THE restoration of israel - to god (3)
The Ministry of Elijah
It is interesting to observe that in every chapter of the prophecy of Malachi, a “messenger” is presented to us:
Chapter 1 verse 1—Malachi the prophet (whose name means Messenger’)
Chapter 2 verse 7—the Priests
Chapter 3 verse 1—The Lord Jesus Christ, John the Baptist (Mark 1:2), and pos sibly Nehemiah (a comparison of Neh. 13 and Mal. 1:7-13 and 3:8 seems to bear this out).
Chapter 4 verse 5—Elijah the prophet.
Is the ministry of John the Baptist the complete fulfilment of the words in chapter 4:
“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”?
Whilst appreciating that John the Baptist came in “the spirit and power” of Elijah (Lu. 1:17, citing Mal. 4:6), the context of the above chapter is that of the kingdom of God. This short chapter provides an answer to the question posed earlier by the people. To illustrate: In chapter 3, verse7, God reprimands Israel for continual backsliding and giving Him second best in their service and offerings. However, he still appeals to them to “return unto me”. The people ask: “wherein shall we return?” God indicates later in that chapter that they will only return at that time when the remnant who feared him are granted immortality (see 3:16-18). His words are: “then shall ye return …” Following up on this, God then indicates who is going to guide them in this spiritual reformation and how it is to be done: “Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the chiden, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land (RSV) with a curse”. The children of Israel through Elijah and others (Malachi, John the Baptist etc?) will be made aware of the promises made to their fathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and these Fathers will respond to these children.
What a delightful picture this evokes in one’s mind—Abraham discoursing with his natural seed, bringing out the spiritual lessons from his life, shoing the delightful types and shadows of Jesus, with Isaac and Jacob joining in the conversation. May that day come soon! This delightful vision of Malachi can only have its fullest meaning in the Kingdom Age. Furthermore, it is important to note that after coming down from “the mount of transfiguration” (Mat. 17:9-12), Jesus answers the question regarding the coming of Elijah by saying “Elias truly shall come first and restore all things.” This John the Baptist did not fully do, as Jesus confirms in verse 12. The “all things” mentioned by the Master is the hearkening of the children of Israel to the Fathers, as spoken about in Mal 4:6. In other words, a true conversion. When this happens, the appeal of Isaiah will have had its impact upon the Jewish people—“Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you (Isa. 51:2).
The occupancy of the land of promise by the Jews depended upon their obedience, so the conversation of the remnant scattered throughout the world means that they, and only they will be allowed to go into the “pleasant land”. The prophet Ezekiel is quite explicit (Ezek. 20:38): “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I AM YAHWEH”.
GOD’S MERCY TO THOSE OUTSIDE THE LAND
There are more Jews living outside Israel than actually dwell in the land and in recent times, Jews have been leaving because of violence and terrorism. It has been suggested that by 2020 there will be more Arabs living in Israel than Israelies! The Scritpures clearly reveal that those outside the land will, during their journey back, progressively become reconciled to their God. The delightful words of Deuteronomy chapter 30 are appropriate here:
“And [thou] shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, and thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all thee nations wither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the utmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it …”.
It is right that Moses having stated here the principles whereby returning Jews will occupy the land finalises his message in chapter 33, with these glorious words regarding the Kingdom Age. “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone (see Num. 23:9): the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens [i.e. Divine Rulership from Jerusalem—see Psa. 72:6] shall drop dew. Happy art thou, O people saved by YAHWEH.
RETURN TO GOD AND THE LAND
Let us then glance at some of these glorious passages which reveal the spiritual and physical return to God and the Land. But first note the words of Zech. 2:8: “for thus saith the Lord of hosts: after the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye”. The context is the call for the Jews to come back from the “four winds of the heaven” (v. 6). The “glory” is the glory of Yahweh in verse 5—the Lord Jesus Christ and the saints. So first, Jesus establishes his rule and administration in Jerusalem, and then gathered the scattered the scattered Jews “afar off”. Was not this the pattern established in the first Century, preaching beginning from Jerusalem and then to the uttermost parts of the earth?
No nation will be able to stop their emigration when Jesus has returned. The prophet Micah uses the figure of Dew (5:7) “and the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people, as dew from the Lord, as showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men”. Men cannot control or stop the dew, so with the return of the “seed of Abraham”. The power of God through them will be awesome, after they have responded to God. A few examples will suffice to illustrate this:
“And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver…” (Mic. 5:8).
“according to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things. The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the Lord thy God, and shall fear because of thee” (Mic. 7:15-17).
The opening phrase of this verse is seen by some Bible Students as indicating a 40 year period for the establishment of the Kingdom—“according to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt”, but the RV indicates that it is similarity of events that is being spoken about: “as in the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt”. The period of time for the establishment of the kingdom may well be 40 years, but this verse would not seem to prove the point.
