Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Israel: A Tree and a Vine and How They Help us Understand the Bible

In order to understand a number of passages in the scriptures it is necessary to understand certain symbolisms also found in God’s word.  Among those is that Israel is represented as a vine, and as a fig tree.  The last symbol is really a key to the prophetic series I just wrote since the whole point was that the fig tree, Israel, was budding, a symbol of both her restoration as a nation and the big clue that we are in the last days of this human society, or world (Matt. 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-31, Luke. 21:29-33).

There are a number of places in the Old Testament where Israel is likened to a vine, or vines in a vineyard.  The first place we are going to look at is found in Isaiah:

“Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” (Isa 5:1-7)

This is actually a prophecy of Israel’s exile from its land as well as the negation of his covenant with them (vs. 5; Eph. 2:14-15).  So this points towards the exile of the Jews which began in 70ad.  Yet we see that Israel here is present as a vineyard which produces no fruit.  Jeremiah takes the symbol a step further, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer 2:21), thus we see Israel identified as a vine.

This knowledge is important because it helps us to understand more fully Paul’s words to the Romans regarding Israel and the Church:

“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” (Rom 11:15-17)

Thus we see as regard’s the promise to Abraham Israel couldn’t fill the number of the Church, so Gentiles were “grafted into” the vine of Israel to replace her cutting off.  That doesn’t mean that Israel was replaced in God’s plan by the church completely, Paul informs us that God will return favor to Israel:

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.”  (Rom 11:25-28)

Now we look at some of the scriptures which refer to Israel as a Fig Tree.  We find our first on in Hosea:

“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hos 9:10)

Note the “grapes” reference here, evoking the symbol of the vine we already saw in the form of the fruit of the vine.  In this verse we see Israel also likened to the first fruits of the Fig, and, by extrapolation a fig tree.  However, to nail the symbolism down properly we must go to the prophet Joel:

“He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.” (Joe. I: 7)

So both the vine and the fig tree are used here as symbols of an Israel lid waste, again a reference to the exile which began in 70ad.  Knowing this helps us to recognize the significance of Jesus’ words to his disciples when he was asked about the last days to watch for the beginning of the restoration of the Jews to their homeland to know that they are in the last days, as we mentioned in the first article in our series on Israel in Prophecy (Matt. 24:32-35; Mk. 13:28-30; 21:29-33).

Thus we see how symbols relate and help us to come to a deeper understanding of important truths.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Final Battle

"And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
(Eze. 39:1)

Now we come around to one of the most famous prophecies in the Bible, the prophecy of the attack of Gog, the prince of Meshech and Tubal, against the people of Israel.  Now we leave the realm of the past and present and enter that of the future.  That is always fraught with problems.

It is also why it is necessary to go back into the recent past and establish as a fact that for over one hundred years the Bible’s prophecies of the restoration and establishment as a nation were not only foretold with accuracy the events, but the events not only unfolded through the years exactly as foretold, but continue unfolding right before our very eyes.  This is how we can be sure that what comes next is indeed reliable.  The problem for us is to be clear where we enter the realm of supposition and where we tread on firm ground.  Failure to do that is why many end up being called false prophets when they were nothing of the kind.  What most don’t realize is that there is a big difference between faulty predictions and false prophecy.

Now, to find out why and get a sense of how we may know the attack is coming we need to skip ahead a little bit to verses 11-14:

“and say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,' to seize spoil and carry off plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell at the center of the earth. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all its leaders will say to you, 'Have you come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your hosts to carry off plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to seize great spoil?' "Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord GOD: On that day when my people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it?”  (Eze 38:11-14)

The motive has two components.  The first is that Israel will be very profitable and have much “spoil,” that is, riches, to plunder.  Since time immemorial a Country’s wealth or riches generally consisted of its natural resources.  The Romans wiped out an entire people to get at the Gold their land had in the ground.  The same happened to a number of indigenous peoples here in the United States and elsewhere in more recent times.  Today when the most valuable commodity earth wide in an economy which depends on energy oil and gas are two such sources of wealth nations are very willing to go to war over.  Recently in Israel and off its coast it was discovered that Israel has a great abundance of both, enough to rival the Gulf Coast Arabs.  Energy poor, yet militarily powerful countries to the North, such as Russia and Turkey already look with greed on the discoveries so close and ripe for the picking to their South in a little country already loathed by the rest of the world.  Could the temptation at some point just be too much?

