Editors note: The following exchange regarding Isaiah 11:11 took place in 2005. More recent questions have caused us to dig up this material again. It’s position in the blog may be adjusted after receiving some due attention at the top of the stack.
Reggie, I wanted to write and ask you a question about Isaiah 11:11 which says, “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 who are left.” This is a verse that people use here in Israel to disprove another expulsion from the land, and from evaluating this verse alone I would have to say that they are right. I know it does not line up with many other scriptures so could you give me a brief explanation of how you have made sense of it.
Things are going pretty good for me here in Jerusalem. We have established a small community of believers here in the city that are meeting and worshipping on a daily basis. Currently I am praying about finding an apartment building to house several of us that we might live out community in a more focused way. Just waiting to see what the Lord provides.
O.k, I hope you are doing well. Your e-mail to Joel concerning Jewish right to the land was very helpful to me. I got a much greater clarity on some of the issues concerning Gush Katif and the giving up of land here in Israel.
Sept 10, 2005
J—, I see your difficulty. The context of Isa 11:11 speaks of the “glorious” return in final vindication of the covenant. Its larger backdrop is the post-tribulational-Day of the Lord deliverance of the penitent remnant resulting in final millennial righteousness and peace. ‘Jacob’s trouble’ must impose itself somewhere between the first and the second return. The problem subsists in the fact that the return that Isaiah calls the SECOND remains unfulfilled by anything approaching the demands of the context. Unless one is willing to see the present return as the first installment of a larger and more complete return at the end of the age, then Isaiah’s use of the word ‘second’ raises serious questions about the status of the present return. How is the modern return ‘A’ return of undeniable prophetic significance, but not ‘THE’ final and complete regathering that Isaiah designates as the ‘SECOND’? In other words, if context seems to require that Isa 11:11 has in view a future return of a fuller and more ultimate kind than currently evident in the modern return, and if that still future regathering is rightly called ‘the second’, then what is the meaning of the present return? If the present ‘return’ is not the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, what is it? Where in time do we locate this ‘second’ regathering referred to in Isa 11:11? Is this that which was spoken by the prophet? Or look we for another?
In my view, as in the view of many pre-millennial scholars of the 19th century, if prophecy is to receive a literal interpretation, there must be a partial return of Jews to the Land that necessarily precedes the nation’s corporate return to faith. This preliminary return prepares the way for the final and glorious return that attends the OT Day of the Lord (see in context Isa 27:13 ” ..and they shall come which were ready to perish ..” with Mt 24:22 “..but for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened”). The present return is on the wrong side of ‘Jacob’s trouble’ to count as the SECOND regathering of Isaiah’s prophecy, unless, of course, we can justify counting the present Jewish repatriation of the Land as an integral part of that future return, but that is an open question that is not apparent from the context itself.
In all of the particulars of context, the Isa 11 passage agrees with the greater number of return passages that describe a final post-tribulational return of ‘all Israel’ in total (Ezek 39:22-29; esp. Ezek 39:29). Until the ‘everlasting righteousness’ of Jer 32:40 and Dan 9:24 arrives at the end of Daniel’s 70th seven, the nation is divinely regarded as still in a state of exile subject to the curses of the broken covenant. All of the return passages, with a very few exceptions, assume that the final return comes only after the final and permanent turning of Israel’s long captivity, both spiritually and physically. There are, however, a few notable passages that describe what appears to be a preliminary and probationary return (wherein God’s face is still hidden from the nation, Ezek 38-39, esp. Ezek 39:22-29) after what appears a much longer period of exile, and only shortly before ‘the end’ (note: only ‘the end’ marks the end of the exile; see Jer 30:1-7; esp. Zeph 2:1-2; and Ezek 38:8, 11, 14 with what is implicit in Ezek 39:26; see also Dan 9:24-27; 11:21-12:13, as also a considerable number of post-first-return passages that assume for their setting a Jewish presence in the land BEFORE and IN ORDER TO the final judgments of the covenant.
