Deep inside a bleak and arid wilderness, rearing up from the cracked limestone foundations of the lowest place on earth, its ragged walls aloof and separated from the mountain range behind it, the awe-inspiring natural rock fortress of Masada towers over the Dead Sea Valley floor.
One thousand nine hundred and forty three years ago, at the dramatic height of its history, Masada marked the last stand of the Jewish people. Or so it surely seemed at the time.
For the fewer than 1000 souls atop the mountain, as they watched the inexorable ascent of the Roman ramp that heralded captivity or death, it was all over. From Judea through Samaria, to the faraway hills and valleys of the north, their land smouldered in ruins. During five years of revolt and brutal suppression, Rome had laid Israel waste. Jewish blood reddened the Mediterranean; their corpses choked the Galilee Sea; Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, had been taken, the houses rifled, the women ravished; the God of Israel’s Temple had been burned to the ground.
Masada is a colossal memorial to the destruction of a nation – the tombstone of ancient Israel.
That such a place, a marker of such apparent finality and death, could contain a promise of resurrection and new life, seems incongruous…
And yet it does. Somehow, unfathomably it does!
Beyond this, Masada speaks more than almost any other place to the mystery and the heart of the reason behind Christian support for the restored nation of Israel in our day. To our very destiny…
I call it God’s prophetic fingerprint on Masada (He has left fingerprints elsewhere too, like at Qumran).
“God’s fingerprint on Masada,” I tell groups I tour, “was found in something those zealots treasured — in Scripture — scraps of which were uncovered here among fragments of scrolls in the dust, specifically in one of only two segments that were found intact: Ezekiel 35 through 38. Read them.
‘While Herod the Great built these structures for the hedonistic gratification of himself and his guests, the Zealots were cut from a very different cloth. God-fearing Jews, they had installed mikva’ot (ritual baths) and a synagogue in order that they might live their lives according to the Law of Moses and the teaching of their rabbis.
‘But now they were counting the hours. After three months of siege by the 10th Legion Fretensis — 15,000 men including servants and slaves — their time was finally up. A circumvallation wall locked them onto the mountain, and the ramp would soon touch the top. There could be no escape.
‘In Ezekiel 35 and the first part of 36, God describes his determined purpose to punish nations that (like Rome in antiquity and the Arab world today) have tried to take for their own possession the land He gave to the Jewish people – specifically the parts known as Judea and Samaria – the mountains of Israel that those who hate Zion call the “occupied West Bank”.
‘Chapter 36 goes on to remind the people of Israel why it was that God had to send them into captivity among the Gentiles – furious at their unfaithfulness as a nation. But then, afterwards, the Lord states emphatically and categorically – using the words “I will” no less than 14 times in nine verses – that He is resolved to personally oversee Israel’s eventual restoration to their land and to their God.
‘It is Chapter 37 that most graphically, powerfully and completely describes God’s two-phased plan for Israel’s glorious geographical and spiritual restoration. These verses speak specifically to the future of a people that has lost all hope – indeed the place at which those men, women and children on Masada must have been in AD 73.
‘And it is in the verses of this chapter — which reads like a parable — that we find the breathtaking part we as Gentile believers have been called to play:
‘Ezekiel is put into the middle of a valley covered with very dry, widely scattered human bones. And God asks him a ridiculous question – I don’t mean that irreverently, but it’s a ridiculous question: “Son of Man, can these bones live?” And rather than make a fool of himself, I guess, Ezekiel replies, “You know the answer to that, Lord.” And God instructs him, “Okay now, Ezekiel, prophesy to the bones,” and Ezekiel does. Suddenly there’s this rattling sound and the bones come together, “bone to bone.”
‘After the bones are joined, sinews writhe, like serpents, to cover them, and they are clothed in flesh and in skin. At last they are physically completely reconstituted.
‘But these bodies are stone cold dead.
‘And then Ezekiel is told, “Now, Son of Man, prophesy to the ruach – the breath of life/spirit, and say, ‘Come from the Throne of God, oh breath, and breathe on these dead bodies that they may live again.’ ”
‘Well actually, no – this is not quite what he is commanded to say. He is to call the breath to come NOT from the Throne of God, or from heaven, but from the four points of the compass.
‘ “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (v9 – partial)
‘And the breath comes, it enters the bodies, they live, and finally they stand up, “an exceedingly great army.”
‘Then God explains the vision: “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘We have become a heap of dry bones; our hope is lost and we are cut off.’ Tell them it isn’t so. Tell them I’m going to gather them, and I’m going to cover them with skin, and I’m going to reconstitute them back in their own land. And I’m going to put My Spirit in them, and they are going to live.”
‘Now this is not a one off; it is not a standalone prophecy. The Hebrew Bible (the ‘Old Testament’) is full of promises of a physical re-putting-together of this nation after they have been dismembered, and of a nationwide spiritual resurrection. This is the plan for them: physical restoration first, followed by spiritual rebirth and revival…
‘Out of all the nations of the world, only Israel has been promised a revival that will turn every soul in this land to God – every single one.
‘“No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
It’s a solid statement. The day is coming.
‘I was in Texas a few years back, on a speaking tour, when out of curiosity I paged through a book on Dispensationalism (an Evangelical futuristic interpretation of the Bible), which I am not into. It was written in 1918 and as I flipped through it, my eye caught the passage where the author wrote (my paraphrase), “As difficult as it may be for us to believe today, the Jewish people are going to go back to their land from all over the world. It is written, so it is going to happen.” (From The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World, by Clarence Larkin.)
‘So it has happened, and it is continuing to happen.
‘But just as surely as it was written that the bones will be put back together again, it is likewise written in the Bible that this nation has a spiritual future -– a glorious one, where God will enter them, raise them up, make an army out of them.
‘Until you’ve read that chapter (37) you cannot read the next, Chapter 38, which talks about Gog and Magog and war. You can’t read that one in context until you’ve read this one.
‘God is doing everything step by step. He’s preparing the way; it’s all written, and it’s all unfolding.
‘And where does the ruach come from? Where is the spirit today?
‘He is in you. He is inside you and you have come from the wind from the great southlands of the Holy Spirit. And believers are coming to Israel from the north, and from the east, and from the west, and they are bringing the Lord with them.
‘These Gentiles are not coming here to missionize the Jews and get them to become Christians. They are coming here to show that they believe in the unchanged love and purpose of God for a nation that has been rejected and despised by most of the world.
‘The people of Israel feel terribly alone; they have 2000 years of history of being abused by the Christian world. And now you come here, and you love on them with no strings attached and no expectations of having love returned – and suddenly they are beginning to learn that not all Christians are against them, and that some of us really do believe in their God and in what He says – in His promises of hope for the future of this nation.
‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
‘Slowly, slowly then, as the bones have come back together again, slowly, slowly the wounds will heal. That’s my understanding of what’s happening. And that’s why you are here. Really. I really believe that.
This, then, is our brief:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7) O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! (Isaiah 40:9)
And this our message of life and hope to breath into Israel:
“But do not fear, O My servant Jacob, and do not be dismayed, O Israel! For behold, I will save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity; Jacob shall return, have rest and be at ease; no one shall make him afraid.” (Jeremiah 46:27) ‘But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘For the seed shall be prosperous, the vine shall give its fruit, the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew – I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these. And it shall come to pass that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, let your hands be strong.’ “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Just as I determined to punish you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I would not relent, so again in these days I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear’ ”. (Zechariah 8:11-15)
This article originally appeared on Jerusalem Watchman, April 5, 2016 and reposted with permission.