Yeshua of Nazareth has been a source of great controversy for two thousand years. During his earthly life he also faced many critics who questioned his authority and credentials to be Messiah. In those encounters, he would answer his critics by pointing to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life. Here is one example from the Brit Cahadasha where Yeshua said to those who opposed him:
… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)
In other words, Yeshua claimed that he was prophesied throughout the Tanakh, which preceded him by hundreds of years. These prophets of Tanakh stated that they spoke and wrote for G-d. Since no human can predict hundreds of years into the future, Yeshua said this was evidence to check if he had really come as G-d’s plan or not. The Tanakh is available for us to examine and consider this question for ourselves.
Isaiah wrote in the period of David’s Royal dynasty of the First Temple Period. In his day (ca 750 BCE) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to G-d and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.
He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty, picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.
First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch
Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he began the tree image which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)
The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon in exile (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.
The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom
But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of G-d would be resting on him. This was a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.
Jeremiah and The Branch
It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is only the first of several signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was being cut down before his very eyes wrote:
“The days are coming,” says Adonai
when I will raise a righteous Branch for David.
He will reign as king and succeed,
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Y’hudah will be saved,
Isra’el will live in safety,
and the name given to him will be Adonai Tzidkenu [Adonai our righteousness] (Jeremiah23:5-6)
The Branch: ADONAI our Righteousness
What is this Branch to be called? He would be called the ADONAI who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’. Here, in describing the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would get needed ‘righteousness’ from the LORD – ADONAI himself. But how would this be done? Zechariah fills in further details for us as he further develops this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of the Messiah – which we look at here.
The Torah account of the testing of Abraham in the sacrifice of his son Isaac (Yitzchak) builds on this Jesus-Torah relationship right from the Genesis 22 text. The complete Genesis 22 account is here. The unfolding relationship of this account to Jesus (Yeshua) is explored below.
G-d initiated the ordeal by giving Abraham a bizarre command:
G-d said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak (Isaac); and go to the land of Moriyah (Moriah). There you are to offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22:2)
Though many through the ages have wondered why G-d gave such a drastic order, Abraham did not delay but rather…
Avraham (Abraham) got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with Yitzchak (Isaac) his son. He cut the wood for the burnt offering, departed and went toward the place God had told him about.On the third day, Avraham raised his eyes and saw the place in the distance. (Genesis 22:3-4)
While traveling for three days Isaac was as good as dead in Abraham’s mind since he knew what was to happen once they reached Moriah. Upon arriving, Abraham…
They came to the place God had told him about; and Avraham built the altar there, set the wood in order, bound Yitz’chak his son and laid him on the altar, on the wood.Then Avraham put out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. (Genesis 22:9-10)
It is at this point in the account that a dramatic rescue takes place…
But the angel of Adonai called to him out of heaven: “Avraham? Avraham!” He answered, “Here I am.”He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy! Don’t do anything to him! For now I know that you are a man who fears God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”Avraham raised his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. Avraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. (Genesis 22:11-13)
At the last moment a ram substituted In Isaac’s place. The ram was offered as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. The ram died so that Isaac could live.
Now there is another strange twist in this unusual account. Notice what happens next:
And Avraham called the name of that place Hashem Yireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Hashem it shall be provided. (Genesis 22:14)
When naming the place, we would expect that Abraham would look back to that moment when G-d provided the ram in place of his son. But instead it looks forward into the future (‘it shall be provided’) rather than to the recent past when the ram had been provided.
Why is a name given to this place that is future-looking rather than looking back to the saving of Isaac?
Mount Moriah and Jerusalem
Mount Moriah becomes the place where the Temple is built 1000 years later by Solomon. We see this later in the Tanakh
Then Shlomo (Solomon) began to build the house of Adonai in Yerushalayim (Jeruslaem) on Mount Moriyah (Moriah), where Adonai had appeared to David his father. (2 Chronicles 3:1)
Mount Moriah in the time of Abraham (2000 BCE) was a deserted mountaintop with shrubs and a ram. But by the time of David and Solomon (1000-950 BCE) it was where the temple was built in David’s newly acquired city of Jerusalem.
The binding of Isaac and Jesus
Let us think about how Jesus (Yeshua) is introduced in the Brit Chadasha. In the Gospel of John he is introduced in the following way:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
Jesus was called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It is very clearly stated that:
He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)
The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem – the same location as ‘Mount Moriah’. The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.
Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place. But strangely the Torah looks to the future rather than back to that lamb. Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location. There is a connection between the account in the Torah and Jesus through location and by a lamb sacrificed on behalf of someone else.
This has the hallmarks of a Mind connecting these two events separated by 2000 years of history. What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event in using the future tense. But only G-d knows the future. The Torah seems to indicate that He wants us to think about this like below.
Passover points to Jesus’ sacrifice, – by pointing to the day of the calendar – the calendar started by the first Passover. With Abraham’s sacrifice the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the same place where Jesus was sacrificed 2000 years later. In two different ways these two prominent stories in the Torah point directly to the death of Jesus using sacrificed lambs. But in both stories the significance of the lamb’s sacrifice is the same – the lamb dies so someone else can live.
These two accounts in Torah (Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover) show that it is reasonable to consider that Jesus’ death also holds similar meaning – his death somehow gives life to others.
The matching details between Torah and Gospels
With this in mind, let’s examine some details of the Genesis account to note the following:
From Torah’s Genesis 22 account
From Brit Chadasha
‘your son, your only son, whom you love’ (v.2)
This is the first occurrence of the word ‘love’ in the Torah. G-d speaks and says that Isaac is the ‘only son’ whom Abraham loves but must give up.