Such necessary preliminary conditions are again depicted in Zechariah’s prophecy significantly written AFTER the first return, but still looking ahead to the final judgments terminating in the Day of the Lord and Israel’s final redemption ‘in the Land’ (showing clearly that the prophets living after the first return did not regard the ‘return prophecies’ of the former prophets as sufficiently fulfilled). Such necessary pre-conditions for a final ‘Jacob’s trouble’ did in fact prevail in all the centuries following the first return until the great Roman dispersion of 70-135 A.D that emptied the land of its Jewish occupancy, rendering the literal fulfillment of prophecy a foregone prospect. [Of course, Jewish absence from the Land strengthened the spiritualizing tendencies of ‘replacement theology’. I have in my library some of the books of those that stood their ground throughout this time insisting on the literal interpretation of prophecy on the assurance that the Jew must return to his Land BEFORE the final tribulation (Zeph 2:1-2).] The progressive return of modern times has gone far towards the vindication of their faith, because now once again, for the first time in nearly 2 millennia, the literal fulfillment of prophecy is in imminent prospect. That is to say, the modern return restores the necessary pre-conditions for history’s inexorable advance towards a final and unprecedented tribulation and Gentile assault on Jerusalem, the ‘without which not’ of the literal interpretation of prophecy.
The prophets that preached and wrote after the Babylonian exile understood that although a remnant had returned, it was not to the fullness of glory that all the former prophets had depicted in connection with, and necessarily attending, ‘the return’ and permanent end of exile. The great anomaly that the promised ‘return’ would not result in final salvation (as suggested by most of the prophecies describing the end of the exile), but that a yet more ultimate form of judgment (the unequaled tribulation of ‘Jacob’s trouble’) would necessarily FOLLOW the return was a source of profound amazement to Jeremiah (Jer 30:3-7). This was unexpected indeed! (Note that with the exception of Isa 11:11, two separate regatherings were seldom distinguished, and only then by mystifying details not evident except in retrospect, as in Ezek 38-39)
The disappointment of delay created another profound dilemma for the faith of Israel. The initial return was indeed a real ‘earnest’ of the promise, but it fell far short of the ‘glorious return’ that the PRE-exilic prophets all depict as accompanying the final redemption. Therefore, Isaiah had prophesied of a “SECOND” return showing the inadequacy of the first. What a mystery is developing here! No wonder there is so much confusion over the number of returns and the order of events leading to the final and enduring return. No doubt Daniel’s prophecy of a pre-determined extension of the exile and an ultimate apocalyptic conclusion provided timely explanation and grounds for patience for those returning from Babylon, simply because, on any reading of the former prophets, they would have naturally expected a much more glorious end to the exile. Instead, they returned to a “day of small things.” Who could have conceived that before the final tribulation (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1), and the subsequent world-wide return described in Isa 11:11 that a yet much longer dispersion would impose itself? (the two days of Hosea 6:2). Many Jews expected a last days scenario that required a final Gentile assault on Jerusalem, but the sufferings of this period were expected to be brief (3 1/2 years according to Daniel) ending the ‘times of the Gentiles’ (a term not original with Jesus). Nothing of an age-long exile extending for what has now been almost two thousand years was known or imagined; it was a mystery! It was so intended.
The status of the present return gives the illusion of a final return only because a second age-long dispersion beginning with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem was not clearly distinguished in the prophets from the much shorter Babylonian captivity. (Note: Those who scorn the concept of a “gap”, or better, ‘hidden age’ between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel should consider that if such an interim is not recognized as necessarily implicit in these prophecies, establishing a necessary distinction between a near and partial fulfillment [first-fruits/earnest] and a future fulfillment that is complete and final, then the more serious problem of failed prophecy presents itself, something that liberal critical scholars like to refer to as ‘prophetic dissonance’, since it is certainly no loss to them if prophecy has failed. But quite on the contrary, it is this very phenomenon, in keeping with the divinely designed puzzle of Messiah’s twofold advent, that forms the context and conceptual framework of the mystery revealed in the NT. Hence, a so-called ‘gap’ is by no means without scriptural precedent, but is inherent in the mystery that was divinely hidden for judgment. Indeed, it was necessary for Israel to stumble at the mystery).
Therefore, the first return would see the Jews back in the Land, but still short of the eschatological salvation necessary to endure in the Land, thus looking ahead to an ultimate future tribulation that begins ‘in the Land’. In significant analogy with the first return, the Jews exist in the Land once more as a viable nation with restored covenant institutions (Dan 11:31; 12:1), but the exile continues so long as Israel remains under covenant jeopardy. Thus, the Jews of the modern return are in essentially the same position as those living in the Land after the first return. Though lately returned to the land, they remain subject to the same future tribulation and desolations that ‘the prophets of return’ predicted would persist until the ultimate deliverance of the still future Day of the Lord. The Jews in the Land today are no more ‘home free’ than that first remnant for whom Jacob’s trouble remained a future ‘necessity’ (“for that which is determined shall be done” Dan 11:36).
