The Regathering of Israel

EVER since the advent of modern news media a century ago, the news has never been without some mention of Middle East activities. In the midst of events involving Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Arabia, and the Emirate States, there are events involving the small nation of Israel. The nation of Israel is an outstanding proof of the credibility of the Bible message. No other nation of people could have survived the persecution and deliberate attempts to exterminate them, nor could they have held so tenaciously to their identity as a nation, unless God was directing the issue. Because God has moved in such a gradual way toward fulfilling the prophecies written about Israel, it might be difficult for some to see how positively he has moved toward this goal.

The land of Palestine, as we call it today, or the land of Canaan, as it was known in ancient times, was promised by God to the patriarch, Abraham. Yet Abraham never owned any part of it, except a cave he purchased, which served as a tomb for Sarah and himself. However, his natural descendants through Isaac and Jacob were able to obtain this land as their own. They lived in it, cultivated it, and made it a prosperous land. This experience began after God delivered them from bondage in Egypt and brought them to the land of Canaan. Israel spent many glorious years in that land, and then it was necessary to evict them. Overall, Jacob’s people had 1845 years of favor, a period of time which is reckoned from the death of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) until they were cast off by Jesus, their Messiah. Israel’s experiences were varied during this time. They had made a voluntary move to Egypt at the time of Joseph’s position of authority there. As they continued to dwell in Egypt, they later became enslaved and had to be delivered by Moses, finally returning to Palestine, the land of Jacob, their father. Their glorious years in Palestine seemed to end when they were taken captive to Babylon for seventy years. But then they returned to the land again and remained there until Jesus came.

One of the most well-known and impressive prophecies concerning Israel is found in Isaiah 40:1,2: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The word “double” in this text does not mean “twice as much,” as one might conclude, but rather it is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “fold in two” and refers to a like span or period of time. First came 1845 years from Jacob’s death to Jesus’ death, wherein there were chiefly favors (punishments were minor). Then after Jesus died, came a like period (double) of disfavor in their dispersion and persecution (blessings were minor). This like span of 1845 years ended in 1878, and that year marked the beginning of a change. It involved events that would lead to a restoration of the land to Israel. This small beginning consisted of revising the treaty of San Stefano at the Berlin Congress of Nations and included protection of minority groups in Turkey and Russia. Hence, for the first time in centuries, wealthy Jews were permitted to buy land in Palestine, whereas they had not been permitted to do so theretofore. Since their dispersion they had not been permitted to own land in many nations of the world.

This beginning was so insignificant that if we had analyzed the existing situation at that time, we might have concluded that this investment in a few pieces of land was foolish and that attempts at colonization were doomed to failure. After all, Palestine was still under the dominion of Turkey. The situation was as full of despair as the one confronting Jeremiah during the time of the reign of Zedekiah, Judah’s last king. Jerusalem and the land of Palestine were being besieged by King Nebuchadnezzar’s armies from Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had set up Zedekiah as a puppet king, but Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon. Jeremiah had plainly prophesied to all Israel, and especially to Zedekiah, that Jerusalem would fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He repeatedly told the people of Israel that this had to happen. God had willed it and they could not resist it. To resist was folly. Jeremiah was branded as disloyal and a traitor, and he was imprisoned. With Jerusalem besieged, and Jeremiah in prison, a most peculiar transaction was recorded in Jeremiah 32:6-15: “And Jeremiah said, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. So Hanameel mine uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the Lord, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open: and I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison. And I charged Baruch before them, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.”

Jeremiah, who was perplexed by these strange instructions from God, prayed to God (Jer. 32:16-25) for an explanation, as if to question why anyone would want to buy land at a time when Babylonian conquest was imminent. God explained by giving a lengthy review of Israel’s sins and why he was punishing them. Then God told Jeremiah of the regathering of Israel to Palestine: “Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely.” (Jer. 32:37) The climax to the prophecy comes in verses 43 and 44: “And fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans. Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountains, and in the cities of the valley, and in the cities of the south: for I will cause their captivity to return, saith the Lord.”

