When undertaking a journey, it is always best to have a roadmap to follow in order to safely reach your proper destination. In a similar way, the Prophet Isaiah closes out his wonderful book of prophecies in chapter 66 by giving us a roadmap of future events. Yet it is difficult for many people to decipher Isaiah’s words, both due to the condensed nature of the prophecy and because the events listed have no clearly dated time-frame. In addition, we moderns are used to seeing everything written in a strict, neatly chronological order, but Isaiah instead uses his own arrangement based upon his choice of subject matter.
The late evangelical expositor, Morgan G. Campbell, echoed these issues in saying, “This last chapter is confessedly difficult of interpretation. In it the prophet seems to look beyond all that he has previously described, and to deal with destiny.” Yes, it is a condensed vivid non-chronological summary of Isaiah’s vision of the future for Israel and the world, extending from his own time, circa 700 B.C., all the way to the eventual “New Heavens and the New Earth” (66:22).
The prophet begins with several verses of harsh criticism of the people’s sins. “They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations; so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring upon them what they dread.” (vv. 3-4) These words are still true in our own day, with a warning for us as well. Many long centuries of sin and lawlessness are described in these verses, yet the prophet looks even further ahead to a better future for the Lord’s faithful: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.” (v.10) It becomes apparent, however, that this part of the vision concerns the millennial New Jerusalem, not the old city. We read, “For this is what the Lord says: ‘I will extend peace to her like a river and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream…” (v. 12) This scene is echoed in the New Testament description of New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:1.
The return of our Lord is depicted by Isaiah in verses 15 and 16, “See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord.” This scene is repeated in New Testament verses concerning the Second Coming of Christ (Matt. 3:11-12; 13:40-50; 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:8; 2 Pet. 3:7, 12, etc.)
Up to this point most Bible students can follow Isaiah’s “roadmap” of prophecy without much trouble. However, one of the important verses in this chapter is largely ignored today, and for an understandable reason: it contradicts much popular preaching concerning the whereabouts of Israel in this end of the age. This verse is Isaiah 66:19. We will quote it from the Companion Bible with its included bracketed notations: “And I will set a present visible token among them, and I will send [as missionaries] those that escape [the remnant of saved Israel] of them unto the nations, to Tarshish [the west], Pul, and Lud [African people], that draw the bow, to Tubal [the Scythian tribes], and Javan [Greeks settled in Asia Minor], to the maritime countries afar off, that have not heard My fame, neither have seen My glory; and they shall declare My glory among the nations.”
At the time Isaiah wrote this, the ten-tribe House of Israel had previously been exiled to Assyria and lands beyond in 721 B.C.; that was already history. However, these tribes did not remain in captivity according to the prophet, who uses the distinctive Hebrew word, “paliyt,” meaning escapees, fugitives, or refugees. Isaiah knew where these exiled tribes had gone; he not only had Divine instruction, but in his later years he was also a confidant of the Judean king, Hezekiah, and privy to royal information. The prophet was likewise looking forward in time to the coming collapse of the House of Judah, comprising the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which would take place in 587 B.C., a century into his future. It is highly significant and almost universally overlooked that he places the location of the tribes of these two exiled Israelite Houses to the north and west of Palestine, with not even a mention of any of them remaining in the east.
The Bible tells us that the House of Israel was conquered by Assyria in the 8th century, B.C., and at first placed in three locations to the north and east of the Assyrian Empire (2 Ki. 17:6). It was at one time common knowledge that exiled Israelites in the east were identified with the Parthians. Respected Reformation scholar, John Calvin, stated, “By ‘those who draw the bow’ are meant the Parthians, because they were skillful in archery.” (Calvin’s Commentary, Isaiah 66) Modern historian, Stephen M. Collins, has written on the Parthian-Israel connection in his book, “Parthia: The Forgotten Ancient Superpower,” available from CBIA. Yet these tribes did not permanently remain located in the east, as Isaiah’s prophecy intimates. Collins gives historical evidence that the Parthians migrated north and west into Europe after the breakup of their kingdom.
Isaiah states that exiled Israel was also found in the region of Tubal, the Caucasus Mountains area at the gateway to Europe. Historians associate the Tubal region with the Scythian tribes that later overspread Europe, as indicated in the Companion Bible quoted above. Alternatively, John Trapp’s Bible Commentary (on Rev. 9:15-17) says that one of the notable medieval rabbis associated this region with the Turks, but Turkish tribes did not arrive in the Mideast until almost a millennium after Christ. Next the prophet gives Javan as another location of the exiled Israelites; many scholars identify this with Greece and its colonies. In the Biblical Apocrypha we are in fact told that the Spartan Greeks were Israelites (1 Maccabees 12:5-23).
Isaiah further states that exiled Israelites were found in Tarshish, the “Iberian peninsula,” which is modern Spain; he also says that they would be found in “the maritime countries afar off,” which indicates the islands and coastlands of Western Europe. Jewish-Christian historian, Moses Margoliouth, in his “History of Britain,” states that “the isles afar off” was a Hebrew term for Britain in early times. Read the text of his remarks at www.israelite.info/commentary/messianic.html.
Finally, Isaiah sees the Israelite exiles in “Pul” and “Lud,” which historians have identified with two districts on the coast of Africa west of Egypt, and now part of Libya. In ancient times, this was the nation of Carthage. The book, “Israel’s Lost Empires,” by Steven M. Collins (available from CBIA) gives the history of Carthage and shows that it was largely populated by Israelite exiles and immigrants. Interestingly, after Carthage was conquered by Rome, the survivors sailed to new homes in Britain.
For those of us who are Bible believers, it is definitive that Isaiah locates the ultimate home of the exiled tribes of Israel to the north and west of Palestine. The Bible tells us that only a very small number of Israelite exiles returned to Palestine after the captivities; well under 50,000 according to Ezra 2:64. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah also clearly state several times that only members of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin returned to Palestine. (Ezra 1:5; 4:1; 10:9; Neh. 4:16; 11:4, 36; 12:34) This is discussed in more detail in my study, “Ezra and the Lost Tribes: An Eyewitness To History” posted on the main page at www.israelite.info.
Isaiah thus gives us a definite roadmap to follow Israel’s exiled lost tribes after their expulsion from Canaan at the hands of Assyria and Babylon in the early pre-Christian centuries. This roadmap may lead to your doorstep! To follow this Biblical roadmap further, the excellent books referenced above by historian Steven M. Collins are available from CBIA at www.migrations.info. As the modern descendants of God’s servant people, let us take heed to make our calling and election sure!