A terrible pronouncement was made against Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.” (Jer. 18:17)
The College Press Commentary says, “An alternate translation of the last part of Jer. 18:17 is: ‘On their back and not their face I will look in the day of calamity.’ In this case the meaning would be: When they flee before their enemies I will see their backs and will not intervene to save them.”
The term “east wind” appears some 20 times in the Bible. In comparison, the terms “north wind,” “south wind,” and “west wind” each appear only one to five times in all of Scripture. It is clear that the term “east wind” has significant historical and prophetic significance that has been largely ignored by Bible students. What then does the “east wind” signify?
In Biblical times, the east wind was largely associated with judgment and destruction. The eighth plague on Egypt was an invasion of millions of locusts carried westward on the east wind. Conquering armies, including the Assyrians and Babylonians, swarmed out of the east. Hot dry violent winds swept up clouds of dust and sand from the eastern desert and darkened the skies while inundating the western inhabitants of Egypt and Palestine at irregular intervals. The Pulpit Commentary tersely states, “The mention of the east wind brings the thought of the terrible simoom, with its columns of sand.”
The Biblical Illustrator tells us “The east winds referred to by the prophets appear to be a violent form of sirocco. It was the east wind which brought the plague of locusts upon the Egyptians. It was by an east wind that the ships of Tarshish were broken (Psa. 48:7), and the ships of Tyre (Eze. 27:26). Jeremiah takes an east wind as the symbol of Jehovah’s punishment of His people, while references to its withering and scorching properties are numerous; from the seven thin ears of wheat of Pharaoh’s vision in Egypt to the sultry blast which helped to afflict Jonah outside the walls of Nineveh. The east wind still breaks at times with terrific violence upon the coasts of Palestine, and the records of victims tell of tents that have been blown away by its fury.”
An “east wind” blows westward, taking away with it everything that is moveable in its destructive path. Here is a prophetic intimation that the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, although taken to Babylon initially, would ultimately be scattered westward, not eastward to Afghanistan or China as some expositors suggest.
A similar pronouncement was made against the northern Ten Tribes of Israel: “Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation…Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels. Samaria shall become desolate…” (Hos. 12:1; 13:15-16)
Eadies Bible Dictionary defines the “wilderness” as “not a mere waste, but rather may be extensive tracts not under cultivation, yet affording rich and abundant pasturage.”
Dr. C.H.H. Wright, in his Bampton Lectures on “Zechariah,” states: “We do not deny that some traces of the northern Israelites may be found among the Nestorian Jews, described by the Armenian missionary, Dr. Grant, or even among the Karites and other Jews, who here and there exist in the South of Russia.” (pp. 284-5)
The historian Du Chaillu in his two-volume work, “The Viking Age,” reveals “a belief prevalent among these people that their ancestors migrated at a remote period from the shores of the Black Sea, through south-western Russia, to the shores of the Baltic. When we appeal to archaeology, we find in the neighborhood of the Black Sea, near to the old Greek settlement, graves similar to those of the north, containing ornaments and other relics also remarkably like those found in the ancient graves of Scandinavia.” (i:25-26)
To reach the desolate wilderness, the exiled Israelites would need to pass through the Caucasus Mountain region gateway to South Russia and the shores of the Black Sea in southern Europe. Bible prophecy more than hints at this: “Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages…And I will make all my mountains a way…” (Isa. 49:8,11) The Apostle Paul quoted this passage in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 and applied it to missions to Europe.
The Prophet Habakkuk spoke of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah: “They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.” (Hab. 1:9) The word, “captivity,” is a translation of the Hebrew “shebiy” meaning captured, exiled, prisoners, those taken away. Babylon would gather prisoners like sand, meaning that there would be innumerable captives removed from their homeland. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says it is “a figure expressing numbers too vast to calculate.”
These large numbers of exiles too great to calculate did not return to Palestine, as respected first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus stated: “The Ten Tribes did not return to Palestine; only two tribes served the Romans after Palestine became a Roman province.” He further remarks, “There are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the Ten Tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude.” At that time these Israelites were found beyond the northern reaches of the Euphrates River in Eastern Europe in numbers too vast to calculate.
The fact that the exiled Israelites did not return is upheld by more recent historians as well. “History and Literature of the Israelites,” by C. and A. DeRothchild states, “The Israelites were almost without exception ruled by weak and sinful kings. The gloom of their history is rarely relieved by a ray of prosperity or hope; yet their ultimate fate of being entirely merged in the race of their hated conquerors is full of a melancholy and touching interest. For the Ten Tribes of Israel were not even permitted, like the sister kingdom of Judah, to bequeath to later ages and western nations the memory of rich and varied destinies. They were irretrievably lost, and a deep and impenetrable silence clings round their dispersion.” (vol. 1, cap. 129, p. 489)
One clear answer to the deep mystery of lost Israel is found in the Biblical clue of the prophetic “east wind” which drove all before it westward. Several passages of Scripture indicate that both the two-tribe House of Judah and ten-tribe House of Israel would be subject to this east wind, driving them westward to Europe and the British Isles. However, this is only one clue among many that could be given of the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in western lands.
This solution was confirmed in the Jewish Year Book for 1902, published by Greenberg and Co., London, which contains the following comment on the belief that the Lost Ten Tribes migrated to Europe and Britain: “The argument is unanswerable from the standpoint of literal prophecy.”