Some thoughts after four months of War by Aaron Hecht

 


IDF troops on the move (IDF Spokesperson's Office)

When I was in college, I was at the mall one day and I saw a man wearing a T-shirt that said "Life's tough, get a helmet!"

I'm not sure what point the man who was wearing that T-shirt was trying to make, but this bit of wisdom always stuck with me. It's taken on added urgency in the last few days as the government issued a formal statement to the general public that, in light of the escalating violence on the northern border, there is a need to prepare for the very real possibility of catastrophic damage to civilian infrastructure all over the country.

This is because the IDF estimates that in the event of a large-scale war, Hezbollah might be able to make incursions across the border and there would likely also be a rise in terrorist attacks, including here in Jerusalem where I live. But the biggest threat comes from Hezbollah's ability to launch up to 8,000 rockets a day into Israeli territory, and this bombardment could continue for several days or even weeks. This would include some very large rockets with precision guidance systems which would likely be used to target the electrical power grid.

In light of this, the government is urging Israeli citizens to have enough non-perishable food and water in their homes for at least three days, because if there's no electrical power there won't be any way to pump water into homes and it won't be safe to go out to the grocery stores.

But beyond that, the rockets which might be exploding in the air as they are intercepted above my head, or even impacting the ground near me if the interceptors don't get them, will be throwing off a lot of hot shrapnel. I obviously need to try and avoid getting hit by such shrapnel myself, and also protect my wife and children from getting hit by it. That means making sure our bomb shelter is in good shape, which is something I have been spending a lot of time on in the past couple of weeks. It also means having the tools to put out a fire, because debris from intercepted rockets falls to the ground and causes many fires.

I have no doubt Israel will defeat Hezbollah in any potential conflict, but I also agree with the IDF estimates of massive damage to Israel's civilian infrastructure from such a conflict. So I'm doing what I can to be as prepared as possible, and the focus has been on getting tools and equipment that will be useful in taking care of myself and my family if the things we usually count on, especially electricity, suddenly become unavailable.

It also included getting a helmet.

At first, I went looking for a ballistic helmet made of Kevlar. Large numbers of such helmets have been brought into Israel in the past four months, many of them purchased by private organizations and donated to soldiers. Others were donated to civilian emergency first responders, security teams and others who might have to be out in the open while bullets and/or shrapnel are flying around.

But what I quickly discovered is that such helmets are kind of expensive (and I have limited funds that I need to use for many different things that are at least as important as a helmet) and the cost of having it shipped to Israel would add a lot on top of the purchase price. In addition to that, a friend of mine who is a police officer told me that if the cops see a civilian like me wearing such a helmet but who isn't working for any kind of emergency first response team or as a security guard or whatever, they'll probably think I stole it from somewhere and they might confiscate it. I asked my friend what to do and he said "don't worry about it, you probably won't need one."

I love the guy, but that answer didn't reassure me one bit.

So, not knowing what else to do, I went to Amazon and did a search for "military helmets" and to my amazement, something showed up. It was a reproduction M1 GI helmet like the one Grandpa wore when he was hitting the beach at Normandy. There were actually a couple of them, made by different companies, and they only cost around $70 including shipping to Israel.

I asked a man who had been in the US Army National Guard with my father back in the day if such a helmet would be worth getting. He told me, with a sense of humor typical of his generation, that as long as I don't make the mistake of getting shot in the head at close range this kind of helmet would probably protect me from most shrapnel and flying debris as I was likely to face in the event of a rocket barrage.

I thanked him and bought the helmet. It arrived a few days later and of course, I took a picture to post on Facebook, making a joke that I'd finally found the perfect hat to go with my favorite jacket.


Aaron wearing his WWII GI helmet from Amazon.

But jokes aside, my search for a helmet included the calling to mind of Paul's famous exhortation from Ephesians 6:14-17; Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 

This passage has been the subject of countless sermons and commentaries over the centuries and my personal favorite is from Derek Prince, who said, referring to the "helmet of salvation" that it made the point about protecting the head, or the mind, with the "hope of salvation" which would produce optimism. So the way you guard your head from gloomy thoughts that might lead to despair is to always be optimistic, and the way for a Believer to maintain that optimism is by never forgetting that they are saved and their future with the Lord is assured. No matter how bad this current life might be, a better future is coming.

