This study fulfills my promise to address at greater length how Scripture prophesies the return of the Jews to the Land apart from Yeshua faith, with this being a final return, not to be confused with return from the Babylonian Captivity, which was not final. This is another in a series of rather “crunchy,” that is, densely argued studies. Some may wish to dispute the position I hold. I encourage such persons to first make sure they understand the arguments being made. And for those of you who are already convinced of my affirmative premise, this study provides evidence for the conclusions we share.
To all, this study is long on content, and short on color commentary. Hang in there! It’s important stuff for people who favor deep convictions, who want to be able to credibly defend them!
A. Foundational texts: These are texts which later texts rely upon or to which they refer regarding the question under consideration. In this instance there are two texts in Torah which introduce the theme of Exile and Return which was to become until today a major theme of Jewish thought. Those texts are Lev. 26:27-45 and Deut 30:1-6.
1) Interesting background:
a. Lev 17:7 – The sacrifices offered by the Canaanite nations and by idolatrous Israel were sacrifices to demons—we ought not to think that these nations were just nice non-Jews who needed to be bumped out of the land—with regrets—so the Jews could have a place to live. On the contrary, their lifestyle was an abomination in the sight of God [see 20:22-27], and their eviction was an expression of his revulsion and that of the Holy Land concerning their way of life.
b. Lev 18: 24-30 – A very strong statement in Torah, following a litany of sexual taboos. In this passage God warns the people of Israel not to defile themselves in any of these ways as the nations did which He is driving out before them. He then says, “For the land is defiled, therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants” . As we shall see later as well, God speaks of the land in personal terms—that the land itself will vomit them out if they defile it with these abominations, whether it be the Israelites themselves or the strangers dwelling among them. Over and again, God is treating the Land as His chosen land and therefore, the Holy Land.
c. Lev 19:29 – Again, here when one’s daughter becomes a cult prostitute, the land itself becomes defiled.
d. Lev 20:2 – Anyone who gives his descendants to Molech shall surely be put to death, “The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” Interesting that the populace is here called “the people of the land,” underscoring their connection to the land and their responsibility to prevent its defilement.
e. Lev 20:22-27 – After listing a number of sexual sins and taboos, Torah goes on to state “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them. But I have said to you, you shall inherit the land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the L-ORD your God who separated you from among the peoples. . . .” It is most interesting that residency in the Land is contingent upon not defiling that land with sin and those who do so can expect that the Land itself will vomit them out. The land is thought of here like a living thing, personal, and holy, unable to “stomach” gross sin.
f. Lev 25 – Here, the various provisions of shmittah [letting the land lie fallow every seven years], and jovel [the return of land to its ancestral owners every fifty years] are enumerated. Clearly, the people of Israel have clear Divine responsibilities concerning the land. It is only when and as they obediently honor these responsibilities, that they may/will “dwell in the land in safety” [25:18,19]. The chapter speaks as well of provisions for return of the land to ancestral owners in the event that someone becomes poor and sells his land, including provisions both for the return of the land and proper treatment of those Israelites who sell themselves as slaves due to debt.
2) Lev. 26:1-45, especially vv. 27-45. In this chapter, it is remarkable to see how much the relationship with the Land is both a metaphor and an indicator of Israel’s relationship with God and His with them. In this one chapter, the term “land” appears twenty times.
a. Israel’s failure to respect the Land and to keep the commandments relative to the Land is an indicator of Israel’s contempt for the Lord and for His commandments.
b. Similarly, God causes Israel’s presence in the Land or Exile from the Land as an indicator of/metaphor for Israel’s nearness or distance from Himself.
c. It is most interesting to see the terminology that is used here where HaShem speaks of executing “the vengeance of the covenant” [n’kam b’rith, Lev 26:25]. In keeping with the nature of a suzerainty treaty, there are dire consequences to covenant-violation, and the Divine mobilization to implement those sanctions is here called “the vengeance of the covenant.”
d. Therefore, if the eschatological vision includes a utopian vision for Israel’s relationship with God, this vision of necessity involves an eventual final return to the Land accompanied by the markers of covenant blessing: fruitfulness, multiplication, safety from enemies, fellowship with God, spiritual renewal, etc. There can be no redemptive, positive consummation of Israel’s saga with God apart from a return to the Land and an experience there of covenant blessing.
e. Therefore, it is a Divine necessity that Israel be brought back to the Land—whether in faith or in a diverse and fallen spiritual condition remains to be seen.
