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Who Sets the Captives Free    



Who Sets the Captives Free                                       


by Jeremiah Michael


The Israeli Hostages and the Ingathering of the Exiles

 

Living in Israel, I cannot escape the reality that one hundred and thirty-two of my fellow Israeli Jews are currently held captive in a tunnel somewhere in Gaza.


I am reminded of this sobering fact every time I walk to the bus and pass by the dozens of posters that show me, among many others, the faces of Eliad Katzeer from Nir Oz, Itai Chen from Netanya, and Carmel Gat from Beri. I look and remember that they are still far from home.1 When I want to forget about it, I am snapped back to reality by the shouts of protestors on King George Street by the Bram Center chanting, “Bring them home now!” Our captives are not free, and we will never be allowed to forget this fact until they are brought home.

 

Despite our hope as a nation that somehow a reasonable deal will be reached with Hamas for the release of our loved ones or that through some miracle, God would guide our special forces to free them, none of us really knows what their fate will be. All we can do is rely on our Father in heaven and hope in faith for his grace to be revealed through their freedom. Despite my faith in God’s goodness, it is still unpleasant for me to think of a fellow Jew languishing in a dark, damp tunnel in Gaza while I freely walk the streets of Jerusalem. It makes my annoyance over the inconvenience of having to wait for a late bus seem almost insulting in comparison to their suffering.

 

The one hundred and thirty-two captives in Gaza from the original two hundred and fifty-two taken into Gaza by Hamas on October 7 are not the first Jews to be taken into captivity. Sadly, this has happened before. Jewish history is replete with stories of our enemies taking Jews into captivity. It has happened so frequently that ancient Jewish liturgical tradition has formulated prayers specifically for the release of Jewish captives and hostages.

 

On a larger scale, the entire nation experiences captivity in the form of national exile. Our enemies drag us into exile, enemies like Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the First Temple and deported the population of Judah into a long Babylonian exile, or Titus, who carried away hundreds of thousands of Jews in deportation and human trafficking, dragging us into an even longer exile than his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar did. God uses exile as a way to turn the hearts of his people back to him, but the brutality of captivity is, at times, too difficult to endure.

 


 

Israeli marchers demonstrating on behalf of the hostages. (Image: Nizzan Cohen / CC BY 4.0)

 

Our enemies not only removed us from our land, but they also sought to remove us from our spiritual heritage as sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by forcing us to assimilate. To escape the forfeiture of their souls, some Jews chose to end their own lives as an act of self-martyrdom. One Jewish legend describes how four hundred Jewish boys and girls jumped off Roman slave galleys to drown in the Mediterranean in order to escape the intentions of the wicked Titus. He intended to turn them into sex slaves for wealthy Romans.2

 

The Duty to Ransom Captives and the Role of the Messiah in Redeeming Them

When Lot was taken captive by King Kedorlaomer, his uncle Abraham took it upon himself to rescue his nephew by gathering an army of three hundred and eighteen trained men to fight against the armies of Kedorlaomer and his allies. Abraham risked his life to save his nephew from captivity, and his actions became the basis for the legal requirement in Jewish law to ransom Jewish captives, even at a steep price. In Judaism, the rescue of captives is taken so seriously that Maimonides stated, “There is no greater commandment than the ransom of captives.”3 The Shulchan Aruch goes further by equating saving a captive to saving a life: “Any time it is possible to redeem a captive, and he is not freed, it is as if his blood was shed.”4

 

Judaism values life above all else, and therefore, its preservation supersedes nearly all other concerns. However, there is also a deeper element to the Jewish insistence on the redemption of our captives: It is a staple feature of the Messiah’s role as the savior of Israel. As a nation, we yearn for our Messiah to come and fulfill his duties, which include the redemption of our captives. Isaiah tells us the Messiah will proclaim “liberty to the captives” (Isaiah 61:1). Yeshua publicly proclaimed his role as the savior of Israel’s captives by reading this prophecy during the morning sabbath service in his hometown synagogue:

 

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17–19)

 

Yeshua’s God-given role to “proclaim liberty to captives” means bringing his Jewish brethren out of captivity. This is the gospel message in Isaiah to the Jewish people: freedom from captivity. We care so deeply about bringing our brothers and sisters out of captivity because that is one of the fulfillments of the gospel message as proclaimed in Isaiah and confirmed by Yeshua. Therefore, every rescue of an Israelite from captivity is an imitation of the Messiah.