And that, brothers and sisters, is one of the most important and at the same time most difficult commands in the entire Bible, at least for me personally.

A need to feel safe and secure is one of the strongest compulsions that human beings have. It has been a driver of human behavior and activity, both individual and collective, down through the ages. In fact, for many people and even entire societies, the things we look to for our security can become idols.

It's something that can happen to any one of us.

I tell myself that my search for a helmet (not to mention the fire extinguishers, hand tools, water containers, and other stuff I've bought in the past few months to try and protect my family from possible dangers the current situation presents) was motivated by prudence. But there were moments when I had to stop and think about whether I might be putting too much trust in this stuff and forgetting that my real source of safety and security is nothing other than God Himself.

As Psalms 20:7 reminds us, Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.

That act of trusting in a God that we can't see has been difficult for people going all the way back to the very beginning. That's why idolatry was and still is the default human reaction. Putting one's faith, trust, and hope in something tangible, whether it's a statue of a "god" called Dagon in ancient Canaan, the statue of Artemis in ancient Greece, or the statues of Zeus and Apollo in Rome a few centuries later, is the most natural thing for humans to do. In the 21st century, few people bow down to statues but they DO put their faith, trust, and hope, not to mention finding their identity in ideas such as "feminism" or "the Alt-Right" or "Antifa" or any one of dozens of other similar phenomena around which cults are built. This is no less idolatry than what the ancients practiced.

These things give people identity and a sense of communal belonging, which leads to a false sense of security because they all fail at some point.

Having any kind of traumatic experience can shake a person's faith in whatever it was that they thought was providing them with security. This includes surviving a natural disaster (I've survived more than my fair share) or a car wreck, a workplace accident (I've survived one of those too) or being physically attacked during some kind of criminal incident or in a war, or even losing a job or a loved one unexpectedly. Any of these types of situations, where something changes without warning and leaves you in worse shape than you were a short time ago can shatter one's illusions of safety and security and leave one with the realization that one's existence is quite fragile.

This is usually a great shock and almost everyone who goes through such an experience will experience some measure of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

I know a lot of people who read blogs like this one aren't going to like this part, but it must be said that Benjamin Netanyahu was an idol for many Israelis and many Israel-supporting Christians as well. The IDF was too, and there's no point in denying it.

Netanyahu's image as "Mr. Security" won him a lot of support and it's probably the one factor that best explains his long tenure in office. The October 7th massacres badly damaged that image, and by extension, it damaged the entire right-wing in Israeli politics. Polls show that a solid majority of Israeli voters are now ready to give a more centrist political movement a chance. For better or for worse, the automatic electoral majority that the Right in Israel has enjoyed for a generation can no longer be taken for granted.

The IDF and the security establishment in general has also taken a severe hit in terms of the faith that the general public put in it. Once again, for better or for worse, the people of this country no longer automatically believe their legendary armed forces and intelligence services can protect them from everything all the time.

This has made Israelis more open than at any time in living memory to hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and if you're praying for Israel at this time, please include prayers for the ministries and organizations that are sharing the Gospel with Israelis. While you're at it, pray for those ministries and organizations who are NOT sharing the Gospel with Israelis, that they will see their error and correct it.

Getting back to trauma and losing faith in false gods, in a world that has always been unstable and dangerous but which is rapidly getting even more out of control, every single human being walking this earth's surface is likely to have such an experience sooner or later, maybe more than once.

This is making people more desperate and unpredictable, but it's also making them more open to the Gospel.

For those who already have faith in the Gospel, it nonetheless can be difficult to "put on the helmet of salvation" and have an optimistic attitude about the future.

That is why I covet your prayers, for myself and my family and for the entire nation of Israel. Developments in the past week especially have made it more and more likely that a big war with Hezbollah in the north is a matter of when not if. I feel like I've done all I can to prepare myself, my family, and the building I live in for that eventuality. 

