Where better to take your family for vacation than to the land of the Bible, the land of promise?

The psalmist outlined our parental responsibility when he declared, “We will not hide (the Word of God) from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psa 78:4-7).

The world around us, that we experience every day, gives a false sense of permanence. Bible places, events and the coming kingdom can seem distant and theoretical. Rather than taking our children somewhere like Disneyland, a place of imaginary characters, why not invest in our future reality with a trip to Israel? Some may be put off by news of terrorism. This is understandable and we will consider it. Exposing our children to the land where the signposts lead to Jerusalem, proofs of the Bible’s characters have risen from the dust (cp Isa 52:2), and the words of the prophets are continuing to be fulfilled, can only help to provide the confidence and evidence that builds faith (Heb 11:1).

Recently we took our four children (aged 7 to 16) to Israel for two and a half weeks. It had been ten years since our last visit. At times, for example with the so-called Israeli “peace process”, it might seem like things are continuing with little change! But, when we step back a little and look at a longer period, it is amazing to see how events are really moving forward in line with the prophetic timeline! After our return trip I believe that this is certainly the case in Israel. We observed some notable changes compared with ten years ago.

During our visit, based out of Jerusalem and Haifa, we saw over thirty places, mostly biblical sites and museums, extending out to Bethel, Shiloh, Caesarea, Mt Carmel, Nazareth, Galilee area, Tel Dan, Mt Hermon, and south to Gush Etzion, Hebron, the Dead Sea, Engedi, Masada and so on. It was warm so we took advantage of any opportunity we had to have a paddle or swim! We visited popular sites like Hezekiah’s Tunnel as well as sites in the middle of nowhere. There were a few times, such as at Elah, when we could have benefited from an off-road capable vehicle!

Safety

Source: data from the Israeli Foreign Ministry

If you are only informed by mainstream media, and have not visited yourself, you are probably asking if we were wise to take our children to such a seemingly violent place? The answer is yes, it was perfectly safe! Believe it or not, the statistics say you are more likely to be murdered in Canada than in Israel. The murder rate in Israel in 2018, which includes politically motivated murders, was 1.14 people per 100,000 inhabitants. In Canada it was 1.76 the same year (Statistics Canada). So, if you are willing to go to Canada (including Ontario), France, the UK or US, you should be okay to go to Israel where, based on statistics from recent years, you will be safer. That said, last I checked nobody was firing rockets at Toronto, and it is normal to see soldiers on the street in Israel, but none-the-less, you will find that both Israelis and Arabs are happy to welcome tourists!

We noticed an obvious difference in the security presence versus ten years ago. There were less security checks and often security gates left open with no security presence. Heightened tensions occur from time to time, but our observation is consistent with the statistics. Since 2001 the trend in the number of peoole killed or injured from terror attacks has continued to decline (see chart below).

Ezekiel 38:11 describes Israel in the last days as “the land of unwalled villages…without walls, and having neither bars nor gates”. So, we should expect the walls, bars and gates to come down! Although this is far from the current reality, when we step back and look at the big picture, it is exciting to see that this is the way the situation is trending! Time will tell how the angels will ultimately bring this about.

Silver and gold

Today in Israel new infrastructure and construction is noticeable everywhere. We rode the new high-speed train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as well as the light rail in Jerusalem. This did not exist ten years ago. Again, if you look at the data it would seem to confirm this is what has been happening. At the same time GDP from construction has increased (see chart below), personal debt has decreased. Of course, a general trend which brings industry and prosperity is what we expect to see leading up to the invasion described in Ezekiel 38. Ezekiel describes the people, following their regathering out of the nations, as having “gotten cattle and goods” such that their “silver and gold” is thought to be the target of their future invader, Gog (38:12-13). Israel’s economy, buoyed more recently by natural gas finds in the Mediterranean, has performed well for several years. Why not go and see the evidence for yourself!

In the latter days thou shalt return to Yahweh thy God

One of the big highlights for us was the day we spent with Meir Eisenman, our Israeli tour guide. We visited ancient Hebron and were shown the archaeological remains from the first and second temple periods and even from the time of Abraham, the first recipient of “the promises made unto the fathers”(Rom 15:8). There are some politically sensitive places like this where it is wise to have the help of an experienced guide, preferably one like Meir who holds the Bible above tradition. Our visit with David Wilder, the retired spokesman for Hebron, was a good reminder that in places like this, change is measured differently. Progress is step by little step.

