THE REGATHERING OF ISRAEL
If "prophecy is history prewritten," as someone has said, then it follows that we must look at the records of history to find prophecy fulfilled. This is the basic assumption of the Historicist interpretation of prophecy, which sees the fulfilment of much Biblical prophecy in historical events of the past twenty centuries, in contrast with the Futurist interpretation which places their fulfilment in the future, mainly in a supposed seven-year period following the sudden removal of the church from the world and preceding the return of Christ. While Historicists and futurists both expect the second coming of Christ to precede the millennium, the historicist interpretation was the one traditionally held by the church until futurism was propounded by Jesuit theologians in the latter part of the sixteenth century and was accepted and propagated by certain groups of evangelicals three centuries later. It is this observer's conviction that present-day developments demand a re-assessment of evangelical thinking and teaching concerning the end times as revealed in the Bible.
We begin this study with a consideration of the restoration of the Jewish people to the land promised by God to their fathers, for we cannot accept the elimination of the literal fulfilment of the promises to Israel. Early in the twentieth century the possibility of such a restoration was denied by many scholars --historians, philosophers, statesmen, even theologians. They believed it very unlikely that a mercantile people like the Jews would turn from trade and finance, at which they excel, to the toil and limited returns of agriculture, particularly agriculture under the exactions of the Turkish government which had ruled Palestine since its capture in 1517. History has, nevertheless, over-ruled the scholarly pronouncements and the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land is an accomplished fact. The name chosen at the inception of the new state in 1948-- Israel--implies the unification of the nation that was divided in 982 B.C. with the rebellion of Jeroboam.
The reunification of Israel, which was prophesied by Ezekiel (37:15-23), has had little comment from popular authors on prophecy, yet these things were discerned and anticipated by the prophetic teachers of several generations ago. Among these was E.B. Elliot, whose four-volume Horae Apocalypticae1 has been referred to as "the greatest work on any book of the Bible." This work, which ran to around 3,000 pages, was primarily an exposition of Daniel and the Revelation, but had something to say also about signs mentioned in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah which indicate the nearness of the return of Christ.
In chapter 5, dealing with "our present position in the prophetic calendar," Elliot says: "With regard to our present position, we have been led as a result of our investigations to fix it at but a short time from the end of the now existing dispensation, and the expected second advent of Christ".2 After referring to many unfulfilled anticipations of the return of the Lord, in past centuries, and the skepticism they have aroused -- a skepticism commensurate with that in ages preceding His first coming-- the author considers signs of the times which "warrant a measure of confidence in our inference [of the nearness of the Second Advent] such as was never warranted before."
They are signs which have drawn attention not from prophetic students only, but from the man of the world, the philosopher, the statesman; and made not a few even of the irreligious and unthinking to pause and reflect. Thus there is:
1. "The drying up, still ever going forward, of the Turkman Mohammedan power, or mystic flood from the Euphrates, (Rev. 16:12).
2. The interest felt by Protestant Christians for the conversion and restoration of Israel; an interest unknown for eighteen centuries, but now strong, fervent, prayerful. [sic] extending even to royalty itself, and answering precisely to that memorable prediction of the psalmist: 'Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, the set time, is come. For Thy servants think upon her stones, and it pitieth them to see her in the dust,' (Psalm 102:13,14).
3. "The universal preaching of the Gospel over the world, agreeably with Christ's own command; that sign of which Augustine said that could we see it, we might indeed think the time of the consummation at hand; and of which the result has been such that already, one might almost say, trophies of the enlightening and converting power of the Gospel have been gathered out of every nation and kindred and people and tongue, agreeably with the song of the blessed at the consummation, heard anticipatively by St. John in the apocalyptic vision of the palm-bearers, (Rev. 7).
4. "The marked political ascendancy before the whole world, alike heathen, Mohammedan and Jewish, of the chief nations of the old Roman earth, as (conjointly at least with the mighty offshoot from England and the American United States) the central focus alike of commerce, science, and political power." 3
Although these were some of the signs expected before the coming of Christ at the Second Advent they were not complete. Mr. Elliot goes on to say: "At the same time some signs are wanting, even as I revise this a fifth time in 1861, especially the non-gathering as yet of the Jews to Palestine and predicted troubles consequent: whence a further presumption in favor of the later allocation of Daniel's concluding 75 years, (Dan. 12:7, 11, 12*). Supposing them at length added, and the other signs already begun continue manifest as before, and perhaps even yet more strikingly, so as to arrest the attention of the whole world."
