For more than seventy years Jewish thinkers have struggled to come to terms with the Holocaust. Why did God allow one of the greatest Jewish tragedies of all time to happen?
For some Jewish thinkers, the Holocaust demonstrates that the God of Israel is an absent, hidden or detached deity. For others, God died in the Nazi death camps. Some Orthodox Jews have argued that in the Nazi death camps, the fury of God was poured out on decadent, assimilated European Judaism. Still others have attempted to find a redemptive purpose in the horror that was Auschwitz, some claiming that the Jews of Europe served the role of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, vicariously suffering for the sins of the nations.
The overarching narrative for mant Christians is that the Holocaust was a judgement for the Jewish rejection of Jesus and not all who subscibe to that view are anti-Semitic. Many who view the Holocaust as a display of divine vengeance hold positive attitudes to Jewish people and the state of Israel. However, the idea that two thousand years after the crucifixion, God chose to visit the Jews of Europe with the worst catastrophe since the destruction of Jerusalem is problematic.
History has witnessed a number of demonstrations of divine displeasure against Israel, not least the Babylonian exile and the two destructions of Jerusalem and its temples. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth,” God says in Amos 3:2, “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
With privilege comes responsibility. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required,” says Jesus in Luke 12:48, “and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” But in none of the judgements inflicted on Israel did God ever seek to destroy his people.
A Satanic plot
So if the Holocaust was not a delayed judgement on Israel, what was it? The answer, I think, lies in events recorded in the book of Esther, which bear some remarkable resemblance to the events leading up to the Final Solution.
A pagan Jew-hater named Haman hatches a genocidal conspiracy to rid the Persian empire of its Jews. Two-and-a-half thousand years later, in 1930’s Germany, a pagan anti-Semite named Adolph Hitler conspired to rid the entire world of Jews. Both Haman and Hitler came to sticky ends, with Haman being hoist with his own petard and Hitler taking his own life in a Berlin bunker.
Haman conspired to kill the Jews soon after they began returning to their homeland following an exile that lasted seventy-year exile in Babylon, as prophesied by the prophets Jeremiah. During the exile, the prophet Daniel foresaw in the second chapter of his prophecy, a series of four consecutive world powers that would dominated the Jews until, by the Messiah would inaugurate the appearance of the kingdom of God and the lavation of Israel.
The Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah. If the people of Israel were liquidated, there would be no Messiah and no salvation for Israel and the nations. God’s purposes would be buried in the graves of his people. None of this, of course, played any part in the psychodynamics of the narcissistic Persian official Haman. Mordechai had dissed Haman and Mordechai wanted vengeance. He would settle for nothing less than hanging of Mordechai and the death of his people. Haman was culpable for his hatred but he had become the unwitting tool of a malign intelligence who would, a half-century later, inspire Judas to betray Jesus. The Satan was aware of the prophecies of Daniel and devoted himself by every means possible to derail the God’s purposes for Israel and the world.
Three thousand years later, the German Führer succumbed to same malign Power. The Satan failed to eliminate the Jewish people through the influence of Haman. The Messiah was born and through his life, death and resurrection salvation came to Israel and the nations. But in the New Testament writings, fresh information on the purposes of God came to light. Though most Jews remained in exile, the Old Testament prophets had foretold a day when the people would return to their ancient homeland from all nations. But in Romans 11, the apostle Paul foresaw a day when “all Israel” would be saved and would bring “life from the dead” to the world.
For eighteen hundred years the Jewish lived as exiles, suffering, contempt, pain and death at the hands of the nations. It seemed impossible to image that the ancient prophecies could have been fulfilled. For many Christian scholars, those prophecies began to be interpreted allegorically or applied spiritually to the largely Gentile church.
The Plan comes together
Suddenly, at the start of the nineteenth century, Christians began to be exercised about the spiritual debt they owed the Jewish people and missionaries began to share the message of Messiah with the people of Promise. In the nineteenth century more than a quarter of a mission Jewish people Europe became followers of Jesus.
Then, in 1897 in Basel, the First Zionist Congress was convened and Jews began returning to their ancient homeland, buying barren desert and swamp. Through backbreaking toil these Zionists transformed the deserts and swamps of the thinly populated Palestine into productive agricultural land.
The words of the prophets and the apostles were finding fulfilment!
It was at that time the Adversary found another Haman to serve as an instrument to thwart the purposes of God. Though Hitler considered himself to be serving his own purposes, behind Hitler’s malevolent machinations a far greater malign power with a far greater end in view was at work. But Hitler, like Haman, fell. The Jewish people once again were in possession of their ancient homeland. The largest population of Jewish people in the world once again lives in Israel and more Jews acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah that at any time in history.
On Saturday, Christians should give thanks that in 1945, for a second time in history, the Jewish people were delivered from total annihilation. We should give thanks that Jews have returned to their ancient homeland and are turning to their Messiah. And let us pray that God will preserve them from genocide in their own land and that the time will quickly come when “all Israel shall be saved”!