The modern state of Israel has come to accept accusations of wickedness and opposition to building as a way of life.
Basically, nothing has changed since the days of Ezra nearly 2 500 years ago. Just as now, with unlikely allies such as the United Arab Emirates, ancient Israel had friends in high places.
King Cyrus of Persia not only freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon but also permitted them to rebuild their temple, even returning the rich furnishings confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar and bolstering their resources with lashings of gold and silver.
But there were the inevitable vocal opponents of its reconstruction, just as there are today over plans to extend Jewish sovereignty in parts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Many even deny Israel’s right to any of the Holy Land.
In Ezra’s day, when Cyrus’s successors succumbed to pressure from Israel’s opponents and the work on God’s house came to a standstill before resuming under the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the elders of Israel had to remind King Darius of a much earlier decree:
“Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did, in fact, issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 5.17)
Cyrus had indeed ordered the Temple restoration; the Lord had “moved his heart” in order to fulfil the word spoken by Jeremiah (Ezra 1.1) – and, for that matter Isaiah, who had twice mentioned the king by name more than a century before he existed1.
In the very same way, today’s politicians (especially in Britain) need to rediscover the San Remo Treaty of 1920. A record of the resolution was hidden away in the British war archives for generations until recently unearthed – time enough for Israel’s enemies to successfully spread the now widely accepted propaganda that the Jews have stolen Arab land.
Israel’s legitimacy has thus been repeatedly questioned as media outlets and members of parliament have joined forces to rewrite history.
Of course, for those who believe the Bible is God’s word, Israel’s right to their ancient land was spelled out in Genesis 15:18-20, Gen 17:8 and elsewhere. But their “earthly deed” was signed by world leaders (including British Prime Minister David Lloyd George) on the Italian Riviera 100 years ago.
In confirming the intent of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Jews were granted all the land from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan (including currently disputed territories), making a nonsense of the oft-heard Palestinian cry: “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free.”
At the time of San Remo, the region earmarked for the Jews was known as Palestine, but there was no such state or people. Arabs signing up for war service on the side of the Allies did not wish to be known as part of the Palestine corps as their Jewish fellow soldiers were happy to do.
Anyway, in view of the almost total ignorance of this hugely significant treaty’s existence, it’s high time our political leaders were made aware of it and took action to put the record straight in the public square.
A series of events marking its centenary have had to be postponed due to Covid, but a virtual conference is being planned for Saturday October 24, with contributions by experts and a chance to ask them questions. The Love Never Fails2 website will soon be updated with further details at https://www.lnf.org.uk/sanremo.php
An excellent booklet on the background to San Remo, called Pathway for Peace, has been published and can be purchased on the Christian Friends of Israel website at https://www.cfi.org.uk/sanremo-100. Why not send one to your MP? I have free copies to give away to the first six readers who apply.
My prompting to re-read Ezra at this time came from my church where we have started a series of sermons on the book. It’s particularly appropriate, coming as “exiles” start to return from lockdown, though I suspect we will continue to live as exiles from our secular culture for some time yet.
And though it’s perfectly acceptable to apply the Word of God to our lives in this way, we need to remember that it was originally addressed to Israel, who should take heart that Ezra’s day is being replicated in the 21st century, which means that there is still hope for Israel. Hope both in being delivered from their enemies and protected by their Lord, who still moves on the hearts of kings, presidents and prime ministers on their behalf.
Cyrus clearly gets this, in recognising that the God of heaven is synonymous with the God of Israel, and that though the Jewish exile was God’s judgment on sin, it was not for the surrounding nations to stick the knife in (Ezekiel 35.15). For that would amount to interference in the family discipline of those who are still God’s chosen people.
And so Cyrus responds to the Spirit’s leading by letting the exiles return and rebuild their temple.
Christians today are called not only to help Jews return to their ancient land (Isaiah 14.2) as San Remo has so helpfully achieved, but also to share the good news of their Messiah with them! (Romans 1.16)
1See Isaiah 44.28 & 45.1 & 13