So do modern secular Jews have a ‘divine right’ to the Land? How are the nations to regard Jewish residency in the Land? The scripture is not silent, but clear IF certain OT passages are not relegated to the distant past, and they shouldn’t be, seeing that the context of many of these passages refer unambiguously to the conspicuously unfulfilled Day of the Lord. To be sure, the Jews of modern Israel are woefully short of the kind of covenant obedience necessary to retain possession of the Land, but so too were the Jews living in the centuries following the first return under Ezra and Nehemiah. But now, no less than then, the ancient people are gathered again to ‘His Land’; it is therefore theirs by sovereign decree. It is apparent from many of the passages describing God’s Day of the Lord judgments on the Gentile powers that He holds the nations ultimately responsible for their disregard of His election of the Jews, Jerusalem, and the Land, an election that is not based on moral qualification (Ro 9:11), which is precisely the point of divine contention. It is a re-visitation of the quarrel that began in the tents of Abraham. It is the age-old question of grace versus works, and of God’s sovereign prerogative to quicken whom He will when He will (Ps 102:13; 110:3; Jn 5:21).
The return under Ezra and Nehemiah was partial and preliminary and did not result in Israel’s final deliverance, thus covenant jeopardy continued, looking ahead to the shorter, but far more severe ‘exile’ of “Jacob’s trouble”. In the same way, the modern return is at best only partial and provisional looking forward to an apocalyptic conclusion of out-poured wrath and covenant vengeance. Therefore, the present ‘return’ cannot be the “second” return of post-salvation glory described in Isa 11:11. However, Jewish re-occupancy of the Land is certainly divinely ordained as the scene of God’s final pleading with His people, and will also serve as God’s final provocation of the nations, so that when the nations will lay presumptuous hands on the elect people and the revived institutions of their ‘holy covenant’, God’s ‘fury comes up in His face’; it is the ultimate provocation of divine wrath (see Ezek 38:18; Dan 11:21-45; Joel 3:1-2 et al). The Land must be again under Jewish occupancy in order to ‘finish the transgression’, which brings to final climax the “quarrel of My covenant” (Lev 26:25). For the nations, the question of God’s pre-destinating Word concerning the Jew and the Land (as permanent and inextricable features of the ‘everlasting covenant’) will become the final stumbling block through “the controversy of Zion” (Isa 34:8). This ultimate confrontation will carry in it all the issues of God in His divine contention concerning His covenant, and will thus shake both the heavens (principalities and powers) and earth, separating the wheat from the chaff. Say, that wasn’t so brief after all.
I had some thoughts in relation to what you’ve written here (somewhat tangentially), and I thought I’d run them by you. In recent days I’ve heard multiple people state that the devastation in New Orleans was a judgment of God in direct relation to America’s pressuring of Israel to move forward with the expulsion of the settlements in Gaza & the West Bank. One rabbi in Israel drew an even larger parallel saying it is part of a pattern of events beginning with the Sept. 11 attacks. He points out that in the months leading up to Sept. 11 there was a devastating terrorist attack in Israel (the Sbarro pizzeria bombing) that many thought would derail the “Road Map” peace process, but the President was firm in insisting that the process would proceed on schedule. Shortly thereafter America was the victim of a terrorist attack. So too with New Orleans, as America insisted that the Jews of Gaza and the West Bank be evicted now Americans are being evicted from their homes. The parallels are compelling, and that got me to thinking about the “controversy of Zion” from Isaiah 34 and the “vengeance of the covenant”, which you mention in your writing. Why is it called a controversy? Everyone who I’ve heard speak of New Orleans as judgment for America’s role in the expulsion has consistently taken the position that it happened because America pressured the Israelis into giving land to the Palestinians, or to put it more bluntly, because they sided with the Palestinians instead of the Jews. Although I find some merit in their arguments I’m not entirely comfortable with their conclusion. Could it be rather that the controversy is not that America “took the wrong side” and sided with the Palestinians instead of the Jews, but rather that America has taken up the issue of Zion at all? Is it rather that America (or any nation) has presumptively taken it upon itself to “fix” the situation in Israel and dole out to anyone, Jew or Palestinian, the land that God has said belongs to Him? I’m reminded of Zechariah 12:3 where it says that anyone that burdens themselves with Jerusalem will be cut in pieces, not necessarily because they have moved against the Jews but because they’ve taken it upon themselves to determine the final disposition of Zion/Jerusalem rather than recognizing that it belongs to God Himself and He will do with it as He will.
