By Stan Goodenough
Today, as midnight arrives in country after country, explosions of celebration are set to rend the skies, from over the Opera House in Sydney (GMT minus 10 hours) to over Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (GMT plus 10 hours).
Wherever the Gregorian calendar is held to, toasts will be drunk, fireworks fired, dances kicked off, resolutions made and new wall calendars hung.
As the final days of 2009 ticked away, television networks and other media parsed the main happenings of the year, held votes for the most influential people of the year, and tried their hand at forecasting the events they believe could come to pass in 2010.
The annual, worldwide party has almost “everyone” hyped up with excitement and anticipation.
Almost, but not quite, everyone. From here in Israel, in a strange – almost eerie way – the Christmas and New Year holidays appear to be happening way “out there.” The mood, the atmosphere – the bright lights, decorations and festivities – all seems to mostly pass Israel by. Apart from in the Arab-occupied town of Bethlehem and among the tiny Christian minority and the ex-patriots – Christmas Day here was an ordinary working day, and New Year’s Eve and Day are normal working and school days.
It’s a strange feeling. I watch on Sky News and Fox News as 2009 flickers out and 2010 is ushered in “all around us” and think – not for the first time, about how out of step Israel is with the rest of the world; in another, more serious sense, how alone.
There can be little doubt about what the international community’s wishes are for Israel in 2010. The Muslim world will be hoping to secure Israel’s destruction – through terrorism, war and the global outlawing of the Jewish state – in the coming year. The “Christian” world will be hoping to secure a peace treaty between Israel and the Arabs – at Israel’s expense and to the Arabs’ benefit, in a way that will ensure as much as possible the stability of the oil market.
Yes, western democratic leaders and eastern despotic mullahs will continue to plot and plan ways to realize their aims and goals with this nation. Will Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama succeed in squeezing Israel into compliance with their plans? Will Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triumphantly announce Iran’s acquisition of an atomic bomb? What about the newly-strengthened European Union? What about Syrian belligerency, Lebanon’s Hizb’allah, Gaza’s Hamas, Ramallah’s Fatah? Will Marwan Barghouti be released and in him, Yasser Arafat rise sphinx-like from the grave?
How much longer can Israel stand? As we look into 2010, polls in the country show that Israelis are more pessimistic about what lies ahead than they were a year ago. Without question, the pressures have continued to mount exponentially year after year. While things have been relatively still on the surface since Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip a year ago, few here doubt that this is anything other than the quiet before the storm.
Unsurprisingly, then, there are lots of questions; plenty of unknowns. In the face of this, Isaiah 41:9-14 is a source of great encouragement to me. I have taken the liberty of inserting a few thoughts between each line:
But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
The Mighty God directs His following comments to Israel, that is Jacob: not some spiritual entity but to the physical children of Israel.
You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called you from the chief men thereof, and said to you, You are my servant; I have chosen you, and not cast you away.
Contrary to what so many Christians (God forgive us) espouse, God has not cast His ancient people away.
Fear you not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.
Exhortation after exhortation: Don’t be afraid; don’t be dismayed – because HE IS YOUR GOD. He will strengthen, help and uphold His nation.
Behold, all they that were incensed against you shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with you shall perish. You shall seek them, and shall not find them, even them that contended with you: they that war against you shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nothing.
Oh, no matter how powerful the nations, how influential, how deceitfully diplomatic or belligerently boastful; neither the power of the White House nor the power of a nuclear bomb amounts to anything Israel need fear. Mighty as they seem, these nations are doomed to disappear, to destruction, to everlasting nothingness.
For I the LORD your God will hold your right hand, saying to you, Fear not; I will help you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, and you men of Israel; I will help you, said the LORD, and your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
Small Israel might be. Sheep without a shepherd. A worm in the site of the world. A worm to be squashed, as far as the nations are concerned, but a small nation to be lifted up, shielded and protected as far as the God of Israel is concerned.
Party on, world, with your guilty pleasures, your twisted reality shows, your power trips and blood lust, your manifest hatred of God and devious designs on His land.
Those of us who love Him, love His purposes and love His appearing – we can pray and call upon the God of Israel:
Arise, O LORD,
Do not let man prevail;
Let the nations be judged in Your sight.
Put them in fear, O LORD,
That the nations may know themselves to be but men.