I'm asking anyone reading this blog to help me out by praying for protection for us and wisdom for the government of Israel and all the other countries that are part of this drama. If you can do more than pray by sending some kind of support to a ministry you trust that's working here in the Land to assist people in this crisis, please keep sending that support. This is not going to be over any time soon, and we're going to need your help for a long time, even after the shooting stops.

What's the Difference Between Zionism and Biblical Judaism?

Shortly following the October 7th depraved attacks on Israel, a longtime friend and former co-worker, a Christian man, sent me this question:

Judah, what is your perspective on the difference between Zionism and Biblical Judaism?

 I responded,

Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people should return to Israel.

The Bible certainly aligns with that: the Law prescribes many commandments that can only be kept in Israel. The Psalms talk about Israel as the place where God set his name forever. The prophets talk about God regathering the Jewish people into Israel. Zechariah speaks of a future where the Jewish Messiah reigns from Jerusalem.

So I think Zionism and Biblical Judaism are mostly aligned.

There are undoubtedly variants of Zionism that don't align with the Bible. For example, some religious Jews mistreat foreigners, Arabs, and Christians, all under the umbrella of Zionism.

Maybe I'll write a post about it; hard to fit in a reasonably short message.

My friend responded,

Please do write about it Judah.

I'm watching these folks: https://x.com/TorahJudaism/status/1712792877900734603

They look to have good hearts. This is all so confusing.

Here's the post he's referring to by @TorahJudaism account:

Understandable: he sees a video of what appears to be religious Jews calling for the dissolution of the nation of Israel, labelling Israeli Jews as "Zionists and thief settlers." 👀 

I responded,

Yeah, I know the account.

What you need to understand about this group is they don't represent mainstream Judaism. They are to Judaism what Jehovah's Witnesses are to Christianity: a small fringe sect.

There are 2 such anti-Zionist groups in the Jewish world: Neturei Karta and Satmar. They believe only Messiah could recreate Israel, and since Messiah hasn't yet appeared (in their view), Israel is illegitimate.

These groups often meet with Iranian ayatollahs, Palestinian terrorist organizations, and far left anti-Zionist groups. This has led to them being deeply ostracized by both secular and religious Jews.

You can read more about them here.

Before diving in, a few notes about anti-Zionist Jewish groups.

First, size:

Courtesy of Elder of Zion

The anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect makes up an extremely small minority of Jews.

The comparison to Jehovah's Witnesses is generous. For frame of reference, Jehovah's Witnesses cult make up less than 0.3% of all Christians. The anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect makes up an even smaller percentage (0.04%) of all Jews by an order of magnitude. There are just 5,000 of them worldwide. This tiny sect does not represent the Jewish world or Judaism.

Secondly, the owner of the referenced Twitter account, @TorahJudaism, was seen posting pro-Erdogan dictatorship, pro-Turkish propaganda calling for the reinstitution of an Islamic caliphate, even on Shabbat. (Orthodox Jews do not use electronics on the sabbath.) An exposé later revealed the Twitter account to be run not by Orthodox Jews, but by Turkish Muslims hoping to stir opposition to Israel. The owner of the account later partially acknowledged this.

All that said, let's return to the original question: is Zionism Biblical?

Zionism is the belief that Jews should return to Zion (Israel).

Return is an important word here. Historically, Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel going back nearly 4,000 years. So when we talk about Zionism, we mean Jews returning to Israel. We do not mean, as some critics say, a colonization or occupation of a foreign land. It's returning to our own historic homeland.

And if our critics insist on decrying colonialism, we must remind them of the Islamic conquest and colonization of the Levant some 2,000 years after the Hebrews arrived in the land of Canaan.

Zionism - Jews returning to Israel - is that Biblical?

Absolutely so.

