It is not well known among believers today that there are actually many prophecies in the Old Testament concerning a last days expulsion of Israel and return to the land. Inevitably every time that these prophecies come up, there is also the promise of “knowing the Lord your God”. When did that take place? The promises of such national knowledge of the Lord that even the nations will marvel doesn’t really fit any age in history. Therefore, we take it to mean something future. So, let us examine some of these Scriptures that would help us to understand what I’m saying. Where is it explicitly said that Israel shall undergo a sifting through the wilderness?
We left off last time noting Jeremiah 30:6-7. Verse 7 reads, “How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of Jacob’s Trouble, but he will be saved out of it.” What I find interesting is reading the previous chapter of Jeremiah. He writes a letter to the exiles telling them to build houses, marry, plant gardens, and generally live life as you would live if you were in the Land. Why? The Lord says, “When seventy years are completed, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”
Jeremiah rejoices at this. He prophesies in Jeremiah 30:3, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess.” Yet, in the very next verse we read the beginning to the statement, “Cries of fear are heard – terror and not peace.” Jeremiah even asks the question, “Can a man bear children? Then why do I see every strong man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor, and every face turned deathly pale?” Jeremiah prophesies of the return, and rejoices at that return. But then his focus turns, and he asks, “What is this that I see?” Jesus even said of this time, “Then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never equaled again.”
This was the word spoken to Daniel the prophet concerning when Michael shall stand up and cast Satan out of heaven: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” In Luke 21:22-24, Jesus warns of this time that, “There will be great distress in the land,” and, “they will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.” Yet, we shouldn’t leave Jeremiah 30 so quickly. We read of Israel in verse 12, “Your wound is incurable; your injury beyond healing.” Then, as if that wasn’t harsh enough, God begins to express terrifying judgment. Yet, when we reach verse 16, we begin to read a different story: “But all who devour you will be devoured” (think of the dragon in Rev 12:3), “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds…”
Her wound is beyond cure, it is true, but God will heal her. How? The only way possible: death and resurrection. We see in Ezekiel 20:33-35, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will rule over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with fury poured out. I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered – with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with fury poured out. I will bring you into the desert of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you.”
It is said in Amos 9:8-10, “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth – yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob, declares the Lord. For I will give the command, and I will sift the house of Israel through all nations as grain is sifted in a sieve, and not a pebble will reach the ground. All the sinners among my people will die by the sword, all those who say, ‘Disaster will not overtake or meet us’.”
God says that He will sift the people Israel through all nations. Yet, I challenge you to look up the context in your Bible. You’ll find immediately after these verses are verses of restoration in the land and the rebuilding of David’s fallen tabernacle. When does this sifting take place? It cannot take place separate from Israel once again receiving a king who will rule over them like David – and to rule over them forever.
The point of Israel’s flight is made obvious in Deuteronomy 8:2: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” The point is to humble Israel. They will be provided for in the midst of the desert the whole time. It isn’t that God sends them out to see how they fare. God provides for them, both supernaturally and naturally through the Church. It is in this manner that He has decided to meet with them “face to face”.
“They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split the rock and water gushed out” (Isaiah 48:21). As it was at the beginning, so it shall be at the end. God led Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years; at the end He shall take Israel out of the world system and sift them through the wilderness for 42 months. The Church will be Moses to them, both in bringing the word of the Lord and in leading them through the wilderness safely. God Himself will be made manifest to them through that Church.
Yet, even with this, the prophecy is still, “So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, and uttering lies our hearts conceived” (Isaiah 59:9-13).
At what point in Israel’s history has this come to pass? It can’t be at the time of Nehemiah, because even the prophets at that time were saying, “Return to me, and I’ll return to you” (Zech 1:3, Mal 3:7). Ezekiel 37, the valley of the dry bones, says that this vision is about a time when Israel will proclaim, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off”. “I said I would scatter them and blot out their memory from mankind, but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy, lest the adversary misunderstand and say, ‘Our hand has triumphed; the Lord has not done all this’” (Deut 32:26-27). This is God’s doing, and Israel needs to acknowledge that.
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to posses. You will not live there long, but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the people, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you… The Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed them by oath.” Deut 4:26-27, 31
“Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst.” Though they taste of the stings of death, they shall come out of that death resurrected and asking, “Where, O death is thy sting?”
“I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped” (Zech 14:2). “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, even the animals and birds have perished” (Jer 12:4). “Though they dig down to the depths of sheol, from there my hand will take them. Though the climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them” (Amos 9:2-3).
The Lord does not mince His words. Not only are these words harsh, apocalyptic, and exaggerated, but they come from the mouth of God. This is the same who said, “You will give an account for every idol word that you speak.” If God takes our words that seriously, and even is called “the Word”, how much more sobriety ought we to have when reading such texts as this? Apocalypse is not a message that anyone desires to bear. God is after something, though. When we cross-reference Daniel 12:7 with Leviticus 26:19, we read, “I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”
“I will make them jealous by those who are no people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding. The Lord will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free” (Deut 32:21-36). Israel will even corporately confess, “In the course of my life he broke my strength” (Psalm 102:23).
“Those who survive the sword shall find favor in the desert” (Jer 31:2). “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” (Zech 10:9). Jesus asked the question, “Who is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?” Because this is found in Matthew 24:45, and the larger context of Matthew 24 and 25 are about the end times, I must assume that this question is pertaining to Israel. Who is this servant that will provide food to Israel at the proper time? Isn’t that an interesting question?
God has chosen the wilderness as His place of refuge for His people. Throughout all of the Scripture, the wilderness is a place of safety. Notice that David finds solace from Saul there. John the Baptist lives in the wilderness, eating locusts and honey. Moses was on the backside of the desert for 40 years before the burning bush experience. Elijah flees from Jezebel 40 days into the wilderness to arrive at Mount Horeb (also known as Sinai). Jesus is baptized and immediately is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
There is a lot of rich symbolism in the wilderness. It is a place of testing, a place of refuge, a place of destruction, and a place of building. God works some of His greatest miracles in the lives of those that flee into the wilderness. For Israel to be called out into the wilderness places is a call out of the system that Egypt represents, and out of Babylon – that Satanic kingdom that rules the world – to again find her God. The wilderness is a frightening place, but it is the place where God restores order. It is from that restoration of order that Israel will be brought to a place where they are able to accept their Messiah when He finally returns.
Some final Scriptures before finishing up, we can examine Psalm 78:19, Mark 8:4, 1 Timothy 2:2, Numbers 35:6, 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Revelation 11:1-3, Matthew 24:15-16, and Luke 21:20-22. In this we see the destruction of Jerusalem, the finding of provision in the wilderness, and the taking care of Israel who has fled to the church acting like a “city of refuge” unto her.