The June six-day war was an electrifying event that startled the world and sent waves of excitement through the brotherhood. This article by Brother Des Manser portrays, in comment and newspaper cuttings, those dramatic days of Middle East tension and conflict and their effect on the brotherhood. That excitement caused many to turn to the prophetic Word with renewed interest and to see the significance of the freeing of Jerusalem. It describes the effect on the brotherhood as a huge “wakeup call” with many special Gospel addresses being well attended and the hearts of many were prompted towards baptism. A generation has passed. The question remains, can we rekindle that earlier enthusiasm and keen anticipation firmly believing that our Lord is near, even at the door?

A general expectancy in the brotherhood was evident as the year 1967 opened. Israel had enjoyed a relatively peaceful eleven years since the war of 1956 and the so called “Suez Crisis”. However, trouble was brewing and the threat of war was in the air. Israel had sabotaged a water diversion scheme planned by Syria which would have affected in-flows to the Jordan River. Syria was mounting spasmodic artillery and rocket attacks against northern Israel and Galilee, as well as terrorist incursions across the border. President Nasser of Egypt was trying to create a Pan-Arabic state with the objective of annihilating Israel, an objective made quite plain in his public speeches.

“Why Didn’t we See That?”

But no-one could have predicted with certainty the astonishing events which occurred in June of that year. Israel was to crush the combined forces of all its surrounding enemies in six days. The air forces of Egypt and Syria were to be effectively destroyed in a single day. Israel’s territory was to be increased three times over and the old city of Jerusalem was to be restored to Jewish control for the first time since AD70.

Very few, if any, of our public lectures in those days mentioned the fact that Jerusalem itself would necessarily be in Jewish hands at the time of the Lord’s return, although the land itself plainly would be.

In hindsight many students of prophecy then realized that the 2300 evening-morning period of Daniel 8 needed to be dated from the events depicted, and then explained later in the chapter to Daniel. These events related of course to the Greco- Persian wars which resulted in the three decisive victories of Alexander the Great in the years AD 334 and AD333. This period of 2300 years has to do with the avenging of the sanctuary (Dan 8:14), and terminates in 1967. Although this is by no means a fulfilment of the total vision it pointed to, and was a beginning of events which would lead to the final emancipation of Jerusalem. It was a case of many at the time saying, “Why didn’t we see that?” We understand the broad sweep of prophecy but Yahweh reserves to Himself the element of surprise at times. Think of the fall of Communism in Russia and Europe as another example!

However, when war came it certainly galvanized the brotherhood, not only to confidently proclaim the gospel to the public but at a personal level its impact was even more powerful. The words of the Lord became urgent and compelling as never before.

“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28). Tension had steadily mounted during May and the brotherhood was alert. In a very complex build-up two events stood out as the triggers for the outbreak of war.

  1. President Nasser on May 22nd called for a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba and its gateway, the Straits of Tiran. Israel had made it plain in previous announcements that they would consider this an act of war.
  2. On May 16th U Thant, the Secretary General of the United nations, had acceded to Egypt’s request to remove the UN peace keeping force from the Gaza and Sinai border area. This decision made without reference to the General Assembly astonished the world and opened up Israel’s southern border to invasion. To this day Israel has never forgiven the UN for this act.

“Shall We Have to Burn Our Bibles?”

Israel’s pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian air force took place at 7.45 on the morning of June 5, 1967. In Australia the first news of the outbreak of war was through the evening news services. The source of these reports through BBC news services was in fact from Arab sources, especially Cairo and Damascus radio, and were highly inaccurate and pure propaganda. On the 10pm news therefore the reports told of huge Israeli losses, simultaneous invasion on three fronts and destructive bombing of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It all sounded very drastic indeed. The arranging brethren of one ecclesia in Adelaide were meeting that evening when a brother still clad in his pyjamas burst in to excitedly inform them of what was at that point gloomy news. One of the brethren responded with the rhetorical statement: “Well, we will know by the morning whether we will have to burn our Bibles.” All knew of course that Israel would survive, though faith would be tested for a few hours. Our hope is irrevocably linked with Israel’s survival as a nation. The truth of the situation in Israel emerged the next morning of June 6 with reports and photos of the total devastation of the Syrian and Egyptian air forces, airfields and operations infrastructure. Israel had command of the skies, though fierce land battles were to continue for the next five days until the phrase “Six Day War” was emblazoned on the record of Israel’s history.

Phones were ringing all over the country (no email then!) with excited conversations taking place everywhere. On the Wednesday evening the Bible Classes round the country were packed and the words of the prophets of Israel were on everyone’s lips. During the next few days many brethren wrote “letters to the editor” of local news papers.

Some of our leading lecturers were interviewed on radio stations. They were able to present the consistent Christadelphian position concerning Israel’s hope and how it related to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the setting up of God’s kingdom. The public responded positively, unlike today. Israel was the hero. They were depicted as the David in the scenario who had felled the giant Goliath. Outnumbered, they had been victorious, and in spectacular fashion. How things have changed! It was a God-given opportunity to explain the prophecies concerning Israel’s restoration in the latter days:

“And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel” (Ezek 37:21–22).

Or the words of Jeremiah,

“For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jer 30:11).