On the way to Hebron we stopped in to check up on Jeremy Gimpel, rabbi, Land of Israel Network host and musician. Jeremy is developing a spiritual retreat center on the mountains of Judea, in an area the Bible calls the mountains of Ziph, really in the middle of nowhere. As we experienced, he barely has any phone reception. His ambitious plan involves bringing both Jews and non-Jews to Judea and Samaria to learn about biblical prayer.

Jeremy talked to us about how this mountainous area relates to his project and put it in the context of the Jewish calendar at the end of the year, a time of returning to God:

“As David was a young boy developing his relationship with God, developing his relationship with his sheep, which then would become the sheep of Israel, it happened all in these mountains. So, although this place that we’re building here is dedicated towards prayer and meditation and music, encoded in the fabric of these mountains before we ever got here, it was already destined to be that.

Tshuva means to repent. It means to return to God. We’re entering into the month of Elul now which is right before the new year. It’s a month of returning and returning to God, returning to ourselves. When you return to who you are really, then you’re really on the path of returning to God. The first time this word is mentioned in the Torah is in the book of Deuteronomy. It says ‘veshavta ad Hashem [the Name] Elokecha’, ‘and you shall return to the LORD your God’ [cp Deut 4:30RV].

In that context it’s beautiful because it’s also talking about our return to the land and our return to God. It’s like abandoning all our bad ways that we have been punished for in the exile, returning back to Israel, so that as we returned to the land we returned to God.”

Jeremy is very enthusiastic, and it was exciting to listen to him! He went on to explain that he doesn’t want to mumble through the prayers as his Russian grandfather did, but he wants to sing the way the prophet sang. So, he is trying to follow in David’s footsteps, there on the mountains trying to put these words of King David to music in order to make prayer more meaningful for himself and others.

Upon the mountains of Israel

This is just one example of what is happening in many places on the mountain tops in Judea and Samaria, a clear sign that we are very near Messiah’s return. Speaking about Israel’s restoration, God says to Ezekiel:

“…I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God” (Ezek 34:13-15).

Today this process is well under way. The people have returned to the mountains of Israel and at the same time, some of them are returning to God’s Word. The words of Ezekiel are continuing to be fulfilled before our eyes! I asked Jeremy what he thought about this and he spoke about how things have come so far since his grandfather’s experience 200 years ago when at the age of 15 he walked for over a year to the land from Russia:

“More infrastructure and roads have been built in Israel than any other country in the world. The Hebrew language was revived like the book of Zephaniah says it would be. I asked my dad, ‘How did that happen? How did the Hebrew language, that was lost, gone, dead…how did it happen in my dad’s generation?’ He’s like, ‘Well, your grandfather had to speak to me in a language which he didn’t know, in a language that didn’t really exist, and trust that everyone in the land, from all these dffevent countries, would do the same irrational thing; speak to their children in a language they didn’t know, and in a language that doesn’t really exist. Everyone did the same irrational thing, and in one generation the Hebrew language was revived.’ So, from Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from Arab countries, we built the strongest military in the Middle East. We have the strongest economy, almost, in the world. Now the Shekel is one of the strongest currencies in the world. From what?”

He went on to speak about the “miraculous” changes that have taken place and the spiritual revival that is happening today:

“For every country in the world, the more prosperous they become the more they forget about God, the more secular they become. It’s [true for] every country in the world, and that’s the way Israel was also. We became fat and we became rich and we got exiled by Nebuchadnezzar. We got exiled in the northern tribes. Read the books of Amos and Hosea, ‘It’s coming, you guys are getting fat and spoiled and you’re forgetting about God and your idolatrous ways and your immoral ways. Good luck!’ But now, Israel started off [in 1948] very secular. Ezekiel says that when we return to the Land of Israel, in the 36th chapter, we’ll have hearts of stone. God is going to have to replace the heart of stone for a heart of flesh, and make it so that we walk in his commandments and fulfill them. Some people think, ‘How could Israel be the beginning of the redemption process? It was founded by secular people.’ Ezekiel says specifically, the beginning of the return is going to be with a heart of stone. Now, unlike every other country in the world, it’s an anomaly, our economy is going through the roof, the unemployment rates in Israel are at an all time low, but we’re becoming more and more faithful more and more religious…”

