Gideon Nchinda (Cameroon)..The return of the Ethiopian Jews is an important development in the history of prophecy and to the church in Africa. It reminds Christians of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the importance of the biblical exodus.
My first article was based on the overall thesis that a historical relationship between Africans and Jews is well represented in the Bible from Genesis to Revelations. Historically some prominent Jews have identified with Africans in their suffering. I will mention only two of numerous cases. It has been documented that Rabbi David Einhorn who lived during the American of Civil War era in Baltimore was a true Jewish friend of Black people. He was a Jew who stood up for the humanity of the Black slaves using the teaching of the Torah. By some divine providence, Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism in his book Altneuland, wrote that “once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”
Jews on the continent of Africa
The relationship between Blacks and Jews is no secret in modern times. Records show a substantial presence of Jews on the continent of Africa. The return of African Jews to Israel confirms the biblical and historical record of African encounter with biblical Jews and further strengthen relations between African Christians and Israel. The Jews of Ethiopia in East Africa returned to Israel, their land of origin between 1984 and1992.
The Fallashas represent the oldest Jewish community outside of the land of Israel whose origins are linked to the tribe of Dan and the Queen of Sheba. I was privileged to be in their absorption centre in Safed in 2007. There I watched their children learn Hebrew and celebrate Shabbat the way they have traditionally done for centuries in Ethiopia. As an African Christian my heart leaped with joy meeting Black Jews from my own part of the world in the land of Israel. How important is the return of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel to the Christians and Churches of Africa? Although the church in Africa is my focus, the main points I will mention in this essay apply to the church in general.
The Return of the Jews is an indication of the nearness of the Return of the Messiah
Jesus in teaching about the signs of his Second Coming told his disciples a prophecy about the fig tree. While sitting on the Mount of Olives, he said
Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so when you see all these things, you know that it is near, even right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (Matthew 24:32-35).
The fig tree here is a metaphor for Israel.
I have heard several times that if you want to know what time it is on God’s clock, then look at the nation of Israel, and what goes on in the Middle East. It is no accident of history that the attention of the media, the United Nations and the whole world is centred on a tiny nation in the Middle East called Israel. You may have noticed that Israel is not the only land in the world where territories are disputed by two distinct ethnic groups. Yet at least 35% of UN resolutions have been passed with reference to Israel. Political pundits think that Israel is a bone of contention in the UN because the big industrial nations of the West are ever ready to appease Arabs in return for oil from the Gulf states. To those who share this opinion, Israel is a scapegoat, a sacrificial lamb on the alter of the Western thirst for Arab oil. This is undoubtedly true in our time.
However, in the biblical period when there was no oil politics, the land of Israel had been scrambled and trampled for ages by the superpowers. During this period, the armies of Babylon, Assyria, Rome and Greece took turns in conquering and occupying the land, shedding Jewish blood and plundering their land. Since the biblical period no land has experienced constant occupation in recorded human history. Much of what goes on in Israel and with the Jewish people had long been prophesied and recorded in the Torah before the church age and modern history. The church in Africa should wake up to this reality.
Israel crucial in understanding prophecy
It is important for the church in Africa to remember that most of the biblical prophecies were addressed to the Jews as the chosen nation and bearers of God’s revelation for humanity. Several biblical prophecies concern the land of Israel and the nations of the ancient Near East referred to as the Middle East today. Unless we understand these prophecies in context, we run the risk of missing the original meaning and implications for today. With the birth of the Christian church, the apostles under the leadership of the Holy Spirit saw the fulfilment of some Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel and the Messiah in the unfolding of the redemptive events of their time. Israel is still crucial in understanding biblical prophecy in this age as she was in the early church period.
In Biblical prophecy, Israel is the fig tree.
For us Christians, it is important to remember that Israel is the “fig tree” in Matthew’s end time discourse. The return of the Jews from the ends of the earth is an indication of the blossoming of the fig tree, the nation of Israel which was once withered by a history of rebellion and occupation. The “generation” that will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened is yet another reference to Israel as a race or nation. The generation of Israelis that is alive as the nation of Israel is restored will see the coming of the Lord and the promised national redemption that shall happen (Zech.12:10-14).
