The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced on Tuesday that Antisemitic incidents were up by 60% in 2017 compared to 2016. This is the single largest annual increase of expressions of hatred of the Jewish people ever and the second largest number of occurrences recorded since the ADL began tracking this in the 1970s. The sharp rise was partially caused by the dramatic increase in Antisemitic episodes at college and university campuses. The incidents included physical assaults, attacks on Jewish institutions, and vandalism. For the first time in more than ten years, Antisemitic attacks were reported in all 50 states.
One especially grievous example took place in Charlottesville, VA in August, 2017, the evening before the so-called Unite the Right rally. It was Friday night, and the local Jewish community gathered to pray and welcome the Sabbath. There had been Neo-Nazi calls to burn their synagogue, so, as a precaution, they had already removed the Holy Scriptures, moving their Torah Scrolls to a safe location. Still they came to pray, but when they arrived they saw Nazis gathered across the street. Each of the Nazis was carrying a torch and a semi-automatic rifle. Swastika banners were being waved and this group of haters were shouting “Seig Heil,” “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil.” Some held signs saying “The Goyim Know,” a slur implying that Gentiles know the alleged insidious plots of the Jewish community, while others had signs that said, “The Jewish media is going down.”
Although the police did arrive, they didn’t disperse those menacing the synagogue. Rather, they arranged for the 250 praying Jewish people to skulk out of the back door, to avoid potential attacks by those who hate them. It was hard to believe that this was not in 1938 Nazi Germany but it happened in Charlottesville, VA, right here in the United States of America and only about 100 miles from Washington, DC.
So what should followers of Jesus, those who love His Word, think about this issue? Psalm 83 gives us some insight into Antisemitism.
The psalmist identifies hatred of the God of Israel as the true source of Antisemitism. In Psalm 83:2-3a it says, “See how Your enemies make an uproar; those who hate You have acted arrogantly. They devise schemes against your people.” It is because they hate the God who chose Israel (Deut 7:7-8) and called the Jewish people His “firstborn” (Exod 4:22) that they conspire against Israel. They resent that God chose to give gifts and call a particular people to represent Him and to accomplish His purposes. They are embittered that God has promised to love the Jewish people (Jer 31:3) and protect them forever (Jer 31:35-37).
Psalm 83:3b-5 also recognizes genocidal Antisemitism as an attempt to hurt the God who loves the Jewish people. “They conspire against Your treasured ones, They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation so that Israel’s name will no longer be remembered.’ For they have conspired with one mind; they form an alliance against you.” The word that describes the Jewish people as “treasured ones” is literally “hidden ones.” It refers to something that is so precious that it is hidden away to keep it safe. Every attempt to destroy the Jewish people, from Pharoah, to Haman, to Hitler, to Hamas, is in reality an attempt to attack the Lord by hurting His loved ones. Just as in the book, The Count of Monte Cristo, where the villain attempts to cause the Count to suffer terribly, not by killing him but by shooting the woman he loves, so those who hate God want to hurt Him by attacking the Jewish people He loves.
The psalm also reveals the ultimate destiny of those who hate the Jewish people with its prayer in the last stanza: “Make them like tumbleweed, My God, like straw before the wind. As fire burns a forest, as a flame blazes through mountains, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm . . . Let them perish in disgrace. May they know that You alone—whose name is the Lord—are the Most High over all the earth” (Psa 83: 13-18). This prayer calls for God to bring destruction on those who hate His people. It will be fulfilled at the last battle, when the nations gather to destroy Israel once more, and the Messiah Jesus, returns to deliver them.
This past Wednesday, Jewish people around the world observed the feast of Purim, the celebration of God’s deliverance of His people from the hands of Haman, as revealed in the book of Esther. Purim is a joyous and uproarious party, but sadly it only celebrates one occasion of deliverance. Many more Hamans have arisen in history and continue to rise. The Passover Haggadah says, “For more than once have they risen against us to destroy us; in every generation they rise against us and seek our destruction. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, always delivers us from their hands.” That is the promise God has made about Anti-Semitism. He will always arise to the aid of His people. Will we be like those Gentiles in the book of Esther, “who allied themselves with [the Jewish people]” (Est 9:27) to fight Antisemitism and celebrate its defeat? That’s what the Holy One, blessed be He, would want of us.