Monday, July 29, 2013

The prophecy of the 83rd Psalm

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
(Psa 83:18)

For many years this psalm was known to me chiefly because of the golden verse for this post.  It is one of the four times that the name of God, Jehovah, occurs in the King James Version of the Bible and I used to quote that verse at the door often while I was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Yet I did not realize the wonderful prophecy it contained, largely because of the Replacement Theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But once again I have Hal Lindsey to thank for bringing my attention to this prophecy by means of an episode of his show some years back after I exited the Witnesses and became more interested in Last Days prophecies and Israel once the blinders came off.  In it Mr. Lindsey posited that the pieces were all falling in place for this prophecy to be fulfilled.  But as I pondered the prophecy his explanation didn’t quite satisfy me.  This one of the prophecies the expositor I look to didn’t cover.  So I listened to mature Christian teachers when they mentioned the prophecy and did research into it to come to the conclusions I have.  So let’s dive right on in:

A Song or Psalm of Asaph. Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
(Psa 83:1-2)

So who was this Asaph?  According to Wikipedia:

“In the Old Testament there are three different men with the name of Asaph. The Asaph identified with these twelve Psalms is said to be the son of Berechiah which is said to be an ancestor of the Asaphites. The Asaphites are said to be one of the families or guilds of musicians in the Jerusalem temple. These pieces of information are clarified in the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. In the Chronicles it is said that Asaph was a descendant of Gershom the son of Levi therefore he is identified as a member of the Levites. He is also known as one of the three Levites commissioned by David to be in charge of singing in the house of Yahweh. In 1 Chronicles 6:39 David appoints a man named Heman as the main musician or singer and Asaph as Heman’s right hand assistant and the Merarites at his left hand.[3] Asaph is also credited with performing at the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 2 Chronicles 5:12.[3]

As an officer within the Jerusalem religious system, Asaph would have participated in both the public and private side of that system. He served as an official for several years, starting with King David and serving King Solomon as well, if he is the same Asaph mentioned in 2 Chronicles 5.12. During his long term, Asaph surely saw the best and worst of other officials. His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, might have been directed towards some of those officials. The words he used to describe the wicked come from the same lexicon of words used by officers of the cultic/sacrificial system.”

So here Asaph prays to God not to stand idly by while his enemies make trouble.  But what sort of trouble is it which has Asaph so perturbed:

“They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: “
(Psa 83:3-5)

Note the underlined portion because it is key to where I’m coming from.  Here we find out what has the psalmist so upset.  He sees nations conspiring to wipe Israel and the Jews off the map.  Since Aspah lived in the days of the Kings David and Solomon, the golden era of ancient Israel, this certainly wasn’t going on in his day.  So he is obviously talking about future events.  It is our belief that what he foresaw is taking place now.  The next portion of the psalm tells us who and goes to why we think so:

The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.
(Psa 83:6-8)

The key to understanding this is to go take a look at a map of the ancient Middle East.  What one discovers is that the nations described are the ones surrounding Israel back then.  Those same lands are under Arab domination today with what is left of the original inhabitants all followers of the prophet Mohammad.  Hal Lindsey saw in the Arab Spring the pieces falling into place for a future fulfillment of the psalm when the Arabs would attack the Jews.  Here is a picture with the list:

But look at verse four again, “They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.”  This is exactly what the nations which surround modern Israel have said since the foundation of the Jewish state.  Within days of the creation of the state of Israel all the almost all the Arab nations listed in the psalm attacked and those words were essentially their battle cry.  And the war never really ended, that is one of the dirty little historic histories we don’t see in the media.

The war for Jewish annihilation has hot and cold periods.  The hot periods are well known, the 1956 war, the six day war of 1967 and the Yom Kippur war in the 1970s are all examples of the hot periods.  In between Arabs conduct a guerilla war with Arabs slipping into Jewish communities and murdering them in the night, sometimes whole families of Jews including infants.  Another phase of the colder war is also carried on in more modern days, rocket attacks.  Rockets are launched into Israel by the thousand by so called “Palestinian” fighters.  They are deliberately aimed at civilian population centers with the purpose of indiscriminately killing Jews and striking terror into their hearts.  So the Jews have been under an ongoing siege since day one in 1948.