Note this candid acknowledgement of a fact in 1861 which led Elliot to suggest that the 75 years' "extension" of "the times" mentioned in the last chapter of Daniel, would perhaps be exhausted before that consummation for which he looked. After referring to passages from Isaiah, Joel,** Ezekiel and Zechariah, the author continues: "In summing up these several prophecies the first conclusion that we are, I think, irresistibly led to, respecting them, is that one and all refer to the same crisis of the consummation, that which is to be marked by the apostate nations' last conflict against God's cause and people; and to end in the Jubilean blessedness of a regenerated world. As to particulars, we must turn to each prophet separately.
1. "And first in Isaiah's various prophecies, besides the generally-repeated notices of the gathering against God's people and destruction of the Gentile nations, just as in the apocalyptic war of Armageddon, we have to mark that it is especially on Edom that one grand part of the curse is described as falling; whether the literal Edom or some enemy of Christ figuratively designated under that name... There is to be attendant on this some mighty revolution, involving the dissolution of all the then-ruling powers and systems of government, both religious and political. (pp. 125-126)
2. "In Joel we have to mark the name of the scene of conflict, viz., the Valley of Jehosophat. (p.126)
3. "In Ezekiel (chs. 38, 39) the fact seems clearly confirmed of the literal return at this time of the Jewish people. Also that the conjecture is suggested by his prediction that the King of the North who is to be prominent in the last great conflict against Messiah, having come up from the north like a tempest cloud with chariots and horses may very possibly be the Russian power; the terms Ros, Meshech, Tubal answering too well to Russ, Moscow, Tobolsk, not to suggest a thought to this effect... The scene of the great conflict and of the defeat of the enemy is said to be the mountains of Israel"... An awful idea of the slaughter is given by the statement that for seven years the restored Jews will be occupied in burying the dead and burning the spears and arrows (armaments) of the foe.
4. "From Zechariah's prophecy we infer that the anti-christian enemies will form the siege of Jerusalem, after its being possessed and inhabited by the Jews of the national stock, now resettled in their native land and city: and that it will be at first taken by the besiegers and half the Jews will go into captivity: also that there is to be then some such supernatural interposition as in Revelation 19:11 ("The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee" - Zech. 14:5) and that in the destruction of the enemy ensuing there is to be both a mutual slaughter by the swords one of another, and the agency also of pestilence.
"All seems sufficiently to agree with what we have inferred as probable from the Apocalyptic prophecy and (though with more uncertainty and doubt) from Daniel's also; the effect that there is to be the destruction of some grand antichristian confederacy in the mountain-country very probably of Judah, with fearful physical convulsions attending, and the agency of fire and sword, immediately at, or before, the final conversion and restoration of the Jews and the commencement of the consequent glorious predicted times of universal blessedness. So that, as it seems to me, we shall probably not err in looking for nearly coincident occurrence of the two grand events following; viz., 1st, the homeward return of the Jews from their dispersion, in fullness and strength, like as when the mighty Euphratean stream, on the willows of whose banks the harps of their earlier captivity were suspended, was each day forced backward by the mightier influence of the tide of the southern ocean.
"2nd, the gathering, and the destruction, probably in Judaea (sic), of some great anti-Jewish confederacy, including the powers of both the Roman and Greek apostacies; the spirit of infidelity giving of course its meet assistance to those of antichristian priestcraft and Popery. Thus, as already before against evangelic doctrine and evangelic missions generally, so now in fine perhaps against the evangelization of the Jews specially, and their restoration to the land of their fathers, it might seem as if there is to be the last and fiercest outbreak of these spirits of evil."4
The return of the Jews to the Holy Land was still in the future when Elliott wrote in 1861. The organized movement of the return of the Jews to Palestine began in 1897 when the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, under the leadership of Dr. Theodor Herzl;. Twenty years later, during World War I, Arthur Balfour, then Foreign Secretary of the British government, made the statement (since known as the "Balfour Declaration") that His Majesty's Government looked with favour on "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." The following month (on December 9, 1917), Jerusalem was delivered from the Turks after being held by them for 400 years. (Cf. Gen. 15:13-16 - the 400 years in Egypt - for an interesting parallel). In 1922 the League of Nations gave the Mandate to govern Palestine to Great Britain and in 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne settled the Near East situation so that the way was open for the return of the Jews. Sorrow and suffering were the lot of the returning people who then, as now, were still rejecting their Messiah. Many of them do not even believe their own ancient prophets. Then came 1939 and World War II, during which the Jews of Central Europe became the victims of Nazi antisemitism and about six million of them lost their lives. The Axis Powers seized Greece, Cyprus and Crete and General Rommel threatened Egypt from North Africa. It seemed for some time that the anitsemitic terror of Central Europe would eventually reach Palestine, but this was not to be. Halted west of Cairo, Rommel's army was defeated and forced into a disastrous retreat and destruction. Out of the convulsion of World War II came the rebirth of the nation of Israel.
