Tuesday 19 April 2011

An evening meal with the 144,000

On Sunday morning, just before leaving for church, two smart young “Jehovah’s Witnesses” called to invite me to attend their annual celebration of “the Lord’s last evening meal”.

Apparently, it “made their day” when I turned up. If the sign outside had not announced that the building was a “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses”, it could have been an evangelical church building.

People were friendly, the piano playing was about as proficient as that at any Gospel Hall and the congregation lacklustrely sang turgid, dogma-saturated songs. Prayers were perfunctory and the “Talk” was interesting, at least the speaker kept my attention.

Mike the speaker informed us that Jesus has two flocks of sheep; a “little flock” and a “big flock”. The little flock is the 144,000 of revelation 7 and 14; and the others are the “great crowd” of Revelation 7. The “little flock” will spend eternity in heaven as “spirit creatures, while the rest live forever on a “Paradise earth”.

Only the 144,000 are in the New Covenant, so only they are allowed to eat the bread and drink the wine at the “Lord’s evening meal”. Last year, out of all the millions of JWs around the world, only 11,202 took the bread and wine. The 144,000 apparently know who they are because “holy spirit” reveals it to them.

I don’t think anyone at the meeting ate or drank but I have to confess that I was sorely tempted to do so.

It turned out that the young lady who invited me to the meeting was the niece of the speaker. Mike was as delighted as she was that I had turned up and he came to speak to me. After a little light-hearted banter, I asked if he was one of the 144,000. He told me he was not.

So Mike was not in the New Covenant? No.

According to Jeremiah 31, then, Mike didn’t have God’s law written in his heart, he didn’t know Jehovah and his sins were not forgiven. He assured me that even though he was not in the New Covenant, he certainly knew Jehovah and his sins were forgiven.

But if those are New Covenant blessings, how could anyone outside the covenant experience them?

By now, we had an audience, which included Mike's niece, and Mike was becoming noticeably uncomfortable. He tried to explain the anomaly in terms of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. When Israel left Egypt, a large number of non-Jews left with them and enjoyed the blessings of the covenant.

I pointed out that, according to Jeremiah 31, the New Covenant was not like the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai.

There were other points I could have made, such as how non-Jews can enjoy the blessings of a covenant promised to “the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Also during his talk, although Mike told us that the 144,000 were the first generation of believers in Jesus, he also informed us there was “a remnant” of them around today and that the great tribulation out of which the 144,000 had come was yet future!

The 144,000, he told us, were Christ’s “little flock” in heaven, while the “great crowd” was his other flock on “Paradise earth”. A little reflection on this cornerstone of JW teaching, however, is quite instructive.

Revelation 7:1-8 reads:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

Now considering that the 144,000 are supposed to be in heaven, is it not curious that “the earth” is mentioned five times in just eight verses and heaven is not mentioned once?

Now consider the “great crowd” in verses 9 and 10:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

According to JW teaching, this mass of people is supposed to be on earth, yet the text says they are standing before the throne of Jehovah!

Mike assured me he could answer my questions but he would need to write it all down so, not wanting to cause him further embarrassment, I agreed to read what he would send me and that we should meet to discuss this further.

As I listened to Mike try to wriggle out of a tight spot, it struck me forcefully that so much of Jehovah’s Witness teaching is devoted to making the Bible say the opposite of what it actually says.

No wonder their founder, CT Russell, had to inform his followers that if they read his writings alone , they would be in light but if his followers read Bible alone, within two years they would be in darkness.

Mike and I have arranged to meet up in a couple of weeks. I’ll keep you up to speed with how the discussions go.

Four Questions, Five Sons

Passover 2011 (Jewish year 5771) starts today and continues for 7 days until next Monday (25th April).

The Jewish Board of Deputies is encouraging Jewish families this year to remember the plight of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as the “fifth son” this Passover.

The Hagaddah, or Passover Order of Service, tells of four sons: the first is wise, the second is evil, the third is simple and the last doesn’t know enough to be able to ask questions. A tradition of a fifth son has developed; the absent son, the child who has no interest in Torah and the commandments and is not even aware of the Seder and the miracles it recalls.

Due to the influence of persecution a fifth son, a son who was absent from the Seder through no fault of his own, was introduced to the Seder. In each generation, the fifth son has taken on a different identity. In the 19th century, he was the persecuted Jew of Czarist Russia. In the 1940s, he was the child perishing in the Death Camps of Europe. A spokesman for the Board of Deputies this week told the Jewish Chronicle: “For our generation, that fifth son is Gilad Shalit and all the captive soldiers who are absent from their families’ Seder tables.”

Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas operatives on 25th June 2006. Although human rights organisations have stated that the terms and conditions of Shalit’s detention are contrary to international humanitarian law, Hamas has refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visits to him. Since his abduction, the only contact between Shalit and the outside world has been three letters, an audio tape, and a DVD. This Passover will be the 23 year-old soldier’s fourth Passover in captivity.

The board hopes that the “Gilad Shalit – Fifth Son” project will result in Jewish families praying for him and other Israeli troops at their Passover Seders. We should pray for him also.

Visit the Board of Deputies website for more details.

During the Passover Seder, the youngest person present at the meal asks four questions. The general preliminary question is Mah nishtanah ha-lahylah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-layloht, mi-kol ha-layloht? “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Then follow the four questions:

• Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either [leavened] bread or matzoh [unleavened wafers], but on this night we eat only matzoh?

• Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?

• Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?

• Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?

In answer, the story of the Exodus is told, after which the assembled family is told of four sons who also ask four questions.

The Wise Son asks: “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the laws that God, our God, has commanded to you?”

The answer is given in the words of Deuteronomy 6:20ff: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt . . .” The son must also be instructed in all the laws of Passover, up to and including the final command, which says that after eating the Passover offering, one should not conclude the meal with dessert for that would wash away the taste of the Passover offering.”

The Wicked Son asks: “What is this service of yours?”

The Hadaggah points out that by asking, “What is this Passover Seder of yours?” the son is implying that the Passover is not for him. By so doing he excludes himself from the community because he denies the essential principle of Judaism, the obligation to fulfil the commandments of the Torah.

The Simple Son asks: “What is this celebration about?”

He is to be told: “We are commemorating the fact that with a strong hand God took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves” (Exodus 13:14).

The fourth son does not know how to ask a question and that he must be told: “It is because of this that God acted for me when I left Egypt” (Exodus 13:8).

Quaint as all this may sound, the Passover Seder serves as a multi-sensory teaching experience which inculcates lessons about Jewish history, Judaism and duty to God in the minds of Jewish children. Stories, songs, symbols and symbolic actions, riddles and food all help to keep the children awake and attentive. Christians can learn lessons in communication from Passover.

According to one Jewish commentator, every Jewish person is a composite of those four types of Jews. To some extent, he says, like the first son, all Jews long for meaning; they are searching and thinking. Yet sometimes Jewish people treat life as though it were a joke and, like the second son, they rebel. Sometimes, like the third son, he observes, it takes something dramatic to arouse us to think and change. At other times we are like the apathetic fourth son.

As those who believe “Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” for us, these thoughts are worthy of our own contemplation. “Paul urges us to “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened”, adding, “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7f).

Teenage Terrorists Confess to Fogel Murders

Two teenagers have been arrested for the murder of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar on 11 March.

Hakim Awad and Amjad Awad are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and were were assisted by at least six others, four of them from Awad’s family. The two said they acted out of nationalist motives and expressed no regret for their crime.

In March, the two killers broke into the Fogel home, found the bedrooms of 11-year-old Yoav and 4-year-old Elad and stabbed them to death. They then entered the parents’ bedroom, where they struggled with and overcame Rabbi Udi Fogel and his wife Ruth before stabbing them to death.

Amjad told officials that after leaving the house he could not resist going back to kill 3-month-old Hadas, who was left crying, wet with the blood of her parents. He also said that had he known there were two other children in the house, he would have killed them too.

Investigators said they were shocked by the dispassionate confessions.

In the Palestinian Authority, the killers of Israeli Jews, and especially Israeli “settlers,” are hailed as martyrs and national heroes, which increased the motivation to engage in such violence.

The father of one of the murderers of the Fogel family at Itamar had served in jail for terror, and an uncle involved in the 2002 terror attack on same community.

Meanwhile, two Grad missiles struck near the southern port city of Ashdod last Friday afternoon on the eve of the Sabbath, breaking another in a countless number of ceasefires announced by the de facto Hamas government in Gaza. In response, the Israel Air Force bombed two terrorist sites in northern Gaza on Friday night.

Foreign journalists cover complex Middle East negotiations, and news outlets often characterize lulls in hostilities as “armistices” or “cease-fires”, reminiscent in western minds of the end of hostilities in World War I.

However, the western media often ignore the nuanced Arabic words. David Bedein, Director of the Israel Resource News Agency and Attorney Beryl Dean have put together a guide to what Hamas means when it is said to have offered a “cease fire”:
Hudna: a tactical pause intended only for rearmament.

Tahida: a temporary halt in hostile activity which can be violated at any time.

Hudaybiyyah: there will be no fighting for ten years, a term taken from the “treaty of Hudaybiyyah” in 628 AD.

Sulch: a total cessation of hostile activity.

