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August 2012

Getting the Children Ready for the School Year

By Gary Alley

As summer comes to an end, families around the world are getting ready for the new school year. It’s no different for Israel. This week I was at the mall with my family watching Jews and Arabs busily shopping for their childrens' upcoming school needs—new clothes, supplies, and the all important backpack. In the midst of the consumer chaos, I noticed one long line stretching out from a rather run down store front inside the upscale mall. I thought it odd, and went closer to inspect what goods so many people were so intent on obtaining. And then I immediately noticed the signs—“Pick up your government-issued gas masks here.”

While the world is wrapping up the brotherly-love of the 2012 Olympics in London, Israel is entering an overcast future. Since the dawn of the Arab Spring in December, 2010, the regimes of the Middle East have been shaken, with the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen falling. This week, the Syrian Prime Minister fled his country as President Bashar al-Assad tenuously clings to power after 18 months of civil war. In desperation, Syria has recently even confessed to having chemical weapons, and threatened to use them. Israel believes these weapons might fall into the wrong hands, and so, this would be one reason for the issue of gas masks here.

In February, 2011, strongman Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule ended in a wave of protest that swept his country. Recently, he was sentenced to life in prison. In the wake of Mubarak’s ouster, the country has teetered toward disorder, with the election of an anti-Israel Islamic Brotherhood government. The Sinai Peninsula has proven especially unruly, with multiple kidnappings of international tourists by Bedouin tribesmen (like the recent case of the Pentecostal pastor from Boston), unending bombings of the Egyptian-Israeli gas line, and two terrorist infiltrations into Israel (this week’s brazen attack of 35 armed, suicide bomb-wearing men).

But the real fear in Israel right now is a nuclear-armed Iran. Though most experts believe that Iran is currently not capable of a nuclear attack, the clock is ticking towards that goal. While international sanctions have slowly squeezed Iran, there are indications that Israel is seriously considering a unilateral military strike against Iran before the U.S. Presidential elections this fall. And so, another reason for issuing gas masks.

Fittingly, Yoni Gerrish’s article below on vultures and the end times warns us not to trust in prophecy preachers who may bend current events to foment our anxieties and excite our emotions. Even worrying about the news all the time is a spiritual detriment, for all of these ultimately impede our walk of faith. Yes, troubles, even wars, will come in the future, but we put our trust in the Lord. He has a plan and a purpose for wherever we are and whatever we are doing. There is no safer place to be.


The Riddle of the Vulture and the End Times:
Who Gets Left Behind?

By Jon "Yoni" Gerrish

Eschatological Pulp Fiction

Shortly after my arrival in Jerusalem in the fall of 1982, I was introduced to someone who had written a number of articles and newsletters regarding Israel and the End Times. One particular story about vultures caught my attention especially since the claims were quite astounding. The title had to do with a sudden and dramatic increase in vulture populations across the country, especially in the Jezreel Valley where the ancient city, Megiddo is located. Here at “Har Megiddo (=Ar-mageddon: "mountain of Megiddo"),” a final battle is prophesied to take place with “birds of the air” devouring the defeated armies (Rev 16:16; 19:17-18). The concluding points of this person’s article led the clueless reader to believe that with the growing vulture hordes, the final conflict of “Armageddon” was due to begin in a matter of hours.

This was my first encounter with Christian eschatological “pulp fiction,” or sensationalism, designed to excite specific audiences—primarily Evangelical communities in the United States—in order to bolster financial support. And of course, the money flowed. Some of these “publishers of doom” lived in the most exclusive neighborhoods in Jerusalem, even owning yachts and luxury cars while purporting to be experts and eye witnesses to end times phenomena, which were only available to the readers through these small-time basement presses in Jerusalem. I was a little naïve back then, and admit that much of my biblical focus was on eschatology, so I eagerly devoured their material.

Since those days, though, I have become more familiar with Israel’s flora and fauna. While guiding study tour groups over the past two decades, I have paid closer attention to some of Israel’s key nesting grounds of vultures and other migratory birds of prey.1 It is well documented that Israel’s current population of vultures has unfortunately diminished to the brink of extinction. Two species have already fallen off the bird watcher’s charts, the Bearded Vulture and the Cinereous Vulture, and two others, the Griffon Vulture and Egyptian Vulture, have dropped to less than 40 nesting pairs with only ten chicks recorded last year (2011). Before 1948 there was an estimated 1000 nesting pairs of Griffon Vultures.2

Vultures and the End Times

While the current Israeli vulture population may not be of a “prophetic proportion,” we still might consider a teaching of Jesus alluding to vultures and their involvement in the end times. Jesus said,

“Whoever seeks to keep his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life shall preserve it.
I tell you, on that night there will be two men in one bed;
one will be taken, and the other will be left.

There will be two women grinding at the same place;
one will be taken, and the other will be left.

Two men will be in the field;
one will be taken and the other will be left.”

