I have this crazy dream. It’s not the normal thing that a guy who has lived most of his life in Florida would probably want to do, but I want to do it anyway. I want to go on a cattle drive. You know – riding like a cowboy on a horse, yelping and making noises as I try to get cattle moving in the right direction. Boots, the hat, the whole thing. Now, I did the “City Slickers” thing and told myself I would have it done before my 40th birthday – well I’m 41 now and I haven’t done it yet. Funny thing how money is always involved. But it’s still inside of me rumbling around wanting to be done – and I just KNOW that someday I am going to do it. I guess this probably leaves you wondering why any sane person would want to do something so unusual, right? That’s an easy-enough answer… It’s God’s fault.
If you’ve been reading these posts, by now you know I love history… and maybe you’ve also picked up a bit on that part of me that yearns for the big, sweeping, and epic moments of life. I love movies like “Dances With Wolves”, “Glory” and “The Patriot” – anything full of big, wide, panoramic shots of the openness of America, all packed in with historical moments and zipped up in an overwhelming sound score. Something in me craves to know that there is more out there than the laid out streets of our neighborhoods. When I was a child, I had a subscription to Arizona Highways magazine – just so I could look at the pictures of the Grand Canyon and life “out West”. I would also play for hours alone in the woods near where we lived with an old WWII-era training rifle, letting the hills and streams of Delmar, NY and Walpole, MA become the battlefields of Bunker Hill and Normandy. Fallen logs would turn into the walls and ramparts at the Alamo or the fences surrounding Gettysburg. I don’t think that there was a major battle in our nation’s history that I didn’t fight in. I covered a lot of ground for a kid in the 4th grade.
There are stories in the Bible that captivate me just as much as any John Wayne or Kevin Costner movie – actually way more. What young boy’s heart doesn’t beat with excitement in thinking about when David walked across that battlefield to face Goliath, or imagine what it was like to be with Gideon as he and his troop of 300 defeated an army of thousands? I wept at the scene in the animated film “The Prince of Egypt” when Moses had his encounter with God at the burning bush, and I leap up inside when reading about how an 80-year-old Caleb comes to Joshua and reminds him of God’s promise to Caleb, and declares, “Give me my mountain!”. There is something in my spirit that just yearns for the bigger moments – that craves inspiration and wants to do more and be more. No wonder I like George Bailey so much. Maybe now you’re beginning to understand the whole cattle drive dream.
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” – 2 Chronicles 36:23
There is an important cultural concept that the Jews call “Aliyah”, which comes from the Hebrew word that means “ascent,” or “going up.” According to Jewish tradition, traveling to the Land of Israel is an ascent, both geographically and spiritually. Anyone traveling to Israel from the surrounding areas literally climbed to a higher altitude. Visiting Jerusalem, which is 2,700 feet above sea level, during the times of the Feasts was also an “ascent.” According to the traditional Jewish ordering of books of the Bible, the very last word in original Hebrew is found in 2 Chronicles 36:23 – veya‘al, a verb that comes from the same root-word for aliyah, meaning “let him go up” (to Israel). “May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” It was an ancient call for a return to the land of Promise. A bugle call for the Jews to come home.
Since you know that I love history so much, lets look at some. You see, it wasn’t King Cyrus who issued the first “aliyah”, it was actually sometime just before 2100 BC that Abraham was the first to receive this invitation. Genesis 12:1 records: “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.'” You may know the story – Abraham heads out, eventually comes to Canaan, has kids and his great grandsons become the tribes of Israel. It would be 1500 years later that Israel would be invaded by Babylon, Jerusalem would be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the Jews would be taken into captivity far from home. Then some 60 years later, they would begin to hear and respond to the call to “aliyah”… to come back home. First under Zerubbabel, then another 100 years later, Ezra and Nehemiah would lead even more exiles back, Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and hope would be restored.
Generations later, when Jesus’ disciples were pointing out the buildings of the Temple compound to Him, He prophesied it’s destruction by declaring, “You see all of these things, do you not? Truly I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2) It would be just 40 years later that the Romans would destroy the Temple as they laid siege on the city, and the Jews would once again be scattered far from home. Since that time, it has been the closing cry for many at the yearly celebration of Passover, “l’shanah haba’ah birushalayim” (Next year in Jerusalem!) It is their cry for Aliyah… their longing to “go up”.
