“Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” But, there was another departure from Spain in 1492 that was even more momentous for some than the voyage of Christopher Columbus. It takes us all the way back to some biblical prophecies concerning the Jews and the nation of Israel.
When God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldees (in southern Mesopotamia, 220 miles SE of Baghdad), to begin the nation of Israel through which the world was to be made acquainted with the true God, He made a covenant with him (Abram), saying: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you; and the one who curses you, I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). We see this covenant affirmed by Abraham’s son, Isaac, as he blessed his son, Jacob: “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you…Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you” (Gen. 27:28,29). We see that again in Balaam’s prophecy about the Jews in Num. 24:9: “…Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you.”
Then in Deuteronomy 29 Moses details the agreement under which the people would enter the land of Palestine. This “Palestinian Covenant” was in addition to the “Mosaic Covenant” given at Sinai (Horeb). In the previous chapter we have a warning from Moses saying: “If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sickness…Moreover the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods…which you or your fathers have not known ” (28:58-64).
With those prophetic passages concerning the Jews in mind, fast-forward to the end of the 15th century. We see the nation of Spain emerging as the greatest empire since antiquity. In 1469 Ferdinand, son of the king of Aragon, married his cousin Isabella, daughter of the king of Castile. In 1474 Isabella became queen of Castile, and in 1479 Ferdinand became king of Aragon. Together they ruled a united Spain and defeated the Muslim Moors, ending the presence of Islam in Europe (not quite the scene there today!). In 1479 Ferdinand and Isabella introduced the Inquisition into Spain, a tribunal to identify and remove heresy, with the Jews of Spain as a particular target. In the early Middle Ages, Spain had been the safest Latin area for Jews to live, and thus Spain became a center of Jewish learning and finance. But by the 13th and 14th centuries, anti-Semitism was on the rise. In Seville in 1391, some 4,000 Jews were massacred. Others, while secretly adhering to Judaism, outwardly professed Christianity and were baptized to save their lives. The Spaniards derisively referred to them as marranos, from the word for “swine.” The marranos had the legal rights of Catholic citizens, yet it was well known that privately many were still practicing Jews.
The Spanish Inquisition targeted all kinds of suspected enemies of the church, but the majority were Jews. Torture was a primary means of interrogation. During the 100-year period of the Spanish Inquisition 341,000 people were punished, more than 32,000 of whom were burned to death. Ferdinand and Isabella seized the assets of all those convicted in the Inquisition.
The final indignity forced on the Jews was the Edict of Expulsion signed by Ferdinand and Isabella decreeing that every Jew who would not immediately be baptized had to leave Spain within three months of the deadline of August 2, 1492. At this time there were still 200,000 Jews living in Spain. Many decided to be baptized, including the senior rabbi and a majority of the leading families. Approximately 100,000 fled to Portugal only to be expelled four years later. Another 50,000 crossed the straits to North Africa or went by ship to Turkey, leaving the land that had been their home for nearly 1,500 years. Others went to the Netherlands, the only Christian country that would receive them. The persecution and exile of the Jews from Spain was the most momentous event for Judaism between the middle of the second century and the holocaust. The Spanish Jews have become known as the Separdi Jews (a form of an old word for Spain). They remained dispersed until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Columbus set sail from Spain half an hour before the sunrise deadline on August 3 with his Jewish secretary Luis Torres, who had recently been baptized. Columbus always signed his name Colon, a common name among the marranos of Genoa, his home, evidence that he may have been a Hebrew Christian himself. Columbus chose to embark from the small port of Palos because the larger port of Cadiz had been designated as the embarkation place for Jews and was filled with thousands of Jews fleeing the country by ship.
It is very intriguing to note that August 2, 1492, on the Hebrew calendar, was the ninth day of the month Ab which was the very same day as the destruction of the Jewish temple in 586 B.C., beginning the Jewish exile among the Babylonians. Also, August 2nd on the Hebrew calendar was the very same day as the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by Titus and the Romans in A.D. 70, beginning the exile among the Gentiles. And, August 2nd was the very same day on the Jewish calendar that the Jews were expelled from England in 1290. (No wonder there was concern for the safety of the Israeli athletes who competed in this Summer’s Olympics which included August 2nd!)
God promised to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. No nation has blessed Israel like the United States of America, and no nation has been as blessed as the U.S.A. God’s judgments through history have fallen heavily upon Israel’s oppressors like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, Germany, Russia. And today, the U.S. is dangerously close to being added to that list. It began when the White House forced Israel into the “Oslo Agreement” calling Israel to give up land in exchange for peace–a form of blackmail whose terms were drawn up in Washington and forced on Israel, including dividing Jerusalem and taking part of it from the Jews. As our nation faces a very crucial election, one of the key issues is how will we treat Israel in the next administration? They, after all, in spite of their rejection of Christ as Messiah, are still the “apple (pupil) of His eye” (Dt. 32:8 cf Psa. 17:8).