Sundown marks a very important day for not just Israel, but for all Jews around the world. The day is Yom Hashoah, known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It commemorates the systematic extermination of Europe’s Jewish population by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Shoah, Not Holocaust
For the sake of you, the reader, I am using the term Holocaust because it’s what we know. It’s the name we’ve all been taught as we read books like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank, or when we see movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist. But understanding Hebrew religious belief and the etymology of the word holocaust, I realized how offensive that word truly is.
The English word holocaust comes from the Greek word holokauston which means “completely burned.” It refers to pagan burnt offerings of animals to their false gods, therefore the use of the word holocaust likens the Nazi genocide to a pagan offering of Jewish animals.
The Jews (at least practicing and Orthodox Jews) refer to this incident as shoah which means “calamity”, and that’s exactly what it was. The last straw on a pile of 2000 years in exile where God’s people faced persecution, exile, and death was the attempt of a satanically empowered sociopath to exterminate more than 6,000,000 European Jews in what he deemed as “the final solution to the Jewish problem.”
But why would God allow something as terrible as the shoah to happen to begin with? It’s a question that we ask a lot, right? If God is loving and good, than why do things like this happen? I’ll be honest here and say that I don’t have a good answer for that question. I have theories, but I cannot say with exact certainty that I know for sure and to be honest my answers aren’t likely to be sufficient for most people who are seeking an answer to put their uneasiness to rest. But nevertheless, I will try.
The Jesus Connection
As you’ve seen elsewhere on this blog, I acknowledge God’s all powerful and all knowing nature. He transcends people, places, and times which is why the Bible flows almost as a singular narrative from start to finish. So to try and understand why God would allow something like the shoah to happen, let’s start with what we already know about Him. He’s generous, loving, holy, and just.
Roughly 2000 years ago God came down from heaven and lived among us as the God-Man Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for our sin and we were able to be reconciled with God. This statement is central to the Christian faith, but something that is more assumed than understood is the element of choice. For example, if I offered you a chance to be under my offering which would bring you into a covenant with my family and I, you would have a choice to make. Agree and I would open my home to you, feed you, stand up for you, and help you with whatever I could. But what happens if you refuse? Nothing. I leave you alone to make whatever choice you think is best and the consequences are on you. That is essentially what happened as Christianity began to emerge.
Jesus came along as the Jewish Messiah with the offer of salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Some Jews and some Gentiles responded and accepted Jesus’ offer while others didn’t.
I preface this next sentence with a statement that I am not anti-Semitic. I love the Jews, and I love Israel, but I believe that the Jewish diaspora was an act of judgment upon the Jewish people for their rejection of Jesus. I say that not as a condemnation of the Jews, but as an acknowledgement that Jesus came first for the Jews and then for the gentiles (Romans 1:16). The Jews were scattered for nearly 2000 years as judgement, and we gentiles await our judgement when Jesus returns. If you want a more full and eloquent explanation than I can possibly give, read Romans 11 particularly verses 25-32.
The Joseph Connection
Another realization I had as I considered this topic came while I was driving home from work. Remember Joseph. Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), in case you aren’t familiar with the story, was his father’s favorite. He was granted prophetic dreams by God and was given a very special coat by his father Jacob. His brothers became jealous of him and created a plot to beat him, throw him into a pit, tell their father that he was killed, and send him away into slavery.
As time goes on Joseph rises to power in Egypt through a series of trials and tribulations and he finds himself as in the position of second in command to Pharaoh. Over the next few years, a famine strikes the region, but Egypt has stored up plenty of food thanks to the wisdom that God gave to Joseph. Not long after, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of food for their family. The don’t realize that the man they are bowing to and begging for food from is their little brother whom they had beaten and sent away. When it comes out that he is their brother Joseph responds to them by saying, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
So what does this all have to do with the shoah? Like Joseph, Israel was beaten and sent away in the 1st century AD. Like Joseph they have survived and risen to power through trials and tribulations for nearly 2000 years. And the words of Joseph speak truth to the situation of the Jews today. What Hitler meant for evil, God meant for good.
Because of the Nazi genocide, the international community felt compelled to heed the Zionist calls for a Jewish state and in 1948, three years after the end of World War II, Israel was reborn as a nation in their historical homeland and fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that the nation of Israel would be restored in a day (Isaiah 66:8).
Take some time today to consider what God has done for His people, yourself included. Mourn with our brothers in remembrance of those who died apart from the standing offer of Jesus. And consider the ways that God has worked in your life as well as in the world to bring about good from evil.