Happy Birthday Israel

Dr. Thomas Ice

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"Then I willlet you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers foreverand ever."

—Jeremiah7:7

On May 14, 2008,God's nation Israel, in its modern incarnation, turned sixty years old. I want to wish the Jewish state, "HappyBirthday," as do most of you. Ithas been a glorious beginning with the founding and development of the nationuntil around the 1980s when things have seemed to regress since then. At age sixty, Israel appears to be onthe precipice with multiplied dangers all around her.

If one looks ather circumstances merely from a secular geopolitical perspective, then therereally is no basis for hope in the long run. The Muslim world appears to be growing stronger every dayand with their dogged determination to cast Israel into the sea, it appearsthat eventually they will succeed. The only bright spot for Israel is the fact that she has been in similarsituations in the past and has always managed to survive. Of course, Israel has come this far inhistory because of God's care and guidance on her behalf and, based upon theBible, the future holds the same hope. God has often worked in history to use an individual as the means forIsrael's deliverance. A famous illustrationis seen in Esther. But God hasalso used Gentiles. Cyrus is saidby Isaiah to have been God's servant to bring a remnant back to the land afterthe Babylonian captivity (Isa. 44:28).

On Israel'sbirthday, as we look back on the founding of the nation and reflect, we seethat God used key Gentiles to help establish the modern state of Israel. President Harry S. Truman(1884–1972) appears to be have been a modern Cyrus who played a pivotalrole in the birth of Israel sixty years ago.

Harry Truman'sChristianity

Truman grewup in Missouri in a devout Christian home. When Harry was born his parents were attending a SouthernBaptist church that both sets of grandparents help establish in Grandview. "His father, John Anderson Truman wasalso a strong Baptist. Both hisfather and mother, Martha, raised him in the conventional Baptist tradition."[1] However, when Harry was six they movedto Independence and they attended the First Presbyterian church at Lexingtonand Pleasant every Sunday until Harry was 16. When Harry turned 18 and moved to Kansas City, he joined theBaptist church by baptism and remained a Southern Baptist the rest of hislife. Truman said, "I'm a Baptistbecause I think that sect gives the common man the shortest and most directapproach to God."[2]

Whilegrowing up, Truman read the Bible through four times by the age of 14. "From Sunday School and his own readingof the Bible, he knew many Biblical passages by heart and could quote manyBible verses at random."[3] Young Harry was an avid reader andremained so throughout his entire life. The Truman family owned a set of Great Men and Famous Women, edited by Charles Francis Horne. "According to Truman's daughter,Margaret, the book Truman preferred most after Horne's biographies was theBible. There is even an indicationthat Truman considered entering the ministry for a time."[4] Every indication reveals that Harry andhis sister Mary were very active in the church throughout their late teens andearly 20s.

What aboutTruman's Christian beliefs? "Truman had little interest in theological issues, although he had analmost fundamentalist reverence for the Bible."[5] Blending Truman's great interest inhistory and the Bible, he once stated the following about the United States:

Divine Providence has played a great part in our history. I have the feeling that God has createdus and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some greatpurpose.

Itis not given to us to know fully what that purpose is, but I think we may besure of one thing, and that is that our country is intended to do all it can,in cooperating with other nations to help created peace and preserve peace inthe world. It is given to defendthe spiritual values—the moral code—against the vast forces of evilthat seek to destroy them.[6]

"Whilepremillennial eschatology dominated the Southern Baptist denomination, thechurch into which Truman was born and to which he returned when he waseighteen," observes Saddington, "Truman never expressed his acceptance ofpremillennialism. It is evendoubtful that he ever adequately understood it."[7] Truman's Christian focus was on theethics of everyday living and tended to shy away from theological systems. Truman's Christian Zionism was acombination of his attraction to the people of the Bible (the Jews) that grewout of his familiarity of biblical details with humanitarian concern for apersecuted people. "The stories ofthe Bible," said Truman, "were to me stories about real people, and I felt Iknew some of them better than actual people I knew."[8] His Christian Zionist beliefs were welldeveloped and deeply rooted long before he became President of the UnitedStates. Presidential Counsel ClarkClifford described Truman's

own reading of ancient history and the Bible made him asupporter of the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, even when others whowere sympathetic to the plight of the Jews were talking of sending them toplaces like Brazil. He did notneed to be convinced by Zionists. . . . All in all, he believed that the surviving Jews deserved some place thatwas historically their own. Iremember him talking once about the problem of repatriating displaced persons. "Every one else who's been dragged awayfrom his country has someplace to get back to," he said. "But the Jews have no place to go."[9]

Recognition of Israel

Truman'sChristian Zionism came into play during two of the greatest decisions that hewould have to make during his Presidency: First, how should the U. S. vote onthe partition of Israel, which would result in the creation of the new Jewishstate, during the United Nations vote in late November of 1947? Second, should the U. S. diplomaticallyrecognize the newly formed nation when David Ben-Gurion declared the birth of Israelon May 14, 1948?