Jeremiah’s main interest was the possession of the land after the Babylonian captivity, but God had in mind the possession of the land following the much longer dispersion after Jesus died. This is evident from the words of Jeremiah 32:38-42: “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul. For thus saith the Lord; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them.” Certainly this portion of the prophecy was not fulfilled upon the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity. It still awaits fulfillment.

When Israel was dispersed by the Romans and the land was wasted, it came under the control of Islamic nations. None of these nations were interested in cultivating the land, but they were willing to defend it and prevent it from being acquired by a Christian nation. Hence, every Crusade to liberate the Holy Land failed. By the fourteenth century the Ottoman empire of Turkey possessed this land. The territorial boundaries of that empire extended into north Africa (including Egypt and Libya) in the south, into Persia (Iran) in the east, and into the Balkan nations of Europe and Hungary in the north and west. The Moslems had a firm hold on Palestine and encroached on Europe.

Beginning in 1768, there was a series of wars between Turkey and Russia. Some of the great powers of Europe, such as Great Britain and France in particular, favored Turkey rather than Russia. These nations even fought against Russia in the Crimean War in 1845. It is noteworthy that one of the incidents that led to this war was Russia’s demand to have control of the holy places in Palestine. Although a treaty was negotiated, Russia and Turkey fought again in 1877. This war ended with the signing of the aforementioned treaty of San Stefano, which treaty was so favorable to Russia that Great Britain threatened war unless it was revised. War was narrowly averted when Bismarck of Germany offered to serve as a neutral host and negotiator; and the great powers of Europe went to Berlin in 1878 to hold the Berlin Congress of Nations. The prime minister of Great Britain was Benjamin Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield), who succeeded in returning British influence to the Middle East. Disraeli was of Jewish ancestry; his father had him baptized as a Christian because of a falling out with their rabbi. If Disraeli had not been a Christian, it would have been impossible for him to hold the office of prime minister at that time. Civil liabilities against the Jew in Great Britain had been removed in 1858 for the first time. It was not coincidental that a man of such authority was at the conference to represent the cause of the Jew.

The Berlin Congress made readjustments in the San Stefano treaty as to territories, boundaries, and pacts, but the most important feature of that treaty as far as Israel was concerned lay in the negotiations that called for protection of the Armenians and other religious minorities in Turkey. Thus, purchase of land in Palestine by Jews was protected by treaty. These latter events were important to another movement, which had begun in response to the prophecy of Jeremiah 16:14-16: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them.”

As a liberal attitude started to develop toward the Jews in the lands where they were dispersed (beginning in the 18th century in a few places but more worldwide by the end of the 19th century), many Jewish leaders became alarmed. They had fears of their people being assimilated into the cultures of the different lands as persecution of the Jew subsided. Hence there began a movement called Zionism, whose purpose was to seek a homeland for the Jew. At first this movement was weak and disunited, until Theodore Herzl, a Hungarian Jew, arrived on the scene. He was a journalist who saw anti-Semitism manifested during the Dreyfus trial in France. This persuaded him to devote his life to the cause of Zionism. In 1897 he invited interested parties to the first World Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland. This Congress set up Zionist organizations in every country where there were large Jewish populations. Mr. Herzl used his journalistic skills effectively in promoting Zionism.

As Zionism began to take hold and Jews tried to come to Palestine, Great Britain in 1905 offered land for a Jewish homeland in East Uganda, Africa. This offer was rejected. To the Jew it was clear that Palestine alone could serve as that homeland. Zionism did a “fishing” work. It enticed people to come to Palestine by offering land and opportunity, just as a fisherman uses bait to catch fish.

