The Eviction Notice

Forgetfulness, that curse of the mind, is often the forerunner of much trouble and tears. The lessons of yesterday lie buried beneath the frenzy of today. It does appear that each generation has to learn for itself the unchanging realities of morality and truth and righteousness. Our 'burnt fingers' are scoffed at by the up-and-coming generation until they too have to look for the 'salve'.

Israel was no exception. Their unbelief combined with forgetfulness proved a fatal combination, for it was the prelude to much unnecessary frustration, failure, and finally to bondage.

In the history book of Judges we are struck by the rising tide of God's anger against His chosen settlers in the land. They had not cleared their territory of its former evil inhabitants as commanded by God: "You shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them" (Deuteronomy 7:2). And now they were even forgetting the call of God for national righteousness and moral purity.

In fact it appears that the new settlers were revelling in the degradations of God's enemies, and the results of this alliance were many, among them the self-imposed limitation by God on how far He would go to help and bless them. God would no longer drive out the inhabitants – "they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes . . . and their gods shall be a snare to you" (Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:3).

The Canaan nations would become taunting reminders of folly and fickleness, poisonous thorns in the sides of Israel for centuries as Moses had warned: But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain . . . shall harass you in the land where you dwell" (Numbers 22:55).

No amount of self-effort and national strategy would remove this crippling situation. Like Jacob, they would walk with a limp, but unlike him, it would be a testimony to failure.

Solomon, reputedly the wisest of kings, showed just how forgetful the greatest can become. He knew that God had decreed that there was to be no intermarriage between His people and the surrounding nations, but alas for him and Israel, the perfume of women and the wine of politics turned his head, and soon he was building places of worship for the alien gods of his wives.

Also he was captivated by chariots and horses, even though the security of the land was God's promise and concern; it was not to be maintained by military power alone. Both these sins Moses had spoken against: "But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses . . . neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away . . . " (Deuteronomy 17:16,17).

The repercussions of Solomon's follies were like shock waves that spread through the kingdom after his death. "So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel . . . he did not keep what the LORD had commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, 'Because you have done this, and have not kept my covenant and my statutes . . . I will surely tear the kingdom away from you . . . '" (1 Kings 11:9-11).

Forgetfulness destroyed the unity of Israel, and the chosen inhabitants of Canaan were themselves now to be carved up into two warring camps. Even before they had taken possession of their land they had been warned about eviction. It would be the judgement of God upon their rebellion and forgetfulness.

Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 28:62-64: " . . . because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God . . . you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples . . . "

To try to prevent this from happening prophets were raised up who endeavoured to stir up the memory of this stiff-necked and hard-hearted people, and they were invited in God's name to turn back to truth and righteousness, and experience a new and vital relationship with God.

The nation mostly refused to listen. No corrective action was taken. They were on a collision course with God. The prophets pictured the land as being tortured, for the immoralities of the nation and its idolatries and corruption were making the land scream as it were with shame.

Jeremiah cried out on God's behalf: "Many rulers have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion underfoot; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness; they have made it desolate . . . because no one takes it to heart" (12:10,11).

No longer could God restrain Himself. It was time for Israel and the watching world to realize God doesn't speak lightly. The forgetful inhabitants would have to taste the bitter dregs of eviction. This scattering occurred over a period of time, culminating in the final dispersions by Rome in 70 and 135 AD after the nation had rejected their Messiah. The sword of the Gentiles served the notice to move out, and though the shock was traumatic it was to serve God's purposes.

And what of the land itself? How did it respond to the tread and touch of the conquerors? One of the strange twists of history is that this fertile land has refused to yield its favours when under foreign husbandry. As Moses prophesied, it became a land of desolation and a source of astonishment, a barren backwash in the world.

It was during these times that Moses' prophecy found its fulfilment: "Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths" (Leviticus 26:34-35).

Renewing the Tenancy

In spite of stirrings from a few visionaries down the centuries, the Jewish people remained imprisoned in Gentile lands. Yet God's word had said: "Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them, and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But for their sakes I will remember the covenant of their ancestors" (Leviticus 26:44-45).

Finally out of the blood-stained folly known as the First World War came the Balfour Declaration which gave to the Jewish people a national home in the Promised Land that had been out of bounds to them for so long. Only a comparatively small number took the opportunity to return 'home', and it was not long before these new immigrants discovered just how difficult it was going to be to live in this sleeping land, with economic hardships and hostile neighbours.

And as if to prove that mankind rarely learns from its mistakes, the world was plunged into another devastating conflict. But for those with eyes to see, it was apparent that God once more overruled man's depravity and despoliation. For out of this holocaust, indeed the Holocaust, the Almighty worked to fulfil His promise through Moses.

Out of the blood-stained folly known as the Second World War came the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948. After nineteen hundred years of wandering, persecution and isolation, Israel as a nation had come home.

So it was that the prophecy of Ezekiel was confirmed: "Thus says the LORD God: 'Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation . . . they shall not longer be two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms again'" (37:21-22).

God has certainly renewed the tenancy of the land for His people, though in the process much blood has been shed. To those who believe God is dead or at best has abdicated, there is need for a pointed finger – not at them, but rather standing with them and pointing the finger at the land of Israel, the nation of Israel, and the promises of God. What hope is there for those who still refuse to see, acknowledge and believe that God is alive, faithful to His word, and in cntrol?

For Israel eviction followed disobedience. Renewed tenancy is the prelude to obedience and reconciliation with the One who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). It will be then that "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the earth with fruit" (Isaiah 27:6).