Thursday, 25 October 2007

‘Bible and Sword’

‘Bible and Sword’
by Barbara W. Tuchman.

Just finished reading this excellent study into the connections between the UK and Israel from the supposed presence of Joseph of Arimathea to the British Mandate between the wars. As she was writing in the early 1950s it is not surprising that she ends her study at that point, the state of Israel was too new for historical perspective then.

Tuchman takes us from Joseph through the many pilgrims who travelled to the ‘Holy Land.’ A journey which was long, dangerous, and fraught with difficulties. Following on come the Crusaders, fighting less from ‘faith’ and more for a desire to fight someone somewhere. While she describes the English ‘Lionheart’ Richard, who spent almost everyday of his rule in the middle East, as a great general of his time, she omits his murders. One of the first recorded actions he took was to slaughter the nearby villagers, who though Arabs, were in fact Christian. Still, never mind eh?

At the time the some began translating the bible into readable English others were developing trade with the middle east. Spices from far away India came through Muslim controlled Palestine and English merchants were not slow in seizing the opportunity for trade. Once however the reading of the bible became a staple in the land a new understanding of the Hebrew story left it’s mark upon the nation. This was to put the UK in the forefront of Jewish return to their God given homeland. In time there grew a belief among Evangelicals that the return of the Jews to Israel was necessary to hasten the second coming of Jesus. To this end there grew up a desire to encourage this, Shaftesbury being the leading light here. By the end of the 19th Century Imperial policy also became involved. The need to keep the Russians away from the India route, meant Britain was determined to control the fading Ottoman Empire. Faith and political expediency left Britain responsible for the return of the Jews.

Agreements made in war are often murky and based on temporary expediency, and soon all sides decided to misinterpret what did not suit them. The Arabs under Faisal agreed with the Jews arrival, then denied this. The Jews still came. Problems which arose in the 1920’s reappeared in the 50’s, and again in the days of the Bush dynasty, although this book, published in 1956, cannot cover this. By 1948 the UK pulled out and gladly left them to get on with it.

Tuchman, an American Jew is a well respected historian. Her books are long but remarkably easy to read. A great deal of study has gone into this book, and allowing for an occasional Hebrew bias, and her inability to understand that ‘England’ is NOT ‘Britain,’ something Englishmen do not understand either it seems, this book gives a wonderful tale of the country’s connection with the ‘Holy Land.’ For faith and adventurous reasons Britons men have travelled, suffered and died there. Memorials to our troops still stand there, pilgrims and merchants still travel regularly, and the UK government regards Israel as a friend. Christians also regard her as the land God gave to her people, but, rightly, all to often question her treatment of the Palestinians, while sharing their appreciation of ‘terrorism.’

But the underlying message for me is the way God works out his purposes. If he has decided to bring his people back to their land, who would have thought that it would require politicians of dubious repute, earnest evangelicals and, lastly, zealous Zionists. Zionists who fought just as hard against Jewish opposition as any other! Who would have chosen these people for this task. God works out his purposes in the world around us, and all too often we do not see this. In our own lives and in the world as a whole he continues to work, while we waste time in speculation and biblical arguments over the interpretation of ‘prophecy.’ Jesus would have us speculate less, and just live for him more. He will return at the appointed time, we must just live today and concentrate on our job, he can take care of the rest.


Anonymous said...
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Dennis Alan Gray said...

You've sold me.. I'll have to add this one to my reading list. Thanks.

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