Six eventful days in June (5th–10th) 1967, changed the map of Israel! And it changed the way the world thinks about Israel. All through May 1967 we watched as tensions grew in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the Sinai, Abdel Gamal Nasser was ‘testing the waters’; seeing how far he could go in his quest to isolate and destroy Israel. Egypt closed the straits of Tiran to all Israel bound shipping, thereby rendering useless Eilat, Israel’s only Red Sea port. The stakes were higher than lost trade: it was a strategic loss that could not be countenanced by the young nation teetering on the brink of war; a war that could decide its very survival. Nasser’s aim was to annihilate the Jewish state and the ubiquitous Arab cry then (and now) was a series of bellicose variants on the theme, “we will drive Israel into the sea.”

I well remember those heady days as we watched prophecy unfold before our eyes. May turned into June and, as tensions mounted, war became increasingly inevitable. They were the days before the internet and we had just two news sources: the morning and evening newspapers and the ABC news. Living in a country town meant that the radio news was the ‘hot off the press’ source. Our ears were glued to the speaker every news time, hungry for every skerrick of news. When the Egyptians blockaded the Straits of Tiran, ‘it was on’ and our immediate question was, “will Israel make a push for Jerusalem?” Our minds were fixed on Luke 21:24 and Zech 12:2-3.

Our ecclesia consisted of just six brothers and sisters and most of us met each night on June 5-10 to share the day’s news and to pray in hope for “the peace of Jerusalem” (Psa 122:6). Our excitement was palpable and a scrapbook documenting the war was filled with news clippings. Sadly, the scrapbook was lost as we settled into a more mundane and less exciting ecclesial life.

Blowing the Shofar at the Western Wall Photos: Israeli National Photo Collection

As we remember those amazing events, it is good to see some of the excitement of 1967 reemerging in our midst once more as we witness Israel’s current position in the world, beneath the shadow of a fast-approaching Armageddon. Prophecy is the stimulus that keeps us looking for our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have not forgotten the thrill of witnessing daily fulfilment of prophecy. I recall my late father-inlaw telling us years later how the AB meeting of a large interstate ecclesia had a ‘tranny’ tuned in to the latest news. Little business was done that night but the thrill of brethren talking about the prophets – and excitedly so – was a cherished memory.

A Jubilee is Upon Us

Where are we now? Fifty years on from June 1967 we are one Jubilee further in the world’s history and one step closer to the day when Yahweh’s land will return to its rightful owner. Leviticus 25:8-13 defines the jubilee by decreeing to Israel, “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you” (Lev 25:10). The principal idea in Leviticus 25 is, “Ye shall return every man unto his possession”
(v10,13). What was ‘a man’s possession?’ In verse 23 the Spirit told Israel, “The land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is mine.” God loaned the land to families in perpetuity. It is His forever; each family was loaned a portion of land when Joshua distributed it by lot. The children of Israel were tenants in perpetuity, and when the jubilee arrived, every family who had sold their land rights to another Israelite, had their lands restored without cost. It was a parable of Yahweh’s ownership of the earth and His gracious gift to His people.

The jubilee that is approaching, namely 1967-2017, is a time of great expectation because the beginning of the previous jubilee in 1917 saw General Allenby liberate Jerusalem from the Turks and Britain issue the Balfour Declaration promising a homeland for the Jews. 50 years later in 1967 Jerusalem took another step towards liberty from her Jordanian occupiers, who took the Old City in 1948. 1967 was significant for its contribution to the work of ‘un-treading’ Jerusalem from the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). But the final work of Jerusalem’s comprehensive deliverance is incomplete, despite 100 years of angelic oversight. 1917 and 1967 made giant strides in freeing Jerusalem from her oppressors – both Jewish and Gentile. Will 2017 be the time to again ‘blow the jubilee trumpet’? Time will tell.

Photos: Israeli National Photo Collection

Were there signs in the 1867-1917 jubilee interval? Maybe: in 1867 the Papacy was falling from power in Italy under the advance of King Vittorio Emanuele II (who was excommunicated for his effort) and John Thomas was writing Eureka (of little note to the world but of great importance in the preparation of the saints!).

Returning to the time period of 1967 we read in Daniel 8:13-14, “I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed (mg justified).”

The margin correctly renders “days” as “evening mornings.” The “evening morning” involved the ritual burnt offering of a lamb, with its meal and drink offerings, every morning and evening (Num 28:3-8). When Daniel heard these words the daily offering was no longer being offered because the temple was a burnt ruin. His question related to the restoration of the offering, the temple and the people. What he didn’t know was that restoration would come in stages. First the people had to return, then the city had to be rebuilt, then the temple had to be restored and then the offerings could be once more offered.