3) Deut 30:1-6 – This passage is parallel to Leviticus 26, in that it too discusses the consequences of covenant faithfulness on the one hand, and covenant violation on the other. Like the foregoing it establishes the ongoing theme in Jewish thought of Exile and Return as connected with sin, judgment, exile and repentance. If we consider that the passage is sequential, describing stages, it seems to indicate that Israel will first return to the Lord while in exile, repenting of its disobedience and returning to obedience to Torah, resulting in the Lord’s returning them from captivity and their renewal in the Land. Although this passage does portray Israel returning to the land prior to her spiritual renewal, there is a turning of repentance and obedience preceding this—that is, if we take these verses as sequential. On the other hand, one might justly take the verses as simply descriptive without necessarily involving sequence.
B. Chair text – A text that “says it all, or at least most of it, and says it well.” Ezek 36:22 ff.
1) In keeping with the question under consideration today, we are looking for a passage which seems to indicate that the children of Israel will be regathered to the Land prior to their spiritual renewal in the latter days.
a. This regathering is not due to some sort of spiritual renewal, e.,g., “circumcision of the heart,” “a new heart of flesh replacing a heart of stone,” “coming to faith in Yeshua.”
b. Basically, we are looking for a passage which speaks of Israel being gathered to the Land prior to this kind of spiritual renewal.
2) The best extensive passage I know of in this regard is Ezekiel 36:22 ff., although the entire chapter and the chapter following [the Valley of Dry Bones passage] are helpful. Still, 36:22 ff is especially interesting.
a. The passage seems to outline a succession of stages. This is a sort of “left brained” passage which speaks of the details while chapter 37 is the sort of “right-brained” pictorial and holistic vision that helps us visualize the stages.
b. Before the stages begin, there is a pre-condition which helps to reinforce our contention that this passage is suitable for demonstrating that Israel will be regathered to the land prior to her renewal in the latter days. This precondition is expressed in verse 22: “I am not doing this for your sake [lo l’ma’anchem], house of Isra’el, but for the sake of my holy name which you have been profaning among the nations where you went.” Two things are mentioned here which must not be missed:
i) That the spiritual status of Israel is immaterial to what God is about to do—it is not due to their returning to him in repentance that he is acting, but rather for the sake of His name.
ii) Their spiritual state is specified as being deplorable and a discredit to His Name—“my holy Name which you have been profaning among the nations where you went.” Their being in exile is an indication of their distance from God and makes HaShem, the God of Israel, to be a laughingstock. Of course, their existence among the nations is a consequence of their being exiled, which in turn is due to sin. As we have seen, and as the Bible repeatedly affirms and assumes, Israel’s relationship to the Land mirrors her relationship to God: estrangement from God and exile from the land go hand in hand; presence in the Land and nearness to the Lord go hand in hand.
c. What are the various stages of the Jewish people’s return to the Land as demonstrated in this passage? It is very possible that we take things too far when we look for strict sequencing in such passages. Yet, if we were to treat this passage as sequential, what would we find?
i) He will take them from among the nations, gather them from all the countries and return them to “their own soil”—the Land of Israel,
ii) Then he will sprinkle clean water on them and they will be clean—he will cleanse them from all their uncleanness and all of their idols. This would appear to be a necessary condition to their dwelling in the Land—if they were unclean and idolatrous, they would have to be expelled. This term does not mean that they are fully renewed—not just yet.
iii) He will give them a new heart and a new spirit, taking out the stony heart out of their flesh and giving them a heart of flesh. This could either be a stage following the previous one or. This could be another way of describing what happens in stage two.
iv) He will put His Spirit inside of them and cause them to live by his laws, respect his rulings and obey them. This appears to be a rewording of the previous stage. This phraseology is very reminiscent of the New Covenant language of Jeremiah 31.
v) They will live in the land God gave to their ancestors
vi) They will be his people and he will be their God.
vii) He will save them from all their uncleanness. Again, this appears to be a restating of step two.
viii) He will summon the grain and increase it,
ix) He will not send famine against them
x) He will multiply the yield of fruit from the trees and increase production in the fields.
xi) So that they never again experience the reproach of famine among the nations. (This answers the question of whether the return from the Babylonian Captivity is intended here. That was not a final restoration).
xii) Then “you will remember your evil ways and your actions which were not good; as you look at yourselves you will loathe uourselves for your guilt and disgusting practices”—here the repentance seems to be as a result of the gracious acts of God on their behalf rather than prior to them as in Deut 30.
xiii) He will cause their cities to be inhabited and the ruins to be rebuilt.
xiv) In addition, “I will let the house of Isra’el pray to me to do this for them: to increase their numbers like sheep—like flocks of sheep for the sacrifices, like the flocks of sheep in Yerushalayim at its designated times” .
xv) Then they will know that I am the LORD.
