The basis for this question seems to be twofold. First, if Israel is the Jewish homeland and if exile is a negative state associated with divine judgment, then shouldn’t all Jews go back to their homeland now that it has been reestablished? Second, if anti-Semitism is spreading and even nations like America could one day turn against their Jewish populations, just as European nations did during the Holocaust, isn’t it wise for Jews to make the move back to Israel?
Books like Tom Hess’s Let My People Go: The Struggle of the American Jew to Come Home to Israel, first published in the 1980s, emphasized both of these points, predicting that things will get bad for Jews outside of Israel, including Jews in America. In fact, while some of Hess’s warnings for American Jews have not yet materialized, some of his warnings about Jews in the former Soviet Union seemed quite relevant shortly after the Russian edition of his book was released, and they appear increasingly relevant in that part of the world today.
So then, do the Scriptures clearly call all Jews worldwide to return to the Land, and are there pragmatic reasons for all Jews to be in Israel?
For Jewish followers of Jesus, their responsibility is to study the Word of God, seek His face, and live wherever the Lord calls them to live as part of their great commission, kingdom responsibility—be it in America, Russia, Israel or anywhere else. There is simply nothing in the Scriptures that clearly states otherwise, especially if the individual has a sense of calling to be serving in a particular place. Where does the New Testament hint at anything other than this? And aren’t Jewish believers called to be a light to the nations?
What about Jewish people who are not born again and, in that sense, are not in touch with their kingdom destiny and calling? Does God want all of them back in Israel? Again, I do not see that the Scriptures address this clearly in terms of Jews living in the Diaspora today.
What then of the two questions asked at the outset of this section, namely, Shouldn’t Jews worldwide return from exile to Israel? and, Isn’t it clear that the safest place for Jews worldwide is in Israel?
To me, the key to both of these questions is timing. It is true that the Word speaks of a complete return of all Jewish people to the land of Israel, a matter of unfinished divine business and unrealized prophetic promises dating back to the Babylonian exile. Through several prophetic voices, God promised a glorious regathering of His people, a regathering not just from Babylon, but from all the nations to which they had been scattered (see, e.g., Jeremiah 16:14-15). To this day, those promises have not yet been fulfilled—including the promise in Isaiah 11 that the Lord would bring His people back to the Land a second time—the first time being after the Babylonian exile.
With that in mind, we can see a remaining application for verses such as this well-known passage from Isaiah:
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, “Give them up!”
and to the south, “Do not hold them back.”
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:5-7)
But note carefully: There is a big difference between “You will return,” and “Return!”, between “I will bring you home,” and “Go home!” The former speaks of something that will happen one day; the latter gives a command—and I do not believe that God is commanding all of the Jewish people to return to Israel today, although that day may yet come—perhaps even after the Messiah’s return, at which time verses such as Isaiah 11:16 could be literally fulfilled.
Do I believe that God is calling more and more of His ancient people back to Israel today, both believers and non-believers? Absolutely! And I believe this will only increase in the years to come. In fact, within a matter of decades, the Jewish population within Israel could be greater than the Jewish population outside of Israel. But this is something God is doing, and therefore we can encourage aliyah (returning to Israel) but we cannot legislate or mandate it.
Are there signs of anti-Semitism rising to dangerous levels worldwide? Without a doubt. And is it possible that, one day, it could be dangerous for Jews to live in America? It is certainly possible, although, thankfully, America does not have a history of national anti-Semitism. Should that day come, however, we have good reason to expect that God will send clear and definite warnings to His people, letting us know that now is the time to get back to the Land.
We do well to pray regularly for the Lord to fulfill His eternal purposes for His ancient, covenant people, since, in a very real sense, the destiny of the nations is intimately tied to their destiny (see Romans 11:11-15), especially as it pertains to the Jewish people living in Israel at the end of the age (see Zechariah 12-14).