THE WONDER OF ISRAEL AND HER RELATIONSHIP TO AFRICA
THE AFRICAN-ISRAELI CONNECTION
“Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things.” (Psalm 72:18)
“To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever;” (Psalm 136:4)
“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” (Psalm 68:31)
“From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering.” (Zephaniah 3:10)
Israel is a wonder of God’s creation. Jerusalem is the only city, and Israel is the only country that God said He created for the sake of His Name. Jerusalem is called “the city of our God,” “the joy of the whole earth,” and “the city of the great king” (Psalm 48:1-2). Israel is the place God sovereignly chose to house His Scripture, His Synagogue, His Son, and the first congregation of His saints. Jerusalem is the place where God’s Spirit first manifests Himself on planet earth. God called Israel “the glory of all lands” (Ezekiel 20:6, 15). The spiritual and physical appeal of the land of Israel makes it glorious. The name of God is associated with Israel more so than any other land or nation on the face of the earth.
Jerusalem is the capitol city of Israel and the central city of the whole earth (Ezekiel 5:5). There is no city on the face of the earth more precious to citizens of the Kingdom of God than Jerusalem.
The Psalmist valued Jerusalem above his skill, occupation, and life. He said:
“5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
6 If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.” (Psalm 137:5-6, NKJV)
Daniel even prayed facing Jerusalem:
“And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” (Daniel 6:10b)
Why was Jerusalem so precious and prominent to Daniel and David? Because it was the place where God chose to dwell, it is the place where God chose to meet His people. The ancient Hebrews considered Jerusalem the throne room of God, the place where God rested.
“13 For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His dwelling place:
14 “This is My resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Psalm 132:13, 14)
The Jews in Babylonian exile mourned the isolation from Jerusalem (Psalm 137:1-4). Three times a year all Hebrew males were expected to “appear before the Lord your God in the place where the Lord chooses” (Deuteronomy 16:16). The place that the Lord chose was Jerusalem: “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place.” This is why Jerusalem and Israel was and is a special place for the people of God.
Israel is the only place on the face of the earth where documented miracles occurred for many, many years of various and sundry kind. May I say one more time: Israel is a wonder of God’s creation? God planted Israel in the center of the world to be a witness to His kingdom to all nations.
In the sovereignty of God He afforded the blessing to be a neighbor to Israel to the continent of Africa. God planted Africa as a neighbor to Israel in order for Africa to be a witness and participant in her story, and to worship His glory. Israel’s story is about Christ and His Kingdom. Africa’s story was to “Go tell it on the mountains, over the fields and everywhere, go tell it on the mountains, that Jesus Christ is born.”
Although born in Bethlehem, Jesus was hid in Africa (Egypt), because of her proximity to Israel. What A blessing to have the honor of hosting the Savior, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father, preparing to host men of “every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation” (Revelation 5:8-9; 7:9)!
The purpose of the following chapters is to highlight the relationship between Israel and Africa in the Bible and to point out the significance and relevance of understanding their shared stories. My thesis is: God sovereignly connected Israel and Africa and their descendants from the beginning of time for their mutual benefit and His praise. Israel shared geographic, geological, historical, physical, and spiritual connectedness with Africa and Africans that was providentially arranged and orchestrated.
The magnitude, depth, and uniqueness of this relationship have not been given the attention that it deserves in the Academy, or in pulpits. There are various reasons why the relationship between Israel and Africa has been ignored, and why the presence and contributions of Africa and Africans in the Bible has largely been ignored in the Academy. However, it is high time that we highlight the meaningful and significant relationships between these two biblical people groups.
The Kingdom of God is on a forceful advance on the African Continent. Among the distribution of the world’s Christian population, the ten countries with the largest number of Christians include three African Countries: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. Approximately one in every four Christians lives in Sub-Saharan Africa (24%). Perhaps we are seeing the fulfillment of the Davidic prophecy: “Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.” (Psalm 68:31b).
