God chose Israel as his own, a nation through which He would demonstrate his faithfulness, his goodness, and his justice. God chose them not because they were great, but because they were small, the smallest of all the nations of the world.
God foreknew Israel’s disobedience. This disobedience results in the conquering of Israel, followed by a regathering and a rebuilding. But again, the nation descends into idolatry and perversion.
The nation experiences defeat again, but this time it proves much more devastating. Many in the church teach that this was the end of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel and that God resolved Israel had gone too far. They instruct that God chose the church as his object of affection, replacing Israel. But they ignore the clear teaching of scripture.
Whose Land Is It (Part 1) presents strong evidence for Israel’s historical and legal right to the land she inhabits. Although discussion from 1947 to present, which also includes the status of Jerusalem, needs more attention, it is appropriate to pause and ponder that God, in His foreknowledge and providence, reveals through scripture what has happened to Israel as a result of sin and disobedience.
Amos 3:7 declares: “Surely the Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” And in Isaiah the Word expresses: “I am God…there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done… before it came to you I showed it to you… new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9; 46:9-10; 48:5). Certainly then, scripture prophetically unveils the judgement that Israel experiences.
Before establishing Israel as a nation on May 14th, 1948, God knew that Israel would be sown among the nations for almost 1900 hundred years. As students of scripture, it is also imperative to understand that the Bible describes both of Israel’s disbursements, 586 BC and 70 AD, in stark contrast to each other.
The first conquest of Israel was carried out by a nation, Babylon, and the people were carried off to that single nation. During the 70 years of captivity (which Isaiah also reveals), the people were told to be at peace, and to plant, build, marry, and to pray for the prosperity of Babylon.
After the second destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the people were scattered to the nations of the world, and unlike the first disbursement, there was no definitive time for regathering. Also in contrast to 586 BC, this scattering was significant in that the people were hunted, persecuted, and fearful.
Repeatedly in scripture, God calls for His people to come home from the nations. It is this second regathering that these scriptures speak of. Furthermore, scripture specifically calls on the people to return from the land of the north. And from the north, God has indeed led the Jews home.
Before looking at these prophetic passages, some may argue that all the scriptures calling for the Jewish people to rebuild in the land simply refer to the regathering granted by King Cyrus as seen in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Consider the word of God in Amos 9:14-15: “…and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God.”
“Never to be uprooted again from the land I have given them…” This promise is preeminent in understanding God’s plans for Israel, because only for the modern state of Israel can this assurance be valid. They were uprooted twice before (586 BC and 70 AD), but will never be so again!
The First Dispersion: Prophecy
Even before Israel conquered Canaan, Moses told the people of the consequences of disobedience.
The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young. And they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you.
They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which your trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)
The First Dispersion: Fulfillment
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and took the survivors back to Babylon as slaves. Knowing that this first dispersion would only be 70 years, God told the people through the prophet Jeremiah:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29:5-7
The First Restoration: Prophecy
As was shown in Part 1, two hundred years before Israel returned under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Isaiah prophesied that a Persian king named Cyrus would allow the Jews to return to the land of Israel and rebuild Jerusalem.
…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”‘
“Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held — to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut:
‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other… (Isaiah 44:28-45:6)
Jeremiah confirms this first restoration:
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.” (Jeremiah 24:4-6)
“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. “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, “and will make it desolate forever.” (Jeremiah 25:11-12)
The First Restoration: Fulfillment
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up! (2 Chronicles 36:22-23)
The Second Dispersion: Prophecy
Moses warned that a second dispersion would be much worse than the first…
You shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God. And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.
“Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known–wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life (Deuteronomy 28:62-66).
Jeremiah affirms the nature of this disbursement:
“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols.” Jeremiah 16:16-18
“Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”” Jeremiah 9:15-16
The Second Dispersion: Fulfillment
Titus and the Roman Tenth Legion destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD. And note, unlike the first dispersion where God instructs the people to build, settle, plant, and eat, the second dispersion marks a time of no rest, trembling hearts, and anguish of soul. Indeed, this plight describes the Jews’ human condition for much of the last 2000 years. Israel has paid a high price for her disobedience.
The Second Restoration: Prophecies
“However, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but it will be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.” Jeremiah 16:14-15 (see also Jeremiah 12:14-15; 23:7-8)
“I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”” Jeremiah 29:14
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbors who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.” Ezekiel 28:25-26
God has promised to regather the Jews, and, even today, that prophecy continues to hold true. Thousands of Jews immigrate to Israel each year, some to escape persecution, while others for the chance at better employment and the chance to share in Israel’s abundant prosperity. And while the people have returned from all the nations, God has specifically called the people to return from one specific area, the land of the north. One country north of Israel immediately comes to mind:
Indeed, no other country has been more important in fulfilling what the scriptures say regarding the regathering of the Jews, and the significance of this immigration from Russia is easily seen. From 1948 to 2012, more than 3 million Jews have immigrated to Israel according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Of those, more than 1.2 million are from the Former Soviet Union (FSU). And of those, over 1 million have immigrated from 1989 as the Soviet Union began to disintegrate rapidly.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to loosen the Soviet grip on the countries of Eastern Europe and of Russia opened a pathway for the Jewish people to heed the call of God and return from “the land of the north.” What the world witnessed with the implosion of the Soviet Union was more than just a realignment of geopolitical relationships. When the Iron Curtain was removed, the floodgates opened and the Jewish people returned to the land God gave them.
Not only are the numbers of immigrants significant, but the role of Russian and eastern European immigrants to modern day Israel cannot be overstated. Along with their descendants, Russian speakers now comprise nearly one-fifth of all Israelis. Many of these Russian speakers have assumed vital roles in the highest echelons of government and business, although many had to settle for different, lower status jobs.
Additionally, much of the new generation of Russian immigrants choose not to identify with the Russian community, and rather try to integrate into Israeli society as much as possible. No other group of immigrants has made such a huge impact in Israeli society as the Russians, particularly in the areas of the military, medicine, and science.
When the Russians first arrived, Israel was ill-prepared to absorb them. Despite being well educated, many highly trained Russian scientists, in order to survive, were forced to take jobs cleaning streets. They had learned how to survive in Russia, and those survival skills carried them through in the land of their forefathers.
Now, unlike those early years of the modern State of Israel, the Russian immigrants are not simply surviving but thriving, which is greatly beneficial to Israel.
Clearly, from scripture, from history, and from the incredible congruence between the two, God has planned for and provided for Israel in spite of, and even because of, her sin and disobedience.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8
And though God loves Israel, He has kept His promises to them not because of them, but rather He did so for His own purposes:
Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. Ezekiel 36:22-23
Finally, when the church or others claim that God’s promises to Israel are no longer valid, or that Israel has disqualified herself, God’s people must listen to what He has to say:
Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose’? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation. This is what the Lord says: ‘If I have not made my covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them. Jeremiah 33:24-26
The promises to Israel and her descendants are not dependent upon anything Israel has or has not done. In Genesis 15, God says to Abraham, “To your descendants I will give this land…”. To this promise, God attached no conditions or exceptions.
Admittedly, the descendants of Abraham rejected God, and they paid a dear price. But God’s foreknowledge and prevenient grace planned and provided way to accomplish His plans and His purposes.
In Part 3, I will look at conditions in the land of Israel from 1948 forward, attempting to unravel the conundrums and conflicts that affect the contemporary world.
Whose Land Is It? (Part 1) is a study of the nation of Israel from 1000 BC to 1948.
Whose Land Is It? (Part 3) is a historical, cultural look at the Abrahamic Covenant.