The Logic of Faith
(6) Prophecy - The
History of Israel
The Bible contains predictions of the future history of
many nations, but none more comprehensively than the nation
of Israel. There is a wealth of detail in predictions about
the future of Israel which provides an especially powerful
test of the predictive prophecy found in the Bible.
Significant Events of Israel's History
Israel became a nation at the
Exodus, when they escaped from the Egyptians in the
miraculous parting of the Red Sea. At this point virtually
none of the Old Testament was written. Forty years later the
Children of Israel settled in the promised land, each tribe
a separate identity and governed by
Judges who rose from time to time in various parts of
the land. The main events of their history after this time
- The Great Kings. In about
1000 BC the nation of Israel started to be governed by a
single King. Under the first of these,
Saul, the nation was involved
in a titanic struggle with the Philistines, but his
successor, David, defeated
Israel's adversaries, expanded the kingdom of Israel to a
small empire, and started a period of peace.
Solomon, the next king, ruled
in peace and the nation reached levels of prosperity never
again seen in its history.
- The Divided Kingdom. At
the end of Solomon's reign the nation of Israel divided
into two smaller kingdoms. The larger northern kingdom was
called Israel and the smaller
southern kingdom was called Judah.
- The Assyrian Invasion.
Between 800 and 700 BC the Assyrians invaded the land of
Israel in three waves. The northern kingdom of Israel was
taken away captive into Assyria, but Judah survived the
- The Babylonian Captivity.
In 600 BC the Babylonians under
Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and deported the
Jews to Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. As
with the Assyrians the captivity of Judah came in three
waves, each of which took captives to Babylon.
- The Return to Judaea.
Seventy years after the Jews were taken captive the
Babylonian empire fell to the Persians. The Persian king (Cyrus)
allowed a remnant of the Jews in Babylon to return to
their ancestral lands.
- The Destruction of Jerusalem.
In the first century AD Judaea and Galilee had become
parts of the Roman Empire. In
67 AD riots broke out against the Romans which quickly
developed into a full insurrection. In 70 AD the Romans
again sacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed the
temple. The process was completed in 135 AD when a further
revolt from the few Jews left in Palestine caused the
Romans to exclude all Jews from the area. However, this
dispersion of Jews through the world did not destroy them
as a nation, and they continued to be a recognisable
people, distinct from the nations where they lived.
- The Second Return. In the
twentieth century Jews fleeing from persecution in Europe
founded a state in Israel. In
spite of various wars against the surrounding nations they
held on to their land.
The main events of Israel's history are predicted in the
Bible in a number of passages. There is considerable detail
in many of these passages and there is no doubt as to the
accuracy of the prophecies. The following sections review
some prophecies of some of the main events.
Isaiah's prophecy of Exile
The prophet Isaiah gave a prophecy of the first occasion
on which Israelites would be taken away from their ancestral
land. This prophecy is in three parts: a prophecy of the
deliverance of Judah from the Assyrians, a prophecy of
the captivity of Judah, and a prophecy of the
return of a remnant under Cyrus.
Prophecy of Deliverance
Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have
heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will
add to thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee
and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria:
and I will defend this city.
This prophecy of Isaiah was already fulfilled when the
book of Isaiah was completed, and cannot therefore be taken
as a confirmation that the book of Isaiah came from God.
Prophecy of Exile
Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of
hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thy
house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store
until this day, shall be carried to Babylon:
nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
This prophecy was fulfilled about a century after the
book of Isaiah was completed. There are some critics who
would claim that this part of the book of Isaiah was written
much later; however we have already seen how this particular
prophecy forms a part of an
undesigned coincidence which means that it could not
have been made up later. Because of this coincidence one is
forced to believe that the prophecy was given in the
fourteenth year of Hezekiah, which is 701 BC. The final
exile of the kings of Judah to Babylon occurred in 586 BC,
115 years later.
Prophecy of Return
Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer,... that saith to
Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of
Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up her decayed
places:... That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and he
shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem,
Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation
shall be laid.
This prophecy of Isaiah is very specific. It not only
predicts the return of Jews to Palestine, but gives the name
of the Persian king who was to arrange this.
Deuteronomy 28 - the blessing and the
This chapter contains promises of two different futures
for Israel. If they were faithful they were to be blessed in
And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken
diligently to the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe
and to do all his commandments which I command thee this
day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all
nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall
come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken
to the voice of the LORD thy God.
There follows a comprehensive list of blessings which can
be summarised as blessings of: peace, prosperity,
independence and the favour of God.
If Israel was to be unfaithful they were to suffer a
series of disasters which would leave them defeated,
separated from their land, under the domination of foreign
powers and estranged from God:
But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken to
the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his
commandments and his statutes which I command thee this
day; that all these curses shall come upon thee,
and overtake thee...
