This is part of a series of posts reflecting on the book of Isaiah. See below for the full list of the posts in the series.
- Prophecy in the book of Isaiah: We are part of the plan.
- God is Not Slow in Keeping His Promises
- True Worship is Transformational
We live in a day of haste. Always an impatient people, technology has made it even worse, and we expect near-instant results. Certainly we expect people to “fulfill their obligations” (or keep their promises) with haste.
Our impatience sees any time lag as “slowness” – a failure to follow-through. Before long, we assume the promise will never be kept and we just forget about it.
This impatience manifests itself in our understanding of God, too. Some nonreligious people argue that unfulfilled prophecy in the Bible means it is all fabrication (plenty of websites to support this, but I will not link to them). Some religious people see the delay in fulfillment to mean we misunderstand the prophecy and it is allegorical – perhaps fulfilled in a purely spiritual way. (That said, there are some very valid reasons for believing certain passages are purely spiritual.)
Perhaps some of the rest of us just wonder, “what on earth is taking so long for xyz to happen?”
If we Christians sometimes feel this way, after a short 2000 years, just consider how the faithful Jews must feel. They have been waiting for some prophecies to be fulfilled for around 3000 years!
But millennia-long delays do not equal never, and sometimes, prophecies can even come true today, as we watch.
Consider Isaiah 11:11-16. Isaiah lived around 700 BC (King Hezekiah’s reign), so this prophecy is in the range of 2700 years old! And in my interpretation it only began to be fulfilled within the last 100 years.
God will assemble the remnant of Jews
Isaiah foretold that after the destruction of Babylon by the Medes, during the rule of Cyrus, those exiled to Babylon would be able to return home and start building the temple (Isaiah 45:13) (Isaiah 48:20). However, this return was incomplete. It was for the remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah, and while they returned home, they continued to be a vassal state of one country after another until Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.
But God promised a second return – a return of the descendants from both Israel and Judah alike (Isaiah 11).
The Jews are returning to Israel
Isaiah 11:12-16 states that no hostility will exist any longer between the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) and that they would return from all lands: Assyria (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey), Egypt, Cush (Ethiopia), Elam (Iran and Iraq), Babylonia (Iraq and Turkey), Hamath (Syria) and the Mediterranean Islands (Italy, Greece, some Spain, France and Croatia).
While many Jews have recently been victims of war and persecution by Islamic terrorists (and sadly, sometimes from Christian oppression), the violence has only served to drive more of them home to Israel.
- Syria: as of 2015, 18 Jews remained.
- Iraq: as of 2003, 34 remained.
- Iran: as of 2012, 8756 remained.
- Turkey: as of 2016, approx. 18000, low compared to the 250,000 who have gone to Israel.
- Egypt: as of 2017, between 6 and 20.
- Ethiopia: as of 2015, around 4000 and those Jews have been promised immigration to Israel (although the Ethiopian Jewish situation is complicated and the number is higher when Christian converts are counted.)
So with the exception of the Persian Jews (Iran/Turkey. Geography between old and new countries isn’t exact), the return from “the Middle East” is basically complete.
That leaves the islands of the Mediterranean, which are far more difficult to count as they are split up between several countries. Most of those islands are owned by Greece, which as of 2015 contains only 4500 Jews. Croatia has less than 2500.
Italy, Spain, and France also own a few of the Islands. As European countries that are generally safer and more stable, less immigration to Israel has happened there. Spain has fewer than 50,000 Jews remaining. Italy has around 45000, and France has a large number – somewhere around 500,000.
One could argue that only the population of the islands matter, in which case the return is very near completion. However, the verse “he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth” (12b) suggests that the return will include those scattered anywhere in the world, and certainly Israel now is home to immigrants from the USA, from the USSR, from Great Britain, and everywhere else we can think of. It may or may not be “complete”, but it is certainly thorough.
In my interpretation, the return is happening, but is not complete, though Israel is already struggling with over-population.
Israel’s relationship with Palestinians and Jordan
In addition to returning home, Isaiah says “they will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west” (v14).
This is the modern-day Gaza Strip, which is in a very uncomfortable political spot. Israel controls the borders, though the Palestinians live in it and govern themselves. Israel captured it in 1967, and has some settlements there. I consider this a partial fulfillment, because it is still largely populated by Palestinians.
Isaiah also states that “they will plunder the people to the east, subdue Edom and Moab; and the Ammonites will be subject to them” (v 14)
Directly to the east of Israel is West Bank, which is controlled by Israel now. There is certainly an argument that this Palestinian occupied, Israeli-owned territory is being plundered of its water by Israel. The fact that Israel even owns it is due to the 1967 war, when it was essentially “plundered from” the country of Jordan.
