Aliyah – the Return of the Jewish People to Israel

editor - 26 June 2014

By Philip Holmberg.. The Almighty Forms a People …

When God speaks about the beginnings of the Jewish people, he uses expressions like make, create and choose: “Is he not your Father, who bought you? Has He not made you and established you?” (Deu 32:6). Long before Israel became a people, the Lord started by calling one man, Abraham, and his wife, out from his country, from his kindred and from his father’s house and promised to make him a great nation. And when they were too old to have a child, the Lord miraculously gave them Isaac!

Later, Isaac himself, and Rebekah, were unable to have children. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, the Lord healed her, and gave her twins! Then God sovereignly chose Jacob, the younger, before Esau, the first-born, to receive the promise and covenant of Abraham and to have many descendants. Still later, the Lord used the amazing events in Joseph’s life to save and protect Jacob’s entire family by bringing them out of starvation to the fertile land of Goshen in Egypt.

There the children of Israel were “fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land [Goshen] was filled with them.” (Ex 1:7). Eventually they became oppressed and enslaved, and groaned and cried out to God. “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” (Ex 2:24)! Answering their prayers, God sent a deliverer, Moses, to bring them out of Egypt into the desert.

It is there in the desert, at the mountain, that they become a people as the Almighty reveals himself as their God, their Creator and their Father who says: “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” (Isa 43:21) and ”Israel is My son, My firstborn.” (Ex 4:22) and “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:6)! So the Jewish people belongs to the Lord!

… And Gives Them a Land

Even before God gave Abraham the promise to make him a great nation and made a covenant with him He gave him a command: “Get out of your country … to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Of course, a nation has to have a territory, and we can understand that the Lord wished to show Abraham the land which his descendants were going to populate. In fact, the Lord told Abraham to “Arise, walk in the land through its length its width, for I give it to you.” (Gen 13:17). Before that the Lord emphatically stated that He was giving the land to Abraham and his descendants forever! (Gen 13:15).

This promise is renewed to Isaac when God said to him: “… to you and your descendants I give all these lands …” (Gen 26:3). Again it is renewed to Jacob when he was fleeing from his brother Esau: “… the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants.” (Gen 28:13). When the people of Israel were on the point of entering the promised land, the Lord reminds them He is fulfilling the promises and oaths He had given the patriarchs: “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob …” (Deu 6:10).

In the words of the Psalmist: “He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth. He remembers His covenant forever, The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac, And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel as an everlasting covenant, Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan As the allotment of your inheritance,”” (Ps 105:7-11).

The Connection of the People to the Land

From the Scriptures it is clear that it is impossible to separate God’s promise to bless Abraham and his descendants and to make them a nation from His promise to give the land to them forever; the land is an integral part of the covenant God made with the patriarchs and the people of Israel. The eternal covenant God made with the Jewish people includes the bestowing of the land to the descendants of Abraham as an indispensable part!

Indeed, it may very well be that the Lord, the Ancient of days, before the nations even existed, used Israel as a kind of measuring rod when He set the boundaries of the nations. This could mean that in the same way as the people of Israel is the firstborn son of God, so also the land of Israel is the first inheritance among all the lands of the peoples. “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord ’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance. ” (Deu 32:8-9). Paul says to the Athenians: ”And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,” (Acts 17:26).

The Lord has chosen to be known as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” and says that this is His name forever (Ex 3:15). He guarantees His promise of the land in the strongest possible way! He who is “the God of Israel, the Holy One of Israel” gives an assurance that the land belongs to His chosen people! And as the people belongs to the Lord, so also, in the final analysis, does the land belong to Him!

Blessings and Curses

When we study Deuteronomy chapter 28 it becomes clear that all the blessings and curses listed apply to a nation, a people living in a land of their own. We learn already in verse 1 what the result of obedience will be: “… the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth”. Verse 8 goes on to say: “… He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you”. And in verse 9 we arrive at the climax: “The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself”.

