Israel at ease?

As global financial markets stutter into 2016 on the back of fears around Chinese economic fragility and falling oil prices, the Israeli economy appears set to go from strength to strength. With the prospect of substantial revenues from their gas fields (and potentially oil too) and world-leading technology and arms sectors, the future looks bright for Israel.

Israel’s economy punches well above its weight. In addition to its existing success, the Jewish state has been building new trade links in the Far East, India, South America and Africa—as well as courting Russia and Turkey, taking advantage of the recent deterioration in relations between these two powers. Israel has also been developing economic links with Cyprus in relation to the transit of gas from the eastern Mediterranean to the lucrative markets of Europe. Greece is now involved, hoping for profitable gas-pipeline deals to boost its ailing economy. In addition to Israeli gas, a newly discovered Egyptian gas field has drawn Egypt and Jordan into the economic alliance.

God’s providential hand

Amongst all this, as a result of the crisis in Turkish-Russian relations following the downing of a Russian bomber in November, Turkey has been forced to look elsewhere for alternative sources of gas to reduce its dependence on Russian supplies. The only regional alternative is Israel. During December and January diplomatic channels were reopened between the two nations, and reports suggest that both sides have agreed to exchange ambassadors and re-establish full diplomatic links. This sudden turnaround has occurred after a number of years during which Turkish-Israel relations looked all but extinct following the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla debacle in 2010.

On top of all this activity Israel is continuing to build economic ties with Russia; Israel is dependent on Russian technical expertise to commercialise the extraction and transportation of its gas. There has also been cordial cooperation between the Russian military forces in Syria and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Recent IDF raids into territory to the north of Damascus have been permitted by the Russians, and in exchange Russian incur-sions into Israeli airspace have been tolerated by the IDF. With the presence of Russia’s sophisticated S-400 missile system in Syria, any air attacks need to be coordinated so that the Russian system can be switched off to permit Israeli aircraft to fly.

A people holy to the Lord

In all these things we see Israel enjoying a time of considerable prosperity, and, despite its political unpopu-larity, the nations are falling over themselves to share in the Jewish state’s material wealth.

There is nothing particularly unusual about Israel’s behaviour in worldly terms; the Israelis are simply looking after their national interests and seeking to build wealth and influence through global trade. This is what any nation aims for. But we know that Israel is not just any nation!

When the nation was first formed, God speaking through Moses told them that they were not to enter into alliances and agreements with the nations round about, but were to remain separate and distinct (Deut. 26:19).

Their ‘special relationship’ was to be with the living God, and their trust was to be in Him. As we follow the nation through their history, we see that they lived up to this high calling only transiently and on a few occasions. Once established in their land, as wealth and security followed, Israel forsook their relationship with God and became self-reliant and proud, and looked to the nations around them for support and assurance. This pattern of behaviour was prophesied in Deuteronomy, again through Moses:

“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; You grew fat, you grew thick,
You are obese!
Then he forsook God who made him,
And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons, not to God,
To gods they did not know,
To new gods, new arrivals
That your fathers did not fear”

A repeated pattern

This pattern of behaviour has been evident in Israel through the ages. In the time of the prophet Amos the southern nation of Judah was enjoying a period of wealth and prosperity which led to them forsaking God and turning to earthly pleasures. Amos declares:

“Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, And trust in Mount Samaria,
Notable persons in the chief nation,
To whom the house of Israel comes! . . .
‘I abhor the pride of Jacob, And hate his palaces;
Therefore I will deliver up the city
And all that is in it’”

Whilst the economic climate was much less favourable after the return from exile, we see a similar scenario when the prophet Haggai says:

“‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your panelled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” (1:4,5).

In both these examples we observe Israel at ease and focused on the things which were seen—material wealth and temporary pleasures. The nation today is behaving in the same way: wealthy, confident, self-reliant, building alliances and relationships with the nations round about—worshipping the gods of this world rather than Him who encircles them and cares for them “as the apple of His eye” (Deut. 32:10-14).

The day of their calamity is at hand

When in times past the nation behaved in this way, God intervened to discipline them as one would expect a loving Father to do for His children. He brought them low and led them to a place where they would realise that He is the only Rock in which they could take refuge (v. 37).

So we see the Jews in God’s land once more, self-reliant and confident in their own strength and power, looking to other nations to build alliances. Such confidence and self-reliance is unseemly for God’s people, and is a sign to us that they are about to experience the discipline of Him whom they have “provoked . . . to jealousy” by what is not God (vv. 16,17), to bring them to a point where they realise that there is no help but from the Lord. Then they will ‘look on him whom they pierced and mourn’ (see Zech. 12:10-14). Only then will a great fountain of cleansing be opened up, and all the idols and unclean spirits be cut off from the land and from God’s people for all time (13:1,2).

What a wonderful privilege for us to have insight into God’s plans and to see His will unfolding before us! Whilst it is easy to consider these things and see the error of Israel’s ways, we need also to turn our gaze in-wards and examine our own hearts to ensure that we are not caught up in the same thinking and ways of this world. In these last days these lessons are just as applicable to the ecclesia as they are to Israel. Let us not put our trust in man and the things of man, but in the Lord our God, so that we may “serve [Him] acceptably with reverence and godly fear” when “once more [He shakes] not only the earth, but also heaven” (Heb. 12:28,26).

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