A while back I heard a rabbi quoting a sage who wrote 300 years ago, commenting on Genesis 25:12-19 that in the last days Ishmael (representing the Islamic world) will rise up in battle against Esau (representing the nominally Christian Western world, specifically the Roman world) in a world-wide conflagration. Ishmael will be defeated ultimately and Messiah will arise at that time to establish the Jewish people as pre-eminent. This scenario certainly seems to be coming to pass. It could even be argued that Britain’s role in establishing the new homeland for the Jews in 1948 and the collapse of their global empire and subsequent loss of power and prestige is the opposite corollary to America’s problems today. Now Britain and America, as the inheritors of the Roman mantle, are embroiled in a possibly age-ending war with the descendants of Ishmael, and all sides are taking up the burden of Jerusalem and stirring up the controversy of Zion. But the controversy of Zion will only be ended when the controversy that began in the tents of Abraham (as you say) is brought to an end. That will only happen when Ishmael “gives up the ghost” and is “gathered unto his people”, and afterwards we will see the establishment of “the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son” (Gen. 25:19).
These are just some thoughts, admittedly drawn from some unusual sources. I tend to dwell on the wilder shores of the theological world and so it’s sometimes good to have a reality check. Am I way off base here?
Sept 15, 2005
Jason, I share your view that it is less an issue of any particular bias towards Palestinians over Jews, but the presumption that takes up the issue of Zion in the first place. The question most to be asked, however, is what makes this issue such a point of stumbling to all who take it up? You have rightly said it is God’s Land, as this is destined to become the point that raises the more ultimate question of God’s rule.
The modern world is not relieved by time or evolving world-views from an unchangeable accountability to what God has spoken. However well disguised behind the involved debates over interpretation and biblical authority, the real point of conflict has always been over one question only: “hath God really said?” It is therefore an inexcusable humanistic arrogance that takes up the issue of Zion in an almost studied disregard for what God has said. For the athiest there is no God to decree anything (Ps 2:7); his question is “who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? But for the religious humanist, God’s choice is limited and determined by present (or foreseen) ethical qualification, but it is precisely the reverse (Ro 9:11). Hence, God’s word of election is set aside in the interest of humanistic ethical assessments, all very convincing, but in ultimate defiance of God’s rule, particularly as His rule (decree) presents itself as a rule of grace and not of works, the underlying issue that is always most ultimately at stake. The offense is all the more compounded by the fact that ‘the Jews’ do not seem to “deserve” any special right to the Land. After all, they are far from covenant obedience; they certainly haven’t returned by any supernatural power, and their presence in the Land has come through what appears a natural evolution of events that can all be reasonably explained. Thus, if our view is correct, we are seeing a process that will prove an ultimate snare and point of stumbling for humanism in all its forms, religious and secular. So I share your conclusion enthusiastically.
I know of the rabbinical view that you mention, but do not see Rome or the modern West as Esau. With David Baron, particularly his commentary on Zech 5, I see the West humbled and brought under subjection to the Islamic world under Antichrist who will lead the descendents of both Ishmael and Esau against the ‘holy covenant’ in the last conflict. Any triumph over Islam will be only momentary and will acutally create an illusion (“in time of security” Dan 11:24 ASV) that will meet with furious backlash from the Antichrist led forces of the Islamic world at a time of compromised vigilance (‘when they shall say peace and safety’). I do not expect Antichrist to come from a so-called ‘Revived Roman West’, or the Roman church, nor do I expect a Jewish deceiver, but rather, a descendent of Esau from the immediate region, a ‘little horn (power), that “comes up and becomes strong through a small people” (Dan 11:23) before he becomes the head of a larger power to the north of Israel (Syria?). I believe the ten nation confederacy will be comprised from the nations of Israel’s ancient enemies, now Arab and Islamic (Ps 83). Long story, but I thought I’d add that. Appreciatively, Reggie