Now the context of the vision was the defeat of Babylon by the Persian ram, followed by the ascendancy of the Greek power in Alexander, followed by the rise of “a king of fierce countenance” (Rome through to Russia). If we take BC 539 as the year Babylon fell to the Medes and add 2300 day/years we arrive at 1761. This was the epoch when the first real attempt was made to end Ottoman rule in Egypt under Ali Bey. As chief of the Mamluks, he led expeditions against the Ottomans in Arabia, Syria and Palestine. Whilst this “pushing” against the Turks was only partially successful, it commenced the decline of the Ottoman power in Egypt.

The next epoch of the vision was the “rough” Greek goat’s victory over the Persian ram (Dan 8:20-22). This signal victory (v8) began when Alexander crushed Darius III, first at the River Granicus (BC 334) and finally at the River Issus in southern Turkey (BC 333). Alexander’s relationship with the Jewish people was one of benign freedom. Add the 2300 day/years to BC 333 we come to 1967 when Jerusalem was no longer “trodden down” of the Gentiles (Dan 8:13; Luke 21:24).

When interpreting Bible time periods we should remember that many starting and finishing dates can span several years. The French revolution (1779-83) came 1260 years after Justinian issued his Codex promoting the Bishop of Rome to chief of all churches circa 529-33. The same pattern is seen with Phocas and his decrees (605-610) which made the pope the Universal bishop. Add 1260 years and we have the Papacy’s decline (1865-70). The implication of time spans cautions us to not interpret and assign the jubilees to too tight a date. The final or further act(s) in liberation of Jerusalem may not occur in the calendar year of 2017. This does not mean that we should ignore the “times and the seasons … [for you] know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night”
(1 Thess 5:1-2).

What does 1967 Mean to Us?

“Through faith we understand that the worlds (aions) were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”, as Hebrews 11:3 says. The Psalmist spoke in a similar vein: “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord bringeth the counsels of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect” (Psa 33:9-10).

Our God manipulates the “ages” by His word and, living as we do in the exciting days that Yahweh has graciously given us, we approach the jubilee of Jerusalem’s restoration as a Jewish city with a bittersweet hope filling our hearts. We long for Christ to come and take his city for himself. Jerusalem is “the city of the great king” (Psa 48:2; Matt 5:35) but her glory will be preceded by great sorrow as foreshadowed in Jesus’ lament: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt 23:37-38).

How did the War Evolve?

Egyptian aircraft destroyed by Israeli Airforce
Photos: Israeli National Photo Collection

In 1963, the Arab League added a new politico-terrorist party to the Arab-Israel conflict: the Palestine Liberation Organisation or PLO. It was a rag-tag party with a modus operandi based on terror. Their attacks on Israeli grew from 35 in 1965 to 44 in 1966 and 37 in the first four months of 1967. The PLO’s belligerent rhetoric was matched by their attacks which came from three directions: Syria via Lebanon; the Gaza strip and Jordan (King Hussein was himself a target of PLO extremism). The scene was a prelude to war as Israel was suffering continuous attacks from the Golan Heights and Kibbutzim in the Huleh Valley were similarly
under fire. Women and children were evacuated south to safety. From the Israeli perspective they had to subdue the PLO and the governments in Egypt, Syria
and Jordan (Hussein was a reluctant participant as Nasser hoped to overthrow the Hashemite King). It became obvious that any war would have to be fought on three fronts: Golan, Jordan and the Sinai, where the Egyptians were. There were many enemies and all had to be neutralised. In strictly military terms, this was a
gargantuan task. Egyptian President, Gamal Abdul Nasser, made war inevitable when, on May 21, he ordered a blockade of the Straits of Tiran, closing Israel’s access to its only Red Sea port of Eilat.

On June 1, Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, accepted Israel Defence Forces Chief, Yitzhak Rabin’s, and General Yeshayahu Gavish’s bold plan to wipe out the Egyptian air force and take the Sinai. With tensions mounting, the Straits of Tiran blocked, and Arab armies poised to strike, Israel decided (on June 5th 1967) to launch a pre-emptive attack on the massing Egyptian forces. In just 190 minutes the backbone of the Egyptian air-force was broken, and by the end of the first day of war, 298 Egyptian airplanes were destroyed and their airfields bombed, making them unusable.

Egypt hindered its own defence by effectively shutting down their entire air defence system: they were worried that rebel Egyptian forces would shoot down the plane carrying Field Marshal Amer and Lt-Gen. Sidqi Mahmoud, who were flying to the Sinai to meet troop commanders stationed there. The hand of Providence was very active that day! Amidst this frenetic action, Israel lost only 19 planes and set new standards for the fast turn-around of their attack warplanes – mostly subsonic A4 Skyhawks and Mirage fighter-bombers.