 

When Yeshua returns and redeems our captives and ends the exile, we will know true joy as the psalmist declares, “When the LORD restores the captives of Zion, we will be like dreamers, our mouths will be filled with laughter, our tongues with joy” (Psalm 126:1–2). Not only will the restoration of Zion’s captives be a source of immense joy for Israel it will also be a sign of God’s love and salvation of his people in the sight of the nations.5 The Torah tells us that the final great redemption will be completed when all Jewish people are brought back from exile to the promised land:

Then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. (Deuteronomy 30:3–4)

 

A Difficult Decision

 

We yearn for the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of our captives. But while we await his return, we have some difficult decisions to make regarding the current one hundred and thirty-two captives in Gaza. If only the redemption of our captives in Gaza were simple. If only our enemies followed a moral compass that might direct them to return civilian hostages to their families. But Hamas has no interest in ethics other than the ones produced by their twisted worldview, which falsely castigates every Jew as an evil actor in a fiendish Zionist plot to oppress the Palestinian people through occupation and ethnic cleansing.

 

From the beginning of this war, Hamas has used the hostages as a bargaining chip. They have also used our captives as a weapon to divide us from within as a nation, between those who demand the release of the hostages at all costs, including giving over thousands of terrorists and effectively ending the war, and those who believe the only end to the war must be the total destruction of Hamas, even if that tragically means losing our captives in the process. Do we turn the other cheek and endure our enemies’ blows in order to embrace our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers again, or do we pick up our swords to hopefully save them from our enemy’s hands as our father Abraham did when he rescued Lot?


Hamas has used the hostages as a bargaining chip. They have also used our captives as a weapon to divide us from within as a nation.

 

The debate posed by these questions risks tearing us apart as a nation; honestly, they tear me apart. Do I want the complete destruction of Hamas, even (God forbid) at the expense of our captives’ lives, or do I want the hostages back home while those who hate us regroup and prepare for their next attack? As a father, when I look at the faces of the families protesting for the release of their loved ones, I cannot deny that I would be protesting along with them if one of my loved ones was in captivity. I know that if the freedom of one of my children required the release of a hundred terrorists back to Gaza, I’d gladly agree to that or even ten thousand terrorists. I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t do the same to hold their child again. On the other hand, when I watch my friends’ eyes swell with tears as they tell me about losing fellow soldiers on the battlefield and how the enemy we are fighting is hell-bent on our total annihilation, I feel our only option is the complete defeat of Hamas, even if it means tragically losing our captives.

 

These are not our decisions to make. In situations like this, we can only look to our Father in heaven and pray fervently for his grace and mercy. We do not know what the fate of the remaining hostages might be, but we do know that, in the future, King Messiah will set all Jewish captives free. If he comes quickly enough, the captives in Gaza will also be free on that day when the gospel of freedom from exile is proclaimed to them. Then, the nations will see that the LORD does indeed love his people and fulfills his promises to them.

 

Come quickly, Master Yeshua, and free our captives! May our prayer, “Who sets the captives free,” be realized soon and in our days.

  1. To keep updated on the current list of captives in Gaza see here: kan.org.il.

  2. B.Gittin 57b, and for more on suicide as self-martyrdom in the face of forced sin in rabbinic literature see, Rosner, Fred. “Suicide in Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic Writings.” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 11, no. 2 (1970): 30–40.

  3. Mishneh TorahHilchot Ma’tanot O’nim 8:10.

  4. Shulchan AruchYor’eh De’ah 252:3.

  5. Psalm 98:2.

 

 

 

 

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