THE PROPHICIES CONCERNING ISRAEL
These are the richest of all, both in the detail of their predictions and in the abundance of the historical confirmation of their truth. We shall confine ourselves to the simple facts concerning Israel's remarkable destiny.
The Old Testament records for us how God made distinct promises to Abraham (about 1800 B.C) which meant, among other things, that his descendants would become a people (Israel) who would take possession of the land of Canaan, later called Palestine. About 1400 BC the people of Israel were brought out of Egypt at the Exodus under Moses, and 40 years after began to take possession of the land promised to them. But while they were still in the wilderness, before they entered the land, they were solemnly warned by God through Moses of the fate which would overtake them if they turned away from their God to worship idols and imitated the ways of the pagan Canaanites. The 28th chapter of Deuteronomy is a most remarkable prophecy - and was a terrible warning - of the calamities which would come upon the Israelites if they were disobedient. The reader is recommended to read the whole chapter for himself. Here we have space only to outline the main features:
"But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments... the Lord shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known... And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the nations whither the Lord shall lead thee... The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even to the other... And among these nations shalt thou find no ease..." (Deuteronomy 28:15, 36-37, 64-65).
Again the prophecy is quite clear. Israel were to be scattered among the nations, there to live in very uncomfortable circumstances, the object of scorn and contempt. How forcibly their history has proved the truth of these words! The scattering of the Jews throughout the world began in the days of the Assyrians in the 8th century BC The process continued through the Babylonians in the 6th century. After a partial return from Babylon in the days of the Persian kings, a community of Israelites lived in their land from about 500 BC to the days of Christ, successively dominated by the Persians, the Greeks and their successors, and finally by the Romans. In AD 70, 40 years after the crucifixion of Christ, there occurred the most terrible devastation of all. The city of Jerusalem was sacked by Roman armies because of rebellion; the temple was burned and the Jews were scattered as captives over the Roman world. There they have been found ever since, literally "from one end of the earth to the other".
And they have indeed, until very recent times, found "no ease". Suffering persecution and at times extermination- the pogroms in Russia in the 19th century and Hitler's policy of genocide in the 20th are only the most recent examples - the Jews have everywhere been subject to vilification and derision, so much so that their survival as a recognisable race is one of the marvels of history. Again we note the fact that this prophecy of Israel's fate has remained true for over 2500 years. Who could have foreseen that, despite all the scattering and the persecutions, the Jews would remain for centuries a recognisably distinct race, right up to the present day?
BUT THERE IS MORE...
But the most incredible feature of the prophecies about the destiny of Israel is yet to be told, for the prophets also clearly foretell an unexpected change in Israel's fortunes.
Consider, for instance, these predictions through the prophet Jeremiah, delivered nearly 600 years before Christ:
- "For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah... and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it" (30:3)
- "Now therefore thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel... Behold, I will gather them out of all the countries, whither I have driven them, in mine anger... and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people and I will be their God..." (32:36-38)
- "I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them as at the first. And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity..." (33:7)
Again, there is no doubt about what the prophet is saying. The process of Israel's scattering and persecution is to be reversed. The Jews are to return to the very land from which they were expelled over 1900 years ago, and to dwell there in comparative peace. The three brief quotations from Jeremiah, given above, could be multiplied many times over by similar declarations from Isaiah and Ezekiel.
We have little need to go into great detail to show how these prophecies of Israel's restoration have been most accurately fulfilled. The Zionist Movement was active among the dispersed Jews in many countries in the late 19th century. The establishment of Palestine as a National Home for the Jews in 1917 led to a rapid increase in their numbers in the Land. When this provoked the hostility of the Arabs, the Jews fought off an attempt to suppress them in 1948, and established their own Jewish State. This was enlarged in 1967 after a second attempt in the Six Day War; as a result Israel recovered much of their ancient historical territory, and Jerusalem became the capital of their State under their own rule, for the first time in 2500 years. In short, the emergence of an independent Jewish State in the Middle East has been a most unexpected development. Less that 100 years ago no political observers would have thought it possible.
We are not here concerned with the "politics" of the situation. We are concerned solely with Bible prophecy. There are other things the Bible has to say about the Jews. The prophets tell us, for instance, that there is to be a great crisis in the Middle East, and that Israel will be brought to repentance before their God. Only then will the prophecies of final restoration and peace come to pass. Here we wish solely to emphasise that the prophets foretold the return of Israel to their land, and we in this century have actually seen their predictions begin to the fulfilled.
THREE PROPHECIES - THREE DESTINIES
It will be useful at this point to summarise what we have reviewed:
Babylon, that great power in the Middle East, was to lose its empire and its magnificent capital city was to become a site of desolate ruins, shunned by man and beast. And so it came to pass. s Egypt, also a great empire, was to remain a recognisable kingdom. The Egyptians were to continue to inhabit their own land. But they would be constantly dominated by other powers, remaining "a lowly kingdom". And so they have been.
The fate of Israel was not to be like either of these. Scattered from their own land into other countries, and suffering severe persecutions and constant contempt, they were to return to the very land from which they were scattered, and to establish themselves there once again.
Let us note carefully the following facts:
- The prophecies concerning these nations were uttered about 2500 years ago.
- Their truth has been demonstrated in history right up to the present day.
The three cases quoted concern three different powers with three entirely different fates. One was to disappear into oblivion; the second was to remain, but be subject to other nations; the third was to be destroyed, its people expelled and scattered all over the earth, and yet eventually to be restored in the original land.
These are not "political forecasts" of clever political observers, but accurate predictions.
WHO COULD HAVE KNOWN?
How is prophecy on this scale of time possible? There is only one reasonable answer: somebody must have known beforehand. But who could have known. Certainly no men of 2500 years ago, or indeed since, could possibly have known. On purely human grounds these prophecies are inexplicable. But then, the prophets of the Old Testament did not claim human powers for their predictions. They said they were speaking words inspired by God. "Thus saith the Lord" is the constant introduction to what they say. If God was behind what they said, we realise who it was who "knew". There is no other reasonable explanation. The prophecies we have considered require the existence of God as their Author. That makes sense.
The three examples already quoted were intentionally chosen to illustrate the variety of the Bible's prophecies. But there are many other examples. We could, for instance, examine those concerning Jesus Christ: he was to be in the line of Abraham, and of David, he was to be born in Bethlehem; he was to be rejected by his own people, and yet die an atoning death on their behalf; and many other details - all uttered centuries before he was born, and all strikingly fulfilled in Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection.
But we will conclude our brief survey with two further examples which will bring the prophetic programme right up to our own day.