What do the following stories all have in common?
A curious message was left on our answering machine in Jerusalem a few days ago: A store clerk called and said my father had been at the pharmacy and forgotten two shekels of change on the counter. If my father wanted the coin, he should come back for it. Otherwise, she would put it into the charity box.
The two shekels were worth just half a dollar, but the scrupulous honesty of the pharmacist was intriguing. Unlike the typical Western culture that emphasizes earning, spending and accumulating more, it was refreshing to encounter someone who held to Bible values of honesty.
It reminded of an incident a week after my family and I moved to Jerusalem two decades ago, when I received a call from the police. The officer asked if I had lost anything. Embarrassed, I hadn’t even noticed that I had misplaced my wallet. I retrieved the wallet the same day. Nothing had been removed though it had cash to buy supplies during our first days in our new home.
After 18 years, I finally acquired a new car. The salesman handed me a gift when I signed the sales contract: A nicely bound book of Psalms. All his customers received the same token of appreciation. Only in Israel would you see such an open display of Bible faith!
In August, I was at Ben Gurion Airport between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv waiting for an early-morning flight overseas. I had ample time, so I went to pray at the small synagogue tucked between duty-free shops in the departure hall.
Thirty men, and a handful of women nearby, all passengers and strangers to each other, were crammed into the small room. At 5:10, just as dawn broke, they began to pray in chorus, recited psalms of praise, and read from the Torah scroll. It was a joyful, inspirational beginning to my journey.
At the start of the school year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met two hundred students and exhorted them to study mathematics and science, learn languages, and to study the Bible. His son Avner had won the National Bible Quiz for Youth competition in 2010 at age 15. The prime minister hosts a regular Bible study in his home.
What other head of state has done so? At most, some are shown going to church on Sunday from time to time.
What is common to all these stories is that they depict a side of Israel seldom seen, a side which is the norm, not the exception. Israel is blessed as a nation. It has been chosen to bring light to the nations, to draw the nations to faith in the true God of salvation (Isai. 42:6; 49:6).
That light is often difficult to see because, like vultures seeking prey, the news media only unearth stories of wrongs committed in Israel. Crime, corruption, hypocrisy by politicians, clergymen, or just everyday citizens, it’s all exposed as page one fodder for the world to see.
For those who believe, however, Israel is a land of miracles. Indeed, “This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fortified and are inhabited” (Ezek. 36:35).
Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled: “For the LORD will comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (51:3).
It is a nation where faith is widespread, grounded in the Bible and the teachings of the forefathers. To no surprise, then, the most devoutly observed national holidays here are the ones connected with the Bible and events millennia ago.
Chanukah recalls the rededication of the Temple after it had been desecrated by pig sacrifices by the invading Seleucid tyrant, Antiochus IV Epipha-nes 2,181 years ago. There was only enough kosher oil for the Temple menorah (candelabrum) to remain lit for one day, but miraculously the oil burned eight days. This year, Chanukah will be celebrated by Jews in Israel and worldwide from nightfall on December 24 till January 1.
It coincides with the traditional Western dates for Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus as the light of the world, bringing redemption and eternal peace. It is recorded that Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication, Chanukah (Jn. 10:22-23).
As the holy days of celebration near, on behalf of the entire Goldberg family, I wish our readers a season of joy and reflection, blessing and renewal. May we all be granted wisdom and protection for these dangerous times, and may we not forget those in need, and those who suffer because of their faith.