Israel’s Past and Future

Norbert Lieth

Israel’s history is the history of God’s dealings in this world. God writes His world history as He deals with Israel. Despite all of Israel’s fail­ures and despite all the upheavals in world history, God has preserved Israel so that it not only still exists, but also is thriving before the peoples.

The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness” (Isa 46:9-12).

God’s declarations have been completely fulfilled in Israel’s history, so we can also assume that the pending promises will also be 100% fulfilled. We have good reason to listen to Him!

Because of Israel’s disobedience, God had His prophets tell them that Jerusalem would be taken by the Babylonians, the temple destroyed, and the people taken into captivity in Babylon. Moses foretold this at a time when Israel hadn’t even inhabited the Promised Land yet.

“Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long; and there shall be no might in thine hand. The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway: So that thou shalt be mad for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see […] 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 there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone […] The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand” (Deut 28:32-34, 36, 49).

This was fulfilled literally in 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, came to Israel with his troops, captured Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple. Zedekiah, whom Moses had spoken of, was the king who reigned in Judah at that time. However, in His mercy, God didn’t decree Israel’s total destruction. He promised that Babylonian rule would only last 70 years, after which He would bring Israel back to their homeland:

“For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer 29:10-11).

In 609 BC, Babylon was the ultimate world power. But in 539 BC, the Persians under King Cyrus arrived and defeated the Babylonians. At this time (538 BC), Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland, resettle the land, and rebuild the temple. Babylon’s reign lasted exactly 70 years.

Here are some important dates in Babylon’s rise and fall as a world power:

– 616 BC: Babylon’s first victories over the Assyrians

– 614 BC: Assyria falls

– 612 BC: Nineveh falls

– 610 BC: Harran (major Assyrian city) occupied by Babylon

– 609 BC: The remnants of Assyria’s forces, along with Egyptian forces, come from Carchemish in an attempt to retake Harran. They fail, and the remainder of Assyria fades into history. From 609 BC onward, Babylon is the uncontested sole world power.

– 605 BC: The first occupation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and the first expulsion of the Jews, including the prophet Daniel (Dan 1:1)

– 597 BC: Another exodus of Jews from Israel, including Ezekiel (Ezek 1:2)

– 586 BC: Jerusalem destroyed; another deportation of the Jews

– 582/581 BC: A fourth captivity (Jer 52:27-30)

– 538 BC: The Persian king decrees that the Jews should return to their homeland and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1).

– 539 BC: Babylon completely conquered by the Persians (Dan 5—6)

– 609—539 = 70 years: The Lord’s Word concerning Babylon was 100% fulfilled.

Why did the Lord limit the length of Babylon’s reign to 70 years, and then restore Israel to their homeland? Had the people changed? Had they repented? Had their hearts turned toward their God? Not at all! We find the answer in Isaiah 45:4, where God tells Cyrus, “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.” About 170 years before Cyrus entered the scene, Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, had already called him by name! Cyrus was a pagan king, and therefore ignorant of the God of Israel. Yet he served Him by helping to fulfill His Word. For the sake of Israel’s divine election, he had to send God’s people home. The Almighty directs and steers world politics to conform to His will, causing His people to achieve their purpose (Ezra 1:1ff.). And it’s the same today. The Jewish State isn’t a product of chance or an EU accomplishment, but springs from the actions of the God of Israel among the nations. Everything happening today in global politics, be it for or against Israel, is ultimately serving God’s plan for redemptive history.

What was the underlying reason for Israel’s release? The answer is that God’s promises to the Patriarchs must be fulfilled. The Messiah was to be born a Jew in Israel. But this could only be possible when Jews were back in their homeland, had settled the land, and were in possession of a new temple. This is because Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, go to His temple, die in Jerusalem, and rise from the dead. The redemption of the world was to be accomplished in Jerusalem. And so, it was necessary for the Jews to return to their country. Again, the basis for this lies solely in Jesus. The New Testament says, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal 4:4).

Israel’s ruling class rejected Jesus when He came, resulting in Him  being crucified. Shortly before His death, the Lord prophesied about Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:37-39). Other passages record that Jesus also announced that Jerusalem would again be captured by an enemy power, the temple destroyed, and the people scattered—but this time throughout the world (Luke 21:5-7, 20-24). These words were fulfilled in 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, burned the temple, and led countless Jews into captivity among the Gentiles. Coincidence or not, the destruction of the second temple happened on the same exact day, centuries later, as the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians—the 9th of Av (July/August).

The little word “till” in Matthew 23:39 has an oversized meaning. It builds a bridge of sorts, making it clear that the people will not remain scattered this time either, but in later times, Jews from around the globe will return their homeland. And indeed, there has been a Jewish State since 1948 (after roughly 1900 years of diaspora), and Jerusalem has belonged to the Israelites again since 1967! Incidentally, that little word “till” also refutes so-called Replacement Theology, which claims that the Church has taken Israel’s place and the Jewish people therefore have no future. Israel’s history is the history of God’s dealings in this world. God writes His world history as He deals with Israel. Israel is like the pen in God’s hand.  The Lord didn’t throw this pen away; He picks it up again and again to continue writing. And He will eventually record the end of the story with it as well.

The Christian Church isn’t a sponge that erases the lines God wrote with His pen, Israel. Instead, Christianity’s history is written with a Jewish pen. Despite all of Israel’s failures and despite all the upheavals in world history, God has preserved Israel so that it not only still exists, but also is thriving before the peoples.

