ISRAEL’S PROMISE – PART II

We do well to note that this is being published in a time when Israel is so intimately involved in its centuries-long struggle with its enemies. Another chapter is being written in that long chronicle. And in each installment, God has proven the integrity of His Word. So to the history!. God had promised the Holy Land to Israel. Then, in punishment for their unbelief, they were removed from the land for a time; – yet with the Divine assurance that they would one day return.

THE RETURN

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. ….They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever”. (Ezek. 37:21-22, 25)

Recall that in putting down the Jewish Rebellion of AD 70 the Romans had murdered over one million Jews. Jerusalem was virtually destroyed. In AD 135, the Jews revolted again, and this time, Rome took more drastic measures, driving all but a tiny remnant of the population from the Land that had been given to them by God. The centuries that followed were only to get worse. Deuteronomy 28:36-37, had predicted the coming persecution. The LORD will bring you and the king whom you set over you to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods—wood and stone. And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you”. So it came to pass. In the centuries that followed the Jewish nation was scattered among the nations of the world. Their separation and persecution became legendary. Denounced as Christ-killers by some Christian leaders, their economic and social interactions were severely restricted. In much of Europe they were forbidden to own land. In Muslim countries they were subject to the onerous legal restrictions of Dhimmitude: – laws and special taxes imposed on all non-Muslims. They were kicked out of England in the 12th century and Spain in 1492. To make a living they gravitated to the occupations of trade and banking; many gathering wealth in the process, thereby aggravating the ignorant prejudices of the masses. Over the course of time this inevitably led to violence such as the Russian pogroms which devastated whole villages. Anti-Semitism culminated in Hitler’s Holocaust. Millions were murdered in the Nazi camps; – Auschwitz and Dachau and Treblinka and others.

In the meantime, Israel’s enemies overran God’s Holy Promised Land. Muslims for the most part, and Crusaders for some, occupied the Jewish homeland. Leviticus 26:32-33 had warned as much. “I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.” This was a time of punishment. Jesus had put it this way in Luke 24:21. “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The Jews would not gain control of Jerusalem again until the ‘67 War.

Yet Israel was not forgotten in her exile. Though God used Ezekiel to pronounce judgment in his earlier writings, he later used him to offer hope. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.” (Ezekiel 24:13) And God gave Israel more than just a promise of nationhood. He promised blessing for the returned nation. Even her fertility would be restored. Isaiah 27:6 reads. Those who come He shall cause to take root in Jacob; Israel shall blossom and bud, And fill the face of the world with fruit.” So in our day we’ve seen how this has come to pass. Isaiah 41:18 speaks of that fertility. “I will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”  Joel 2:23 comforted them that even the rains would return to a then parched soil. “Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month”. And rainfall has increased in Israel at the rate of about 10% each decade, beginning about a century ago, when the Zionist movement began to bring Jews back to the Holy Land. God also promised their language would be revived. “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord.”  (Zephaniah 3:9) For centuries, Hebrew was a dead language; as dormant as ancient Latin, Greek or Egyptian. Yet beginning in the 1880’s, a sickly scholar, Eliazar ben Yehuda, tirelessly effected its revival. He began with just the seven thousand known words related to Temple worship and invented thousands more. Modern Hebrew was the result. It is spoken by millions of Jews. It was the vehicle used to unite the millions of exiles pouring into the land from around the world, each with their own tongue.[i]

But before all of this could happen, the Jews had to return to the land. This was a people living on every continent, with colonies in every major country on the globe. No other ethnic group had survived more than five generations or about 200 years without a homeland. Recall the Holy Land had been, to use a modern term, cleansed of Jews by the Romans. This occurred first in 70 AD and again in the year 135 AD.   They were a people that had rejected their Messiah, and so, by Divine decree had earned punishment. Yet God had promised to be merciful. In fact Ezekiel 37 tells us that God would first gather them to their land in unbelief. That chapter speaks of a great valley of dry bones. It is a picture of the scattered, defeated and lifeless nation of Israel. It is the story of how God will bring that nation back to life. Verse 8 describes a people without “breath”, or the Holy Spirit, without which there is no belief. But Ezekiel 37:11-14 promises a transformation, Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.” A rhapsodized Ezekiel confirms that promise again and again. The Jews would be gathered up from where they were scattered among the nations of the world, – and then this wonderful promise: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) In the last hundred years, we have indeed seen a population of primarily secular Jews gather in Israel from all over the world, after eighteen centuries out of the land. It is in just the last several years that we see an increase in spiritual belief. There are growing expectations that the Messiah will soon come, preparations to rebuild the Temple, and a doubling of the Messianic (Christian) Jewish population to about 10,000.[ii]   But the return has taken centuries.

