Study 3

Prophecies Leading to Modern Times

Focus Ė Discussion of prophecies describing events of the 20th century

In the third study we will look at:

  • Godís declarations on Israelís future, dependent on their continued worship of Him;

  • Israelís scattering to all parts of the world because of their disobedience;

  • their continuance as Godís chosen people; and,
    their return after being scattered.

The Twelve tribes and the ĎNationí of Israel
Once Jacob and Esau had gone their separate ways, the focus was now on the way Jacobís twelve sons and their descendants developed.

Biblical history shows that they initially settled in Canaan. When famine occurred they moved to Egypt and became slaves to the Egyptians. Eventually Moses was appointed by God to bring them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. It wasnít until they had become a nation through the offspring of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) that God started to deal with them nationally through the proclamation of laws.

About Deuteronomy
The book concerns the discourses given by Moses late in his life at the time immediately before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The theme running throughout is that God will continue to honour His covenant. Moses calls the people to obedience and reminds them that God brought them out of Egypt, guided them and provided for them whilst they journeyed in the desert.

Blessings and punishments
God gave the people His detailed law through Moses and He expected them to keep it. They had gone through a period of 40 years in the wilderness, which in itself was a punishment for their complaining and disobedience once they had left Egypt.

Just before they entered into the Promised Land, God spelt out very specifically what would happen if they obeyed Him while they were in the Land, and what would happen if they didnít. Moses, the bearer of this prophecy, said,

  • if they fully obeyed God and carefully followed all his commandments, He would set them high above all the nations of the earth. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

Equally, God indicated that they would be punished if they didnít obey His commandments. It should be noted that the most basic of all commandments, and the first, was that they should "Love the Lord their God; him only should you serve". In other words, they had to recognise that they shouldnít worship other gods.

History shows, as indicated through many parts of the Old Testament writings, that very frequently, they had so much to do with the pagan nations around them that they often worshipped the gods of those nations. They were disobedient. God promised them punishment. They would "come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him" (Deuteronomy 28: 20).

A number of punishments were indicated in this chapter. At various times in their history they have been fulfilled. Of specific note is that relating to the latter part of the chapter:

  • the Lord would scatter them among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other; and,

  • among those nations they would find no repose, no resting place.
    (Deuteronomy 28: 58, 64, 65)

This prophecy has been most telling. Scriptures show that on two occasions the Jews were scattered because of their refusal to obey God. In the first instance they were taken into captivity into Babylon about 600 BC and returned after 70 years. This demonstrates that God keeps His promises. They were punished for sin and scattered. God still recognised them as His people and brought them out of captivity. He gave them another chance.

There is a good example of this in Ezekiel 11. Ezekiel prophesied at the time of Israelís captivity that God would:

  • gather them from the nations and bring them back from the countries where they had been scattered; and,

  • He would give them back the land of Israel. 
    (Ezekiel 11:17)

There was a reason why God would do this and it wasnít because the people were being righteous again. God said "They will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people and I will be their God."(11:20)

God remembered His promises. The Israelites, even in their sinfulness were still Godís people. There is a reassuring principle here. We might want to follow Godís paths but sometimes stray. We might be punished but God still accepts us as long as we try to follow His ways.

About Ezekiel
This book records the activity of the prophet Ezekiel who lived in Babylon during the Jewish exile. His message was directed to fellow captives and to Jews still present in Palestine He proclaimed good news to the exiles that Israel, after being chastened, would be restored and Godís kingdom would rise. This was partly fulfilled in 537 BC. The complete fulfilment is yet to take place and will result in a future kingdom that will last forever and Godís people will never again be cast out.

This theme is reiterated in the prophecy of Jeremiah. God said:

  • He would save them out of a distant place, and their descendants from the land of their exile;

  • that Jacob would again have peace and security; and,

  • He would be with them and save them.                                                                           (Jeremiah 30: 10-11)

The other issue of this chapter again indicates Godís reason. The Israelites are His people. They are punished for their sins. ("Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you.", v. 15) But, typically, God promises blessings again for them - "so you will be my people and I will be your God." (v.22)

A similar theme is continued in Jeremiah 31:10. "He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd."

There is a very effective image here. Jesus, the great Shepherd, will watch over his flock at a time that Israel has been regathered to their home place of Israel and Jerusalem. This is an image consistent with other parts of Scripture that indicates the return of Jesus to Jerusalem.

The Israelites were certainly then brought back to Israel from captivity in Babylon.