In 1933, Hitler’s first year as Chancellor, German theologian and professor Karl Barth preached a sermon whose “theme is Jesus as a Jew. Copies were made the following day, and Barth even sent the sermon to Hitler. The Jewishness of Jesus offended some in the church, and they walked out.” He preached, among other things, that “the Jew reminds us through his very existence that we are not Jews and therefore really ‘without Christ, alien and outside the commonwealth of Israel and alien to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12). The Jew reminds us that it really is something special, new, and wonderful if we are no longer guests and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (Eph 2:19). We are not this innately. […]  God’s covenant and truth were not broken but rather were fulfilled by those in Israel—but also by those among the Gentiles, who now recognized and accepted God’s mercy as the work of his covenant and truth.” In other words, the Jews remain God’s covenant people, and the Christian Church joins alongside them—not in their place. Barth “was forced to leave Germany in 1934 after refusing to swear the loyalty oath to Hitler that was required of university professors as civil servants.”

Why did Almighty God allow the Jews to return, and why did He return their land to them? What was the underlying reason? They hadn’t improved in exile, and most of Israel still rejects the Lord Jesus. The reason is the same as why the Jews were brought back from Babylonian captivity. They returned from the first captivity so Jesus could enter the world for the first time (Bethlehem). The second time, the Jews returned (and are returning still) from the worldwide Diaspora so Jesus can return the second time, and in glory! His return then is linked to the Jewish people’s existence in their own country.

The prophets have testified on behalf of the living God in numerous places that the Lord Jesus will return to Jerusalem (His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, according to Zechariah), save His people, and will rule the whole world from Jerusalem. A point in Israel’s history will and must come when those who once rejected Him and cried out, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14b), will instead cry out, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:39b).

Jesus Himself promised that He would return one day: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27).

The Lord will indeed return to bring the last dispersed Jews back to the land of Israel. Although Israel will still have to go through a great deal of hardship, armed conflict, and great tribulation in the coming age, it’s pointless for anti-Jewish nations to even attempt to erase it from the map. They won’t succeed. Matthew 24:34-35 says, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

The return of the Jews to their land is an unmistakable sign that Christ’s return is close at hand, because the sole purpose of Israel’s restoration is His return: “In the latter days ye shall consider it. At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest” (Jer 30:24b-31:2).

In the last days, the Jewish people who escaped the sword (for example, the Holocaust, that most terrible of genocides) will find mercy “in the wilderness.” The desolate places of their homeland will be rebuilt (Ezek 36:33-36). The metropolis of Tel Aviv is one present-day realization of this divine promise. It was built on Mediterranean sand dunes about 100 years ago. What began as pitiful shacks has become an impressive city. Our generation is witness to the fulfillment of all these Bible prophecies. Israel’s return and reconstruction will ultimately result in the Lord returning and bringing Israel to rest in the messianic kingdom (Heb 4:8-9).

God has made a statement with the fact that the Jews are home again in their own country, and with their own state. We who are of another nationality should heed it, since the Bible says, “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” (Isa 11:12). An ensign is a “flag or standard, especially a military or naval one indicating nationality.” Israel’s gathering into its homeland is therefore given to us as one such sign. The prophet Jeremiah also says this while explicitly addressing the nations, the Gentile peoples: “Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock” (Jer 31:10).

There have been repeated claims that East Jerusalem should become the Palestinian capital, since it used to be completely Arab. But the fact is, there have been Jews in East Jerusalem for longer than Arabs have lived there. The Jews were also there first, long before our era began.

When King David conquered Jerusalem in roughly 1000 BC, the city was inhabited by the Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6-9). They weren’t Arabs in the modern sense, but a Canaanite people group that no longer exists (Gen 10:16; 15:21; Ex 3:8). The Jebusites were no more Arab than any other Canaanite people living in the region at the time (which included the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Hivites). These people groups, as well as the Philistines, had descended from Ham and not Shem (Gen 10:6-21). Arabs, on the other hand, are a Semitic ethnic group. David purchased the threshing floor in East Jerusalem—on which the Jewish temple was later built—from a Jebusite named Ornan (also called Araunah: 2 Sam 24:17-25; 1 Chr 21:15-29; 2 Chr 3:1).

After the Jews were expelled from their homeland around 70 AD, the Romans initially occupied it. The Muslims didn’t conquer it until 638 AD. But even during that era, Israel and Jerusalem were never entirely “Jew-free.” Jews once again formed the largest portion of Jerusalem’s population beginning in 1844, and 1882 saw the first major wave of Jews returning and immigrating to their homeland. It wasn’t until the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that the Arab Legion conquered East Jerusalem, expelled the Jewish population, plundered Jewish homes, destroyed synagogues, and deliberately desecrated Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives. For justice’s sake, it’s only fair to ask: Who were East Jerusalem’s true “occupiers”? It wasn’t until 1967 that East Jerusalem was again liberated by the Israelis. Any reputable history book would present the facts of the situation. The only question is whether we’re willing to consider those facts objectively.

The following timeline makes it clear that the Canaanite period was superseded by the Israelites when God brought them into the land. Since the Canaanites have completely disappeared from history, none but Israel can claim ownership of Jewish lands. All other nations listed only temporarily occupied Jewish lands until 1948, when the Jews regained the State—which belonged to them and nobody else.

– 3300 BC: Canaanites

– 1600 BC: Israel

– 586 BC: Babylonians

– 538 BC: Persians

– 332 BC: Hellenists (Greeks)

– 63 BC: Romans

– 324 AD: Byzantines (under Constantine)

– 638 AD: Arabs (Muslim)

– 1099 AD: Crusaders

– 1260 AD: Mamluks (a dynasty of slave soldiers from the Caucasus and Russia)

– 1517 AD: Ottomans (Turkey)

– 1917 AD: British

– 1948 AD: Israel

News from Israel - 01/2024

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