The call and the mission of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel is to be the priest among the nations, representing the nations of the earth before God, and representing God before the nations. The result is described in verse 10: “Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you”.

Similarly, the consequence of disobedience is a long list of misfortunes and curses: drought, poverty, fear, disease, defeat, oppression, always in the land. Then the climax in verse 64: “Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other”. The final curse is to be taken away from the land!

Into captivity …

Before the Lord allowed His people to be brought into captivity to Assyria and Babylon He warned them repeatedly through His prophets. So many Scriptures witness about the Lord’s call to the kings, the leaders and the people to turn back to Him, to pray for forgiveness, and to be restored. But worship of the gods of the surrounding peoples and unrighteousness in the land continued. Already when He brought Israel out of Egypt, the Lord had said to Pharaoh through Moses: “I will make a difference between My people and your people. …” (Ex 8:23) – now there was no longer any difference between Israel and the nations.

In God’s view, even the land had been defiled: “I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination.” (Jer 2:7). And worst of all, the Lord’s name was defiled: “… they defiled My holy name by the abominations which they committed” (Eze 43:8)!

… To Assyria and Babylon

God used the great power of Assyria to defeat and carry away into captivity the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Some time later the Babylonians conquered Assyria. Then the Babylonians defeated the southern Kingdom of Judah, destroyed the first temple and carried away many of the people into captivity to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah describes it thus: “Israel is like scattered sheep; The lions have driven him away. First the king of Assyria devoured him; Now at last this Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon has broken his bones.” (Jer 50:17).

But the same prophet, Jeremiah, also received the Word of the Lord and prophesied that after seventy years the Lord would have mercy on His people. Daniel, who was one of the captives, read this prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah. It motivated him to turn to the Lord, to humble himself before the Lord through fasting, to pray and ask the Lord to forgive his sins, the sins of his ancestors and the sins of the leaders of the people. He prayed for the restoration of the people and of Jerusalem for the sake of God’s Holy Name! (Dan 9).

The Meaning of Aliyah

The Hebrew word aliyah means going up or ascent. It is used about the Jewish people going up to Jerusalem three times a year for the feasts of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. It is also used to refer to the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to Israel, their return to Zion.

The return of the Jews to the land of their fathers is central to Zionism. As Theodore Herzl said: “It goes without saying that the Jewish people can have no other goal than Palestine and that, whatever the fate of the proposition may be, our attitude toward the land of our fathers is and shall remain unchangeable.” He also said: “If anyone thinks that Jews can steal into the land of their fathers, he is deceiving either himself or others. Nowhere is the coming of Jews so promptly noted as in the historic home of the Jews, for the very reason that it is the historic home.” And: “Zionism demands a publicly recognized and legally secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. This platform is unchangeable.”

But Herzl and Zionism did not, of course, invent the idea of Aliyah. Already in the middle ages, the Passover Seder included the words: “Next year in Jerusalem”, which expressed the longing of the Jewish people to return to the promised land, the longing of a people scattered throughout the world to be a restored nation in their own land. And the Jews of the middle ages were inspired by the Bible because God had promised that He would “have mercy on Zion” (Ps 102:13). Through the prophet Jeremiah He promised: “He who scattered Israel will gather him” (Jer 31:10).

I believe it is not a coincidence that the final verse in the final chapter of the final book of the common Hebrew Bible reads: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!” (2 Chron 36:23)!

There’s Always Opposition to the Return!

Cyrus allowed the Jews to return as a result of the prayers of Daniel and others like him and in obedience to the prophetic Word of God. However, everyone did not approve of their return. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra record the opposition the Jewish people encountered. Their adversaries ridiculed them and threatened them. Nehemiah describes how the Jews had to respond: “Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.” (Neh 4:17).

Centuries before, Pharaoh had resisted the exodus of the children of Israel. So we see that the opposition can assume the form of not allowing the Jewish people to leave their exile as was the case with the refuseniks in the Soviet Union after 1967. But the opposition can also take the form of resisting the travel, entry and settlement in the land as has been the case since the 1930s onward. But the Lord has promised that He will protect and keep His people as they return to the land of their fathers!

