By human standards, the existence of the Jewish people today remains a mystery. No other ancient people has survived for thousands of years, retaining their national identity through much hostility.
We have much evidence that Israel was a nation thousands of years ago. Archaeologists have made many discoveries from the time of the kings, and they are still doing so. The most prominent of those remains is the temple mount in Jerusalem, but other remains exist, and the historical records of other ancient nations mention the existence of national Israel/Judah 1. Israel’s existence as an ancient nation is not seriously disputed.
The history of ancient Israel was generally not one of peace. There were internal conflicts, one of which led to the kingdom being divided, ten tribes (variously known as ‘Israel’, ‘Ephriam’, or ‘Samaria’) versus two (‘Judah’). There were wars and battles, with their neighbors as well as themselves. Eventually, Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and later Judah by the Babylonians. From the captivity on, Israel/Judah remained a people without their own nation for thousands of years. But unlike every other ancient people, they retained their national identity when scattered. All of this was prophesied in many places throughout the Bible. One of the first of those places is in the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy reads like the last will and testament of Moses. After leaving Egypt, the people of Israel traveled in the wilderness for 40 years. They were about to enter the Promised Land, but Moses was not allowed to enter. So before being taken away from them, he reviewed the history of their deliverance from slavery and travel through the desert. He reviewed the Law and he pronounced blessings on them. And within this review he gave a list of blessings and cursings: blessings if Israel would obey God, and cursings if they would not.
The blessings and cursings are given in Deuteronomy 28. Interestingly, most of this chapter (54 verses) is devoted to the cursings. God told Moses beforehand the people would not obey Him (Deuteronomy 31:16-18), therefore the cursings were elaborated on. Because Israel did not obey, the cursings can be understood as a prophetic description of the history of Israel covering a period of thousands of years.
The cursings start out bad, and get worse and worse. The repeated defeats before their enemies in the book of Judges was foretold. The later ecologic disasters and disease were predicted. The cannibalism of 2 Kings 6:24-29 and Lamentations 4:10 were prophesied here. The prophetic cursings also tell of the dispersion of the people of Israel, which began with the Assyrian captivity of Samaria (Israel) (722 B.C.) and the Babylonian captivity of Judah (597 B.C.), and was fully realized during Roman times.
It shall happen that as Yahweh rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so Yahweh will rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and to destroy you; and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go in to possess it. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone. Among these nations you shall find no ease, and there shall be no rest for the sole of your foot: but Yahweh will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul…
– Deuteronomy 28:63-65 (WEB)
This ‘scattering’ happened with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D, where more than a million Jews died, and almost 100,000 shipped to Egypt as slaves:
Yahweh will bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, You shall see it no more again: and there you shall sell yourselves to your enemies for bondservants and for bondmaids, and no man shall buy you.
– Deuteronomy 28:68 (WEB)
The historians of the time say there was such a glut of slaves that people didn’t buy them.
“…as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines.”
– Josephus, De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 9. sect. 2.
“There were many to be sold, but there were few buyers; for the Romans despised the Jews for service, nor were there Jews left to redeem their own.”;
– Hegesippus, De excidio Urb. Hieros. l. 5. c. 47. p. 645.
All of the curses in this chapter came about… even down to the last one.
Most scholars assume the book of Deuteronomy was written in the 6th to 8th century B.C. time period, because it records prophecies about the time of the captivities. If they could, they would probably say the book was written hundreds of years later to account for what the Romans did to them. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contains portions of Deuteronomy dated before these events happened. These portions also include that last prophecy about the Jews returning to Egypt as slaves.
This chapter of Deuteronomy is only one prophecy of many in the Old Testament that refers to what would happen to Israel when Israel did not follow the commands of God. But no matter how bad things got, Israel would never be totally destroyed. There would always be a remnant so that eventually the people could be restored as a nation again. This is implied in the Deuteronomy prophecy, where the Hebrew people would live with no rest from fear in lands not their own, but other biblical writers say much the same thing:
My God will cast them away, because they did not listen to him; and they will be wanderers among the nations.
– Hosea 9:17 (WEB)
A third part of you shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of you; and a third part shall fall by the sword around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them.
– Ezekiel 5:13 (WEB)
Israel would retain their national identity, but because of their sins, they would not exist as a nation until the last days. In the meantime, they would be scattered around the world, living in fear, suffering persecution, but never being totally destroyed. Their scattered but continued existence would be a witness to the world of the existence and sovereignty of God.
Thus says Yahweh, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar; Yahweh of Armies is his name: If these ordinances depart from before me, says Yahweh, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever.
-Jeremiah 31:35-36 (WEB)
Don’t you be afraid, O Jacob 2 my servant, says Yahweh; for I am with you: for I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you; but I will not make a full end of you, but I will correct you in measure, and will in no way leave you unpunished.
– Jeremiah 46:28 (WEB)
Are you not like the children of the Ethiopians to me, children of Israel?” says Yahweh. “Haven’t I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord Yahweh are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the surface of the earth; except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says Yahweh. “For, behold, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet not the least kernel will fall on the earth. All the sinners of my people will die by the sword, who say, ‘Evil won’t overtake nor meet us.’
– Amos 9:7-10 (WEB)
Now, you could take the existence of the Jews today as chance occurrence. After all, remnants of other ethnic people exist around the world. But…
* How many of those ethnic groups have held on to their ancient identity over thousand of years? Yes, there are some.
* How many of those people had prophecies made that they would destroyed as a nation and scattered throughout the world, but still retain their national identity?
* How many of those people were prophesied to suffer much while they were scattered throughout the word? History records much of the sufferings of the Jews, including multiple genocide attempts.
* How many of those people were prophesied to go through all this, yet never to be completely destroyed?
* How many of those people had their prophecies fulfilled?
Yes, you could still believe it was all fulfilled by chance… but it would be a very slim chance! And the chances rapidly shrink the more you research history and the scriptures.
In case this doesn’t convince you, in the next post I’ll be looking at the biggest examples of prophecy fulfilled in our lifetime: the return of Israel as a nation.
- For example, the Prism of Sennacherib mentions King Hezekiah and contains an account of the siege of Jerusalem that agrees with 2 Kings 18:13-19:37. Other extra-biblical references to Israel’s kings are listed at http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/3415420/biblical-characters-existence-confirmed-by-archaeology . ↩
- I.e. Israel, Genesis 32:28 ↩