Why is Israel described as a fig tree that its leaves will begin to come out?
The Bible records that when Israelites were disobedient and driven from their God-given homeland, the land was barren and desolate (Zech 7:14; Lev 26:14, Ezek 15:8, Jer. 9:12-13, 23:10, 44:22, Isa 32:13). God promised that there will come a time when His people shall return to the land and the land will blossom again. In Isaiah 27:6 we read that “In the days to come, Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill the world with fruit” (Also see Isa. 37:31). There is no possible way to spiritualise most of the Old Testament prophecies on the restoration of the land of Israel than to first understand them to mean that the Jews will physically return to their land. Israel will blossom as a nation, then her hills and mountains will blossom too. Prophecies regarding the return to the land are being fulfilled in present times. Before world war II small numbers of Jews had returned home from various European countries. The restoration of the modern state of Israel in 1948 has been understood as the pinnacle of prophetic fulfilment. This has been followed by a constant flow of Jewish returnees from all over the world. The fig tree is beginning to blossom and the coming of the Lord is imminent. The return of Jews from Africa should remind the church in Africa of the reality of the return of the Messiah.
The Return of the Ethiopian Jews is an acted example of the “Exodus” for the African church
The biblical Exodus was the deliverance of the Israelites from hundreds of years of oppression in Egypt. The Lord said to Moses,
I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:7-8)
The Exodus was a highpoint in God’s revelation of Himself and His will for a nation of people whom He had called out of the land of Egypt and for Himself. The event of the deliverance of the Jews also pointed to the future deliverance of the entire human race from the bondage of sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul recounting the history of salvation stated: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the law that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Just like Moses was God’s tool in the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, Jesus is Saviour of both Jews and Gentiles who (will) trust in Him. Ethiopian Jews who were in some sort of bondage in Africa for hundreds of years were returned to their homeland at last. This is some sort of an acted Exodus or a second exodus that happened again on African soil just as in the biblical Exodus, Jews were delivered from bondage on African soil.
Jews in bondage in Africa
Earlier on I had stated that the Ethiopian Jews were in bondage in Africa. This is not an exaggeration of the situation. The Fallashas were experiencing physical and emotional pain. They were living in a harsh socio-economic climate in Ethiopia before their timely return to Israel. Emotionally, the true Jew is never satisfied living in a land that is not homeland. God has put in the heart of every Jew, an earnest longing for homeland.
Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. (Deut 28:65-66)
Beginning from the Assyrian invasion of Israel in BC 722-720 BC until the declaration of the independence of the modern state of Israel in1948, Jews have never experienced peace without a homeland. They have been subjected to the most violent and persistent expressions of hatred and prejudice. Having lost their nationhood and existing as a people group without a nation, they have had no army, no judiciary, no government or international ally to defend them. Even the church failed as a faith community to defend the Jew and instead became one of the chief persecutors of the Jews blinded. If the Bloody Mary and the Spanish Inquisition as examples of extreme ecclesiastical anti-Semitism are too far in history then the success of Hitler’s Nazi holocaust to physically eliminate six million Jews was a clear indication of the church to defend the Jews, although a few individual Christians in Europe did. I intend to point out that as a Jew, the Fallasha could not be at peace in Ethiopia, just as any other Jew in Europe were there was constant persecution. Their return was a fulfilment of prophecy and an acted example of the biblical Exodus in our time. Now, the Fallashas are learning to live in their homeland and experiencing the peace and security they have missed for hundreds of years.
The return of the Ethiopian Jews is an important development in the history of prophecy. This event is important to the church in Africa. Among other implications, it reminds Christians of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the importance of the biblical exodus.
This work will be continued under the title:
The Church in Africa owe Israel and the Ethiopian Jews a spiritual and social duty. (pray, comfort and help)