The hudna, tahida and hudaybiyyah offered by the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad bear no relationship to the mu’ahada peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979, or the mu’ahada peace treaty Jordan signed with Israel in 1994.

Friday 15 April 2011


The Blitz was a sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941 during the Second World War. For 76 consecutive nights the city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe and many towns and major cities across the country followed.

We admire the fortitude and courage of our parents and grandparents who endured those long eight months of constant bombardment, and quite rightly so. However, who gives a thought to the fact that a small town in southern Israel has been under bombardment for ten years!

On 16 April 2001, Gaza terrorists fired the first rocket at southern Israel, aiming for the town of Sderot. Tomorrow, ten years will have passed since that first missile landed. Rocket fire remains a serious concern in southern towns which, as recently as last week, were hit by a barrage of rockets and mortar shells.

Terrorists began their blitz with short-range Kassam rockets, manufactured in Gaza. In the first years, rockets hit with no warning. Even after the installation of the “Colour Red” rocket warning system, residents had, at most, 15 seconds to run for shelter.

In Sderot alone, several people have been killed, among them four children. Others have bee badly wounded, including an eight-year-old boy who lost a leg.

Prior to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the expulsion of Jews from the area, many of the rocket attacks targeted Jewish communities in Gush Katif in Gaza. In 2004, Jewish communities in Gaza were hit by rockets more than 280 times.

In 2005, 170 missiles hit Jewish towns. Following the ethic cleansing of Gaza’s Jewish communites, however, terrorists began to strike far more frequently, hitting towns in southern Israel 946 times in 2006 and 2,048 in 2008. After the Hamas takeover of 2007, when United Nations observers fled the border, Hamas smuggled in more advanced medium-range rockets and expanded its attacks beyond Sderot and the Gaza belt.

Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva, Ashdod and Ofakim all fell victim to rockets as well. “Operation Cast Lead”, in which Israel destroyed much of Hamas' infrastructure and weapons supplies, and killed an estimated 700 Hamas terrorists, led to a temporary reprieve. However, Hamas recently went on the offensive again, firing Grad rockets on Netivot, Ofakim, Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon.

In your prayers this weekend, pray not only for the peace of Jerusalem but also for the peace of Sderot.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Rancid Camera

They say the camera never lies but Norman Finkelstein, the controversial author of The Holocaust Industry and supporter of the now discredited Goldstone Report, demonstrates it is incapable of telling the truth.

In a recent blog “Deutschland uber alles”, Finkelstein (who has never set foot in Israel) sets disturbing pictures of Jews and Nazis alongside Israelis and Palestinians.

Some of the pictures are truly sickening, not simply because of the terrible scenes they depict but because Finkelstein would have us believe they prove modern day Israelis are on a par with the Nazis. “The grandchildren of holocaust [sic] survivors from World War II are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by Nazi Germany...” says Finkelstein.

None of the pictures of Israelis and Palestinians are set in any frame of reference other than similar shots of Jews in Nazi Germany.

We know the context of the black and white Second World War photos but there is no context other than that in which Finkelstein constructs. There are pictures of Israel soldiers pointing guns at Palestinian toddlers; there are shots of dead Palestinians with Israeli soldiers and civilians standing round (one in which an Israel civilian appears to be gleefully gloating); there are shots of fences alongside images of ghetto walls and concentration camp fences.

No doubt there are Israelis who hate Palestinians; doubtless there are rogue soldiers; there are probably Israelis who would like to exterminate the Palestinians.

Israel, like every other nation has those who are mad, bad, sad, or a mix of all three. But Israel is not Nazi Germany, and Finkelstein’s blog tells us far more about him than it does about Israel.

Friday 1 April 2011

A One-Sided Attack on Zionism

With the assistance of Stephen Sizer, Porter Speakman’s biased documentary on Christian Zionism, http://withgodonourside.com/index.htmlhas been doing the rounds of UK churches.

The prestigious Christianity Today gave the DVD a four star rating, announcing that “...Christian Zionism is officially on notice”.

To the credit of TC, the website features a response by Guest Blogger Gerald McDermott, the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Virginia’s Roanoke College. I’ve watched the film and agree wholeheartedly with Prof McDermott. Read his blog and the responses to it online at Christianity Today.

The documentary With God on Our Side is anything but balanced. It does not give “both sides their due” but instead interviews only Israelis on the far left and ignores Christian Zionists who defend the rights of Palestinians. The result is a one-sided attack on Israel that treats social and political realities with the same ideological insouciance which the documentary assigns to John Hagee and his band.

