Astonishing and minutely detailed divine orchestration of people and events extending from Scotland to the land of Israel to the Austro-Hungarian empire and the city of Budapest from 1837-1847 form one of the most remarkable sagas in Messianic Jewish history. To recount it is to see the God of Israel at his most intricate and providential best.
It started with revival in the Church of Scotland that awakened prayer for Israel. This burden was conveyed to the well-known preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne who had been advised to seek out warmer climes for his health. A deputation was appointed in 1838 to inquire into the state of Jews in Palestine. Joining M’Cheyne was Dr. Alexander Keith, Dr. Alexander Black and Andrew Bonar. They set sail in April of 1839 and made their way across southern Europe to Egypt. While traveling by camel from Egypt to Palestine Black fell asleep and fell off his camel to the sand below. Though his injuries were not catastrophic, Black eventually wanted to return to Scotland for medical attention. While Bonar and M’Cheyne continued their discoveries in the land the other two started back home by way of the Danube River. This route brought them to Budapest, and although this city had not been seriously considered a mission field due to the intolerance of the Austrian rulers, they decided to make some inquiries of the Jews there.
Meanwhile, the Archduchess Maria Dorothea of Austria, living by the true light of God and reigning with her husband in Budapest, had been praying diligently for seven years for a friend or counsellor to join her in the most holy faith. Just two weeks prior to the arrival of the Scottish ministers, she had been waking up almost every night at the same hour with the strong impression that something was going to happen to her.
Keith and Black had been touring around the city and were nearing their departure. But Keith suddenly became ill with a horrendous affliction that left him close to death in a hotel. The hotel manager rushed out to the street seeking an Englishman to help. The first one he found could not, but he knew of two English ladies who might be available. The younger, Miss Pardoe, was in Budapest to research and write a book on Hungary. She had recently made the acquaintance of the Archduchess, and upon rushing to his bedside and seeing Keith’s plight, immediately went to see the monarch. As the Archduchess found out about Dr. Keith’s illness, she immediately recognized that this was the “something” that was going to happen. She then ordered that everything possible be done for Keith’s recovery, which shortly began in earnest. She visited him daily at the hotel and went so far as to place straw on the street below and two guards at either end to prevent horse drawn carriages from noisily traversing below Keith’s window. The pair discussed Jews in Hungary and she vowed to support and protect a mission in Budapest if the Church of Scotland would consent.
Keith survived and returned to Scotland and advocated for a mission to the Jews in Budapest, which was approved. Dr. John Duncan, known as “Rabbi” Duncan for his great erudition and knowledge of Hebrew and the Scriptures, was sent to Budapest in August of 1841. The Archduchess hosted him and other Scots at the palace frequently, and without the royal couple’s help they would not have been able to stay. English workers were helping to build a bridge across the Danube at the time, and religious services led by Duncan for them in English attracted Jews who wanted to improve their language skills. Duncan met the most learned and respected Jew in Budapest, Israel Saphir. Israel and his brilliant twelve-year-old son Adolph started to attend services under John Duncan and came powerfully to believe in Jesus as Messiah. The entire Saphir family of nine souls came to saving faith. The Jews of Budapest were stirred and perplexed. Shortly thereafter twenty Jewish souls were added. With the Archduchess’s continued protection and support the gospel went out to every Hungarian city and village, seeking the lost sheep of Israel. Adolph Saphir was released by his father to live in the West and became an anointed minister and author in London. In 1947 the Jew Alfred Edersheim came to faith in Budapest, and later wrote the monumental The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Behold the mighty hand and mind of God!!!