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The Suffering of a People

Excerpted from “Israel in Prophecy” by John F. Walvoord (1962):

The trials of Israel stem from the basic conflict between divine purpose and satanic opposition. The very fact that God selected Israel as a special means of divine revelation makes the nation the object of special satanic attack. Satanic hatred of the seed of Abraham is manifested from the beginning of God’s dealings with Abraham and continues through the entire course of human history culminating in the rebellion at the end of the millennium.

Spiritual warfare in relation to Israel is in evidence from the beginning. The fulfillment of God’s purpose of bringing Abraham from Ur of Chaldees to the Promised Land was delayed and thwarted by Abraham’s incomplete obedience in bringing his father and nephew Lot with him. Entrance to the land was delayed until his father died, and Lot continued to be a hindrance to him until he and Abraham separated. Satanic opposition to fulfillment of God’s purpose in Abraham is also revealed in the delayed birth of Isaac, and only the miraculous intervention of God made it possible for Him to fulfill His prophecy of a seed to Abraham through whom He would bless the nations. In the case of Isaac, a similar situation is evident in the fact that only after years of supplication was a seed granted to Isaac and Rebekah. When Jacob and Esau were born, it was expressly an answer to prayer. The corrupting influence of Satan is manifest in both the lives of Esau and Jacob, and only by the grace of God was Jacob rescued from his compromising position. Jacob’s life ended in Egypt, to which he had fled to avoid the famine, with none of his family remaining in the Promised Land. The subsequent experience of Israel in Egypt, where for a time they enjoyed prosperity but eventually were threatened with extermination, is well known to every student of the Bible. Only by divine intervention was Israel brought from Egypt to the Promised Land, and then only after years of failure and wandering in the wilderness.

The incomplete possession of the land, the spiritual degeneracy which characterized the time of the judges, and the apostasy that followed the days of Solomon are given large place in the Old Testament. In every particular Satan sought to spoil, to hinder, and to mar the purpose of God in the elect nation. The scattering of Israel in the captivities, the attempt recorded in the book of Esther to exterminate the Jew, and the ultimate capstone of satanic opposition to Israel’s place of spiritual leadership was recorded in the gospels. In the New Testament, Israel’s rejection of her Messiah is related, with Israel’s resulting dispersion following the Roman persecution A.D. 70 – 135. Undoubtedly one of the principal causes for Israel’s suffering has been the unending opposition of Satan to the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the nation.

Coupled with Israel’s failures as recorded in the Scriptures is the fact of divine discipline exercised on the nation. Israel was not only to be the channel of divine revelation of God, but also the example of God’s faithfulness to a sinning people who are the objects of His love and grace. Accordingly, many pages of the Old Testament are dedicated to giving the sacred records of God’s dealings with His wandering people. The studies of Israel’s sufferings will illustrate this basic reason for the sufferings inflicted on the nation.

The sufferings of Israel, while revealing God’s discipline and righteousness, are also demonstrations of His love. Joined to every righteous judgment upon Israel are many manifestations of divine grace in preserving a godly remnant, in giving them that which is far greater than they deserved and fulfilling His divine purpose in and through them in spite of their own failure and Satan’s efforts to hinder the purpose of God. There is a majestic drama in the whole sequence of events that relate to Israel’s history, and they epitomize to some extent the conflict between good and evil which is basic Christian philosophy of history. The sufferings of Israel, therefore, should be seen in the context of satanic persecution, of divine discipline for sin, and of divine faithfulness to His chosen people.

Words of Grace for Strength

That God chose Israel for His special purposes cannot be doubted if one reads the Bible. That Satan has attempted to thwart God’s purposes can equally be seen in the Bible and to a student of history, can be seen played out on the stage of world events over century upon century. As Dr. Walvoord notes, Israel has suffered satanic persecution and divine discipline. It is most likely Israel in the moment of suffering did not find one type of suffering more enjoyable than the other. But overarching that suffering is divine faithfulness which has seen and will continue to see Israel through any amount of suffering, at least it will see a faithful remnant though.

Israel is not the Church, nor is the Church Israel. Separate and distinct, each has a different relationship with the Lord, and the Lord will fulfill His purposes for each independently. Yet both have faced and will continue to face suffering, either as a result of satanic persecution trying to thwart the purposes of God or as a result of divine discipline due to disobedience. We the Church can take comfort that the faithfulness of God is an immutable attribute of the Lord, we can take the same assurances from the promises He made to the Church as Israel can from the promises made to them.

And there lies our strength, reliance on the faithfulness of God. Although the times are hard and growing harder, we must know the Church has endured persecution more than it has enjoyed peace. The Church today should expect no different from the Church has always faced, a lesson often lost in today’s world, to the American church in particular. We are no better than any other sinner who has come to a saving faith in Christ, we should expect no better from a world driven by satanic persecution, we should expect no less from a loving God who will discipline us to obedience and to build character.

Yet through it all we have the divine faithfulness of God, which will prevail in our lives if we let it, and will enable us to prevail over the most troubled of times we may yet face.