Ethiopia is mentioned significantly in the Bible and is geographically located only 1557 miles from Israel. The distance from Dallas, TX, to New York, NY, is 1546 miles. Ethiopia is a strong Christian nation today, in part, because of her proximity to Israel. The roots of the biblical faith of Ethiopians can be traced back to Bible days. The word “Rome” and its derivations are mentioned only twenty times in the Bible and not once in the Old Testament. The word “Greece” and its derivations are mentioned only twenty-six times in the Bible and four times in the Old Testament. Ethiopia is mentioned over fifty times, and there are more than one thousand references to Hamitic cities, countries, or people in Scripture. Historically, Africa has been referred to as the Land of Ham.
Dr. J. Daniel Hays laments and documents the fact that the presence and significant contributions of Africans in the Bible has been largely ignored. Dr. Hays is Chair of the Department of Biblical Studies and Theology at Ouachita Baptist University, Arkansas. He also happens to be an Anglo American. The name of his book is From Every People and Nation, A Biblical Theology of Race, published by Intervarsity Press. Dr. Hays speaks persuasively, powerfully, prophetically and from the perspective of a professor, as he addresses the issue of race and the Bible. Allow me to quote him liberally in support of my thesis:
“…clear portrayals of Black Africans in the Bible are all but ignored. This marginalization of Black African presence is perpetrated, consciously or subconsciously, not only by the popularizers of Christianity, but also by serious scholars. ‘Cultural pre-understanding’ apparently influences many of us in the academic guild even though we often piously claim to be historically objective. (Hays, Page 26)
“A good example of this subtle—and probably subconscious—bias can be found in scholarly discussions about the people of the biblical world. For example, the kingdom of Cush, discussed below was a Black African kingdom along the Nile River just south of Egypt. The terms Cush or Cushite appear 54 times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, indicating that the Cushites, an African people, played a fairly significant role in the Old Testament story.” (Hays, Page 26)
“Many European and American scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were blatantly racist. This is particularly true concerning early European Egyptologists, who attempted to appropriate Egyptian culture as ‘Western’ and to distance the Egyptian cultural advances as far as possible from any African connections…” (Hays, Page 26)
“Therefore the perception conveyed to the Church, both through the popular media and through serious scholarly work, is that there was a significant Caucasian involvement in the biblical story but no Black African involvement. This perception is erroneous, and it has fostered disastrous theology within today’s White Church that has contributed to the continued, almost total division of the North American Church into Black and White.” (Hays, Page 27)
Dr. Hays argues that translating the Hebrew word “kus” by three different terms—Ethiopia, Cush, and Nubia, it minimizes the significance that the Cushites play in the Scriptures:
“Likewise the use of several different English terms to translate the one Hebrew term “kus” tends to diffuse the significance that the Cushites play in the Scriptures. This phenomenon may also reflect an attitude of indifference on the part of the White translation editors toward the significance of this term.
“Of course the terminology is not the critical issue. What is critical is to recognize that these different terms refer to the same continuous civilization: a civilization that stood as one of the major powers in the Ancient Near East for over 2,000 years; a civilization that appears again and again in the biblical text.
