Hearts Stirred for Aliyah
by Pete Stucken, Chairman of the International Board
“The LORD said, ‘I have certainly seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their outcry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to rescue them . . . ‘” Exodus 3:7-8 NASB
In calling Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord made it clear that it would take a series of severe judgments to unlock the gates of Egypt and free His people from slavery. The Lord also said that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. This was already evident in the brutal slavery conditions he imposed on the Israelites.
Above: Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh
As Moses stood before him, asking for Israel’s release, Pharaoh hardened his heart (literally “made his heart heavy, stubborn”) on five consecutive occasions. After this we read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. He scarcely needed to. There was no fear of the Lord evident in Pharaoh despite the dramatic plague judgments. His heart was indeed hardened.
With an outstretched arm, with signs and wonders, with devastating destruction upon Pharaoh and his army, the Lord released His people from Egypt. This first Aliyah into the Promised Land was an Aliyah of rescue.
Not all Egyptians shared Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. Some recognized that the Israelites in Goshen were spared the worst calamities. Israel’s firstborn were safe through that first Passover. There grew a cautious respect in Egypt for the God of the Israelites, in some even a reverential fear of Him. Neighboring Egyptians allowed the departing Israelites to help themselves to stock and valuables. Some joined the Israelites as they left. Their hearts had been stirred to reverence Israel’s God. They were willing to assist, even participate in, this first Aliyah.
The Israelites possessed the land of Israel, but over the ensuing centuries they drifted into idolatry. In the 8th century BC Isaiah foretold destruction and exile from the Land but also prophesied of God’s grace, mercy and redeeming love. In one prophecy, precise in its detail, Isaiah spoke of a king named Cyrus, who would rise to help the sons of Jacob (Isaiah 45).
The fulfilment would follow after some 200 years. Those who had survived Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of the southern Kingdom found themselves in Babylonian exile. By the rivers of Babylon they wept as they remembered Zion. In this setting Daniel studied the Scriptures and found Jeremiah’s prophecy that
Jerusalem’s desolation would cease after 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10). Daniel prayed, his face towards Jerusalem.
Now the time had come: in a most remarkable turn of events, the Lord stirred up the heart of a Persian king, the ruler of the great Babylonian empire — Cyrus.
“…in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom … ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to rebuild for Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Go up [literally ‘make Aliyah’] to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel … the people of that place are to support him with silver and gold, with equipment and cattle, together with a voluntary offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem. Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites rose up, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up [make Aliyah] to rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. And all of those around them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with equipment, cattle, and with valuables, aside from everything that was given as a voluntary offering” Ezra 1:1-6 NASB.
Cyrus’s heart was stirred up — and so were the hearts of the Jews. During the exodus from Egypt no stirring of hearts had been needed. The oppressive conditions of slavery in Egypt made Aliyah the obvious choice.
It was different in Babylon. This profoundly pagan city had become somewhat of a safe haven for Jews. They had settled, established communities, taken up occupations, ran businesses, married and started families. There was no urge to leave. Yet the God of Israel responded to faithful prayer, moved to fulfil His word and stirred the hearts of His people for Aliyah.
A resonance of the exodus from Egypt came when Cyrus ordered the surrounding peoples to support the departing Jews with silver and gold, equipment, cattle, even a voluntary offering! Those living around the Jewish communities were being stirred to help them generously.
This Aliyah continued for over a century as more Jews decided to uproot settled lives in Babylon and go. Their hearts were stirred and were willing. Governmental authorities had been stirred to endorse their Aliyah, while the surrounding Gentiles were stirred to offer them provisions.
What an inspiration for us! Let’s pray that in the growing modern-day Aliyah the Almighty God of Israel will stir the hearts of governments and Jewish communities in the diaspora, and a multitude in the nations, to be willing participants in making or helping in a mighty Aliyah of choice while time remains.
Original article published in issue 3/2021 of Ebenezer Operation Exodus’ International Bulletin.