This section is described as a curse here in
Deuteronomy 2815 and
elsewhere in the scripture. Deuteronomy 28 thus holds out a
blessing and a curse for Israel.
The promises become a prophecy when taken together with
And it shall come to pass, when all these things
have come upon thee, the blessing and
the curse, which I have set before thee...
This verse predicts that both the blessings and the curse
of chapter 28 would be fulfilled in the history of Israel.
Prosperity in the Promised Land
The first part of the prophecy to be fulfilled was the
promise of prosperity:
The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy
storehouses, and in all that thou settest thy hand to; and
he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God
giveth thee. The LORD shall open to thee his good
treasure, the heaven to give rain to thy land in its
season, and to bless all the work of thy hand: and thou
shalt lend to many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
This promise was fulfilled in the reigns of David and
(especially) Solomon. These last two of the great kings of
Israel ruled over a state of plenty and prosperity which was
never again rivalled:
1 Kings 1021
And all king Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and
all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were
of pure gold; none were of silver: it was not considered
as any thing in the days of Solomon.
2 Chronicles 115
And the king made silver and gold at Jerusalem as
plenteous as stones, and cedar trees made he as the
sycamore trees that are in the vale for abundance.
This was a time of high prosperity for Israel which was
never to occur again.
The second part of the prophecy was that when Israel
turned from God they were to be taken into captivity and
dispersed among the nations:
And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced
over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD
will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to
nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land where
thou goest to possess it. And the LORD shall scatter thee
among all people, from the one end of the earth even to
the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which
neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and
stone. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease,
neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD
shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of
eyes, and sorrow of mind: And thy life shall hang in doubt
before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt
have no assurance of thy life:
The LORD shall bring thee, and thy king which thou
shalt set over thee, to a nation which neither thou nor
thy fathers have known; and there shalt thou serve other
gods, wood and stone. And thou shalt become an
astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations
where the LORD shall lead thee.
These words are echoed by another version of the
blessings and the curse of Israel found in the book of
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your
enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. And I
will scatter you among the nations, and will draw out a
sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your
This prophecy has been fulfilled in every detail as the
Jews have suffered persecution and expulsion at the hand of
almost every nation in the world. From the first moments
when the Romans sold their captives into slavery in 70 AD at
the end of the Jewish war, Jews have been persecuted
savagely and unjustly by those nations where they have found
themselves. It is sometimes thought that the Nazi Holocaust,
where an estimated six million Jews met their deaths in
concentration camps, was an unusual aberration by supposedly
"Christian" countries, but in fact there has hardly been a
time when Jews were not being persecuted because of their
faith or their descent.
The pictures below show scenes from various different
Two medieval woodcuts from the Liber
Chronicarum Mundi of Nuremberg (1493)
A famous image from the Nazi Holocaust
The dispersion of Israel was foretold in the books of
Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but it was also predicted in
other places. Among these we find:
...they shall be wanderers among the nations.
Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field,
and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the
house as the high places of the forest.
This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter when the
emperor Hadrian did have Jerusalem ploughed with oxen and
minted a coin to commemorate the event.
Jeremiah 31 - The Survival of Israel
The Bible clearly predicted that Israel would be torn up
from their land and would be kept away from it, dispersed
among the nations. However, this was not to be the end. God
promised that Israel would continue to exist and to maintain
a distinctive identity:
Thus saith the LORD, who giveth the sun for a light by
day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a
light by night, who divideth the sea when its waves roar;
The LORD of hosts is his name: If those ordinances
depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed
of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me
for ever. Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be
measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out
beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel
for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
This passage tells us that Israel would continue to be a
nation for ever by comparing it with two natural phenomena.
The first is with the stars and the moon or
the roaring of waves in the sea. The nation of Israel
is to last as long as these phenomena, which are a proverb
for remaining unchanging through the ages. The other
comparison is the distance to the heavens. We know
that there is no distance to the sky; one can always go a
little further in a skyward direction without meeting
Again, this is not the only passage which firmly predicts
that Israel is to continue to exist even after it had been
dispersed among the other nations and kept away from its
land. The following passages all tell a similar story:
For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save
thee: though I make a full end of all nations where I
have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of
thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not
leave thee altogether unpunished.
Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for
I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the
nations where I have driven thee: but I will not make a
full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet
will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.
And yet for all that, when they shall be in the land of
their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will
I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my
covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God.
For most nations, being removed from their land, being
dispersed in other nations, and being persecuted in their
new countries for centuries, would be the end of the nation.
This is clearly not the case with the Jews, who have managed
to maintain a national identity in the face of their
dispersion. The prophecy that this would happen was a very
brave one, as it has never occurred in any other nation.