Through those centuries, fledgling movements and rabbinic calls for aliyah, (the return of Jews to the Holy Land), had died in infancy. By the late 19th century however, God had moved through history in such a way as to allow the beginnings of Zionism to take root. Beginning in the 1870’s, Jews began to form societies to purchase land in Palestine from the Arab owners. The Arabs were only too happy to get rid of unproductive land, selling it at inflated prices. Then beginning in 1881, anti-Jewish pogroms began to sweep through Russia, with its large population of Jews, contributing to the urgency of the project. Jewish bankers, like the magnificently wealthy and powerful, House of Rothschild, contributed significantly to the project. By 1897, the 1st Zionist Congress was held under the organizing genius of Theodore Herzl. The movement saw the Jewish population of Palestine go from about 25,000 in the 1880’s to around 100,000 by WWI. During the course of that war, the British government announced the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Though the British somewhat backed off their promise after the war, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle.[iii]

Another Exact Fulfillment!

It is really an amazing story. Through all that time, a scattered remnant clung to the promises of Scripture that promised a return to the land and a coming Messiah. “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God.” (Amos 9:14-15) But their lament was ‘How long must we wait?’ It is interesting that there is a prophetic answer. Many times, the precision of God’s prophecies cannot be appreciated until after their fulfillment. This is not self-fulfilling prophecy: As you will see, it is far too mathematically exact in its nature. Grant Jeffrey, in his book, The Signature of God, found one such astounding example.

There is found in the writings of the Old Testament, a prediction of the exact date of the re-establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948. Jeffrey looked at two main passages, in Ezekiel and Leviticus, to find to find the key to that fulfilled prophecy. Now we know that Israel was conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians in 606 BC. We know that Jeremiah had prophesied the length of that captivity as being exactly 70 years. “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” (Jeremiah 25:11) History tells us the Jews were indeed released precisely 70 years later by King Cyrus, in 536 BC. Contemporary with these events, Ezekiel was given a revelation that spoke to the final re-establishment of Israel in the last days.[iv] “This will be a sign to the house of Israel. “Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year.” (Ezekiel 4:3-6)

First of all, we see that this prophecy is aimed directly at the nation or “house of Israel”. It pronounces sentence on the Jewish nation as punishment for their sins: 390 years followed by 40 years, – or a total of 430 years. The beginning point for the sentence is the month of Nisan, 536 BC, when the Jews came out of the Babylonian captivity. The problem was that once freed, a majority of the Jews refused to leave or repent. Instead they chose to remain both in Babylon and in their sin which had “…sent them into captivity in the first place”. But notice they had served only 70 years of their sentence of 430 years. Three hundred sixty years remained to be served. So what’s going on here? [v]

The answer lies in Leviticus 26. In this chapter, the God of Israel pronounces both promises and punishments for the behavior of the Jewish nation. God addresses the punishments to Israel, “if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments”. (Leviticus 26:14) Repeatedly God warns Israel that if she did not repent, the punishments would be multiplied seven times. “And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins…. And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins…. And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:18,23-24,27-28) So we must apply the seven fold punishment to the remaining 360 years of the sentence: 360 x 7 = 2,520 years to be served. Ah, but these are Biblical years; – each is 360 days long. Grant Jeffrey did the conversion. It comes out to 2,483.8 calendar years. Starting from 536 BC and counting forward we arrive at May of 1948. It was May 14, 1948, to the sound of a shofar, an ancient ram’s horn, that Israel announced its independence. It was the exact fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

That day too saw the exact fulfillment of another prophecy, Isaiah 66:8. “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children.” As Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948 the United States issued a statement recognizing her sovereignty. Only hours beforehand, a United Nations mandate expired, ending British control of the land. During a 24-hour span of time, foreign control of the land of Israel had formally ceased, and Israel had declared its independence, and that independence was acknowledged by other nations. Modern Israel was literally was born in a single day. The God of Israel was faithful indeed, Alleluia!

[i] Grant R Jeffrey, The Signature of God, Frontier Research Publications, Toronto, 1996, pg 178-180

[ii] Number of Christian Jews in Israel Doubles to 10,000, Christianity Today, UK, April 30, 2005

[iii] Mideast Web .org

[iv] Grant R Jeffrey, The Signature of God, Frontier Research Publications, Toronto, 1996, pg 158

[v] Grant R Jeffrey, The Signature of God, Frontier Research Publications, Toronto, 1996, pg 159

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