We’re in the middle of Elul, the sixth month, which means we’re in the middle of a prayer focus on protection and restoration for the land and people of Israel. The two prayer themes of protection and restoration or return (teshuvah in Hebrew, which also means repentance), are linked in Scripture, as in our theme verse, “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:7).
This prayer effort (co-sponsored by the UMJC and the MJAA) is something we’ve never done before, but lots of us are also following an ancient tradition, reading through the Psalms during Elul. A couple of days ago I came to Psalm 80, which makes the same protection-return linkage: “O Lord God of Hosts, turn us back, cause your face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved” (vss. 4, 8, 20). First, there must be return, turning back to God, then God’s favor shines upon us and we are rescued or saved. This sequence is repeated throughout Scripture. You have to be careful how you use apply it, though, because it has been used in some circles (like replacement theology) to declare that God’s promises to Israel are null and void, since Israel has never really turned back to God. When the Messiah came and Israel still didn’t turn, so the theory goes, that clinched it.
But, of course, there’s another theme throughout Scripture that counters this interpretation: Israel is irreplaceable.