In the early days of Zionism the land of Palestine was possessed by the Turks, and it was questionable as to how many more Jews would be admitted to the land. But the Ottoman empire was disintegrating, and Great Britain was becoming the most prominent nation in Middle East politics, as well as European politics. After the death of Disraeli, another champion for the cause of Israel was arising on the scene. He was Chaim Weizmann, who was born in 1874 in Russia, educated at the University of Berlin in chemistry, and became a British citizen in 1910. His interest in Zionism started early in his youth, when he emigrated to Palestine in 1907. When Herzl died in 1904, Weizmann became the most prominent leader in the cause of Zionism. As Great Britain became involved in World War I, Weizmann became the director of the British Admiralty laboratories. He was responsible for the development of a process to make synthetic acetone, a solvent important to the Allies in the manufacture of explosives. He became well known for this achievement, and the Allies felt obligated to him.

The year 1914 was an important date to students of biblical prophecies, marking the end of Gentile times. In that year, World War I broke out, with Great Britain, France, and Russia (eventually the U.S.A. also) on one side, and Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey on the other. Before the war ended, many kingdoms fell and the divine right of kings to reign was no longer honored. About two thousand years before, Jesus had prophesied concerning the dispersion of Israel. “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations.” (Luke 21:20-24) As we have seen, this was fulfilled in A.D. 70. But in the last part of verse 24, Jesus said, “And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”

As the Gentile times came to an end, the conditions in Palestine also changed drastically. World War I was a terrible war, with much bloodshed and loss of life. It became a stalemate on the western front in France, where most of the attention was focused. In the Middle East, Great Britain was active, using Colonel T. E. Lawrence to arouse the Arabs to revolt against Turkey. There was also an Egyptian Expeditionary Force, but these armies were floundering and were almost lost in March, 1917, as they tried to take Palestine. In June, 1917, General Allenby of Great Britain was assigned the task of revitalizing the Egyptian Expeditionary Force; and, together with soldiers of the Jewish Legion attached to him (carrying their own flag), he marched into Palestine again. Using cavalry, he defeated the Turkish army on the Gaza-Beer-sheba front, completely bypassed Jerusalem, and took that city on December 3, 1917. Fighting continued until all Palestine was liberated; a dramatic victory was achieved in the autumn of 1918, even though General Allenby had to give up sixty thousand of his troops to fight on the western front in the spring of 1918. As Jesus had prophesied, Jerusalem would be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled.

Meanwhile, Chaim Weizmann was in Great Britain, helping with the war effort. Largely because of his influence, the Balfour declaration was issued by Great Britain on November 2, 1917, receiving the concurrence of the other Allies also. This declaration pledged British support to the Zionist hope for a Jewish national home in Palestine, with the proviso that the rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine would be respected. Some of the exact words of that declaration are that Great Britain (and other nations, too) “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

When World War I ended, Jews came in greater numbers than ever before from every country in the world to the homeland opened to them under the protection of Great Britain. We are likely to forget the great reconstruction work that took place in Palestine in those days. It was exciting reading. The progress made in recovering the land from its desolate condition was remarkable. But there were problems. The Arabians of Palestine were becoming concerned because of the large influx of Jewish people into the land, and opposition was developing. Also, the people had come from so many different nations in the world, bringing with them language and cultural differences, that they had difficulty in working together and becoming united. The opposition from Arabs in those early years turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This opposition became a single, unifying force, causing all Israel to be united in cooperation. And the work of rebuilding continued successfully.

Then along came World War II and with it a new fulfillment to the prophecy of Jeremiah 16:16. Zionism had accomplished its purpose. It had gone as far as it could in bringing Israel back home: “Behold I will send for many fishers, and they shall fish them.” We note how carefully God has worded this prophecy: “And after [after Zionism has done what it could] will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.” With World War II came Hitler and anti-Semitism in all its fury. The Jews had emerged from the terrible persecution of centuries of dispersion, and now, again, they were facing that same terrible persecution. Nations with economic troubles found it convenient to make the Jew a scapegoat and blamed him for all their economic ills. Suddenly, this people who had enjoyed the benefits of newly found friends, found themselves hunted and fleeing for their lives, with no place to go except to their own land of Palestine. Now they wanted to go to Palestine out of sheer desperation. They came by boatloads, merchant vessels filled to overflowing. Those that were permitted to land kissed the ground of their homeland. But many were turned away to the island of Cyprus, because quotas were being exceeded.

