Today, sixty-nine years ago, a great miracle took place. After enduring thousands of years of foreign domination and exile which culminated in the cruel evil of genocide, 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. 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.
The Prophet Isaiah seems to have foreseen May 14, 1948 when he said, “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?” (Isaiah 66:8). In fulfillment of those words, the State of Israel officially came into existence in a single day—May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708).
The State of Israel now celebrates the Hebrew calendar date of Iyyar 5 as Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day), although the date is moved forward or backward depending on what day of the week it lands on in a particular year. Israelis decorate their homes and cities with flags and spend the holiday enjoying picnics and barbeques. 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, but without the opening blessing) and a special reading of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 10:32-12:6. Other’s sound the shofar on Independence Day and add holiday psalms to the morning songs.
The birth of the modern State of Israel is not the equivalent of the final redemption, but it does at least partially fulfill many ancient Bible prophecies about how God will regather his people to their land and reestablish them on their own soil. The birth of the modern state can be considered a modern miracle because the Bible predicted thousands of years before it happened and because it succeeded despite the concerted efforts of surrounding enemies with superior military forces. That’s why religious Zionists and most Messianic Jews celebrate Israel’s Independence Day as a commemoration of a modern miracle.
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 cancelled or transferred to the church. The dramatic debut of modern Israel created a theological tremor which is still shaking the church. In many sectors, that shake up divides Christians between those who acknowledge the ongoing legitimacy of the Jewish people as God’s chosen covenant people and those who do not.
In 1948, the chief rabbis of Israel referred the newly formed Jewish state as “the first blossoming forth of our redemption,” alluding to the hope that the dramatic appearance of modern Israel signifies the nearness of the coming of Messiah and the final redemption. On the day of Israel’s declaration of independence, however, the Jewish people of Palestine had ample reason to doubt that the redemption might be near.
Ben Gurion and the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine chose May 14 for the day of declaration because the British planned to relinquish their authority over the land on May 15. The British knew that, as soon as they withdrew, the Arab armies already poised on Palestine’s borders would roll in to drive the Jewish population out. The British did not expect the Palestinian Jewish community to survive long, and neither did anyone else.
The day after Israel declared statehood, seven Arab armies pounced on the new nation, vowing to “push the Jews into the sea.” Israel’s War of Independence began. The fledgling state composed of war refugees, holocaust survivors, settlers, and farmers had little in the way of arms and munitions. They seemed incapable of defending themselves against such overwhelming odds, but the God of Israel does not depend upon the strength of man.
The prophet Isaiah seems to have foreseen that Israel’s travails would take place after the formal birth of the nation. He said, “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son” (Isaiah 66:7). That is to say, the nation declared statehood before fighting the War of Independence. It’s as if a woman felt the pains of labor only after already giving birth to a child.
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 to 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 birth of the modern state of Israel and its survival in the ensuing conflict (and up until this day) is a matter for which we should give thanks. Stories of how God has miraculously intervened on behalf of his people in our day and age should be recounted and retold to the new generation.
For those of us who believe in the God of Israel and a literal fulfillment of the Bible’s prophecies, Yom HaAtzma’ut is a day for commemorating and celebrating a miracle. 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.