Probably the most influential book in the Prophets (Nevi’im = נְבִיאִים ) of the Tanakh is Isaiah, named after the human author – Isaiah – who lived in the First Temple Period around 750 BCE. The figure below shows where he sits in a historical timeline. This timeline is taken from History of the Jews, zoomed to the two Temple periods.
The Welcome article highlighted the curious fact that Jewish history is like a dance between The Book (Bible), the Land (Israel), The People (Jews) and other Nations. No other nation has such a complex dance. If Moses’ Blessings & Curses have controlled the broad movements of this dance for the last 3500 years, Isaiah’s prophecies are guiding its precise steps into our times. Isaiah also added a new partner into this dance (though he is not the first to do so, but this new partner takes prominence in Isaiah). This is seen in his far-reaching vision of history in Isaiah 11.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2)
Jesse was the father of King David who founded the city of Jerusalem about 1000 BCE. When Isaiah wrote these words Jesse had been dead 300 years but through David the royal dynasty from Jesse was ruling in Jerusalem in Isaiah’s lifetime. Isaiah prophesied that this dynasty, like a tree felled by an axe, would one day be reduced to a ‘stump’, i.e., the kingdom would fall. But then after this dynasty a ‘Branch’ would ‘shoot’ up from that very same stump. This Branch was a ‘him’ (male human) who would ‘bear fruit’. Who would this Branch be? What kind of ‘fruit’?
As Isaiah continued it is not immediately clear whether he was speaking metaphorically or literally. But then he wrote what, for us in the 21st century, should make us sit up and take note:
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Sea.
12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 10-12)
Isaiah predicted a re-gathering of the Jewish people (as Moses did in his Blessings and Curses) but Isaiah wrote that this would be for the ‘second time’. Below is the Timeline from History of the Jews with the re-gatherings of Jews to Israel (in green) and Isaiah in red. You can see there have been two different re-gatherings of Jews from the nations back to Israel, both after he lived. From Isaiah’s time (750 BCE) you might think that he was writing about the re-gathering of Jews to Israel from the Babylonian captivity but because he specifically wrote of the ‘second time’ we know he is looking beyond that re-gathering. The ‘second’ (and only other) re-gathering is the one that is happening now, as part of the re-birth of modern Israel. His description of the re-gathering from the ‘four quarters of the earth’ (i.e. from North, South, East, West) precisely describes what is occurring today as Jews from every continent on the globe are now doing Aliyah to Israel in a precise and literal fulfillment of what Isaiah wrote 2700 years ago.
Some of the countries he lists are obscure because he is naming countries in 750 BCE. But the countries he specifically lists: Elam (= Iran today), Cush (= Ethiopia today), Babylonia (= Iraq today) along with Egypt are countries almost emptied of Jews making Aliyah to Israel since 1948.
Isaiah continues with further details surrounding this ‘second’ re-gathering. To help us identify countries Isaiah mentions, a map compares countries named in his passage with those today. Isaiah continues:
Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.
They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them. (Isaiah 11:13-14)
You can see that in the 1st Temple Period the Jews were politically divided into two rival kingdoms – Judah & Israel. The situation then was like Koreans today who are one people divided into two opposing countries – North & South Korea. The rivalries between the two Jewish countries in the 1st Temple Period are detailed in the Tanakh in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
Re-gathering to one nation
When Isaiah looked into the future and wrote
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim (v 13)
He meant that when the Jews re-gathered for the 2nd time from this world-wide exile they would not be politically divided anymore, but united into one nation. That was not a foregone conclusion when he wrote in 750 BCE but it happened in 1948 when a United Nations resolution birthed one single modern Jewish state: Israel.
Israeli & Six-Day War
Looking closely on this map of the nations in Isaiah’s day we see Philistia on a coastal strip between Judah and the Mediterranean Sea and Moab, Edom and Ammon directly to the East. Note the states in the corresponding places today and we can see that they are Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan. The West Bank was captured from Jordan in the six-day war of 1967. Knowing this Isaiah’s prophecy makes sense to our modern ears.
They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia (i.e. Gaza) to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.
Isaiah foresaw the Israelites returning from that second, far-in-the-future and world-wide exile and predicted the birth of the one Jewish state. Then, he predicted, the Israelites would ‘swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west’. He foresaw a very quick (‘swoop down’) incursion of Israel into Gaza – just as it happened in the Six-Day war. In that same war the West Bank was won from Jordan, resulting in the ‘subduing’ of the people of Edom, Moab and Ammon – the modern-day Israeli control of the West Bank. It is like Isaiah was 2700 years ahead of events of our time.
Perhaps you agree with me. Or perhaps you think I am reading way too much into Isaiah. But the fact is that Isaiah was part of a very select group whose writings are in the Tanakh. This theme of predicting the fortunes of Jews, the land of Israel and surrounding nations run through the other writings in the Tanakh and indicates that Isaiah is not just some lucky historical coincidence. The theme that began with Abraham, was developed by Moses, is now extended by Isaiah. The prophets of Tanakh hardly ever met since they lived several hundred years apart. You can imagine the immense difficulty in coordinating a consistent theme with others you have never met. Look at the difficulties our political leaders are having in coordinating a consistent response to all the events today – and they communicate regularly.
But so what anyways? So what if Isaiah foretold details of the modern-day re-birth of Israel. So what if he and other writers of the Tanakh foresaw the global re-gathering of Jews? What difference does that make to you and me?
Isaiah and the other writers of Tanakh never claimed to have innate powers of foresight. He claimed that G-d, blessed be He, who created our planet and the universe, who is sovereign over all states, both Jewish and non-Jewish – revealed this to him. And if he was right about these things visible today then we have reason to take him seriously about his Source.
Even so, much remains still to be understood about what Isaiah wrote. He began this passage with a coming ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’ which would coincide with the ‘second’ regathering of Jews to Israel. How is this ‘shoot’ to be understood? Before we take up that question it will be worthwhile to see what another writer of the Tanakh wrote about the dance between Jews and the land of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel, who lived 200 years after Isaiah described in exact detail the time of this re-gathering. From where we sit, during this re-gathering, we can check if what he prophesied was accurately predicted. We do this next.