For the foregoing reasons it is our belief that the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 83 is ongoing and will continue parallel with Jeremiah’s prophecy about “Jacobs Trouble” until it’s on conclusion is reached , possibly when the Arabs think Israel is in a weak enough position they might be able to prevail.  But there is a part of the prophecy they would do well to read:

“Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna: Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession. O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:”
(Psa 83:9-17)

Yes, at some point they will feel emboldened to either attack on their own or join another conspiracy and God will give the children of Israel victory over them.  But that victory will be for a purpose, the one mentioned in our golden text:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
(Psa 83:18)

Amen, Asaph, amen!

Next we will take a look at the prophecy about “Jacob’s trouble,” which is found in Jeremiah chapter thirty.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"I will send for many hunters" Israel In Jeremiah 16

“For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations."
(Jer 16:17-18)*

Thus ends one of the more remarkable prophecies found in God’s word which reveals both how the Jews would return to Israel, but when it would start.  The two golden verses tell us when.  More than 120 years ago a famous Pastor figured out what was meant by those two verses, that Israel would endure a period of rejection by him and scattering among the nations of equal length to the time of favor they enjoyed when he began dealing with them more as a nation with the death of Jacob.

1842 years later that time of favor came to an end with the conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family, as foretold by the prophecy of the seventy weeks in the book of Daniel (9:24-27) and that favor didn’t return until another 1842 years passed.  That period ended in 1878 when Jews were permitted to own property in the holy land and began their return with the founding of Petah Tikvah, the Gate of Hope.  I explained those two verses first because what follows in this study will bear the explanation out.

“Then you shall say to them: 'Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.'
(Jer 16:11-13)

The entire chapter mostly focuses on the Jews being thrown out of the land of Israel.  The first 10 verses prophesy destruction on an unprecedented scale and humiliation.  This passage tells us why, their unfaithfulness to God.  However, this passage and the remarkable prophecy we are examining both indicate that he wasn’t talking about their exile to Babylon.  They would be exiled “into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known,” that is a land not within the realms they knew of.  That would prove to be all too true after their exile by the Romans.  They ended up in the far-flung parts of the empire, but mostly in Eastern Europe, an area only known as the realms of barbarians in Jeremiah’s day.  Their dire situation there with its pogroms aptly fit the last declaration in these verses “for I will show you no favor.”

What comes next was so remarkable when it was pointed out to me by a book** first published 124 years ago that I was taken aback at how accurately it portrayed what actually happened throughout the 20th century to the Jews:

“"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
(Jer 16:14-15)

Think about that prophecy for a moment.  The exodus to the land of Palestine, as it was known in 1878, began with a trickle out of the North, Russia that is.  But as time went by the trickle increased.  But it wasn’t enough in God’s eyes.  So he did something about it as the next verse prophesied: 

“"Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.
(Jer 16:16)

The first part of verse 16 fits the Nazis under Hitler like a glove.  Under his supervision the Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps and during WWII his troops hunted the Jews down to destroy them taking millions of Jewish lives in the process.  That persecution provided the impetus for the speeding up of the Jewish return to their homeland and then the creation of the nation of Israel.

But it didn’t end there.  By returning to verse fifteen we find that they would also be brought back from “all the countries where he had driven them.”  Once the Jews established the nation of Israel the Jews started flooding into the nation, often prompted by more persecution from other “hunters,” the Muslims of the Arab world which did their work so thoroughly that there are Muslim lands with virtually no Jews in them.  However, the exodus would continue when communism fell and Jews who’d been persecuted under that system now became free to flee to Israel.  So the exodus from the “North” entered a second phase and the flood became such that now, for the first time in almost 2000 years there are more Jews in Israel than in the rest of the world combined.

But that’s not the only jaw-dropping prophecy I plan to cover.  Next will be a Psalm which I believe to be in the process of being fulfilled right now as its being carried out over a longer period of time than most prophecy scholars realize.  I will see you then.

