Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Who Owns Israel?

The Oak Street Bible Shop is an old house converted into a store. It has a lawn, front steps and a porch. You can go there and just look around. You can talk to the owners and staff, or, do like I do, just listen in. The talk at Oak Street is a real education.

Joy was there today, tall with dark hair and eyes and a rather severe expression. You could imagine that is she was turned into a bird she would be a red-tailed hawk. Her main clerk, Gary was behind the counter; he was tall and thin and had a bristly moustache. He always looked like he was standing at attention when Joy was around. He and the others said when she appeared in the doorway, they "jumped for Joy."

Little Sue was arranging books, looking busy. She was short and plump, like a little partridge, and quiet, usually lost in her thoughts.

Joy and Gary were former Catholics, Joy now a Baptist and Gary was an Evangelical. Sue was Missionary Alliance. They were really a diverse bunch, but they had two things in common. They all loved Jesus, and they all believed the Bible was the absolute Word of God.

Glen, a regular customer was there, looking at prophecy books. He was kind of short and slumped-over, with sandy hair and looked like he needed a shave. He had come from a Methodist church, attended Baptist and Presbyterian churches and had what the hard-line Baptists said was a soft spot for Roman Catholics, at least by their standards.

Somebody once said, "What are you, a little bit of everything?"

“I like to call it eclectic,” he said. He had a soft voice and a disarming manner.

Joy said he was like the TV detective, Columbo. Smiling and mysterious, waiting to spring his trap.

“What are you looking at, Glen?” said Gary from behind the counter.

“Oh, a little book called Israel and the Nations, by F.F. Bruce. Can't believe you would even have this in your shop, he's amillennial you know.”

“Well, a lot of prophecy teachers use it. It does have a lot of good hard facts about Israel in it. He really is a great scholar in spite of his sloppy views on scripture,” said Joy, still standing in the doorway.

“I want it,” Glen said pushing it onto the counter. “And I'll take these John Walvoord's too.”

“Didn't I just sell you those the other day?” said Sue, coming to life from across the room.

“Yeah,” said Glen, “these are to give away.”

“Still trying to awaken some Presbyterians to the prophetic facts of life?” said Gary, putting them into a bag.

“Something like that,” said Glen, smiling. “I'm trying to convince them that God is not through with the nation Israel, not by a long shot. They think the church is Israel! I’d like to ask them what tribe they are”, he said.

“And do they eat bacon,” said Joy, in a rare attempt at humor.

Sue, the sincere little evangelist, spoke up. “Can you believe the trouble they're having over there! Why can't people just let them alone? It is their land, the Bible is very plain about that, and it doesn't amount to much, just a little country after all.” You could tell she was upset at the cruelty of it all.

Joy spoke with cool authority. “You know it’s not really that small. The original land promised to Abraham was pretty extensive. It goes from the great river of Egypt to the Euphrates River, from Egypt to Iraq. Then you have the Mediterranean Sea to the great desert, whatever that is.”

“My preacher just came back from Israel,” said Gary. “He said the great desert is when you are driving and you come to it you want to go back.”

“I guess the great river of Egypt is the Nile?” said Sue.

Glen joined in; Fact Man, they called him, always with some information. “Well some people say it is the Wadi al Arish, a dry stream bed most of the time, and not as far as the Nile. But I'll bet if you asked Abraham he would have said, ‘Great River! It's not even a great creek.' It's only about fifty miles difference, anyway. In that part of the world the difference is not worth fighting over, at least not more than five hundred years or so. But what if the question is not who owns it, but who has the right to occupy it right now?”

“When I was a kid," Glen continued, "I finally got a bike. All the other kids had bikes. I was so small that when I tried a big bike 1 would go from side to side as I pedaled. When I had to turn I just kind of leaned and hoped for the best. It must have taken me fifty feet to make a turn. My Dad was skeptical about my ability to ride but he finally caved and gave me a bike of my own.