On bothissues, virtually all of Truman's personal advisors, the State Department andthe military establishment were opposed to him. Saddington notes:

Truman's most trusted foreign policy advisers, almost to a man,were dead-set against the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The president faced the formidablefront of General Marshall, Under Secretary of State Robert Lovett, Secretary ofthe Navy James Forrestal, Policy Planning Staff's George Kennan, StateDepartment Counsel Charles Bohlen, and Marshall's successor as secretary, DeanAcheson. Loy Henderson, directorof NEA, who arrived at the State Department just three days after FDR's death,also opposed the Zionist aims. William Yale, also at the State Department, said that the creation of aJewish state in Palestine would be "a major blunder in statesmanship." When Secretary Forrestal reminded thepresident of the critical need for Saudi Arabian oil in the event of war,Truman said he would handle the situation in light of justice, not oil.[10]

Trumandealt with both issues by applying his "the buck stops here" approach withtough, responsible decisions. "Truman instructed the American delegate at the U. N., Herschel Johnson,to announce U. S.'s endorsement of the UNSCOP partition plan on 11 October1947."[11] Then, seventeen minutes after DavidBen-Gurion's declaration of the new state of Israel, a cable was sent to Israeland a message went to the press from the White House announcing the following:

This government has been informed that a Jewish State has beenproclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisionalgovernment thereof.

TheUnited States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel.[12]

"As a student of the Bible," surmisesClark Clifford, "he believed in the historic justification for a Jewishhomeland, and it was a conviction with him that the Balfour Declaration of 1917constituted a solemn promise that fulfilled the age-old hope and dream of theJewish people."[13] David Ice concludes that, "the mostimportant reason, was Truman's strong Protestant upbringing."[14]

Conclusion

After hispresidency, longtime Jewish friend Eddie Jacobson introduced Truman to a groupof professors by saying, "'This is the man who helped create the state ofIsrael,' but Truman corrected him: 'What do you mean "helped to create"? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.'"[15] Perhaps this is the main reason whyGod's providence placed him into the presidency when He did. Many who have sifted through the dataare confident that had Franklin Roosevelt remained President, he would not have made the same decisions that were handeddown by Truman.[16] It appears to my evangelical mind thatGod raised-up Truman and put him in the White House for the purpose ofproviding a key human agent that He used, as He did Cyrus centuries ago, torestore Israel to her land. Whowill He use in the future? Maranatha!

ENDNOTES



[1] James A.Saddington, "Prophecy and Politics: A History of Christian Zionism in theAnglo–American Experience, 1800–1948," PhD Dissertation at BowlingGreen State University, 1996, p. 362.

[2] Paul C.Merkley, The Politics of Christian Zionism: 1891–1948 (London,Frank Cass, 1998), p. 160.

[3] Saddington,"Prophecy and Politics," p. 363.

[4] Saddington,"Prophecy and Politics," p. 363.

[5] Merkley, Politicsof Christian Zionism, p. 161.

[6] Merkley, Politicsof Christian Zionism, pp. 162–63.

[7] Saddington,"Prophecy and Politics," p. 364.

[8] Merkley, Politicsof Christian Zionism, p. 159.

[9] Cited inSaddington, "Prophecy and Politics," pp. 372–73.

[10] Saddington,"Prophecy and Politics," p. 436.

[11] Saddington,"Prophecy and Politics," p. 448.

[12] Merkley, Politicsof Christian Zionism, p. 190.

[13] Cited inSaddington, "Prophecy and Politics," p. 464.

[14] David Ice,"Harry S. Truman and America's Recognition of Israel in 1948," (Unpublishedpaper presented to the History Department at Liberty University, December2007), p. 7.

[15] Merkley, Politicsof Christian Zionism, p. 191.

[16] See Saddington,"Prophecy and Politics," pp. 347–54; Merkley, Politics of ChristianZionism, pp. 149–54; John GoodallSnetsinger, "Truman and The Creation of Israel," (Ph.D. dissertation, StanfordUniversity, 1969); Earl Dean Huff, "Zionist Influences Upon U. S. ForeignPolicy: A Study of American Policy Toward The Middle East From The Time of TheStruggle For Israel to The Sinai Conflict," (Ph.D. dissertation, University ofIdaho, 1971).