About Jeremiah
Jeremiah was contemporary with Ezekiel and warned the people of the impending military force of Babylon that would destroy Jerusalem and enslave the Jews. He urged Jerusalem to turn from its wicked ways, but there was no response. He further warned of the false prophets who were leading the people astray with deceptive doctrines and falsehoods. He urged the Israelites to submit to the Babylonian authority as the instrument of Godís judgment. They did not heed his warnings and the people were carried away to Babylon. He predicted that the captives would return after 70 years to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

The second time the prophecy was fulfilled was in AD 70. A prophecy doesnít always need to be fulfilled once only. There are many examples in Scripture where prophecies have been fulfilled on two or more occasions. The scattering and regathering is a classic case. Apart from the Babylonian captivity, the next major scattering was the destructive work in Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus himself prophesied about this. He said that when Jerusalem is encircled by armies:

  • desolation is near;

  • this is the time of promised punishment; 

  • Jews will be taken as prisoners to all nations; and,

  • Jerusalem will be overrun "until the times of Gentiles are fulfilled." 
    (Luke 21:20-24)

This scattering and gathering is a continual witness to God and His continued involvement with His people. In Isaiah 43:5-10 it is recorded that God told the Israelites:

  • not to be afraid because He was with them;

  • He would bring them from the east, west, north and south; and,

  • "from the ends of the earth".

And the reason? "You are my witnesses declares the Lord and my servant whom I have chosen."

Israel is a continuing witness to Godís existence and to the fact that He keeps His promises. Right throughout history Ė from the time of the Babylonian exile and return, to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem, through the Spanish inquisition, through to Russian pogroms and the World War 2 holocaust, God has punished His people - but a remnant has been saved to ensure that eventually they will find their peace in Jerusalem.

Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones
Reference: Ezekiel 37:1Ė14

The Valley of Dry Bones

One of Ezekielís prophecies concerned a vision of a valley of dry bones. Each part of the prophecy is explicit. It is important that when we read Scripture we recognise that each word is significant.

The vision was not very complex; it is found in Ezekiel 37:4-6.

  • Ezekiel saw a valley full of very dry bones.

  • God said that he would breathe into the bones so they came to life.

  • The bones would be covered with tendons and flesh and skin.

  • The reason that God would do this was that the people would know that He was the Lord.

The prophecy is explained in verses 11-14. The prophecy indicates that there would be a national revival of Israel.

Vision                                 Meaning
bones                            house of Israel
dried bones                    hope gone, cut off
bones come together       Jews return to Israel
breath in them                God's spirit in his people

"I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it." (v.14)

The prophecy is straightforward. In this instance the prophecy cannot have been fulfilled. You might ask, "but didnít this happen when the Israelites were brought back to Israel after they had been in captivity in Babylon?" The answer to this question is found later in the chapter in another vision concerning the joining together of two sticks. (Ezekiel 37:15-28)

God said

  • He would take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone;

  • He would gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land;

  • He would make them one nation in the land;

  • He would place one king over all of them that they would never again be divided into two kingdoms;

  • David would be their king and they would have one shepherd;

  • David would be prince for ever; and,

  • the nations would know that He would make Israel holy, when His sanctuary would be among them forever.

It is very clear from this that the time of the gathering of the Israelites into their own land would be associated with a number of other events. None of these events took place when the Israelites returned from Babylon.

The scattering that took place in AD 70 was a culmination of dispersal that had taken place over many years. They remained scattered for almost 2000 years. We demonstrated in Part 1 that the events of the re-gathering began in 1897 with Theodore Herzel and continued for 50 years culminating in the establishment of the State of Israel Ė one land, one people!

Other evidence
While we have described the events of the 20th century that led to the establishment of the State of Israel, what is stunning evidence of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 37 can be found in the chart below. You will notice that there was a dramatic rise in the population, from 1948 to 1980. And, they came from many, many countries Ė literally the four corners of the earth from where they were scattered. This is remarkable. After almost 2000 years of exile the prophecy has been fulfilled. Other nations who have been in a similar predicament have lost their identity. Not the Israelites. They continue as a living testimony to Godís existence.

Growth of the Population of Israel

You will notice, however, that not all of the Ezekiel 37 prophecy has been fulfilled - Israel has returned to their land as predicted. They are on the whole not committed to God. God's spirit does not yet dwell in them. They are still insecure. They do not have one king. They are not ruled by David, and Godís sanctuary does not yet dwell in their midst. But how can David be their King? The words of Luke 1 are very clear on this.

"... the Lord will give him (Jesus) the throne of his father David." (v. 32)

And, of course, Jesus was described as the good shepherd. There can be no doubt that at some time in the future, Jesus will be king over Israel.

In summary
Some important points emerging from this study are:

  • The Israelites were established as Godís people in the land of Canaan and the Arabs were settled to the northeast, east and south of Jordan.

  • God indicated that if/when the Israelites sinned, they would be punished through being scattered everywhere.

  • They were scattered but God demonstrated that He would keep His promise by bringing them back from their dispersion.

  • This happened on one occasion when they were brought back to Israel from Babylon.

  • The longer-term fulfilment of the prophecy of the re-gathering took place mostly over the period from 1948 Ė 1990.

The current situation is that the Israeli people are now back in their land where, whether they accept it or not, they will eventually be ruled over by Jesus. We canít just be selective in what prophecies we believe will be fulfilled. If one part of the prophecy has eventuated, the rest must follow. Does the Bible prophesy these events that will lead to this happening? And what of the issue we started discussing Ė the Palestinian question? Does the Bible say anything about this? It certainly does. We will examine these issues in Study 4.

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