*  All quotes from the English Standard Version (ESV)
**  The Time Is At Hand by Charles Taze Russell pages 216-217.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can These Bones Live?

And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" 
(Eze 37:2-3)*

The question above was asked of the prophet Ezekiel more than 25 hundred years ago and it led to one of the most beautiful prophecies regarding the restoration to the Holy land as a people and a state.  Chapters 37 and 38 of Ezekiel’s book together not only prophesied the resurrection of the nation of Israel from obscurity and death, but also tell us what will happen in the future.  That’s why it is important to pay attention to them, the 37th chapter is already largely fulfilled and that fulfillment not only sets the stage for, but assures us that the 38th’s fulfillment can’t be far off.  So let’s take a closer look.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."
(Eze 37:1-3)

That is the passage in context.  We know that after Jerusalem fell in 70ad the Jews were scattered among the nations more thoroughly than ever before.  For all intents and purposes they were dead as a nation, though they weren’t quite dead as a people.  They were in effect the bones of the nation, disarticulated and strewn about in the dry valley as targets of hatred and persecution.  No nation so treated before in the history of mankind ever came back from such a state, so the prospects where like a dry valley filled with bones indeed.  But something happened.

Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
(Eze 37:4-6)

So what we now see is a promise.  God promised his people, the Jews, that they will be resurrected as a nation.  Though they were scattered abroad that would not be a permanent state.  As mentioned before, no nation ever destroyed and scattered abroad so thoroughly in human history ever came back from the dead as a nation.  Some, as the Carthaginians, who were also destroyed as a nation by the Romans, remain dead to this day as peoples and their languages, if known at all, are mere curiosities for modern academicians.  Thus was the State of Israel, even its language was reduced to the status of a liturgical language only used by Rabbis.  But God promised his people they would be restored as a nation.  But as if that weren’t enough:

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
(Eze 37:7-8)

As if promising their resurrection as a nation weren’t enough Ezekiel is given a vision of the gathering of the people to the land and rebuilding the body of a nation.  We already mentioned the beginning of that rebuilding in the first article of this series.  It began with the Berlin Congress in 1878 where the Ottoman rulers agreed to allow Jews to own land in Palestine.  In the same year the community of Petah Tikvah was founded and the return of the Jews began with a trickle of Jews making the journey from Eastern Europe to found and build other Jewish communities and begin the transformation of the Palestine landscape from desert conditions to the wonderful state it enjoys today.

In 1917 something else happened which laid the foundation for a Jewish state in Palestine, the UK agreed to the creation of a “Jewish homeland.”  This was the next step toward the restoration of Jewish polity and the agreement defined the boundaries of that homeland to include what is now Jordan in addition to the territory Israel now has.  That new homeland would be renamed Transjordan, though the Jews still continued to use the name of Palestine for their homeland.  Few people realize that the Palestine Regiment which fought on behalf of the UK in WWII was Jewish, not Arab.

So all the pieces were in place for a Jewish nation, yet in the vision there was no life.  Ezekiel tells us what happened next:

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
(Eze 37:9-10)

And that is exactly what happened.  In 1948 the Jews in the Holy Land created a nation and war broke out immediately as the surrounding Arabs nations tried to destroy the fledgling Jewish state.  But they won against all odds and became a mighty nation which over the decades won battle after battle against all comers in what amounts to an ongoing 65 year war as of this writing.  Something most people don’t know is that between the Jewish “wars” with their neighbors the Arabs waged guerilla wars with Arabs sneaking into Jewish communities and murdering Jews, including children, in their beds at night as well as the constant bombardment by rockets lobbied at Jewish cities as terror weapons in the tradition of Nazi Germany’s rocket campaign against the United Kingdom in WWII.

The rest of the 37th Chapter of Ezekiel continues the thing of the resurrection of the nation of Israel and even proclaims that they will be governed by the Messiah, the Christ, in verse 24, calling him “My servant David.”  But that is future yet, beyond the prophecy which appears in the 38th Chapter.  Instead of going there, though, we’re first going to continue to look at some wonderful prophecies concerning both the gathering of the Jews, and the implacable hatred and war against them by the Arabs first.  We will next look at what Jeremiah had to say on the subject of the restoration of the State of Israel.