‘This is my Son, whom I love’ (Matthew3:17)
‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Mark1:11)
‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Luke3:22)
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’ (John3:16)
In the first 3 Gospels of the Brit Chadasha, G-d speaks and identifies Jesus as his Son whom He loves – the first occurrences of ‘love’. In the 4th Gospel, Jesus is the ‘only son’ whom G-d must give up.
Abraham “took two of his servants with him” (v.3)
Abraham and Isaac were accompanied by 2 others on the journey to sacrifice.
‘Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed’ (Lk23:32)
Jesus is accompanied by 2 others on the journey to sacrifice.
‘On the third day …’ (v.4)
Abraham journeyed 3 days before he reached Mount Moriah. In his mind Isaac was dead for three days, being saved on the 3rd.
‘on the third day according to the Scriptures…’ (1 Corinthians15:4)
Jesus was dead for three days and resurrected from death on the 3rd.
“Avraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Yitzchak his son” (v.6)
The son carries the wood on his back as he walks to his sacrifice
‘Carrying his own cross, he went out…’ (John 19:17)
The son carries the wood cross on his back as he walks to his sacrifice
Other nations in view too
At the end of this account G-d promised Abraham that:
and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order. (Genesis 22:18)
The promise was that ‘all the nations’ (kol goyei ha’aretz) would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants (literally zerah or ‘seed’). It is a fact of history that Jesus’ sacrifice has been, to a significant extent, accepted by ‘the nations’. This account has theme and details which match that of Jesus 2000 years later and concludes with a promise that anticipates the impact of Jesus’ legacy on all the nations of the world. This should make us ask a few questions.
What is this ‘blessing’?
How do you get it?
Though the details are not yet clear, the account suggests that as the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, can save us from the power of death.
The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is a puzzling but important event in Jewish history. Looking at it through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth can help unpack its meaning. Of course, this raises further questions because of the controversy surrounding Jesus’ claim to be Messiah. To help us become better informed we examine the original covenant between G-d and David concerning the Messiah.
Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing the covenant G-d made to him. This was stated in the little sentence:
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
Righteousness prior to circumcision and the Law
We should not miss when this took place. The covenant of circumcision is given later in Genesis 17. Abraham was credited righteousness here in chapter 15 – before circumcision. So, circumcision was not the cause of his righteousness. Neither was observance of Moses’ Covenant since that was given hundreds of years later. The active ingredient for Abraham’s righteousness was his belief.
But belief in what?
Belief is about trusting the Covenant
Think what ‘believe’ means. Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that G-d exists. We think that G-d just wants us to believe that He is there. It is true that Abraham believed in G-d’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness. G-d had made a covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son. It was that Covenant or promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and Sarah was in her 70’s. He trusted that G-d would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, is trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.
When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then G-d also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the covenant promise (a son from whom Israel would come) and righteousness.
Righteousness – not from merit or effort
It does not say that Abraham ‘earned’ or ‘merited’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply given to be received.
We instinctively think that more rigorously keeping Jewish observances, or doing more good things than bad things, practicing more self-denial, or meeting obligations enables us to deserve or merit righteousness. Abraham proves this thinking false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise covenanted to him, and righteousness was given to him.
Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it
Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy. When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan. Almost ten years had passed and Abraham and Sarah still did not have a child – let alone a nation. “Why has G-d not already given us a son if he could have done so”? he would have wondered. Abraham believed the covenant of a son because he trusted G-d, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.
Believing the covenant required active waiting. His whole life was interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Harran (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Life was comfortable there. The fact that he stayed in the Promised Land demonstrated his trust, maintained even at personal cost and comfort. His trust in the promise made a difference in how he lived his life.
His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being. He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of G-d and continuing with religious observances and good deeds. Then he could have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.
Four hundred years later, the covenant mediated by Moses at Sinai did not nullify this covenant with Abraham. Moses built on it. G-d is one who is willing to make multiple covenants, anticipating that the covenant receiver will experience the blessing of each one.
The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us. Abraham’s belief in the covenant from G-d, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us to follow. We can see this in Isaiah
New International Version – Isaiah 51:1-2
Orthodox Jewish Bible – Isaiah 51:1-2
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; 2 look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many.
Pay heed to Me, ye that pursue tzedek, ye that seek Hashem; look unto the Tzur from where ye are cut, and to the quarry from where ye were hewn.
2 Look unto Avraham Avichem, and unto Sarah that gave birth to you; for I called him as one alone, and put a brocha on him, and made him many.
If we pursue and desire righteousness then we are called to follow Abraham’s example – to actively trust the covenants of G-d with Israel. Today we know that promise to Abraham has come true. We also know that G-d made several more covenants. The covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai probably receives the most attention. But there are several other covenants, each pregnant with promises, which occur through the Tanakh. For example, consider the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah around 600 BC.
Covenant Promise of a new Heart
New International Version – Jeremiah 31:31-34
Orthodox Jewish Bible – Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,though I was a husband to them” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Hinei, the days come, saith Hashem, that I will cut a Brit Chadasha with Bais Yisroel, and with Bais Yehudah;
32 (31) Not according to the Brit that I cut with their Avot in the day that I took hold of their yad to take them out of Eretz Mitzrayim; which My Brit they broke, although I was Ba’al (Husband) to them, saith Hashem;
33 (32) But this shall be the Brit that I will cut with Bais Yisroel [T.N. OJBC is Jewish]; After those days, saith Hashem, I will set My Torah in them inwardly, and I will write ketuvim on their hearts; and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be My People.
