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.
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.
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 BC. 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 BC. 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 BC) 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 BC. 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 BC 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.
The call of G-d, Blessed be He, to Abram in Genesis 12 began a theme that will run through Tanakh regarding the relationships between Jews, their promised Land of Israel, and other nations. These three are clashing today – as we see daily in news headlines. But the Tanakh can aid us in understanding the root of what is happening.
Moses’ fifth book in the Torah, Deuteronomy, contains his last proclamations given just before he died. These were his Blessings to the people of Israel – but also his Curses. Moses wrote that these Blessings and Curses would shape Jewish history and should be reflected on, not just by the Jews, but also by all other nations. The complete Blessings and Curses are here. We reflect on the major points below.
The Blessings of Moses
Moses began by describing the blessings that Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law – the commands in the Torah. The blessings were from G-d, blessed be He, and would be so great that all other nations would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would impact other nations such that:
Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)
… and the Curses
However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would be opposite from the Blessings. These Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:
You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)
And the Curses would extend through history.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)
But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from other nations.
The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)
It would go from bad to worse.
You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)
These Blessings and Curses were established by a covenant (an agreement) between G-d, blessed be He, and the Israelites:
…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)
So this covenant of Blessings and Curses, would be binding on the children, or future generations – Jews through history. But the covenant would even be something for the other nations to reflect on.
Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”
And the answer will be:
“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)
The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses
But this final prophecy of Moses did not end with Curses. It continued. Here is the conclusion to what Moses predicted.
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)
After Moses, successive prophets of the Tanakh continued with this promise first stated here – that there would be a restoration and re-gathering after the Curses. These later prophets made bold, troubling and detailed predictions which we look at later.
Did The Blessings & Curses happen?
The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly destructive. Jews through history have themselves sometimes been anti-Semitic (ex. Karl Marx). Other Jews, even today, view Zionism negatively. But here Moses, even as he states terrible Curses, does not carry an anti-semitic or anti-zion tone. He concludes with the promise of Zionism – that the Jews in his distant future, will be re-gathered and restored to the land of Israel. Yet at the same time he is brutally honest about the failures and difficult future awaiting the Jewish people. This same straight honesty in criticism of the Israelites will re-appear in the pens of later prophets in the Tanakh. They criticize, condemn and lay bare the failures of the Jewish people. But they do so as fellow Jews, writing with holy zeal to warn and protect their own people. They will write in the name of G-d, blessed be He, and this will outweigh any desire they may have had to hide the sins or conceal coming tragedies that the Jews will experience.
Since these prophecies were given in the name of the G-d of Israel, blessed be He, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did they happen?’ The Tanakh contains extensive records of Israelite history and many Jews have also recorded histories. The land of Israel also has a rich archaeology. All of these sources paint a consistent picture of the Jewish history. A summary of this history is given here.
When you compare the predictions of Moses with Jewish/Israelite history, it is clear that his predictions came true – and we are witnessing them still in our modern era. Though questions remain unanswered, this should cause us to openly consider that there is a G-d who has guided Jewish history. If this is so, then current events, and future Israeli destiny, murky as it may seem to us, will be guided also by this same G-d. That may bring us comfort, or strike fear into our hearts. But it would be foolish to ignore what the later prophets of the Tanakh prophesied about the Jews, their land, and other nations – in the name of this same G-d, blessed be He, who seemingly can control the destiny of His people.
Even though Israel is a small country it is always in the global news. This news often reports on the unending conflicts between Israeli Jews and their neighbours, and the search for peace. Even if there is no actual warfare there is continuous tension. How did this start? Many people look back only as far back as the birth of Israel in 1948. But if we are to understand the situation we need to look back much further. We need to go back to the ancient history of Israel recorded in the Torah. A look at Israel’s history in the book of Genesis of the Bible reveals that 4000 years ago a man, who is now very well known, went on a camping trip in this part of the Middle East. The Bible says that his story affects our future. This ancient man is Abraham (or Abram). We all should be informed of his story so we can understand our situation in difficult modern times.
The Promise to Abraham – Son of Terah
Abraham is introduced in the Bible in Genesis 12 with God making a promise to him:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
Abraham’s name became Great
Many of us wonder if there really is a G-d and if He really is the G-d of the Bible. Jewish history has been so long and difficult that to many people it seems that no G-d has guided it. But in this promise to Abraham, G-d said ‘I will make your name great’ and today the name of Abraham/Abram is known worldwide. It is not simply that Abraham is known among the Jews, his descendants. But literally billions of people on the planet today know the story of Abraham. These people are from all countries around the world. This promise has literally come true. The earliest existing copy of Genesis is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is dated 200-100 B.C. which means the promise has been in writing at least since that time. In that time the name of Abraham was known only among the scattered Jewish remnant. So the fulfillment of this little promise only came true later, after it was written down.
… by means of his great nation
Surprisingly Abraham really did nothing important in his life. He was not a great writer, king, inventor or military leader. He did nothing except camp out where he was told to go and father a few children. His name is great only because the children became nation(s) that kept the record of his life – and then individuals and nations that came from him became great. The Jews are the people most known as descendants of Abraham. This is exactly how it was promised in Genesis 12 (“I will make you into a great nation … I will make your name great”). No one else in all history is so well-known only because of descendants rather than from great achievements in his own life.
…Through the Will of the Promise-Maker
Jews who descended from Abraham were never really a nation normally associated with greatness. Jews did not conquer a great empire like the Romans did or build large monuments like the Egyptians did with the pyramids. Their fame comes from the Law and Book which they wrote; from some remarkable individuals that were Jewish; and that they have survived as a somewhat different people group for thousands of years. Their greatness is not because of anything they did, but rather what was done to and through them. The promise says repeatedly that “I will …”. Their unique greatness happened because G-d made it happen rather than some ability, conquest or power of their own.
The promise to Abraham came true because he trusted a promise and chose to live differently than others. Think how likely it was for this promise to have failed, but instead it has happened, and is continuing to unfold, as it was stated thousands of years ago. The case is real that the promise came true only because of the power and authority of the Promise-Maker.
The Aliyah of Abraham – The Journey that still shakes the World
The Bible then says that “So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4). He began a journey, shown on the map that is still making history.
Blessings to us
There is something else promised as well. The blessing was not only for Abraham. It says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (through Abraham). We should pay attention because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’. In fact this is true regardless of whether we are Jewish or not. No matter what our religion, color, background, nationality, social status, or what language we speak – we are part of ‘all nations’. This promise for a blessing includes everybody alive today! How? When? What kind of blessing? This is not clearly stated here but since we know that the first parts of this promise have come true, we can have confidence that this last part will also come true. We can begin to find the key to unlock this mystery by continuing with the Blessings and Curses of Moses to the Jews.