bring blessings, but a growing part of me wants them to go home, because increasingly I feel a tug at my heart that they should be home in Israel – even though this is also their home. I fear for the days when this will not be their home anymore, may it never happen – when we will have to hide them and feed them and care for them at the cost of our own lives and the lives of our children. Already I see them being increasingly slandered among some cultish fringe leaders – but how long before the cultish fringe becomes the mainstream? Hitler was fringe once, and so was Stalin – fringe but charismatic. Hates burns brighter and brighter until the fuel runs out and it fizzles – our modern Google society has too much fictitious kindling out there right now to ignite the hatred of people who are quick to believe whatever fuels their contempt – as though people with webpages are automatically credible as long as what they say either outrages or appeals to us. People who don’t want to believe they can be deceived are easily distracted and fooled when told that someone else has already lied to them. In their offense they become easy pickings for con men and women.
What fuels the hatred most of all is jealousy, which is short-sighted and unnecessary. From Sinai, relationship with God has never been genetically exclusive – a person is a Jew who swears allegiance and lives according to the Covenant. Although that had been obscured by the eighteen edicts of Shammai in the first century BCE, making contact between Jew and Gentile incredibly difficult, when the Holy Spirit fell onto the God-fearing (commandment keeping) family of Cornelius in Acts 10, that middle wall of separation was struck down. No one has to be jealous of the Jews – they have the advantage, certainly, and have carried out the responsibility of preserving the oracles of God with great diligence. Observant Jews have kept the commandments alive for millennia, and they do have an inherently special connection with God. That was and is God’s choice! Dare we be jealous of God’s choice when he has graciously opened the door wide to all who desire to be grafted in? Gratitude, and not jealousy, should be our response. Yes, some Jews, even Messianic Jews, want us to be second-class citizens. Oh well. That has nothing to do with us, and a whole lot of non-Jews want Jews to be second-class citizens – allow God to work in the hearts of people who want supremacy, as He has to work on ours as well. What does God desire? That all men be saved and worship Him. This is about Him; it’s never been about us.
“Come out of her My people” – the first and ongoing call to Zionism.