Mark Twain, the famous American author, humorist, narrator, and social observer, had great personal problems with the religionists of his day and many other aspects of the world he occupied in the 1800s.
He was, however, fascinated by the Jewish people. To him, they were both an enigma and an inspiration. His description, in his book Innocents Abroad, of the Holy Land’s topography chronicled the land’s barrenness and apparent hopelessness and was a moving landmark in the Jewishpeople’s progression across the face of history and the Middle East.
His observations of the area as a sterile wasteland fit only for the habitation of “owls and jackals” had an almost mystic quality, much like the explanation once given of the melancholy strains of Jewish, minor-key music.
“It’s as though, in the music of the Jewish people, that just beneath the pathos there is a joyful ebullience about to burst through.”
This refrain seems reflected in the words of Samuel Clemens when he wrote “Concerning the Jews” for Harper’s Magazine in 1898:
“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star-dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.
“He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.
“The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
The secret of the Jewish people’s immortality is no secret. It’s written on every page of God’s eternal Word. Furthermore, it is confirmed on every successive Jewish march through history from the clouds of adversity. And when one views their situation in these troubled times, beleaguered by enemies and betrayed by friends, there is the vision of undeniable expectation. Israel is a nation in waiting, hanging on until the trumpet sounds to herald the entrance of a deliverer who will lead it into the light and bring an end to the anguish of the ages.
One of the great ironies is that the more there appears to be reason for depression, the more obvious it is that a great change is on the horizon. It is as though an inevitable, climactic consummation were on the way — an Armageddon-proportioned experience.
Biblically, the waiting will end with the promised Second Advent of the Son of Man, Messiah Jesus, in the day when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).
In a way, the expectation of those awaiting His first appearance was comparable to what goes on today. For the Jewish people and their little nation then, things could not have been much worse. Pagan Rome was master of the world, and its grip tightened inexorably with every passing day. But there was the promise; the virgin shall conceive . . . the Savior shall arrive. And as rugged shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem could attest, He did arrive and changed the world. Our promise, as sure as theirs, will come — and come soon, we are certain.
Too bad so many brilliant and gifted men like Samuel Clemens still discern the shadow and ask the question, “What is the secret of his immortality?” Yet they never grasp the reality.