“The Cushites are particularly important to this study because they were clearly Black African people with classic ‘Negroid’ features.” (Hays, Page 36)
Dr. Hay’s insight documents that Ethiopians were prominent in the biblical era:
“The Cushite warriors are not merely dark-skinned or tanned; they are clearly black.” (Hays, Page 37)
Hays also noted that:
“…most books on Egyptian art reveal portrayals of people, usually Cushites, who have very black skin color…a good picture of a sculptured granite sphinx with the head of Taharqa, the Cushite king who ruled Egypt as Pharaoh during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. Taharqa is not depicted in the same art style as Egyptian pharaohs, for his features are Negroid—thick lips, broad nose, and tight curly hair…” (Hays, Page 37)
“The colour of the Cushites’ skin even became proverbial: in Jerusalem Jeremiah wrote, ‘Can the Cushite change his skin?’ (Jer. 13:23). The Greeks and Romans used a similar proverb: `to wash an Ethiopian white’ became a common expression used to convey the futility of trying to change nature…” (Hays, Page 39)
Dr. Hays does not make the Egyptians White as some scholars have done, nor does he make them pure Black as others have done. He suggests that they were African and Asiatic:
“However, a fairly strong consensus is emerging among scholars today that the early Egyptians were probably a mixture of both Black African elements and Asiatic elements… (Hays, Page 40)
“The people in the Old Testament reflected a wide range of ethnic diversity. However, contrary to popular perceptions, few of these characters, if any, looked like modern northern Europeans or mid-western Americans…”
“…Also playing a role in the Old Testament are the Cushites (Black Africans), the Egyptians (probably a mix of Asiatic and Black Africans), and the Indo-Europeans (Philistines and Hittites). Thus the Old Testament world was completely multi-ethnic.” (Hays, Page 45)
Israeli and African roots and relationships run all the way back to Genesis and the history of these two people-groups often intertwines.
Geographically, the continent of Africa and the nation of Israel share a common border—the Gaza Strip (Acts 8:26-27). Gaza was the last settlement before the desert wasteland stretching to Egypt. This was the road most travelers took to Africa.
Geologically, Israel and Africa share a contiguous connection with the Great Rift Valley that runs from Israel through Kenya littering the landscape in both regions with beauty, fruits, vegetables, flowers, rivers, streams and other natural resources.
Physiologically, Israel was birth in the Middle East, but she bred in Egypt, in Africa—the land of Ham (Psalm 105:23, 27; 106:22, Amos 9:7). Israel departed Egypt a mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38).
Historically, the Hebrew Bible contains the earliest recorded history of Africa and her involvement with Israel. The Bible places the Garden of Eden somewhere near Ethiopia, which is in Africa (Genesis 2:13); which suggest, according to one scholar, that the country of Ethiopia existed before the flood and after the flood. To Ethiopians, the Blue Nile river is the Gihon of Genesis 2:13 (“The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that goes around the whole land of Cush [Ethiopia]”). To this day the Nile Springs are called Giyon, Ethiopic for Gihon.
Diodorus of Sicily wrote:
“The Ethiopians call themselves the first of all men and cite proofs they consider evident. It is generally agreed that, born in a country and not having come from elsewhere, they must be judged indigenous. It is likely that located directly under the course of the sun, they sprang from the earth before other men. For if the heat of the sun, combining with the humidity of the soil, produces life, those sites nearest the Equator must have produced living beings earlier than others… ” (Salvatore Cherubini, La Nubie, Passage from Diodorus of Sicily, Collection l’Univers, Paris, 1847, pp. 2-3, quoted by Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. Translated from French by Mercer Cook, Lawrence Hill & Company, Westport, pp. 281-282.)
The prophet Isaiah said concerning Ethiopia in Isaiah 18:1-2:
“Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:
“That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!”
The Revised Standard Version declares this African Nation to be “a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering…” (Isaiah 18:2). The Holman Study Bible refers to this “Cushite” nation as “a powerful nation with a strange language.” The New King James refers to “Ethiopia” as a nation “terrible” from their beginning onward. The Hebrew word for “terrible” is “yare”; it means to fear, to revere, and to dread. The prophet painted a picture of the biblical Cushite/Ethiopians as a nation that was great from their beginning and highly respected by Israel. At one point in biblical history the Ethiopians had an army of a million men and three hundred chariots (II Chronicles 14:9). Psalm 87:4 indicates that Ethiopia was a nation with a sizeable Jewish population. Isaiah 11:11 also reference a Jewish population in Cush. This may explain the origin of the Ethiopian Falasha Jews who have migrated to Jerusalem over the past twenty years.
