Book of the Ages – Stan Goodenough –
Two things before moving on in Genesis…
First: A note to my Jewish readers. As many of you know, I am unapologetically and unashamedly, a Christian, a follower of the way lived and taught by the most wonderful and influential Jew ever to walk this earth. I am deeply ashamed, however, of a great deal of what has been done in the name of Christianity, especially the evil of antisemitism that saturates so much of Church history. Despite this often wide-spread departure from – and betrayal of – what Christ lived and taught, I know that He is the Messiah. And it is directly out of this belief that my love for Israel flows. Zionism is an integral and inseparable part of my Christianity; one would not operate without the other and cannot be severed from the other.
I write, therefore, as a Christian. And in this “The Bible on Israel” series I am writing primarily with those in mind for whom the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament represent the indivisible inspired Word of God. My aim is to contribute to our understanding of God’s eternal commitment to, and purposes for, Israel. My desire is to help deepen Christian commitment to and support for this nation; Christians need to stand with Israel because it’s what God wants us to do, and not out of mere feelings or sentiments which can be altered by events and arguments. We learn that this is what God wants us to do by what He says in the Bible.
Second: To my Christian readers: I think it is important that I state at this early stage – but hopefully without offending or losing any of you – that I do not subscribe to so-called Dispensationalism (also called Premillenial Dispensationalism). For me the Bible does not support that point of view and in fact – for reasons I’d rather not go into just now – it seems to me this teaching creates some serious misunderstandings and misconceptions, certainly concerning Israel, but inextricably also thereby concerning the Church in history and in prophecy.
Having said that (and hopefully this does not seem contradictory), it is clear as I study the Bible and, in its light, look back to the dawning of this age, that world history can be separated into different “stages” or “eras” in terms of God’s involvement and interaction with mankind.
It helps clarify my thinking if I have both a basic grasp of biblical chronology and a sweeping overview of the Bible’s wider historical perspective, so I want to lay out the following – in some ways simplistic though I find it rather straightforward – synopsis of the Book of books before we continue our journey:
The Bible encompasses and thus speaks to the whole of this age, from the Creation recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis to the New Creation as foretold in the last two chapters of The Revelation.
Looking “down” on this age – as it were from a God’s-eye point of view – I see that it unfolds from creation and the establishment of fellowship between God and man, through the fall of man and the resulting breach of that fellowship, through the consequences of that fall on all of creation, to God’s provision of a way for mankind to be saved out of those consequences and the working out of that plan of salvation.
All this, as we are able to say from where we stand in the early part of the 21st Century – has been played out over a period of approximately 6000 years.
What awaits its fulfillment in the time still before us is the culmination of this redemption plan that will see the ultimate restoration of man in fellowship with God to the way it was in Eden.
According to the Bible – which for me is the rock and source of all truth that cannot be altered or in any way shaken by advances in human understanding and discovery – the six millennia (give or take a few decades) that have passed since Adam celebrated his first birthday can be separated into three eras, each one approximately 2000 years in length.
From Creation to the calling out of Abram (Abraham) we have the first 2000 years, which I will here call The First Period.
From the calling out of Abraham to the coming of Jesus are the second 2000 years – The Second Period.
From the time of Jesus’ life on earth to the present day – that is, what Jews call the “Common Era” and what Gentiles refer to as the era AD (anno Domini) – we have the third 2000 years – The Third Period.
The First Period – from the fall of man to the calling out of Abram – is covered in just a few pages of the Bible, immediately after Creation, from Genesis chapter three to chapter 11.
During these first two millennia we read about God’s interaction with individuals (Adam, Cain, Enoch, Noah) rather than with nations, which were only just beginning to take shape. (We can read about the formation of some of those nations in those chapters, specifically in Chapter Four verses 16 to 24, and in chapters 10 and 11.)
The Second Period is covered by the lion’s share of the rest of the Bible, beginning in Genesis 12:1 and running all the way through to the end of the Hebrew Scriptures (Malachi or Chronicles) and into the Gospels, through the Acts of the Apostles and into the epistles.
During these two millennia, God – as it were – confines His attention to one family, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. And God focuses on one small part of the planet: the Land of Israel. Other nations and lands do feature in the scriptures covering this period, but only insofar as they relate to Israel. Thus we have the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, all of whose existence, biblically-speaking, is juxtaposed to Israel’s. The nation of Israel is the “hero” of the piece, if you like. Their land is the stage on and around which this Second Period of history revolves.
In human terms, then, God appears to be all caught up – almost obsessed, we might say – with Israel. His purpose is clear: He has set this nation apart – sanctified her – and is working to mold and make her into His “Chosen People.” Israel is His “special treasure” destined to play an exclusive and vitally important national role in the returning of errant mankind to Himself.