This large influx of new settlers to the land, caused by the hunters, created a problem for Great Britain, which was committed under the Balfour declaration to respect the rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Great Britain was obligated to hold the quota of new immigrants to two thousand per month. The requests for entry were overwhelming the quotas, and Great Britain in its protectorate role was viewed by the Jews as an obstructionist. It was inevitable that she would have to give up her protectorate role and give up the mandate she had held for so many years, granted to her under the League of Nations. The League of Nations had become defunct, and the new United Nations set up a committee called UNSCOP (the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine). This committee recommended dividing Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was proclaimed. It was immediately recognized by the U.S.A. (and Great Britain), and the other superpower, U.S.S.R., recognized it on May 17, 1948. It was fitting that Chaim Weizmann should become Israel’s first president.

The prophecy of Ezekiel concerning the valley of dry bones was taking form: “Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” (Ezekiel 37:11) Such was the condition of this nation after they were dispersed. But then a remarkable event took place; the bones came together and sinews and flesh covered the bones, and skin, too. But there was no breath in them. And as a nation they will not live in God’s sight until the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them in the kingdom.

We have been witnessing the assembling of Israel, as God has slowly but surely caused this miracle to take place unbeknown to them. Most of the people have been regathered in unbelief, not aware that God’s hand has been involved. Therefore, it is still necessary that final events take place that will serve as an eye-opening experience for all Israel and for all the world as well. The events involved are those prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39. The timing follows the regathering of Israel, as Ezekiel 38:8 outlines, “And after many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely [confidently] all of them.”

As we have already seen, the events mentioned in Ezekiel 38:8 have been fulfilled:

  1. The land has been restored from war.
  2. The land was formerly a continual waste.
  3. The people came to it from all nations.
  4. The people would be dwelling there confidently.

The scene is now set for the invasion by the hordes from the north (the RSV translation says that Togarmah, one of the invaders, comes from the uttermost parts of the north), as described in Ezekiel. Students of the Bible have been fascinated by the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39 and have carefully watched the unfolding of events in the Middle East that would give more clues on “how” and “when.” The invasion force is described as the descendants of five sons of Japheth (generally settling the European continent) and of two sons of Ham (generally settling the African continent). Geographically Israel is on the land bridge between the continents of Europe and Africa, as well as Asia. It is believed by many that the leader of the invasion forces is expected to be the U.S.S.R. and her satellites. No other nation can qualify as coming from the uttermost parts of the north (the arctic circle) except the Scandinavian countries and Canada. These do not appear to have the hostility toward Israel as do the other sons of Japheth, nor are they as strategically located to invade the land of Israel.

For years students of the Bible have been like an audience in a theatre, waiting for the curtain to rise on a great drama. The stage has been set. The actors are in place ready to come forth. It has appeared this way for twenty or thirty years, except that it was difficult to understand how Ethiopia under Haile Selassie, or ancient Persia (Iran) under the Shah and friendly to the U.S.A., would have a part in that drama. In the last few years, changes have taken place in both countries. Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974 by a military coup, and Ethiopia is now under the control of Colonel Mengistu, who has the assistance of 3,000 Soviet advisers and 13,500 of Castro’s Cuban soldiers. Iran has undergone a complete change in government and now opposes the Western World. Although she remains aloof from all others, the trend is toward friendship with the U.S.S.R.

The 38th and 39th chapters of Ezekiel make it plain that the invading forces coming against Israel will not succeed. God will fight for Israel as he did in the days of old. Thus it will be that Israel’s eyes will be opened to see the glory of the Lord. Also, the eyes of all nations will be opened. It is God’s purpose that this regathering of Israel be permanent. They are not to be uprooted anymore, even as foretold in Amos 9:14,15, a prophecy that tells of Israel’s ultimate establishment for ages to come in the kingdom of God. “And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.” Praise God for his wonderful plan.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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