One interviewee in the film claims—without rebuttal—that Jews did not live in the land for two thousand years. The truth is that Jewish communities have lived in the land through all this time, flourishing in Jerusalem, Galilee and coastal cities in the 9th and 11th centuries, and then rebounding after being massacred by Crusaders in the 12th century. By the early 19th century, long before the rise of Zionism, more than ten thousand Jews lived in what is now Israel.

Viewers are told of Jews expelling Arabs from villages in the 1948 war for independence, but not that the war was started by Arabs, or that Arab armies from neighbouring countries targeted Jewish civilians, or that the war was unnecessary because the UN had offered a two-state partition that the Jews accepted and Palestinians rejected.

The documentary states that Israel started the 1967 war “pre-emptively” but fails to provide the context: after months of threatening war against Israel, Egypt’s President Nasser announced (just days before Israel struck) that “the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon . . . are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived.”

The film then proceeds to charge Israel with “illegal occupation” of the West Bank after the 1967 War on the grounds that Israel failed to comply with UN Resolution 242.

According to this resolution, Israeli withdrawal was to take place in the context of mutual recognition of the right to exist and territorial adjustments to achieve secure boundaries. Withdrawal was ordered from "territories," not "the territories."

Both Arthur Goldberg and Lord Carrington, the primary authors of this resolution, have said that the word "the" was purposely omitted because it was not intended for Israel to give back all of her territories, since they recognized that some were needed for secure boundaries.

Despite the fact that most Arab states have refused to recognize Israel's right to exist (a condition of Resolution 242), Israel has implemented the principles of the Resolution three times. When Egypt terminated its claims of belligerency in 1979, Israel returned the Sinai. When Jordan signed a peace agreement, Israel returned land claimed by Jordan. Then in September 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, only to be met with new attacks on her civilians launched from that territory.

Illegal occupation? Hardly. Israel has made repeated efforts to comply with UN stipulations for the territories, while its Arab neighbours have not.

When the Palestinians appeared to accept Israel's right to exist during the Oslo negotiations, Israel turned over control of major West Bank cities to the Palestinian Authority (PA). But when the PA showed support for terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens in 2000, Israel resumed control of those cities.

In that same year Israel offered to return 92 percent of the West Bank, which this documentary dismisses as ungenerous because, it charges, Israel never owned the land in the first place. Yet Jews have lived in ancient Samaria (the West Bank) for over three thousand years. Jordan unilaterally renounced all claims to this area in 1988 and released legal ownership to Israel at that time.

This video suggests Jews should remove all settlements from the West Bank, leaving it entirely for Palestinians. That would be as unreasonable as insisting that no Arabs can live in Judaea.

Besides, what other country has been required to give up land that it won in a defensive war? Do Germans displaced from Koenigsberg clamour and agitate for that German city to be returned to them by the victorious Russians?

The film concentrates attention on suffering caused Palestinians by the new wall. The wall is indeed tragic in many ways. But there is only a passing reference to the attacks on citizens which prompted its building, and the fact that this wall has prevented many such attacks.

Perhaps most disturbing, this video leaves unchallenged one man’s denunciation of Israel as “apartheid on steroids.” This accusation is not only inflammatory but egregiously unfair. South African apartheid was based on race. "Blacks" and "coloureds" could not vote and had no representation in the South African parliament. But Israeli citizens of all races—Arabs and Jews alike—can vote, be represented in the Knesset, and have recourse to the courts.

Apartheid was also a legal system that restricted participation to a minority that had control over a majority. In Israel the majority give equal legal rights and protection to Arab citizens, who make up 20% of the population of Israel. Irshad Manji, a Muslim, has written, “At only 20 percent of the population, would Arabs even be eligible for election if they squirmed under the thumb of apartheid? Would an apartheid state extend voting rights to women and the poor in local elections, which Israel did for the first time in the history of Palestinian Arabs?”

There are also theological problems with this film. First, we are shown only Christian Zionists who use biblical prooftexts to support Israel’s rights to the land. There is no sign of the vast numbers of Israelis and evangelicals who believe that modern Israel is a miraculous work of God fulfilling biblical prophecy while at the same time supporting Palestinians’ rights to self-determination in the land. In other words, viewers never hear of another kind of Jewish and Christian theological Zionism that takes seriously both prophecies of Israel’s return and the biblical mandate of social justice for Jews and Arabs alike.

The second and more serious theological problem is that the end of the documentary suggests that God’s covenant with the Jews (Gen. 12.1-3 et al) was eclipsed by the new covenant for Christians. This is the familiar replacement theology that does not do justice to Rom 11.28-29, and that helped create an atmosphere that required Zionism in the first place. In other words, it was this sort of supersessionism (the belief that the Christian covenant replaced the Jewish covenant) that taught Christians for millennia that Judaism was no longer significant theologically, which then encouraged the belief that Jews were no longer important in a Christian world.