Halloween II: The zombie coming to life before our ears as well as our eyes

Halloween is just around the corner, when we celebrate the macabre and the scary, with ghosts, skeletons and zombies ‘in costume’ being seen and heard. With this focus the vast majority of us are missing the real zombie coming to life. If we listen carefully we will even be able to hear it. This zombie has been dead a long time – almost 2000 years – but her coming to life was predicted even further back.

Last Halloween, I introduced the Dry Bones that Ezekiel saw 2600 years ago coming to life. Here is a quick re-cap of what he saw:

… the bones covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. … Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them…. Then he said … “Come, O breath, from the four winds” … They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. (Ezekiel 37: 2-10)

So what were these dry bones that so Halloween-ishly transformed into zombies and then stood up into a vast army? We do not need to guess because Ezekiel explicitly wrote that:

Then [God] said to me, “… these bones represent the people of Israel. … I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel…. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken! … I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered.” (Ezekiel 37: 11-21)

Even a cursory following of the news will put the tiny nation of Israel into our line-of-sight. From its remarkable United Nations declared re-birth in 1948, to its many wars in the subsequent decades, to the intractable conflict with Palestinians and the wider world – that vision which Ezekiel saw 2600 years ago is happening right in front of our eyes – even up to that detail of the ‘vast army’ standing on its feet. The Israeli army today is literally regarded as one of the most formidable in the world.

But to focus only on what you see in the news is to miss what you may hear.  Because one important reason that made these ‘bones’ dry and dead was that for millennia the Jews had lost their language – Hebrew. But today we can literally hear its re-birth – if we listen.

Let me explain.

The Jews (or Israelites) have been conquered and sent into exile two times in her long history. The first exile and deportation was about 600 BC under the Babylonians and this exile lasted 70 years. The second exile was far more severe. The Romans in 70 AD sacked, destroyed and burned Jerusalem and sold the Jews into slavery across the Roman Empire. They were sent literally into the four corners of the world. This is why Jews today can be found in almost all countries of the world.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

As Moses predicted 3500 years ago they have been living in host countries around the world since 70 AD, always in danger of overstaying their welcome.

In their complete destruction as a people they even lost their language – for centuries. Here is how Wikipedia summarizes the history of their Hebrew language.

Hebrew had ceased to be an everyday spoken language somewhere between the first and fourth centuries CE[10] and survived into the medieval period only as the language of Jewish liturgy and rabbinic literature. Then, in the 19th century, it was revived as a spoken and literary language, and, according to Ethnologue, is now the language of 9 million people worldwide,[11][12] of whom 7 million are from Israel.[3][13]

Hebrew ceased to be spoken for centuries – it was deader than Latin is today. But now it is spoken by 9 million people!  How often does something like this occur?  Let the syllabus of a course on this topic at Dartmouth College explain:

The rebirth of Hebrew as a mother tongue after two millennia is an event unique in sociolinguistic history. It happened through a constellation of radical political and ethnic aspirations, dire economic forces, and educational circumstances that may never be repeated, but none of which are in any way ‘miraculous’. This course examines how it happened, through the eyes of those who made it happen and contemporary sociolinguists and historians, and draws conclusions for language policy in other developing societies.

In the dry words of a university course syllabus, reviving a language not spoken for 2000 years is ‘unique in sociolinguistic history’ – there is just no other example like this out there. Of course, this occurred from a lot of hard and strategic work on the part of some key people – not by a ‘miraculous’ event as our syllabus is quick to point out. But what should be considered at least potentially miraculous is that Ezekiel 2600 years ago foresaw a national re-birth of such a scope. Who else can put that on his CV?

Actually, someone else can – Jeremiah.

Jeremiah who lived about the same time as Ezekiel (ca 600 BC) but in a distant country from him (Ezekiel was living as an exile in Babylon while Jeremiah was in Jerusalem) wrote as if foreseeing the same phenomenon

I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful….

“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth….

a great throng will return.

‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—…
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.  (Jeremiah 31: 4-13)

Jeremiah foresaw a return from ‘the ends of the earth’, but with a weighting from ‘the land of the North’ which would be joyful, with singing, timbrels, dancing and gladness. Jeremiah wrote this in Hebrew – his native language. But soon afterwards came the first exile to Babylon and many Jews stopped speaking Hebrew in favor of Aramaic. Then with the rise of Hellenism, Hebrew continued its decline and many Jews became Greek speakers. Jesus spoke in Aramaic and the Jewish writers of the New Testament wrote in Greek. Then, with the second, more extensive shattering and exile, the Hebrew tongue went dead for over one thousand years – until our day.

I had the privilege of traveling in Israel recently. There were many monuments, archaeological sites and ruins to see in a land that has such an ancient and tumultuous history. But I didn’t just see dead stones but heard a language spoken unassumingly by common every-day people.  I heard something ‘unique in sociolinguistic history’.  Most of these were recent arrivals from Russia (‘the land of the north’ as per Jeremiah) but I also met Jews from ‘the ends of the earth’ – and they were learning & speaking Hebrew.

One evening in Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee I went out for a stroll with my camcorder on me. Join with me in my short video/audio clip. Witness the ‘event unique in sociolinguistic history’ in joyful dance and song.  They were celebrating the close of Sukhot (Festival of booths) and the conclusion of the annual reading of the ‘Torah’ – the books of Moses.

These people I joined that night were not considering the irony of their sociolinguistic re-birth in the backdrop of all the Roman ruins and the now-dead Latin inscriptions, the seemingly invincible and permanent power and cause of their second demise.  Nor were they even thinking of Jeremiah’s words in the midst of their celebration. But that’s OK because Jeremiah wasn’t writing to them! He explicitly tells us that

“Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands …(v.10)

Though Ezekiel specifically addressed the Jewish people in his vision of Dry Bones, his colleague Jeremiah wrote specifically to the ‘nations’ in ‘distant coastlands’ – that’s you and me. He wanted us, not them, to take note of their re-born celebrations and then reflect.

Many of us wonder, in our educated and secular time, whether there really is a God out there. We see the mayhem, strife and death in the world around us and continually hear the naturalistic mantra in our educational media, as well as conspiracy theories about the gospel. So we surmise that if there is a God he is far removed from our world. Jeremiah wanted you and me to take note and listen to this new-born tune.

Because maybe this climate of our day comes from not looking, or in this specific case not listening, in the right place.  After all, our leaders and the media, educated and resourced with the best our society can give them, are still always being caught off guard by events that take them by surprise, from the global financial crisis a few years ago, to the Arab Spring, to the rise of the Islamic State – they are always caught with their pants down so-to-speak. In comparison, these ancient prophets seem to have a much better record – almost as if they have some Inside Information. They do claim that God was speaking through them. That can be easy to claim and many charlatans past and present continue to make that claim, but this Old Testament team backed it up by predicting in black-and-white the far future with uncanniness, even numerically. Perhaps we need to dust off the writings of these 2000+ year-old prophets and hear their case. Checking their works carefully may send a far greater shiver down your spine than any costume will this Halloween.

MH17 fallout & Gaza conflict today! A maverick seer’s rumblings of long ago?

Newsrooms are straining to keep up with the crises reverberating around our planet in recent days. The World Cup is a distant memory in the wake of these emergencies. ISIS pushing Iraq to the brink of splintering; the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine; to the juggernaut of conflicts – the bombardments between Hamas in Gaza and Israel leading to an ongoing ground war.  Riots and demonstrations for both sides in this conflict are popping up around the world. We are witnessing these events take our world by storm.

I have been reading and listening to experts and statesmen trying to predict where these events will go and what the fallout will be. Perhaps you have too. It may be useful to hear also from another witness. He is not an expert in the traditional sense – he has no credentials, he is not a celebrity, nor does he head any State or agency. In fact, he has been dead for about 2700 years. Yet before he died he penned a very significant but highly controversial book. Academic tradition has it that he was sawn in half (!) because of the audacious themes in his book. He was a seer of sorts – a maverick who, though he had no army or following, authored the doom and the rise of many kings and states. Ancient yet timeless, his work was bizarre in that he purposefully wrote for a future audience.

The Sprouting Branch

Even for us today?  You judge for yourself; here is how he starts a key excerpt of his book:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Jesse was the father of King David (i.e. of Goliath fame) who founded the city of Jerusalem ca. 1000 BC. When these words were penned Jesse had been dead about 300 years but through David a royal dynasty from Jesse was ruling in Jerusalem. The maverick seer wrote that this dynasty, like a tree when felled by an axe, would one day be reduced to a ‘stump’, i.e., the kingdom would fall. (No wonder he was sawn in two with this kind of seditious writing against his state.) But then after this dynasty was ‘stumped’ a ‘Branch’ would ‘shoot’ up from that very same stump. This Branch would ‘bear fruit’. What or who would this Branch be?  What about the ‘fruit’?

Our maverick seer was part of a very select squad who also wrote similarly seditious works. What was unique about this squad was that the members by-and-large never met. You can imagine the immense difficulty in coordinating a consistent theme with people you have never met. Look at the difficulties our political leaders are having in coordinating a consistent response to all the precipitous events today – and they communicate regularly. We know the members of this squad never met because they lived several hundred years apart. Separated through time they still managed to build a consistent theme of this Branch in their writings that was so important for us to know.

I have delved into what this squad wrote about the Branch. Why not invest 10-15 minutes to learn what they had to say. Because in their works you see:

The Branch and the Nations today…

It is worth our time to understand this because it is affecting our lives today – including these events now dominating headlines. How do I know? Because in this Branch excerpt the maverick seer continued seamlessly on and wrote how a Current of Events would flow from the Branch’s career climax, flooding into the future. Here is how he put it:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious…

Jewish regathering today

The seer (by the way, his name was Isaiah) wrote that this Branch, or ‘Root of Jesse’, would have nations ‘rally to him’ in a future ‘day’ or time. When? He continued:

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush,from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Sea.

He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.
Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.

That ‘day’ for the Branch will be the same ‘day’ that the Lord ‘will’ for a ‘second’ time reclaim ‘his people’ from states all around the globe. Isaiah was quite clear who these people would be – the ‘exiles of Israel’, the ‘scattered people of Judah’.

Below is a historical timeline of the Jews (taken from a more in-depth article). You can see that they had a first re-gathering from a Babylonian exile about 530 BC (just after the short red section). But since Isaiah specifically foresaw a ‘second’ exile he was looking to the end of the whole timeline. This dispersion, inaugurated with the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD was truly worldwide, and it lasted 1900 years. The return from this second exile is literally as Isaiah the seer wrote 2700 years ago – from ‘the four quarters of the earth’ (i.e. North, South, East & West).

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

When did this worldwide reclaiming from exile occur? Why is it ongoing right now! In fact, this is a major reason why there is so much turmoil in Israel and Palestine today and is the underlying reason why the rockets and ground warfare have been going on in Israel and Gaza these past few weeks.

Re-gathering to one nation

Below is a map showing the nations in the day Isaiah penned this excerpt. You can see that back then the Jews were divided into two rival kingdoms – Judah & Israel – rather like the Koreans today who are divided into two opposing countries – North & South Korea.

Map of Israel + Judah and surrounding countries in 750 BC vs. map of Israel and countries today

Map of Israel + Judah and surrounding countries in 750 BC vs. map of Israel and countries today

When Isaiah looked into the future and wrote

Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim

He meant that when the Jews re-assembled from this world-wide exile they would not be divided anymore, as in his day, but united into one nation. This is what has happened as this modern-day return from exile was triggered in 1948 when a United Nations resolution birthed one single modern state: Israel.

Israeli & Palestinian conflict

If you look closer at this map of the nations in Isaiah’s day you will see Philistia sandwiched between Judah and the Mediterranean Sea and Moab, Edom and Ammon directly to the East. Note the states in the corresponding places today and you will see that they are Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan. The West Bank was captured from Jordan in the six-day war of 1967 by Israel. Armed with this insight, we can make sense of the rest of Isaiah’s excerpt.

They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.

When Isaiah saw the Israelites returning from that long, second, world-wide exile and foresaw the birth of the one modern Jewish state which would then ‘swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west’ he was envisaging an intense confrontation of the Israelis into Gaza – just like we are witnessing now. The ‘subduing’ of the people of Edom, Moab and Ammon is the modern-day Israeli control of the other Palestinian enclave – the West Bank. It is like Isaiah was 2700 years ahead of our current events.

The Branch: seen in the MH17 aftermath

But this return from world-wide exile and conflict in Gaza and the West Bank was to happen in the day that the Branch was to be a banner to peoples around the world, with nations rallying to him. What did Isaiah mean?

Below are photos of peoples around the world mourning the other great tragedy of this month – the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

Victims of the MH17 plane crash are commemorated during a memorial service in the Saint Bavo cathedral in Haarlem, The Netherlands (from EPA)

Victims of MH17 are commemorated during a memorial service in a cathedral in Haarlem, The Netherlands (from EPA)

People pray during a special Mass in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 20 in Hilversum, Netherlands.  (from CNN)

People pray during a special Mass in memory of the victims of MH17 on July 20 in Hilversum, Netherlands. (from CNN)

People pray for the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at a church outside Kuala Lumpur (from CNN)

People pray for the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at a church outside Kuala Lumpur Malaysia (from CNN)

Memorial service in Australia for victims of MH17 (from the Guardian)

Memorial service in Australia for victims of MH17 (from the Guardian)

Notice the common context in the photos though the mourners are not conscious of it, and we are apt to miss it because it has become such a familiar part of culture.  We are witnessing peoples in diverse nations seeking comfort in the face of death in the context of churches, liturgies and prayers founded from the life and career of one unique person – Jesus of Nazareth – the Branch that Isaiah foresaw would one day be a banner for the nations. The MH17 memorial photos cry out as one instance of Isaiah’s vision of the Branch becoming ‘a banner for the peoples’, with ‘nations rallying to him’.

The Branch & The Re-gathering: Farfetched yet seen from Isaiah’s viewpoint

We may dismiss this by noting that there is nothing remarkable about funerals and liturgies in churches, for which Jesus is somehow a banner, since it is part of our heritage and has been so for several centuries. But in Isaiah’s day, 2700 years ago, that was hardly a foregone conclusion. In that day the world was a vast ocean of pagan idolatry with no tendency towards worship of one God, nor devotion to any redeemer figure. Nothing of the impact of Jesus’ career on the generations coming after him, which we now take for granted, would have been self-evident in Isaiah’s day. Living 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah saw past Jesus’ career to the impact that it would have on nations around the planet long after the Branch had completed that career. No one else back then, except for Isaiah and his squad, was betting that the die would be cast in that direction. And Isaiah explicitly timed the cresting of the Branch’s impact to that of another global current – the regathering of the Jews back to Israel and the resultant upheavals and bitter conflicts that this would cause. The two crises dominating our news this week – the grieving over the downing of flight MH17 and the conflict in Gaza/Israel – are vivid illustrations of this remarkable double-edged foresight coming to pass in our time.

Prophetic Overarching Themes, not random sayings

Perhaps you agree with me. Or perhaps you think I am reading way too much into Isaiah. The fact that these themes run through the rest of that squad tips it for me since they form multiple-sourced, consistent themes.  Starting with Abraham, then Moses and down to Ezekiel & Jeremiah we see the theme for Israel.  Starting at the dawn of human history, again to Abraham & Moses, then to DavidDaniel & Zechariah there is a clear theme of a coming redeemer.  I did not draw it from one random paragraph of Isaiah.  It is like one Mind was writing through this squad of authors.  At the minimum it is worth being informed of their themes.

Isaiah, The Branch, You & A Promise

But so what anyways? So what if Isaiah foretold the modern-day re-birth of Israel complete with the turmoil surrounding it? So what if he and the squad foresaw the global veneration (even if only cultural) of the coming Branch – Jesus of Nazareth? What difference does that make to you and me?

Isaiah never claimed to have innate powers of foresight. He was not a clairvoyant. He claimed that God – who created our planet and the universe, who is sovereign over all states, both Jewish and non-Jewish – revealed this to him. And if he was right about these things visible today then we have reason to take him seriously about his Source. He did not only write this little excerpt that we are looking at. He also wrote, as a mouthpiece for this God

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!…
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you…
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:1-7)

Here is an ongoing invitation, through the pen of this maverick seer that this same God who controls destinies on a global and enduring scale is inviting you and me to come to Him, to listen to Him, receive pardon – and even find Him. If there is even a chance this seer was correct about the global events he foresaw, then he will be right about this invitation for us as well. An invitation on this scale warrants weighing Isaiah and the squad’s ‘Branch’ case. The case can be examined even to textual, historical and prophetic details.

Isaiah & Euphrates River today

Speaking of details, I did not finish this excerpt we started. Right after Isaiah wrote those lines about the Jews returning from world-wide exile while in conflict with those around them, he concluded with:

The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand over the Euphrates River.
He will break it up into seven streams so that anyone can cross over in sandals. (Isaiah 11)

That is a rather extreme detail to be projecting down centuries. The reality is that water shortage & drought has become a great concern through that region in the last decades – somewhat in sync with the world-wide return from exile that started in earnest almost 70 years ago. But more recently, since ISIS has taken Northern Syria they control the mid-stream reservoirs of the Euphrates, setting them on a collision course with Turkey which controls the Upper Euphrates. Turkey has just now shut off the taps. While the world has been fixated on MH17 & Israel/Gaza, conflict over Euphrates water, brewing for several years now, has reached new heights as notified in a recent bulletin of the Middle East news outlet Al-Akhbar

The Turkish government recently cut off the flow of the Euphrates River, threatening primarily Syria but also Iraq with a major water crisis. Al-Akhbar found out that the water level in Lake Assad has dropped by about six meters, leaving millions of Syrians without drinking water.

…Violating international norms, the Turkish government recently cut off the water supply of the Euphrates River completely. In fact, Ankara began to gradually reduce pumping Euphrates water about a month and half ago, then cut if off completely two weeks ago, according to information received by Al-Akhbar.

The Euphrates is drying up! Perhaps it would be wise to keep our eyes looking through the lense that this maverick seer and his cohorts penned so many centuries ago that seem to stalk the events occurring in our day.

The Prophet, The Skeptic, & the Fulfilled Event (Pt. 1)

Understanding our Times by considering Sam Harris’s Challenge

In my last post I commented on how Ariel Sharon’s funeral making global headlines is eerie when considered from the perspective of the Blessings and Curses on the Jews in the Torah – the Law of Moses.  And prior to that I looked at Ezekiel’s (ca. 580 BC) Valley of Dry Bones vision of zombies coming to life as another thread in this theme of the Jewish dispersion and return that cuts continuously through both the Old and New Testaments.  The dispersion has happened and the return is happening – the global media is reporting facets of it daily now.  Hearing Canadian news coverage this week about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s state visit to Israel is another example of this playing out on the modern-day global stage.

Well-known skeptic Sam Harris takes issue with this claim of predictive ability of the Biblical writers.  Here is his take on the curses/blessings on the Jews given in the Torah:

Christians regularly assert that the bible predicts future historical events, For instance Deuteronomy 28:64 says “And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other” …  We are meant to believe that these utterances predict the subsequent history of the Jews with such uncanny specificity so as to admit of only a supernatural explanation.

He minimizes the Blessings&Curses by referring to only one phrase in that long discourse and then points out that this one phrase is so vague and unspecific that it hardly merits a supernatural explanation.  He then throws out what he thinks is an impossible challenge.:

“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience.  If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events.  You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet”  The Bible contains nothing like this.  In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century.  This should trouble you.”  Sam Harris. Letter to a Christian Nation.  p.60

Let’s consider this challenge from Harris by unpacking a rather bizarre prophetic foretelling given by Ezekiel around 587 BC.  Perhaps also we can understand a little better the times we are living in.  Some background in the history of that period may be helpful (link here).

Ezekiel in Old Testament historical timeline

Ezekiel in Old Testament historical timeline (contemporaneous with Jeremiah)

Ezekiel’s Bizarre Drama of the Siege

We have seen how some prophecies, like the Passover and the Sacrifice of Abraham, are riddles that are acted out rather than spoken.  Those two point to the death of Jesus by remarkably foretelling both the location and the time of year of that pivotal event.  Ezekiel likewise acts a bizarre drama while giving the explanation for it.  Here is what he is commanded to do as a prophetic utterance:

4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel.

6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.  (Ezekiel 4: 4-8)

Ezekiel was commanded to remain bound on one side and then on the other for over a year!  To give a little background, Ezekiel is writing from Babylon just before the Babylonians besiege Jerusalem (thus the reference to a siege).  This siege lasted many months but finally Jerusalem was conquered in 586 BC by the Babylonians, the city was burned, the temple destroyed and the Jewish people sent to exile in Babylon.  Ezekiel was destined to soon meet the captives brought from the siege of Jerusalem after he had acted out this prophecy.

But why were the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem?  They had defeated the Jewish nation in a war in 606 BC and so the Jewish people had, in effect lost their independence that year.  Most were permitted to remain in Judah, but some, like Daniel, were sent to Babylon in this first wave of deportation that occurred in 606 BC.  The Jews in Jerusalem grudgingly swore allegiance and paid tribute to the Babylonians but then revolted against them.  So the Babylonians came and laid siege to Jerusalem, mercilessly crushing it in 586 BC.  The kings of David have never reigned again since that day!

Note how Ezekiel referred to the ‘House of Israel’ and the ‘House of Judah’.  The Jews after Solomon, around 900 BC, had split into two political countries – Judah and Israel.  This was a similar situation to Korea of today, which is one people group that is divided politically into the two countries of North and South Korea.  The ‘House of Israel’ had already been conquered as a political entity around 722 BC by the Assyrians.

Unpacking Ezekiel’s Prophecy

In this acted drama, Ezekiel specified that there would be a period of 390 days + 40 days = 430 days, with each day representing a year (v. 5 & 6).  So this is explicitly talking about 430 years to pay ‘for sin’.  But where does that idea that such a payment for sin is required?  The parting Blessings and Curses of Moses had said that if they sinned they would pay for their sin in being exiled from their land.  This was the one sentence that Harris quoted.  So Ezekiel was now prophesying from this principle rooted in Deuteronomy that they were to enter 430 years of exile.

The 360 day year

While we commonly use the 365.244 day solar year (the Gregorian calendar) there are other ways to denominate a year.  Today the Muslim calendar is based on 12 lunar cycles resulting in a 354-day year.  In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360-day calendar was common, and it was the year length that Ezekiel’s contemporary, Daniel, used and is the basis of the prophetic year used through the books of the Bible. We will need to convert Ezekiel’s years to our solar years to understand his prophecy with respect to our calendar.  But there is another twist to consider first.

Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy

While Ezekiel was in Babylon prophesying 430 years his contemporary living through the siege in far-away Jerusalem, Jeremiah, had said:

8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD,  (Jeremiah 25:8-12)

Jeremiah said 70 years … not 430.  So which was it – 70 or 430?  It turns out that in 539 BC the Babylonians were conquered by a Medo-Persian alliance.  This was headed up by King Cyrus of Persia who founded the Persian Empire.

So the exiles of Jerusalem were allowed to return by a famous 538 BC edict of Cyrus, arriving back in 537 BC.  From the initial deportation in 606 BC to 537 BC – Jeremiah’s prophecy of destruction of the Babylonians and return to Jerusalem in 70 years was fulfilled.  Now this is precise, but not impressive.  It would have been easy for editors of Jeremiah after the return from exile, to insert the ‘prophecy’ in his book to make sure a ‘fulfillment’ occurred.  Since the earliest existing copies of these books are from the Dead Sea Scrolls from 200-100 BC we can never be sure that it did not happen this way.  If this were all we had we would have to concur with Harris that it would be poor evidence of omniscient foretelling.

The Leviticus Principle

But do we not now also have a contradiction between Jeremiah and Ezekiel?  They seem to be predicting mutually exclusive things – one an exile of 70 years and the other an exile of 430 years.  It would be impossible for both to be right.  Or is it?  Because if you go to the ‘principles in Leviticus’ that Harris had asked for you will see the following:

if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: … 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.

18If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze…

21 ” ‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve…

23 ” ‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over….

27 ” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over

40 ” ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees.  (Leviticus 26: 14-43)

Here the LORD was saying, like in the Curses of Deuteronomy, that if they did not obey the Law they would be defeated by their enemies who would rule over them (v. 17).  These provided the context for Jeremiah’s declaration of a 70 year exile which started with the first Babylonian deportation (606 BC) and ended when a Jewish remnant returned back to their land in 537 BC.

Then v 18 says ‘If after all this…’ (i.e. the chain of events from disobedience, conquest, exile and return) they still remained ‘hostile’ to God and did not ‘listen’ to his commands the punishment for sins would be multiplied seven times over.  It is repeated explicitly in v. 21, 23 and 28.  Events unfolded just that way.  The Jewish people were supposed to return to renew their hearts which they never really did.  Only a small remnant returned … they struggled for years to be motivated to rebuild the Temple which they grudgingly accomplished but few were interested in putting out the effort … Nehemiah brought another group 80 years later when the edict to rebuild Jerusalem was issued (which started the clock ticking to the coming of the Messiah).  But as a people they continued to basically pursue their own interests, and are castigated by Nehemiah for the exploitation of the poor and intermarriage while Malachi (the last Old Testament book) is an impassioned plea for them to remain faithful in their marriage covenants and in their offerings to God, which they did not do.  They remained hostile to Him.

So their punishment, according to the principle in Leviticus, was to be multiplied seven times over.  Only after the full seven-times payment is made would God remember the covenant he had made with Isaac, Abraham and the land (v.42).  What was that covenant?  God had promised Abraham and Isaac that he would give them the land.  In other words, only after the full seven-fold payment was made would they be allowed to claim and rule that land that God had originally promised to the Jewish patriarchs.  When they returned by Cyrus’s Edict they only did so as a small vassal province in the Persian Empire.  The Persians still ruled the land.

Leviticus, Jeremiah & Ezekiel Converge – in Modern Day History

With the insight gained from our ‘principle in Leviticus’ we can understand Ezekiel’s prophecy.  He had predicted 430 years of exile for their sin.  They paid 70 years (as per Jeremiah) which brought the ‘debt’ down to 430 – 70 = 360 years.  This remainder was multiplied by seven (as per Leviticus) to get: 360 * 7 = 2520 years.

Let us now convert these to our solar years and put it on a timeline.

The Babylonian exile lasted from 606 BC -> 537 BC = 69 years.  This was exactly as specified by Jeremiah if we convert his timeframe into solar years (70 years * 360/365.2422 = 69 Gregorian solar years of Jeremiah’s exile).

Ezekiel’s remaining seven-fold years would be:

2520 years * 360/365.2422 = 2484 Gregorian solar years of Ezekiel’s exile

Adding 2484 years to 537 BC (when the exiles returned and this seven-fold period started) we come to 1948 AD.[1]

ezekiels exile to 1948

Historical Timeline of Jews from Moses to Present-Day, showing Ezekiel & his Exile Prophecy

So what happened in 1948?  That was the year Israel was re-born as a modern nation – an independent and self-ruled Jewish country.  For the first time in 2500 years Jews had claim to their own country again.  When Israel declared independence in 1948 it was immediately attacked by five surrounding nations.  I know of no other nation in history surviving such a multi-front war within days of its birth.  Ariel Sharon, whose funeral was marked just last week was one whose brazen military exploits were instrumental ensuring that it did survive.  But even more remarkable, Ezekiel, with some ‘principles from Leviticus’, saw it 2500 years ago!

So let’s reflect. Sam Harris challenged the Bible to predict something for “the latter half of the 20th century”, using “principles from Leviticus”, and doing so would show it to be a “product of omniscience”.  Harris leveled a prophetic challenge because he figured it was so impossible to meet that he never actually did his homework to check it.  He thought that ‘within half a century’ was impossible enough to stymie all attempts.  Ezekiel, with some principles from Leviticus, was bang on to the year starting about 2500 years ago, in predicting the re-birth of Israel in 1948, and in the process, managed to resolve a seemingly intractable contradiction with Jeremiah.  I’d say that is pretty good.  At the very least, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist or something else this is something worth being informed about even as we all weigh the implications of this differently.  In my next post I’d like to consider the confessions of Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, as someone worth hearing out as you weigh the implications of Ezekiel’s (with some principles from Leviticus) uncanny abilities.

[1] 537 BC is like -537.  So -537 + 2484 + 1 = 1948 (the +1 is because there is no 0 on this number line, it goes from -1 to +1 (1 BC –> 1 AD) – in an interval of 1

Bones, Skeletons & Zombies come alive: Prophetic Halloween before our eyes


Sam Harris vs. the Valley of Dry Bones

We are now in the time of year where the stores are full of costumes of the dead, of spirits, of witches and the like. Yes, Halloween is coming and for many it’s the time to have cheeky fun at parties with role-plays or costumes of skeletons coming to life, or dead bodies walking around, all in good fun. Michael Jackson’s Thriller will be played, watched and danced to around the globe, because it’s perfect for Halloween.

But long before Thriller was conceived, and even long before Halloween itself was celebrated, an eccentric man penned some vivid images that fit perfectly for Halloween of today. One can’t help but wonder if Michael Jackson had not read these lines as he  choreographed Thriller – yet they were written about 2500 years ago!

The Valley of Dry Bones (with skeletons and corpses too)

This eccentric man was given a tour in a valley ‘filled with bones’. Read how he described it:

… the bones covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. … Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them…. Then he said … “Come, O breath, from the four winds” … They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

A man whisked away to a valley full of bones which start to rattle and hum as they join together forming skeletons … and then dead flesh and skin starts to envelope the lifeless skeletons so that they become corpses. Then the wind blows wildly from all directions and the bodies all come to life and they stand up to become a great army.

This sounds like a script from a horror movie ready to open up at Halloween!

The Valley of Dry Bones – the Eternal Spirit’s prophetic message through Ezekiel

But the man who wrote this script was not interested in sending shivers down our spines. He was engaged in something much more serious. He claimed that this script was a message from God Himself. And remarkably, the events of history have played out such that this message was meant for us who are living today! How so?

The man in question is Ezekiel who lived ca. 550 BC and along with this vision (from Ezekiel 37 – read complete chapter here) he explicitly provided its meaning. He wrote:

Then [God] said to me, “… these bones represent the people of Israel. … I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel…. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”

… I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered. I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms. They will never again pollute themselves with their idols and vile images and rebellion, for I will save them from their sinful backsliding. I will cleanse them. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:11-23)

In other words these bones that Ezekiel saw in a vision 2500 years ago represented the Jewish people. This is not my interpretation – Ezekiel explicitly said so himself. When Ezekiel wrote these words the Jews had previously been divided into two political nations but had now gone into exile to Babylon as a conquered and ruined people. Just as every bone, by definition, has previously been a living organ in a living body, but is now ‘dead’, the Jews of that day saw themselves as formerly alive but now ‘dead bones’. Then Ezekiel had this vision of their eventual return to life. The Jews in his day did return from the Babylonian exile a few decades after his vision, but he was not writing of that since it was a return only from Babylon, and they returned only as a province dominated within a vast Empire. They did not come alive as a nation.

The Return of the Jews

In his vision Ezekiel foresaw a return from the ‘nations’ and ‘places where they had been scattered’ back to that same land that they had been ejected from, where they would be ‘one nation’ with their own ‘king’ or ruler. That did not happen until thousands of years later when the modern state of Israel was forged from a United Nations resolution in 1948. Only then did the Jews finally get a self-governing nation with their own ruler. In the intervening decades Jews have literally been returning (which they call aliyah) from ‘nations’ all over the world where they have lived since being sent into their second exile beginning when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD. Since 1948 more than 3 million Jews from over 90 countries (which is almost half of all the countries in the world) have arrived in Israel. For a nation of 7 million people, having 40% of the population immigrate from almost half the countries of our globe in the span of 65 years, after an exile of 1900 years, is nothing short of remarkable. What is even more remarkable is that Ezekiel ‘saw’ it in his vision 2500 years ago.

The Return – in context of Jewish History

The timeline below showing the last 3500 years of Jewish history illustrates this. Starting from the time of Moses the Jews have alternated between three different national dispensations indicated by the different color coding.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring Ezekiel & Isaiah

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring Ezekiel & Isaiah

In the yellow periods, the Jews lived in the land promised to Abraham, but were not self-ruled from Jerusalem, their traditional capital. The first yellow period, that of the Judges, saw the Jewish people live independent from foreign powers, but without centralized rule, and with no Jerusalem.

This was followed by the green period, the golden age of Jewish history, where the dynasty of kings descending from David ruled from Jerusalem. But this ended in disaster when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and forced the Jews into exile in Babylon – the first red period. This is the time that Ezekiel lived (as well as Jeremiah and Daniel), and the time when the Jewish people saw themselves as ‘dead bones’. Though they did return after a 70 year exile, they were not self-ruled from an independent Jerusalem. Rather they were provinces dominated within the successive Persian, Greek and Roman Empires. They were back to ‘yellow’.

This continued for over 500 years and ended when the Jews revolted against Roman rule but lost the revolt. Jerusalem was once again burned and destroyed, and the Romans this time exiled the survivors across the many nations in the larger Roman world. They were back to ‘red’ and they lived this way for almost 1900 years.

‘Dead Bones’ Coming Alive in Front of our Eyes

Until our day! With the re-birth in 1948 the dead bones started to rattle together into skeletons. With the subsequent gain of Jerusalem in 1967 as their capital, flesh and skin started to envelope the skeletons. And now every year thousands of Jews are returning from all the nations around the world. They are returning and making deserts bloom into lush farmland; they are returning and rebuilding ruined cities; they are learning Hebrew their ancient tongue; and more and more are considering again their ancient God revealed in the Hebrew Old Testament as Elohim and as YHWH. We can see the dead zombie coming back to life in front of our eyes, in the stages envisioned by Ezekiel those thousands of years ago.  And just like Ezekiel described, it is happening with all the confusion, splitting and dividing between peoples, like the violence caused by the rushing of the ‘four winds’ of the compass.  If you doubt me, just listen to the world news.

Isaiah predicts the Jewish renaissance too

It was not just Ezekiel who predicted this. Another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, about two hundred years before Ezekiel saw that same day when (as he put it):

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to bring back the remnant of his people— those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt; in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam; in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.

He will raise a flag among the nations and assemble the exiles of Israel. He will gather the scattered people of Judah from the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12-13)

Notice how Isaiah (see where he sits on the timeline) saw past the first time the remnant of exiles came back (the end of the first short red period) and predicted specifically of a second time when the remnants would be regathered “from the end of the earth”.  He saw the end of the second ‘red’ period – the very period in which you and I are now living and can see unfolding with our own eyes.

So how did Ezekiel and Isaiah foresee this so spot on? How did Isaiah even know there was going to be a ‘second’ regathering? How could they foreknow that the Jewish people would survive as a distinct people group while living as exiles in these nations around the world? After all, I see here in Canada how the many immigrants lose their ethnic and language identity after only about three generations. The Jews kept theirs for millennia. Against those odds, the promise of an enduring people which was given to Abraham should long ago have been snuffed out.

Perhaps it really is true that this Elohim or YHWH, who, according to Ezekiel, gave this vision of dry bones, really is there, watching, working, and willing that things will unfold as He promised, even as it seems so impossible. The thought that that Spirit may really be working in our midst in just this way is almost spooky.

Sam Harris objects

But some of those who have reflected on this are unconvinced. Prominent among them is Sam Harris. Here is how he phrases his objection:

“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you.” Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. p.60

Harris derides the prophetic foretelling in the Bible as being merely coincidental. In his view, if you ‘predict’ something vague enough (regathering of Jews to Abraham’s Promised Land), eventually it will happen. He would be impressed if Ezekiel had predicted by timing it in the 20th century and linked that prediction back to Leviticus. That would be a Sign of Real Omniscience!

Unfortunately for Harris, he has not done his homework. Because Ezekiel, in another really bizarre setting, does make a timing prediction – to the 20th century – and, almost as if there is some Divine humor in addressing Harris’s taunt, links it back to … you guessed it – Leviticus. How? What kind of timing? We pick it up in a later post, and when you see it, it’ll send a shiver down your spine better than any scary Halloween spectacle can.