Make Israel Great Again


I have not written much over here because I am trying to finish my book and get it to my publisher on time. But I did write some thoughts, Make Israel Great Again, and shared with Kristen Howerton.

Here is an excerpt:

It’s occurred to me that the call to make America great again is not new. I heard it in the Old Testament and I’ve caught whiff of it in the New Testament as well. Of course, in the Bible they aren’t talking about America but about the greatness of Israel. How can Israel be restored to its former glory? I think we see two very different strategies depicted in Scripture. Let’s take a look!

Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE. The Babylonian forces razed the great city; temple included, and took many Israelites into captivity. For generations they lived as the enslaved underclass in a foreign land. But even the Babylonians were conquered by the Perians.

The Persian emperor decided to allow a small group of Jews to return to Jerusalem. He probably thought a thriving economy could pay him tribute taxes – if they could pull off an urban resurrection. This is the story of Nehemiah and Ezra, the men who returned to a ruined cityscape to reclaim the former glory of their beloved Zion, the high and holy place.

The leaders determined to do three things: rebuild the wall around Jerusalem to ensure it’s future security, teach Torah again so that Jews could reclaim their faith tradition and ban intermarriage to move toward ethnic purity. Security, identity and ethnic purity were pillars in the agenda to make Israel great again.

Building the wall did not come without challenge. The Samaritans, still living in the vicinity, were offended by the project and tried to thwart the construction of the wall. But in the end, their efforts failed and the wall was rebuilt to secure the city.

Ezra, scribe and priest, has been credited with the early construction of the sermon. This was the tool he employed to teach the Torah to the Jews who, generations in another land, forgot their stories and songs. He preached at regular intervals believing Scripture would be the cornerstone to reclaiming the Jewish identity.

But that was not all. Ezra was deeply concerned with the ethnic impurity of the returnees. They lived, loved and married in Babylon. Was there any pure seed among them anymore, with all the intermarriage to Moabites and such? So he instituted a firm policy against intermarriage to re-establish ethnic purity. This echoes the earlier instructions of Moses who wanted Israelites to avoid marriage to Canaanites and, at all costs, Moabites. So there was precedent for this kind of thinking when it came to tribal purity.

I found this cursory reading somewhat resonant with our current political context. We are concerned with security, identity, and even ethnic purity. We think, maybe like Nehemiah and Ezra, addressing these matters with exclusivist policies will restore our former national glory. We talk about controlling borders, limiting refugee resettlement, and religious litmus tests. We water the seeds of suspicion about people not from here or not like us. We decide that excluding them will be the solution.

If it sounds familiar – that is intentional. If you want to read, click over to Kristen’s site here.

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