The Logic of Faith

(6) Prophecy - The History of Israel

Introduction

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 are:

  • 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 onslaught.
  • 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

Isaiah 385,6 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

Isaiah 395,6 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

Isaiah 4424-28 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 curse

This chapter contains promises of two different futures for Israel. If they were faithful they were to be blessed in their land:

Deuteronomy 281-2 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:

Deuteronomy 2815 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 chapter 30:

Deuteronomy 301 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:

Deuteronomy 288,12 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 Curse

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:

Deuteronomy 2863-66 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:

Deuteronomy 2836-37 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 Leviticus:

Leviticus 2632-33 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 cities waste.

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 persecutions.


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:

Hosea 917 ...they shall be wanderers among the nations.

and:

Micah 312 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:

Jeremiah 3135-37 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 anything.

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:

Jeremiah 3011 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.

Jeremiah 4628 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.

Leviticus 2644 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:

Luke 215-6 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:

Luke 2120,24 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 fulfilled.

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:

Zechariah 123 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.

Zechariah 126 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 Jerusalem.

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 many places:

Isaiah 1111,12 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.

Jeremiah 4627,28 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 unpunished.

Ezekial 1116,17 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 Babylon.

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:

Ezekiel 364 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.

Ezekiel 369,12 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 exported.

Ezekiel 3622 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.


Conclusion

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 impressively.
 

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