It was really amazing for us and the children to hear Jeremy talk about Ezekiel 36, relating it to events that Christadelphians have expected for over a century and that are happening in our lifetime! So, when we visit Israel we witness not only historical and archaeological evidence for Bible truth (such as at the City of David and Davidson Center), but also fulfilled prophecy (such as from 1948 with the Exodus replica at the Maritime Museum in Haifa and from 1967 at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem) and prophecy that is being fulfilled right in front of us such as on the mountains of Judea and Samaria.

Ezekiel 36 begins with a prophecy to the mountains of Israel and continues in verses 24 to 29 to speak about a process of spiritual revival from the time of Jewish restoration to the land:

“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you.”

This is the reformation process that we see incipiently developing in Judea and Samaria today. We do not agree with everything Jeremy and others like him say (there is a work to be done to bring the people out of their superstition into the bonds of the new covenant; to the Lord Jesus Christ), but we certainly agree that the return and preparation of the Jewish people, including on “the mountains of Israel,” is a preliminary fulfillment and a sign that we also ought to be preparing for the coming of Messiah, ie Christ.

In Eureka, Brother Thomas ties these events to the preparation in the sixth vial of Revelation 16, the time before Armageddon when he expected the Jewish regathering to the mountains of Israel would occur (Ezek 38):

“It may be remarked here, that there will have been a considerable gathering of Israelites upon the mountains of Israel before the invasion of the country by Gog, and his capture of Jerusalem. This appears from the Spirit’s address to Gog in the eighth verse of this chapter. In this place he says, ‘In the latter years thou shalt come into the land brought back from the sword, and gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been continually waste; but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them’. Gog also is represented in the eleventh verse as admitting that it is a land of unwalled villages, whose inhabitants are at rest and in safety; for an evil thought comes into his mind, and he says, ‘I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell confidently, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places now inhabited, and upon the people gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land’.” (Logos 1997 edition, Vol 5, pg 246).

It should be noted, in this context, that the future invasion of Israel described by the prophets will not be like previous catastrophes. Although the nation, and Jerusalem in particular, will suffer greatly, Yahweh will intervene and a faithful remnant “…shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith Yahweh of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck… But they shall serve Yahweh their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Zech 14:2-3; Jer 30:7-9).

Blessed is he that watcheth

What would Brother Thomas think if he could see the things we see? When he wrote Eureka there were few Jews in the land, never mind Jewish communities on the mountains of Israel, with hearts receptive to the words of the prophets, and expectantly waiting for their Teacher and Messiah to come! Where else in the world can we show things like this to our children? The hand of God is at work. We should expect that at any moment He will bring His redemptive work through the return of his Son, “David their king”, to its climax!

Our awareness of this fact ought to provoke us to examine ourselves. As Paul says to the Thessalonians: “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief ” (1 Thess 5:4). We have already seen more than many expected and need not see things develop any further before we are called to meet our Lord. Nonetheless, with ease, prosperity and the passing of time, we may become drowsy. We know the Lord’s coming will take many by surprise. Therefore, let us take to heart the warning of our Lord to watch, pray and safeguard our garments from defilement:

“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” (Rev 16:15-16)

Overcoming by faith

To this end, let us draw around the Word of the living God with our children as often as possible, bringing its lessons to life and showing the significance of the times we live in. The helmet of salvation protecting our minds from the philosophies of the world, and the shield of faith, maintained by hearing the Word, are vital defences if we are to overcome (1 John 5:4). The digital content of the screens available today will undermine and counteract all these efforts if we make way for them. We live in times perhaps more exciting than any other since the first century! May we witness to the one hope of Israel—“the promises made unto the fathers”—we are so blessed to hold while we have the freedom and opportunity to do so:

“…since, in the blessings of our Heavenly Father, we have the message of the times, let us pursue a vigorous proclamation of a true Gospel and be prepared personally to give an answer of the hope that is within us, with meekness and with fear.” Milestones 1982