We’ve heard it said by some that they don’t care about the Israel of today because the Jews broke their covenant with God and lost the right to their land — that the Israel of today has no relationship to the Biblical nation. Is that true? What is to be done with the fact that the Jews were returned to the Land of Israel not once, but twice — with the most recent time was in 1948?
The First Scattering
Before addressing the present-day situation, let’s first look at how God dealt with the people of Israel with respect to the Land in the past when she was unfaithful.
When the Hebrews asked for a king in the book of Judges, they were told that only God was their king and when they approached Samuel the Prophet, he told them that their desire for a king was an act of disobedience and that there would be serious consequences if they established a monarchy. The history told in the book of Kings, bears out Samuel’s warning.
Saul was Israel’s first king (1050-1010 BCE), then David (1010-970 BCE) then Solomon (970-930 BCE). The building of King Solomon’s Temple came at a huge financial cost resulting in land being given away and people being sent into forced labour in the north in Tyre. When Solomon died, those in the north refused to submit to Solomon’s son Rehoboam and those ten tribes seceded (split), resulting in two kingdoms; Israel with Samaria as the capital in the north and Judah with Jerusalem as its capital in the south.
Israel, in the north with Samaria as its capital was ruled by a series of wicked kings (930-723 BCE) at which time Samaria, the capital fell to the Assyrians and the Israelites (the people of the northern ten tribes) were taken captive in Assyria. In order to assure that conquered territory remained under their control, the Assyrians did as was their practice and forced the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to relocate to other parts of the Assyrian Empire. These Israelites effectively disappear from history and are what is referred to as “the lost tribes of Israel”.
Judah in the south with Jerusalem as its capital was ruled by series of kings (930 BCE-597 BCE); a few of them good and some extremely wicked, at which time Jerusalem falls at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar captured Judah’s king Jehoiachin, took him as prisoner to Babylon and sets up king Zedekiah as a puppet king over Judah until 597 BCE when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroying the city and the First Temple and taking the Jews (people of the two southern tribes) captive.
The Babylonians (also called Chaldeans) also relocated the local population but unlike the Assyrians, they did not scatter them all over their Empire, but to a single location which enabled the Jews to maintain their separate community and retain their religion and identity. The Babylonian exile, as documented in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah ended in 538 BCE, when the Persians conquered Babylonia and Cyrus the Great gave the Jews permission to return to the land. How does the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities tie into how we view the current nation of Israel?
God was very clear in the Law as to what would happen if they obeyed His commands and what would happened if they didn’t. Leviticus 26:1-13 spells out what God would do if the people obeyed His commands especially with regards to the Land;
“I will give you rain at the right time, and the land will yield its produce, and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest, and the grape harvest will continue until sowing time; you will have plenty of food to eat and live securely in your land. I will give peace to the land, and you will lie down with nothing to frighten you.”
~Leviticus 26: 4-6
In addition, the Law in Leviticus 26:14-33 also spelled out what God would do if the people did not obey His commands especially with regards to the Land;
“I will reject you. I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices. I also will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to live there will be appalled by it. But I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword to chase after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.”
~Leviticus 26: 30-33
The Assyrian and Babylonian captivities should have come as no surprise to the people of God because the Law of Moses clearly spelled out what would happen if they disobeyed. True to His word, God judged the people for their apostasy by scattering them just as He said He would do.
This was the First Jewish Diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, meaning “scattering, dispersion”).
The First Return – an Act in 4 Parts then a 5th
The return to Zion from captivity (known as aliyah, in Hebrew) occurred initially in four stages with only a handful of Jews returning to the land of Israel following the decree of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great in 538 BCE. Most of the Jews still remained in Babylon. In the subsequent stages, many Jews returned from captivity, although some remained there for 2,600 years (more below).
The different stages of the return to Zion are documented in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and are as follows;
- In 538 BCE, approximately 1,000 Jews returned under a man known as Sheshbazzar out of the notion to redeem the land of Israel from its ruins and to re-establish the Temple.
- The second wave of return was led by Zerubbabel, the grandson of Jeconiah, king of Judah who was a descendant of the house of David. It was these that completed the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 516 BCE.
- The third wave of return was led by Ezra in 458 BCE with official approval of the Persian government and permission to take money from exiled Jews to the Temple and Jews living in Israel. Around 5,000 Jews were in this wave of Zion returnees. Ezra appointed magistrates and judges and to teach the law of God to the people of Israel.
- The fourth wave of return was led by Nehemiah in 445 BCE. It is not clear how many Zion returnees joined him, but the Book of Nehemiah depicts a strong army escort supplied by the king.
Despite the ability for the Jews to return to the Land, many chose to remain in Babylon and there was a Jewish presence there and in what became modern day Iraq until June of 1941 when the Farhud (“violent dispossession”) took place. This became the final gathering of the captives back to the Land; completed some 2,600 years later.
