Up until the middle of the twentieth century, it was common for Bible expositors to teach that Israel would become a redeemed Christian people before a national return to Palestine. A statement in 1903 by Canadian pastor, Rev. Alfred Bareham, was typical: “I cannot see that they are to go back while still in unbelief. They were exiled practically because of their rejection of the Lord, and I am unaware of any Scripture foretelling their re-admission to Palestine in any national sense until they are willing to accept Him. God would be stultifying Himself were He to permit such a thing.” (BOI 27:507) Similarly, 18th century expositor, John Gill, stated that Israel would “come with singing unto Zion; to the Gospel church, and join themselves to it, praising God for his grace in calling and converting them, adoring the riches of his distinguishing love, and singing the new song of redeeming grace.”
It would make little sense for God to exile Israel for the sin of unbelief, and then bring them back while still in the same state of unbelief and even bless them in that state. The Lord is not so double-minded! The purpose of the exile was for their cleansing and conversion, as Ezekiel says: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.I will put my spirit within you…And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.will also save you from all your uncleannesses…” (Ezk. 36:25-29)
The Prophet Isaiah made it clear that Israel would return as a cleansed and converted people: “Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”(Isa. 51:11) The redeemed would return! Israel’s conversion and cleansing was to take place while in the lands of their exile, not at some point following their return and after some unknown extended period of time. This well-known passage in Isaiah 51 is quite popular as a chorus in Christian churches today, and was in no sense fulfilled by an unredeemed, Christ-denying people entering Palestine in 1948. Isaiah repeats this prophecy of redeemed Israel with nearly identical wording in chapter 35, verse 10. Barnes comments, “there can be no doubt that he meant to describe the deliverance under the Messiah.” The Annotated Bible agrees that it “shows the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion, delivered from sorrow and sighing, filled with joy and singing salvation songs. It is the bringing back to their own land of a delivered people.” Jameson, Faucet, and Brown Commentary says this passage relates “more fully to the completed redemption of both literal and spiritual Israel.”
Professor A.B. Davidson, in The Century Bible, says, “In the wilderness at the Exodus, Israel first found this personal relation with God, and it is in the wilderness that it shall be perfectly realized again and shall respond as in the early days.”
The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 does not fit the requirements of the return according to Biblical prophecy. The administrative state of the returnees was to be designed around “one king” (Ezek. 37:22). The Israelis established a democracy, not rule by a king. If the prophecy is instead given a spiritual connotation, and the sovereign king is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, this will be further evidence that Israel was to return in Christian faith.
Some may claim instead that this prophecy was achieved centuries earlier by the homecoming of a small number from Babylon in 538 B.C., but this cannot be the case. Less than 50,000 returnees (Ezra 2:64), limited to only two out of twelve tribes (Judah and Benjamin, Ezra 4:1) arrived in Jerusalem to persecution by the Persians and Samaritans, followed by centuries of struggleoppression leading to over a million slain in the Roman War of 66-73 A.D. The remaining Jews were exiled, with many sent to foreign slavery, a conflict with Amos 9:15, which promised, “I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.” Similarly, the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 was not met by “everlasting joy” nor did “sorrow and mourning flee away;” instead, they were greeted with a Mid-East war and near-constant conflict ever since. Yet it is popular today for Bible teachers to call the events of 1948 a fulfillment of Bible prophecy and to claim that Israel was to return in unbelief. How do they attempt to biblically justify this?
There are a number of Bible passages that support Israel’s conversion in the lands of their exile, every one of which seem to be intentionally ignored by the modern clergy. The passage in Ezekiel 36:24-25 (KJV) is instead put forward in rebuttal: “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”
The late Bernard Bateson explained, “It seems somewhat extraordinary that opponents who are prepared to spend much time disputing the meanings of Hebrew words in order to find grounds for the refutation of British Israel Truth, should not have taken the trouble to examine the Hebrew text in this instance. Had they done so, they would have discovered that the word “then,” upon which they lay such emphasis, does not appear in the Hebrew text at all. The first word in verses 25 and 31, which our [KJV] translators have rendered “then” is merely the Hebrew letter “vav,” which is a conjunction. In verses 23, 27 and 28, the same Hebrew letter is translated “and,” though one wonders why the translators have converted this simple copulative conjunction “and” into “then” in verses 25 and 31, and thereby conveyed the idea of an order of events which is entirely absent from the Hebrew text.” (The National Message 27:217)
In fact, a number of other Bible translations render the conjunction in verses 25 and 31 as “and,” including John Wycliffe (1394), the Concordant Literal, Young’s Literal, The Scriptures, Leeser Jewish Old Testament, Brenton’s English Septuagint, and even the Bible In Basic English.
The place of Israel’s conversion is made plain by the Prophet Hosea in chapter 2, verse 14: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.” Jeremiah confirms this in chapter 31, verse 2, “Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.” The “wilderness” is a translation of the Hebrew, “midbar,” and is defined by Cruden’s Concordance as referring “to all places that are not cultivated, but which are chiefly destined to the feeding of cattle, and on which trees grow wild. So, when wilderness is mentioned in Scripture, we are not always to imagine it to be a place forsaken, abandoned, and void of cities or inhabitants.” This is a perfect description of early largely unsettled Europe.
The Prophet Hosea wrote concerning the dispersed and “lost” ten tribes of the House of Israel, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.”(Hos. 1:10) The place of their Divine divorce and exile, where they became “lo ammi,” “not My people,” was primarily in the wilderness of early Europe, and it was there that they were to find redemption as “sons of the living God.”
The Speaker’s Commentary summarizes the evidence saying, “The place of their rejection, the Dispersion, was to be the place of their restoration. This is certain from Hosea 1:10, where the restoration to God’s favour precedes the return from the land of exile.”