The theme of the Bible is the story about a King, His Kingdom and His royal offspring (I Peter 2:9). The first time the word “kingdom” is mentioned in the bible it is in association with a descendant of Cush named Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-10). Nimrod was the world’s first king. In modern day Iraq, a city is named in his honor, “Nimrud, Calah” (“that is the principal city” (Genesis 10:12). Nimrod was a Cushite and grandson of Noah’s son, Ham. Because his name appears in the Hebrew Bible, there is a church named “Nimrod Baptist Church” in Cisco, Texas, which is a predominately Anglo church. According to Scripture, Nimrod was a king, a warrior, a hunter and a builder (Gen. 10:8-12). He protected all of the people on the face of the earth, at a time when the people spoke one language, and traveled as one people (Genesis 11:1, 2). There is a historical site in the Golan Heights part of Israel called “Nimrod’s Fortress” named in his honor.
The name “Israel” means—“he will rule as God.” Isra means—“he will rule.” El means God. Clearly, the destiny and purpose of the nation of Israel is indicated in her name. Israel is a miracle nation. Jerusalem is the city of God, the city of the great king (Psalm 48:1-2; Matthew 5:35). Israel was ordained of God to be the launching pad for God’s Kingdom, and Jerusalem was to be its capitol.
There was a unique relationship between Israel and Ethiopia. Israeli men were not forbidden from marrying Ethiopian-Cushite women (Exodus 34:11, 16). Consequently, Moses married an Ethiopian-Cushite woman (Numbers 12:1). They bore two sons that were truly Israeli/African whose names were Gershom and Eleazar (Exodus 18:2-3). Eleazar bore a son named Phineas by one of the daughters of Putiel. The daughters of Putiel are believed to have descended from Ham’s son Put (Genesis 10:6). The son Eleazar had by “one of the daughters of Putiel” named Phineas is quite revealing regarding an African admixture among the Jewish people.
The late Martin Bernal, a White Jewish scholar, in his book, Black Anthena, Vol. II, published by Rutgers University Press reveals an interesting insight about Phineas and the meaning of his name:
“The name Pinhas [Phinehas] also cast an interesting light on the racial make-up of this population [Exodus population] with its indication that there were people with pigmentation darker than the Mediterranean norm, but that this feature was uncommon enough to be remarkable.
The name Phinehas means “the Nubian” or “the Negro” according to the International Standard Bible encyclopedia. William F. Albright wrote, “The name Phineas…is interesting as providing an independent (and absolutely reliable) confirmation of the tradition that there was a Nubian element in the family of Moses” (Num. 12:1). As a matter of fact Moses himself testifies concerning the ethnicity of the people who departed Egypt on the Exodus journey to Canaan land: “And a mixed multitude went up also with them.” (Ex. 12:38). This “mixed multitude” would include native born Egyptians from the land of Ham and descendants of 400 years of miscegenation between the Egyptians and Israelites.
Psalm 72:18 says, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things!” Psalm 136:4 says, “To Him who alone does Great wonders.” The Hebrew word for wonder, wondrous, or wonderful is “pala” pronounced paw-law. This word means “separate.” In order to be wonderful, you have to separate yourself from the pack. One of the wonders mentioned by the Psalmist is the nation of Israel (Psalm 136:10-24). The other two wonders mentioned was creation (Psalm 136:4-9) and food (Psalm 136:25).
Israel is a wonder. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a nation in the history of the world who is separate and distinct from all other nations, as Israel. Who could argue against the fact that Israel is unique among the nations of the earth? Who could argue that the nation of Israel is identified with God in a manner that is incomparable to any other nation? What other country on earth can open the Bible and see God’s name associated with their nation? The Psalmist called the Lord, the God of Israel. What other nation can boast that God called their nation His “treasure,” His “holy nation,” His “peculiar people,” His “chosen seed,” and the “apple of His eye”? What other nation can say that the biblical narratives actually occurred on their land? What other nation can say that God birth His Scriptures, His Son, His Sanctuary and His Kingdom on their land? What other nation can say that the Messiah was born there? What other nation can say that the Messiah promised to return there? What other nation can say that God birth their nation to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth? (Genesis 12:3). What other nation can make the legitimate claim that their nation is the geographical and theological center of the world? The Psalmist identified the nation of Israel with the name of God because of their unique and undeniable historic and continuing relationship.