From the very first book of the Bible through the final chapters of the Tenakh/Old Testament prophets, God continually speaks about His promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, including passages about returning to that land. The whole arc of the Biblical story is fixed within that context. Here are a few examples:

  • In the beginning chapters of the Bible, God promises Abraham and his descendants the land of Israel (Gen 12:7)
  • God reiterates his promise to Abraham and says that the land will be "an everlasting possession" for his descendants. (Gen 17:8)
  • God commands the Hebrew slaves to go into the land and possess it, and that God himself will be with them. (Deut 9:1-6)
  • During the exodus, God reiterates his promise again, telling the people to live in the land and take possesion of it. (Lev 20)
  • After Moses' death, God tells Joshua and the Israelites that he is giving them the land of Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Joshua 5)
  • The books of Judges, Kings, and Chronicles tell of the early leadership of the people in the land of Israel.
  • The books of prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel warn the people to stop sinning and turn back to God, lest they be taken away from the land of Israel: "Return, backsliding children," declares the Lord, "For I am your Husband. I will choose you and bring you to Zion." (Jeremiah 3:12)
  • The same books of prophets speak of a future when God will call Jews back to Israel. "The days are coming when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess." (Jeremiah 30)
  • The same prophets speak of a coming Jewish King of Israel who will reign over all nations from Jerusalem (Zech 14)
  • God speaks of a future where the Jewish people will be united as they return to the land of Israel. "Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they have gone. I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king will be king to them all." (Ezekiel 37)
  • The historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the Jewish return from Babylonian captivity to the land of Israel. (Nehemiah 1)
  • Many of the psalms also speak about the land of Israel and confirm God's ongoing promise of the land to the Jewish people. In the Psalms, God installs his King in Zion (Psalm 2), he affirms the land of Israel as His promise with the Jewish people (Psalm 105), the psalmist calls the people to consider Zion and admire its beauty (Psalm 48), says Zion is to be the "joy of the whole earth" (Psalm 48:2-3), that God established Jerusalem forever (48:9), that God choose Zion as his dwelling place forever (Psalm 132), it's the place where God lives with his people (Psalm 87), commands us to pray for Jerusalem (Psalm 122), that Jerusalem ought be our highest joy (Psalm 137), and that God has promised Zion to the Jewish people forever (Psalm 105):

I could also cover New Testament passages confirming God's election and promises to the Jewish people as well (e.g. Romans 9, Galatians 3, and others), but this goes beyond the question from my friend.

In this 5 minute video, apologist and Bible scholar Dr. Michael Brown shows that God himself is a Zionist:

So central to the Bible is the land of Zion that some anti-Zionist Jews silence themselves or mumble quietly when reading the parts of the Bible that doesn't fit their anti-Zionism:

This same anti-Zionist group did it in English. When they got to the part where God gives the land of Israel to Abraham's descendants, the man reads in English, "God came to him [Isaac] and told him, 'Don't go to Egypt. Stay where you are'...and uh and I'm skipping a lot of parts here...gave him a lot of blessings [nervous chuckle] for his kids."

The Bible is centrally and almost redundantly Zionist, as God himself promises repeatedly the land of Israel to the Jewish people, both as an eternal possession and something to be returned to after exile. 

Modern Zionsim, then, is the rebirth of a very old, Biblical idea: that Jews should return to Israel. Modern Zionism's rebirth in the late 1800s and early 1900s was undoubtedly a move of God among secular and religious Jews alike. Mere decades before Hitler seized power, Jews like Theodore Herzl petitioned kings, presidents, prime ministers and even popes for a Jewish return to the land of Israel. Had world nations listened, could the Holocaust been avoided?

The horrors of the Holocaust only stoked the desire to return to Israel. After Hitler, it became clear to humanity that Jews could not count on the safety and goodwill of the nations of the world. On May 14th, 1948 -- just 3 years after the devastation of the Holocaust -- the state of Israel finally was born anew thanks to the Zionist pioneers who are now honored in Israel and by Jews worldwide as heroes and forerunners. To this day, there are monuments, memorials, even whole cities in Israel dedicated in honor of these Zionist pioneers.

