So God had promised the Holy Land to Israel. Then, in punishment for their unbelief, they had been removed from the land for a time; – yet always with the Divine assurance that they would one day return.
PART IV – 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.” (Ezekiel 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, in 1917. Though the British somewhat backed off their promise after the war, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle.[iii]
Now 1917, it turns out was a special year. It was a Jubilee year. Every 50 years, according to God’s law, Israel is to celebrate a Jubilee. This was a very special time. After seven cycles of seven years came the sabbatical year known as Jubilee, the 50th year. It was a time of restoration. Labor contracts were deemed satisfied. Slaves were released, debt forgiven. And most importantly of our purposes here, property was returned to its original and rightful owners. This was a picture of redemption and forgiveness. It was also the year of the promise of the return of the Land to its owners, to the Jews, to what would become Israel.
And if 1917 was a Jubilee year, what was the next Jubilee year? That would be 1967. And it was in 1967 during the 6-Day War that Israel took control again of their eternal capital of Jerusalem. Fifty years! Another Jubilee! So is it just coincidence that in 2017, the next Jubilee year, the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That action opened the floodgates to more prophetic / biblical fulfillments. The nation’s do indeed rage and are gathering up against Jerusalem – just as the scriptures foretold.
[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