The Second Scattering
In 66 CE, after the Jews protested excessive Roman taxation, the Romans plundered the Second Temple and killed 6,000 Jews. This was the start of the Jewish-Roman war (66-73 CE) and was led by the future Emperor Titus. The Early Church, referred to as the Nazarenes by the Romans were seen as a sect of Judaism and fared no better than non-believing Jews.
Titus ordered the burning of the Second Temple which was built after the return of the captives of Babylon to Zion and which was only ~ 90 years old at the time. Although this seemed to be natural events of history, these events had been prophesied by Jesus in Matt 24:1-25 & 46, Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-36.
With the ‘siege of Jerusalem’ in 70 CE and the destruction of the Temple, the Jews including those of the Early Church fled Jerusalem. Josephus documents that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege of which the majority were Jewish and 97,000 were captured and enslaved and many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. The Jewish state came to an end in 70 CE and the Second Jewish Diaspora began.
The Holocaust, Liberation and the Second Return to Zion
At the end of World War II, as Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they began to encounter tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. Many of these had survived forced marches into the interior of Germany from camps in occupied Poland and were suffering from starvation and disease. The Soviets arrived at the remains of the Nazi concentration camp of Majdanek near Lublin, Poland in July 1944 and while the Germans tried to hide the evidence of mass murder by demolishing the camp and by setting fire to the large crematorium used to burn bodies of murdered Jews, in the hasty evacuation the gas chambers were left standing; evidence of what had gone on before.
By the summer of 1944 the Soviets arrived at the concentration camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka but it was too late. The Germans already dismantled these camps in 1943 after most of the Jews of Poland had already been killed.
Seventy years ago this year, in January 1945 the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp and Jewish extermination center. By the time they arrived, there were only a few thousand emaciated prisoners left alive as the Nazis had already murdered the rest
After Liberation, many Jewish survivors feared to return to their former homes in Europe because of anti-Semitism and the horrendous trauma they had suffered. Some who returned home in Europe and faced pogroms (violent anti-Jewish riots); where Jews continued to be killed (e.g. Kielce, Poland 1946).
With few possibilities for emigration, tens of thousands of homeless Jewish holocaust survivors migrated westward to other European territories liberated by the western Allies where they were housed in UN-administered refugee centers and displaced persons camps such as Bergen-Belsen in Germany. In 1947, the Jewish displaced person population of these camps was ~250,000 people.
With the United States heavily restricting the number of refugees permitted to enter and many countries around the world having closed their borders to Jewish immigration, the Jews looked to the land of Palestine which was under British rule since the end of WWI. however the British restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine because of the armed Arab revolts. The British at first tried to maintain order but as the crisis escalated, they turned the matter of the Arabs in Jewish Palestine over the United Nations (UN). In a special session, the UN General Assembly voted in UN Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947 to partition the remaining 25% of Jewish Palestine into two states (again); one Jewish and the other Arab; a recommendation that Jewish leaders accepted and the Arabs rejected. The Arabs didn’t want part of Jewish Palestine; they wanted all of it. Resolution 181 allocated 43% of Jewish Palestine to this second Arab state within Jewish Palestine. The Jews accepted to allocate 43% of their land in exchange for peace with the Arabs, but the Arabs rejected it, wanting all of the Jewish homeland as theirs. The British began their withdrawal of military forces from Palestine in early April 1948 and on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine announced the formation of the state of Israel. Holocaust survivors from the refugee centers and displaced persons camps across Europe were welcomed into the Jewish homeland.
The First and Second Return to Zion – Political Decree or God’s Hand?
On the surface, the first return to Zion was simply a result of the political decree of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great in 538 BCE and the second return to Zion was no more than the result of a political decree of the British in 1922 when they established Palestine to be the Jewish homeland and of the United Nations when they gave the land to the Jews in 1948.
Is that all that is going on?
In fact, the 70 year captivity of the Jews in Babylon was spoken of beforehand in Jeremiah 25:9-12, Jeremiah 29:10) and happened just as He said (see 2 Chronicles 36:20-23). It wasn’t just Jeremiah that prophesied about the first captivity. The prophet Ezekiel was also given a prophetic message to speak to Jews in Judea and later to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, a people who were mostly in a state of rebellion (Ezekiel 2:3-7). He was given prophecies to speak about judgment against Israel for their idolatry (Ezekiel 6:1-4) and the destruction of Jerusalem (Ezekiel Chapter 9), yet even in the midst of this, God promises that He will leave a remnant;
“Yet I will leave a remnant when you are scattered among the nations, for throughout the countries there will be some of you who will escape the sword.”