With complete air superiority, Israeli army divisions next captured the Sinai desert up to the Suez Canal. The best evidence of the Egyptian army’s rapid withdrawal was tens of thousands of boots littering the desert.

Israel issued an appeal to Jordan to stay out of the war but Jordan refused and opened a heavy artillery barrage on both west Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. On June 8, the Israel Defence Forces defeated the Jordanian forces and captured the whole of Judea
and Samaria.

Moshe Dayan inspects recently captured Jerusalem Photos: Israeli National Photo Collection

On June 9, Israel attacked the Syrians and captured the Golan Heights. The Syrian forces were protected in almost impregnable bunkers and trenches embedded in the Heights of Golan.

“Almost impregnable” is the appropriate description because Israeli soldiers fought their way into the reinforcements and tunnels and some, as Time magazine reported, having run out of ammunition, resorted to hand-to-hand fighting, which routed the Syrians.

Six days of fierce fighting ended with Israel occupying the Sinai desert, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the West Bank, giving Israel a valuable buffer zone and the greatly reduced borders, reducing the danger of a surprise Arab attack.

And, on 7th June, Jerusalem, the city of David, “the city of the great king,” was once again Israel’s capital.

The Battle for Jerusalem 1

On the morning of 5 June, 1967, while Israeli Defence Force air strikes in the Sinai were deciding the course of the Six Day War, Jerusalem remained virtually silent and untouched. Israel believed that Jordan was too vulnerable to launch a counteroffensive, and besides, the old city defences comprised only a brigade of elderly Jordanian reservists.

But at 10.15am, the first mortar bombs fell on the city, and soon artillery opened fire all along the 1948 armistice line. Israeli tanks were quickly moved up from the coast and a brigade of young paratroopers entered the fray. The assault by the Israelis had begun with the objective of returning the Old City of Jerusalem to Israel’s sovereignty. The armoured brigade overran the Jordanian defences west of the city while the paratroopers were ordered to fight their way into the suburbs close to the city’s wall and take Mount Scopus.

At terrible cost, the paratroopers advanced through the northern suburbs, encountering reinforced trenches and bunkers replete with heavy machine guns and artillery. Many young soldiers were mowed down as they crossed minefields; one company was left with only four men, another with seven.

At last they faced the high, grey walls of Sulieman the Magnificent; walls which provided unrivalled protection to Arab snipers. Anyone who approached was shot but that night, the Israeli plan was to overcome the stalemate and take the Old City. Sometime after midnight, the Israeli assault began, making its way along the Kidron Valley, fighting for Gethsemane, where they were ambushed by the Arab Legion, a move that won the Jordanians a few hours.

By dawn on June 7th, the walled city was all but surrounded and, within a few hours, the Mount of Olives fell. Brazen paratroopers assaulted the walls at their steepest. Brigade Commander, Mordechai Gur, raced past his own tanks in a halftrack and charged up the ascent to St Stephen’s Gate (the Lion Gate). Squeezing behind a burning vehicle, he rammed the iron doors, burst them open, jolted past a dazed Arab soldier and found himself on the mount where, 1900 years before, the temple was razed by Titus.

As an aside, I met General Motta Gur just after he retired as IDF Chief of staff when he visited Carmel School where I was teaching. He was immensely self-confident; a sad indictment on a nation who see modern Israel as their own work and ignore Yahweh Elohim ‘who delivered them from all their enemies.’ The words of an unnamed soldier underscore the lesson that Israel is yet to learn: he and his compatriots saw the victory as the product of their courage and skill (undoubtedly a factor) but without the blessing of God the outcome would not have been so decisive.

He said: “We went in with an army column, we ran on foot through St Stephen’s Gate – the only one we could penetrate. Reaching the Temple Mount in the late afternoon sun, was an awe-inspiring sight … all the soldiers were running for the Wailing Wall … many were wounded, crying like children, touching the stones”.

One day, the nation will be humbled enough to recognise that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:4,6) that these victories were achieved. We await the day when Israel will be saved at Armageddon by Christ and all his saints. It will be the privilege of the saints to educate Israel’s survivors. Then, and only then, will they know how and why the Lord Jesus Christ saved them at Jerusalem (Dan 11:45; Jer-4).

Footnotes

  1. The Battle for Jerusalem was adapted from Thurbron, C. (1976. Jerusalem. Amsterdam. Time-Life books, pp.173-175
  2. Photos: Israeli National Photo Collection