Three events converge the first week of March. March 3 finds Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing both houses of the United States Congress, making his case against Israel’s threatened annihilation. On March 5, the ancient Jewish Feast of Purim celebrates the deliverance of Israel’s people from their intended destruction at the hands of a Persian (Iranian) official named Haman. Between these two occasions stands March 4 – the Fast of Esther.
Esther, whose Hebrew name is Hadassah, is married to King Xerxes, ruler of the Persian Empire in the fifth century BC and known to moderns as Ahasuerus. When her uncle Mordecai gets wind of Haman’s planned mass murder of the Hebrews, he begs his niece to intervene with her husband. Going to the king unsummoned risks execution; yet Mordecai insists only she can save her people. He says, “You were born for such a time as this.”
Esther agrees to seek a meeting with the king; meanwhile, those of her people who know of the danger fast three days in repentance and prayer for her protection and for forgiveness of their national sin of persistent idolatry. Every one of them understands it is sin that landed them in exile and placed them at the mercy of men like Haman. Their repentance is what we call identificational repentance — each prays not solely for self, but on behalf of all their people. They identify with their people.
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Christians and Jews who stand with Israel are invited – exhorted – to spend a portion of March 4 in repentance and prayer for Israel. The fast is organized by the National Day of Repentance and many ministries are partnering. No rules are laid upon anyone in terms of how long or how sacrificially the fasting and praying ought to be. A fast is virtually anything we let go for the sake of God, and a prayer is whatever we offer in terms of conversation with Him.
The concept of identificational repentance is a bit more complex. It is imperative, for one thing, that we not make the mistake of imagining ourselves as the sinless ones stooping down from on high to bless a people less virtuous. Is Israel sinless? Of course not. She is one of the most secularized nations on the planet, with rampant pornography and abortion industries, large scale drug abuse, and families torn apart by divorce. Are we any better here in the States? Is the American Church any better? The point of repentance for them is repentance with them. As we go before God on behalf of our Israeli brothers and sisters, we confess our own sins and ask forgiveness as we beg God’s intervention in their lives and ours. We would not dare speak on their behalf if we failed to note we are in the same boat; not if we take the message in Romans 3 and 1 Corinthians 6 seriously that all have fallen short and no one is fit to pass judgment.
Israel and her people are the Chosen ones of God. When we choose them, we choose their God. When we humble ourselves, we permit Him to perfect His strength in our weakness.
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Another imperative is humility in prayer. Some Christians think their highest and best use is to imperiously order the devil to leave their friends alone – as though we Christians ourselves are the biggest bad boys in the valley of the shadow. The biblical approach is outlined in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We are called to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked – read stubbornly inadequate – ways if we would find forgiveness and healing. We cannot stand and point fingers at the same time we kneel with folded hands.
A last imperative is to recognize the power of repentance. When the steam ship Titanic was sunk by an iceberg in 1912, she was attempting to set a new speed record between England and New York. Her captain was so arrogantly confident in her unsinkability the he deliberately set his course through the ice field as the shortest distance between two points. While the ship began to sink – after the iceberg tore her hull – the crew got a wireless message through to the Carpathia, about sixty miles away. Her captain knelt on the deck, confessed his unworthiness to demand anything of God, and begged His protection as he too set off through the ice field at flank speed to the rescue. The Carpathia was unscathed as she presented the vulnerability of a servant heart. It is when we submit to God in our weakness that He always perfects His strength. This is as true when we defend the Alamo – cornered and outnumbered – as it is when we beg God to heal His little ones.
Whatever any of us choose to do March 4 on behalf of Israel and the Kingdom of God, if it is offered in humility and service, we will discover that Israel is indeed numbered among His little ones – and so are we. We were born for such a time as this.
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