The restoration of Israel in 1948 was one of the most significant results of the two World Wars and afforded a remarkable illustration of the fulfilment of the prophetic parable of the two sticks in Ezekiel 37:16-22. Shortly after World War I the Rev. E.P. Cachemaille had considered that the division of the nation which began in 982 B.C. might be healed by a simple legislative decision of the restored State. Actually, this decision was incidental to the choice of a name for the newly organized nation. After much discussion of this matter David Ben Gurion, the found and prime minister of the new nation, recommended that it be called Israel, which was done on May 14, 1948, when the new nation of Israel was proclaimed.
It is worthy of notice that the land now held by this nation is called Israel in the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:1-12. Seven times in these twelve verses the name "Israel" is linked with the topography of the land - mountains, hills, valleys, watercourses, etc. This too agrees with the present-day attitude of the inhabitants who call their land no longer Palestine, but Israel.
Immediately after its founding, the new nation had to fight for the land as in the days of Joshua, for neighbouring nations sought to destroy this apparition from the past. The enemies were defeated buy not destroyed and in 1956, with the Suez crisis, war broke out again and the nine-year-old nation was again victorious. Ten years later came the amazing "Six Days War" during which Israel secured defensive boundaries as well as Jerusalem with its sacred sites, including that of the old temple. From the definite organization of Zionism in 1897, the significant period of seventy years elapsed in 1967. (Compare the seventy-year period from the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. to its rebuilding in 516 B.C. by the returned remnant of the nation.)
The future attack upon Israel is foretold clearly in several passages of the Old Testament and has been carefully and fairly expounded by E.B. Elliott in the work previously mentioned. Consider how the nations have been prepared for that gathering together against Israel that was foretold by the prophets. Beginning with Western Europe about a century before the organization of Zionism, there broke out a terrible judgment (sic), the French Revolution (1789), which began in France but ultimately involved nearly all of Western Europe. In this great revolution the leaders of a sceptical philosophy reacted against Roman Catholicism and the politico-social system produced by it in Western Europe.
The morals and extravagances of those enjoying the favour of both the monarch and the church were well known to the people. Their oppression of the populace reduced to futility all opposition, and was the beginning of that "communism" which has become the enemy of our twentieth century western civilization..(sic) A semi-atheistic society developed upon the charred remains of "Old France" which has perished without repentance (and this writer would say, without hope). This condition has persisted to the present day, for since the beginning of the upheaval there has been not restoration of Old France; although this was the dream of Charles de Gaulle, it was a dream never realized. The revolution that began in 1789 developed in other nations of Western Europe and was followed by the Napoleonic wars, ending in 1815 at Waterloo. But twenty-five years of bloodshed did not exhaust this judgment (sic); revolutions and wars broke out in 1830, 1848, and 1870, to be followed by the devastations of World Wars I and II.
We now come to Russia's preparation for the great climax of history. One of the great crises of World War I was the Russian Revolution of 1917. This developed from the same sceptical philosophy against the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Monarchy. From 1917, with the end of the monarchy, Russia has developed into the first great Communist nation and has continued now for over half a century. It is atheistic and quite consistently looks upon Christians and Jews as its enemies. It is of course opposed to Israel's occupation of the Holy Land - indeed to its very existence. Russia, during the past fifty years, has risen to such power that it now challenges the United States for world dominance. In addition to a powerful army, air force and nuclear capacity, it now has a navy that rivals that of the United States and is increasingly seen on the great oceans of the world.
It is unnecessary to labour these developments, so I summarize a few well-known facts: (1) Russian warships are on Israel's Mediterranean coastline; (2) Russian planes and pilots have flown within 180 miles of Jerusalem on the Egyptian border; (3) In 1971 Russian missiles were placed on the western bank of Suez: and (4) in the same year it was reported that ten to fourteen thousand Russian pilots and technicians were deployed on the Egyptian side of Suez. (These have since been removed.)
The comments, then, of E.B. Elliott in 1861 have been remarkably justified in the restoration of Israel and in the rising up of its enemies. Now we look ahead to the final effort to destroy Israel.
* Calculated on the basis of "a time" equal to 360 prophetic days, or 360 years, which makes "a time, (two) times and half a time" equal to 1,260 years. Thus 1,335 minus 1,260 equals 75 years.
** In Joel 3:1 we find a most explicit statement of "that time" when God will restore the blessings of Judah and Jerusalem, and what He will do.