Isaiah & the re-gathering of Jews to Israel

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.

Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh
Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh

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.
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.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

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)

Map of Israel + Judah and surrounding countries in 750 BC (1st Temple Period) vs. map of Israel and countries of today
Map of Israel + Judah and surrounding countries in 750 BC (1st Temple Period) vs. map of Israel and countries of today

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.

Moses Prophesies Jewish History: A Sign for both Jews and Gentiles

Moses’ Blessings & Curses in Torah

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.

Abraham’s Aliyah: 4000 years ago but still heard around the world today

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

abraham-migration-map2
This map shows the journey of Abraham

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.