It was on this day, in 1881, that the first shipload of Russian Jewish immigrants landed in New York City. The significance of this is that it marked the beginning of a mass immigration of Eastern European Jews to America. They brought with them a strong commitment to be true to their Jewish heritage and to refrain from assimilating into American culture. What makes this so important, at least to many Jewish historians, is had it not been for the large influx of these Russian immigrants and their commitment to be Jewish, the Jewish population in America at that time would have been relatively small and most likely would have assimilated into western culture. The consequences of being American, according to these historians, is that these people would probably have adopted an anti-Zionist view.
When you consider the political and social positions of many high profile American Jews today, it seems this view was well founded. Assimilation into other cultures, or resisting the pull to be assimilated, has always been a challenge for God’s people, throughout its history and this includes believers in Messiah. Going back to when Israel was in Egypt, although the Hebrews were initially set apart in the land of Goshen, they eventually spread out through the land of Egypt and began to assimilate into the culture. This is hinted at in the opening verses of Exodus:
“But the people of Israel, were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7)
When it says that “the land was filled with them,” it is referring to the land of Egypt. At some point in their sojourn, the Israelites began to spread out, beyond the borders of Goshen, into the greater Egyptian territory. The inference would be that they began the process of assimilation as they prospered and multiplied. As they assimilated, they adopted the ways of the Egyptians including the worship of their various gods. The Golden Calf incident, and what is recorded in Ezekiel 20, makes it very clear that they did, indeed, embrace the culture and the idols. That is why a new king of Egypt – one that was antagonistic to Israel – had to come to power.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” (Exodus 1:8-10)
Pharaoh’s plan was to oppress the Israelites and keep them in Egypt. However, according to Scripture, God’s plan was that Pharaoh’s plan would provoke Israel to get in line with what God was about to do – that is, to bring them out of the land. Had this king not come to power and oppressed Israel, we have no reason to believe they would have consented to leave Egypt. Had Moses shown up telling them they needed to pull up stakes and move to Canaan – a place we presume none of them had ever seen because they were all born in Egypt – there’s no reason to believe they would listened to him. They had properties, influence and prosperity, all of the things that would tie them to Egypt and, consequently, everything that pertains to Egypt including their idols. But when those things were taken away, they began to look unto God and His purposes.
Confidently, we can say that God used Pharaoh to provoke Israel to turn back to Him, to know Him, and strive to be a set apart people, once again. I’ve come to believe that if God’s people will not voluntarily set themselves apart from the world, God will, perhaps regretfully, use the world to set His people apart against their will. When it seems that wickedness is unleashed and on the rise, perhaps that’s our signal to evaluate our relationship with Him. God will use the wicked in an effort to reach the righteous, especially when the righteous have started behaving like the wicked. And though these times can be very difficult, God never allows anything to happen to us as nation, a family or an individual, unless it suits His purpose for us and always with our best interests in mind. In short, God only allows these things to happen in order to provoke His people to repentance and to live set apart lives.
He may allow the Adversary to come against us, as He did with Job, but always with explicit limits as to what he can do. Where Job is concerned, God said to Satan, “You can do this and you can do that, but there’s a line that you cannot cross.” So even though it seemed the Adversary was doing whatever he wanted, in reality, he was doing only what he was allowed to do. He was permitted to afflict Job but he had to stop short of destroying him. And so it is with you and me: difficulties come our way, and some of them may be the Adversary coming against us, but God always has our best interests in mind. Throughout the body, it seems the Adversary is attempting to oppress God’s people but that only serves to inspire us to reevaluate our relationship with God. The Adversary may think he’s pursuing his will, but in the end, he serves God’s purposes and His will.
As for us, let’s do our part to live a set apart life. If we do find ourselves in a situation where it seems that the Adversary has been unleashed on us, let us embrace our Father’s correction and His reproof, knowing that He only chastens those He loves. In the midst of the trial, remember that our Father does only what is in our best interests.