Nations will be called upon to bring back God’s children, Tarshish being one of the “first” to respond (see Isa. 60:9). Note that the reason for this response is: “because he hath glorified thee (Israel”. Zechariah adds in chapter 10, dealing first with those in the land (verses 1-6), and then he writes about Ephraim (those outside the land). “The Ephraimites will become like mighty men, and their hearts will rejoice in the Lord. I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them: they will be as numerous as before. Though I scatter them among the peoples yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return” (NIV, verses 7-9). They will come from the north and from the south (Zech. 10:10; Isa. 11:11-16).
It appears the ancient “Kings Highway” mentioned in Numbers 20:17 (RSV) a road from Edom to the promised land will be used by those coming into the land from the south. In Isaiah 34 and 35 we have set before us the destinies of both Edom and Israel. At the conclusion of chapter 35 we have the words: “and a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, The Way of Holiness, and upon this way shall the Redeemed come to Jerusalem (verse 10).
Yes, there is a spiritual significance to these details, which we shall look at later, but as with so many aspects of this subject, there is a mingling of the literal and the spiritual, the latter being based on the former. However, these two chapters are underpinned on the events described in Numbers chapter 20, when Edom refused Israel to pass through their land.
During their journey back, spiritual instruction will be given to them. Time will be required for individual instruction and repentance (as today), and not mass conversion. As Jeremiah writes: “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord: for I am married unto you: and I will take one of a city and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (3:14-15). In this delightful chapter, Jeremiah provides for us a question that God asks himself regarding these returning children: “But I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give the a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of the nations …?” (verse19). In the following verses and in the opening two verses of the fourth chapter, we have an overview of the spiritual progression of the Jewish pilgrims:
Verse 20—Israel had been a faithless wife to God
Verse 21—Great weeping among the people because of rebellion
Verse 22—Opening phrase of this verse, the call to repent, followed by the gracious offer by God is presented: “Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” The response of the people? “Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains (trusting in alliances with the nations of the world) truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel … “for we have sinned against the Lord our God from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.”
Chapter 4, verse 1: Appeal of God to Israel: “If thou wilt return of Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me …”
Verse 2– The outcome of all this repentance has worldwide repercussions “and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory”. At long last the Jews will experience the blessing of forgiveness which is enshrined in the promises made to Abraham. Peter talks about this to the Jews in Acts 3:26—“unto you [Jews] first God, having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
THE NEW COVENANT
The promises to Abraham and forgiveness are linked closely with the “new covenant” spoken about by Jeremiah in chapter 31, verses 31-34, which are explained to us in the epistle to the Hebrews, in chapters 8, verses 9-13, and 10 verse 15-17 as linked with the sacrifice and priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the passages we have looked at regarding God’s forgiveness to the returning Jews and those already in the land, are bound up in the redemption in Jesus Christ.
Thus the Lord causing the Jews to be brought “into the bond (margin: delivering) of the covenant (Eze. 20:37), is not the Mosaic Covenant, but the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus. By receiving this forgiveness, they will, as Jeremiah records, “Know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord (verse 34). The depth of their penitence can be seen by his words in verses 8 and 9:
“Behold, I will bring them from the North country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travailed with child together: a great company (but still only a remnant—see verse 7) shall return hither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplication shall I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn”.
In Hebrews chapter 10, verse 20, in the context of this “new covenant” the writer notes that we can draw near to God “by a new and living way”. This is what will impact upon these returning Jews, no wonder we read of the great emotion displayed by them. It is in the prophet Jeremiah that we have so much recorded of this spiritual reformation amongst the remnant of returning Jews. Isaiah gives us glorious glimpses of Israel in the Kingdom, but Jeremiah stresses how it will come about.
In the prophecy of Hosea, the return of the betrothed of Israel back to Yahweh is beautifully presented, particularly regarding the Jews living “afar off”: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably (Heb. on her heart) unto her. And I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the days when she came out of the land of Egypt” (2:14-150.
Because of this fruitfulness of faith, her land shall become exceedingly fertile (v 21, 22). The prophet concluding this section with a delightful play upon the names of the principal characters of chapters 1 and 2: “And I will sow [Jezreel] her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy [Ruhamah] upon her; and I will say to them which were not my people [Lo-Ammi]. Thou art my people [Ammi]: and they shall say, Thou art my God—Yahweh being married again to his people.
Zacharias, guided by the Holy Spirit, speaks of the reason why the Jews are to inhabit the land: “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Lu. 1:74-75). This was not accomplished during the ministry of John. This delightful vision will become a reality when God “restores again the Kingdom to Israel”. May we prepare ourselves for that day
(To be continued)