The histories of Israel and Africa correlate at certain points in the Bible and modern history. This is worthy of celebrating, communicating, and educating descendants of Africa and Israel concerning the truth and facts regarding our shared histories.
There are three things that I want you to remember about Israel and her relationship to Africa:
1. God birth Israel to spread His Name and Fame to the ends of the earth. God Himself preached the gospel to Abraham, because He needed to establish a nation by which all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Galatians 3:8). The nation that He established as the anchor nation from which He would bless other nations was Israel. The Queen of Sheba who is believed to have been African, and ruled over southern Arabia and East Africa declared after visiting Jerusalem and seeing the wonder of Israel, and the wisdom of Solomon—“blessed be the Lord your God…Because your God has loved Israel to establish them forever” (II Chronicles 9:8). Solomon said to the assembly at the dedication of the Temple,
“And he said: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has fulfilled with His hands what He spoke with His mouth to my father David, saying, 5 ‘Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I have chosen no city from any tribe of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there, nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel. 6 Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.’”
God sovereignly chose Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Israel for the sake of His Name. The praise, preservation, and proclamations of the Lord’s Name are why Israel, Jerusalem and Bethlehem still exist (II Chronicles 6:4-7).
a. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and it would only be befitting that the “Bread of Life” would be born in the “house of bread.”
b. Jerusalem – Jeru-Foundation/Salem-Peace. It would only be befitting that the Prince of Peace would rule in the city of the great King, and the message of “peace on earth” would emanate from Jerusalem.
c. “Israel” – “He will rule as God “There would only be one nation that God could launch His kingdom on earth from and that would be the nation of Israel – “He will rule as God.
2. God sovereignly and strategically placed Africa next door to Israel ultimately for the worship of His name (Zephaniah 3:10). God called the Ethiopians “My Worshippers” (Zephaniah 3:10). Zephaniah who is also a descendant of Cushi (Zephaniah 1:1), reveals the fact that God sings (Zephaniah 3:17). Psalm 68:31 says, “Ethiopia will soon stretch out her hand to God.” The last time we read about an Ethiopian by name in the Scripture, the Bible tells us that this man “had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27).
Apollos, an Egyptian-African renown for oratorical preaching was named as an outstanding leader in the early church (Acts 18:24; I Cor. 1:12). The last time we read about an African by name, “Simeon called Niger,” he is serving as a leader in a church that is engaged in worship (Acts 13:1-3). Proselytes Jews from Africa worshipped the Lord at Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11).
3. Israel was wonderful in her birth (Galatians 3:6-8). Israel was wonderful in her rebirth in 1948 (Isaiah 11:11, 66:8, Ezekiel 11:17). Israel was wonderful in her relationship to Africa (Amos 9:7).
Both the Africans and Israeli’s are fond of demonstrative praise and worship. The Israeli and the Africans are fond of singing. The Israelis and the Africans are fond of worship. “O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.” (Psalm 117:1-2). God gave the African a love for singing, dancing, and worshipping. Israel gave the African the Scripture, the Son, and the synagogue (a prototype of the church), so that we could bless the God of Israel in song. Much of the Christian music that we enjoy today has been a result of the combination of the singing talent of African descendants and the business acumen of Jews who provided the treasure, record labels and radio stations for Christian music to reach urban communities. May the God of Israel be praised!
While listening to and enjoying Black gospel over the radio or on a CD, we seldom pause to consider that Jewish-owned radio stations and record labels have made it possible for us to enjoy this music. Salem Broadcasting and Savoy records are classic examples.
God strategically placed Africa next door to the nation that He chose as the headquarters of His Kingdom on earth, in order to bring Him worship and an offering (Zephaniah 3:10, Psalm 72:10, 15). May Ethiopians and her descendants give wonderful worship and praise to the God of Israel!