Scattered …

Jews had settled by choice in many parts of the Roman Empire as the book of Acts informs us. It is, however, reasonable to assume that the majority of the Jewish people lived in Palestine until the Jewish Roman wars (66 – 135 AD). In these wars, perhaps as many as 1.5 million Jews were killed and massacred, about 100,000 Jews were sold as slaves and many Jews fled to foreign countries. The Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, the province of Judaea was renamed Syria Palaestina and all Jews were banished from Jerusalem.

… To the Ends of the Earth

Wherever the Jews came, sooner or later they suffered persecution and expulsion. I found one website which listed 109 locations whence Jews have been expelled from 250 AD until the birth of the modern nation of Israel, and I fear that this list only represents the tip of the iceberg. Most of the persecutions and expulsions have been crimes committed by the Christian Church, Christian nations and individual Christians. So the Jewish people were scattered all over the world.

“The Times of the Gentiles”

In a parallel to the dispersion of the Jews, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was proclaimed, first in Jerusalem, then in Judaea, and Samaria, and then to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). This made it possible for the Gentiles to be engrafted in the Jewish olive tree by grace! The blessing given to Abraham could also be received by the Gentiles! The Lord says: “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17).  As the last unreached peoples are being reached by the Gospel, the times of the Gentiles are drawing to a close.

Coming Back from the Ends of the Earth Throughout the ages, the Jewish people have returned from exile to the land of Israel. But it is from the end of the 19th century that the Lord is bringing His people back on a large scale. Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord speaks: “Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely.” (Jer 32:37).

Jews have returned from more than 100 different countries. Hidden or forgotten tribes like the Ethiopian Jews and the B’nei Menashe in India have returned or are returning. The modern nation of Israel was born in 1948, as the national home of the Jewish people. Israel’s Law of Return states: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh [immigrant].”


“With All My Heart and with All My Soul” The Bible describes the Exodus out of Egypt as a mighty work of God which is referred to in many Scripture passages. But the Lord predicts through the prophet Jeremiah that He will do something even greater:

““Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord , “that it shall no more be said, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.” (Jer 16:14-15).

I believe we live in that time! The time has come when the Lord “will arise and have mercy on Zion; For the time to favor her, Yes, the set time, has come.” (Ps 102:13)! In Jeremiah the Lord uses the strongest possible words to express what He is doing: “Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jer 32:41)! When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt the Bible uses the expression:  “Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt” (Ex 12:42 NIV). And when He brings His scattered people back from the ends of the earth to plant them in the land with all His heart and with all His soul, I believe it is equivalent with the Lord keeping vigil to bring them out!

As believers brought out from the Gentile nations and engrafted as wild branches in the natural olive tree, called as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, the Lord is calling us to pray, to comfort and to assist His first-born son, Israel, back to his ancient land. The Lord is preparing them for the Coming of their Messiah, and we can hasten this glorious event!

Waves of Aliyah

When the State of Israel was founded in 1948 there were 650,000 Jews in the country. In 2014 the number of Jews in Israel is almost tenfold. So far, the record number of immigrants in one year was 250,000 in 1949, but I believe we will see this record broken in the coming years! In March, 2013, the Daily Mail online reported that Israel overtook USA as the world’s largest Jewish population center for the first time.

It is also worth noting that the number of Jews who were forced to leave (left, fled or expelled from) Muslim countries after Israel became independent in 1948-1970 was 900,000 which exceeds the about 700,000 Arabs who fled or were expelled in Israel’s War of Independence. Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees while the Arab nations did not absorb the Arab refugees. This resulted in the creation of the Palestinian refugee camps and the establishment of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). According to a recent estimate, about 30,000 of the original Arab refugees are alive, but since UNWRA’s definition of refugees includes descendants, the number of Palestinian refugees is now estimated to be around 5,000,000.

Philip Holmberg
Ebenezer Operation Exodus – Sweden


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