Among Jewish followers of Jesus, we attest in near unanimity with the rest of the Jewish religious world that God is in the business of ending the Jewish exile and returning Jews to Zion. It's my conviction that authentic Biblical faith is ardently and unapologetically Zionist: embracing the Jewish return to Israel as part of God's overarching plan for humanity. Its culmination will see the triumphant reign of the Jewish King Messiah, ruling the world from Zion.

Psalm 88, Why It's OK to Experience Sadness


Psalm 88 is the hopeless despair psalm. 

Unlike other psalms, there is no redemption or hope in its conclusion. 

Christian scholar H.C. Leupold said of it, "The psalmist is as deeply in trouble when he has concluded his prayer as he was when he began it."

Psalm 88 opens with the psalmist pleading with God to listen because he's nearing death (verses 1-6). 

He proceeds (verses 7-9) to accuse God as the source of his grief.

He tells God (verses 10-13) that he's no use to God if he's dead.

In verses 13-15, the psalmist demands to know why God has spurned, rejected, and poured out his wrath on him.

He ends the psalm with grim resignation, 

"You have taken my friend and my loved one from me. Now darkness is my closest friend."

Damn.

This is why you'll likely never hear Jewish or Christian renditions of the psalm.

Until today! I cried hearing it: Sons of Korah - Psalm 88c

It made me think how it's ok to be sad. God doesn't reject our sadness; He commanded us to weep with those who weep. I take that to mean that if a friend is sad and crying, to cry with him and comfort him. Yeshua cried when a friend died.

It's true that happy people make the world a better place, but it's hard to be genuinely happy if you haven't experienced its opposite. Just as God is a God of both mercy and justice, one without the other is imbalance or even abuse, so also with joy and sadness.

The authors of this rendition of Psalm 88, the Australian music group Sons of Korah, call out how sadness is a juxtaposition of joy. One without the other is lacking: 

"We find, in the Psalms, a deep joy that subsists in deep sorrow. The psalmist was always a man of joy because he was first a man of sorrows. He sowed in tears and reaped with joy (Psalm 126:5). Perhaps the most important thing for us today then, is not the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of sadness. The psalms invite us to share in the joy of God by first sharing his grief. It is a grief he bore most visibly in Jesus Christ who “was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.” In this age sorrow and joy belong together and it cannot be otherwise. If we anaesthetize the sorrow, we forfeit the joy."

Sons of Korah

Hearing the line, "You have taken my loved one from me", I thought back to my younger brother Aaron. When I think of Aaron's death 4 years ago, I still feel sadness and grief. I have often asked God why Aaron died. I have never understood why. Maybe I'll never know in this life. I have at times felt angry at God for his death. I can relate to Psalm 88. 

I've been experiencing sadness about some personal matters recently. I recognize I've brought some of the trouble on my own head through sin and mistakes. (I think God's justice is mostly natural: no supernatural intervention required, just natural consequences.) Psalm 88 tells me it's OK to be sad and grieved. It's even OK to be angry at God for a time.

Over the last few months, I've been reading through Jeremiah and Lamentations. They're full of grief and sadness at God's judgement of the nation of Judah. Jeremiah's story ends with the king of Judah fleeing Jerusalem before the Babylonians. He's captured, his sons slaughtered in front of him, then his eyes put out so that the last thing he sees is the murder of his children. He's brought in chains to Babylon, the Temple is sacked, its precious artifacts of gold and silver carried off, the Jewish people are taken away as slaves, and many others are murdered. Darkness.

Even in the Biblical Feasts we see the reality of sadness and grief. While most of the feasts are joyful -- 3 we're commanded to rejoice on -- there is yet a holy day, Yom Kippur, filled with sadness, fasting, and contrition.

Disciples of Yeshua don't have to pretend that everything is OK. There will be times of sadness and darkness and death. Yes, in the end we'll be with the Lord and experience infinite joy. But in this life will have our share of sadness.

You'll need Psalm 88 someday. If not today, some sad, grief-filled day ahead. I am glad God allowed for this sad psalm to be preserved in the Scriptures.