Israel’s Independence Day: Reflections

We just celebrated our Independence Day and it is my great joy and privilege to congratulate my readers on Israel’s 69th Birthday. Most of my readers, for years or even decades, have been faithfully interceding for the Land and the people – have been standing together with Israel and the God of Israel. Therefore this is also your joy, your celebration too!

Many of you probably know that our Independence Day starts immediately after our Memorial Day. Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, is a national day of mourning – and considering the disproportionately high number of orphaned families, a tally almost impossible to fathom for a country as miniscule as ours, one can only imagine how heart-wrenching this day is. Therefore, one of the most peculiar experiences one can have in Israel is this incredible  jarring transition from the most difficult, the most tragic day of the year, to the most joyful and festive day of the year! From the graves of the loved ones to the  fireworks of the national celebration! It is hard enough, as it is that these two days follow one another, but if I remind you that in Israel the day starts at sunset, this transition becomes almost surreal. “And there was evening, and there was morning” – Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, the most difficult day in Israel’s year: memories, ceremonies, sirens, tears; and then, once again: And there was evening, and there was morning – and with tears still lingering in the eyes the country is plunged into the festivities of Independence Day.

Originally I had planned to present some information about the State of Israel in this post – but then I realized that you probably know as much as I do about it, and  even if not, there is plenty of information online. Therefore, I’ve decided to share with you my own reflections over this special time of year, over this jarring transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut – from Memorial Day to Independence Day – from the utmost pain, sorrow and grief, to the utmost joy and happiness!

Do you recall where in the Bible we have a very similar transition: From the utmost pain and sorrow and grief, to the utmost joy and happiness? Do you remember the story where Jesus wept just a few moments before His own miraculous intervention and the amazing, incredible “happy ending” of this story?  In John’s Gospel, standing at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus weeps over the suffering and death of a person who, in just a very short time, He would raise from the dead. To make this parallel more valid, I would like to ask you:  how many times does Jesus weep in the Gospels? In the entire New Testament, Jesus weeps just twice: once over Jerusalem, and once over Lazarus. Just like in a children’s magazine where two pictures are placed side by side and one must find the differences, these two scenes of His tears – tears over Jerusalem, and tears over Lazarus – are placed before us today. Let’s take some time to meditate on these scenes.

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When Lazarus became ill, Mary and Martha, informed Jesus of his sickness with following words: ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick’[1] Whom you love?!!  Didn’t Jesus love everyone? Why did the sisters elevate Lazarus over others, and emphasize the special love the Lord had for him? It seems however that, not only for Lazarus’ sisters, but for the Lord Himself, the phrase ‘he whom You love’ was a perfectly simple and yet exhaustive description, the most meaningful and specific one that would denote Lazarus even more directly than the mentioning of his name.

To me, these words are priceless: God’s special relationship to Israel shines through them. God loves each one,  irrespective of nationality or country of residence, and yet the exquisitely tender words of Jeremiah: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love,’[3] were originally addressed to Israel and remain God’s declaration of love for His people.

Not only was Lazarus special to Jesus, his sickness was also special – it was defined from the beginning as being for the glory of God. We all know the story: we all know that when Jesus learned of this sickness, instead of hurrying to heal him, “He stayed two more days in the place where He was”.[4] When Jesus finally arrived Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.[5] Mary and Martha, make almost no attempt to hide their disappointment, each say exactly the same thing: ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’[6] The entirety of the immense pain these horrible days caused is compressed into the bitterness of these few words which, try as they might not to reproach, yet reproach all the same: Why, why were You not here, Lord? Why did You not come? Why did you leave us in this sorrow? Didn’t you love him? And then, before their very eyes something very unexpected and very remarkable happens: Jesus wept.[7]

Why did He weep? Didn’t He know that in just a few moments He would raise Lazarus from the dead and that Lazarus, alive, would come forth from the tomb? Of course, He knew, – why then did He weep?