*All scripture citations in this post are taken  from the English Standard Version (ESV) Courtesy of the E-Sword bible Study program.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Israel in Prophecy

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near."
(Matt. 24:3; ESV)

Sometime around 1978 I saw a book in the Salvation Army store named The Late Great Planet Earth authored by Hal Lindsey and read it with great interest after purchasing it.  At the time I was in a faith which believes in Replacement Theology and brushed off most of what Dr. Lindsey wrote, but one thing kind of stuck with me at the back of my mind for years, the role of Israel in the prophecies of the last days.

I left my previous faith some years ago and now had the opportunity to take a closer look at the prophecies concerning the Return of the Jews to their homeland and the restoration of their national polity with the creation of the state of Israel.  But there is more, there are prophecies yet to be fulfilled, and it was with wonder that I studied the subject and listened to mature Christian men of knowledge expound on the subject.  Some of those men filled in gaps for me so that I see the wondrous whole.  So I decided it is a great time to discuss this subject of import.

The above verse was part of a group of prophecies which Jesus gave his disciples in answer to the question, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:3; ESV)  Although the context closely followed the declaration of Jesus that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt. 24:2), the wording of the question as it was preserved for us asks a greater question, what would be the sign of Jesus “coming” (Really “presence” instead of “coming” as the word here is παρουσιας G3952), thus pointing to something much greater than just the destruction of the Jewish system.  It is with that understanding in mind that we must approach the great prophecies Jesus gave in answer to that question.

Some of those answers applied specifically to the fall of the temple, of that there is no dispute in our mind.  Others had a dual fulfillment, one then and one in the “last days” and some in the last days only.  Where confusion generally runs is in trying to figure out which fits into what category.  We believe that this particular statement may apply to both ages because it references the sign of spring when the fig tree shoots for its foliage from its buds.  The obvious meaning is that of seeing the signs of fulfillment beginning to appear.  In many places the Bible does tell us that one of the signs of the “last days” would be the restoration of Israel to the holy land (Jer. 30, Is. 2:2, Mic 4:1).

In my studies I read several books written over a hundred years ago which predicted with astounding accuracy that restoration based on the word of God, though the author expected them all to happen much sooner than they did.  Still, the accuracy of his words struck me as remarkable.  However, just as Charles Taze Russell did, I’m going to let the Bible speak for itself instead of using his words.

It was in 1878 that the tree of prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel began to sprout forth.  The great historical event historians remember that year for is the Berlin Congress where British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jew to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and other leaders of Europe gathered in Berlin to craft an agreement.  The idea was to hammer out certain details regarding the status of certain nations which used to be part of the Ottoman Empire but were given their freedom under the Treaty of San Stefano which was signed earlier that year.  What is given scant attention if at all about the treaty is that Prime Minister Disraeli insisted on attaching a provision onto the treaty giving the Jews the right to purchase and hold property in the Holy Land.  It was provision which would have enormous consequences later on.

One thing modern academia doesn’t like to admit is that, although the Jews were dispossessed of their homeland, the land was never entirely devoid of Jews.  There were two major cities with large Jewish populations, Haifa and Jerusalem.  However they lived under marginal conditions where persecution was an ever present reality and they weren’t allowed to own land, etc.  Outside of the cities the land was a desolate waste, as reported by people who traveled through the area, including such luminaries as Mark Twain.  But all of that changed with the congress of Berlin.

Shortly after the treaty was adopted a group of Jews purchased a large tract of property and founded the town of Petah Tikvah, or Gate of Hope, for Jews to immigrate to.  Although it had rocky beginnings, Petah Tikvah is still around and one of the major cities in Israel to this day.  So began the return of the Jews to their homeland and the eventual restoration of the state of Israel in 1948.  In the next post we will talk about some bones and what they have to do with predicting the restoration of the Jewish state.