Luke 21 - Jerusalem and the Gentiles
In Luke 21 there is another
prophecy of the captivity of Israel under the Romans:
And as some spoke of the temple, that it was adorned with
beautiful stones and gifts, he said, "As for these things
which ye behold, the days will come, in which there
shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not
be thrown down."
This is a very bold prophecy; it not only tells us that
Jerusalem was to be conquered, but that the temple was to be
completely destroyed so that there would not be one stone
left standing on another. It is very rare for
destruction to be so complete. Usually there would be
several courses of masonry left at the bottom of the walls.
In the case of Jerusalem the destruction was a result of
greed. The temple was covered in gold; during the sack of
Jerusalem in 70 AD it caught fire and the oil in it burned
fiercely enough to melt the gold, which ran between the
stones of the wall. Roman soldiers then pulled the walls
apart, stone by stone, to recover the gold, thus,
incidentally, fulfilling the prophecy.
Coin commemorating the destruction of
Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD
Continuing in the same chapter:
And when ye shall see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then
know that her desolation is near... And they shall fall by
the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into
all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the
Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles shall be
This prophecy tells us that Jerusalem was to be taken
captive. It also tells us that Jerusalem was then to be
ruled by Gentiles [non Jews] until their time came to an
end. This means that there would be an end of the time
that Jerusalem was ruled by Gentiles; in other words Jews
would one day rule over it again.
This prophecy of Jerusalem can be seen as a key to a
series of short prophecies in
Zechariah 12 about Jerusalem in the "latter days".
Two prophecies from this series:
And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome
stone for all nations: all that burden themselves with
it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of
the earth be gathered against it.
In that day will I make the governors of Judah like
an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire
in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people
around, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem
shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in
These prophecies speak of the time when Jerusalem should
again be in Jewish hands as a time of great trouble. Holding
on to Jerusalem will be a source of trouble in itself,
according to verse 3, while verse 6 tells us that the
governors of Jerusalem (or the rulers of the Jews, in verse
5) will prove to be inflammatory to the surrounding
peoples. This prophecy shows a remarkable correspondence
with the situation at the end of the twentieth century.
Details of the Return of Israel
The prophecy of the return of Jerusalem to Jewish hands
is a part of a prophecy, repeated in several places in the
Bible, which foretold that Jews would return to set up a
restored nation in the land of Israel. This is spoken of in
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord
shall set his hand again the second time to recover
the remnant of his people, which shall be left,
from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from
Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and
from the isles of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign
for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of
Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not
dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from
afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity;
and Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and
none shall make him afraid. Fear thou not, O Jacob my
servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will
make a full end of all the nations where I have driven
thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct
thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly
Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have
cast them far off among the nations, and although I have
scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them
as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall
come. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will
even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of
the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will
give you the land of Israel.
These prophecies are consistent in that they tell us that
Israel was to be scattered widely among the nations but that
they would survive as an identifiable people and that God
would later cause at least a remnant to be restored
to live as a nation in Palestine. Many of the prophecies
mention a dispersion among many nations, not to be
confused with the exile of Israel in one nation,
Babylon. Isaiah tells us that this was to be the second
regathering of Israel; the first was the return from
The most detailed account of this return is in
Ezekiel 36. This takes the
whole chapter, but describes a wide variety of the details
of Israel's return to their ancestral lands:
Therefore, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the
Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to
the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, to the
desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken,
which became a prey and derision to the rest of the
nations that are on every side;
This verse (and the surrounding verses) tells us that the
land of Israel was to become a desolate waste in the absence
of the people of Israel. This did in fact happen. After the
Roman captivity the land was less populous than it had been
and without people to look after the irrigation systems it
tended to become dry wilderness. Under Turkish rule at the
end of the Gentile domination of the land it was ignored by
absentee landlords and tended to be barren.
For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and
ye shall be tilled and sown: And I will multiply men upon
you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the
cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be built:
And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they
shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you
according to your old estates, and will do better
to you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I
am the LORD. Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even
my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou
shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more
henceforth bereave them of men.
This is a standard prediction of the return of Jews to
Palestine, but it is coupled with a new prediction that the
land will increase in fertility at their return. The
prophecy does not specify a miracle and there was nothing
miraculous about the way that it was fulfilled. As the
Jewish settlers set up farms and Kibbutzim in Israel they
returned to the practice of irrigating the land and planting
trees. This brought about an increase in the fertility of
the land and allowed crops to be grown there and even
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord
GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but
for my holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the
nations, where ye went.
This passage shows that the return of Jews to Palestine
was not to be a religious crusade, or even the response of a
righteous people to the command of their God. It was to be a
movement brought about by the usual political forces and
philosophies that govern the behaviour of people. They were
to return in unbelief from their captivity.
The rich detail of its many predictions about the future
of Israel provide a stern examination of the predictive
prophecy of the Bible. It is a test which the prophets pass