In 67 words, Arthur James Balfour, the British Prime Minister, made this historic commitment to the establishment of what would become the modern State of Israel:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Geoffrey Alderman comments:
“The Balfour Declaration was born out of religious sentiment. Arthur Balfour was a Christian mystic who believed that the Almighty had chosen him to be an instrument of the Divine Will, the purpose of which was to restore the Jews to their ancient homeland — perhaps as a precursor to the Second Coming of the Messiah. The Declaration was thus intended to assist in the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. This appealed to Lloyd George, whose private immorality did not prevent him from believing in the prophecies of a Bible he knew inside out.” (Geoffrey Alderman, Jewish Chronicle November 8, 2012)
On 2 November 1917, the British government issued a letter whose consequences reverberate to this day – the Balfour Declaration. (For the war cabinet minutes leading up to the issuing of the letter see) This came at the same time as Allenby’s forces pushed northwards towards Jerusalem and Sharif Hussein, who had been offered the Arab Lands by Sir Henry McMahon in 1915 in reward for his support against the Ottomans, became aware of the detail of the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. This was followed in 1918 by the Anglo French Declaration promising countries freed from Ottoman rule the right to choose their own governments.
The letter, from the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to a leading British Jew, Lord Rothschild, was the fruit of twelve months’ intensive negotiations between leading British Zionists and Foreign Office officials, and ultimately, the Lloyd George wartime cabinet.
Hugh Schonfield noted the significance of the Balfour Declaration in the formation of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance (1925).
“There are many earnest Christians who consider that the most important outcome of the terrible World War of 1914-1918 was the wresting of the Holy Land from the Turks and the British Balfour declaration guaranteeing to the scattered Jewish people a national home in Palestine. These events, whatever may be the view of the reader on the subject of prophecy, were of the utmost significance to those who believed that the age described in the Scriptures as “The Times of the Gentiles” was drawing to a close. Before the great culmination it was necessary for the Jews to be gathered back to their own land, where finally they would repentantly accept Jesus as their true Messiah and become a missionary nation to the whole world. The war was thus regarded as an instrument for the carrying out of the divine plan, another instance of God making the wrath of man to praise Him. Such an interpretation of historic happenings is of a piece with the whole story of the Jews, in so many respects unique. Nations have made history; but what other nation has had its history written for it in advance ? Unbelief may scoff, but it cannot deny the mysterious march of the cavalcade of God.”
This sense of prophetic fulfilment led to the mention of the Balfour Declaration in the Aims and Constitution of the IHCA (article 4):
The first duty which the Executive Committee of the I.H.C.A. had to undertake was to draw up a Constitution. The aims of the Alliance, as set forth in the completed document, are given as follows:
1 To foster a spirit of fellowship and co-operation among Hebrew Christians throughout the world.
a) By the establishment of local Alliances wherever possible.
b) By watching over the spiritual development and general welfare of converts, and encouraging them to be witnesses for Christ among Israel in every sphere of life, and thus to set up again under Divine guidance “the candlestick” of witness within Jewry.
2 To present a untied witness on behalf of Christ, not only to the Jewish people, but to the world.
3 To interpret the spirit of the Jewish people to the Christian world, and the spirit of the Christian Gospel to the Jews.
4 To make it possible for Hebrew Christians, who may desire to do so, to share in the activities of Zionism, and to claim for them equal rights in terms of the Balfour Declaration.
5 To aid Churches and Societies in their selection of Hebrew Christian candidates offering themselves forth Ministry, and supplying them with information regarding Converts as occasion may arise.
6 To identify Hebrew Christians with the Jewish People in the defence of their just rights in countries in which these rights are denied them, and, when necessary, to protest against the spirit of Anti-Semitism. (in Schonfield, p. 166 )
Today the Balfour Declaration must be seen not only as part and parcel of religious sentiment, but as arising from the politics of the Great Powers as the First World War neared its conclusion, the Russian Revolution had re-written the landscape of the new century, and the imperial ambitions of Britain were under negotiation. It must also be recognised that the second half of the declaration has still to become a reality, as the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sadly show no signs of coming to a speedy conclusion. Yet for the Jewish people, and for Jewish believers in Yeshua, those 67 words have been perhaps the most significant since the Scriptures.
Prayer: Lord, you alone know the destinies of the nations, their times and seasons, and their allocated lands and territories. As a sign of faithfulness to your uncancelled covenant with your people Israel you have allowed their return to the land of their fathers, and swayed the hands of princes and powers to bring this about. May Israel be a land and people where your justice, righteousness, peace and reconciling love is lived out. Will you, the Prince of Peace, bring peace to this troubled region. Will you confound the politics of violence and aggression, and bring a spirit of humility, compassion and willingness to make peace amongst the peoples of the Land. In your name we pray. Amen.