I confess that the article I am about to write was initially intended only to address the important issue of roots – both of Christianity and of Western civilization as a whole.
But I have been somewhat diverted along a different route, which I shall explain. So stay with me as I will eventually return to the roots of my story.
In looking up a verse from Isaiah, where he refers to the “root of Jesse” (one of many prophecies of the coming Messiah, Jesus), I was reminded of the fact that former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had made much of a text from this passage in support of his Zionist views, spelt out in his book _The Chariot of Israel _and clearly inspired by his strong Christian faith. (I am reliably informed that both Harold and his wife Mary were Bible-believing Congregationalists to which he also owed his brand of Christian socialism).
The text in question, Isaiah 11.11, refers to a second return of Jewish exiles, which trumps the notion that such prophecies were all fulfilled with the return from Babylon so that modern Israel has no right to their ancient land today.
I believe this is very significant in light of the ongoing controversy over rising anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, of which Wilson was a long-time leader and the only occupant of No 10 Downing Street to have won four general elections.
By contrast, current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has openly embraced those who wish to destroy Israel.
Writing for the Jewish Chronicle on the 50th anniversary of Wilson’s first election victory, Robert Philpot dubbed him “the forgotten friend of Israel” who sprang to her aid in 1967 and 1973 and whose first overseas visit after leaving office in 1976 was to Israel, where he received an honorary doctorate and inspected a forest near Nazareth that had been named after him!
In Parliament he described the Jewish state “by any test…the only democracy in [the] region” and his book was described by his Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins as “one of the most strongly Zionist tracts ever written by a non-Jew”.
Tragically, however, his devotion to the cause of Israel contrasts sharply with today’s Labour left from whose ranks he originally hailed.
Which takes me back to my starting point, for the survival of our Judeo-Christian civilization will depend entirely on whether we remain connected to our biblical roots. If we cut ourselves off from our godly heritage, the ‘sap’ that gives us life, direction and purpose will no longer flow, with the result that our culture will wither and die like a tree pulled from the ground.
It’s that time of year when we begin to witness the shoots that produce flowers like snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils pointing the way to another springtime. These beauties come from roots (or bulbs) buried in the ground for many months.
Christianity was the new spring in the purposes of God that emerged from the roots of Judaism. According to St Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, who had to be reminded that God was not finished with his chosen people, Gentile believers “now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root (of Israel) …You do not support the root, but the root supports you,” he thundered. (Rom 11.17f)
This should encourage us to put our trust squarely in the God of Israel, and his Son, the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David” _(Revelation 5.5), also prophesied by Isaiah as _“the root of Jesse” (Isa 11.10) who will draw the nations (Gentiles) to himself.
In this respect it is also significant that there is a strain of Gentile ‘blood’ in Jesus, through his ancestor Ruth, the Moabitess, King David’s great-grandmother, a wonderful woman of virtue who threw in her lot with her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi.
Still on this theme, Isaiah’s discussion of roots is related to a springtime for the nation of Israel that surely speaks of today with its reference to a second return from exile, this time not just from Babylon but “from the four quarters of the earth” (Isa 11.11f) including “the islands of the sea” considered by some theologians to refer to the British Isles.
This passage also speaks of a coming millennial age of perfect peace when _“the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together…” _(Isa 11.6)
Something of a preview of this beautiful picture was sent to me by a friend the other day. It was a photo of an elephant crossing a road with a lioness and her cub, using its curled up trunk to protect the baby lion from the scorching heat. (Ed. note: The veracity of the photo is currently being disputed.)
“They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11.9)
As for Israel, the Lord speaks emphatically of final restoration through the prophet Amos, concluding with the words: “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted…”(Amos 9.15)