Things I am asked: Does modern history fulfil Old Testament prophecies?

OPINION

There is something very special about the continued existence of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. If you look at the last 3,000 years of human history, the fact that the Jewish people still exist is nothing short of a miracle. So if you are looking for a modern-day miracle that points to the veracity of Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s people, you can’t go past this one.

All the nations in the Levant region that were contemporaries of the Jews no longer exist. The Hittites, the Amorites, the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Edomites, the Jebusites, and a host of other nations have disappeared from history. Only the Jews have remained, and they have remained despite being deported and scattered across the world where they have had to endure horrendous pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust. They have returned to Palestine and survived despite the recent wars waged against them that had the declared aim of exterminating them.

This alone should give you a shiver down your spine. It indicates that something special is happening. It would seem that God’s hand remains upon his people. Let me hasten to say, this doesn’t mean that the Jewish people are particularly godly. They haven’t been, and they are certainly not perfect today. God has needed to chastise his people continually throughout history for their immoral and unfaithful behaviour. But it makes you think, doesn’t it?

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It is significant that Jesus insisted that not even the tiniest detail of any scriptural prophecy would fail to be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-19). The poignancy of this statement comes from the fact that some of these prophecies, particularly relating to Jesus’ second coming, seem to be only recently fulfilled.

One of these prophecies concerns the return of the Jews from around the world (Isaiah 11:10-12, 15-16; 43:5-7; 60:8-9). Listen to the words of the Old Testament prophet, Amos:

I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:11-15)

The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, says:

Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests? Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your children from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honour of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendour.

Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you.

Though in anger I struck you, in favour I will show you compassion (Isaiah 60:8-10).

Is it being too fanciful to believe that the allusion to those who ‘fly along like clouds’ could be a reference to aeroplanes bringing Jews back to their homeland? (See also the reference to God carrying his people on ‘eagles’ wings’ in Exodus 19:4.) Similarly, could the ‘ships of Tarshish’ refer to the ships bringing Jewish immigrants home in the twentieth century? Note: The exact location of Tarshish is not known. Its name has been linked to Carthage, Spain and Britain.

Intriguingly, Isaiah speaks of the country of the Jews coming into being in one day.

Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labour than she gives birth to her children (Isaiah 66:8).

This must have seemed a highly unlikely prophecy, and yet, modern-day Israel was born in a day. The mandate for British rule of Palestine ended at midnight on 14 May 1948. The next day, Israel gained its independence.

Almost immediately, operation “Magic Carpet” was put in place. This was the nickname given for “Operation On Wings of Eagles”, a program designed to bring 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel between June 1949 and September 1950. British and American planes airlifted them. This initiative kick-started the return of Jews to Israel from all over the world. The desire to someday return to Jerusalem had been kept alive for centuries – exemplified by the phrase, “Next year, in Jerusalem” which was said by all Jews at the end of the annual Passover meal.

If you visit the city of Jerusalem, you will see the Eastern gate (the “Golden Gate”) has been sealed up by stonework. Intriguingly, the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel, prophesied this gate would be sealed, and not opened until the Messiah (Jesus) returns. This is what he said:

Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. The LORD said to me, “This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it. The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way.” (Ezekiel 44:1-3)

Ezekiel’s prophecy about the Eastern gate being sealed was given about 575BC. He could not have guessed at that time what a history that gate would have. The Byzantine emperor, Justinian 1, built the present gate around 520AD. It was closed by the Muslims in 810; reopened in 1102 by the Crusaders; and walled up again by the Muslim leader, Saladin, after he recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. The Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, rebuilt the gate and the city walls in 1541 – but he also sealed up the gate.

It has remained sealed until today.

It is always difficult to say how literally you should take Old Testament prophecy or to claim with certainty what they refer to. However, we have the privilege of knowing enough for us to be hugely respectful of Biblical prophecy and acknowledge its relevance for us today.

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

This article is part of a series, Things I am asked

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net.

Nick told his life story to Eternity here: Deadly storms, heroin addicts, cancer and my faith.