Jerusalem & the Hebrew Prophet vs. Jewish skeptic (Pt 3)

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.

Applying the same prophetic timetable that we had used for Israel but now using Jerusalem dates (destroyed 586BCE, Temple rebuilt 516BCE, regained 1967CE) we get the following result:

586BCE + [70+(360*7)]*360/365.24 + 1 => 1967CE [1]

Ezekiel foretells the dispersal and re-gathering to Jerusalem, as a frame-shift of the schedule of Israel proper
Ezekiel foretells the dispersal and re-gathering to Jerusalem, as a frame-shift of the schedule of Israel proper

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.


[1] 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.

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.