Seventy years ago a great miracle took place. After enduring thousands of years of foreign domination and exile that culminated in the evil genocide of the Holocaust, God’s chosen people witnessed the sudden and miraculous fulfillment of ancient prophecies, hopes, and prayers: the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish state in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Birth of Israel
As David Ben-Gurion, the primary founder of the state and first prime minister, read aloud Israel’s declaration of independence, the State of Israel sprang into being. Those who knew their Bibles understood the significance of the moment. Prophets as far back through biblical history as Moses had predicted that after a long and bitter exile, the Jewish people would return to the Holy Land, inhabit Jacob’s ancient inheritance, rebuild the cities, and reestablish a Jewish nation. The final redemption has not yet arrived, but the formation of the Jewish state in Israel offers us a foretaste of the future kingdom, when Messiah will come, summon the exiled Jewish people back to the promised land, reestablish David’s throne in Jerusalem, rebuild God’s house of worship, and draw all nations to him in Zion. In that regard, the birth of the Jewish state is a miraculous fulfillment of biblical prophecy, even if only in part.
A radio broadcast of David Ben Gurion’s speech carried his words across the land of Israel and to the whole world. People in Tel Aviv danced in the streets, but most Jews in the newly declared state had little time for rejoicing. Ben Gurion later described his feelings as he read the declaration: “There was no joy in my heart. I was thinking of only one thing: the war we were going to have to fight.” On the borders of the land, Arab armies from Trans-Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt prepared for an onslaught. The day after Israel declared statehood, seven Arab armies pounced on the new nation, vowing to “push the Jews into the sea.” The fledgling state seemed incapable of defending itself against such overwhelming odds, but the God of Israel does not depend upon the strength of man.
Although the United Nations had officially sanctioned the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one, the Arab nations rejected it. The British forces, who were still in control of Palestine at the time, announced that their soldiers would leave on May 15, 1948. The Jews of Palestine found themselves in a terrible predicament. They could not declare themselves a nation so long as Palestine remained under the control of the British Mandate. Because they were not an independent and sovereign nation, international law prohibited them from conventional methods of arming or purchasing arms. This meant that, except for through clandestine black-market arrangements, the Zionists could not purchase the weapons, armament, munitions, fighter planes, artillery, and tanks they needed to defend themselves until after the Mandate concluded.
As the Arab world prepared to pounce, the rest of the world turned away. Even America refused to help the Jews of Palestine. Despite their best diplomatic efforts, the secular Zionists realized that they had no one to rely upon except God alone—even if they did not believe in him.
A Grim Outlook
The Arab nations had good reason to be confident that they could quickly conquer Palestine after the British left. Israel had no tanks or heavy armor, almost no aircraft, and no professional standing army. Their soldiers were kibbutz farmers, yeshiva boys, Holocaust survivors, and war refugees who did not yet speak a word of Hebrew. Survivors from Europe got off boats in Haifa and were immediately handed uniforms and rifles and told that they must fight. Those who had escaped Europe had leaped from the frying pan into the fire—now destined to spill their blood in the Holy Land, where the story had begun so many thousands of years ago. There seemed to be no question about how it would end. It felt as if the history of the Jewish people had finally run its course. The Palestinian Jews’ fate would not be much better than that of their kinsmen who had perished in Europe. The Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine looked as if it would not survive.
God had other plans. The time had come to raise the standard of redemption and recall his people to their land. The LORD does not need horse and chariot to win the victory. “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man” (Psalm 147:10). He does not need large armies, munitions, or armaments, “for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). As it says in Psalm 2, although the nations rage and the peoples plot, although they take their stand against the LORD and counsel together against his Messiah, they will not succeed. Instead, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4).
Instead of the quick, easy victory they had expected, the Arab nations found themselves fighting against the God of Israel. Rather than wiping the Jews from the map, as they had vowed to do, the Arab armies failed to dislodge the Jews from Palestine. The tiny new nation repulsed the invaders and, by the end of the war, even expanded her borders.
In Hebrew the name for the conflict is the Milchemet HaAtzma’ut, (“the War of Independence”); in Arabic it’s called the Nakba, (“the Catastrophe”). Israel’s victory in her War of Independence is one of the great modern miracles that testify to the existence of God, his ongoing covenant fidelity with his people, and the ultimate truth of the Bible. But that great miracle was the result of an uncounted number of smaller miraculous events and victories that, all combined, brought about the establishment and survival of the Jewish state. Miracle stories from the War of Independence abound. Even secular Israelis are apt to acknowledge that the hand of divine providence sustained the little nation during that war.
When God performs miracles on our behalf, we are obligated to give thanks to him and tell about his miraculous deeds. The psalmist says, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).
The State of Israel now celebrates Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day), the anniversary of the day David Ben-Gurion declared the birth of the State of Israel on the Hebrew calendar date of Iyyar 5. Israelis decorate their homes and cities with flags and spend the holiday picnicking and barbequing in the parks. Special government ceremonies take place, the IDF conducts parades and open houses, and the city of Jerusalem hosts an International Bible Contest. In some Zionist synagogues, services for Yom HaAtzma’ut include the recitation of the Hallel (Psalm 113-118) and a special reading of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 10:32-12:6. Others sound the shofar on Independence Day and add holiday psalms to the morning songs.
Prior to the founding of the State of Israel, most Christian Bible readers assumed that all the Bible’s prophecies about the Jews and the land of Israel had been canceled or transferred to the church. The dramatic debut of modern Israel created a theological tremor that is still shaking the church. In many sectors that shakeup divides Christians between those who acknowledge the ongoing legitimacy of the Jewish people as God’s chosen covenant people and those who do not.
For those who believe in the God of Israel and a literal fulfillment of the Bible’s prophecies, Yom HaAtzma’ut is a day to commemorate and celebrate. The Prophet Isaiah seems to have foreseen this when he said, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her” (Isaiah 66:10). With these words the prophet calls upon everyone who loves Jerusalem, the city of our God, to rejoice with his people.