The present sufferings of our Jewish neighbors have revealed that they are not the only ones with veiled hearts. My heart (maybe yours too?) has been veiled towards the Jews. Paul confessed, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). I suggest, that until we can say the same, until our hearts are burdened to the point of breaking, not ultimately for the political or social but for the spiritual welfare of our Jewish neighbors, there remains a blindness, a callousness in us towards them that demands repentance.
In the early hours of Saturday, October 7th, the stillness of the Jewish Sabbath was shattered as thousands of rockets rained down on Israeli homes and villages along the Gaza border. As the cloud of chaos descended upon shell-shocked civilians, armed insurgents of the Islamic terrorist group, Hamas, tunneled under, broke through, and flew over the Gaza-Israel barrier and began slaughtering men, women, and children. The images of the attack, many of which were published by Hamas, depict scenes of unspeakable horror; the most grievous atrocities committed against the Jewish people since the Nazi Holocaust. The terror attack left 4,000 wounded, 1,500 murdered, and 200 abducted. Since then, concentric consequences have rolled throughout the world. Israel immediately declared war and began retaliatory strikes against Hamas strongholds in Gaza. Now, the world’s most powerful nations are announcing their allegiances and aligning themselves on opposite ends of a global battlefield. And thousands of American soldiers are preparing to join Israel in her fight against evil.
In the presence of such unimaginable sorrow, in the face of such unmasked evil, as the world inches to the precipice of war, what can Christians an ocean away, do? We can and we must pray. But for what?
We must pray for the deliverance of the Jews.
There is general confusion among believers regarding the spiritual status of our Jewish neighbors. But Scripture is clear. The true Israel of God has always been a spiritual, not ethnic or national, community. While God was pleased to cut his gracious covenant with Abraham and his offspring, Paul explained “as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’… know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham’” (Galatians 6:16). “If you are Christ’s,” Paul insisted, “then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). So, sharing Abraham’s faith in the gospel promises of God, not Abraham’s blood, determines one’s membership in Israel.
Conversely, Paul explained, “… not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6-8). Thus, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ across all lands, peoples, and ages is and has always been the true “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
Nevertheless, the Jews have enjoyed the richest privileges of any people throughout redemptive history. Of all the nations on the face of the earth, the Lord chose Israel “to be a people for his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). They were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:4-5). Jesus did not just come from them, he came for them; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). But because of their unbelief, because they stumbled over the Rock of Salvation and crucified him at the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23), God hardened their hearts until the full number of elect Gentiles should be ingrafted into the house of Jacob, the Kingdom of David, the Church of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32-33).
But God’s gilded past with the Jewish people is gloriously eclipsed by his future for them. Since “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29), Paul reasoned, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2). Paul teaches Christians to live in prayerful anticipation of the day the veil of unbelief will be lifted from the hearts of elect Jews, and “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). John saw the fulfillment of this promise as he looked forward, through prophetic eyes to the glory that would be revealed at the return of Christ, and heard, mingled among the multitude of the redeemed from nation, tribe, and tongue, “144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Revelation 7:4). This sure and certain hope compelled the 19th century Scottish Presbyterian, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, to journey to Israel and preach the gospel among the Jews. “I feel convinced” he wrote a friend, “that if we pray that the world may be converted in God’s way, we will seek the good of the Jews; and the more we do so, the happier we will be in our own soul.” He often exhorted those to whom he preached, “We should be like God in his peculiar affections; and the whole Bible shows that God has ever had, and still has, a peculiar love to the Jews.”
The present sufferings of our Jewish neighbors have revealed that they are not the only ones with veiled hearts. My heart (maybe yours too?) has been veiled towards the Jews. Paul confessed, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). I suggest, that until we can say the same, until our hearts are burdened to the point of breaking, not ultimately for the political or social but for the spiritual welfare of our Jewish neighbors, there remains a blindness, a callousness in us towards them that demands repentance. And since repentance is a matter of both affections (sorrow for sin) and actions (turning from sin unto new obedience) is there any sweeter fruit of repentance for this particular sin than praying for the deliverance, that is, the conversion and ingathering of the Jews?
In their Directory of Worship, the Westminster Divines instructed the churches to regularly, “pray for the propagation of the gospel and kingdom of Christ to all nation; for the conversion of the Jews, the fulness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist, and the hastening of the second coming of our Lord; for the deliverance of the distressed churches abroad from the tyranny of the antichristian faction, and from the cruel oppressions and blasphemies of the Turk…” The grave reality is that Hamas terrorists are not the greatest threat to Jews in Israel, for they can only kill the body. But there stands another who has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell forever. And unless our Jewish friends kiss his Son in love and faith, they will “perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).
So, we must pray for the Jews. Pray the Lord would deliver the afflicted through their affliction and open their ears through adversity (Job 36:15). Pray that the Spirit of God would pour into the broken hearts of a grieving people and make them new. Pray that through their tears, they would look in faith upon him who is coming to wipe away every tear: the Seed of the Woman(Genesis 3:15), the Seed of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Galatians 3:16), the Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), the Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), the Lion of Judah (Genesis 49:9), the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12), the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13), the virgin born Son of God (Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6), the man of sorrows who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 6:1-3 & John 12:41), the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), the stone the builders rejected who has become the cornerstone (Acts 4:11), the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ.
What can a Christian say or do for Jews who have suffered so terribly? The French publisher Francois Mauriac asked the same when a young Jew named Ellie Wiesel presented his story of sufferings in Auschwitz that we now read in Night.
“And I, who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner, whose dark eyes still held the reflection of that angelic sadness which had appeared one day upon the face of the [child he saw hanged]? What did I say to him? Did I speak of that other Jew, his brother, who may have resembled him – the Crucified, whose Cross has conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and that the conformity between the Cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished? Zion, however, has risen up again from the crematories and the charnel houses. The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead. It is through them that it lives again. We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to Him. This is what I should have told this Jewish child. But I could only embrace him, weeping.”
God lift the veil from our hearts that we might feel Paul’s same unceasing anguish for the Jews as you lift the veil from their hearts to see Christ in loving faith. God help us weep with those who weep. God defend the innocent and shatter the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 3:7). God help us embrace the Jews, “beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Romans 11:29) in the loving arms of our prayers, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). O God, bring them in.
Hark! ‘Tis the Shepherd’s voice I hear,
Out in the desert dark and drear,
Calling the sheep who’ve gone astray,
Far from the Shepherd’s fold away.
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring them in from the fields of sin;
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring the wandering ones to Jesus.
Jim McCarthy is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Trinity PCA in Statesboro, Ga.