Well let’s go back now to the first part of the chapter:

“The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you. "Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them.”  (Eze 38:1-7)

Take a moment and look at the photo at the top of the page.  There we find the locations of the peoples mentioned in the verses we just quoted.  Russia and Turkey in the North are quite prominent and both traditionally hate Israel.  Both are energy poor and would find the energy wealth of Israel a tempting prize indeed.  That is, if the potential pieces we see falling in place are tempting enough.  They are also joined by Iran in the attack and reinforced by the Arab states to the South and West.  But something is missing:

“After many days you will be mustered. In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them. You will advance, coming on like a storm. You will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you. "Thus says the Lord GOD: On that day, thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme and say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,'” (Eze 38:8-11)

I did it this way because of something very important noted in this passage.  Missing from the list of peoples attacking Israel in this prophecy are the Arab people which immediately surround it, the ones we saw in the 83rd Psalm.  Something happened to them.  We get a clue to that in verse eight were we are told that the Jews are “restored from war,” that is, who just fought and won a war.  So somehow the long war prophesied in the 83rd Psalm comes to a successful conclusion, by some sort of victory and the people of Israel appear to be secured, secure enough that they think they can now cut back on  their military and enough the fruits of peace.  But as we see here their military vulnerability makes them easy pickings in the minds of Russia and her allies and they invade Israel intent on plundering “spoil.”

“You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. "Thus says the Lord GOD: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord GOD, my wrath will be roused in my anger.” (Eze 38:15-18)

So Russia will attack as the description of Gog’s force as coming from the “uttermost parts of the north” indicates.  God brings him against the land and they are “like a cloud covering the land.”  I recently listened to a discourse which proposed that Obadiah prophesied in more detail as to what will go on at the final invasion and battle.  The speaker believes that verse eleven of Obadiah predicts that the forces of Gog and his allies will successfully invade the land Israel and occupy it, setting the stage for Armageddon and God’s liberation of his people in such a way nobody will be able to deny what happened and who did it.

But where are Israel’s allies?  Well, the speaker addressed that as well.  He believes that Edom represents Israel’s “brothers,” the Christian nations who are mostly allied with God’s people.  It appears from verses ten through fourteen of Obadiah that they will stand aside and do nothing on Israel’s behalf.  That would further make the point that God alone will be Israel’s deliverer.  For those who don’t think that possible just look around us today.

There is a campaign to isolate Israel going on among the Christian nations as my dear readers read this post.  Holocaust deniers have pretty much overtaken academia and the media and they are working their magic with their propaganda blaming all the ills of the Middle East on Israel.  We see demonstrations at our universities demanding divestment of university holdings of Israeli investments and Israel is vilified on campuses.  We also see a constant stream of UN resolutions treating Israel as an invader and of “Palestine” and human rights abuser as Israel defends herself from constant attack.  All of this is designed to pry Israel’s allies away from her and will be successful if the speaker we listened to interprets Obadiah correctly.

However it finally plays out, one thing is certain; God will destroy Gog’s forces in such a way there will be no doubt who is responsible for Gog’s defeat (Eze 38:17-39:24).  It is our belief that this, on one level, will be the Battle of Armageddon mentioned in the New Testament (Rev 16:12-16).  As with many other prophecies in the Bible we believe there are often several levels to prophecies, but that is another topic for another time.

So what is the end, why should we look forward to all of this and why should we be in expectation of it?  That, my readers, is mentioned at the end of this prophecy:

“"Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies' lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD." (Eze 39:25-29)

Yes, Israel will be restored to her rightful place as the shining one among the nations.  She will stray no more because she will be the example for the nations during the millennial reign of the Lord.  Ezekiel then goes on in Chapter forty to describe the temple he saw in his famous vision and the conditions we can look forward to then.  So, dear readers, we can see why the prophecies of Israel are so important to us and why we should be familiar with them.  This series was by no means comprehensive.  There are many more prophecies of Israel’s restoration and delivery and her role in the kingdom to come.  It is our hope that this series will inspire our readers to become more familiar with these prophecies and to pay more attention to world events so that they may know where they stand in the prophetic stream of time and not be dismayed and frightened as world events play themselves out to their inevitable end.