34 (33) And they shall teach no more every ish his re’a (neighbor), and every ish his brother, saying, Know Hashem; for they shall all have da’as of Me, from the katon of them unto the gadol of them, saith Hashem; for I will forgive their avon, and I will remember their chattat no more.
This promised covenant is expressly given to the ‘people of Israel’ and was to come in effect sometime after Jeremiah since it was given in the future tense. It would build on the Sinai covenant by writing the law in hearts and minds as opposed to stone tablets, promising that all ‘will know’ G-d and receive His forgiveness.
Following Abraham’s example
We all have the opportunity to follow Abraham’s example with these covenants, choosing whether to trust or not. When Abraham first received the promise of land in Canaan it was not immediately clear whether this implied remaining in the land or moving to Egypt to avoid famine (Genesis 12:10-20). When Abraham was given the promise of a son it was not immediately clear if this was going to happen through Sarah or her servant Hagar (hence the events of Genesis 16, and the divorce in Genesis 21 with the effects felt even today). Abraham was not perfect in his trust, but he did not give up, working through all the issues that his journey of faith brought before him.
As his physical descendants, Jews should be the first to follow Abraham’s example, learning about and taking hold of all the covenants offered by G-d. Like Abraham it will require a life-long journey, some agonizing choices, thinking differently than the crowd, with many opportunities to turn back. But as well as receiving the promised son and being credited righteousness, Abraham also obtained something else equally precious. As G-d, through the pen of Isaiah said of him.
Two events have dramatically impacted the welfare of Jews in modern times. The remarkable re-birth of the Nation of Israel, and its growing prosperity, today is the more visible of these two events. But just a little further back in time lurks the second event – the Holocaust or Shoah. This unspeakable evil saw the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Yad Veshem is the best reference for the Shoah. Here we want to explore whether the Bible had anything to say about it. That may sound absurd since the last book of the Tanakh was written about 2400 years ago. How can books written 2400 plus years ago say anything about what happened just over a generation ago? The prophets of the Bible claimed that G-d inspired their writings, and as proof, made many detailed prophecies of the future. The re-birth of Israel, even its date, and the six-day war of 1967 were predicted by these prophets of the Tanakh. So is it conceivable that they also foresaw the Holocaust?
But Psalm 102 does. We may not see it because it is written in the first person so we assume it is only describing the Psalmist’s life. But other passages in the Tanakh are also written in first person but are not ultimately referring to the writer. For example, Psalm 16, written by King David, states that G-d ‘will not abandon me to the realm of the dead’ (v.10). But David has been buried in Jerusalem for 3000 years, so the ‘me’ must refer to someone else. For this reason, many think that this is a Messianic Psalm, and not about David per se, even while it is written through his eyes.
The ‘I’ in Psalm 102 describes a communal experience. Thus the ‘I’ could very well have the Jews in mind. So let’s take a look at Psalm 102 to see if it describes the Holocaust.
1 Hear my prayer, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you. 2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. 4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food. 5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
The psalmist is in great distress. His distress centers on his life vanishing up in smoke while his bones burn – bringing to mind the ovens of the death camps like Auschwitz where smoke rose continuously as the bodies – and bones – were burned. Holocaust victims, being emaciated skeletons, fit the Psalmist description as being ‘withered’ and ‘reduced to skin and bones’.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins. 7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
At a recent Holocaust memorial service I heard a survivor describing his isolation as he hid for two years behind a false wall in the upstairs attic of a rundown mill. Feeling like a ‘lonely bird on a roof’, the psalmist describes a similar experience of isolation. The owl is an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:16-18). The movie Zookeeper’s Wife describes how Jews were fed pork at the Warsaw zoo and how pork was smuggled into the ruins of the ghetto to feed the people. Their choice was to be unclean or to starve in their ruined ghetto.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse. 9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
Under the Nazis and their collaborators the term ‘Jew’ was used as a curse and Jews across Europe were taunted while millions were reduced to ashes.
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. 11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
The inescapable conclusion for those going through the Holocaust was that G-d had indeed thrown them aside in great wrath. Approaching sunset (‘the evening shadow’) describes the psalmist’s desperate sense that his life will end shortly, and captures the same desperation felt by those in the Shoah knowing their days would end shortly.
12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations. 13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. 14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity. 15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. 16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory. 17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.
The tone and perspective of the Psalm now changes. The focus is on Hashem who will ‘rebuild Zion’ at the ‘appointed time’ and use the nations to do so. Though it would have been impossible to imagine it in the depths of the Holocaust, barely three years after it was over, Israel was born, through a mandate of the nations in the UN. Shortly thereafter, Zion itself was restored to the Jews and they have rebuilt it. The Psalmist’s abrupt and unexpected transition from the horrors of his affliction to the rebuilding of Zion, foresaw the same abrupt and unexpected transition from the horrors of the Shoah to the building of the modern state of Israel.
18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: 19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.” 21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem 22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.
The Psalmist clearly states that the Psalm was not written for himself or for his generation. It was written for a ‘future generation’ – for those who were not yet a people, or nation. This Psalm was written for the generation just before Israeli Independence (‘A people not yet created’) who would see the creation of the nation centered on Zion (Jerusalem). That was the generation that lived through the Holocaust, those that were ‘condemned to death’ but were ‘released’ so that G-d could be praised in Zion. We see the future-focus of the Psalm here as well as a communal emphasis. No longer is it an ‘I’ but it is ‘a people’ released from death. It anticipates the Jewish generation that survived the Holocaust to see the state of Israel born.
In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days. 24 So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations. 25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded. 27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end. 28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”
The Psalmist closes with the reminder of the unchanging nature of G-d, even as all things in the physical world wear out and decay. Then it is promised that the ‘children’ of the servants who passed through the great affliction (i.e. the Jews born after the Holocaust) will be ‘established’ before this unchanging G-d.
The description of the afflictions, the abrupt transition to the rebuilding of Zion, and that it was specifically ‘written for a future generation’ which would see G-d ‘release those condemned to death’ make it reasonable that the Psalmist was, thousands of years ago, foreseeing the affliction of the Shoa. Of course, many of us today find it difficult to accept the idea of prophetic foretelling. But given that the warnings in the Tanakh about exile into foreign Gentile lands, the re-gathering back to Israel and Jerusalem, including even the timing, are verifiable prophecies, we should at least be open-minded about it.
If there is even a possibility that Psalm 102 was prophesying the Shoah and subsequent rebuilding of Zion then that leaves an important question for us. After all, the Psalm does conclude with
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.
It is essential for the ‘children of your servants’ (the generation after the Holocaust) to understand what it means to ‘live in your presence’ and to ‘be established before you’. After all, Psalm 102 moves to this conclusion. Perhaps the Divine Author inspiring the human Psalmist is calling those on the Post-Holocaust side of history to seek out His Presence. Here is His Promise for those who do:
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)
We have looked at how mankind fell from their first created state. The Bible tells us Hashem had a plan based on a Promise made at the beginning of history.
The Tanakh – Really a Library
First, some facts about the Tanakh. It is a collection of books, written by many authors, organized into three groupings: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvin. It took more than a thousand years for these books to all be written from start to finish. This makes the Bible a library and sets it apart from other ancient Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds of years, as well as coming from different social positions and living in diverse countries. Though they wrote for the people of their day, and recorded the history of their times, embedded through the Tanakh are predictions or prophecies of the future. Their messages and predictions form unified themes. We looked at one theme on the re-gathering of Israel here. These writers claim that their writings were inspired by G-d, blessed be He. The oldest copies of the books of Tanakh that still exist today are from 200 BC and are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are housed at the Israeli Museum Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.
The Riddle in the Garden
We see at the very beginning of the Torah another example of how these writings predict the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind. It occurs in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3 when G-d confronts His Adversay, the devil (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after the serpent had brought about the Fall of mankind. Hashem says to him:
“… and I (G-d) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
You can see that this is prophetic with repeated ‘will’s in future tense. There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:
I = G-d
you = serpent or Satan
The offspring of the woman
The offspring of serpent or Satan
The riddle predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:
The riddle says that G-d will cause both the serpent/Satan and ‘the woman’ to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan/serpent. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan/serpent.
So who might ‘the woman’ be? Here is an example of a unified theme weaving through the writings of the Tanakh. Notice how Hashem, speaking through various prophets in the Tanakh, refers to Israel.
O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20)
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch…. 5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62: 1, 5)
Israel is pictured not only as a woman, but a woman married to Hashem. However, this marriage is not tranquil. When Israel descended into idolatry during the First Temple Period, building on the woman married to G-d image, this was called ‘adultery’ by the prophets. Ezekiel uses stark imagery of Israel as anadulterous wife in chapter 16 and continued with imagery of Judah as an adulterous sister (being in the First Temple period the Northern Kingdom of Samaria was the other adulterous sister). Ezekiel, as a prophet on behalf of G-d, charged
“‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! (Ezekiel 16:32)
Jeremiah echoes a similar accusation:
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3: 20)
This ‘woman’ Israel is also pictured giving birth, like the woman in Genesis 3:15.
You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land. …
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord. 18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life. (Isaiah 26:15, 17-18)
There had been an initial hope that the offspring of this birth would result in ‘salvation to the earth’ bringing of life to peoples ‘of the world’. But because of her sins, this hope is frustrated, and Israel only gives ‘birth to wind’. The fact that there was an initial high hope for the offspring of this woman was based on the promise of Genesis 3:15. That promise had raised expectations, but in vain (for the time being).
However, the Divine Program begun by Hashem would still see the anticipated offspring. First, the Woman needed to be restored.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful… 21 “Set up road signs;
put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
return to your towns. 22 How long will you wander,
unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
the woman will return to the man.” (Jeremiah 31: 4, 21-22)
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth. 6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God. 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
With only superficial reading, most people assume that the ‘woman’ referred to in Genesis 3:15 is Eve. But this promise is not about her. Eve did not live in enmity with the Serpent/Satan. But Israel? Throughout her long history from Egypt even into our day Israel has experienced relentless ‘enmity’ – from all sides. When you think of the millennia of visceral anti-Semitic hatred of Jews that been perpetuated by so many nations all over the world (Pharaoh of Egypt, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians under Haman, Greeks in the time of Maccabees, Imperial Rome, Roman Catholic Church, Spanish expulsions, Russian pogroms, French Dreyfus affair, Nazi Shoah, extremist Islamic incitement against Israel, today’s BDS movement – to name just a few) one can see a diabolical enmity directed against Israel. For sure, the Woman Israel has experienced enmity.
If Genesis 3 refers to Israel this means that the nation Israel was foreseen, even ordained, by Hashem at the beginning of human history. The call of Abram in Genesis 12 was a logical step of the strategic promise uttered in Genesis 3, not a random event in history. If so, the calamities and triumphs of Israel cannot simply be explained by secular forces. There are plans and intentions that go deeper than that. But is there more we can uncover from this riddle in Genesis 3:15?
In the Brit Chadasha the riddle of Genesis 3:15 is expanded as it describes in vivid imagery the enmity this woman will experience:
12 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him….
13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—… (Revelation 12:1-17)
This picture of a woman giving birth to an offspring in the presence of a dragon/serpent/Satan is a direct allusion to the promise in Genesis 3:15. From the point-of-view of Brit Chadasha ‘the woman’ in Genesis 3 is unequivocally Israel. In Genesis 3:15 the details are not filled in, but in Revelation they are. Since this concerns Israel, and her struggles with her enemy, it is prudent to at least be informed about this view point, and to understand what it means. It may be that your life will be caught up in this struggle. But before we delve too deeply into those details here, let’s return to the Garden Promise to reflect on the offspring of the woman.
Who is the Offspring?
Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is called ‘he’ we can make some deductions. As a ‘he’ the offspring is male and therefore is not a ‘she’ and not a woman. As a ‘he’ the offspring is singular and therefore not a ‘they’, so not a group of people or a nation. As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’. The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. G-d had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human. This ‘he’ would crush the head of the serpent/Satan.
Notice what is not said. It does not say that this ‘he’ will come from the woman and a man, but only mentions ‘the woman’. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers. Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’ because of this father-son bias. But here it is different – there is no mention of the offspring (a ‘he’) from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.
These observations follow through in the Revelation passage. There the woman gives birth to a male child – a ‘he’. Again no involvement of a man is mentioned. When Revelation says that the male child “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” it quotes Psalm 2:9 – the Psalm that first introduces the title and concept ‘Messiah’ in the Tanakh. The meaning is unmistakable – the male child born of the Woman Israel is the Messiah who “will rules all nations”. Once again we see this theme between Israel, the Messiah and the nations.
‘Strike his Heel’??
What does it mean that the serpent/Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles in Africa. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because snakes lay in the long grass and would strike the foot – our heel – to kill. After that experience the riddle took on new meaning. The offspring of the woman would crush ‘the head’ (i.e. destroy) of the serpent, but in return he would be killed.
The offspring of the Serpent?
Who is this offspring of Satan/serpent? Daniel in his book in the Tanakh saw a vision, many pages and thousands of years after the Promise in Genesis 3, of a coming person pictured as a horn on a beast. Note the description:
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
9 “As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.
11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The Interpretation of the Dream
15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.
23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.
26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
This describes a conflict between the ‘he’ who will rule all nations – the Messiah – and the boastful horn of the beast. This conflict will engulf the ‘holy people of the Most High’ – the Woman described in Revelation. But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with details filled in later. The countdown to a global contest between Satan and Hashem started long ago in the Garden. It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.
We saw that G-d created man His Image, but that image was corrupted. How did this occur? The Torah records that Adam and Eve ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. That tree represented a free choice to remain faithful to G-d or not. They had been created by G-d and placed in the Garden. But they had had no choice in these, so G-d allowed them to choose regarding their friendship with Him. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam and Eve to G-d had to be chosen. This choice centered on the command to not eat from that one tree.
How did this happen? Genesis in the Torah describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’. The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – a spirit adversary to G-d. In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone. In this case he spoke through a serpent.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORDGod had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis3:1-7)
Their temptation (and choice) was to ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted G-d for everything, but now they could choose to become ‘like God’ – to trust in themselves and be their own independent god.
In choosing to become independent they were changed. Right after they ate they felt shame and tried to cover up. The account highlights further changes
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:8-13)
The account implies that G-d came regularly to meet with Adam&Eve as friends do, but this time they were hiding from Him. When G-d confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and G-d who made her). She blamed the serpent. Neither accepted responsibility.
As descendants of this changed Adam we have this same disposition. Some misunderstand the Bible and think we are blamed for Adam’s choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from G-d.
This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.
That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Tanakh gives a picture to understand this better. It says:
Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)
This describes soldiers who were slingshot experts and would never miss. The word in ancient Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .
Just after the giving of the 10 Commandments, the Torah states that:
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)
The ancient Hebrew word translated ‘sinning’ is תֶחֱטָֽאוּ. It has the same root as the ‘miss’ for the expert soldiers. The soldier shoots to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in G-d’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.
This missed-the-target picture of us is not happy or optimistic. People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”. But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth? I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue. We can’t ignore them. All the systems of law, police, locks, security, failed peace treaties that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong. At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.
Mankind has a problem. We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions. But G-d did not leave us in this predicament. In the sentences that follow in the Torah’s account of the Garden, Israel’s coming is prophesied using a riddle. Understanding that riddle will help us make sense of the Tanakh and understand G-d’s role for the people He made an “everlasting covenant” with. We look at this next.
The Tanakh is remarkable in that, though it is the foundation for Jewish heritage, culture and history, it also includes all nations and peoples in its scope. When the Bible begins with creation and declares that man was created ‘in the image of G-d’ this includes all peoples, Jew and Gentile. This explains why all human life is precious. However, the Tanakh continues on from creation to reveal a serious problem – highlighted in this Psalm of David.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)
Since this says that ‘all’ of us have ‘become corrupt’ it also includes all peoples and nations. Though we were all made ‘in the image’ of G-d, blessed be He, something has wrecked this image in us so that, from G-d’s point-of-view, we are now corrupt. Corruption is shown in a chosen independence from G-d (‘all have turned aside’ from ‘seeking G-d’) and also in not doing ‘good’ – not even one of us!
Picturing Elves and Orcs
To understand this, compare orcs and elves from the movie Lord of the Rings. Orcs are ugly and evil. Elves are beautiful and peaceful (ex. Legolas). But orcs had once been elves that Sauron had corrupted in the past. The original elf image had been wrecked in the orcs. In a similar way the Psalm says that all people have become corrupted.
God had made elves but we have become orcs.
For example, we understand ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour. But we do not consistently live by what we know. Like a computer virus that damages the proper workings of a computer, our moral code is there – but it is infected. The Biblical view of mankind begins with all people as good and moral, but then also corrupted. This fits with what we observe about ourselves, and the world around us. In all nations and down through history, mankind has failed to consistently live up to the moral high road that we sense with our conscience. But this raises a question: why did God make us this way? We know right and wrong yet are corrupted from it. As atheist Christopher Hitchens complains about the 10th commandment prohibiting coveting:
“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., coveteous ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.” Christopher Hitchens. 2007. God is not great: How religion spoils everything. p. 100
But he misses that the Bible does not say that G-d made us this way, but that something terrible happened after we were made. The first humans revolted against God and in their rebellion they changed and were corrupted.
The Fall of Mankind
This event is sometimes called The Fall. Adam, the first man, was created by G-d and there was an agreement between them, like a marriage contract of faithfulness. The book of Hosea in the Tanakh describes it like this:
Like Adam, they have broken the covenant… (Hosea 6: 7a)
Adam broke the covenant or agreement he had made with G-d. The consequences of that affect all peoples, both Jew and Gentile, even today. The promises of G-d to Israel, the Bible, and even Israel itself are impossible to understand if we ignore what Adam did and the results that followed. In fact, though the events of Adam happened long before Abraham lived, the seeds of Israel itself are bound up in the events of Adam. To understand why we need to observe what happened with Adam.
Previously, I argued that Ezekiel had foreseen the Jewish exile and subsequent loss of sovereignty in the land of Israel 606 BCE -> 537 BCE -> 1948 CE as he prophetically lay on his side for 430 days. This addressed Sam Harris’s demand that the Biblical prophets foretell something specific for our time.
The Prophetic Timetable for Jerusalem
This same sequence also holds true for the city of Jerusalem and the Kotel (Temple site) – it is just shifted from the above dates. To see this we need to know some details of Jewish history. The Jewish Kingdom of Judah lost its independence to the Babylonians in 606/605 BCE when it became subject to Babylonia, and the first wave of deportations to Babylon occurred. Daniel was in this group of exiles. This started the countdown for Jeremiah’s 70 year exile. However it was not until the failed revolt a few years later that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, destroying and burning both the city and the First Temple. The accepted date for this is 586 BCE. This started the exile and desolation of Jerusalem proper.
The Jerusalem Temple – also desolate for 70 years
The Jews returned under the Persian Emperor Cyrus’s Edict in 537 BCE that fulfilled the 70 years of exile that Jeremiah had predicted. But after returning they were not able (because of lack of interest and local opposition) to rebuild their temple. That work was not begun in earnest until 520 BCE under the promptings of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The Second Temple was finally inaugurated in 516 BCE. So from 586 BCE to 516 BCE the Temple was also desolate for 70 years. The length of time was the same as that of the formal exile, but the start and end dates were shifted over 19 years.
Jerusalem in 1967
I suggested that the re-birth of Israel in 1948 was the conclusion to Ezekiel’s prophesy but this did not include Jerusalem. In the 1948 war of Independence Israel did not get Jerusalem as it was not able to hold the city of Jerusalem or the Kotel and it was lost to Jordan. It was later, in the six-day war of 1967, that Jerusalem with the Kotel was regained by Israel.
In other words, the prophetic schedule given by Ezekiel (and Leviticus) can shift so that Jerusalem also fits the prophetic timetable of national exile. The dates of 586 BCE (destruction of Jerusalem & First Temple) -> 516 BCE (restoration of 2nd Temple) -> 1967 CE (return of Jerusalem & Kotel to Israel) matches the predictions of Ezekiel exactly as the dates of 606/05 BCE (first exile of Israelites to Babylon; Kingdom of Judah under Babylonian power) -> 537 BCE (first Jewish return from exile under Cyrus) -> 1948 CE (re-birth of modern Israel). Both sets of events follow the same intervals and thus both are fulfilled with Ezekiel’s drama of lying on his side. As the saying goes, Ezekiel “killed two birds with one stone”.
Coincidence or Prophecy?
So what are we to make of this? On the one hand it does not hurt to be cautious. If you look long and hard enough you can match some sequence of numbers matching different historical events. For example, the interval of 2300 days is prominent in Daniel 8. World War II was very close to being 2300 days long. Is it possible that WWII is a ‘fulfillment’ of Daniel’s 2300 days because of the close match? We would see this as a coincidence since the context of Daniel 8 does not fit WWII. Why would we treat Ezekiel’s prophecy differently?
The Persistent Theme of Dispersal and Re-gathering
Ezekiel’s ‘lying on his sides’ prophecy is not being matched with any event that ‘fits’ but with his explanation of it. Here is what Ezekiel wrote that the 430 days on his side meant:
I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. (Ezekiel 4:5) ….
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. (Ezekiel 5:8)…
and a third [of the Jews] I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword (Ezekiel 5:12b)
To then assign a meaning of 430 years of exile and punishment for Israel and Jerusalem is not assigning any meaning to the prophecy, but the meaning that the prophet himself put on it. This prophecy of exile and punishment is part of an overarching theme that runs through the Torah and Tanakh – this theme of a dispersion and a re-gathering of the Jews. It starts with Moses and continues through other books of the Old Testament including Isaiah. and Ezekiel’s vision of Dry Bones.
This ensures that we are not just grabbing any set of numbers presented in Ezekiel and looking for any set of events that matches these numbers. Moses and Ezekiel (along with Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and a few others) together develop a consistent theme with some remarkably precise elements within that theme. Ezekiel matches modern-day Israeli events with a precise and measurable chronology. I know of no other writings, modern or ancient, that does this in a remotely comparable way.
 As in the previous timetable there were 430 years of exile, 70 of which were paid in the initial exile but the remainder (430-70=360) multiplied by 7 as per Leviticus. This is the ‘[70+(360*7)]’ part of the calculation. We, like before and like in Daniel, convert to 360 day years (the ‘360/365.24’ factor). The ‘+1’ because there is no year 0 in going from BCE->CE. These factors are exactly the same as used in the previous calculation of the exile of Israel. What is different now is that we start with 586 BCE rather than 606 BCE since we are starting from the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. 586 BCE is like -586 so the whole equation become -586 + [70+(360*7)]*360/365.24 = 1967, which corresponds to 1967 CE.
We saw how Ezekiel’s vision of Dry Bones coming back to life predicted the modern re-birth of Jewish Israel. We also saw how Jewish skeptic Sam Harris was unimpressed with Bible prophecy. He wanted to see a time-specific prediction relying on the Torah. As if anticipating this challenge, Ezekiel was also commanded to do out something bizarre. Here is what G-d, blessed be He, commanded him to do in a prophecy acted out:
4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel.
6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege. (Ezekiel 4: 4-8)
Ezekiel was commanded to remain bound on one side and then on the other for over a year! To give a little background, Ezekiel was writing from Babylon just before the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem (thus the reference to a siege). This siege lasted many months but finally Jerusalem was conquered in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, the city was burned, the First Temple destroyed and the Israelites sent to exile in Babylon. Ezekiel would soon meet the captives brought from the siege of Jerusalem after he had acted out this prophecy.
But why were the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem? They had defeated the Jewish nation in a war in 606 BCE and so the Israelites had, in effect, lost their independence that year. Most were permitted to remain in Judah, but some, like Daniel, were sent to Babylon in this first wave of deportation that occurred in 606 BCE. The Jews in Jerusalem at first grudgingly swore allegiance and paid tribute to the Babylonians but later on revolted against them. So the Babylonians came and laid siege to Jerusalem, mercilessly crushing it in 586 BCE. The kings of David have never reigned since then.
Note how Ezekiel referred to the ‘House of Israel’ and the ‘House of Judah’. After Solomon, around 900 BCE, the Israelites had split into two political countries – Judah and Israel. This was a similar situation to Koreans today – one people divided politically into the two countries of North and South Korea. The ‘House of Israel’ had already been conquered as a political entity around 722 BCE by Assyrian. See more details on history of Israel here.
In this acted drama, Ezekiel prophesied a period of 390 days + 40 days = 430 days, with each day representing a year (v. 5 & 6). So he was prophesying 430 years to pay ‘for sin’. Where does this idea that such a payment for sin was required? The parting Blessings and Curses of Moses stated that if they sinned they would pay for their sin in being exiled from their land. So Ezekiel was now prophesying from this principle rooted in Deuteronomy that they were to enter 430 years of exile.
The 360 day year
Today we commonly use the 365.244-day year (the Gregorian calendar) and the traditional Hebrew calendar based on lunar months with extra ‘leap-months’ added to keep lunar year from moving away from the solar year. In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360-day calendar was common, and it was the year length that Daniel used and is the basis of the prophetic year used in the Torah. We will need to convert Ezekiel’s 360-day years to our solar years to understand his prophecy in our calendar. But there is another twist to consider first.
Jeremiah’s 70 year Prophecy of Exile
While Ezekiel was in Babylon prophesying 430 years of exile his contemporary, Jeremiah, living through the siege in Jerusalem wrote:
8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, (Jeremiah 25:8-12)
Jeremiah prophesied 70 years … not 430. So which was it – 70 or 430? It turns out that in 539 BCE the Babylonians were conquered by Medes and Persians. King Cyrus of Persia then permitted the Jews in Babylonian exile to return to Jerusalem.
So the Babylonian exiles arrived back in Jerusalem 537 BCE. From the initial deportation in 606 BC to 537 BC – Jeremiah’s prophecy of destruction of the Babylonians and return to Jerusalem in 70 years was fulfilled. Now this is precise, but not impressive. Sam Harris would certainly point out that it would have been easy for later editors of Jeremiah’s book to insert the ‘prophecy’ to ensure a ‘fulfillment’. Since the earliest existing copies of the prophetic books are the Dead Sea Scrolls from 200-100 BCE we cannot be sure that it did not happen this way. If this was all we had we would have to agree with Harris that it would be inadequate evidence of Omniscient prophecy.
The Leviticus Principle
But is there not also a contradiction between Jeremiah and Ezekiel? They seem to be predicting mutually exclusive things – one an exile of 70 years and the other an exile of 430 years. It would be impossible for both to be right. Or is it? Because if you go to the ‘principles in Leviticus’ that Harris had asked for you will see the following:
if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: … 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.
18 ” ‘If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven timesover.19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze…
21 ” ‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve…
23 ” ‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over….
27 ” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over…
40 ” ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. (Leviticus 26: 14-43)
G-d, blessed be He, stated that if they did not obey the Law they would be defeated by their enemies who would rule over them (v. 17). This warning provided the background for Jeremiah’s declaration of a 70 year exile which started with the first Babylonian deportation (606 BC) and ended when a Jewish remnant returned back to their land in 537 BC.
Then v. 18 says ‘If after all this…’ (i.e. the sequence of events from disobedience, conquest, exile and return) they still remained ‘hostile’ to G-d and did not ‘listen’ to His commands the punishment for sins would be multiplied seven times over. This is repeated directly in v. 21, 23 and 28. Events unfolded just that way. The Jews were to return to the Land to renew their hearts – which they never really did. Only a small remnant returned … they struggled for years to be motivated to rebuild the Second Temple which they grudgingly accomplished but few were interested in putting out the effort … Nehemiah brought another group 80 years later when permission to rebuild Jerusalem was given. But as a people they continued to pursue their own interests and are scolded by Nehemiah for their exploitation of the poor and intermarriage. Malachi, the last book of the Tanakh written, was a plea for them to remain faithful in their marriage covenants and in their offerings to G-d – which they did not do. They remained hostile to Him.
So the punishment, according to this Leviticus principle, was multiplied seven times over. Only after the full seven-times payment was made would G-d, blessed be He, remember the covenant made with Isaac, Abraham and the land (v.42). What was that covenant? G-d had promised Abraham that He would give his descendants the land. In other words, only after the full seven-fold payment was made would Jews be allowed to claim and rule that land that G-d had originally promised to the Hebrew patriarchs. When they returned by Cyrus’s Edict they only did so as a vassal province within the Persian Empire. The Persians still ruled and controlled the land. Jewish rule would have to wait until the seven-fold payment was made.
Leviticus, Jeremiah & Ezekiel Converge – in Modern Day History
With the insight from the ‘principle in Leviticus’ we can understand Ezekiel’s prophecy. He had predicted 430 years of exile for their sin. They paid 70 years (as per Jeremiah) which brought the ‘debt’ down to 430 – 70 = 360 years. This remainder was multiplied by seven (as per Leviticus) to get: 360 * 7 = 2520 years.
Let us now convert these to our solar years and put it on a timeline:
The Babylonian exile lasted from 606 BCE -> 537 BCE = 69 years. This was exactly as specified by Jeremiah if we convert his timeframe into solar years (70 years * 360/365.2422 = 69 Gregorian solar years of Jeremiah’s exile).
Ezekiel’s remaining seven-fold years would be:
2520 years * 360/365.2422 = 2484 Gregorian solar years of Ezekiel’s exile
Adding 2484 years to 537 BCE (when the exiles returned and this seven-fold period started) we come to 1948 AD.
What happened in 1948? That was the year Israel was re-born as a modern nation – an independent and self-ruled Jewish country. Most remarkable, Ezekiel, with some ‘principles from Leviticus’, saw it 2500 years ago – precise to the year!
So let’s reflect. Sam Harris challenged the Bible to predict something for “the latter half of the 20th century”, using “principles from Leviticus”, and doing so would show it to be a “product of omniscience”. Harris gave this challenge because he figured it was impossible – but he never actually looked. He thought that ‘within half a century’ was hard enough so no one would attempt it. Ezekiel, with some principles from Leviticus, was bang on to the year starting about 2500 years ago, in predicting the re-birth of Israel in 1948, and in the process, managed to resolve a seeming contradiction with Jeremiah. I’d say that is pretty good. At the very least, whether we are Zionist, anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox, Reformed – or Christian, Muslim, atheist or something else this is something worth being informed about even as we may weigh the implications differently. In my next post I will look at how Jerusalem and the Temple Mount (Kotel) fits Ezekiel’s (with some principles from Leviticus) far-seeing predictions.
 537 BCE is like -537. So -537 + 2484 + 1 = 1948 (the +1 is because there is no 0 on this number line, it goes from -1 to +1 (1 BCE –> 1 AD) – in an interval of 1
We saw how Moses in the Torah and how Isaiah in the Prophets (Nevi’im) prophesied the dispersal, exile and the re-gathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel – events that are facts of Jewish history as well as modern-day happenings. In doing so, they pass the test for Divine inspiration laid down long ago in the Torah
21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18: 21-22)
It is because these are persistent prophecies throughout the Tanakh that add credibility to this evidence. For example, take the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived during the first exile (550 BC) in Babylon as shown in the timeline.
In his book he describes a bizarre vision
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10)
A man is whisked away to a valley full of bones which start to rattle as they join together forming skeletons, and then dead flesh and skin wraps around the lifeless skeletons so that they become corpses. Then the wind blows wildly from all directions and the bodies all come to life and they stand up to become a great army. This sounds like a script from a horror movie for Halloween! But Ezekiel was not interested in sending shivers down our spines. He claimed that this script was a message from G-d Himself, Blessed be He. To remove all guesswork, he explicitly wrote the meaning of his vision
1 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 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, declares the Lord.’”
One Nation Under One King
15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.’17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.
18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘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. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:11-23)
The Jews in Ezekiel’s day did return from the Babylonian exile a few decades after this vision, but that was a return only from Babylon, and they remained only a province within the Persian Empire. Ezekiel wrote of a return from ‘the nations’ ‘all around’ back to Israel where they would be ‘one nation’ with their own ‘king’ or government. That did not happen until thousands of years later when the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948. For a nation of 8 million people, having 40% of the population do aliyah from almost half the countries of the globe in the 70 years since independence, after an exile of 1900 years, is nothing short of remarkable. Even more remarkable is that Ezekiel ‘saw’ it in his vision 2500 years ago.
But some who have reflected on this are unconvinced. Prominent among them is Sam Harris, a well-known Jewish American atheist. Here is his objection:
“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. p.60
Harris mocks the prophecy in the Bible as being just coincidence. In his view, if you ‘predict’ something vague enough (regathering of Jews to Abraham’s Promised Land), eventually it will happen just by chance. He would be impressed if Ezekiel had prophesied timing it to the 20th century and linking the prophecy back to Leviticus. That would be real sign of G-d!
Unfortunately for Harris, Ezekiel was not yet finished. Because Ezekiel, in another really dramatic prophecy does predict the time – to the 20th century – and, almost as if there is some Divine humor in addressing Harris’s taunt, links it back to … the book of Leviticus. We take it up next here.