John shows us that the suffering that Lazarus went  through, were important to Jesus.  Although Jesus knows that in a few moments Lazarus will be resurrected, He weeps at the tomb over the pain His beloved friend had to go through on the path to his resurrection. And He weeps over this seemingly insurmountable contradiction of the two realities: the inner and outer, the invisible and visible, God’s and man’s. In God’s invisible, spiritual reality Lazarus is chosen and beloved, but here in the visible, physical, human reality he is abandoned and rejected by the Lord, and not only that, he is dead.

In Luke’s Gospel. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem with the same tears of love and compassion that He wept over Lazarus. He weeps over the same contradiction of the two realities: in God’s invisible, spiritual reality Israel remains chosen and beloved, but in the visible, physical, human reality she will seem abandoned and rejected by the Lord. He mourns the boundless suffering His beloved people must endure on the path to resurrection; He cries for the suffering of His people, for the torment of waiting for the Lord and the inability to comprehend why He remains silent during the pogroms and the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the Intifada. He weeps with us every Memorial Day. Our grief is His grief. Our tears are His tears  [8].

But also, our joy is His joy. On May 14, 1948, when the State of Israel was born, it was the story of Lazarus indeed: God’s reality became visible!  The walls that for two millennia had not been on man’s maps, had always been on the hands of the Lord:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me[9]

The  walls of Jerusalem that had been always on the palms of God,  found a place on the human maps again. That is why, with our eyes still wet with tears, we light the torches of our Independence Day, honoring our incredible doctors and scholars, engineers and rabbis! Nothing short of the miracles can explain the achievements of our tiny country – and every year, as I listen to these amazing reports, I recall the words of Ben-Gurion:  In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.

 

[1] John 11:3

[2] John 3:16

[3] Jer. 31:3

[4] John 11:6

[5] John 11:17

[6] John 11:21,32

[7] John 11:35

[8] The profound parallels between Jesus weeping  over Lazarus and Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, are explored in my book  If you are the  Son of  God… click here to order 

[9] Isa 49:16

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. jane z mazzola

    Thank you, Julia, for sharing your own reflections on your two special Israeli holidays of Memorial Day & Independence Day with their bittersweet qualities of side by side & Jesus’ own experience of such happenings.

    One comment is in regard to your statement of the “doctors & scholars, etc.,” & the tremendous progress made by the State of Israel in the short years since 1947-48. (I do remember those years: I was 7 & 8 yrs old; I recall how HAPPY my parents were w/ those political events of Israel’s Independence. It was considerable discussion in our home.) So many of those early & even present day citizens of Israel were/are not just doctors, scholars, but are also, “candlestick makers”, shop keepers, tillers of the important agriculture of the land, & the efficient & wonderful tour industry there. “At the end of the day” they, you, & I remain just “human beings”.

    May the good Lord continue to bless you & all of Israel w/ peace, prosperity, & permanence.
    Shalom,
    Jane M

  2. Richard Smithson

    I enjoy reading your comments. I read your book, “If You Are the Son of God.” I had some difficulty with the concepts presented in the 1st part of the book, but after reading all the way through, I understood what you were saying. Therefore, to get a better understanding, I am reading through the book again. I am enjoying it, and I am getting some thoughts for a sermon, for I am a pastor.

  3. Beth

    Thank you Julia. I love reading your insights because I have a teacher who is turning 99 this year and your teachings are in the same spiritual depths as hers. So I am doubly blessed. Could one ask for more!? Jer. 15:16

  4. Antwi Felix Twum

    Israel emerged from the Syrian​besieged. With lingering tears and doubts, the next morning saw food overflow, the congregation of God enjoyed aboundance this time with lepers leading the army of Israel.
    Do not joke with the God of Abraham.

  5. Gary Westgeest

    Hello Julia,

    You have a wonderful gift for insight and commentary on the scripture. Out of curiosity I must ask, How is it that a 21st century Jewish person gives credence to the miracles of Jesus? And that you have such insight into them? I am simply amazed.

