This is the story of how a Rabbi profoundly impacted a nation during the early 1600s and awakened the protestants living there to the necessity of Israel reclaiming the Land God gave to them.
It began after Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657) arrived in Holland after fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition. Once there, he began forming relationships with English theologians and leading members of Parliament with the purpose of promoting better relations between the Jews and Protestant Christians, which was understandable after witnessing the Catholic Church’s persecution of both Protestants and Jews.
Even though Jewish people were not permitted to live in England at the time, the Protestant theologians there warmly welcomed him and his insights on what the Old Testament taught regarding the restoration of Israel to the Land.
English theologian Isaac La Peyrere (1596-1676) was one of the many who befriended ben Israel. He told him that “many Protestants studied the Hebrew Scriptures, believed the Jews were still God’s people, and looked forward to the Jews returning to their own land.” (Notice the close link between studying the Old Testament and affirming Israel’s right to the Land.)
Menasseh ben Israel wrote a book, The Hope of Israel, which the Protestants translated into English so everyone could read it. It contained the “Hebrew prophets’ references to a return to their own land, bringing about the coming of the Messiah and a thousand years of world peace.” His influence led to a “persistent desire” among English believers “to assist Jews in a return to the Promised Land,” one that lasted for three hundred years.
A man named Moses Wall translated The Hope of Israel into English. He wrote this in the book’s preface:
For the benefit of my country-men who wait for the Redemption of Israel… gathered from their dispersion, and settled in their own Land… surely this Jew shall rise up in judgment against unchristian Christians… [who] curse them whom God has blessed. [He called for Christians] to remove our sinful hatred from off that people who are the Promises, and who are beloved for their Fathers sakes; and who are Jews…
Later in his life, ben Israel lived in England for two years. The famous English statesman Oliver Cromwell granted ben Israel a state pension of one hundred pounds, but Menasseh died before receiving it. That the most well-known politician of that day would honor him in such a way speaks to the lasting legacy of this rabbi.
What’s So Important about Menasseh ben Israel’s Story?
My purpose in telling Menasseh ben Israel’s story is to demonstrate how attitudes toward the Jewish people changed dramatically after the Reformation as Premillennialism surged in the Bible-believing churches throughout England. (This is the belief that Jesus will reign over the nations of the earth for a thousand years from a gloriously restored Israel.)
Because of this rabbi’s influence and the friendships that he formed, England went from forbidding Jews to live within its borders to publishing ben Israel’s book in English, honoring him late in his life, and opening its doors to the Jewish people. The awareness he brought to believers living there prompted many to donate money for the purpose of Israel someday returning to its Land.
Because of the foreboding dark veil of Replacement Theology, the belief that God rejected Israel and replaced the nation with the church, anti-Semitism flourished during the Dark Ages and persisted through the Reformation because of the lingering animosity toward the Jewish people.
With the resurgence of Premillennialism in England less than a century after that, love for the Jewish people once again flourished among the saints.
God Gave the Land to Israel
As the Bible became widespread in the English language, theologians and believers alike read about God’s covenant giving the Land to the nation of Israel. This prepared the way for the warm reception that Menasseh ben Israel received regarding the right of his people to the Land.
Genesis 15:7-21 records the covenant that God made with Abram and his descendants, later specified as those only belonging to Jacob. The Lord didn’t just simply give the Land to Abram; He made a covenant, a solemn promise to do so. Not only that, but He also made it totally binding on Himself (Genesis 15:7-21). The recipient of the covenant, Abram, slept through the entire process. This signified that the Land would belong to the recipients of the covenant regardless of their behavior.
Peaceful enjoyment of the Land has always depended on the obedience of the Israelites to God’s Word. Israel’s right to it, however, can never change because the Lord obligated Himself to give the Land to the descendants of Abraham through Jacob.
It’s a grievous error for people today to refer to the Jewish people as occupiers of a land that belongs to the Palestinians. They err in far too many ways to explore in this article. I’m saddened when those who claim to be Christians do so, because such a belief contradicts Scripture.
It is an Everlasting Covenant
If the Lord makes a promise that’s dependent upon Him to keep, we can safely assume that it’s permanent in nature. And that’s precisely what Scripture says about the covenant of the Land He made with the Patriarchs.
He remembers his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan.’”
As noted above, Israel’s peaceful enjoyment of the Land depends upon their obedience to God and His Word. On the other hand, God’s gift of the Land to the descendants of Jacob has no such stipulation and no expiration date; it still belongs to them. We have not yet reached the end of “everlasting.”
Manasseh ben Israel’s book, The Hope of Israel, opened the eyes of many in England to the enduring nature of God’s promises to the descendants of Jacob.
Israel Will Possess the Land in Total Peace and Security
As a result of their increased awareness that God would restore a glorious kingdom to Israel, many believers in England began contributing money to the cause of restoring Israel to the Land.
The ability of pastors, theologians, and believers to read the Bible in their own language fueled the resurgence of beliefs in Jesus’ thousand-year reign and the restoration of a kingdom to Israel. Though the Reformers did not go there, it was their two principles of Bible interpretation, listed below, that led to the revival in Premillennialism in England and elsewhere four hundred years ago.
- Sola Scriptura: our beliefs and practices must come solely from the Bible and nowhere else.
- Scripture interprets Scripture: the clear passages of God’s Word must guide us in discerning the meaning of those less clear because it’s impossible for Scripture to contradict itself.
With the above understanding and the availability of Scripture, passages such as Ezekiel 36:22-37 and 37:15-28 came alive once again. There, the Prophet Ezekiel paints a vivid picture of Israel’s glorious future, one that remains unfulfilled. Perhaps it was passages such as this that led to the awareness in long-ago England that God intended to bring His people back to the Land.
Menasseh ben Israel contributed to this awakening among theologians. As Premillennialism surged among the British saints, he helped them understand what it signified for Israel and their return to the Land God promised to them. (This, it should be noted, was almost two hundred years before the birth of John Darby.)
The saints in early seventeenth-century England believed what they read in the Old Testament regarding the restoration of Israel and believed without seeing the smallest bit of evidence it would happen.
Does not the faith of those in the early 1600s in England testify against those today who do not believe what Scripture says about Israel’s right to the Land even after Israel’s miraculous reappearing as a nation? I think so.
Maranatha! Come soon, Lord Jesus!
I provide a detailed defense of the Pretribulation viewpoint in: The Triumph of the Redeemed-An Eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times. I demonstrate, using an abundance of quotes, that the belief in a thousand-year reign of Jesus dominated the church during its first three hundred years. The historic view of the millennium is a literal view of Revelation 20:1-10 that places it between the Tribulation and the eternal state. There is no such thing as a “historic premillennialism” that denies a literal interpretation of this text.
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 William C. Watson, Dispensationalism Before Darby (Navasota, TX, Lampion House Publishing, 2023), p. 73.
 Ibid., pp. 74-75.
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Menasseh Ben Israel, The Hope of Israel, 2nd edition (London, 1652), translator’s preface.
 Wikipedia, Menasseh Ben Israel.