C. Interesting corroboration from Ezekiel 37. As mentioned before, Ezekiel 37 gives a sort of holistic “right-brained” pictorial vision of what is detailed in chapter 36. Chapter 37 is the famous Valley of Dry Bones passage.
1) In this passage, the people of Israel are compared to dry bones—dead in exile. In verses 4-6, God gives the Prophet a general overview of what is going to happen. Then, in verses 7 to 10, events are apparently presented sequentially
a. The bones come together
b. Sinews and flesh and skin come upon them , but still without breath in them.
c. Breath comes upon them and they stand up on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
2) In verses 11 to 14, this vision is interpreted as applying to the return of the children of Israel to their Land and their filling with the Spirit. “Then you shall know that I, the LOPRD, have spoken and performed it,” says the LORD.”
3) The chapter goes on in vv 15-23 and following to amplify these ideas a bit, saying that this act of God will result in the never to be dissolved rejoining of the kingdoms of Judah and of Israel, and they shall have one king at that time, There shall be an end of idolatry and of the detestable things and transgressions formerly associated with idolatry.
4) 37:24 ff. indicate that
a. They will serve David their King in the Land [Messiah]
b. They will walk obedient to God.
c. They and their descendants will permanently dwell in the Land.
d. They will serve David their King in the Land [Messiah]
e. God will make an everlasting covenant of peace with them.
f. He will establish them and multiply them
g. He will place his sanctuary in their midst forever.
h. He will be their God and they will be His people
i. The nations will know that the LORD has set apart Israel from Himself when his sanctuary is in their midst forever.
D. Other interesting corroboration. When I was in Israel in 1981, staying at a friend’s home, I chanced upon a booklet written in 1883 by Samuel Henry Kellogg, a Gentile Bible scholar. Writing years before the Theodor Herzl’s Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and a lifetime before the founding of the State of Israel, Kellogg looked at Ezekiel 37 and ventured a guess concerning how it would look when the Jews returned to the Land. Here is what he said:
In the prophecy of Ezekiel we have, in the vision of he valley of dry bones and its interpretation, a very full account of the final restoration of Israel. According to the representations of that vision, the restoration is to take place in sucessive and perfectly distinct stages. Thus, while ethe prophet saw that before the giving of life to the dry bones which symbolized the house of Israel, before even the clothing of them with flesh and sinews and skin there was sfirst of all, ‘a noise and a shaking, and bone came to bone, each bone to his fellow.’ That is, he saw, in the first palce, a prelininary organizastion, the necessary antecedent to all that followed. If this feature of the vision mean anything, it would seem that it can mean nothing else than this: that a tendency to external organization in the scattered nation, was to be looked for, antecedent and preparatory to their actual reinstatement in their land, and their conversion to God by the power of the Spirit of life. Something of this kind, therefore, according to the prophet, was to be expected as one of the initial stages of the restoration process. [Kellogg, Samuel Henry. The Jews, or Prediction and Fulfillment: an Argument for the Times. Anson D.F. Randolph and Company, 1883].
The facts are, that the founding of the Modern State followed precisely the pattern Kellogg discerned in the prophecies of Ezekiel!
E. Brief position statement by way of answering the question with which we began.
The Scripture speaks repeatedly of the descendants of Israel in Exile and Return, whether exile in Egypt, or in Babylon, or Assyria, Persia, or throughout the nations of the world. Similarly, the Scripture speaks of various regatherings. Among these regatherings, there is one spoken of which is final, and which HaShem will perform for his own sake, despite his people’s forlorn spiritual state. This regathering is from all the nations, and culminates in Israel’s subsequent spiritual renewal, unification, prosperity and safety in the Land, gathered around the Messianic King in fellowship with God. The regathering happens in stages in keeping with visions recorded in Ezekiel’s prophecies, We have reason to believe that the Modern State of Israel is part of the early stages of this glorious consummation. It is not without reason that modern Israel refers to the Founding of the State as “reishit ge’ulateinu—the beginning of our national redemption.”