A few years ago, I was contacted by a good friend of mine, a pastor of a large church in Virginia. He was bringing a group from his church to Israel. He wanted me to meet with the group on one of the evenings of their 10-day tour. Meeting with visiting Christian groups is a regular part of my work schedule. But there was a problem.
The dates of his tour almost completely overlapped with my travel plans. The group would be arriving on a Wednesday, landing in Israel in the late afternoon. I was scheduled to fly out early Thursday morning for a ten-day speaking tour in the US, the length of my friend’s tour in Israel. I offered to arrange for a different speaker in my place. He refused. “I want you to meet my group rabbi. I don’t want anyone else.” I tried to explain to him that it was not possible. They were landing late on Wednesday. I was leaving Thursday morning.
“How about Wednesday night?” he finally insisted. I responded that I could do it, but it would be unusual to address a visiting tour group just after they landed.
The group landed at 4:30 PM. Between passport control, getting their luggage, and sitting on the bus in traffic, they arrived at their hotel in Tel Aviv in the evening. Upon entering the hotel lobby, my pastor friend ushered them into a meeting room and introduced me.
After welcoming the group to Israel, I asked them how many were visiting for the first time. Almost all hands went up. I then asked them, “So, have you seen anything Biblical yet?” They looked at me puzzled. One woman spoke up. “Rabbi, we just got off the plane. All we did was sit in traffic. But tomorrow we’re heading to Capernaum!”
“Tell me something,” I responded, “In your Bible does it tell stories only about the past? When I read the Bible, I see stories about the future too. And in those stories about the future, the Bible tells me that there will come a time when the nation of Israel will be ingathered after a lengthy exile, will retake possession of land, and become more numerous and more prosperous in the land than ever before (Deut. 30). Now tell me again, when you were sitting in that traffic, and now that you’re in downtown Tel Aviv, with beautiful modern buildings and teeming with multitudes of Jews from the four corners of the earth, are you sure you haven’t seen anything Biblical?”
And then I read from Zechariah 8.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Peoples shall yet come, Inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts. I myself will go also.” Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.’ – Zechariah 8:20-22
“Tell me,” I continued, “why did you come to Israel? Were you choosing a vacation spot between Hawaii, Disneyland, and Israel, and decided to come here? Of course not. You came here to connect with the land and God of Israel. When you arrive in Jerusalem in a few days, I want you to look in the mirror. Then you will see something Biblical.”
I relay this story because of an event that took place in Jerusalem a few days ago. This past Wednesday and Thursday, I attended the events surrounding and including the seventh annual Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast. Attended by over 400 Christian leaders from 50 different nations, the JPB continues to reach new heights. On Wednesday, the participants visited the Knesset where they met with many of the leaders of Israel. They then had a packed schedule of Bible study sessions on the topics of the nation and land of Israel, as well as briefings exploring issues relating to the political challenges we face.
All this was merely preparation for the main event.
On Thursday morning, these Christian leaders from all corners of the earth prayed for Israel. Invoking the Biblical mandate to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” (Ps. 122) leader after leader took to the podium to lead those assembled in praise of God for the fulfillment of His promises to the nation of Israel, to pray for the welfare of the Jewish state and her citizens, and to express their commitment to support the Jewish nation in every way.
Many Jews fear the ulterior motive of Christian Zionists, suspecting that they are driven by missionary agenda to convert Jews to the Christian faith. But if this event is any indication of the state of Christian support for Israel, nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than advocating for proselytizing to Jews, the speakers at this event emphasized their humble gratitude to the Jewish people, their contrition in the face of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, and their commitment to what they referred to as “God’s covenant people.”
As someone who works in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, I cannot emphasize enough that the vast majority of Christians who support Israel are driven by Deuteronomy 30 and Zechariah 8 far more than they are by any desire to convert Jews.
As I quoted above, Zechariah 8 foretells a time when “many peoples will come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem.” The call of Psalm 122 is to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” And Psalm 126 tells us that when “The Lord restores the captives of Zion… then it will be said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” (Ps.126:1-2)
This past Thursday morning, at the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast, I saw something Biblical.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation and cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast