The almond trees are bursting into bloom in Israel!
Since the almond is “awake” while other trees are still sleeping, the letters for the word for almond “shaqed” form the root for another word meaning “to watch, guard, persevere, be awake.” Both are used in Jeremiah 1:11-12 where God asks the prophet what he sees, and he answers, “A branch of an almond tree.” The LORD responds, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it!”
1. FIRST MEETING BETWEEN PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU AND U.S. PRESIDENT TRUMP ON WEDNESDAY.
Wednesday February 15th Israel’s PM Netanyahu will sit down with President Trump in Washington for their first meeting since the latter was sworn into office a little less than a month ago. Besides the desire for initiation of a warm and trusting relationship between the two leaders, the Prime Minister has sought to make clear that his highest priority is related to discussion of security concerns—especially the threat from Iran. But this first meeting between the super-power and the only Democracy in the Middle East will likely many other issues.
The highest priority demanded by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition back home relates to the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. The very existence of these communities was a thorn-in-the-side of the previous US administration, which last December chose to abstain rather than exercise its veto when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334, labeling the presence of such communities, or indeed any Israeli presence at all in the region, “illegal.”
Until now, the new administration has remained relatively quiet regarding the settlement issue. It is known that Mr. Trump’s choice for US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is sympathetic towards them. When shortly after the inauguration, Netanyahu ok’d renewed construction in some of these areas, the usual rebuke from Washington failed to materialize. Sensing a change in the wind, strong forces in Israel’s conservative government have been clamoring for not only settlement growth, but immediate annexation by Israel of the larger settlement blocks—some even for all of the West Bank.
Last week, the present Israeli government passed an extremely controversial bill into law, whereby settlements established unwittingly on areas later found to be private Palestinian land, would be declared legal—and their owners reimbursed with a price above that of the value of the land. Although this was greeted with a storm of criticism around the world, Washington again remained quiet, the word being that the President wished to consult with the Israeli Prime Minister before making comments or stating policy on these issues.
That the President should not be thought of as granting carte blanche in this matter came on February 3rd when Mr Trump’s press secretary stated that, although the administration does not believe the existence of settlements to be an impediment to peace, it considers that the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing ones beyond their borders “may not be helpful.” And on Friday, the President was quoted in an interview as saying that Israeli settlements in the West Bank “don’t help the process of reaching peace.”
PM Netanyahu has been trying to hold reigns on his ministers who are intent on Wednesday’s meeting not only freeing Israel up regarding the settlements, but indeed putting a death-stroke to the concept of a “two-state solution.” In fact, Saturday night Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who chairs the Jewish Home party, called the coming meeting “the test of Netanyahu’s life,” which would determine Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians for years to come. He further issued a veiled warning that if the two men even mention “an obligation to establish Palestine or ‘two states’…it will be an earthquake.” (“Netanyahu chills right-wing ‘excitement’ over Trump meeting”: The Times of Israel, 12 Feb 20127; 1:09 p.m.).
During his trip, the Prime Minister plans to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson and various other leaders in the House and Senate. This morning (Monday) as he and his wife Sara boarded a plane, he said, “President Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region, and also on the opportunities, and we will talk about both and also upgrading the relationship between Israel and the United States.”
We believe that God has brought about the recent shifts in governments, including that in the U.S. There seems to be a rapport between Benyamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, perhaps even the possibility of friendship, and a restoration of friendly high-level relations between the two countries. This meeting is not the “be all and end all” regarding these relations—but it is important.
* For PM Netanyahu’s and Pres. Trump’s meeting on Wednesday. Pray that each will seek God’s counsels and guidance.
* That the LORD upon whose shoulders is all government, will oversee this meeting–that His holy angels will be present, and any demonic powers assigned to sow confusion or to exert influence counter to the purposes of God will be bound and silenced in Jesus’ name.
* That both leaders will realize that the “fear of the Lord” is an essential element in any dialogue regarding Israel.
* That neither Mr Trump nor Mr Netanyahu will embrace the concept of a “two state” solution, (which would countenance a permanent Islamic State in Judea and Samaria). Some years back Mr Netanyahu gave lip-service to such a solution under certain conditions. Up to this time, the new administration has not verbalised it.
* That God’s sovereign purposes for Judea and Samaria will be fulfilled. How His holy covenant will be realized to accommodate and establish the Jews He has promised will dwell there, and the Arab peoples living there now—this is a delemma with no easy, simple answer. Merely being “on the side of the settlers” is not the answer, if their “solution” goes contrary to the righteousness of the God who chose them.
We recommend prayerful readings of Ezekiel 36—which deals both with the land, and the hearts of those whom God has chosen to be its overseers.
2. “BEHOLD, THE MAN”
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has mounted a remarkable exhibit called “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art.” The exhibit, which opened in December and will continue until April 22nd, is made up of 150 works by 40 artists, and seeks to “explore the complex, evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward the Christian savior” (“The Times of Israel”). We paid our first visit last week, and were struck by how popular it appears to be. Most of the visitors were Israelis, intrigued, perhaps, at the idea of a major exhibition portraying Jesus as viewed through the eyes of fellow Jewish artists. And it was moving to see how respectful, even sympathetic many of those “viewings” were.
Some, such as Marc Chagall, used the crucifixion of this Jew as a symbol for the sufferings of the Jewish people as a whole down through history. For others, such as Israeli artist Reuven Rubin, his life serves as a metaphor for the rebirth of modern Israel in Zion. Yet in the work of Rubin and others, there appears to have been also a sense of deep respect, even reverence; as though they were bring drawn into a spiritual fascination with their subject. Of course, there are artists represented who have depicted Jesus in strongly negative ways, some for obvious anti-Christian agendas, some as a propaganda tool for various political or sociological “causes.”
Yet, on the whole, we found it uplifting and affirming. Might this not be a means through which the Holy Spirit, who obviously inspired some of these artists, is releasing a ray of light into hearts of His people that are seeking—drawing them with lovingkindness to the One who has loved them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3)? For those who are being so drawn, even their Savior’s true name may be found hidden in the exhibition. In the Hebrew title of the exhibit, the name Yeshu is used for Jesus, rather than His true name Yeshu’a which means “YHVH (the LORD) is Savior.” Following is part of the note in English/Hebrew/Arabic set alongside a painting by Moshe Castel (1909-1991):
In the expressive style influenced by Chaim Soutine, and inspired by Marc Chagall’s crucifixions, Castel put himself on the cross. The face is a self-portrait, while above the figure a Hebrew inscription says “Castel the Jew” so that the artist’s intense outpouring of pain culminates in total identification with the suffering of the crucified Christ.
In two sketches from the same period, the Hebrew inscriptions above the figure [on the cross]read “Jesus” and “Jesus of Nazareth.” They give the full name Yeshu’a rather than the more common Yeshu, which was often read derisively by Jews as an acronym for a Hebrew phrase meaning “may his name be obliterated.” The painter’s choice of name may indicate his rejection of this traditional revulsion and his own positive perception of Jesus (Emphases ours).
This we find remarkable! All Israeli schoolchildren are taught that Jesus’s name was Yeshu—yet the majority of Israelis have no idea at all that it is in fact a pejorative—a curse invented by anti-Messiah religious rabbis (Yeshu actually means nothing in Hebrew. Since it doesn’t contain the last syllable ayin, the concept of “salvation” present in the name Yeshu’a is totally absent). Attendants overseeing the exhibit will only use Yeshu if asked questions. Yet here, not only did the artist know and use His real name—in the printed notes on the wall, the curators of the exhibit affirm this to be His real name and even (very unusual) explain the meaning of Yeshu.
* That the Holy Spirit of God would brood over this exhibition, awakening within those who visit it a curiosity, even a yearning, after the One who is being portrayed. That as they seek after that towards which they are yearning, they will find.
* That those attending “Behold the Man” will receive grace and revelation to “Behold the Lamb!”
3. JACOB SHEEP ALIVE AND THRIVING
In our Jan. 2 Update “The Return of Jacob’s Flock”, we wrote of how a Jewish couple Gil and Jenna Lewinsky had begun to realize a dream—of bringing a flock of the ancient “Jacob Sheep,” a species extinct in Israel since perhaps the time of the Patriarch, back to their land. The Lewinsky’s ran into some extremely severe difficulties during their first two months here, but now things are going well; they and their flock are settled in to a place west of Jerusalem. For an update on them, and a wonderful video of their flock (with Gil quoting over them from Ezekiel 34), please place the following in your browser.
Let’s continue to pray for this family and their sheep—that all which God is accomplishing (and picturing) in this will come to fruition!
–Martin and Norma Sarvis