The Hebrew Prophets and the Restoration of Israel
By John McTernan
The Valley of Dry Bones Shall Live
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones…there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry…Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.” – Ezekiel 37:1.
About 500 years after Abraham, God created a second covenant. God gave the law of Moses to the children of Israel . The law was a covenant and reflected God’s holiness. This time the covenant was conditional and based upon the Jewish people keeping the requirements of the law. The law did not replace the everlasting covenant with Abraham; however, the law was conditional as the following verse shows:
“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” – Exodus 19:5.
If the Jewish people obeyed the laws, God would bless them above all people; however, if they disobeyed He would punish them. One of the punishments was the destruction of the nation and the dispersion of the people into all the world. Either way, the authority of God’s word was witnessed through Israel being blessed above all nations or cursed, and dispersed into the world.
Israel now reflected God’s holy name. The entire world could witness God’s awesome power working through His people Israel . God linked His plan for the redemption of mankind directly to the descendants of Abraham. King Messiah, the Lord Jesus was a son of Abraham.
In the second covenant, the blessings or the curses depended on the actions of the nation of Israel. God warned that if the people disobeyed His covenant, He would drive them off the land and into the nations. He would destroy Israel because of sin and rebellion against His word. Israel did break the covenant, and exactly as God had warned, the nation was destroyed and the people were driven into the all the countries of the world.
God sent prophet after prophet to warn Israel of the coming judgment. Ancient Israel rejected the prophet’s warnings and based on the second covenant, the nation was destroyed. God kept His word. Actually the nation was destroyed twice. The first destruction, by the Babylonians, began in 586 BC and lasted 70 years. The second began in 70 AD and lasted until 1967 when Jerusalem was once again the unified capital of Israel.
The following are some of the Scriptures which warned Israel of the dispersion into the nations:
“And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. (33) And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.” – Leviticus 26:32, 33.
“And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.” – Deuteronomy 28:64.
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee…” – Deuteronomy 30:1.
In 70 AD, the Roman army destroyed Israel, Jerusalem and the temple. This began the second dispersion; however, this time it was into all the world. God fulfilled His covenant, under the law of Moses with Israel, to the very letter. Remember, the dispersion was not according to the everlasting covenant with Abraham, but it was based on the covenant with Moses. The covenant with Abraham never changed. The dispersion of the Jews was an awesome witness to the authority of God’s word, the Bible.
The dispersion was only half the equation. The second part involves God’s promise to restore the people back to the land and literally have the nation of Israel reborn. The history of the nation of Israel shows the awesome power of God ruling over the affairs of the nations.
When studying the Bible about the history of Israel, one must understand that Jews are no different to any other people, when it comes to sin. Without understanding the human heart, it could be very easy to condemn Israel for failing God and rebelling against Him. If God had chosen any other people to work through, the result would have been the same.
The sin nature is the same in the Jew as in others and any other people would have also failed. The prophet Jeremiah speaks about the sin nature and states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Although Israel broke the second covenant of the law, God said that He would never completely reject the nation. He would always honor the everlasting covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. Because of this everlasting covenant, He would one day restore the nation of Israel and bring the people back into the land.
Modern Israel exists because of the everlasting covenant. The destruction of Israel and the restoration of the nation, 1900 years later, is an awesome witness to the authority of the Bible as the word of God.
The Bible, with great clarity, states that Israel would one day be reborn, and this would happen because of the everlasting covenant with Abraham. Let us look at some of these verses:
“Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
(43) The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
(44) And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God.
(45) But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 26:42-45.
The Ancient Prophets Speak to Us Today
Prophet after prophet in the Bible tells of the restoration of Israel after the dispersion into all the world. God sent prophets to Israel to warn them of the coming judgment on the nation. But, these same prophets also comforted the Jewish people by telling them of the restoration. The prophets also spoke of the coming of the Messiah and the golden age of His rule on earth; however, before the rule of the Messiah, God had to restore the nation.
The theme of the dispersion and restoration of Israel is one of the major focuses in the Bible. There is verse after verse in the Bible about the rebirth of Israel. The prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah devote entire chapters to this theme. The prophecy about the rebirth of Israel from a world-wide dispersion is not a footnote in the Bible. It is written on page after page by prophet after prophet for all to clearly see.
When the prophets spoke about the rebirth of Israel , the everlasting covenant with Abraham was their foundation. This was the foundation of the promise. This covenant was everlasting and not based on performance of the Jewish people. Let us look at what some of these ancient prophets wrote that has such a clear message for today.
About 750 BC, the prophet Isaiah wrote about the rebirth of Israel after a second world-wide dispersion. The first dispersion occurred when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Israel captive around 600 BC. This captivity was limited to Babylon and the Jews returned to their land 70 years later.
Isaiah prophesied that their return from a world-wide dispersion would be far greater than the one from Babylon . This restoration would bring Jews back from the ends of the earth and this has happened in our lifetime. The Jewish people have now come back to Israel literally from the east, west, north, and south. They have returned from the ends of the earth or as Isaiah calls it the “islands of the sea.”
“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.” – Isaiah 11:11.
“Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;(6) I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 43:5, 6.
Jeremiah also prophesied at the time of this first dispersion about 600 BC. He warned the people not only of the coming Babylonian captivity but of a greater dispersion into all the world. He prophesied that the people would return from both captivities.
