Some thirty or so years ago I began presenting a message about the Anzac involvement in the restoration of Israel. This message basically related to the Sovereignty of God Almighty behind the twin events of 31 October 1917: the capture of Beersheba (and associated charge of the Australian Light Horse) and the decision by the British War Cabinet for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine – which became known as the Balfour Declaration.
It would be difficult to see how these twin events were the result of mere historical coincidences, or of human engineering. The other possibility therefore is that an intelligent outside source must have worked it all out. Who could that possibly be? Well one very good possibility would be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Interestingly one event in the twin set occurred at Beersheba, the one location in the land of Israel associated with the living patriarchs to whom God Almighty promised the land of Israel on a covenant oath. The other event of the twin set relates to the integrity of God, of Him upholding the promise he swore on oath to Abraham. For that oath to be fulfilled the Jewish people would need to be restored as a nation to live in the land of Israel. They, as a nation, had been separated from the land since 135 AD.
This event occurred in the War Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street London. This covenant promise was recognised by many members of the War Cabinet which made that decision on 31 October 1917 – by view of their knowledge of the Scriptures. But from whence came their knowledge of the Scriptures? The short answer – it was a direct fruit of the Reformation.
The importance of the Reformation
The official beginning point of the Reformation took place on 31 October 1517. On that day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses or protests against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.
Although there were already protest movements in England (John Wycliffe) and Bohemia (John Huss), yet it was Luther’s actions which had the biggest impact in Europe. Although Luther later became very antagonistic towards the Jewish people, yet in Germany two groups held a more positive attitude towards the Jewish people, these being the Lutheran Pietists and the Moravians. Both of these groups interacted with similar streams in Britain.
the Battle of Beersheba… was more than just a military victory.
In Britain the two streams of Protestantism which held a positive attitude towards the Jewish people were within the Puritan and the Evangelical movements. From the early 1600’s onwards Christians throughout Britain and Ireland were exposed to teaching concerning God’s covenant relationship with the nation of Israel. This exposure came through access to the Scriptures and numerous books, pamphlets and sermons on the subject matter.
When Australia and New Zealand were settled by people from Britain and Ireland, this positive understanding towards the Jewish people also came into these two lands (together with another teaching, which we generally term ‘replacement theology’). Interestingly the first Anglican bishop in New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn, officiated at the consecration of the first Anglican-Protestant bishop for Jerusalem – Michael Solomon Alexander. Alexander was a former rabbi and was part of the large movement within Britain which believed in the full restoration of Israel. Both bishops departed for their new dioceses at about the same time. Bishop Alexander’s seat in Jerusalem was located where Christ Church was later built inside the walls of the Old City.
Partners in the vision
During those thirty or so years I met numerous people who shared the vision of the significance of these twin events of 31 October 1917. One was New Zealander Don Moore, a South Island sheep-farmer. Don’s grandfather Edward Moore had served in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and had fought at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. Don accepted my challenge to represent New Zealand and be a rider, in Mounted Rifles uniform, in the 2017 re-enactment. In all three New Zealanders rode, including Don’s cousin Tim.
Don had with him a very special memento – a small pocket New Testament which his grandfather had carried with him when he fought at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. Don had it on him on 30 October 2017, when the 99 riders (94 of whom were Australian) rode up to the base of Tel el Saba and in view of several hundred onlookers including some fifty Israeli school children, saluted the role the NZ Mounted Rifles had played in securing this strategic location in the mid-afternoon of 31 October 1917. Only by securing Tel el Saba could the famous charge of the Australian Light Horse take place as it did with minimum casualties.
The following day, 31 October 2017, the New Zealanders had an official ceremony on Tel el Saba. Almost simultaneously the 99 riders re-enacted the charge of the Light Horse on part of the very same plain that they rode across in 1917. While Tim was at Tel el Saba, Don represented the New Zealanders. Don in fact was one of four selected riders who received medallions from Israeli PM Netanyahu, Australian PM Turnbull, and New Zealand Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy.
The events of 31 October 2017 in Beersheba were a fitting testimony to God Almighty who in 1917 was in the process of confirming the integrity of His word, the covenant oath. Countless Christians had been reminding God Almighty of this covenant oath for several centuries, and on 31 October 1917 the British and Anzac forces at Beersheba were God’s instruments, as Cyrus emperor of Persia had once been, in bringing the fulfilment of that covenant oath closer to hand.*
Royal Albert Hall – 7 November 2017
The second part of celebrating the twin historical events of 31 October 1917 occurred in numerous locations, one being in the Royal Albert Hall in London on 7 November.
An incredible programme was put together which was thoroughly appreciated by the 3000 or so Jewish and Christian people who attended. This programme involved a 500 people choir from the Netherlands; a wonderful orchestra; a 100 people choir from a Nigerian Church in London; a klasma band; a dancing troupe from Israel; a well-known Israeli singer.
Coupled with this were a number of acting scenes involved professional actors, playing out the roles of prominent 19th century restorationists, Bishop JC Ryle and Charles Spurgeon; of the relationship between Theodore Herzl and the Anglican restorationsist, Rev William Hechler; and of the special dynamic between Zionist Chaim Weizmann and foreign secretary Arthur Balfour.
The present Lord Balfour, Roderick, read out the famous proclamation which was agreed upon by the War Cabinet on 31 October 1917, which thereafter bore the name The Balfour Declaration.
Dr David Schmidt and I gave a combined presentation relating to the twin events leading up to, and including 31 October 1917. For this scene we were honoured to also have on stage in period uniform Barry Rodgers and Tom Dawson representing the Australian Light Horse; Don Moore representing the New Zealand Mounted Rifles; Ben Musson representing the British infantry and Paul Hames as ‘General Allenby’. The national flags of Australia, New Zealand and Britain were also held by three of these representative soldiers.
Don carried with him this day the small pocket Bible which his grandfather had with him during the capture of Tel el Saba. This was very fitting, for 31 October 1917 was the 400th anniversary of the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation, an event which played a significant role in influencing those British politicians of the unique relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. No doubt practical geo-politics and economics were the main reason, but the role the Bible played cannot be under-estimated.
The significance of the occasion and of the twin events of 31 October 1917 may be summed up in the words at the end of my presentation that evening in London:
“By about 6 o’clock in the evening Beersheba was in the hands of the Australian, British and New Zealand soldiers, and the victory which Lloyd George and Allenby needed had been obtained. Without the victory at Beersheba on 31 October the Balfour Declaration was just a worthless piece of paper. Beersheba opened the door to the conquest of Palestine, the land of covenant promise.
With this perspective in mind, we can indeed see that the Battle of Beersheba on 31 October 1917 was more than just a military victory. The two pivotal events which took place simultaneously in London and Beersheba could not have been engineered by man alone. Behind them surely was the hand of a Sovereign God.”
(Note: The above related perspective is presented in a new documentary ’31 October – Destiny’s Date’.)
*The final consummation of that covenant oath I sense will only become apparent at the time of Jesus’ return.