In response to a recent YouTube study given at Capac Bible Church, in which I mentioned the lost tribes of Israel, a viewer asked, “What about Jer. 50:1-4? Both houses of Israel after the Babylonian captivity.” Did the exiled tribes all return and reunite when the Babylonian exile ended?
A cursory reading of the above verses might seem to indicate that all of Jeremiah’s prophecies were fulfilled with the end of the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC. Jeremiah says, “In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God.” (Jer. 50:4) Again in verse 20 the prophet says, “In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.” Israel’s return is linked to the uniting of the two houses of Israel and Judah and the washing away of their sins and iniquities “in those days, and in that time.” These as well as other related prophecies are inseparably tied. But when were “those days” of fulfillment?
The important set of prophecies given in chapters 50 and 51 were Jeremiah’s final forecasts of the future. Following these two chapters was a concluding epilogue, apparently written by another, later hand. Dr. Howard B. Rand pointed out, “The fifty-first chapter of Jeremiah closes with the statement, ‘Thus far are the words of Jeremiah,’ indicating the end of the prophet’s message insofar as the book of Jeremiah was concerned.” (Study in Jeremiah, 1967, p.275) Other biblical scholars agree. The Rev. Bishop John H. Titcomb further suggested, “As for chapter 52, it was probably written by Ezra as an introduction to the Book of Lamentations.” (Revelation in Progress from Adam to Malachi, n.d., p.350).
In his two concluding chapters, Jeremiah listed a number of matters concerning Israel in “those days.” These included Israel being lost and having forgotten their heritage (50:6), the final reunion of Israel and Judah (50:4, 20, 33; 51:5), Israel’s repentance and seeking the Lord in faith (50:4); asking the way to Zion (50:5); being bound to the Everlasting (New) Covenant (50:5); becoming guiltless—which can only mean their sins covered by faith in Christ (50:20); and giving joyful national testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness (51:10). Were all of these wonderful prophecies achieved in the Old Testament era? If there was only a limited and incomplete fulfillment at the time of ancient Babylon’s collapse, when will they see their actual accomplishment?
The evangelical Kelly Commentary says, “It seems clear that, whatever the application to the past, these words cannot be satisfactorily explained without awaiting a yet larger and closer fulfilment in the last days, when the sons of both Israel and Judah shall take the place of penitence and shall return from their long and distant wanderings to Zion under the everlasting covenant and their Messiah.” The uniting of the two houses of Israel is thus accomplished by their mutual faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Lutheran scholar John Peter Lange explained: “Jer. 50:4-5. In those days. To this picture belongs above all the reunion of the tribes of the northern and southern kingdom (compare Jer. 3:14-16) and then their honest conversion to the Lord (compare Jer. 3:21; Jer. 31:9-19; Hos. 3:5).”
Was the return to Zion fulfilled in 539 B.C.? The Pulpit Commentary on Jeremiah 50:4 asserts, “We are by no means to regard it as an idealized picture of the return of the Jews under Zerubbabel, any more than we can suppose the glowing promises in the second part of Isaiah to have their sole fulfilment in that disappointing event. No; it is the characteristic of Messianic prophecy that, with “foreshortened perspective,” the prophets represent as equally near events which are really separated by ages. In the Book of Isaiah, for instance, preliminary judgments are repeatedly described in terms which, properly speaking, only apply to the great final judgment. And so too here (as well as in Isaiah 40-46) the promise of mercy to Israel, which began to be fulfilled in the edict of Cyrus, is represented as if the still future conversion of the people of Israel were actually accomplished. The description reminds us of Jer. 3:18-21. Notice the penitence of the returning exiles, and the reunion of Israel and Judah. (See on Jer. 3:18).”
The Prophet Jeremiah wrote extensively of the destruction of Babylon, but Dispensationalist scholar Arno C. Gaebelein advised, “The prophecy covers both the doom of Babylon as it has been and the doom of another, the mystical Babylon, so prominent in the last book of the Bible, in which also two chapters are devoted to Babylon.” The last two prophetic chapters of Jeremiah are extensively alluded to in the prophecies of the New Testament Book of Revelation dealing with end time events. This indicates that the focus and main fulfillment of them was not in the past.
A list of prophecies in Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 which find their fulfillment in the Book of Revelation include: Jer. 50:8 = Rev. 18:4; Jer. 50:15 = Rev. 18:6; Jer. 50:29 = Rev. 18:6; Jer. 50:30 = Rev. 18:2; Jer. 50:31 = Rev. 18:8; Jer. 50:32 = Rev. 18:8; Jer. 50:46 = Rev. 18:9; Jer. 51:6 = Rev. 18:4; Jer. 51:7-8 = Rev. 14:8; Jer. 51:7 = Rev. 17:4; Jer. 51:7 = Rev. 18:2; Jer. 51:13 = Rev. 17:1; Jer. 51:36 = Rev. 16:12; Jer. 51:37 = Rev. 18:2; Jer. 51:45 = Rev. 18:4; Jer. 51:48 = Rev. 18:20; Jer. 51:48 = Rev. 19:2; Jer. 51:63 = Rev. 18:21; Jer. 51:64 = Rev. 18:21. “It seems very fitting that the last words of Jeremiah should deal with the destruction of Babylon, for the age will end, according to John, with the final overthrow of the entire Babylonian structure.” (Dr. Howard B. Rand, ibid. p.275)
Historically, Jeremiah’s description of Babylon’s utter and complete destruction does not fit the facts of antiquity. The Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, in his comments on Jeremiah 50:3 explained, “He simply says now that a nation would come from the north, which would turn the land to a waste. This clause shews that this prophecy could not be fitly confined to the time when Babylon was taken by Cyrus; for… [ancient historian] Xenophon testifies that Cyrus exercised great forbearance and humanity, and that he used his victory with such moderation, that Babylon seemed as though it had not been taken. It had, indeed, changed masters, but such was the change that the citizens readily submitted to it…In the meantime, the city, as I have said, retained its external appearance.”
In the partial Old Testament fulfillment, who was this “army…from the north” (50:41) that overthrew the ancient city of Babylon? “Set ye up a standard…call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz.” (51:27) Famed biblical scholar, Dr. Archibald Henry Sayce, Emeritus Professor of Assyriology at Oxford University, identified them with the House of Israel exiles. (BOI 37:457)
To return to our original question, were the two houses of Israel reunited five centuries before Christ? The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “the promise that in those days and at that time… the people of Israel and Judah would again unite as a nation, return to Zion, and bind themselves to God in an everlasting covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31; Jer. 32:40) was not fulfilled after Babylon’s fall in 539 B.C. Jeremiah’s prophecy looked beyond the destruction of Babylon in 539 to an eschatological [i.e. end of age] destruction that will reverse the fortunes of Israel and Judah. Possibly this prophecy represents a blending of the near and the far. That is, the fall of Babylon and the return of the captives under Zerubbabel merged in the prophetic picture with the still-future destruction of [Mystery] Babylon and the final restoration of Israel and Judah…Other portions of Scripture also point to this still-future rebuilding of Israel and destruction of Babylon (cf. Zec. 5:5-11; Rev. 17-18).”
The Scriptural and historical facts indicate that the final rejoining of Israel’s two houses, Ephraim-Israel and Judah, was not fulfilled under the Old Covenant and is dependent upon both returning to the Lord by faith in Christ. Let us pray for that day to soon come!