A Clear Sign to the Brotherhood

The most astonishing outcome of the war was undoubtedly the return of the Old City of Jerusalem into Jewish hands. In the modern era the city had been divided between Israel and Jordan since the War of Independence in 1948. Though it was far from the consummation of God’s purpose with the city, it was however a clear sign to the brotherhood, that the day in which the Lord’s words would be fulfilled concerning the city could not be far off. “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24)

In Sydney a brother related how an elderly gentleman interrupted the speaker in the Domain, where open air preaching had been conducted for decades. However, he addressed the crowd in support of the speaker and pointed out that he had heard a Christadelphian speaker in the 1920’s say that Jerusalem would be restored to Israel, and would be the capital of the world. A wonderful endorsement of the consistent teaching over many years!

Public lectures were arranged as the crisis escalated and on the 28th of May a lecture in Adelaide used the title “Middle East Crisis—Sign of Christ’s Coming”, a title still topical today. Two weeks later ecclesias all over the country were mounting special lectures to titles such as “Israel’s Victory a Modern Miracle”. This common title was used for lectures in the Adelaide ecclesias on June 11th. Many ecclesias arranged special letter box leaflets for household distribution and hand outs to the public in suitable places. One “Digest of Truth”, a leaflet commonly used in those days for such purposes, was entitled “In 60 Hours a New Middle East”. A newspaper had used that headline, because even though the war went for six days the early victories made Israel’s triumph predictable and certain. One ecclesia used a leaflet from a newspaper depicting an Egyptian military advisor suggesting to President Nasser, in the words of the caption, “It’s too risky, President Nasser. Maybe the Israelis are being supported by a force more powerful than the Americans.” Very true!

Personal witness was encouraged because of heightened public interest in the outcome of the war. At the workplace, or wherever people gathered or in the street, or with neighbours it was not difficult to have a conversation on the Truth.

Did the Euphoria Last?

Some of the advertised lectures had up to sixty interested friends in attendance. Suddenly brethren and sisters who had drifted away from the Truth were seen again at the meetings. One ecclesia took records of attendances before, during, and after the Six Day War at lectures and the memorial meeting. Attendances went up to 90% of the ecclesial membership which was 25% above average for both meetings. During the two weeks of the war and its aftermath sixteen interested friends attended lectures. Sadly three weeks later the figures for the members attending Sunday morning and evening meetings reverted to the previous pre-war level. Many other ecclesias would report similar results. We are reminded of Israel’s experience as recorded in the scriptures, “They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them” (Psa 78:10–11).

Truly some of the feats accomplished by the Israelis did remind us of the stories of Joshua’s conquests and David’s victories. However the lesson to learn was that faith based on total belief and commitment to the Truth is what we need to please God and sustain us till the Kingdom comes. The euphoria generated by this short episode of glorious excitement evoked by the events we saw in 1967 can wear off in time. God is still working today among the nations, and we need continual encouragement from the Word, and vigilance as we watch the events in our time indicating the nearness of our Lord’s advent.

On the positive side however, there is no doubt that many interested friends came to accept the Truth as a result of the gospel proclamation surrounding the Six Day War. Over the next several months many baptisms were announced in the Logos and Shield magazines and in ecclesial news-letters. One Adelaide ecclesia reported five baptisms by December, including their present recorder and his sister wife. Similar stories would be told all over Australia. It may be interesting to find out how many in our own ecclesias came into the Truth as a result of events in June 1967.

Public Witness

The relationship between the Christadelphian community and the Jewish communities was another area impacted by the war. In February and then immediately after the war prominent Israeli speakers came to Australia to raise funds from the Jews in all capital cities. Many brethren and sisters availed themselves of the opportunity to get some “inside information” about the war and the synagogues and halls were crammed to over flowing. At some of these meetings the Christadelphians were given an opportunity to address the audience and explain the real significance of those events in the light of their own prophets’ testimony. One of the speakers was the Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren who was shown blowing a ram’s horn in one of the iconic photographs taken at the wailing wall on the day the Israelis broke through into the Old City.

In August 1967 Brother Morrie Stewart arrived from the USA. His long running TV programme in California put the Truth of the Bible before hundreds of thousands of people. His public lectures throughout Australia used the Six Day War to draw the public’s attention to the urgency of the times and to urge upon them a need for a personal commitment to life as a disciple of Christ, and to prepare for his coming. He spoke at Rathmines Bible School during the spring and summer schools and was in Australia till March 1968. His lectures drew large numbers of interested friends. In Adelaide he lectured on August 14th in the Hindmarsh Town Hall to the subject “America, Russia and the Middle East”. Later in October a further two major lectures were given, firstly on the 8th in the Brighton Town Hall to the title “Russia will invade the Middle East”, and in the Adelaide Town Hall on the 18th to the title “Our World in the Balance—Which Way Will It Go?” Average attendance for these lectures was 60–70 interested friends.

Brother Stewart also spoke at the regular Sunday night lectures at this time and similar programmes were conducted in other capitals and regional areas as well. He had a major impact during that latter part of 1967 after the war in the Middle East. Interest by the public was maintained because of post-war developments. On June 16th 1967 the Israeli government conveyed to the defeated Arab nations far-reaching proposals for peace. The Arabs met in Khartoum on September 1st to consider the proposals. The response to Israel was short and sharp, “No peace, no negotiation, no recognition.”

On November 22nd the UN passed the infamous Resolution 242 calling on Israel to withdraw from territories occupied as a result of the war. So the scene was set for a further forty years of unresolved conflict which brings us right up to date in 2007. The Bible message has not changed. The Lord Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and our Saviour, will return. The Kingdom will come. The promises to the fathers of Israel will be fulfilled, and despite their unbelief Israel still remains the greatest witness to God’s Truth.

The question for the modern ecclesia is, “Can we capture the fire and excitement, the zeal and commitment of those exhilarating days of June 1967”?