It is one of the oldest carols often sung during Advent, and this year pro-Israel Christians are rediscovering this ancient carol for an added reason. Sadly, it has been deliberately excluded by pro-Palestinian Christians over many years. The carol gives a clear Biblical reason for the Jewish people’s return to the land promised to them – something not taught even in some churches. But the lyrics also carry further meaning for Christians praying for the release of the Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, one of the few carols that mentions Israel specifically, is omitted from the widely used ‘Bethlehem Carol Sheet’ that is used by hundreds of churches at Christmas carol services across the UK. It isn’t clear why its publishers, the Christian advocacy group Embrace the Middle East, have never included the carol, but it is mere speculation whether it may or may not be related to the fact that the organisation has a long history of supporting boycotts against Israel and promotes “an entirely biased and distorted view of the conflict based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression,” according to NGO Monitor

The text for “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes from a seven verse poem that dates back to the 8th century. A metrical version of five of the verses appeared in the 13th century, which was translated into English by London-born Anglican, John M. Neale in 1851.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

This refers to the period that Israel was in exile in Babylon. Whilst in captivity, many mourned for the need to be restored back to their own land. The prophets reminded Israel of the covenant of promise that required the nation to remain in obedience to God. The prophet Isaiah speaks about the coming of One who shall be called Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’ (Isaiah 7:14, which is fulfilled in Matthew 1:23). Similarly, in another verse we sing another description of Jesus as the ‘Branch of Jesse’, meaning a direct ancestor of Jesse, which is a reference to Isaiah 11:1. Jesse was father to Israel’s beloved King David and again reinforces the fact that Jesus was Jewish, not Palestinian!

O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. 

The lyrics of these two verses remind Christians of God’s promises to Israel and promise to deliver His people by sending a Saviour. As Romans 11:26 says, a ‘deliverer will come out of Zion’ and ‘all Israel will be saved’. But this year Christians are also aware that a distressed nation of Israel is mourning the captivity of some of its own. We pray for their rescue. We pray for their release from the ‘hell’ of Hamas-ruled Gaza and for victory for His people. 

The Word of the Lord says, “For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honoured, and I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west.” (Isaiah 43:3-5 NLT)

The final verse, not usually included in modern versions, reads:

O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. 

As Christians we are praying for peace in the Middle East and we’re praying for the ‘peace of Jerusalem’. Israel’s war on Gaza is not against the Palestinians – it is against Hamas, it is against evil. It is to prevent events like the 7th October from ever happening again. It is to guarantee that the Jewish people can live securely in the Land that God promised them, the land that God is bringing His people back to.

We must pray that all ‘sad divisions’ will cease and that there will be peace between Jews and Arabs. Hamas’s war to destroy the Jewish people currently makes this very difficult, but carols like this remind us that our hope lies in a higher cause – the King of all nations, the King of our Peace, WILL be the One who will one day bring peace on earth.


For more information about this Carol, please see here.