~Ezekiel 6: 8
God promised Ezekiel in chapter 11 that He would gather the Jewish people from the countries where they had been scattered and will give them once again, the land of Israel. Then He says He will “give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them“. Some would say this was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Jews of the Early Church whereas others would say this is a foreshadowing of what is yet to come. In Ezekiel Chapter 16, God describes in vivid detail the sins of Israel; likening her behaviors to that of an adulterous wife and describes His judgement against Israel for serving gods other than Him yet He promises that He will make a new covenant with them and make atonement for their sins. This occurred when the New Covenant was established by Jesus in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah 31: 31-34. Ezekiel’s prophesies up until this point can certainly refer to the time after the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon but in Ezekiel Chapter 20:1-31, God tells Ezekiel that a last days scenario would take place that clearly hasn’t happened yet.
God says that after Israel has served idols instead of Him and defiled His Holy Name, He will bring them back to the Land and there, in the Land, the nation of Israel will repent for their sins. He says He will forgive them and the entire nation will serve Him and He will demonstrate His holiness through Israel in the sight of all the nations.
“As for you, house of Israel, this is what the Lord God says: Go and serve your idols, each of you. But afterward you will surely listen to Me, and you will no longer defile My holy name with your gifts and idols. For on My holy mountain, Israel’s high mountain”—the declaration of the Lord God—“there the entire house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land. There I will accept them and will require your contributions and choicest gifts, all your holy offerings. When I bring you from the peoples and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, I will accept you as a pleasing aroma. And I will demonstrate My holiness through you in the sight of the nations. When I lead you into the land of Israel, the land I swore to give your fathers, you will know that I am Yahweh. There you will remember your ways and all your deeds that you have defiled yourselves with, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil things you have done. You will know that I am Yahweh, house of Israel, when I have dealt with you because of My name rather than according to your evil ways and corrupt acts.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.”
It is in the land, that the Jews repent. God brings them back to the land in their apostasy.
The Jews returned to the land of Israel after exile in Babylon and some could say that God “demonstrated His holiness in the sight of the nations” by the coming of Jesus… but not all of this prophecy has been fulfilled yet.
We cannot (a) point to a time where “the entire house of Israel, all of them have served God in the land” and we cannot (b) point to a time where the nation of Israel repents for their sins after being brought back into the land. This is a future event; referring to the second gathering to Zion after the scattering of 70 AD.
And if that isn’t clear enough, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a day when God will gather the remnant a second time.
“On that day the root of Jesse
will stand as a banner for the peoples.
The nations will seek Him,
and His resting place will be glorious.
On that day the Lord will extend His hand a second time to recover—from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the coasts and islands of the west—the remnant of His people who survive.
He will lift up a banner for the nations
and gather the dispersed of Israel;
He will collect the scattered of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.”
The context can’t be missed; this prophesy is clearly after the coming of Jesus, the root of Jesse and He says very clearly that this is a second gathering of the Jews from exile.
In 1948, God brought the nation of Israel back to the land in preparation for the day of restoration that He has spoken of, yet to come when the “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”. Just as He said He would when He scattered us the second time, He preserved a remnant of 250,000 when 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust and as He said through the prophet Isaiah, He extended His hand a second time to recover the remnant of His people who survived. God is faithful to His Word.
The Second Return – Act 1
The first return from exile in Babylon took place in 5 stages — with the final stage of return not having even begun until 1941 — just before the second return of exiles began.
The first return from exile occurred in stages and it seems apparent that the second return to the Land will also take place in stages — with the first act having taken place in 1948, with the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.
While Jews can return to the land, many Jews still live in the Diaspora, throughout the Western world. Without getting into the what the Scriptures seem to indicate will happen between the present day and the time when the Jews as a people will return to the Land, there is a day spoken of in Scripture that will come and that is the day when the Jewish people, as a whole will have their eyes opened by God, and national repentance will occur. Zechariah speaks of this day:
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David [the Jews] and the residents of Jerusalem and they will look upon Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn.”
As mentioned in an earlier note, this translates literally; ‘they will look upon Me, Elohim their God whom they have pierced and mourn for Him, my Son’. When the “times of the Gentiles has been fulfilled” (Romans 11:25), the nation as a whole will see the One whom we have pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child.
The restoration of the Jews to the land in 1948 is not a fluke or nothing more than the result of secular laws passed by the British and UN. It is the first act in a series of stages of God bringing the Jews back to the land and ultimately to repentance and salvation — just as He spoke long beforehand through the prophets.
When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing[a] everything I am giving you today, then He will restore your fortunes,[b] have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, He will gather you and bring you back from there. The Lord your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than He did your fathers.
~ Deuteronomy 30:1-5
I will bring your descendants from the east,
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north: Give them up!
and to the south: Do not hold them back!
Bring My sons from far away,
and My daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone called by My name
and created for My glory.
[photo by Noam Chen]