And answering they said to Him,
‘Where, Lord?’ And He said to them,
‘Where the body is, there also will the vultures be gathered.” (Lk 17:33-37, NASB)

Jesus’ disciples are clearly perplexed; they want to know the location for those who are taken. They probably felt the need to ask, “Where, Lord?”, because prior to these verses, Jesus had reminded his disciples of biblical scenarios such as the days of Noah and the Flood, or the days of Lot at Sodom. In both cases the good were taken away, or spared, while the evil ones that were “left behind” were destroyed. In Jesus’ statement above, however, it would appear that those who are “taken away” end up dead (i.e. vultures gathering to eat them). Therefore, the disciples may have been confused by Jesus’ concluding point. If one is thinking of Noah and Lot where the “taken” are spared, it simply does not make sense that those who are taken would end up in a place of death. In the other biblical examples, Jesus’ focus was on saving the good. Yet, the question should be asked, is Jesus’ focus here about saving the good or destroying the bad?

On Wings of Vultures

Many a famous scriptural allusion references “eagles” in Western Civilization, like “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles (Isa 40:31),” or “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself (Ex 19:4).” The majesty and valor of an eagle has led different Western nations throughout history to adorn their flags and national identities with the eagle’s image. Yet, few English speakers are aware that the Hebrew word, nesher נשר, which is often rendered as “eagle” in Bible translations, really means “vulture.” There are few eagles in Israel, unless they are briefly passing through during migrations, while the Griffon vulture has a venerated history in the Ancient Near East, even being worshiped as a god in Egypt and Mesopotamia. This long-winged scavenger of the Middle East, with its high altitude flying,3 is the true fit for those citations...


“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like vultures (Isa 40:31).”

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt,
and how I carried you on vultures’ wings and brought you to myself (Ex 19:4).”

In the New Testament, aetoi (αετοι) is the Greek equivalent for nesher נשר. In Greek, aetoi predominantly means “eagles”. In the Greek and Roman culture, eagles were more represented than vultures, and so it would be easy to understand why many translations would posit Jesus words as "Where the body is, there also will the eagles (aetoi) be gathered." And following that translation, it might seem reasonable to choose, as most commentators do, to render aetoi as “eagles,” symbolic of Roman power and the impending destruction of Jerusalem by the gathering eagles (i. e. Roman army).4 While there may be occasions when very hungry eagles feast on dead carcasses, the bottom line is that most, if not all, of Israel’s long-term, or permanent, nesharim or aetoi residents are vultures, who are renown for their scavenging of the dead. Besides this, Jesus was a Hebrew-speaking Jew raised within a Torah-centric culture, where a vulture would be common, and its biblical allusions obvious. In fact, Jesus was very likely quoting the Hebrew scripture of Job 39:30.

“Where the Carcass is, There Vultures Gather”

David Bivin has provided a reconstruction of Lk 17:37 based on Jesus alluding to Job 39:30 “ובאשר חללים שם הוא ” (uva'asher halalim sham hu), “and wherever there are slain, there it is” (“it” being understood as “vulture” from Job 39:27-29). He suggests a more idiomatic translation of Jesus’ saying to read, “Wherever there is a slain person, there vultures gather.”5 The Greek word that is used in Lk 17:37 for “body” is soma (σωμα) which can mean a dead carcass or living being.6 This resonates well with our understanding of Jesus and his frequent Scripture allusions; however, we are still left with a riddle to solve. If the ones who are “taken” are also the “slain ones” then the point of this teaching is not about rescuing the good “body,” but rather the destruction of the bad “carcass”.

There may be a thematic connection between Lk 17:30-37 and Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Mt 13:24-40), where the wheat and tares represent good and evil people in the world; both are allowed to grow together until harvest time, which represents the “end of the age.” In other words, both the good and the evil people will live normal human lives—eating, drinking, marrying, buying, planting, building, selling (like in the days of Noah and Lot, Lk 17:26-29). But in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, the tares are “taken” out first and burned; afterward the wheat that is “left behind” is saved. So too, Lk 17:30-37, seems to imply that a similar destructive fate will happen for those who are “taken”—they are the carcasses to be eaten by the vultures.

A Redemptive Remnant

In contrast to current, popular end times theology that focuses on the “taking out” of believers from this world while those “left behind” on earth suffer punishment and destruction, we might want to reconsider this end times teaching of Jesus that implies that those left behind are not the wicked. Instead of dreaming about leaving this troubled, wicked world, maybe we should focus on being a faithful, holy remnant.

In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious,
and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.
And it will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem.(Isaiah 4:2-3 NASB)

1 Gamla in the Golan, the Hula Nature Reserve, and spots in the Negev such as the Tzin Canyon near Avdat.

2 Zafrir Rinat, “Israel Asks World for help as Vulture Population Dwindles” (Ha’aretz Sept 16, 2011).  See also Thomas Krumenacker photo survey data fall of 2010 and spring of 2011 His team counted 110,000 Lesser Spotted Eagles migrating through Israel; a few hundred Short Toed Eagles migrating; A few hundred Booted Eagles; and a few dozen Eastern Imperial Eagles.

3 A cousin of the Griffon Vulture hit an aircraft at 37,000 feet in 1973 over Western Africa.  See “Collision between a Vulture and an Aircraft at an Altitude of 37,000 Feet” Roxie C. Laybourne, The Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 86, No. 4 (Dec., 1974), pp. 461-462.

4 See Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible et al.

5 David N. Bivin, “The Meaning of Luke 17:37b: “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together,’” (Jerusalem Perspective 37 [Mar./Apr. 1992]): 2, 18-19.

6 See the comments of James G.D. Dunn, “The Theology of Paul the Apostle.” Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1998 p. 55-56. In the classic work of Homer (9th Century BC) soma is always rendered as a dead body or corpse, while in the later Koine literature of the New Testament, soma is often applied to a living body, e.g. “the body of Christ” (Mt 26:26). 

Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Individuals, Families, and Ministries during June and July 2012

Joshua is a 25 year old Jewish Israeli who is moderately mentally disabled, with Down syndrome and diabetes. He was abandoned by his biological parents as a baby and adopted by the cook at the childrens' home that he was placed in. Ten years ago, his adoptive mother passed away and her daughter has taken care of Joshua since then. Joshua has severe oral infections, suffering from fevers and other complications. His past dentists have suggested extracting all his teeth. Currently, he needs emergency dental treatments under full anesthesia. Because of the cost of the procedure, the family has had to postpone the treatment several times. The family now is able to receive treatment at a special discounted center. However, even with the discount they are having a hard time keeping up with the payments. JCF helped cover $500 of the almost $1750 dental bill.

Bettie, a Christian Arab from Jericho, has five children that needed help signing up for school. Their family has incurred debts due to chronic family health problems. For school, each child pays $100 for signing up, about $25 for books and around $50 for uniforms.

Layla, a Christian Arab from Bethlehem, and her family are extremely impoverished due to chronic health problems. Her oldest daughter has required ongoing extensive dental surgery (rebuilding teeth) after an accident years ago. Besides this ongoing need, they must soon sign up their other daughter for school ($180).

Emily, an orphan from Bethlehem, gave birth to a baby girl on June 26. She survives on approximately $100 a month. JCF helped cover most of her Cesarean delivery, $500 of $750.

Judy, a Christian Arab from Jericho, was one of 20 students who were chosen because of their academic excellence to join a school trip to France. Each family was asked to pay $600 towards the trip, while a sister school in France is covering the rest of the costs. JCF helped cover $200 of Judy’s part.

JCF helped cover some of the costs for children and youth to attend Summer Camps, including children from the Messianic Ethiopian congregation, Beit-El.

Manny is an eight year old Jewish Israeli boy who comes from a large family of 11 children with limited income. Due to reading and writing difficulties, Manny is required to go through a psycho-didactic assessment before the coming school year in order to continue studying at his school. JCF helped cover the costs of the test.

Lisa is a single Jewish Israeli woman with no children or family, living alone in a small one bedroom apartment with a kitchenette. She has suffered from polio since childhood. She currently lives off of a small pension and allowance she receives from welfare. Due to her disability from polio, she needs 24 hours supervision, though she cannot afford it. She also needs high cost medical treatments on a regular basis. Through specific gifts, JCF has provided a small monthly stipend for Lisa.

The Bowers are an elderly Ethiopian family with five children. The couple has many medical issues and high medication costs. The municipality helps fund dental care and food purchases while JCF has given help on a monthly basis.

The House of Light (HOL), which JCF continues to support, works among prisoners in Israel. There is a great need for more workers in this field, and so HOL is praying one day to pay at least two people to help minister to prisoners and ex-prisoners through full time discipleship. For example:

Alex spent 15 years in prison starting at the age of 15. Prior to his recent release, he attended every Bible study in prison. Since his release, he has been put under house arrest after illegally driving and hitting a car. He is awaiting his new court date. Alex’s parents divorced after years of fighting.

Nick, another prisoner, 26 years old, is growing in faith after finishing a five month Discipleship Training Seminar.


If you would like to contribute towards JCF's charity work, donate here.

News: Biblical Language Summer Courses Completed

Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center hosted BLC’s 15th annual Summer Biblical Hebrew Courses in Israel (June 17-July 27, 2012) and a Koine Greek Instructors' Fluency Workshop in Fresno, California, (July 22-Aug 1, 2012).


Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

Dalia, Yoni Gerrish’s wife, as she finishes up radiation treatment over the next two months.

Gary Alley and family, as they search for a new apartment in Jerusalem, hoping to move by the end of August.

Israel and the Middle East, as tensions mount with Iran’s advancing nuclear capability, the erosion of the Assad regime in Syria, Israel’s future relationship with Egypt’s new Islamic Brotherhood government, and the necessity for a durable peace and security between Israel and the Palestinians.

During October, Yoni Gerrish is guiding the Foursquare Church’s Global Leadership Training Network during their conference and visit to Israel. These leaders of the Foursquare denomination with more than 8 million members worldwide will be gathering in Israel to pursue strategic opportunities of training and consultation. There is no better place to gain both a local and a global perspective of Scripture than from within the land of the Bible and the Gospel.