To the east and south of Israel and the West Bank, where ancient Edom, Moab, and Ammon were, is the country of Jordan. It is in no way a “subject state” of Israel, but Jordan was still the first Arab nation to recognize Israel as a country, and that was less than 25 years ago. One could argue that in every peace treaty, both parties must give up something they want, and in that way Jordan is “subject” to modern Israel.
This also looks like a partial fulfillment to me.
Water scarcity in the entire region
The rest of the passage has an intriguing prophecy about the Euphrates being broken up into pieces and drying up, and the gulf of the Egyptian Sea drying up. Quite often the prophecy in Isaiah is hyperbolic, but I am inclined toward a more literal interpretation here, mainly because this whole passage reads plainly, as compared to other passages in Isaiah. It still uses symbolic language, but I think this passage is speaking about a literal water shortage and excessively hot climate.
So it might interest you to know that the Euphrates has been dammed and diverted so much that it IS drying up, and in addition to a myriad of desalination plants in the Red Sea, currently there is a project underway take water from the Gulf of Aqaba and pump it into the Dead Sea. This project is currently in jeopardy, but may yet continue, and if it does and the Israeli and Palestinian regions continue to be overpopulated, a drying up of water resources is, in my opinion, a very probable outcome.
(Note that I am making faith-based observations here, not political ones. My perspective that current events were foretold in the past is not the same as condoning the choices made by those involved.)
But you may ask, is this really the right interpretation?
This passage has been interpreted many different ways, and I’m not dogmatically affirming my interpretation is correct.
Some argue that this passage cannot possibly be fulfilled by a secular Israel, so it will only be fulfilled in some future time with the remnant of Jews who have embraced Jesus as their Messiah. Some link the passage to the second coming of Christ, because of the prior prophecy about the Root of Jesse being a banner for all people. Still others say the events were fulfilled with the return of the exiles from Babylon and the first gathering was the Exodus. And some interpret this as purely spiritual, a representation of the spread of Christianity throughout the region.
But as for me, the current events so closely match a plain reading of the text that I am convinced it is happening now.
Of course, it is also true that Biblical prophecy is often in the form of typology (one type can represent another), which means a prophecy can be fulfilled repeatedly, each time increasing in fullness until the types which are all a foreshadowing of the final type have all been fulfilled and finally the true type is revealed (perhaps more on that another time). So it’s possible that in a sense, many or all interpretations could be accurate.
But trying to perfectly understand a prophecy is not really my primary point anyway (though the details were fun to research). And I have written so long about the details that perhaps you may have forgotten what I wrote at the beginning.
My point is this….
God is never late.
- God promised a solution to the curse to Adam and Eve. It came, but not in their lifetime.
- God promised Abraham a son – but he was an old man before that happened.
- He promised the Israelites a land to be their home – but after 40 years they then had to fight for it.
- He promised a return after the Babylonian exile – of 70 years.
- He promised a Messiah who would be a light to the Gentiles – and that took centuries.
All of those promises were fulfilled – just not quickly by man’s calendar.
Some promises are still unfulfilled, such as the full restoration of the nation of Israel and the eventual return of Jesus. But since even now we see ancient promises of restoration being fulfilled, we don’t lose confidence, because we know that God’s calendar is not ours. His time is not our time.
God is patient, waiting millennia despite evil in the world, so that everyone has the opportunity to turn toward Him.
2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
And if God is patient with kingdoms and large people movements, then we can also trust His patience with us and our tiny lives. He calls to us and gives us every opportunity to turn to Him in child-like trust and love. He doesn’t ever stop calling out to us, just as He has never stopped calling out to His chosen people to return to Him.
Since God has promised to reward those who seek Him earnestly (Hebrews 11:6) and since He has promised that He will transform us to be like Jesus (I John 3:2), we can believe that those promises will come to pass. Since He has promised to work things for good in our lives (Romans 8:28), we can trust that, too.
We can trust Him even when it feels like things will never change – like we will never make it through the current circumstances.
We have confidence because, on the one hand, we trust that promise-fulfillment in the past means we can trust in promises still waiting for fulfillment. But on the other hand, we trust simply and completely in God because He is who He is – the Creator, the King, the one who builds up and breaks down kingdoms, dries up rivers and seas, and demands trust, obedience, and devotion.
And even without the evidence of prophecy fulfillment, that is enough for us.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28)