We Worked In Israel

We Worked In Israel

We worked in Israel - Giants and Messiahs

We were close, uncomfortably close, to the Gaza Strip. Behind
us, faintly visible, was the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. And we were standing
near-as-dammit to the spot where a young fellow had gotten close, uncomfortably
close, to Mr. and Mrs. Goliath's pride and joy, one well-known giant.

Tourists aren't strictly allowed on the site where David
slung off at his enemy. Three thousand years on, it's still not safe already.

But we were hospital volunteers, under the benevolent eye of
the Israeli army. And if we asked nicely, the army would find us a host family
for the Sabbath. A welcome escape from a live-in work situation and the
take-it-or-leave-it delights of institutional food.

We'd scored a moshav. Unlike the idealised Communism
of a kibbutz, a moshav leans towards Capitalism. Families own the land and may
make a personal profit, though labour and equipment is usually shared with the
neighbours. And in 'our' family, the horticulturist father was also a
university lecturer.

'Do you object to going in a car on Shabbat?' he asked.
'I'll take you to where David killed Goliath. Bring your Christian Bible; I
want to see if the translation is any good.'

Our host was a fund of information. The previous evening he
had told us of several famous claimants for the title of Messiah. Over a hundred
years before Jesus there had been the revolutionary, Simon Bar Kochba. Centuries
later the mystic Sabbetai Zevi achieved notoriety. And during our stay in Israel
there was much speculation about an old Lubavicher Rebbe who had never been out
of Brooklyn, and whose portrait, with the words 'Messiah Now!' or 'Hail,
King Messiah!' was on posters throughout Jerusalem.

He and his family weren't Observant. They didn't make a thing
about the kosher laws or about Shabbat. Yet, as we had found over the Friday
evening meal (mouth-watering, delectable; i.e. not hospital cooking), they had a
personal belief in God and a literal belief in the Tanach - our 'Old
Testament'. And were intrigued to find a Messianic Jew (George) and his
Gentile Christian wife (Eileen) who shared their attitude. Fundamentalists,
that's us.

You learn not to assume that secular meant unbelieving. Don't
jump to conclusions in Israel. At first glance the nation splits neatly into
two: the very religious and the very secular. This is simply a visual matter.
The ultra-Orthodox stand out in their expensive, uncomfortable, inappropriate
garb imported from the Polish ghettos of yesteryear. The secular work at being
brash, casual and New-York-trendy.

But scratch the surface of a secular Israeli and you find a
complex, thoughtful being. Continually under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox to
get in, boots and all, to the whole Observant scene. So, naturally enough, the
ordinary bloke and blokess resists, and conceals belief in God under a
sophisticated, scoffing exterior.

Deep inside, however, there is a stubborn acceptance of
scripture as literal history. Any conducted tour with an Israeli guide will
prove this.

And there is the natural, casual acknowledgement of God in
ordinary conversation. An Egged bus driver, loud, opinionated, had been joking
about our lack of Hebrew to the rest of the passengers. Then, in a hostile area
near the Damascus Gate, his transmission packed a sad.

The bus made strange noises. Arab youths crowded around the
stalled vehicle. The passengers grew tense. Suddenly there was a clunk and we
were off again at speed. Relieved gasps from all on board.

George (Eileen writing this bit) caught the drivers eye and
called out 'Todah la El' (thanks be to God).

'Hey,' yelled the driver, 'perhaps this fellow knows
something worthwhile after all.'

Only in Israel do bus drivers commend you for giving thanks
to God. Unbelief is mostly skin deep; belief goes right through to the bone.

(Where were we? Oh yes, off to watch David v. Goliath...)

Our host took us to the area. We trudged in grill-'n'-bake
sunshine up a goat track to the hilltop. Picked our careful way between deep,
unprotected cisterns cut into the rock to sustain Saul's army during a long,
arid summer. Stared across the dry stream-bed to the old site of the Philistine
camp.

'David took a load of parched corn and bread to his
brothers. Armies often relied on local generosity in those days. Plus he took
some cheese to keep their officer happy.' The lecturer read from 1st Samuel
17, translating the Hebrew text into English as he went, pausing to compare our
version with his.

'Now! See that phrase: take their pledge. What d'you
think it means?'

We hadn't a clue. Situation normal.

'This is the Middle East. Trust nobody, even family. David
might've eaten some of the food and sold the rest. So Jesse his father insists
the young lad brings back hard evidence - that's what the pledge means - that
his brothers and the officer actually received the stuff.'

The Middle East is like that.

'Look again,' ordered our host. 'David is told that
whoever kills Goliath' (he correctly pronounced the name as Golly-at)
'would get to marry the king's daughter, be rewarded with gold, and his
father's family could live tax-free for life. But does David believe it? Again,
this is the Middle East. No! David asks around. Only after he hears the same
tale from several people does he think it might be true.'

We understood. We'd been warned to ask two or three folk for
directions if we were lost in Jerusalem. It pays. Israeli imaginations run riot
when directing strangers. Bless 'em.

As the lecturer concluded the story, he took us to the stream
bed and watched, amused, as we selected a smooth stone as a keepsake. Romantics,
that's us. Airlines charge us excess baggage rates for all the stuff we collect.

Our 'Christian Bible' had surprised him by the accuracy
of its translation. Jews often imagine the text has been given a total re-write
to slant stories against them.

The occasion had been a privilege. Now it was our turn. We
pointed in the shimmering haze to Beit Lechem - Bethlehem. Hebrew for 'house
of bread' - and told our host to take a look at Micah 5:2.

Carefully he translated from the original Hebrew the old
prophecy: 'But you, Beit Lechem Ephratah, although you are little among the
thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth unto me one who is to be ruler
in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.'

'Were any of those so-called messiahs we talked about from
Bethlehem?' we asked, knowing the answer to be no.

'But Yeshua - Jesus - was.' we stated.

It was an historic fact that has never been disputed. A fact
that causes many Israelis to ponder whether or not they have missed the obvious:
that their Messiah has already visited.

On that hillside we had reason to hope that the blindness was
being lifted.