"‘But,’ Dad said, ‘You are never to ride in the street, stay on the sidewalk!’ He and my mom were really scared I would get hurt or killed. A neighbor boy had been hit by a car and they always thought of that every time I went out of the yard. So, after promising, I was off on the sidewalk. It was bumpy because of joints in the walk and some of the slabs were tilted. I looked at that smooth pavement and thought, why not? Dad won't be home from work for hours.

"So I ventured out onto the street. It was wonderful, smooth and wide so I could make turns without getting off my bike like I had been doing. I was getting better too, I felt like a big boy already.

"Well as I was heading for home a car started driving behind me, going slow as I was, following me. I was afraid to look back, but as I pulled into our yard I looked and it was Dad. He had gotten off work early and caught me riding on the street. You can imagine how upset he was with me. I had promised and then, right away, headed for the pavement.”

"Did he take your bike away from you?” asked Sue, with a concerned voice.

“No,” said Glen, “he didn't think that way. He told me he had given me the bike and it was mine, always. I was so relieved. But then he said, ‘But for your own good I forbid you to ride it for one month, even on the sidewalk.’ ‘But Dad,’ I whined, ‘summer will be over in a month, and that's the best time to ride.’ ‘All your summers will be over if a car hits you and you die,’ he said solemnly. He picked my bike up from the lawn and wheeled it away. When I looked later, it was in the garage and the garage doors were padlocked.”

“So, you mean Israel owns the land but God has locked it up so they can’t use it for a long time?” said Sue.

She thought awhile and then said, “But what about all those people, like the Palestinians, who have lived there so long? Don't they claim, like squatters' rights?”

“Well, they don't even have that claim,” said Glen thoughtfully. “You see, there have always been Jews living in the land. Even when Nebuchadnezzar took them to Babylon nine hundred miles away, he left some Jews behind to tend the trees and vines.”

“Because only the Jews can make the land bloom,” said Gary quietly. “Nebuchadnezzar thought he was just making sure his new crops would be taken care of--but he was really insuring the Jews held onto their claim by continuing to live there, which was God's will all the time.”

“So who did Abraham's land belong to when Israel was in slavery in Egypt? To Israel? They couldn't live there for hundreds of years, but it was still their land.”

“Every time they went into captivity they could not live in the land that was theirs. But a remnant remained,” Glen went on.

“It reminds me of Captain Carlson,” said Sue. She could come up with the most far out ideas sometimes.

“I give, said Joy with an indulgent sigh, “Who was Captain Carlson?”

“Well,” said Sue, standing with her feet together as if she was giving a show and tell speech. “My mother told me about him. He was a Swedish ship captain whose vessel was heavily damaged in a big wreck. I think the other ship sank. All the crew on Carlson’s ship was taken off by a rescue vessel, but the captain stayed behind.

"A storm was coming and his ship was filling with water, but he refused to leave. The rescuers pulled away and left his ship listing in heavy waters. He tied himself to his desk which was bolted to the floor. His feet were on the wall because the ship was leaning so badly. It took days and days, but they finally got him out alive. His company, the owners of the ship, was so happy, because as long as he was aboard no one else could claim the ship for salvage.

"Those Jews who have always lived there are like Captain Carlson,” she said, her speech ended.

We admired how Sue had put it all together.

“I can't top that,” said Glen, smiling at her.

Gary, standing up straight again, spoke with grave authority. “The Book of Genesis is like a legal contract, at least where Abraham's land is concerned. It was signed by God and no one but God can cancel it, and he promised he never will. When Jacob was dying in Egypt, he made his sons promise to take his body back to the family burial place in the portion of Abraham.

"I saw a picture of that cave in Biblical Archaeology. There is a huge building around it with a big arch at the mouth of the cave. The doorway has iron bars over it and a guard with a turban stands there with a rifle. Abraham and Sarah are in there; think how long that has been.”

“About three thousand eight hundred years,” said Glen.

Joy spoke up. “I think Genesis is the saddest book in the Bible. It starts with ‘In the beginning God...’ and ends with ‘in a coffin in Egypt’”.

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