During those 2000 years – the Second Period – it seems as if God has little if any interest in the wellbeing of the other nations that exist at that time except, that is, when individuals from among them take leave of their own people and cling to the House of Israel.
I stress again: The bulk of the Bible deals with Israel: the nation and land upon which God “spends an inordinate amount of time” as He forms out of and in her the people through which, and the geographical location to which, His Messiah will come.
The Third Period is mostly post-biblical. We read about the transition into this Common Era (AD) in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters to the first followers of Christ, who are all Jewish to start with. But the Bible then goes quiet on the ensuing 2000 years.
These last almost 20 centuries of history are a time when God, as He warned through Moses and many of the prophets that He would do, turned His face away from Israel and their land, permitting the Jews to be dispersed to the four corners of the earth – in fact, Himself driving them out into the Diaspora, where they suffered under the yoke of the Gentiles while their land was left desolate and uncared for.
Gentile civilization, meanwhile, basked in the blessings of the Almighty as it discovered and settled more and more lands, taking the good news of God’s salvation plan for mankind to the four corners of the globe.
But just as, during the Second Period, the people of Israel repeatedly forsook the Lord and played the harlot with false gods, growing increasingly unfaithful until God had no choice but to lift His hand of blessing and allow them to experience the curses resulting from their disobedience, so too did the Christian world, from very early on in the Third Period, forsake the teachings and example of Jesus, and become increasingly syncretised with the Greek-based humanistic world view until the practice of Christianity was so far removed from its origins as to be almost unrecognizable from the life Jesus lived.
The worst of all the rotten fruits spawned by this perversion was Christian antisemitism, which took root barely a century after Jesus’ ascension and manifested in increasingly vicious ways down through the centuries until it erupted and consumed one third of the Jewish people in the Holocaust.
Nonetheless (and this is essential to understand), just as Israel’s unfaithfulness – tragic and terrible as it was – did not render null and void Israel’s calling and purpose, so neither has the unfaithfulness of Church leaders and their followers – tragic and terrible as it has been – rendered null and void the calling and purpose of the true Church. A common destiny lies before them both.
One area of biblical coverage we did not isolate is that which speaks to “the Last Days.” These prophetic passages pepper the Scriptures from Genesis 3:15 (as we have seen) through the Books of Moses, the Psalms, the major and minor prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles and, of course, The Revelation. I will call this the Fourth or Final Period.
What I am growing to understand, and what I hope we will see together as we make our way through the “Bible on Israel,” is that periods One, Two and Three of human history are in the process of being pulled together in these last days; in the very coming to pass of the multitude of prophecies that look towards our redemption.
In the end, I believe, we will see that Israel – the land – remains the stage on which the glorious final act of God’s redemption plan is played out. And Israel – the people – remains the nation in and through which God is working to so bring all things back into right relationship with Himself. Christians, increasingly, are having their eyes opened to these truths, with more and more responding by identifying with and – like the Moabitess Ruth – seeking to go with the people of Israel.
To sum up then:
In the First Period – Genesis 1 to 11 – God interacts with individuals until He comes to Abraham, singling him out.
In the Second Period – Genesis 12 and virtually the rest of the Bible – God focuses on the descendants of Abraham known as the nation of Israel. Another way of putting this is that God “favors” Israel while the gentile nations are “ignored.”
In the Third Period – the last 2000 years of post-biblical history – God turns His “attention” away from the nation of Israel and the Land of Israel, and “focuses” on the gentile nations in their gentile lands. He blesses, prospers or favors God-fearing gentiles and their lands, while Israel – land and people – lie in the shadow of His disfavor; under His curse.
In the Fourth Period – from about 1850, and encompassing the very days we are living in – God is turning the light of His countenance from the gentiles – whose lands are falling increasingly into darkness – and lifting up His face to shine once again upon Israel, over whom a new dawn is breaking. He is regathering the scattered people of Israel to their land, restoring their land to them (against the wishes and efforts of the world), and bringing their land back to life.
God is doing this in readiness for Messiah’s return, when the Lion of the Tribe of Judah will come back to the Land of Israel restored to Jewish sovereignty, and back to Jerusalem, the city of David, from where He will rule and reign over the nations of the world.
All who survive among our gentile nations will then come up to Jerusalem to worship the King and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles as Messiah finally will have come to tabernacle among us – our relationship with Him eternally and gloriously restored. And the name of the city in that day will be “The Lord is there.”
All this, I believe, we will see as we make our way through the Word.