In modern history, while there have always been a remnant of Jews that have lived in the Holy Land, it wasn’t really until 1822 that the first big call for Jews to come back from this modern “exile” would take place. The age-old hatred for God’s people around the world would drive many of them away from those far-flung places across Europe and Asia, and see them come home. These “Lovers of Zion” – or Zionists – would lay the groundwork for the modern Israel that we know today. They were young, energetic idealists who’d been imprinted with Western political principals and the dreams of national liberation that were sweeping across Europe. Many were socialists and believed that their country could be restored through their hard physical labor and dedication. The returning Jews had no powerful nation to help them… they had no weapons… and very often, they were poor. But something inside of them stirred for something more, and once again the ancient cry of “aliyah” could be heard.
“They (Jews) paid high prices for the land, and in addition, they paid to certain occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay.” – Hope Simpson Report, 1930
The Jews legally bought the land that they developed, primarily from absentee landowners. Most of it was swampland and sand dunes, and many of those landowners thought they were getting the better end of the deal. But the returning Jews had a desire to restore the land to it’s once-famous fertility, and build villages and communities where none existed. Through backbreaking work, those early Jewish pioneers cleared the wastelands and malaria-filled swamps, reforested the hillside, and built towns and villages. And as global hatred for God’s people increased, more and more would come home to help rebuild the “Land that God loves”.
“We have come from an anguished and grieving land… from a people… that has not known a single year – not a single month – in which mothers have not wept for their sons.” – Yitzhak Rabin, Fifth Prime Minister of Israel, 1993
To give you just a small idea of what they encountered as they came back home, in 1920-1921, Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini repeatedly stirred up riots against the Jews. In the 1920 incidents, six Jews were killed and 200 wounded. in 1921, 43 Jews were killed and 147 wounded. In response, the Jews organized defensive forces that would later become the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Later in 1929, mobs attacked Jews in Jerusalem, Safed, Jaffa and Kfar Darom, a kibbutz (settlement) in the Gaza Strip. The centuries-old Jewish community of Hebron was destroyed, and 67 Jews were slaughtered. British authorities reported incidents of rape, torture, beheadings of babies and mutilation. British High Commissioner John Chancellor wrote, “I do not think that history records many worse horrors in the last few hundred years.” In total, 135 Jews were killed that year, and another 350 were maimed and wounded – and remember that this was all BEFORE the atrocities of WWII. And yet, still they would come.
Here in America we would call this a “pioneer spirit”, and we saw it thrive in our nation’s history beginning in the mid 1800’s. A pioneer is simply someone who is willing to go ahead and prepare the way for others who will come behind. In that initial push West more than a third of a million people would leave behind the relative simplicity of life in the East for the promise of adventure. Many things would make the way seemingly impossible – no roads, disease, bandits, harsh weather, and repeated attacks by Indians – but still they went, one family after another stepping into the unknown. Along the way some would give up and stop where they were, and yet even in their giving up, towns and settlements were established where they stayed. Most refused to go back to where they had come from.
What is it that God puts inside of man to respond in such a way? Why would the Jews living in the relative comfort of an established kingdom want to return to a destroyed homeland, or Americans who were safe in a city want to set out for the unknown. Why still come after hearing the reports of the resistance to your even being there? Why? Because God whispers into every open ear, “Aliyah! Come up! Ascend!”
Now what does any of this have to do with my desire to go on a cattle drive being God’s fault? Well, I think that many of us hear that cry to “ascend” – but I think that maybe it not necessarily a physically higher PLACE that we are being called to… but a higher PURPOSE. For some, God has to put a spirit of adventure in us so that we will respond to the call that He places on our lives. What else would stir the heart of someone to missions – or to plant a church or start a business for that matter? Maybe in your world this stirring manifests itself in the yearning to move up the corporate ladder, or to step out and get a job to help provide for your family. Or maybe it’s the call to move from one major in college to another – or it may possibly be from one city or state to another. Whatever call that you are hearing, it is really just that ancient word being whispered in a way that you will understand. It is still God saying, “Aliyah.”
“Pioneer” by Nancy Honeytree/Rick Pino
Uncharted wilderness stretches before you
And you thrive on going where no one has gone
Still it gets lonely when darkness rears
So sing by the fire until the dawn
Keep pressing onwards beyond your fears
And only your Father goes before you to your own frontier
Youʼre a Pioneer
You travel light and you travel alone
And when you arrive nobody knows
But your Father in heaven, He is glad you can go
Cause those who come after you will need the road
And what you have done, others will do
Bigger and better and faster than you
But you canʼt look back, you gotta keep on pressing through
Thereʼs a wilderness pathway and itʼs calling you
Calling you, calling you
Keep pressing onwards, you can’t stay here…
And only your Father goes before you to your own frontier
Youʼre a Pioneer