Jeremiah, like all the prophets, told of the rebirth of the nation. Jeremiah states that God, by His sovereign will, caused the Jews to return. God scattered the Jews and one day He would restore them to the land. He would be directly involved in leading Jews back to Israel. This regathering of the people was a warning to the nations. Remember, the prophet wrote these verses 2600 years ago.
“Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.
(9) They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
(10) Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.” – Jeremiah 31:8-10.
The prophet Ezekiel lived and wrote during the first exile about 570 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar took him captive to Babylon. While in Babylon Ezekiel wrote incredibly detailed prophecies about the worldwide dispersion and rebirth of the nation of Israel. In beautifully written language with awesome imagery, the prophet gives a detailed look at God’s plan for Israel and the nations. Entire chapters of Ezekiel are devoted to the dispersion, restoration, and events that happen after the restoration.
Chapter 36 gives a panoramic view of what was going to happen to Israel . The prophet first mentions the destruction of the nation and the wasting of the land. He then follows with the promise that the land will once again be fruitful and inhabited. Ezekiel promises the Jewish people would again dwell in the land that God promised to their fathers. The fathers are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with whom God made the everlasting covenant. Ezekiel links the regathering of Jews from all the nations with the everlasting covenant. Let us look at some of these Scriptures from Ezekiel:
“And I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them.
(24) For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
(28) And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:19, 24, 28
Ezekiel follows the general statements in chapter 36 about the regathering of the nation by a vivid picture in chapter 37. With some of the most graphic imagery in the entire Bible, Ezekiel describes the rebirth of the nation of Israel. He describes the nation as being a huge pile of dead dried bones lying in a valley.
When reading this chapter, the picture comes to mind of the prophet standing on a mountain ledge overlooking a large valley full of dead men’s dry bones. These bones represent the nation of Israel. God gives this picture to show the utter hopelessness of the nation. The nation was completely dead with no hope of ever living. What hope can dead men’s bones have for ever living again, none!
To the natural eye, Israel had no hope. The nation was destroyed and the people dispersed into all the world. The Romans destroyed the temple, their center of worship. The Hebrew language was gone. The nations persecuted and rejected them from country to country. The vision of the valley of the dead bones was a perfect picture of the nation of Israel after its destruction in 70 AD. There was no hope.
Ezekiel does not end with the hopelessness. He shows that by a sovereign act of God, the nation was to be reborn. The prophet watched as the nation came together in a piece-meal method. The first step is the bones coming together. The sinew holding the bones follows this. And, finally the flesh covers the bones. At the very end of this process, God put life in the body, and that life will happen at the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
God is working in the affairs of men and governments to resurrect the valley of dried bones into an exceedingly great army. This will happen according to the will of God in order to fulfill His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Let us look at the picture Ezekiel gives of the hopelessness of the nation of Israel ever being reborn.
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, (2) And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
(3) And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. (4) Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
(5) Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: (6) And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
(7)…there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. (8) And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
(9) Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. (10) So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.” – Ezekiel 37:1-9.
Immediately, after this powerful imagery of the nation, Ezekiel then goes on to explain the vision. There can be no doubt whatsoever as to the theme of this vision. The bones are the people of Israel without hope, and they are dead in the nations. The prophet calls the nations of the world Israel’s graves. The coming together of the bones into a body is the nation being reborn:
“Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel : behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. (12) Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
(21) And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
(25) And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever:” Ezekiel 37:11, 12, 21, 25.
Ezekiel connects the resurrection of the dead nation with God granting the land to Jacob. This is again a reference to the everlasting covenant. Time after time, over and over again, the Bible connects the dispersion and then rebirth of Israel to the everlasting covenant. The Bible is crystal clear that when the nation is reborn, it is because God honored His covenant. God is working in the affairs of men and nations to fulfill His ancient promise. God cannot lie, and His word cannot fail.
After the Jews returned to Israel from the Babylonian captivity, Zechariah was one of the prophets. He wrote about 520 BC. Zechariah is unique in that so much of his focus is on the city of Jerusalem. The other prophets talk about the land and some touch upon Jerusalem , but Zechariah gives many details about the city.
The prophet says that God chose Jerusalem for His purpose. Of all the cities of the world, God chose this city to work out His redemption plan for man, “And the LORD shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again. Zechariah 2:12.
The prophet Zechariah shows that Jerusalem, just as Israel, would be inhabited and restored. The people would come back to Jerusalem from all over the world.
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; (8) And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.” – Zechariah 8:7, 8.
The city will be the center for the worship of God. All the peoples from the nations of the world come to Jerusalem. The city will be the center of world attention. Jerusalem is unlike any city in the world because it is the city God chose. This city will be once again the capital of a reborn nation of Israel.
“Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem , and to pray before the LORD.” Zechariah 8:22.
“…and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem .” Zechariah 12:6.
When Jews return from their world-wide dispersion and the nation is reborn, this is the final return. There will be no subsequent third or fourth dispersions into all the world. For this reason, the events that are unfolding before our very eyes are so significant. God is working in the affairs of the nations bringing Bible prophecy to a conclusion. Remember, when the Jews return from the worldwide dispersion, it is the final one.
The world is now entering into the end play of God’s prophetic plan for our age. The prophetic plan centers on the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord will be examined later in the book. The prophets have already written the entire script. It is there for everyone to read, understand and believe. Remember, this is the final restoration of the Jews.
“And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.” – Amos 9:15.