  6. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

    Thank you Julia for this work of yours. I don’t always have time to comment (as I would like); however, I always read, study, and learn from you, and I always find profound things (like the last two entries) within your words that make my heart grateful to you. Your reflections this week put me in mind of Rick Wienecke’s sculptures in Israel – located south of Jerusalem in the desert (I saw a program about it on Zola Levitt Presents called “The Fountain of Tears” from their series: Beauty for Ashes. It can be found in their video archives under Special Topics – if you or any of your readers are interested in seeing it.) In it Christians and Jews alike can discover incredible beauty emerging from great sorrow. I think that this is only possible within the realm of God. I pray that you will continue to enjoy His Blessings as you carry on His Work. Shalom, shalom! Lisa

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Lisa, always glad to hear from you.

  7. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia
    I love this comment from Fiona. Something from this triggered something inside me.
    The words that came to mind as I read Julia’s blog: weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. Ps 30:5 and like many such Scriptures may be easy enough to quote but maybe less so to live and know.
    I am also reminded of the steward in the household of Joseph saying to Joseph’s brothers Your God and the God of your fathers has given you treasure in your sack. Gen. 43:23
    The treasure God gives us may not always come packaged the way we expect.
    I should say Faith is an extraordinary gift given to open unusual treasure and potential.
    May God help us to see the potential that lies buried within the wrapping.
    Blessings Henrietta

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Henrietta, your words are so profound ( as always). You are so right, there are many scriptures that we love to quote – but the they are so painful and difficult to live through. And I love this image of Joseph’s steward, I think you quoted this verse once before, and I was absolutely astonished by its depth ! Thank you so much!

  8. Therese

    Dear Julia, Many thanks for your reflection. I can relate to your Independence well, I have lived all this time. I was born in Dec 1947, and your country was in the process to get independent in that year. It has been very hard years for you all in Israel in all of those years. I wish and pray for you all people in Israel, that you will be given a peace. Shalom Therese

  9. Dorjuelar

    Thank You very much for your View of this two stories. Very interesting. I Would like however, respectfully, to ask you? Is God´s People, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and I century, the same as the Political nation of Israel today? Thanks in advance for your kind consideration of my question. Blessings

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom and thank you for your kind words. This is a very complicated question indeed. Of course, there are a lot of “no” : I live here and I know very well that often enough we don’t match a picture of God-fearing Israel (isn’t it true for every people and every person, though?). I believe, however, that all these “no” fade away before one main “yes” : this is the same Land and the same promises to the same people, these promises being fulfilled just before our eyes. So I do believe it is a continuum.

  10. Fiona da Rocha

    Dear Julia,
    The Lord has led me to do a study of Isaiah, and in this Book the Lord’s heart is laid bare. His love for
    Israel is so clear and so vast….I have been left in tears for many a day, over His beloved Land and People.
    It has also been a challenge to me, over the promises that I have grasped at without first understanding that these promises, in Isaiah, were to His people first and then for me , BUT only if I am truly grafted in – ‘closer than a brother’ to His People in my attitude, reactions and prayers. -That is not to say that I am to be a Jew or follow Judaism-but I have learnt over the years that Hashem has a special place for His People and I am to respect that and learn from His people, whilst still maintaining the special place he has designated for me and other gentile believers. Thank You so much for your writing – it has a special place in my time of prayer and worship and I am sure it has a special place in His heart too….Blessings and Shalom
    Fiona

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Fiona, I’ve been greatly blessed by your comment.

  11. Matthews Ameh

    Hi Julia,
    I found this a great article. Really educating and quite revealing.

  12. Hernán Ramírez Acevedo

    Excellent article.

  13. Delange Boshoff

    Dear Julia – thank you for this article. I have often wondered why Jesus wept over Lazarus. Kind regards. Or should I say Shalom!